FEMALE DISPOSABILITY – Yes, it is a thing

There won’t be many posts on female disposability because after all it’s not really a feature of our gender system, but there is such a thing as female disposability and it is worth looking at. Commenter Rebecca mentioned it in passing in reference to my passing mention of it on the most recent post on male disposability and it occurred to me it was time to put all this disposability into context. Discussing female disposability in the context of male disposability may have the effect of bringing some around to the problem of male disposability by way of putting the shoe onto the other foot.

What is female disposability? It is simply the female equivalent of male disposability – the cultural norm that says that females and their interests can be sacrificed for the common good and that females should regard this as part of their gender role, that it is unfeminine to balk at being sacrificed. As you can see, female disposability is clearly not part of our gender system in ay way whatever, but it definitely is part of other gender systems. And by the way, it can exist right alongside male disposability. Disposability is not set on a toggle switch.

Female disposability seems to fall into two broad categories. One of these is effects that arise out of a society’s dependence on patrilineal groups as the basis of social and economic organization and the other is as an accommodation to simple necessity, the reality that childbirth unassisted by modern medicine wears women out, either killing them outright or just breaking down their health over a series of childbirths.

Patrilineal social organization

Patrilineal social organization, otherwise known as “families”, is the dominant form of social organization in pre-modern societies across the world. There are some matrilineal societies, such as the Mosuo, but for the most part they are marginal and restricted to marginal corners of the world, like the Mosuo. Matrilineality is apparently not as strong a form of social organization as patrilineality. We can ask the question how that came to be, but we are not going to examine it at this point. Huge, intricate historical question. For our purposes it’s sufficient to point out that the arrangement is very old. Male groups control and protect territory and access to resources, often at the cost other men’s lives – this is what war almost always boils down to – and this requires fairly tight and more to the point, continuing, groups. Men turn to have tighter emotional bonds with their blood kin – their brothers, fathers, cousins – than with the husbands of their wives’ relatives. No big surprise there.

This kind of social organization is going to make sons more valuable than daughters, because sons and not daughters continue the family. Daughters marry out and help continue someone else’s family. It is also going to make sons more valuable than daughters-in-law because, rare eggs or not, you have a finite number of sons but a much wider field of potential daughters in law. And in any case, DILs are never going to have the same loyalty or utility to the patrilineage. I don’t particularly like this model, but hard conditions make for hard choices.

So what forms of female disposability do we expect to see under these conditions?

– Female infanticide and sex-selective abortions – this kind of thing is well-documented in China and India.

– I would add forced marriage in here, except that that is a form of male disposability as well; after all it takes to marry and the chances are good that he’s no happier than she is at being told who to marry. But, no, I will include it, because female disposability does not preclude male disposability.

All of this is summed up in the Chinese proverb: “A daughter is someone’s else’s happiness.”

Necessity

Relative essentiality – As I said above, it’s a lot easier to replace daughters-in-law than sons. But even where that is not really the case, in general men’s work tended to be more essential to the family’s survival than the women’s. That doesn’t mean women’s work was important; in settings where the lion’s share of food processing, almost all clothing, almost all household containers, most furnishings, were the product of women’s work, women’s work was irreplaceable. It’s just that men brought the overwhelming majority of protein into the diet and protected the territory that furnished all the rest of that diet.

There is a piece of evidence that suggest that for thousands of generations the care and feeding of men was prioritized over that of the women in the family. That evidence is the difference between men’s and women’s nutritional needs. Women tend to get by on less than men do, although this may simply be a function of the greater body size men needed because they did all the heaviest most dangerous work. Nevertheless, the fact that women adapted,over the generations, a physical genetic adaptation, may be a response to getting less to eat.

Childbirth – As I said above childbirth wears women out if they don’t have access to modern medicine. For a number of reasons childbirth is abnormally difficult in humans. One of these is evolutionary: humans have really big-headed babies with big brains, that have to pass through the relatively narrow pelvises we need for bipedalism. They other I suspect is also evolutionary: our social arrangements have afforded women the kind of physical security necessary to making prolonged, difficult and often quite loud labor anything other than a chow call to every large predator in the area.

Childbirth was a deadly enough risk that the pre-conquest Mexica considered it the female equivalent of going to war. The dangers of childbirth were universally recognized. The Book of Common Prayer had a special service for women after childbirth, and the wording in the 1559 version – spare, blunt, and graceful – is pretty touching:

THE THANKESGEVINGE OF WOMEN  AFTER CHILDE BYRTHE,

COMMUNELYE CALLED

 

THE CHURCHYNGE OF WOMEN.

 


    The woman shall come into the churche, and there shall knele downe in some convenient place, nyghe unto the place where the table standeth, and the priest standing by her, shal saie these wordes, or suche lyke, as the case that require.

  FORASMUCHE as it hath pleased almyghtye God of hys goodnes to geve you safe delyveraunce, and hath preserved you in the great daunger of childbyrth: ye shal therfore geve heartye thankes unto God and praye….

This is followed by a section of one of the Psalms that is traditionally said in moments of mortal danger and the service concludes:

Let us praie.

O ALMIGHTYGod, which hast delivered this woman thy servaunte from the great paine and peril of childe birthe: Graunt we beseche the most mercifull Father, that she through thy help may bothe faithfully live, and walke in her vocation, accordyng to thy wil, in this lyfe present, and also may be partaker of everlastyng glory in the lyfe to come, throughe Jesus Christ our Lorde. Amen.

    The woman that commeth to gine her thanckes, muste offer accustomed offerynges, aud if there be a Communion, it is convenient that she receive the holy Communion.

This type of female disposability was not a cultural choice or the result of cultural evolution, it was simply an acknowledgement of a grim medical reality. The fact that very few even know about this little service tucked away in the Book of Common Prayer says a great deal about the progress society has made in protecting women.

 

As I said, there isn’t much left to talk about these days when it comes to female disposability, at least not in a society where women are human beings valued simply for existing, while men are human doings, valued for their utility. But it is worth discussing as a matter of historical fact.

 

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  • honest_misanthropist

    very intresting article, i made this same reflection about female disposability some time ago.

    Developements in medical science sure improved the situation a lot but i don’t think that society is completely devoid of it.

  • Ginkgo

    “Developements in medical science sure improved the situation a lot but i don’t think that society is completely devoid of it.”

    Welcome!

    Some societies more than others. There sure is a lot of female disposability and a lot of it seems to be driven by other women, e.g dowry exortion – MILs trying to extort money out of a DIL’s family by threatening to kill the DIL.

    I tried to find examples in our society and couldn’t. In education, in public safety, in family life and the family court system, in just about everything, we center women’s interests.

  • VU

    In the past and in areas with low standards of medical care both sexes where considered disposable for acquiring resources or fighting wars (expanding or protecting the power of the state.) The Spartans famously gave men a headstone if they died in battle and women one if they died in child birth.

    Both genders would have been shamed if they didn’t want to do their duty for the state. Men if they didn’t want to go to war and women if they didn’t want to have children. Because in order to win future wars you need sons to grow up and fight them and daughters to make more sons to fight even more wars.

    With modern medicine came a huge boost in population, mainly due to vaccines and anti-bodics but also due to surgery. Now we have a large population and and technology has become so important to war that there is very little concern that another army might outnumber us. This has essentially freed women from what used to be their service to society. However what has not changed is there is still fighting to do, there are still criminals who threaten people every day and there are still resources that are hard to get and therefore dangerous such as coal.

    This is why male disposability never really went away. The traditional function of men to do the dangerous work and protect society never went away, while the traditional function of women to have lots of children instantly became less and less important.

    However the vestiges of these attitudes can still be seen in our culture by the undying praise we give to those who perform their function. Military and Police officers are among the most praised men in the US, even if the media feels obligated to include the PC “men and women” even though everyone knows most of the fighting and dying is done by men.

    While at the same time we hear constantly that being a mother is the hardest job in the world. (As a fully involved father this irks me.)

    The difference here of course is the feminism has made it culturally unacceptable to praise men to the exclusion of women but not the vise versa. So therefore the media says that the military and police men and women are brave even if hardly any women at all are doing the dying while at the same time it says that MOTHERS (to the entire exclusion of fathers) have the hardest job in the world. And when they find a few mothers who are also police officers or in the military they go absolutely bonkers with appreciation.

    But ultimately both sexes are praised the most for performing the same function to society that their pre-civilization ancestors performed. Either protecting the group or increasing the group’s numbers and teaching this next generation.

    **For the record I do have great appreciation for the roll that both the military and police perform for society no matter if they are male or female (although it’s worthwhile to point out that it is mostly males especially when it comes to sacrificing ones life) and I also have appreciation for the roll that all involved parents (who allow the other parent to be involved if they want to be) play in raising and teaching their children to become productive members of society. I’m merely attempting to make a point.**

  • Ginkgo

    Welcome, VU. Those are all good points.

    “While at the same time we hear constantly that being a mother is the hardest job in the world. (As a fully involved father this irks me.)”

    It is sexist bullshit. it privileges motherhood over fatherhood.

    “However the vestiges of these attitudes can still be seen in our culture by the undying praise we give to those who perform their function. Military and Police officers are among the most praised men in the US, ”

    Your appreciation is more honest that the smarmy lip-service these people get on occasions like Veteran’s day, where the lip service is a makeweight to compensate for the lack of appreciation the rest of the year, as we are seeing in the VA flap right now.

  • dungone

    This was really insightful. I hope it makes people think a little further beyond American post-war society when making proclamations about biological need.

    Just to nitpick, however, women’s biology does allocate more resources to a stronger immune system than men’s, which is essential for a healthy pregnancy. And women do have some greater nutritional needs than men in some areas, if not in caloric intake.

    But yes, there’s so many instances of female disposability to counter the rare egg theory. There’s also the numerous cultures which practiced ritualistic human sacrifice targeting girls. Viking burial sacrifice pretty much says it all, with the more important of a man that died, the more women would be killed along with him.

    There are also biological factors to counter higher male mortality. Even though our culture attempts to counter it with a “women and children first” mentality, it’s clear that women are far less likely to survive through natural and human-made disasters without men looking out for them. And in some cultures that’s actually done on purpose, with parents who would choose to let their daughter drown in a flood in order to save a son, if it came down to that. Other times the first order of business is to save the men just so that the saved men can help everyone else. Western society tends not to think that way, though. In our culture the attitudes are geared towards sparing no expense to save or spare women ahead of everyone else.

  • Ginkgo

    dungone,
    “And in some cultures that’s actually done on purpose, with parents who would choose to let their daughter drown in a flood in order to save a son, if it came down to that.”

    There is a very well-made Chinese movie where the plot turns on just such a decision. It’s frankly quite hard to watch if you are parent.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aftershock_(2010_film)
    It’s on Netflix.

    VU, you said something else that bears repeating:
    “But ultimately both sexes are praised the most for performing the same function to society that their pre-civilization ancestors performed.”

    2WFs (second wave feminists) recognized this and thought it was retrograde, so they advocated for women to go into corporate life as something superior to being housewives. Their excesses of rhetoric (their besetting sin) led to the Mommy Wars. About the same time there was other pushback, on all fronts, because women were finding out just how hard corporate life was. It was so hard that they just went into denial and starting blaming this difficulty on sexism, with all the workplace patch jobs we see today. But in other areas anything female – childbirth, menstrual blood, all of it. this was the era of Goddess Feminism, when logic became patriarchal oppression and all that. This was when anything masculine really started to be demonized and morally inferior, We still see this all around us.

    This is how feminism became the retrograde movement and community that it now is.

  • http://thedamnedoldeman.com TDOM

    Disposability and value go hand-in-hand. In many ways those who are the most disposable are also the most valuable. You hit the nail on the head when you mention men being valued because they provide many of the basic necessities of life and protect those they don’t provide. However, this provision and protection (what I refer to as “production”) results in disposability. Rights arise from this. Rights are the reward for making oneself disposable. (By rights I am not talking of legal rights. I am speaking of the benefits given a particular class as a result of the expectations for them of society.)

    Privilege arises when rights exceed responsibilities for any given group. Historically you are correct. Men and women were both disposable, although in different ways, because both had responsibilities to their societies. As a result, they had different rights as well.

    In other words:
    Value results in disposability. Privilege is the result of rights exceeding responsibilities. Oppression is the result of responsibilities exceeding rights.

    If you examine responsibilities of any given group you will learn the value that society places upon that group. To determine whether or not it is a just society, examine the rights of any group in relation to its responsibilities and compare them across groups.

  • honest_misanthropist

    “I tried to find examples in our society and couldn’t. In education, in public safety, in family life and the family court system, in just about everything, we center women’s interests.”

    Agreed, not on the big things. But i think there are remnants in some attitudes: like the panic of some on the demographics effects of the cultural changes in regard to gender.

  • dungone

    @TDOM, I think that’s an oversimplification to the point where it’s probably not really true as often as it is, or else it works out in less than obvious ways.

    For instance, the American colonies used to conscript single men into the military precisely because they weren’t valuable – i.e. they were not needed to provide for a woman. Married men were exempt from conscription throughout American history, including during the Vietnam war. So what you had is that only married men were “valuable,” but only because they were providing for someone who was even more valuable still – a woman.

    What you’re able to provide is only as valuable as the person who you are providing it for, in the end. So no matter what, the value that you have as a provider is merely a function of the even greater value of someone else.

  • VU

    Ginkgo> Feminism’s relation with masculinity and macho/traditional male attitudes is a very strange one. I don’t think you can really say they want to consider it to be morally inferior. They really just want to cultivate it to best suit women’s needs.

    On one hand they want to foster the attitude that men have traditionally had to protect women from anything and everything. They love that. They get what they want as long as they are always victims of some sort of oppression. They get men to figuratively shoot themselves in the face because it makes them (women) feel safe. And men will line up and do it without even thinking.

    But other things that men traditionally do in terms of male bonding can all of a sudden become sexist. Not too long ago I was debating a woman who didn’t even seem like a feminist who believed that men’s teasing of one another when they make comparisons of each-other to women or girls was inherently sexist even though she admitted the very few women would find comparisons to a man flattering. (I say she didn’t seem like a feminist because she brought up that men seemed more restricted in life then women and she felt that there were positives and negatives for both genders. Something I’ve never heard a feminist admit, because they seem to think that the world is out to hurt women at every turn.)

    And then they get downright bizarre because they seem to want to re-write nature by saying that ads and the like with attractive women are sexist. Almost like they want to shame men for liking to look at pretty girls. In fact the very idea that some girls are prettier then others seems sexist to them. They will casually admit that having a guy with lots of muscles in ads for women is sexist too but these never seem like as big of a deal to them.

    I think I literally blew one woman’s mind once. She was praising Hunger Games for it’s pro woman message as opposed to those other movies that had made it a point to show off pretty women’s assets.

    And I pointed out to her that I watched the Hunger games and it did not escape my attention that the battle suit that Jennifer Lawrence wore for half the movie was really form fitting and that Jennifer Lawrence is a rather attractive woman and it’s not like they cast Melissa MaCarthy as Katniss.

  • Ginkgo

    VU,
    “Ginkgo> Feminism’s relation with masculinity and macho/traditional male attitudes is a very strange one. I don’t think you can really say they want to consider it to be morally inferior. They really just want to cultivate it to best suit women’s needs.

    On one hand they want to foster the attitude that men have traditionally had to protect women from anything and everything. They love that. They get what they want as long as they are always victims of some sort of oppression. ”

    Ah but they do at least label it as morally inferior, and you explain why they do it:
    “They get what they want as long as they are always victims of some sort of oppression.”

    Label your privilege as oppression and it becomes a perpetual motion machine.

  • Valkina

    Regarding saving sons over daughters,it is not that uncommon in very traditional rural areas.Interesting thing to point out would be the role of mothers in all of this.The more traditional the area is,the more are women in it that to be unapologetic when it comes to getting resources from man.To this woman son means everything because when husband die it will be he who takes care of her.Also there is proportional to be inherited.Often times mothers and grandmothers will sacrifice there doctors in favor of sons.
    I am familiar with several stories like this, the flood thing hits home real hard,especially now.

  • http://thedamnedoldeman.com TDOM

    @Dungone

    You are right. it is an oversimplification and nothing more than a summarization of my thoughts. But I don’t think it is invalid. If single men are considered more disposable than married men, if we examine the culture they were likely provided some “rights” (benefit or reward) that was denied married men. The value of men to society changes with marriage. Until the Vietnam era married men were necessary as providers and protectors of their families. Sending them off to die in war would mean that society would have to provide for the women and children of the family. That means the disposability was manifest differently, but still there. Further, all men are single until they marry and therefore all were subject to the same rules.

    “So what you had is that only married men were “valuable,” but only because they were providing for someone who was even more valuable still – a woman.”

    The value of men and women was different (and also their disposability), but one was not necessarily greater than the other. Feminism has always focused on this difference in value and disposability by claiming that men are more valuable and women more disposable (women are oppressed). My belief is that neither has been oppressed historically despite being treated differently. Feminism and the industrial revolution changed that and today male disposability outweighs male value while female value outweighs female disposability resulting in a privileged class (women) and an oppressed class (men). The resaon you can make the following statement is because you buy into the feminist claim that difference means inequality (though you look at it as the opposite).

    “So no matter what, the value that you have as a provider is merely a function of the even greater value of someone else.”

    This is only true if the “other” provides little to nothing in return. Historically this has never been the case. Women provided a good deal of value to men in exchange for provision and protection. It is only since the industrial revolution that this has begun to change with women experiencing decreased disposability and increased value (privilege) relative to men.

  • teh Bastard formerly known as SWAB

    you forgot prostitutes…

    upper middle class white womyn ™ like marcotte show more disdain for those women than any MGTOW ever could…

  • Ginkgo

    “Women provided a good deal of value to men in exchange for provision and protection. It is only since the industrial revolution that this has begun to change with women experiencing decreased disposability and increased value (privilege) relative to men.”

    This would explain the hyper-valuation of women in the romantic era, as a cultural counter-action to social change.

    “upper middle class white womyn ™ like marcotte show more disdain for those women than any MGTOW ever could…’

    A structural feature of all social justice efforts is the prominence of crusading privileged white women. It is a modern form of Puritanism, righteous vehemence and all.

  • Robert Crayle

    It is also the overwhelming need for what a Damsel essentially is, a reverse-scapegoat, to which everything else can be scapegoated. That is what Damsels are – the eternal justification to wash clean all other odious sins and callous destructions and depredations. This is surely the most odious feature of any social species, and damn anyone who exalts the reverse-scapegoat.