This entire post by GirlWritesWhat is good, excellent point after excellent point and all flowing in a clear sequence from one point to the next, but there’s one litle point I don’t quite agree with. The whole rest of the post is loaded with good points, enough to write ten posts here exploring, but there’s just this one litle point I want to address, because it’s important in gender relations.
“The myth among feminists that men will insult each other for displaying feminine traits because they see women as inferior is just that–a myth. Men do this because women have a trump card that bestows intrinsic value on them–their uteruses–and they retain that value even when they gender-bend a little. A woman who acts like a woman is not seen as inferior. A man who acts like a woman has always been seen not as a woman, but as a “woman without a womb”. He has no female value, and he has no male value. Therefore, he has NO value at all. And unlike women, men who were not “useful” did–and still do–get thrown on the trash heap of society.”
This much is close to true, but it’s off by a little. It fails to fully address women’s real trump card – they control the home and children.
For one thing while uterus may be valuable, one uterus is not, and historically was not, and for a very simple reason. Women died all the time, mostly in childbirth – humans have the most freakishly difficult parturition in Class Mammalia – so it didn’t make much sense to put too much value on any one uterus. You had to be ready to get replacements and have some stacked up in the queue. Women weren’t exactly disposable the way men are, but society had to adjust and regard women as expendable and replaceable in society because conditions forced it to.
And that’s what happened. In a world where men controlled food production, because they took and defended the land for one thing, and because often the most productive farming methods required a lot of strength, and where men controlled housing because after all they built the houses, it was not hard to recruit women into marriage arrangements. You and the guys could go into the next valley, kill the men, burn the village, take the grain and livestock, and then look over the mob of whimpering children and bewildered women and decide which ones you were going to take home to feed now that winter was coming on.
And of course these new women were preferable from a reproductive prospective anyway, more valuable than your own sisters and cousins, thus the general low-rating of daughters in so much of the world. As the Chinese say with their usual bluntness “A daughter is someone else’s happiness.” So this or that women’s individual uterus was not really all that valuable, even a wife’s, in and of itself. You could always get one or more new ones.
The genetic map of Europe, for instance, reflects this pattern, whether it derives from war or from romance or from the simple desire to eat. You get Y chromosome haplotypes in patterns of geographic concentration while mDNA haplotypes are much more evenly spread. That is a pattern of patrilocality.
So when it comes right down to it, uteruses are cheap and abundant, if you get right down to the nitty-gritty of survival.
Hearth and Home – So what was women’s trump card in this kind of world? Men controlled the houses, but women controlled the home. Only women had the skills to make a house into a home. A boy wasn’t taught these skills, and even if he was willing to learn and someone else was willing to teach, he didn’t have time, because learning the male skills he needed took almost all his time. So it was girls who learned these skills and they were the preserve of women.
In a society where long-range trading, raiding or fishing were important in the economy, the culture needed to develop male disposability as a cultural value and embed it in gender norms. This entrenched women as the keepers of the hearth, because they were the Continuity Of Operations Plan for the family.
This was further entrenched in custom and now in law. That’s as systemic and institutional as it gets. (And no, you don’t get a quick survey course on family law from me if you dispute this assertion. Do your own homework if you are serious about these matters.)
So isn’t that an even division of the endeavors of life – men with their external sphere and women with theirs at home? Not really. Really not at all. What point does all that work outside the home have but to maintain the home? Where do people, both men and women and their children, actually live? At the office? No, not if they actually have lives, they don’t.
Assigning women control of the home and children is the power trump card in any society. It’s the whole point of living for most of us.
The Cover-Up – Now of course a position of power like this has to be denied, explained away or somehow distorted into a form of disempowerment if you are going to maintain you victim status so you can demand protection and provision, the other structural member of the female gender role in traditional society. Let’s look at the forms this takes:
“A woman’s place is in the kitchen is that what you think?” – This was the battle cry of 60s feminism. The corporate world beckoned and housewives were slaves of sexism. I happen to think all adults should work outside the home, not all can for any number of completely solid reasons, but work outside the home is the economic basis of this society. I’m favor of economic equality.
“Men don’t really care anyway..? backed with all kinds of anecdata and stereotypes, this is most current nowadays. It is beginning to crumble in the face of the mounting evidence of fathers parenting when given even the slightest chance.
“Women are the natural nurturers.” Oh, right – that’s probably why they commit the majority of child abuse. That’s why single parenthood is such a risk factor in multiple ways for children.
I was going to continue with a discussion of how destructive to a man it is to be thrown out of his home without due process under laws which honor one genders fears over another s basic human rights and how soul-killing it is to have your children taken away by a court and alienated away by a lying co-parent. But I won’t. If either of those is new to you or in any way controversial, you have a lot of catching up to do before we can have a fruitful conversation.
So that’s how hearth and home work to give women their historical position of power. In a lot of societies the customs don’t protect that position at all, they put it at risk of male power at all times, but that has never been the case in the West, at any point in its recorded history.
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