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Vol. 75/No. 21      May 30, 2011

How women became, and will
cease being, ‘the second sex’
Final volume of ‘Woman’s Evolution’ to be
published in Iran—a moment to celebrate
(feature article)

Below is the preface to the third and final volume of the Farsi edition of Woman’s Evolution, a book by Evelyn Reed. The volume is titled “The Patriarchy.” This translation into Farsi, the official language of Iran, is in the final stages of preparation by Golâzin, a publishing house in Tehran. The preface was written in April by Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and Evelyn Reed’s literary executor. Waters explains that the book “provides a scientific examination of how women came to be, and will cease being, ‘the second sex.’” The first two volumes in Farsi were on sale at the 24th Tehran International Book Fair, which took place May 4-14.

With the publication of the translation of volume III of Woman’s Evolution, Evelyn Reed’s groundbreaking work is now available in its entirety in Farsi. The two sections of the book previously published by Golāzin, “The Matriarchy” and “The Fratriarchy,” are joined by the third and final section, “The Patriarchy.”

First published more than thirty-five years ago, Woman’s Evolution was acclaimed as a “fascinating and scholarly” study, “an impressive and absorbing reconstruction of human history,” and “a definitive work on evolutionary theory as it relates to women.” The historical perspective Reed presents, however, was no less controversial for the praise it received, and the reason is not difficult to discover.

That perspective is indispensable if women’s equality and the full creative and productive capacities inherent in the social labor of women and men alike are to be realized. She provides a scientific examination of how women came to be, and will cease being, “the second sex.”

Woman’s Evolution was the culmination of more than a quarter century of work by Reed, a lifelong socialist and well-known speaker on university campuses around the world. Three collections of her talks and essays—Problems of Women’s Liberation, Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women, and Sexism and Science—translated by Afshang Magsoudi, have been published by Golāzin. In each of these works, Reed sought to clarify the origins of human society and the forces that drive its progress. The thread that runs through all of them is the consistent defense of historical materialism against apologists for the existing social order and the anti-evolutionary currents that have long dominated the field of anthropology.

One of the major battle lines that has divided anthropologists for more than a century—Reed called it the Hundred-Year War—has been whether something akin to the modern bourgeois patriarchal system of marriage and family relations reaches all the way back to the animal kingdom. Or whether these social relations arose among our ancestors only in recent millennia—as agriculture and animal husbandry were developed, as the productivity of human labor increased, as a surplus of food beyond that needed for mere survival became possible. In short, as class-divided societies were born.

In Woman’s Evolution Reed convincingly answers these questions. The second-class status of women as a sex is not rooted in biology, let alone “human nature,” as many have argued. It was born in what was then the most economically advanced part of the world only a few thousand years ago, a microsecond in the history of the human species. It emerged not from a struggle of men against women but in the course of bloody battles through which a handful of men established their dominion over other men—and women were reduced to a form of private property.

Reed’s chapters on “The Fratriarchy,” and the social conflicts that led to its violent disintegration and replacement by “The Patriarchy,” are by far her greatest contribution to understanding the origins of class-divided society and its accompanying oppression of women—two intertwined social relations we have known since the dawn of written history.

Most important, Reed demonstrates that these class relations, born in brutal conflict, were the product of developing economic conditions and changing social needs at a turning point in the history of humanity. She shows that further cataclysmic changes in economic conditions and social needs can and will lead to these class relations being surpassed.

The Farsi translation of Woman’s Evolution adds to a growing list of editions in languages other than the English original—from Indonesian and Turkish, to French, Spanish, and Swedish. There is every reason to believe it will not be the last.

Golāzin Publishers is to be congratulated for the initiative they have taken, with the agreement of Pathfinder Press, to make Reed’s primary works available to so important a part of the world’s population, the tens of millions of Farsi-reading peoples in Iran and beyond. It is a moment to celebrate.  
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