All societies that I have looked at do some kind of regulation of gender roles. In nearly every traditional society women have been relegated to roles with fewer political, economic, and social rights. The global crusade for women's rights has severely upset those traditional roles and consequently caused a lot of turmoil: reportedly, the issue that first incited the Ayatollah Khomeini public outrage was women getting the vote in Iran's parliament. It's a motivating factor in virtually every right wing movement, from Tennessee to the Middle East to India.

Globally and in the US, men are feeling under attack. In the US, at least, men are losing ground in economics, social prestige and even life span. One aspect of this is the decline in traditional "strong back" type jobs on farm, factory, and more generally. The other aspect is the opening up of traditional prestige jobs in the professions and business to women.

Of course I'm not trying to argue that this is a bad deal for society. It's obviously advantageous for women, and there is plenty of evidence that societies that educate women and give them access to quality jobs outperform those that don't. It is socially disruptive, though, and not solely for men. Women too, are often unenthusiastic about the more domesticated and feminized man.

One question that interests me is how the original arrangement (subordination of women) arose and what factors allowed it to change. I want to go beyond the traditional feminist piety of an evil conspiracy of the patriarchy. I'm not denying that patriarchies conspire, btw, but I figure that evolution has deeper reasons for the kinds of societies it allows to thrive.

My hypothesis goes like this. Human evolution, with its requirement for long term parental care made it necessary to involve men in the support of their children. In order to make this genetically worthwhile for the male, it was necessary to have reasonable assurance of paternity. This laid the foundation for a society of patriarchal dominance. Women's status seems to have declined in many societies after the onset of agriculture. This could be because the settled life permitted women to have more children and consequently led them to be even more consumed by childcare.

Industry, declining child mortality and birth control changed all that. In the industrial and post-industrial society, child care has consumes far less time and women are more productively employed working outside the home. And men have become more nearly superfluous.


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