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) desires to avoid inbreeding by 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.