Pharyngula

Gender Bias and Anne Conway

In discussing Soul Made Flesh this past Wednesday morning in PZ’s neurobiology class, I brought up what I thought to be an interesting, though somewhat tangential, point. Zimmer mentioned Anne Conway and how ambitious she was in her studies despite not being allowed to attend a university. The fact that females were not given the same opportunities throughout history is something I remember learning about in grade school. But where did the ideology that females are inferior to males begin?

One of my fellow students argued that because females give birth they were probably not expected to hunt and gather food while they were pregnant. I thought about this and although I don’t know for sure, in early civilizations females probably tended fields and gathered crop until while pregnant until they were no longer physically able to, returning to the fields as soon as they recovered from the stress of giving birth. Males, meanwhile, tended to be stronger and did not have to give birth to maintain their population.

Another thought that I had on this topic was that male aggression and anger tendencies probably have something to with the ambition to control their domain. Considering male influence in government, it would be interesting to see the effects of a female United States president. There have been several queens as well as kings in European countries over the last thousand years. Is there a difference in how a country operates that is dependent on the gender of its leader?

Things seem to be much different today than they were a hundred years ago. Females driving, voting, becoming doctors, and all these things that would have been unheard of. Are males falling behind and if they do will females dominate males? Is society moving toward a codominance of gender? There is plenty of debate on this topic and I’m sure it won’t be resolved anytime soon.

References:
Zimmer, Carl. 2004. Soul Made Flesh. Free Press, New York, NY.

Comments

  1. #1 Brendan S
    October 5, 2007

    Also remember that smelling predator blood tends to scare off animals. So one week out of 4 females couldn’t hunt, because they scared off the game. I honestly believe this is where the bias started.

  2. #2 Ryan Egesdahl
    October 5, 2007

    None of this seems to take into account the few truly matriarchial societies that have existed. It’s much more telling that even in matriarchial societies, there tends to be some sort of cultural misogyny. My honest opinion is that the only prerequisite for a cultural misogyny is a cultural bias towards one gender. There have been a few cultures (such as some North American indigenous tribes) that have avoided these issues altogether by focusing on merits rather than weaknesses.

  3. #3 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    Not all cultures prior to modernized western culture, considered women “inferior.”

    In many Native American cultures women were not only equal, but the determiner of family, and at times, tribal policy. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) had female representatives at their council fires at least 500, and perhaps 1000 years ago (actual dates are in dispute). Numerous native cultures were matrilineal (traced descent through their mothers) and/or matrilocal (husbands moved in with the wife’s family). In many of these cultures the “old crone,” senior female member of the group, held more authority than old men (or young men for that matter).

    Early modern Western European (and American) cultures suppressed women’s roles, arguably due to Judeo-Christian theology. Prior to the influx of Christianity, numerous pagan European cultures showed evidence of greater equality and authority for women. The last vestiges of feminine power were suppressed in the witch hunts which specifically targeted midwifes and other women that challenged male dominance of the medical profession.

    I would argue against the idea that “Ugh” the caveman and his wife established traditional roles for the genders, evidence outside of European dominated cultures suggests this explanation is at best overly simplified, and at worst, a modern construct.

  4. #4 Tulse
    October 5, 2007

    Is there a difference in how a country operates that is dependent on the gender of its leader?

    Judging by Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and Benazir Bhutto, a female leader brings conservativism and/or corruption — so the answer to the question is “no”.

  5. #5 Ryan Egesdahl
    October 5, 2007

    Yeah, what dogmeatib said. I’m not quite as hot on the Judeo-Christian suppression idea, though I would agree it’s probably a factor. Like I said, the most likely cause for cultural misogyny is cultural gender bias. The gender bias was probably around in Hebrew culture well before their myths gelled – they probably even evolved together.

  6. #6 Mr. Person
    October 5, 2007

    Piecing together from an old Evolutionary Psychology class:

    400 viable human female ova produced in a lifetime.
    5,000,000 sperm produced in one male ejaculation.

    = human female is a scarce (and therefore, valuable) sexual resource.

    Scarce resource –> Competition

    Competition –> Stronger, faster, taller, etc., males.

    That’s part of it anyway. (From what I remember.)

  7. #7 Todd O.
    October 5, 2007

    The handful of matrilocal and more (relatively) gender neutral societies fail to undercut the overwhelming majority of societies where human males dominated the society.

    I think you may look to some good work being done in social evolution recently which indicates that as humans developed settlement patterns and males had to live with males they weren’t related to (i.e., the transition from HG to larger social groupings), males became more possessive of females to ensure their genetic relationship to their children. A handful of cultures developed other ways to deal with this problem–for example, their are a cultures in New Guinea where fatherhood doesn’t matter, the woman’s brothers raise the children; and other cultures in South America with partible paternity, where any man a woman has sex with before she gives birth is considered partly the father). But these don’t seem to be actual exceptions, but rather, evidence that paternity was a “problem” at some point in our evolution.

    When you stand back and look across societies, you find that the smaller societies (i.e., hundreds instead of thousands) have a much greater variety of ways of dealing with paternity, such as matrilocality and partible paternity. But the larger the society, the more likely it is to become hierarchal, and the more likely that hierarchy is to be male dominated.

    This is where the advent of agriculture is important. Agriculture and the technology to store food meant that more food than necessary could be produced, i.e., a surplus. This meant a dramatic reduction in the labor time necessary to sustain an individual from day to day. In HG societies, women’s labor was vital to survival (they were usually the gatherers), and HG societies have a much greater level of equality across the board, not just gender. They tend to egalitarian. But the social environment of a 1) large society, with 2) a surplus of food requiring 3) less labor meant that 4) a division of labor that ultimately removed women from the public sphere and in extreme cases made them chattel to the male hierarchy.

    Combine that with the underlying problem of paternity and, voila, patriarchy.

    The gradual increasing equality of women in our social hierarchies historically coincides with a shift in our social environment, mainly the development of capiatlism and industrial production, which yet again dramatically increases the surplus and changes the nature of production so that it doesn’t require the same kinds of labor. This set the stage for the cultural revolution of humanism, democracy, and secularism which have allowed women to reclaim their place as we move, in an interesting way, back to a kind of egalitarianism.

    This isn’t a “just-so” story, but rather, it’s an analysis of how humans since they became fully modern (about 50,000 ya) interacted in their social environments in response to changes in their physical environments (which they had often wrought themselves), which in turn produces change in their social environments.

  8. #8 Wicked Lad
    October 5, 2007

    Interesting topic. I wonder what the evidence shows about about sex roles (if any) among early humans.

    The implications that American Indians were “noble savages” who treated women the same as men gets my BS detector’s needle twitching. Having women participate in decision-making is an indication, but it doesn’t mean they were regarded as equals. Does anyone have trouble thinking of modern counter-examples?

    Having a female ruler now and then doesn’t mean you regard women as equals or better, either. And matrilineal tracing of descent may just be a pragmatic accommodation to the fact you can be more certain who a child’s mother is than who a child’s father is.

    Again, is there any cogent evidence of relative sex roles and/or relative status of men and women among early humans?

  9. #9 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    You’re right about pregnancy and work. The myth of the invalid pregnant woman is a product of the rise of capitalism and the middle class. Working class women were never afforded the opportunity to take time off. My grandmother worked in the fields up until the day before my mother was born (60 years ago), so I’ve never bought into the idea that pregnancy itself was the problem.

    Looking at female leaders in the last hundred years or so would probably not be very useful in comparison with males. Females who rise to heights in government often embrace or internalize the attitudes of the dominant masculine culture, so they’re not really any different than men in addressing what needs to be done.

    It’s very interesting to look at misogyny in human culture. Especially when you can compare human behaviour to other primates.

    Brendan S.,

    Were you trying to be facetious about women’s menstrual blood scaring away the game? If not, do you have any evidence that game animals can smell human menstrual blood and that they associate that smell with predation danger? I’d be interested in that information since some of my female friends do indeed hunt and they’ve never had a problem.

  10. #10 Samnell
    October 5, 2007

    “Early modern Western European (and American) cultures suppressed women’s roles, arguably due to Judeo-Christian theology. Prior to the influx of Christianity, numerous pagan European cultures showed evidence of greater equality and authority for women.”

    The Ancient Greeks were fairly misogynistic, although it would be hard for anyone to top Christianity’s view of woman as the ultimate source of all ills. Eve ate an apple and the Christian god hated that so much he killed himself over it because only blood sacrifice would appease his anger and allow him to forgive all humanity for the arguable sins of their ancestors.

  11. #11 Shawn Wilkinson
    October 5, 2007

    What Todd said. And if I’m interpreting his words correctly, everything is due to changes within the economics of the culture.

    So, we know what we must do. Burn the economists for destroying society! (j/k)

  12. #12 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    The handful of matrilocal and more (relatively) gender neutral societies fail to undercut the overwhelming majority of societies where human males dominated the society.

    Todd,

    The problem is that Western European society dominated the rest of the world for the last three hundred to six hundred years (regionally). In doing so they often wiped away previous cultural norms with their own patrilineal, patrilocal culture. It is often difficult to tell what the local culture was because it has been under this dominant culture’s influence for hundreds of years. Often the surviving woman dominated (or equal) cultures survive because of their geographic isolation and (often associated) resistance to the dominant culture.

  13. #13 Deebs
    October 5, 2007

    http://cableorganizer.com/power-squid/power-squid-home-theater.htm?src=NMIabPSP1w

    Just figured you’d be interested in a blending of one of nature’s best and man’s technology.

    It’s a bit lacking in the tentacle department, though.

  14. #14 Grand Moff Texan
    October 5, 2007

    One of my fellow students argued that because females give birth they were probably not expected to hunt and gather food …

    Uh, why would any intelligent person, when wondering about the assumptions of his civilization, attempt to provide answers by rewriting “Quest for Fire”? That’s not inquiry, that’s fan fiction.

    The history of misogyny is a pretty well-established field. Go read.
    .

  15. #15 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    Todd O.

    Agriculture is actually more labor intensive than hunting and gathering. However, agriculture increases the carrying capacity for humans on a particular piece of land, so it got popular. More food=more people (fewer deaths from malnutrition more people fed from the same plot of land, etc.) but far more labor hours per day. This means that people were willing to work more in return for living in various kinds of settled communities. Control of agricultural surplus is one of the chief driving factors behind the development of ascribed status and true elite classes. You did point out that H. sapiens didn’t become fully modern until 50,000 years ago (a date I would disagree with), but that seems irrelevant since agriculture wasn’t developed until 10,000 ya and some societies never developed it (they didn’t need to or the environment and local cultigens were not conducive to it)

  16. #16 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    The implications that American Indians were “noble savages” who treated women the same as men gets my BS detector’s needle twitching.

    I wasn’t suggesting anything of the sort. In fact “better” treatment of women itself is subjective and open to debate. Also the group decision to have women fulfill or not fulfill a greater role in the society is generally a pragmatic one, not a noble or ignoble one. I doubt the push to reduce women’s roles in European society was a cognisant decision, “let’s make sure that only men have a say in how we do things!” [followed by loud cheers and applause] any more than the intent to involve women more was one.

    In culture “A” there was an historical/social/economic/defensive benefit to protecting women.

    In culture “B” there was more of a benefit to expose the women to possible harm for one reason or another.

    Neither decision implies “nobility” or proper/correct/better behavior or decision making. Those tags are a product of modern efforts towards equality.

  17. #17 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    One other thing, paternity isn’t everything. There’s wonderful stuff coming out of primate behaviour that shows some species that were thought to be practicing monogamy are not and the males still hang around to take care of babies that aren’t their own.

    I think it’s just as likely that patriarchy (and lifelong monogamy) produced the obsession with paternity rather than the other way around.

  18. #18 Abstruse
    October 5, 2007

    “400 viable human female ova produced in a lifetime.
    5,000,000 sperm produced in one male ejaculation.”

    Hmmmmmmmm. I’m pretty sure (not a biologist, I come for the cephalopods and stay for the godlessness) that all eggs bear an X chromosome and that sperm carry either the X or the Y that decides gender. So wouldnt the proportion of X sperm to Y sperm determine scarcity and therefore competition?

  19. #19 BlockStacker
    October 5, 2007

    I read an article by Jared Diamond (author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel”)a while back which explored this issue. Diamond argued that pre-agricultural societies were more gender equal because the sexes were able to contribute a similar amount of calories per day to the community.

    I can’t remember exactly his reasoning, but it was something like Women were better at fishing because they could build better fish-traps. Women could perform these, and other crafting/gathering skills, while pregnant. There were some other merits mentioned, but I can’t remember them. I think he based his reasoning partly on his experiences with tribal cultures in Papua-New Guinea.

    Furthermore, said Diamond, the advent of agriculture created a need for more hands to tend the field. People began to value children as laborers/calorie multipliers. Women became baby-factories, perpetually pregnant and unable to work in the fields about 1/2 the time. Women were suddenly unable to contribute directly to the food supply. They were also less able to feed themselves independently from a male and family.

    Basically, Diamond argued that calorie contribution = power and leverage. A female hunter-gather has the bargaining chip of the food she produces. An agrarian female’s contribution is through pregnancy, which immobilizes her and, unfortunately, can be forced upon her.

    If I find the article I’ll post it.

  20. #20 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    Brendan S.,

    Were you trying to be facetious about women’s menstrual blood scaring away the game? If not, do you have any evidence that game animals can smell human menstrual blood and that they associate that smell with predation danger? I’d be interested in that information since some of my female friends do indeed hunt and they’ve never had a problem.

    Actually there is ample evidence that women’s menstrual blood can be detected by animals. One prime example is that, in “bear country,” menstruating are warned not to camp, etc. Beyond that element I wouldn’t comment.

    Again, is there any cogent evidence of relative sex roles and/or relative status of men and women among early humans?

    Wicked lad,

    There is little evidence among early humans, that type of information doesn’t preserve well in the archaeological record. When present, the remains of women tend to have “domestic” style burial goods while those of men tend to have “hunting goods,” but that doesn’t really say one way or the other about their roles. Most of the ideas archaeologists and anthropologists have for how neolithic people lived were developed by traditional westerners who were raised in traditional western nuclear families (a’la Ozzy and Harriet). It couldn’t have failed to have an impact on their interpretation of the finds.

    Modern anthropologists find, among less developed cultures, a variety of social structures. Problem is, how many of them have already been influenced by Western European “norms?”

    Greek culture was provided as an example, but even within a region as small as Greece, you had variations. For example, in Sparta, when a young boy was born, his mother raised him, often with little contact with his father until the state took over at the age of (I believe) 8.

    Today’s culture would look at the medieval practice of turning young boys over to virtual slavery as apprentices as cruel, but to parents at the time it was the only kind thing they could do. The child would be prepared for their adult life in a trade that, if they were successful, would provide for them long after the parents were dead.

  21. #21 CRM-114
    October 5, 2007

    I don’t doubt it started as a way to reinforce the status quo when the existing order was male dominated. Whenever women dominated, they probably referred to men as expendable, but perhaps used a kinder word for it.

  22. #22 AlanWCan
    October 5, 2007

    All I have to add to this thread is Margaret Thatcher. (Get out the crosses and garlic now.)

  23. #23 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    Whenever women dominated, they probably referred to men as expendable, but perhaps used a kinder word for it.

    Perhaps:

    “Good for killing spiders and making babies? Don’t have any of the former, don’t want any of the latter, so get out!”

    Has a vaguely familiar ring to it. ;o)

  24. #24 Wicked Lad
    October 5, 2007

    dogmeatib, thank you for the helpful posts at #16 and #20. I found #16 particularly convincing:

    Neither decision implies “nobility” or proper/correct/better behavior or decision making. Those tags are a product of modern efforts towards equality.

    Quite so.

    Grand Moff Texan wrote (#14):

    The history of misogyny is a pretty well-established field. Go read.

    This, in contrast, I find patronizing and unhelpful. Like an ID proponent who says he knows a lot more about biology than any evilutionist, but can’t make his case, you leave me with the impression you have a prejudice but no evidence. Can you offer us poor, benighted, ignorant skeptics any links to a good summary of this well-established conclusion?

  25. #25 BlockStacker
    October 5, 2007

    Okay, I found the Article I was talking about:

    “The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race”
    by Jared Diamond, Discover-May 1987, pp. 64-66
    http://anthropology.lbcc.edu/handoutsdocs/mistake.pdf

    Turns out only a small portion refers to gender equality:

    Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well. Freed from
    the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to
    produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent
    pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts– with consequent drains on their
    health. Among the Chilean mummies, for example, more women than men had bone
    lesions from infectious disease.
    Women in agricultural societies were sometimes made beasts of burden. In New
    guinea farming communities today, I often see women staggering under loads of
    vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty-handed. Once while on a field
    trip there studying birds, I offered to pay some villagers to carry supplies from an
    airstrip to my mountain camp. The heaviest item was a 11 O-pound bag of rice, which I
    lashed to a pole and assigned a team of four men to shoulder together. When I eventually
    caught up with the villagers, the men were carrying light loads, while one small woman
    weighing less than the bag of rice was bent under it, supporting its weight by a cord
    across her temples.

    I must have made the rest of my post up, or gotten it from somewhere else.

  26. #26 B. Dewhirst
    October 5, 2007

    Humans are of both common cultural and biological descent. In scattered parts of the world we see groups of people who live, or before interacting with outsiders lived, in patrilocal groups.

    It has been construed as “normal” for men to have (what amounts to) a better lot in life than women since before the introduction of agriculture. Once we re-examine this, we see that it has no more foundation than magic men making rain.

    Before the Dawn skims over much, but is a good introduction to what we know of these very early social groups.

  27. #27 Jim Thomerson
    October 5, 2007

    I recall from cultural antropology that if an Apache man married a Navaho woman, they would have no resources. The reason being that Apache women owned the resources, while Navaho men owned the resources. So the couple would have no resources. I probably got the tribes backward, given my present powers of recall.

    There is a common story in biology texts explaining the slight excess of male births in western societies. It is that males die off faster than females so there is a 1:1 sex ratio during the best child-bearing years of 20-25. Ain’t evolution wonderful. Catch is, according to a paper in Nature some years ago, the birth sex ratio in the few female-more-valued societies is skewed the other way.

    Since the early 80′s more USA females have obtained Bachlors Degrees than males. I think the present ratio is like 54% to 46%. I’ll guess we have more educated females than males in the USA (ignoring educated immigrant males). This is particularly true of black and hispanic minorities. Educated minority females have a problem finding a similiarly educated minority mate. So one can wonder about the societal effects of all that.

  28. #28 dorid
    October 5, 2007

    The implications that American Indians were “noble savages” who treated women the same as men gets my BS detector’s needle twitching.

    Right, Lad. God (or whatever) forbid that ANY peoples should have had better ideas than the white invaders.

    My Racist detector meter is twitching.

    The roles women play have been different in a number of societies. In Iroquois culture, clan mothers have as important (or more important) role to play as any man… yes, the roles are DIFFERENT but both male and female roles are HONORED.

    You might be interested to look at old Navajo stories. Women in some Navajo myths had to be separated from men, for what we consider primarily male associated traits: insatiable sexual hunger and violence.

    I think that the issue may have at first been a biological one. Men don’t have to worry about things like maternal investment, and traditionally control reproduction. Let’s face it: penis=power. (which is, btw, why birth control and abortion are more about power and subjugation than how many kids to have and the morality of fetal destruction)

    Socially, different groups have founded histories, philosophies, and religions which support male dominance. Of course Christianity and Islam are prime examples, where women’s roles and the subjugation to males is implicit in the holy texts.

    Only advanced, sensible and moral cultures move beyond this behavior and honor women as equals. Is it such a reach to think that there are non-white cultures who have done exactly that, while European Christians were still hanging elderly women for using herbs in medicinal treatments?

  29. #29 Carlie
    October 5, 2007

    Hunter-gatherer women didn’t menstruate often, anyway. They were either pregnant or lactating a lot of the time, and in many were most likely experiencing exercise/low body fat induced amennorhea a lot of the rest of the time. This whole one week out a month business is a particular side effect of our current way of life.

  30. #30 Onkel Bob
    October 5, 2007

    FWIW, the Americans in the incoming class of PhD candidates in the Dev Bio discipline at an Ivy league college were exclusively women; i.e., if the candidate was American born, then the gender was female. There were two guys, one from China, another from Russia, in a class of 45. (43 : 2)
    I know this because my significant other (herself an Italian immigrant) is a professor at this college in that program.
    So, put 2 + 2 together and ask yourself, where is biotechnology going to get its research staff 10 – 15 years down the road?

  31. #31 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    Carlie,

    Your argument regarding hunter-gatherer women and menstruation seems quite logical. Also there would likely be a significant benefit to continuing breast feeding (and thereby limiting pregnancy) especially during times of limited resources. But, I don’t think women would be hunting while caring for a newborn-toddler, so the argument that women wouldn’t be hunting often still remains viable.

    Personally I think women were far more valuable to hunter-gatherer societies. They provided a far greater proportion of the food intake, discovered numerous health remedies, and passed on a lot of the collective knowledge.

    Though the article doesn’t quite support Blockstacker’s original position vis a vis agriculture and the dis-empowerment of women, I have heard the hypothesis previously and it has a lot of merit.

  32. #32 Scott Belyea
    October 5, 2007

    Actually there is ample evidence that women’s menstrual blood can be detected by animals. One prime example is that, in “bear country,” menstruating are warned not to camp, etc.

    Evidence? The warnings aren’t evidence; they’re probably just scare stories.

    On a personal note, my wife and I have been wilderness camping frequently for over 30 years without paying any attention to “that week” and without any problems … always in black bear country, sometimes in grizzly country. Also, I have not heard even anecdotal evidence of First Nations or other aboriginal people having been concerned on this account.

    In short, I don’t believe it.

  33. #33 Cathy W
    October 5, 2007

    Blockstacker, that really does sound like Jared Diamond’s work, even if it’s not in that specific article. Is it somewhere in Guns, Germs, and Steel or Collapse?

  34. #34 Luna_the_cat
    October 5, 2007

    To add something to the women-in-agricultural-society discussion perhaps — it seems quite evident from a number of sources (Jared Diamond is only one; the mesolithic-neolithic transition is hevily studied) that an agricultural lifestyle not only meant that there could be a higher population density, but more children per parent became more useful, and thus the frequency of pregnancy in women was doubled or even quadrupled.

    What I would disagree with is that this necessarily meant that their “caloric contribution” necessarily went down. Yes, in most agricultural societies women worked in the fields for most of their pregnancy, and returned to the fields not long after the birth. Women and girls were also responsible for looking after the smaller vegetable gardens and less mobile livestock — chickens, sheep, or young pigs, for example. All in all, the female caloric contribution was probably about the same. It could well be that the caloric contribution was less valued — as in hunter-gatherer societies, the “big meat” that men bring in is a higher status contribution in itself. In agriculture, too, it tends to be men (with the generally greater shoulder strength) who do the ploughing, which is a lot more dramatic looking than just dropping seeds or weeding, given that ploughing dramatically changes the appearance of a field.

    However, there were other effects of pregnancy than just keeping women out of the fields for a few days or a few weeks. Pregnant women are perfectly able to seed and weed, however uncomfortable it might be, but they are arguably a heck of a lot worse at fighting — and the other thing which accompanied settlements and greater population density was a dramatic increase in organised warfare. The agricultural surpluses which allowed societal specialisation in almost all cases went first to support a warrior class — and pregnant women in a warrior class? Can’t see any early culture really letting that happen…. And because the warrior classes seem to have enjoyed high status from the get-go, and women would have largely been excluded from them, by the evidence, perhaps this provided a downwards push in female status in general.

    In many early societies, there was also considerable overlap or a heavy interlinking between the specialised warriors, the head/chief/king/head of the army, and the priesthood. Supporting and being supported by the military was a culturally complex enterprise as soon as standing armies started to flex their muscles. However, if there was already a tradition of excluding pregnant and potentially-pregnant women from the warrior class/standing armies, then there would be considerably less motivation for the warrior class(es) to allow women to govern them — look at the contempt WE have for politicians who are willing to send people off to die in a war who have never risked their own hide. On this basis, the exclusion of women from governance could be justified, and the erosion of civic status may have been extended.

    Now, I admit that my ancient Greek history is rusty in the extreme, but what I recall is that the pre-Classical Greek states were considerably less mysogynistic than after the rise of the warring city-states — women seemed to enjoy reasonable status from the early Neolithic right up through the Minoans, changing with the Myceneans. This would fit. My ancient Chinese history is even rustier than my Greek, but I believe that there was a similar sort of narrative there. In each case, one of the last places where women held public status was in the priesthood — in the cases of these cultures a non-fighting class.

    It is interesting that where women retained status later in Western Europe was mainly in the Celtic areas — arguably agricultural, but a lower population density overall, a more tribal culture that was less complex than the highly stratified population-dense cities of other areas, and in which women retained something of a warrior tradition (allowing them voice in governance as well). This is not to say that women enjoyed equal status, but they were property owners with protected rights, and the Picts, Scots and some of the Irish tribes maintained inheritance through the mother up until relatively recent times (the Picts up until their cultural disappearance after 840 AD, and the Scots up until Macbeth was killed by Malcolm Canmore in 1057).

  35. #35 sailor
    October 5, 2007

    There are several threads to this. One is that polygamy was once a much more common form of relationship. Once you get to a point when having a lot of women becomes status, that would seem to me to help change the woman’s role, to less than equall. Why would women let this happen? I think a lot of that is due to women being on average a little weaker and therefore men could make them obey physically.
    Before contraception paired women tended to be pregnant or caregiving which did not allow them to develop in things like science as easily. Also the death rate for women in childbirth used to be very high so many did not last that long.
    It’s changing rapidly though, and I see some places where the women are smart educated and employed and the men lime on the street corners.

  36. #36 Gelf
    October 5, 2007

    I understand why this question is interesting, but more recently I cannot but cringe when it comes up. Every theory I have ever heard on this subject reduces to a politically motivated just-so story with very little probing. I am no longer sure anyone is capable of addressing this question independent of an a priori prescriptive conclusion about sexual politics among contemporary humans.

    People on all sides are intent on establishing a norm from which specific individuals and cultures can be said to deviate in one direction or another. Based on the limited evidence available to me personally, it seems that for our species the lack of a clear norm is the norm. We are congenitally conflicted on this subject, and any example we can bring to bear is an idiosyncratic precipitate of that internal conflict.

  37. #37 BlockStacker
    October 5, 2007

    Cathy W,

    I haven’t read any of his books. The Ole’ Ball-and-Chain read “Guns, Germs, and Steel” though, and we discussed his ideas a lot while she was reading it. She has read a couple of his other articles as well, (she studies Humanities, I’m just a gear-head) and gave me the gist of them. Also, I watched the PBS documentaries. I take no credit for the theory (it’s too compelling).

  38. #38 Wicked Lad
    October 5, 2007

    Gelf wrote in #36:

    I understand why this question is interesting, but more recently I cannot but cringe when it comes up. Every theory I have ever heard on this subject reduces to a politically motivated just-so story with very little probing. I am no longer sure anyone is capable of addressing this question independent of an a priori prescriptive conclusion about sexual politics among contemporary humans.

    Sad, but compelling. I don’t even trust my own perception of what I know of the historic record. I don’t know how we come to an accurate, informative, useful view of this. Baseless slurs aside (looking at you, dorid), putting together an unbiased view of the history of sex roles and relative status is a tough, tough problem.

  39. #39 Mr. Person
    October 5, 2007

    Hmmmmmmmm. I’m pretty sure (not a biologist, I come for the cephalopods and stay for the godlessness) that all eggs bear an X chromosome and that sperm carry either the X or the Y that decides gender. So wouldn’t the proportion of X sperm to Y sperm determine scarcity and therefore competition?

    No.

  40. #40 Luna_the_cat
    October 5, 2007

    dogmeatib — in modern hunter-gatherer societies, women commonly hunt small game in conjunction with gathering plant foods, and may even bring in more meat calories than the available big game contributions. In these societies, men concentrate on the high-risk, high-reward big game which can include long solitary periods of relatively high-speed travel, and the risk of many meatless days — and even though this is not as great a caloric contribution to subsistence, it is higher status.

    The question of how much and what kind of hunting is/was actually done by women is one of anthropology’s “hot topics”, though — check out http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/nmwhomepage/pdfs/AmerAnthr.pdf or the list of papers available here for example.

    Gelf — while I understand your misgivings, and I would be the last to say that there isn’t a lot of gender-political nonsense out there, I think you underestimate the field. There are also people out there with good minds and a genuine interest in teasing apart the evidence.

  41. #41 Owlmirror
    October 5, 2007

    Regarding bears and menstrual blood — I knew I had read that this had been at least partly debunked, and a quick Google found this page from the National Park Service:

    http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/bears_women.htm

    So, in summary:

    • Black bears – definitely not.
    • Grizzly bears – probably not.
    • Polar bears – huh, looks like they do.

    But if you’re up against a polar bear, you’re probably in trouble no matter what your gender is (or your point in your ovulatory cycle). And be careful about bears no matter what.

  42. #42 Owlmirror
    October 5, 2007

    Hm. I misread the context earlier – not bears, per se, but rather prey animals.

    I see that this showed up among the hits of my Google search, for whatever it’s worth:

    Deer, Bears, and Blood: A Note on Nonhuman Animal Response to Menstrual Odor

  43. #43 Hank
    October 5, 2007

    Gender politics are extremely interesting, although often quite depressing. Or infuriating, like hearing Coulter calling for the disenfranchisement of women.

    Simone De Beauvoir – “The second sex” did to my understanding of gender biases (including my own) what Edward Said – “Orientalism” did to my cultural ones.

  44. #44 stillwaggon
    October 5, 2007

    Among the Agta people, women do hunt, make arrows, etc. E.g.:
    MJ Goodman, P Bion Griffin, AA Estioko-Griffin and JS Grove. The compatibility of hunting and mothering among the agta hunter-gatherers of the Philippines, Journal: Sex Roles, Volume 12, Numbers 11-12 / June, 1985. Abstract: Women’s hunting is widely held biologically impracticable in foraging societies, chiefly because hunting is presumed incompatible with maternal responsibilities. A three-year study of hunting practices among the Agta Negrito people of northern Luzon reveals women’s active participation in hunting, singly and in groups, without detriment to normal fertility and child care.
    Also, in TC Llewellen’s Political Anthropology: An Introduction (2003), Agta women’s hunting is discussed. Excerpt at: http://tinyurl.com/2fbmvg

  45. #45 Courtney
    October 5, 2007

    In her introduction to The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir argues that there is no *event* that led to women’s objectification, as far as we know. That’s why gender roles are so much different from other types of prejudices, like racism, because they are a-historical. Slavery was the arguable beginning of racism. But sexism has no start, and it is ubiquitous. Every society separates people into “men” and “women,” and this separation is justified because it is deemed “natural.” Whether that particular assumption is true or not is debatable.

  46. #46 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    Courtney,

    Slavery is hardly the beginning of racism. Institutionalized slavery of Africans could probably be better argued as a result of racism. After all, it took a papal bull for Europeans to decide Africans were human in 1435 and another in the 1500s for Native Americans. Despite the Catholic church officially stating that you could not enslave these two groups because they were rational beings with souls, the Catholic nations did it anyway. Look at C. Loring Brace’s Race is a Four Letter Word for a good history of the concept of race and some interesting implications for the history of racism.

  47. #47 Flex
    October 5, 2007

    Heh,

    45 comments, and no one has mentioned the sexual dimorphic trait of physical size.

    I’m not an anthropologist, but I can’t help but feel that this is a factor. How large a factor probably varies by society, I happen to value brains over any level of brawn. But it is certainly true that from a standpoint of upper body strength and body weight, men have a physical advantage. I don’t think this is a pleasant observation, but I don’t think it should be glossed over either.

  48. #48 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    Evidence? The warnings aren’t evidence; they’re probably just scare stories.

    On a personal note, my wife and I have been wilderness camping frequently for over 30 years without paying any attention to “that week” and without any problems … always in black bear country, sometimes in grizzly country. Also, I have not heard even anecdotal evidence of First Nations or other aboriginal people having been concerned on this account.

    In short, I don’t believe it.

    Our extended family, for some strange reason, was involved, or witnessed two bear attack fatalities, and one incident. The one involved a cousin who was wearing clothing that still smelled of food (took all of the other precautions). The other involved a non-related female who had her throat torn out (disputed reasoning for the attack including the topic of our discussion). The final one involved my uncle in a hunting stand for nearly 48 hours with a bear at the base of the tree (which now that he made it through unharmed paints an amusing portrait).

    I’m not saying that the warnings provide any evidence one way or another, but for reasons presented above, our family takes those things seriously. Personally a winter at Fort McCoy for army ROTC cured me of any interest in “camping.” ;o)

  49. #49 kevinj
    October 5, 2007

    for the ability to fight and the warrior class, the Irish legends wouldnt tend to support this. To name three of the more famous female characters

    Morrigu – depending on the story varies from goddess to warrior, in all a bit of a handful.
    Maeb – queen from the cuchulainn cycle
    Scathach – again from the cuchulainn cycle she runs a warrior training camp, with the implication being she is mostly retired from fighting but was unmatched in her day.

  50. #50 dogmeatib
    October 5, 2007

    Luna,

    Reference to your comment #40, my basic stance on the issue is, ‘it depends,’ so you may have misconstrued my point. I agree completely that women in hunter-gatherer cultures brought/bring in more caloric intake, also I wouldn’t dispute that they hunted (and likely still do hunt) small game as well as fish, eggs, and other sources of protein. I would argue that the “status” associated with big game hunting would depend on the culture, on the time, etc. Again, with prehistoric cultures, this isn’t the type of activity that is preserved well in the archaeological record. With modern cultures, it is hard to say whether there has been an influence/impact of outside cultures modifying the interaction.

  51. #51 BlockStacker
    October 5, 2007

    Flex,

    True enough. I’m no biologist, but I wonder if the difference in size might not be an effect of gender roles rather than a cause. What would have been the initial utility of men being stronger than women? PZ posted a couple of days ago about genetic differences between women and men, and how the one chromosome is a minuscule difference. It means that women and men are mostly alike, but does it also mean that differences that we DO have could change rapidly due to selection?

    For instance, maybe men and women initially had had very similar abilities in terms of strength. then when the transition to agriculture was made, families composed of large strong males and weaker, but more fertile females would have been more successful. Once again, not my area, but I think the change could be created simply by differences in the production of certain hormones during development to make males stronger and females weaker.

    To continue rambling, I’m thinking about what robbed cave-fish of their sight (if not the Stonecutters). From my understanding, they no longer grow eyes, or pigment because the resources (energy and proteins?) formerly devoted to the development of those traits have more utility in other areas of the sleek-fishy-body. Likewise, women who are most successful as baby-factories would have developmental rescources shifted away from upper-body muscle development in favor of stronger baby-making parts.

  52. #52 Lee
    October 5, 2007

    “In these societies, men concentrate on the high-risk, high-reward big game which can include long solitary periods of relatively high-speed travel, and the risk of many meatless days — and even though this is not as great a caloric contribution to subsistence, it is higher status.” In 40.

    Is big game hunting a sexual-selection activity?

    OK – my cite for this is a recent bar discussion with people well outside my field of expertise, and involving enough alcohol consumption on my part that its a wonder I can remember the argument (hell, it was a wonder I could walk), much less supply a good cite. But it was their field of expertise, more or less. Anyway, supply several grains of salt, at least.

    The point was made that the caloric contribution of big game hunting in hunter-gatherer societies was less than the caloric investment, on average, and made no sense on purely a food-supply basis. It was then argued (I think as a hypothesis, not from evidence, but my primary memory of that evening is the subsequent hangover, so…) – anyway, it was argued that high status hunters had better ‘choice’ of female partners, and more offspring, and that big game hunting was a result of sexual selection (cultural or genetic), rather than essentially a food-gathering activity.

    There it is. Have at it, all.

  53. #53 LM
    October 5, 2007

    Owl: I worked at a zoo that has polar bears, and was told by the keepers that they are the only bears that will actively hunt down humans. This idea seems to be confirmed by a friend of mine who studied eider ducks in northern Canada; she said they had to be trained to fire a rifle because of the threat of bears. Yikes.

  54. #54 Dahan
    October 5, 2007

    LM, True that. Extra care with the Polar bears is warranted, not just because they will actively hunt down humans (that should be enough), but also because of how smart they are. One of my hobbies is learning about polar exploration. More than once, in these histories, it has been mentioned that Polar bears will sometimes cover their nose with a paw while hunting, apparently aware that others might notice the one non-camo spot. Seems they’re self-aware and therefore pretty smart as well as built for killing.

  55. #55 Azkyroth
    October 5, 2007

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments, so this might have been addressed, but I was talking about this with my wife last night (she’s taking Women in American History this semester) and my hypothesis is that a major factor in the climate of misogyny is probably that, through most of human history and in most cultures, military forces have been almost invariably all-male, due to the greater physical strength of men and lack of complications from pregnancy and nursing. Consequently, a culture which places a heavy emphasis on militarism and conquest would tend to see males as being more vital and more connected to the things it considered important, and more capable at them, and thus more “valuable.” These sorts of cultures tended to be the ones that built empires, and thus influenced the thinking of their neighbors for centuries. I suspect the more pervasive and generalized gender bias partly grew from this.

    Now, how to test it…

  56. #56 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    @51

    In the African clade of apes there is sexual dimorphism in every species with respect to both size and strength. Bonobos have less than chimps, who have less than gorillas, but it’s a safe bet that the ancestral condition of humanity (especially from the paleontological record) is sexual dimorphism similar to extant chimps. Therefore size and strength dimorphism predate agriculture by several million years.

  57. #57 Azkyroth
    October 5, 2007

    In the African clade of apes there is sexual dimorphism in every species with respect to both size and strength. Bonobos have less than chimps, who have less than gorillas, but it’s a safe bet that the ancestral condition of humanity (especially from the paleontological record) is sexual dimorphism similar to extant chimps. Therefore size and strength dimorphism predate agriculture by several million years.

    I seem to recall reading some tentative conclusions that the dimorphism was actually much greater in at least some Australopithecine species, for instance.

  58. #58 Hank
    October 5, 2007

    LM: Which puts the media frenzy around the polar bear cub Knut into perspective.

  59. #59 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    Owlmirror,

    That was an interesting article about deer. It all makes me wonder though since I now have it on good authority that menstruation is not a barrier to modern deer hunting. (A friend of mine swears she was when she got a buck last year.) from how far away can deer smell menstrual blood and will they shy away from animals that smell of it or just not eat food that reeks of it?

    Maybe that’s some new anthropological research I could do…get into the experimental side of sociocultural stuff….hmmm….

  60. #60 Pygmy Loris
    October 5, 2007

    Azkyroth in #57,

    To determine whether they had greater sexual dimorphism we’d have to sort out how many species there were, and that is probably on of the most controversial topics in hominid evolution. Most of the people I know (including me) think the number of species represented by the 6-1.5 mya stuff has been underestimated. The bottom line is that it’s difficult to make a meaningful comparisons of the degree of sexual dimorphism in the Pliocene and early Pleistocene hominid stuff because we don’t have any OTUs to use. A. afarensis definitely had chimp level dimorphism though. The First Family proves that.

  61. #61 LM
    October 5, 2007

    Dahan: I think that the nose-covering behavior is pretty typical of polar bears (at least, that’s what we told people at the zoo! – I was an educational interpreter). I can easily see how such a behavior might have evolved, so I don’t necessarily think it has anything to do with self awareness, but heck, it might. Bears are pretty bright, in general.

  62. #62 Jonathan
    October 5, 2007

    Hunter-gatherer societies do surprisingly little hunting. 95% of a Hunter-gatherer’s diet is plant matter. Most plant matter is provided by women. Thus women provide the bulk of the diet; women are the providers. I think it has more to do with men having roughly 15x the number of sociopaths than women.

  63. #63 Owlmirror
    October 5, 2007

    That was an interesting article about deer. It all makes me wonder though since I now have it on good authority that menstruation is not a barrier to modern deer hunting. (A friend of mine swears she was when she got a buck last year.) from how far away can deer smell menstrual blood and will they shy away from animals that smell of it or just not eat food that reeks of it?

    The experiment looked to be quite ad-hoc. A more thorough experiment would be one which included human blood which was non-menstrual. Additional protocols could probably be designed as well.

  64. #64 BlockStacker
    October 5, 2007

    Bears are pretty bright, in general.

    Yet another reason they’re Threat #1.

    Pygmy Loris, Azkyroth,

    Wait, wait… Are you saying that the history of gender relations is, like, complicated or something? Who are you to shoot down my fish analogy with your “facts”?

    Seriously, thanks for the info. I guess I’ll have to find some other area of study I know nothing about to blow the lid off of.

  65. #65 Owlmirror
    October 5, 2007

    To continue rambling, I’m thinking about what robbed cave-fish of their sight (if not the Stonecutters). From my understanding, they no longer grow eyes, or pigment because the resources (energy and proteins?) formerly devoted to the development of those traits have more utility in other areas of the sleek-fishy-body.

    This was one early hypothesis. However, a recent paper showed that a better explanation is that a particular change in developmental gene expression allows the fish to find food in lightless environments. This change, as a side effect, short-circuits development of the eyes.

    Indeed, PZ wrote about this some months ago:

    http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2007/01/of_cavefish_and_hedgehogs.php

  66. #66 BlockStacker
    October 5, 2007

    Double Drat!

    Good article, PZ. Thanks for the heads-up Owl. I had a Mexican cave fish for a while, until my landlord threw out my aquarium without calling me first! I will have my revenge.

    They’re great aquarium fish: easy to care for, unusual, interesting, breeds easily, non-aggressive, but fine on its own.

    PZ’s article helps explain some of the behavior I observed in my cave-fish. Whenever I’d put food in the water, he’d know it was there within 30 seconds. Then he’d start trolling around the bottom of the tank looking for it. Whenever he would get close to a pellet/flake, He’d get real excited and start circling and grabbing. Unlike the other fish, once he found a flake, he NEVER spit it out. He also seemed very sensitive to sound and disturbances in the water, which I guess was the result of the jaw sensitivity?

    Man, I gotta get me another cave-fish.

  67. #67 SEF
    October 5, 2007

    This idea seems to be confirmed by a friend of mine who studied eider ducks in northern Canada; she said they had to be trained to fire a rifle because of the threat of bears. Yikes.

    I never knew eider ducks were so accomplished. “Yikes” indeed. ;-)

  68. #68 Dan
    October 5, 2007

    The theory currently in vogue in Ev Psych, to my knowledge, is that the invention of the plow brought real value to upper-body strength AND many children, thus establishing ever-pregnant women and patriarchal society.

    I think this is stupid, if only because basic game theory (the kind you do in your head) combined with prehistoric death-in-childbirth rates makes the pregnancy argument seem spurious, and male vs female capacity for farmwork is actually pretty small.

    I’m much more in favor of an altered “killer ape” theory- specifically, that men ended up stronger because women tended to die and/or be out of the running for fighting more often (childbirth), and once this happened they kind of took control. For good measure, it’s worth noting that we automatically estimate authority/power/virtue etc by height and physical size alone. Good old cog psych.

    Moreover, if you look at the violent crime rate it’s a vast majority male in nature- especially violent crime against strangers. Even if there were no gap in strength, the gap in will to use it could also account for “patriarchy” per se.

    Also evolutionary psychology makes me sick. I’m sorry. It does. It’s too … bah.

  69. #69 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 5, 2007

    To determine whether they had greater sexual dimorphism we’d have to sort out how many species there were, and that is probably on of the most controversial topics in hominid evolution. Most of the people I know (including me) think the number of species represented by the 6-1.5 mya stuff has been underestimated.

    Under which species concept?

    Mwa, ha, ha, ha, haaahrrr. HWAAAAH HAAAH HAAAH… <evil, earth-shattering laughter continuing for several minutes>

    Sorry. I’m not singling you out (and I agree with the rest of your post). I’m only trying to say that IMNSHO the question is wrong. To apply most species concepts* requires population biology. With as few fossils as we usually have, we can’t even approximate that.

    And even with living species, different species concepts can produce very different results. There are at least 25 species concepts out there. Depending on the species concept, there are between 101 and 249 endemic bird species in Mexico.

    * A notable exception is the morphospecies concept: if I can tell them apart, they are separate species. Except if I’m a splitter. Because then, if I can tell them apart, they’re different genera, and if I can’t tell them apart, they’re different species… but I digress.

  70. #70 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 5, 2007

    To determine whether they had greater sexual dimorphism we’d have to sort out how many species there were, and that is probably on of the most controversial topics in hominid evolution. Most of the people I know (including me) think the number of species represented by the 6-1.5 mya stuff has been underestimated.

    Under which species concept?

    Mwa, ha, ha, ha, haaahrrr. HWAAAAH HAAAH HAAAH… <evil, earth-shattering laughter continuing for several minutes>

    Sorry. I’m not singling you out (and I agree with the rest of your post). I’m only trying to say that IMNSHO the question is wrong. To apply most species concepts* requires population biology. With as few fossils as we usually have, we can’t even approximate that.

    And even with living species, different species concepts can produce very different results. There are at least 25 species concepts out there. Depending on the species concept, there are between 101 and 249 endemic bird species in Mexico.

    * A notable exception is the morphospecies concept: if I can tell them apart, they are separate species. Except if I’m a splitter. Because then, if I can tell them apart, they’re different genera, and if I can’t tell them apart, they’re different species… but I digress.

  71. #71 Rachel
    October 5, 2007

    As regards the effects of a female US President:

    In New Zealand a few years back, I remember noticing that the provinces which had women mayors had rugby teams which were performing well.

    This in a context where, the performance of the All Blacks has a significant effect on the overall mood of the country, and the chance of the party in power staying in power. Winning the World Cup in 1987 helped the government stay in power, and the current incumbents will be hoping for a similar optimism bounce if the All Blacks beat France tomorrow (and then Australia and South Africa) to win the current world cup.

    My own theory: in areas where the rugby was going well, the voters felt that their masculinity was not under threat by a woman mayor.

    I’m not sure how this would affect the US presidential race, as the sports most popular in the US are sports played mainly in the US – e.g. Baseball and American Football are dominant, and neither sport has great international penetration, despite the “World” series tag.

  72. #72 Knight of L-sama
    October 5, 2007

    Regarding warrior women I would also like to add Britons (Boudica as a famous example) and the Scythians from whom some believe the Greek Amazon legends are dreived (and there have been Scythian women found buried with weapons and other warrior paraphenalia as part of their funerary goods)

    As for the rise of Western European patriarchy I’m surprised and a little dismayed that no-one has mentioned one of the greatest influences on European culture. Rome. They weren’t quite as mysognistic as Classical Greece was at time but the male authority was considered absolute within the household. It may have meshed well with Jewish patriarchal traditions when Christianity was introduced to the Empire but it existed on it’s own well before hand.

  73. #73 Art in FL
    October 5, 2007

    I’m not sure there are any hard and fast accounts of the transition of the roles of women. There seems to be a variety of paths and trials.

    I suspect women had a long initial lead in prestige. They could ‘magically’, according to a pre-science society, produce children and sprout forth the food to feed them. This may have mirrored the way early proto-humans experienced the world as the mythological earth mother, and women, were seen as bringing forth life and nurturing it. Women may, certainly did in some early societies, have had a semi-mystical status.

    I have considered the idea that organized hunting may have been a response to the sense of inadequacy that women having this ability had fostered in the men. Development of hunting by early or proto-humans may have been the equivalent of the the boys begging for attention and announcing: ‘Look what I can do’. The concept of a ‘Sky God’ to balance the Earth Mother figure may have had its origin here.

    The ability to get meat, high quality and concentrated protein, capture resources and fight off other groups have remained at the core of the male psyche.

    Early on there is every likelihood that marriage was either unknown or very much different than what we apply the term to today. Some studies seem to show that matriarchies were common and men may have held a peripheral role with the women or matriarchy selecting mates. As befits a lowly man interacting with a representative of the great earth mother.

    Of course development of agriculture changed the concept. In agriculture you push in the seed and in good earth crops grow. Applied to sex and reproduction the women goes from being mystical life giver to passive receiver of the seed from the man. In Biblical reference the woman is said to be “barren”, just like an unsuitable piece of land, if she cannot or will not produce children.

    Shifting from hunting-gathering and a nomadic existence to settled and agricultural also made fixed resources and so defense more important. Fights that might have been avoided by one tribe moving away may have become chronic low-level wars.

    Somewhere along the way the concept of what we see as marriage came into being. The idea of planting seed and harvesting crops they owned on land they controlled meant that men started to have some degree of ownership of both women and child. The tribes or societies kids became a specifically a individual males. Eventually status symbols as in ‘many sons’.

    The local political and/or religious authorities were likely enthusiastic about lots of males. More people to work the field and more warm bodies to create an army with. All the better to fight for those scarce resources like water and fertile land.

    The up side is a settled society, increases power, prestige and control by males, a large and rapidly growing population to keep the walls of the city manned and the crops coming in and, in time, a large standing army to go conquer the neighboring tribes.

    On the down side women got the shaft, literally. They went from being semi-mystical representatives of the earth mother and balance to being beasts of burden and mechanisms for creating and raising children. Much the same status as the dirt the farmer plants his seed in.

  74. #74 Jason
    October 5, 2007

    dogmeat,

    I would argue against the idea that “Ugh” the caveman and his wife established traditional roles for the genders, evidence outside of European dominated cultures suggests this explanation is at best overly simplified, and at worst, a modern construct.

    I’d love to see this evidence. Anthropologist Donald Brown’s List of Human Universals includes the items “Males dominate public/political realm,” “Males more aggressive” and “Male and female seen as having different natures.” These are traits found in every human culture. That is very strong evidence that they are rooted in human biology rather than being mere cultural constructs. Culture may obviously have amplified and institutionalized them, but the fundamental basis is biological.

  75. #75 Jason
    October 5, 2007

    Blockstacker,

    True enough. I’m no biologist, but I wonder if the difference in size might not be an effect of gender roles rather than a cause. What would have been the initial utility of men being stronger than women?

    This has already been covered. Because human males make a much smaller minimum investment in reproduction than females, males compete for sexual access to females much more than the reverse. This creates an arms race among males and produces the sexual dimorphism in size and strength that we observe. Paleontological and genetic evidence indicates that this dimorphism has been present for millions of years, far longer than agriculture. It’s an effect of “gender roles” only in the sense that that term refers to the different biological roles men and women play in reproduction, not in any cultural sense of the term.

  76. #76 Azkyroth
    October 5, 2007

    I’d love to see this evidence. Anthropologist Donald Brown’s List of Human Universals includes the items “Males dominate public/political realm,” “Males more aggressive” and “Male and female seen as having different natures.” These are traits found in every human culture. That is very strong evidence that they are rooted in human biology rather than being mere cultural constructs. Culture may obviously have amplified and institutionalized them, but the fundamental basis is biological.

    This argument would be stronger if human cultures developed in a vacuum. It would also be stronger if its proponents appeared to consider the possibility that “rooted in human biology” may simply mean that they derive from a combination of human anatomical and physiological characteristics and pre-existing instincts, and their bearing on the challenges faced by early human societies with only rudimentary technology available, rather than seeming far too eager to treat the present arrangement as reflecting an immutable element of “human nature.” It would additionally be stronger if the differences were found to persist over many generations in an environment where males and females were raised and treated in the way way by parents, peers, and society as a whole (this has never happened, to my knowledge). Finally, it would be stronger if adequate efforts were made to dissociate it from the obviously self-serving arguments of those who claim that present state of gender relations should be preserved because it is “natural.”

  77. #77 Jason
    October 6, 2007

    azky,

    This argument would be stronger if human cultures developed in a vacuum.

    Why? If you think there’s a serious flaw in the argument related to the development of cultures, describe it clearly, instead of just vaguely alluding to whatever it is you think that flaw is.

    It would also be stronger if its proponents appeared to consider the possibility that “rooted in human biology” may simply mean that they derive from a combination of human anatomical and physiological characteristics and pre-existing instincts,

    Another bizarre statement. Are you seriously under the impression that proponents of the argument don’t realize that human anatomical and physiological characteristics, and human instincts, are part of human biology? The anthropological findings I described are very strong evidence that male domination of the public and political is rooted in biology precisely because these are universal features of human cultures.

    …. and their bearing on the challenges faced by early human societies with only rudimentary technology available, rather than seeming far too eager to treat the present arrangement as reflecting an immutable element of “human nature.”

    The trait of male domination of society is a reflection of our human biology, of human genes. In that sense, absent genetic engineering, it does reflect an “immutable element of human nature.” That doesn’t mean male domination of every society is inevitable, that the effect of the biology cannot be suppressed by culture. But it does suggest that a politically/publicly gender-neutral society would be difficult to achieve. The costs might outweigh the benefits. Absent really drastic changes to our genes or reproductive practises, I expect men will continue to dominate positions of power in most free human societies, because for biological reasons men and women will continue to make different choices, and men’s choices will tend to be more conducive to positions of power than women’s.

    It would additionally be stronger if the differences were found to persist over many generations in an environment where males and females were raised and treated in the way way by parents, peers, and society as a whole (this has never happened, to my knowledge).

    In the “way way?” Do you mean the “same way?” Same as what? Again, try to articulate your objection clearly and I’ll respond.

  78. #78 Eliza
    October 6, 2007

    ‘But where did the ideology that females are inferior to males begin?’

    It seems to me that in a ‘physical’ society (hunting/farming/fighting etc), it’s not too hard to imagine how different gender roles came about, but would that necessarily lead to an inferiority ideology?
    I know it’s not exactly a reliable source, but I read the Da Vincci Code recently, and the message seems to be that before modern religions came about, women were not second class citizens, and that the church has worked tirelessly these past millennia in order to make them so.
    Having never studied religion, and been taught little of christianity beyond what I gleaned from an illustrated book of bible stories given to me when I was 6, I have no idea how much of the book is fact, theory or pure ficton (actually that goes for the bible as well as dan browns efforts).
    So, can any of you learned folkes shed some light on this for me? I know the church isn’t exactly famous for its equal rights policies, but has it actively set out to oppress women as Mr Brown would have me believe, and is it therefore where the modern(ish)ideology that females are inferior to males began?

  79. #79 Azkyroth
    October 6, 2007

    Another bizarre statement. Are you seriously under the impression that proponents of the argument don’t realize that human anatomical and physiological characteristics, and human instincts, are part of human biology? The anthropological findings I described are very strong evidence that male domination of the public and political is rooted in biology precisely because these are universal features of human cultures.

    The trait of male domination of society is a reflection of our human biology, of human genes. In that sense, absent genetic engineering, it does reflect an “immutable element of human nature.” That doesn’t mean male domination of every society is inevitable, that the effect of the biology cannot be suppressed by culture. But it does suggest that a politically/publicly gender-neutral society would be difficult to achieve. The costs might outweigh the benefits. Absent really drastic changes to our genes or reproductive practises, I expect men will continue to dominate positions of power in most free human societies, because for biological reasons men and women will continue to make different choices, and men’s choices will tend to be more conducive to positions of power than women’s.

    Let me rephrase, then.

    An entirely plausible possibility is that the traditional gender roles developed in an environment, including the challenges faced, the technology available, and the state of culture and institutions, such that the benefits of the present arrangement, given the differences in physical capabilities between males and females, outweighed the costs THEN, but that the persistence of this model through the radical changes in challenges faced, technology available, and growth of cultural institutions (where it is no longer providing an obvious benefit) may be solely due to cultural inertia rather than to anything genetic, inherent, or immutable. Your assumption above seems to be that it is absolutely certain that the prevalence of gender inequality is because the present relationship is somehow “hardwired”, and like most “it’s biological” advocates, you seem to have not even considered the possibility that a learned response to environmental pressures could become fixated culturally by first being taught from one generation to the next and then codified as culture developed. Instead, they jump to the conclusion that the present arrangement must be hardwired and postulate, as you seem to, that efforts to change it cannot or should not be made. A lot of them, you evidently included, tend to be in the gender upon which this arrangement bestows a privileged position; this potential source of bias also seems to be conveniently ignored. This line of reasoning strikes me as unimaginative and self-serving. Is this clearer, now?

    And if you want to propose a plausible mechanism whereby, in the modern world we live in rather than a primitive hunter-gatherer or early agrarian society, the costs of gender equality would outweigh the benefits, feel free.

  80. #80 John Morales
    October 6, 2007

    As someone born in 1960, I have seen huge social changes during my lifetime.

    I am of the opinion that the advent of practical birth control is one of the main bases for the increase in sex equality.

    In my youth in Spain, it was normal for men to pinch the buttocks of passing women and expect no reprisal – it was seen as a compliment to the woman.

  81. #81 Jason
    October 6, 2007

    Azky,

    An entirely plausible possibility is that the traditional gender roles developed in an environment, including the challenges faced, the technology available, and the state of culture and institutions, such that the benefits of the present arrangement, given the differences in physical capabilities between males and females, outweighed the costs THEN, but that the persistence of this model through the radical changes in challenges faced, technology available, and growth of cultural institutions (where it is no longer providing an obvious benefit) may be solely due to cultural inertia rather than to anything genetic, inherent, or immutable.

    My proposition is that male dominance of political/public power in human cultures is rooted in biological (more specifically, genetic) differences between the sexes. Are you still arguing against that proposition (as you seemed to be in your last post), or only against the more limited proposition that male dominance of cultures that have certain environmental/technological/institutional features is rooted in biology? I am not sure how you think those two classes of culture may be clearly distinguished. What are the features you have in mind?

    It certainly seems to be true that the degree of male dominance has declined as scientific and technological advances, the rule of law, and other developments have made physical strength less important to the success of a culture. This makes sense since men tend to be stronger than women. But physical strength is obviously not the only biological difference between the sexes. Even if we assume that at some point physical strength becomes completely irrelevant to the success of all cultures in all parts of the world, men are likely to continue to dominate positions of power because of other biological differences between men and women, such as the greater aggression of men and the greater physical demands on women for reproduction.

    Of course, we could try to completely compensate for these differences through culture and technology. Perhaps we will one day develop artifical wombs that free women from the need to endure nine months of pregnancy in order to have a child. Perhaps we will one day administer drugs that equalize the level of aggression exhibited by the sexes. Perhaps we will socialize boys into suppressing their aggression, or socialize girls into amplifying theirs, to equalize the levels. But this kind of draconian social engineering doesn’t seem very likely to me. I don’t think it will happen and I don’t think it should happen.

    More likely, men and women will continue to make life choices that tend to lead to male dominance of social, political and economic power. Men will continue to seek power more aggressively than women, because that is their nature. Women will continue to be more willing than men to sacrifice their careers for the demands of children and family, because that is their nature. The imbalance in power won’t be nearly as large as it is in hunter-gatherer cultures, but it will still exist.

  82. #82 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 6, 2007

    despite the “World” series tag.

    Which comes from a newspaper called the New York World.

    The concept of a ‘Sky God’ to balance the Earth Mother figure may have had its origin here.

    Statistics, please. How many religions have one, how many have the other, how many have both?

    Early on there is every likelihood that marriage was either unknown or very much different than what we apply the term to today. Some studies seem to show that matriarchies were common and men may have held a peripheral role with the women or matriarchy selecting mates.

    Which studies? Citations, please.

  83. #83 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 6, 2007

    despite the “World” series tag.

    Which comes from a newspaper called the New York World.

    The concept of a ‘Sky God’ to balance the Earth Mother figure may have had its origin here.

    Statistics, please. How many religions have one, how many have the other, how many have both?

    Early on there is every likelihood that marriage was either unknown or very much different than what we apply the term to today. Some studies seem to show that matriarchies were common and men may have held a peripheral role with the women or matriarchy selecting mates.

    Which studies? Citations, please.

  84. #84 thalarctos
    October 6, 2007

    I wouldn’t take posted signs about bears and menstruating women to necessarily indicate a rational decision based on biological data, so much as risk management’s attempt to cover their ass in every way possible. So many policy decisions are based in risk aversion, rather than in evidence, that it’s not funny.

    The only way to settle the question once and for all about whether bears are more likely to attack menstruating women would be to set up a randomized controlled trial, but I guarantee you’d never get that study past the ethics board.

    That said, I agree everyone should be extremely careful around bears in general.

    Polar bears are smart, but (with maybe the exception of pandas), that seems to be pan-ursinely true. There are documented instances of sun bears in captivity using their rice allotments, not to eat right away, but to lure ranging chickens while they lie in wait. Voilą–”arroz con pollo!

  85. #85 windy
    October 6, 2007

    The only way to settle the question once and for all about whether bears are more likely to attack menstruating women would be to set up a randomized controlled trial, but I guarantee you’d never get that study past the ethics board.

    As long as we are talking bear folklore, ancient Finns had almost the opposite belief from the one discussed above – women’s genitalia had the power to repel bears. It was said that a woman who met a bear in the woods should lift her skirts and “flash” the bear. This was so that the bear could observe that she was not male (hunter, the enemy) and leave her alone. :)

  86. #86 BlockStacker
    October 6, 2007

    it was said that a woman who met a bear in the woods should lift her skirts and “flash” the bear. This was so that the bear could observe that she was not male (hunter, the enemy) and leave her alone. :)

    This might also help to explain the disproportionately high sales of bear suits in Finland.

  87. #87 Hugh
    October 6, 2007

    Yeah, I’ll be all for female equality when women stop bitching about getting shit under their fingernails and become garbagemen and construction workers.

  88. #88 SEF
    October 6, 2007

    Don’t you have female construction workers in your country then? The UK does. So the absence of them in another country might merely indicate further prejudice on the part of the men there, rather than any lack of ability or willingness on the part of the women. I don’t recall seeing a female refuse-collector but I wouldn’t like to bet that there weren’t any of those here either.

  89. #89 Susan Silberstein
    October 6, 2007

    “I recall from cultural antropology that if an Apache man married a Navaho woman, they would have no resources. The reason being that Apache women owned the resources, while Navaho men owned the resources. So the couple would have no resources. I probably got the tribes backward, given my present powers of recall.”

    Traditionally, Navajo women own the land and livestock.

  90. #90 windy
    October 6, 2007

    This might also help to explain the disproportionately high sales of bear suits in Finland.

    LOL! But it wouldn’t work anymore, women wear underwear now :)

  91. #91 Azkyroth
    October 7, 2007

    Yeah, I’ll be all for female equality when women stop bitching about getting shit under their fingernails and become garbagemen and construction workers.

    This has already happened. However, it would certainly behoove the vast majority of both males and females (although this particular pathology seems to be more prevalent among females) to become more tolerant of getting their hands dirty (literally) in the course of getting things done.

  92. #92 truth machine
    October 7, 2007

    There have been several queens as well as kings in European countries over the last thousand years.

    Um, are you unaware that a number current of leaders of democratic societies are women?

    Uh, why would any intelligent person, when wondering about the assumptions of his civilization, attempt to provide answers by rewriting “Quest for Fire”? That’s not inquiry, that’s fan fiction.

    The history of misogyny is a pretty well-established field. Go read.

    I agree with GMT — such naive speculation suggests a deep failure to comprehend the nature of science. Leave such musings to the IDists, libertarians, and other crackpots, and go look at the scientific literature.

  93. #93 truth machine
    October 7, 2007

    Yeah, I’ll be all for female equality

    How big of you.

    when women stop bitching about getting shit under their fingernails and become garbagemen and construction workers.

    I’ll grant my fellow men equality when they start trudging for miles to get clean water, like so many African women. Or do an equal amount of housework and childcare and stop being such sexist neandertals.

  94. #94 truth machine
    October 7, 2007

    I know [The Da Vinci Code is] not exactly a reliable source

    Gee, ya think? It simply reflects myths already in circulation before it was written.

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