Is Sexism Men’s Fault?

2009-01-13-0obama[1]Is male dominance natural and normal? Did sex inequality arise as men’s brute strength cowed women into compliance? My students often think so, saying things like, “Men have always ruled,” as though it’s inevitable. Or, “Men are bigger and stronger so they can bully women into submission.”

I guess we’ve made some progress since I don’t also hear the old argument that women are naturally dependent.

Most people don’t know that men haven’t always been in charge.

When Europeans first made contact with America Indians they were amazed – and appalled – at their equality.

Matrilocal, the husband took his place with his wife’s family after marriage. Matrilineal, relatives were traced through the female line. Property passed through women. Killing a woman brought a double penalty.

Europeans were aghast that native men needed to speak with their wives before taking action!

Men and women both had tribal councils. If the men voted to go to war and the women disagreed, the women could refuse to provide corn (their staple) leaving the men backing down.

Other egalitarian cultures include the Arapesh, the !Kung, and Tahitians (before European contact), to name a few. In fact, it appears that parity was not uncommon prior to agriculture.

Inequality seems to have arisen not because men purposely tried to hurt women and help themselves, but via some seemingly innocuous routes, 1) agriculture and 2) attempts to avoid inbreeding via trading, selling, and stealing women (who could have more children and make the tribes larger and stronger). I’ll discuss these dynamics in a later post.

But we know that gender inequality is not predestined. And men do not inevitably try to dominate women through brute force.

Today many men work for women’s equality, too.

And I’d like to thank them.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 28, 2012, in feminism, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I find this post very interesting I never really heard about sexual equality in the past. It could be pure ignorance of mine but I don’t ever remember hearing about this in school. Ever since I’ve been going to school it seems like they teach about how men are more powerful, stronger, etc. So it kind of makes me think about how much of this sexual inequality is actually being tought at school?

  2. Very good post!

    While there are undeniable biological differences between men and women that COULD influence societal development at a very primal level, it is certainly not the only factor. Especially for any moderately developed civilization, physical force or persuasion plays an increasingly irrelevant role as that civilization progresses.

    To not recognize the equal rights of women or use as a justification to limit rights based on the fact that SOME societies historically developed to be patriarchal is just simply hogwash. Especially in as advanced a civilization as we have now. To not question current standards and strive for better equality is a grievous error (and morally deplorable in my opinion). Using excuses such as biological differences, or that “it has always been that way” is just absurd at this point.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Physical differences between women and men definitely do not have to cause sex inequality. We know this because there are cultures out there that have had sex equality.

  3. It does not surprise me that your students thought as such, seeing as they have grown up in a patriarchal man-made society, that sometimes disguises itself as a naturally occurring phenomenon.

  4. Also in many religious traditions, women use to be very dominant and revered.

  5. Hmmm. Love this article, Georgia–thanks so much for it. A healthier culture can arise from one that accepts the strength of both its men and its women, and celebrates both. I am thankful for all the men and women who have made this possible.

    • People are often surprised to learn that sexism wasn’t really caused by the intentions of men, that we have had egalitarian cultures before, and that many men have joined in the work for equality.

  6. Some women are a lot more sexist than men! Michelle Bachman comes to mind…

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