If there are any countries that really promote gender equality and egalitarian policies, it’s the Nordic states. They all strive for at least 40% of parliament participation from women and have in place some of the most generous parental leaves, with both parties sharing several months of paid absence when a child is born or adopted. Sweden alone has the policy of 16 months’ leave, scoring one of the most progressive rules in existence. Norway has achieved the landmark of closing up the gender gap at 83% and continues to take steps in improving it even further. All together with having a woman prime minister and a strong female presence in parliament and business boards. If there was a place that would put its money where its mouth is, it should be in someplace among them.
The patriarchal system
Patriarchy means that the decision making lies mostly to males through the various manifestations in society. The father is the ruler of the family, the parliament consists mostly of males who take all the weight of political affairs on them, business leaders are mostly men, and so on. We live in a society that is mostly one-sided, dominated by one group, when in reality is shared equally by both sexes.
So what is it really that pushed humanity to take the evolutionary step towards men? As is very accurately depicted by historians, similar social structures emerged throughout the world independently even when there was no apparent reason for them. Men dominated the west, the same way they did in the east, in all eras and places. The exceptions are rare and limited but would it be safe to assume there is some factor at play that we might be missing for the most part, that helped on the creation of this patriarchal system? Could we accept that maybe throughout our history there were certain factors at play that promoted the dominance of men, although it wouldn’t be for any intricate reason that is still valid today?
Looking through the environment, it is evident that most of the time physical superiority translates to social dominance. But curiously enough, there are so many counter-cases in the world, that experts have been very reluctant to acclaim it as a rule. Elephants and bonobos are great examples of how things developed differently, while nobody could pinpoint where the diversion occurred. In both cases, males are much physically stronger than females and they have the same strong primitive instincts that are shared among all animals. They will bound on their chest and chase after peer domination in the group’s hierarchy. Yet things developed so that they organize their society in a matriarchal way where females have the responsibility for the food, the critical decisions, and the child-caring withing the tribes. Although cases of matriarchy are rare, they offer strong hints on what are the attributes that make the difference.
“In matriarchies, females are bonded to each other, and they influence their society’s structure through directing food collection, fighting wars, deciding where their group moves and holding local knowledge useful for finding food,” — Jennifer Smith
So if nature offers examples that contradict the assumption that physical strength was the determining characteristic, what is it really that makes the difference? What can we learn from the cases we find around us that can help us draw some conclusions on the origins of our society’s pillars?
The Case Of Mosuo, China
Mosuo is a small village of 40.000 people, living around the green mountains of Lugu lake. They seem to have the normal, busy lives that everyone else in the world has, and their town is filled with cars and many Chinese tourists that may visit them frequently. Nothing too uncommon apart from the fact that they have developed a strong matriarchy where their families are centered around the females.
The daily lives of Mosuo people, resemble the patterns of the standard matriarchal society. Men stay mostly in their homes taking care of their sister’s kids, and they can be part of their biological children’s lives only as a secondary activity if they decide to. In the day, they work alongside their families and they only visit their wives at night. The grandma becomes the most important figure in the household after having spent her whole life, taking care of the family, and providing for their needs. Women have more responsibility in all aspects of life and need to discuss and lead everything. Women are even expected many times to be promiscuous and have many walking marriages throughout their lives.
“All on-going sexual relationships in Mosuo culture are called “walking marriages.” These bonds are “based on mutual affection.” “When a Mosuowoman or man expresses interest in a potential partner, it is the woman who may give the man permission to visit her. — Wikipedia
So apparently there are cases that the physical strength of men didn’t supersede women in their societal role, and quite remarkably it is not only a case that the system works, but it is a case that makes every member happy as well.
Who Is The Provider
In all cases of matriarchy, there is a particular characteristic that doesn’t exist in male-dominant groups. Females are the providers of food. Maybe it is because they were independent enough to find it on their own, maybe their intelligence allowed them to forge alliances with other females and cooperate on how to protect and preserve each other better. Maybe, like in the case of bonobos, the environment was abundant enough to provide enough resources, without the need for huge energy extortions.
Now, why is food so important for enabling such a social structure to emerge? Females carry by default the weight of pregnancy. They will have to spend tones of their energy and mental capacity to keep them safe and protect their offsprings, while at the same time they need to stay alive themselves. Unless they can find a way to provide shelter and a warm environment, their kids can grow in, they are gonna be dependent on others to be taken care of. And to the degree that this role is occupied by the males of the group, they are gonna be dependant on them.
So imagine a scenario where tribes of a particular species are competitive on their location. There are constant fights with the neighbors and a constant flow of disturbances of other animals that may be of danger to them. As arbitrary as these scenarios might be, they could be the main reason that weights down on the probability to make it on their own, independently of males.
How Easily Can They Cover Their Food Needs?
If they are carnivores and they have to spend tones of energy hunting elephants and bulls their needs will become an extra burden that would make the lives of mothers much harder. Even though these cases exist in nature, interactive groups will keep an equilibrium, to the degree that they become social and cooperative in their attempt to sustain their well-being. And whoever gets the role of the provider is the one who overall has more weight in the decisions as well.
Funny enough, the provider role brings the various perks that belong to it as well. Women are more independent not only in their decisions but in their sexual partners as well. They can get promiscuous if they desire to or even use males only for their reproduction capabilities and then discard them out of their nests, like in the case of bees.
“On average, a queen bee will live 2–3 years, compared to the male bees, which are called drones, and they only live around 6–8 weeks. The drones do not have stingers or gather nectar and pollen, like their female counterparts, and their primary role is to mate with a fertile queen. To make matters worse for the drones, they usually die whilst mating, or are expelled from the hive before winter sets in.” — Frontier
The main differential characteristic in Mosua society is that the providers of food for the family are females and not males. Although it adds to the already many responsibilities they have it is this trait that changes the social structures in such a way that seems unrecognizable to western standards. Females will do all the hard work of gathering the food, preparing it, and feeding the whole family and the young. They will take the leader role from early on and will gather more and more power as they grow older sharing their wisdom and experience with others. As hard as it may be for them throughout the years, their work is recognized in the form of status and power.
How Political Involvement Is Connected To Family
Family is one of the pillars of human society. By contributing your share to it, you are contributing to the structures that are containing society and humanity itself, thus you will naturally fill entitled to have more influence on the foundations and the underlying arrangments of these structures. Parliament sharing and politics will be a straight-up repercussion from family management. If you are the one who strives to find the sources for your family you will be more inclined to have a stronger voice on how society is organized in a way that allows you to do that better. Not to mention the fact that you will consider it your primal right since you are contributing something valuable in it, for which you will naturally expect recognition.
To the degree a person realizes the ways he helps society prosper, he will raise his voice stronger the same way a person that helps his family prosper will have more influence on are its next steps. And to the degree, they can use what they offer to the table, as leverage the same way a negotiation works, they can get their place in the table where decisions are made. Entitlement, weather it is rightful or illusional, comes from the ways we perceive ourselves in relation to the whole.
There is a strong obsession in the last years to equalize all differences and outcomes of both sexes, like the various fruits that go into a blender and come out as a homogenous mix. We deny any biological differences between men and women as if it was the worst insult you could ever make and we refuse to acknowledge the millions of years of evolution that shaped the various groups in different ways.
Worst of all, we will try to eliminate all the differences for the underlying belief that it is these discrepancies that have given more power to men, and by refusing their existence, we have more chances in closing the gap. Furthermore, not only we should eradicate the differences, we shouldn’t even be allowed to speak of them either, because the more attention we bring to them the more we propagate their intensity, blocking the total unification of the sexes. We should deny them and pretend they don’t exist if we want to have any chance of fixing the issue.
As an outcome of these thoughts, we demand equal presence between men and women in all working areas and business functions, the same amount of leaders and CEOs from each side, equal parliament participation, same payments, and so on. These aspirations of course are not wrong per se for the most part, but unless you manage to fix the underlying issue that allowed these differences to emerge, and eliminate the reasons that manifest later on as more ‘presence’ for one side or ‘higher pay’, you will only patch a waterfall with a single stitch.
As is evident from the various examples in nature, biological strength is not the actual reason that led to the differences in the role of each sex. There are so many examples that greater social intelligence supersedes raw strength and there is no reason why women couldn’t be part of the decision-makers that would lead men in various ways. As is manifested so evidently in history the rulers were most of the time much weaker than the ruling parties that were used to provide for the physically weaker side as pleased.
Biology And Societal Constructs
Coming from a place of limited physical strength in comparison to our environment, the greater physical ability of males was of paramount importance in our evolution. Women simply couldn’t afford to make it on their own in a world where everything could potentially kill them, let alone carrying a baby in their womb for nine full months. Their need for men’s protection was one of the bigger factors back in the day that structured the families and societal ways we have today. But that was way before we come to full strength as a species and there is nothing in particular anymore that enforces these habits on us besides culture and past norms.
So we do need change of our obsolete ways on gender roles, but this change needs to come from a different place. Women need to request the right to provide equally in their families, with all the responsibilities and burdens that this entails, and then it would be only a matter of time before balance comes to the established structures. Fixing the core issue of the family will propagate in all aspects of society on its own and will eventually allow both parties their equal share without the need to change their particular ways of doing things or their preferences. Equal contribution in the realms of the family is mandatory and its the main reason why all the parental policies that allow both parties equal leave after a child’s birth, are so important. They eradicate the inclination of the burden to one side and share it equally as it should be.
Keeping Your Family Name
I’m always intrigued to listen to the heated debates on women’s family names. “Should they keep their own name and declare their independence?”, “Is it patriarchal to continue their father’s name instead of their husbands one?”. But eventually keeping your name declares your belief in your contribution to the family, and as long as it comes full force and in equal amounts, the family name will come under examination sooner or later.
And the same logic applies to pay-gap as well. The solution needs to be deep and not a superficial patch of enforcing equal pay for all members no matter what. Carrying equal weight within the family will propagate eventually in the realms of society. Women’s revolt against pay gaps comes in a strict correlation on how unrecognized their merit within the family is, but unless they are willing to take the burden within the family through their role they won’t be able to manifest for the rights. The revolt is a natural repercussion of the shift within the family.0