Posts Tagged ‘history’

Monogamy

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Monogamy is often given a bad rap these days. According to many feminists, monogamy is a way of controlling women and enforcing patriarchy, and rebelling against this social convention is an integral part of women’s liberation.

Before accepting this worldview, it’s important to examine why monogamy was introduced in the first place, because it certainly hasn’t been around since the dawn of humanity.

As we all know, virtually all modern societies only permit monogamous marriages. However, most cultures that now consider polygamy to be illegal, at some point allowed men to have more than one wife. As long as a culture was governed by an emperor or tribal laws, chances are that polygamy was allowed, especially for men who had the resources to provide for more than one woman.

The interesting thing to note, is that there is a clear correlation between the formation of traditional (conventional) societies, and the abandonment of polygamy. As it turns out, a region or country was simply much easier to organize if monogamy was the norm.

Monogamy decreases violence and civil wars, since almost all men get a wife. Polygamy leaves a lot of men unmarried, and groups of unmarried men have always been a source of civil unrest. In polygamous cultures, wealthy men are the ones who get several wifes, while poor, low status men go without. The only way for these unmarried, poor men to raise their status and get access to one or more women may be to start raiding or robbing, and constantly dealing with those kinds of troubles is not the way to have law and order prevail.

Furthermore, in addition to motivating men to stay law-abiding, monogamy was and is a way for the state to make sure that all children have two parents (and therefore likely to be supported and survive without any help from the state). Lots of children surviving and thriving was tremendously important to the evolution of any culture at this point in time, since population growth was a key factor for progress before the advent of industrialization.

Monogamy was thus a key building block in the creation of a functioning traditional society, that had moved beyond chaos and lawlessness. For all its faults and shortcomings, the traditional way of life represented a huge step forward in human civilization, and monogamy can therefore be said to represent real progress at that point in time.

What’s interesting is that homosexuality likely became taboo in traditional societies and traditional religions since it was perceived as a threat to the (unconscious) model that prescribed heterosexual monogamy and “child production” as the cornerstone of society. This is obviously not the only reason that homosexuality has been discriminated against, but it is one interesting factor that is not often discussed.

What Did Monogamy Mean For Each Sex?

I started out this post by saying that feminists are often critical of monogamy, and view it as a patriarchal construct that benefits men at the expense of women. However, given the historical facts just outlined, we can see that monogamy meant that:

  • Men had to support their wife and family
  • Each child was assigned a father (whether biological or not)
  • Men were expected to give their lives protecting their wife and children
  • Each man had a very good chance to become married and have children
  • Women’s sexuality was controlled, so that the biological father be known with some certainty
  • Women could be sure of being supported and having the children be supported, since divorces were illegal

Many of these implications of monogamy are still true, and therefore it is clearly unfair and incorrect to state that monogamy only benefited men. Women, children and men alike benefited from monogamy – even though it certainly wasn’t a perfect model by any measure, since the static male and female gender roles were still around.

My Vision for the Future

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

It’s easy to point out what is wrong with the current gender roles, or to point out how feminism is incomplete and sometimes plain wrong. What’s harder though, is to be able to state a positive vision for the future, without pointing out all the negatives that can be identified in the gender debate.

So what I would like to do in this post is to simply list my vision for the future, i.e. how I would like men, women and gender roles to evolve. In the not too distant future, I would like the following bullet points to become a lived reality around the world:

  • Gender stereotypes have been completely transcended, and each individual is free to pursue the life path that he or she wants. No boy, girl, woman or man is shamed for having a certain interest, or for wanting to pursue a certain career or be a homemaker. Transcending stereotypes does not necessarily mean that men and women will make the same choices on a group level, since biological differences will still remain in the brain and in bodily makeup.
  • Biological differences between the brains of men and women will no longer be ignored, since scientific research clearly shows that such differences exist. However, biological differences aren’t overemphasized either, since everyone recognizes that each individual is biologically unique, and may not have a brain that corresponds to biological sex.
  • Feminism has been replaced by a gender liberation movement that cares equally about the well-being of both sexes.
  • It has become common knowledge that traditional gender roles arose as a reaction to historical circumstances, and that it made perfect sense at one point to have those gender roles, since they were a functional fit to the current conditions. This understanding enables women and men alike to relax, and to refrain from blaming the other sex for the negative baggage that each gender role has.
  • All legislation is gender neutral, including laws concerning military service and the draft. Gays and lesbians are allowed to get married and adopt children, just like anyone else, since there is no logical reason to uphold such discrimination.
  • Men and women recognize that a marriage is not only about love, it is also something that has a huge impact on your life as a whole. Because of this, men and women form agreements when getting married about what will happen to any children if they are divorced, and how each person will survive financially in case of divorce. Financial and social capital are both valued highly when forming such agreements.
  • Biological paternity and maternity are established on all newborns using DNA testing, and legal paternity and maternity correspond to the results of such testing, unless the child is put up for adoption.
  • Discrimination is frowned upon, as are people who try to blame their own shortcomings on discrimination.
  • Schools teach children relationship skills and emotional awareness, so that the children can grow up to use these skills in the workplace and in personal relationships. This decreases the violence that both sexes instigate in the home, and the violence that men perpetrate outside the home. It also lessens the emotional manipulation of girls and women.

What is your vision for the future?

Why Feminism Came First

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Feminism is a well-established movement around the world, and particularly strong in the most developed parts. In many European and North American countries, feminism is present in the media, in politics, in schools and in legislation. So not only did feminism manage to arise back in the 18th century, but it’s also been hugely successful at spreading its message and implementing change.

However, the masculist movement is conspicuously absent, as is a gender liberation movement that cares about both sexes. Why is this? Why did feminism come first?

The mainstream explanation is of course that women were oppressed while men were not, and therefore the need for feminism was pressing and the need for masculism was non-existent. I believe that explanation to be both simplistic and incorrect, since it is obvious that men too had a constricted gender role and very little real freedom.

I can see five important reasons as to why feminism arose first, and why men’s voices have been more or less completely absent from the gender debate:

1. The Female Value Sphere

Due to the very different gender roles of men and women throughout history, men’s and women’s value spheres have evolved very differently. I won’t describe the male and female value sphere in any detail, but what’s interesting for our purposes is that the female value sphere includes focusing on rights, care, nurturing – and dare I say it: complaining. Women have always been responsible for making sure that enough resources are available to raise a baby, and to do that you need to focus on your rights and complain when your needs are not being met.

This means that while women may not have had any official positions in the public sphere at the time that feminism arose, they were used to complaining when they weren’t happy about their situation. And to start a movement that protests against a perceived injustice, you need to be ready to complain.

2. Having Time To Analyze

In the 18th century, when feminism arose, upper and middle class women were the only group in society that had time to analyze their own situation, especially the ones with grown-up children or or no children at all. So the wealth created by men in the public sphere allowed women to start thinking beyond survival, while men were still preoccupied with performing and bringing in resources.

Similarly, in the 1960s, when feminism exploded into mainstream consciousness, the driving force was a large group of middle class women who had been well educated and also had a lot of free time to think about their own situation.

Having the time to think about one’s own situation, is obviously a prerequisite for becoming dissatisfied and wanting to implement change.

3. The Male Value Sphere

The male value sphere arose from men’s roles and responsibilities in the public sphere, and is thus very different from the female value sphere. The male value sphere focuses on getting things done and not complaining, preferably while being silent. These characteristics were essential to be efficient in the public sphere, especially when many men had to work together.

However, this means that men simply don’t have the instinct to complain, or to speak up about a perceived injustice. Men tend to know their place in the male hierarchy, and if they’re not happy about their personal circumstances, the solution has always been to work harder or work smarter, while complaining is generally seen as “unmanly” and as something that will expose one’s weakness.

4. In-Depth Analysis

The limitations of the male gender role are more subtle and covert than the limitations of the female gender role – and are thus harder to spot, unless our analysis is both wide and deep. Men have traditionally had access to money, which is something very tangible, as opposed to the more intangible social connections and social capital that women have access to. Men’s power in the public sphere has been visible, while women’s power in the private sphere has been invisible.

The feminist way of framing things has also made it harder to spot the constrictions of the male gender role, by turning the spotlight away from the plight of men. We all know about men’s dominance of the public sphere, but not men’s expendability in the public and private sphere. Men working long days away from home is considered a privilege, and not a sad story that prevents you from spending time with your children and getting to know them.

Not only did feminism come first, but once the feminist rhetoric was it place, it became very hard to even think the thought that men may be struggling within an impossible gender role.

5. Male Change Is Scary

We are so used to men building civilization and building wealth, that the very thought of changing the male gender role scares a lot of people, or perhaps it scares culture as a whole. I believe this is why the male gender role is even more narrow than the female gender role (which research indicates), and why we have so many ways of keeping men “manly” and keeping men in their performing role.

Who will take care of us if men aren’t there to risk their lives to save us from a fire, or if men aren’t ready to devote their lives to their careers for the benefit of society? We all depend on men to feel safe, and to have the wheels of civilization keep on turning.

In popular culture women are often portrayed as being dissappointed that men take them for granted. However, as a culture we probably take male sacrifice and male expendability more for granted than anything else.

What Now?

The image that emerges is one of men that are focused on performing and working, while not being used to complaining or thinking about the role they have. Women however, have no trouble complaining, and once history gave them the time to think about their own situation there were obvious examples available of how they were being shortchanged.

Furthermore, changing the male gender role is plain scary, because male expendability and male sacrifice make people feel safe. All in all this made feminism come first, before any masculism or neutral gender liberation movement.

Most men still have to pause and reflect upon their own situation, in part due to the male value sphere, but especially as feminism and the media tell them that they have all the advantages. I dearly hope that this is changing now, and that men are waking up and starting to find their authentic voices. Not only will this be good for men, but I suspect women are longing to connect to men who have this kind of self-awareness, and who can stand up for their own rights.

Who Produces the Food? – Part Two

Friday, February 13th, 2009

This is the second and final installment of my overview of how gender roles and food production are intertwined throughout history. If you haven’t already, please read Part One to get an introduction to the subject.

Obtaining enough food to survive has been the main occupation of humanity for thousands of years. The close relationship between food production and survival, means that the manner of producing food is one of the key factors that has driven the evolution of gender roles.

The Stone Age (Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras)

During the Stone Age, there were two primary strategies available for finding food: you could go hunting for meat, or you could gather roots, nuts, herbs and fruits. These hunter-gatherer societies had still not discovered farming, so that wasn’t an option.

Hunter-gatherer societies appear to have had a fairly strict division of labor, with men performing all of the hunting, and women doing most of the gathering. The reasons for this kind of division of labor are pretty straightforward. Men simply have superior upper body strength compared to women, and men can also run faster, both of which are advantageous in order to be a successful hunter. Furthermore, women become pregnant while men don’t, and being pregnant would slow down a hunter tremendously while also risking a miscarriage (which would be a disaster in terms of human survival). Babies also needed to be nursed for up to three years, which all in all made it very difficult for women to participate in the hunting.

The best choice available to maximize chances of survival was therefore to let men do the hunting while letting women do most of the gathering and taking care of the children. So even at the very dawn of humanity, we see a tendency for men to work away from home, and for women to stay close to their children and work near the home. These roles were established without any discrimination occurring, they simply represent what worked best at this point in time.

Horticulture(Neolithic era)

Horticultural farming was the first kind of farming that human beings developed, and it simply means farming using a digging stick or a hoe. What’s interesting about horticultural farming is that it does not require the upper body strength of men, nor does it increase the risk of a pregnant woman miscarrying. Consequently, women are perfectly capable of sowing crops using a digging stick or a hoe, and this is exactly what they ended up doing.

During the horticultural era, the men continued to go hunting, while the women did most of the farming as well as the gathering of roots, herbs and nuts. Hunting was still a very bad choice for women, for the reasons listed above, so this division of labor was likely quite straightforward. However, the addition of farming led to women producing around 80 percent of the foodstuff!

This overwhelming female dominance in producing food led to women gaining more importance in the public sphere, and it was also reflected in the religious practice. The horticultural period corresponds to the era of the “Great Mother”, the “Earth Goddess” and other female deities. In fact, the majority of deities became female, simply because these societies – consciously or unconsciously – recognized the important role that women played in obtaining food.

In spite of this increased female influence in the public sphere, horticulture did not lead to a matriarchy, though some societies were matrilineal and traced ancestry through the mother. Research indicates that a matriarchy has never existed (all described cases of matriarchy have been debunked), so clearly there are other factor besides food production that influence governance in a society (this is likely related to neurohormonal factors, something that I will address in future blog posts).

Agrarian Farming

While horticultural farming was carried out using a hoe or a simple digging stick, agrarian farming involved heavy plows drawn by oxen or horses. The sheer weight of these plows meant that they had to be operated by men, since women did not have the strength to do so. Additionally, the risk of miscarriage increased if women tried to operate these heavy plows.

Since agrarian farming and the keeping of livestock meant that no hunting, gathering or horticultural farming was needed, men all of a sudden produced virtually all of the food! This was a radical change from previous eras in human history, and the impact this had on cultures around the world was huge.

Men now had to work in the fields (away from home), and women had to do most of the lighter chores and raise the children (within the home). Agrarian farming created a sharper separation between the male and female gender roles than ever before, with the public sphere becoming a male only sphere, and the private sphere becoming a female only sphere.

The agrarian phase thus marks the start of what is often referred to as patriarchy. Instead of having female goddesses the deities now became men, or rather a single man, simply referred to as God. Please note though that I’m not talking about patriarchy as “a system where women’s interests are subordinated to the interests of men” but instead “a system where men are responsible for the public sphere, and women are responsible for the private sphere”. There was no oppression involved in setting up patriarchy, it simply crystallized into being since it was the best choice available at the time for both genders.

Industrialization and the Information Age

What’s interesting to note is that once industrialization freed humankind from depending on raw strength to perform heavy work, rapid change started happening more or less instantly. In a couple of hundred years, a snap of the fingers historically speaking, gender roles have evolved significantly. Women have been given the right to vote, the right to work and the right to have a voice in the public sphere. Once the factors that kept women in the home were removed, women were given the possibility to have a life outside the home.

My prediction is that men are now next in line to be given more choice and more freedom, and to have their gender role be less constricted. Then and only then, will men and women be able to work side by side to co-create the future.

Conclusion

These simple historical facts about food production demonstrate that oppression isn’t needed as an explanation for how gender roles came about. We can see a very clear trend of simple biological facts affecting or even determining what gender roles arose. Women’s ability to become pregnant, and women’s lesser upper body strength, have been instrumental in deciding the roles of women and men from early Stone Age right up to the era of traditional farming.

Gender roles haven’t developed as the result of human introspection or conscious choices, instead men and women have simply taken on the roles that would allow their tribe or community to be as effective as possible at obtaining food. This rhymes well with my own mantra that gender roles have always been a functional fit to the circumstances at hand, and not some kind of secret conspiracy to oppress women.

By getting our facts straight, a lot of misattributed male guilt and male shaming can be released, something that is long overdue in the current discourse on gender roles. The feminist attribution of guilt to men as a collective, is something I want to play a part in terminating.

I hope that the facts outlined in this post can contribute to a deeper understanding of gender roles that does not shame or put down either men or women.

Who Produces the Food? – Part One

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably noticed my conviction that male and female gender roles have become what they are today since at one point in time they were a functional fit to the circumstances at hand. Gender roles have never been static, even though we can see some trends that have persisted through the ages, and the roles of men and women have fluidly adapted to whatever was needed for humankind to survive and thrive at a certain point in time. Some aspects of the gender roles that women and men have had to endure have been constrictive, oppressive or even downright traumatizing – but a certain gender role has never arisen with the intent to hurt anybody.

In fact, whether a gender role is hurtful or not to the individual hasn’t even been a factor when establishing gender roles: it’s been far to important to secure human survival to pay attention to individual needs or desires. Men and women have been willing to make tremendous sacrifices to ensure the survival of their offspring, even if that has meant limited freedom and constricted gender roles. So while we may nowadays view the gender roles of the past as oppressive, chances are that the people who were alive back then felt that the roles made perfect sense.

We need to remember that human beings who lived in more primitive eras, likely did not analyze the role they had, nor the role of the opposite sex. Being conscious enough to reflect on your own daily situation was something that arose when human culture became more civilized and imminent starvation wasn’t a threat. Human culture and consciousness have never stopped evolving, and it’s unlikely that human beings 10,000 or even 1,000 years ago were able to analyze themselves to the extent that we can do nowadays. Throughout the bulk of history, gender roles simply crystallized into being, based on what was needed to secure survival and prosperity for the coming generation, without any thoughts about what was fair or desirable for individuals.

I’ve already written about how competition between different cultures helped created the male and female gender roles that we recognize today. Another important factor that affects how gender roles come about, and how gender roles change over time, is whether men or women produce most of the food in a certain era. For example, there seems to be a clear connection between who produces the most food, and what gender gains influence in the public sphere.

The interesting thing about food production is that it seems to be an almost forgotten aspect of how gender roles came about, and how gender roles have changed over time. In my next post, I will outline how food production and the establishment gender roles were intimately connected during the Stone Age, the Horticultural Era and the Agrarian Era – as well as speculate what will happen now that we live in industrial and informational societies. I will also define what horticultural and agrarian means, if you’re not familiar with those terms (they’re not as fancy as they sound ;) ).


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