Science and equality and the homunculus

Wouldn’t this Homunculus be a great Halloween costume?

Just store it in glass, feed it blood and keep it warm for forty weeks and you too can have your very own human child!

The idea that a tiny person could be made by a man without help from woman is as old as Plato. The no-woman-required homunculus appeared in alchemical writings around 1530. It was wishful misogyny. How dare women do something men could not! But even as late as the 1920s, many people believed that the sperm contained a tiny person and the woman was no more than dirt for the seed to grow. This thought gave people permission to see women as lesser beings who didn’t deserve property rights or the right to their own children. It explains misplaced disdain for older women and women who don’t have children. Even the religious figure Martin Luther questioned if women had souls. Fortunately, science put a halt to this inequality.

The idea of inheritance from both parents, genetics, was first proposed in 1866 by Mendel who determined that peas contained traits from each parent in the same proportion. His work wasn’t widely known until 1900 and his clear evidence that both parents contribute equally to the offspring wasn’t accepted until 1925. The notion that the mother was an equal in the creation of offspring is less than 100 years old. This means that for eons past, a woman was blamed for barrenness or even for being too fertile. Charles Dickens, that great champion of humanity, brought this charge against his own wife as he abandoned her.

Genetic equality gave women more credibility but even still, James Watson, who is a discoverer of DNA, was a sexist man. Old ideas hang on even against clear evidence that they aren’t true. Fortunately, with time, the idea that women are lesser beings and a form of dirt because they bear children is on the way out.

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