As some of you may know, yesterday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day.
This is a day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, which all too often is diminished and/or goes unrecognized.
One thing it focuses on is the rampant gender inequality that has become the norm in modern society.
Mama Fish Saves has an awesome collaboration post which highlights some of this inequality, and as a bonus there are over 40 posts from rock star women personal finance bloggers about taking control of your finances. Check it out!
This day got me thinking, has there always been gender inequality?
Many try to explain gender inequality by saying, “it’s always been this way” or “humanity was made to be like this.”
After hearing this my entire life, I was intrigued to find out that this is not the case at all.
In fact, gender inequality comprises a relatively small portion of human history.
Has there always been gender inequality?
There are many studies out there that show that, contrary to popular belief, early humans did not exhibit gender inequality.
Many believe that even early hunter gatherer tribes would exhibit gender inequality as the men would be hunters and women would be gatherers.
This is simply not true.
Everyone contributed. Women would sometimes join the hunts, while men would sometimes gather.
In fact, in some tribes, the gathering made up a majority of the total food, which actually makes that more valuable than hunting.
While the acquisition of food was split equally, it is also interesting to note that in this time period, females were equal in other regards as well including leadership, authority and decision-making.
All of this evidence points to a society that was not male dominated, and was actually more egalitarian (equal) and/or female dominated.
That’s right. It is believed that females may have been the dominant gender even as far back as the origins of humanity.
So what happened?
The Agricultural Revolution
Around 10,000 years ago something major happened. The Agricultural Revolution.
Largely hailed as a major step forward for humanity, it is interesting to note that this is largely determined as where gender inequality has its roots.
Perhaps a step forward for all (in terms of life span) but a larger step forward for men.
Here’s how it is thought that gender inequality began.
The invention of the plow, and the accumulation of wealth.
A pretty random object to be sure, but think of it this way:
While early farming could be done by either gender, as technology advanced the plow was invented.
Back then the plow was a big heavy object and tough to control. The ability to use the plow vastly increased the amount of food that could be produced, which helped support bigger populations of cities.
There was finally something that favored men over women.
From there, it spiraled.
While women could still help out on the farm, because it was tougher for them to control the plow, they were seen as less valuable.
In addition, with more food readily available, more people could be fed and thus birth rates increased.
Men could “produce more” and thus worked the fields, while women would be the ones to care for the children.
The more a man could produce, the more power and wealth he would accumulate.
As society grew around these farming cities, social classes began to emerge and in most, women took a backseat.
The more wealth you had, the better off you would be.
From there it hasn’t gotten much better for women, even up to the present day.
Sure there have been cultures in which women had more equal roles than others (such as the Norse, Celtic and Spartan cultures), but none have lasted.
Is Wealth to Blame?
For millennia, it seems that humanity was able to live without gender bias. Introduce technology that favors men and wealth into the equation and society has become unequal.
While a society solely based on primitive agriculture may have favored men, we have moved past that.
With the Industrial Revolution and the rapid advancement of technology in the 20th and 21st centuries, our society no longer revolves around physical, manual labor.
Automation has taken over, and no longer can we that be used as an excuse for gender inequality.
Therefore, is the pursuit of wealth the reason gender inequality persists? (The quote “money is the root of all evil” may apply here).
Or is it simply that men are comfortable how things are and don’t want things to change?
That, I cannot answer.
If the desire of the accumulation of wealth is partly to blame though, how can this be fixed?
I’m not suggesting that we need to change to some sort of socialist or egalitarian society in which everything would be shared.
Would the world still run the way it does today if everyone was less focused on money?
Mr. Money Mustache somewhat tackles this one with an interesting argument on how frugality can benefit the world.
Could this also be the answer to solving the economic side of gender inequality as well?
That remains to be seen.
Where do we go from here?
Obviously gender inequality remains a huge issue in the modern day.
Many people may think that the issue too big for them to make any impact, and thus they ignore it.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
There are several things you can do in your everyday life to help promote gender equality.
As change only happens when individuals come together to make an impact, by simply doing what you can in your everyday life you are helping.
Remember, it hasn’t always been this way.
Let’s do what we can to help ensure that everyone truly has the same standing as our long time ancestors once did.
Interested in History? See some other posts I have on historical figures in the History Annex.