Once upon a time, I taught a geography course to senior high school students, called World Issues (that’s what the course was called, not the students although many did have their share of issues :)). We would examine topics such as global disparity (rich nations and poor nations etc), population growth, food for a hungry planet, and various environmental issues such as climate change and ozone depletion.
Within the global disparity section especially, we could hardly help but notice that the status of females was generally an excellent indicator of a nation’s level of development. In the more developed northern nations, for example, females are just as literate as males if not more so. However, in much of the less developed southern nations, women lag far behind their opposites.
In various materials that we perused, it was noted that education was important in raising a country’s level of development. If the importance of literacy was true generally, it was particularly true for girls. The reality seems to be that, if we can entice girls into the education system, boys will follow along because they/we just hate to be left behind doncha know.
It seems to be true in general, that if you raise the status of women, a country is better off. For this reason, the minuscule amount of money that I loan through KIVA must go to females. My reasoning is that women are more in need and also most likely to pass along the benefits of improving economic well-being to their children. I am never quite as sure about men … although there are a few wonderful men in this world … ahem.
In all of this, we did come across a theory that was quite new to me. It was that in ancient, agricultural times, society tended to be matrilineal. Women would have been front and centre in early agricultural times as the men would be off hunting. In fact, it is probably the case that it was the ladies who discovered that crops could be sown, tended and harvested rather than simply gathered in wide-ranging foraging.
The theory was presented that women were likely more influential than men in their pre-historic, agricultural communities: that they controlled the wealth and passed it on to their daughters. It sounded somewhat credible, but I never knew how well-founded the theory was. I still don’t, but I recently came across some supporting evidence in the local newspaper (not that the link below to The Australian points to my local paper).
According to the article, the million people of the Kashi tribe that inhabits the hills of northestern India, are a matrilineal society. The women run the place, and the men are expected to keep stum (from my reading of British mysteries: pronounced shtum and meaning to keep silent — you’re welcome).
“All we have to do is to eat, drink, play the guitar and produce children.” For all their permitted fecklessness, however, the Khasi men are far from happy. Fed up with being branded the weaker sex and discriminated against, under centuries-old traditions, they have started what may be the world’s only “men’s lib” movement.
The tribe is a rare example of a matrilineal community. It is the youngest daughter who inherits property and children take their mothers’ surnames. If a family does not have a daughter, it must adopt one to become its heir.
Before I revert to my sheltered world which concentrates on posting pictures of my beautiful and clever grandkids busy being their beautiful and clever selves, permit me to try to begin to explain why society at large later shifted from a matrilineal to a patrilineal structure. Part of this is just my theory, so it’s probably all wrong.
The agricultural revolution of about ten thousand years past caused a significant population explosion. In terms of rate of growth it probably surpassed the wildfire growth of the last few hundred years. Back then, population growth might have led to the necessity for territorial control. You have to protect yours and take the other guy’s, if possible.
This is a job for brawny lads.
As empires emerged, most men did not exactly enjoy great lives. Under the oppressive rule of a powerful dude, the ordinary jerk was commanded to go here or there, do this or that, and to kill or be killed. But he could at least be a notch or four above women who were even lower on the hierarchy. Women, more or less, became the property of men.
In these later years, physical strength is no longer paramount, so the times they are a changin. Again.
However ladies, do spare a kind thought or two for us feckless counterparts when you don the pants and we the panties.