Of Men and Women

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.

read more here

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.

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14 Responses to Of Men and Women

  1. Pearl says:

    interesting lines of thought.

    World Vision has a program where you can donate just to girls for the reason you say.

  2. Ginger says:

    How fascinating, AC! We were in NE India last March, as you may recall, visiting a tribal school in which one of the tribes represented was the Khasi. Beautiful folk dances, by the way! I hadn’t picked up on this information during our short visit, and shall be sure to ask a few questions next time we’re back. Our Nursing students are going there on an immunizations trip this March, but we won’t be on that particular jaunt.

    I do think the “northern world” in general is more accepting of women in leadership positions now, by far, than at the time I was born. My mother and women her age have a lot of interesting stories to tell; I’m glad I didn’t have to live through those attitudes. Women’s lib was in full bloom when I was entering high school.

  3. KGMom says:

    What a mind stirring post this Monday morn.
    A couple of thoughts–first, how ironic that SOME of these “advanced” northern countries have yet to have their first female leader. Ahem.
    Second, I encountered an alternative theory on the demise of feminine power–the alphabet. Explicitly the Hebrew alphabet (or Semitic) and the rise of monotheism. The alphabet (derived from the first two letters of the alphabet–aleph and bet) was the first non-pictographic writing. I forget exactly how the author linked that to religion, but he did. He argued that female deities were rife in middle eastern locations, but Jehovah and followers stamped out all these religions. People no longer needing visual representation of deities could throw away their little fertility god(desses) and instead rely on the alphabet–the WORD. And the word became flesh…etc.
    Interesting theory.

  4. Mara says:

    My parents are both from your generation and there is a great difference between my mother and me: she was clever and was sent to vocational school, I was clever and was sent to high school. She learnt how to cook and clean and sew, I learnt English and French and Physics. Fortunately my Mum is very clever and she reads everything, watches a lot of news programs and documentaries and knows a great deal. Just because she was born into a poorer family and girls weren’t supposed to learn all that ‘fancy’ stuff, she never got the chances I got. The difference of even one generation!!

  5. Linda Fraser says:

    I am wondering about your ideas in light of the environmental issues we are facing today. Agriculture has changed so that business companies like Tyson Poultry and Monsanto are controlling farming, much to the detriment of the rest of us. Hunting is controlled by governments and foot patrols keeping carcass counts. Animals are endangered. Even the oceans are loosing their harvests of seafood.
    Money and power, even in Canada are still mostly controlled by men. Professional sports is my biggest pet peeve. All that money and star power going 90% to men. Canada has a plethora of talented women hockey players, baseball players and the like. Advertisers will not support women athletes. I think the women’s lib movement was further ahead in the 1970’s than it is now. One step forward… two steps back.
    The key here is respect and when will we learn that? I liked your blog, AC. Thanks.

  6. Diana says:

    Very interesting AC. I can only speak for my household which is completely run by me, it’s CEO and president! However major decisions are brought before the board, my husband and I. This was agreed upon since I’m the only one that’s always here!
    Love Di ♥

  7. Bernie says:

    Great post, so informative and I do believe everything runs in cycles…..in my opinion women and men have both strengths and weaknesses, it is the wise one’s that nurture what they are good at, improve what they are not good at and take a deep breath and find the right person to do what they just can’t manage……that is the hard part, having to say “I don’t know”……:-)Hugs

  8. Paul says:

    AC, I’ll bet you were a wonderful, popular, well-liked teacher. Knowledge, humor and a great example. I know I enjoyed this post immensely. Now, I’m off to email my sister, a former language teacher, who definitely tries to wear the pants and is well qualified to do so. She’ll enjoy reading your post.

  9. garnetrose26 says:

    I think we are still bogged down by some remnents of the past when it comes to selecting women as leaders. It is time we moved forward. Thanks for the great post.

  10. Regenia says:

    My brother Paul sent this to my email. He was supposed to be answering a question but told me I had to read this first. I loved it! (He knew I would. Glad I was compliant.) Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the blog post, but I loved the unretired grampa part and the picture of you little granddaughter. She is precious and wonderful!

    I will soon be 62 so this is particularly interesting to me. For several reasons. First because of the grief my dad had to put up with when the men he worked with found out I was going to college. (He was a machinist.) I guess his co-workers kept telling him how foolish it was for him to let me go to college. They said I would only get married anyway. Although my dad really liked the guys, he was truly irritated. He finally responded that evidently they considered their daughters second class children. He went on to say that he had two daughters and they were not second class children to his son. I guess he couldn’t resist. But he ended the conversation that had persisted several days by saying that if I wanted to get married some day, at least at college I might find someone who would appreciate me; and he liked that idea a whole lot better than thinking I would marry someone like them who would not. When he was telling me about the incident, he went on to say, “Remember honey, you never have to work for a man if you don’t want to. You can do whatever you want. Let them work for you!” I doubt my brother or sister have ever heard that story. I don’t see why they would have. He was ahead of his time, and I am so glad for it!!

    The second reason I love the story is that from the first day of school I knew I wanted to teach. I loved school! Imagine if I had lived at a time or in a place where little girls were not educated. At that time, at least in West Virginia, there was no kindergarten. So we entered first grade. My brother and all my cousins next door were already in shcool. And I thought it highly unfair that I couldn’t go when I wanted. When I finally got to go, I waited patiently for the teacher to give me homework like by brother and cousins had. She didn’t! So finally I asked for some. She wisely gave me some. When questioned at home about why I had homework, I explained I had asked for it. I’m SURE Paul does not remembe this, but he went around complaining that he had the dumbest sister in the whole school and everyone would know it and he didn’t want to go the next day. I ignored it all and did my homework!

  11. Jane Gaston says:

    What great information you’ve put forth here AC. I so enjoy learning something new and you’ve definitey done that for me. I agree with the commentor you said that you must have been a great teacher.

    And congrats on your POTW from Hilary!

  12. Friko says:

    fat chance!

    In spite of our vastly superior brains and skills women have a hard job of getting anywhere near the glass ceiling, much less through it.

    Good article, well deserved the POTW accolade!

  13. ellen abbott says:

    the change to patriarchy, I think (and this is based on a lot of reading I have done), was mostly about inheritance rights coupled with the male monotheism or male gods. Does the god/dess shape the culture or the culture shape the form of god/dess? Before the ‘Abraham’ cult, the region of the fertile crescent was invaded many times by northern tribes who brought their male gods and patriarchy with them. Perhaps the cold climes relied more on hunting skills and less on agriculture so the power to feed came with the men. And the power to feed is the one that matters. Add inheritance rights into the mix and women were no longer allowed to do what they liked when and with who they liked. Men wanted to make sure that their off-spring inherited and not some other man’s. So monogamy and marriage make the scene and women become the possession of men, all over who gets to inherit. In some native american tribes (and I believe in ancient cultures – it’s been a long time since I read all that stuff) the women owned everything and the husbands only stayed when invited. they were not even the primary role model for their sons. That fell to the mother’s brother, their uncle because husbands don’t always stay around but uncles are for life.

    I read a book long ago (called I thought ‘the ascent of woman’ but I googled it and it doesn’t come up) that countered the prevailing general wisdom that men were responsible for every innovation in the culture of humankind. Contrary it was probably women who introduced agriculture by noticing that grains brought back sprouted close by, that women were responsible for the arts of basketry and clay since they needed the containers, and weaving, etc. I could go on but this is already too long.

    Anyway I’m here via Hilary. congrats on POTW

  14. Lori says:

    This is a very interesting post…I bet you kept your students very interested and involved when you were teaching? Congrats on POTW at Hilary’s…very well deserved!

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