Female-dominant cultures?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Mouthwash, Mar 16, 2017.

  1. Yeekim

    Yeekim Moderator Moderator

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    In order to successfully dominate/bully someone, beating them "to death" is generally not necessary. Even a simple threat of beating is often quite enough. Why get stuck on what was clearly an off the cuff hyperbole? I'm not sure what or why you're even arguing here. What do you think the "ability to control women's access to the world outside of the household" was ultimately based on, if not physical strength? Bigger brains? :rolleyes:
     
  2. Olleus

    Olleus Deity

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    It could simply be that women spent a lot of time pregnant or breast feeding. Those are things which men biologically cannot do, unlike looking after older children, which women do more for cultural reasons.

    If you take the average birth rate to be ~8 per women pre-industrial world, add in 6 months of pregnancy where physical labour (which was most work back then) was ruled out, and 12 months of breast feeding (should be more like double or triple that), then a woman would spend 12 years of her life almost entirely occupied with child birth. Assuming children are mostly had between the ages of 15 and 35, that means a woman would spend half her time just having babies. No wonder it was hard for them to make any headway in life, they only had half the time to do it!

    Furthermore, this is actually a testable hypothesis. Look at the few women who were powerful/successful pre-1900, and compare how many children they had compared to other women from a similar background. I predict that there will be a large difference in birth rates between the two groups, much larger than between powerful/not-powerful men. Actually, this is such an obvious study I'd be shocked if no one had done it already.
     
  3. Yeekim

    Yeekim Moderator Moderator

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    While I don't dispute your general point, you don't seriously think that pregnancy in pre-industrial world meant being excluded from physical labour for 6 months, do you?
    I mean... we're barely few generations removed from time when it was not uncommon for a pregnant peasant woman to go into labor while working on a field.
     
  4. Olleus

    Olleus Deity

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    No you're right. However, it does reduce how much physical labour you can perform. Maybe it's better to say that for 6 months you are, on average, half as productive as otherwise?
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

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    Believe me, there are plenty of women for whom pregnancy makes any work at all impossible for almost all the nine months, and that's with the advantages of modern medicine.
     
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  6. Lexicus

    Lexicus Deity

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    Pregnancy itself is and should be seen as work
     
  7. Ferocitus

    Ferocitus Deity

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  8. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    What power would physical strength actually give husbands over their wives and daughters? A woman can kill a man pretty easily, if she sets her mind to it; physical strength is only going to be the deciding factor if her preferred method was a to-the-death kickboxing match, rather than, say, collapsing his skull with a rock while he sleeps. Observing that men are generally stronger than women doesn't, in itself, actually explain anything about society.

    For the threat of a husband beating his wife to actually make sense as a threat, for it to function as a tool of control, we have to assume a whole social structure in which women are socially, politically and economically dependent on men. Else, the threat of a husband beating their wife is the same as threatening to beat anybody else: an unpleasant moment of antisociality that will probably end up with somebody in handcuffs.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2018
  9. Yeekim

    Yeekim Moderator Moderator

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    ... and how would you explain the emergence of precisely such social structure then, @Traitorfish?
     
  10. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    Division of labour. The emergence of discrete households as the primary units of economic production places men- specifically, the patriarchal husband or father- as the mediator between women and all of society outside of the household. Women cannot trade, make contracts, own property, even represent themselves in court, but must rely on the husband or father to do those things on their behalf- and where they do those things, they do so as the proxy of the husband, not as individuals. Those few exceptions- widows, holy women, certain noblewomen- are always a source of contention, and will face frequent attempts to either force them back into their "proper" place (widows), or to fence them off as special and different and not the source of any general rules about what women can and can't do (holy women), or both of the above in turn (noblewomen).
     
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  11. Yeekim

    Yeekim Moderator Moderator

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    True only when fathers are decidedly bigger and stronger than mothers.
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Super Moderator

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    It only takes a general tendency for fathers to be bigger and stronger than mothers at an early stage for that system to become established and apply even in those cases where fathers are not bigger and stronger than mothers.
     
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  13. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    That's not self-evident. Young men are stronger than old men, but young men commonly found themselves subordinate to old men- fathers, masters, priests, lords.
     
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  14. Yeekim

    Yeekim Moderator Moderator

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    What Plotinus said.
    I struggle to think of any other explanation as to why or how "the emergence of discrete households as the primary units of economic production" would place "men- specifically, the patriarchal husband or father - as the mediator between women and all of society outside of the household".
    If sexual dimorphism in humans manifested in females being larger and stronger, the emergence of discrete households would likely lead to family matriarch being the mediator between the household and wider society.
     
  15. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    What is about physical strength that would actually position either men or women as the natural intermediary between household and society? That is the question you're not answering. You've taken it for granted that physical strength equals dominance, but that's in no way self-evident.

    As I have pointed out, it is super easy for women to kill men. Even in a straight fight, two average women could take one average man to pieces. People in real life are fragile. It's not enough to simply observe that a given person is stronger than another person to establish an inevitable relationship of subordination between one and the other. Whether or not men are stronger than women is entirely besides the point that this observation contains little to no explanatory power, at least not by itself.

    If you're looking for a biological explanation for this power imbalance, you'd be better off looking at reproduction. Women in the pre-modern era spent a large portion of their adult life pregnant or nursing. That places significant limitations on physical exertion and mobility. No coincidence that the availability of contraceptives and abortifacients tracks closely to the status of women within a given society, in both the sense that their availability tends to liberate women, and that liberated women are more likely to access and employ them. The reason that is less appealing as a starting-point, I fancy, is that it puts the "natural" relationship between men and women more clearly within human control, and not just in the modern era but from very ancient times (women having figured out how to manage their reproductive cycle when men were still figuring out which end of the pointy stick goes into the antelope), and upsets the whole apple-cart of a patriarchy handed down from God and/or Nature, delete as ideological preference dictates.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
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  16. Olleus

    Olleus Deity

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    While I broadly agree with Traitorfish, I'm not sure it's the whole story.

    You could argue that men being stronger makes them more economically active (when most work was manual labour). Being those who produce the most food or tools, or any other resource, naturally puts men in a position of power. To support this, I can point out that women's rights movements started c.1900, which is before the contraceptive pill but exactly at the time when labour become less about strength and more mechanised. Of course the two ideas are closely related, spending lots of time pregnant/nursing reduces the economic output of women in the same way as being physically weaker.

    Another possible mechanism is war. Men being stronger makes them more suited to warfare. Warfare is a high status activity because it brings potential huge rewards, or the destruction of one's own society. It also requires a strong societal bond with those of your tribe/state. It's therefore not surprising that good warriors have a historical tendency to become kings. If the top of your social hierarchy is structured one way, that might filter through to the individual family unit - especially in small societies where there is no intermediary between "big poncho" and "head of the family".

    My underlying point is there there's a million different ways to explain this. But post-facto explanations are never going to be decisive and convincing.
     
  17. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    Our problem there is, economic activity isn't individualised like this in a pre-capitalist society. (It's not really individualised like this in a pre-capitalist society, but we all pretend it is.) The unit of production is the household, not the work: the husband and wife are two components of a whole that only works as a whole, not two individuals who bring a certain amount of economic value to a table and negotiate a contract based on that. Without a wife, or other female household-member filling the same role, the farmer or artisan goes naked, hungry and very quickly dead. There is certainly an aspect of economic dependence, because men are able to own property, engage in commerce, and acquire formal status as craftsman, but all of those exclusions assume an existing model of patriarchy.

    This become especially pronounced as production becomes increasingly effected by markets. Consider a specific craft, weaving: in most of the pre-modern world, women were the primary producers of textiles, because they were produced largely for household consumption. Only a minority of noble households produced a surplus. Men only become dominant in weaving as it become a commercial activity, as production shifted from household consumption to a surplus for trade in market. There's evidently nothing about male physiology that makes them better weavers, rather, the social structure dictated that if weaving was a trade, it should be done by men.

    I think, rather, what we tend to see is that men and women are already position within the household such that one occupies a more external role, and one a more internal role, when the household begins to enter into more complex relationships with the outside world. It is the economic value of masucline or female labour that creates this inequality, but rather the greater ability of men to realise their labour as value outside of the household. It takes both a man and a woman for a pre-modern agricultural household to function, for it to actually produce enough to be self-sufficient let alone to produce a surplus, but when the man is involved more directly in producing a surplus good, something which is produced for trade or tribute, and the woman is only producing for direct household consumption, that creates, if not dependence, then the possibility of dependence.

    This is perhaps why, as crafts become marketable, they become masculine: if weaving for surplus becomes possible and in-demands, allowing women to do so would make them far less reliant on their husbands. An historical example of this is the female pearl-divers of Jeju, in Korea: because women produced a surplus god, their society was more egalitarian than most contemporaries; and, equally, because their society was more egalitarian, it was tolerable for women to produce a surplus good.

    There's something to this, insofar as there's certainly a relationship between military service and free-subjecthood or citizenship, which helps people think of these roles in narrowly masculine terms. But there are a few snags. First, in in most complex societies, war is an elite activity. Most men are involved in war only intermittently, perhaps once or twice in their lifetime, and for relatively short periods of time. The relationship between subjecthood and service becomes then largely symbolic, a set of entitlements and obligations that exist in practice more than in principle than in practice. And in practice, when mass military service became necessary, it wasn't uncommon for men to substitute adult sons in military service; the armies of Washington were filled by farmboys and apprentices, moreso than yeoman and artisans, the relationship between service and citizenship remaining for the fathers a symbolic one. (But not so for the returning veterans, who would go on to dominated American political life.)

    Further, and perhaps more tellingly, not all societies in which war was a more democratic process were markedly patriarchal. We can point to the Iroquois, and because this is a post in which Traitorfish talks about history, we inevitably will, but we can also look at societies like the Norse or Mongols, in which a distinct warrior elite did exist, but in which farmers or herders were also part-time warriors, and in these societies we tend to see that women have a degree of power and status that more pacific societies did not. In part, this was precisely because their husbands were warriors: there were long periods of time in which a household may be left without an adult man, which naturally forced a women to carry out extensive activity in managing and representing the household, and because they were required to so with greater autonomy, they were less clearly the proxy for their husband as a partner, or at least a sort of executive assistant.

    That I do certainly agree with. Whether there is one cause or a hundred, we're looking at historical processes unfolding over hundreds and thousands of years, and not in any straight line from equality to patriarchy and back again. Women and men related to each other in different ways at different times in different places, and there's always a process of negotiation at work. It's never sufficient to just say "X, so Y".
     
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  18. innonimatu

    innonimatu Deity

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    Sorry but you are just making that up. There was such a thing as the artisan who traded (that was the whole point of being an artisan!) and could buy whatever you claim were women-produced products. Likewise for the farmed who dispatched its surplus to the city where the artisans resided. The ancient household was not autarkic anywhere where it was in the zone of influence of an urban center, and that was most of the ancient "civilized" world. More importantly, those were (outside the nomadic zones or the nearly inaccessible ones) the places where the power seats of every polity were located. The self-sufficient household was not a thing there.

    And this is absolutely, demonstrably false. From reading histories of medieval Europe, my impression (and I don't expect anyone to have statistics, it is impossible) women did more spinning,. Weaving was actually done mostly by men in many regions. Spinning actually took as long if not longer to do, as part of the whole work of doing a piece of cloth. And a whole "pre-capitalist" (though you may argue whether it was) industry of home production of pieces, from materials supplied by merchants, was already in place in pre-modern times. Such activities go back a long, long time.

    The only thing it takes both a man and a woman to do is children. Everything else is your speculation.

    I sympathize with theorizing, with trying to figure out patterns and frameworks from history. I'm certainly guilty of that myself. But with it comes the temptation to assume facts that fit the theory one is trying to back. Facts however are both plenty (meaning they can be cherry-picked) and scarce (in aggregate, we don't have reliable statistics to know which anecdotes were actually the norm...), more so the further back we go.
     
  19. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    I didn't say that households were self-sufficient. I said that the household was the unit of production. That, before the introduction of modern divisions of labour, any given task within the household was not attributed a specific economic value, and that it would not have occurred to people in this era to do so, because that's a framework derived from a society based on wage-labour.

    :huh:

    I'm quite prepared to accept that this varies with time and place. It was a generalisation to make a point, that the gendering of certain activities changed over time, and the change seemed to be structured less by how physically demanding a task was than the social role of the task. You could pick any number of other crafts: tailoring, baking, butchery, brewing. All activities which were largely carried out by women primarily for household consumption, but became dominated by men when production shifted towards surplus or commodity production. Unless you are prepared to argue that you could walk into any Bronze Age hamlet and point out the baker, the butcher and the tailor, that these were already operating as distinct commercial ventures, like some sort of quaint Old West township, then it stands to reason that somebody must have been baking bread, butchering meat, and sewing clothes, and as a rule, these sort of activities, carried out in about the household, were done by women. Again, there may be exceptions, that is not the point, rather, the point is that past a certain pretty limited point, society dictates divisions of labour within a household more than biological sex.

    I men, biologically, yes. But a strong thread throughout my whole argument is that biology is not sufficient to explain how human society works. To say that it a man or woman are necessary to reproduce pre-modern hormones is not to say that it biologically, physically requires one specimen of each sex. It is to say that it requires both the work customarily done by men and the work customarily done by women; that it requires somebody to farm the fields and thatch the roof, and it requires somebody to bake the bread and stitch the clothes. If a man or a woman can do all of these things, more power to them. But on the whole, describing societies rather than individuals, they did not.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2018
  20. innonimatu

    innonimatu Deity

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    I should make my objection clearer. You stated as an historic fact that "women were the primary producers of textiles, because they were produced largely for household consumption." We do have accounts that the production of textiles in pre-modern times (the modern era starting after the 1600s in Europe, or according to some people later after the end of the ancient regime) there were already plenty of textile industries. I'm not linking to sources because there are pages and pages of those in history books on medieval economy.
    But going further back, to classical or pre-classical times, we still have no evidence that weaving was generally some kind of specialized women's job. Was the cloth in the ancient sumerian cities produced by men or women? Can we know that? Egypt? China? It is not enough to point at a poem that mentions a woman, or a prescription (which does not mean it was applied) in the Arthashastra that old women could be employed in weaving, to conclude that weaving was only done by women. Quite far from your household model of economy, all these ancient societies had complex economies where the temple, the ruler's household, and wealthy merchants organized about beyond the strict necessities of the household, and fed a trade on textiles. Even in pre-colonial Africa cloth was a currency, you cannot get it more a part of trade than that!

    I do believe that in the Bronze Age people already traded. Not a lot, but they must have traded. However I'm not very concerned with what went on in the small hamlet because very early on political power was established in the cities, which were places with organized labour, division of labour and plenty of commerce. And there your story that "the farmer or artisan goes naked, hungry and very quickly dead" falls completely apart.
    Were not the sumerian cities bronze-age? Old Kingdom Egypt? They already had cities, organized labour, specialization. They had whole castes of people who did not live in your nuclear family. You cannot reduce the old world to an idealized bronze age small hamlet. It was diverse. And you cannot postulate that the isolated hamlet supplied the social framework for political organization when for the span of several millenia that political power grew out of urban centers, with a different organization.

    Because the world was diverse, it may have been as you said in some places. But it does not explain the whole world, it is not an universal theory, should not be claimed as such. That is what I strongly object to.
     

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