Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The present day displays another curious feature. As we have noticed is usual in matrist phases, the difference between the dress and behaviour of the two sexes is minimized. But whereas in the previous matrist phase the dress of men imitated that of women in richness and delicacy, today it is the dress of women which approximates in simplicity to that of men. And whereas then men wore wigs with ringlets as long as those of women, today women cut their hair almost as short as that of men. So, too, in manners: where the eighteenth-century gallant gossiped and flirted like a woman, so today the ambition of many women is to succeed in the activities peculiar to men.

If it is a matrist phase, then, it is one which is in some sense dominated by the masculine ideal, while the eighteenth century was dominated by a feminine ideal.

The period also betrays signs of another development, one we have noted earlier as liable to follow a matrist swing — failure to form a satisfactory superego, leading to conscienceless anti-social behaviour. In every period of history there has been much cruelty, destructiveness and dishonesty, and it is doubtful whether the crime, dishonesty and delinquency of our own day are, as some people, claim, more widespread than usual. It may be simply that thanks to the press we hear about it more, or that our consciences are now more sensitive on the subject; or that this behaviour has changed in character. Nevertheless, the parallel with the past is striking enough to warrant some uneasiness.

But while the climate of opinion in our age has moved far in the direction of matrism, “public” opinion, the law and institutions lag, as always, far behind. “Public” opinion is always more conservative than the sum of “private” opinion: thus, though few now consider, for instance, that there is anything actually wicked in nudity, almost everyone is still embarrassed to be found in a state of nudity and shocked by any public exhibition of it. The law moves with even greater slowness than does “public opinion“, perhaps because the legal professions, and the police, attract the patrist type of individual — while institutions, such as marriage, are still more resistant to modification. It is chiefly because of these varying time-lags that the past affects the present, creating, in a period like the present, needless misery and frustration. Probably the lag is more serious when passing from a patrist to a matrist phase, than when moving in the reverse direction, partly because governments are usually readier to pass laws than to repeal them, but chiefly because patrists tend to fight more actively for their views than do matrists. (Matrists, when in power, rarely pass laws compelling patrists to behave as matrists do; but when patrists are in power they invariably seek to make matrists conform.) It may therefore be worth pausing to consider more carefully how law and opinion change.