It’s been a while since I’ve written. A period of semi-insanity has kept me away, but drugs have fixed this. It’s true.
I’m currently writing on drugs. I hope this doesn’t become obvious.
I’ve been asked, for amusement’s sake, to produce an intriguing theory, for which evidence exists, and by which intrigue is produced. I was also asked to write something that appealed to the emotions, instead of the intellect. This is my answer to the former request:
I think I can explain gender oppression. Gender oppression is the social and political dominance of women. Both men and women can be guilty of it and its most classic form in the modern age is the female job applicant who is turned down at a law firm for the simple reason that, because she is a woman, she’d probably be “too soft, and tender-hearted to conduct a proper cross examination.” This is economic gender oppression because a woman is being denied work because of a stereotype about womens’ abilities.
Women have it MUCH better now, though, than they had it in agrarian (animal and farm-driven economies) or horticultural (farm-driven economies) societies. Women are generally treated as fully subordinate to males in the former (Iran is an industrializing agrarian society…enough said) and not always much better in the latter.
Women have it comparably better in foraging societies, like hunter-gather groups. In these types of societies, men generally do the hunting (because they are faster and stronger), and women tended to gather certain, select fruits and nuts and raise the children.
On most nights, the men come up empty handed in their hunting trips. Luckily, The fruit and nut and plant foraging, done largely by the women, provides a consistent and dependable staple of nourishment for the tribe. Meat is rare, but fruit and nuts plentiful; women are respected members of the tribal economy at the foraging-group level, and their political power within the group (in terms of important decision making about where to set up camp, how to deal with difficult group members, theft, death) is parallel to and not quite super-ceded by men.
It is, of course, true, that MOST tribes of this kind that are known to anthropology and sociology are, ultimately, headed by a male leader. Males do hold the ultimate authority and tend to make the critical decision in cases of tribal disputes.
After all, men are 15% bigger on average than women and tend to have more of their body devoted to muscle mass (and while having, on average, less body fat). Men are, on average, taller and their voice, on average, deeper and more “booming” (more bass). It’s a fantasy to think that these factors wouldn’t give men an innate advantage in dominance in a primate species.
All of this aside, in most foraging societies, women have considerable authority and, oftentimes, elder females are given considerable say in tribal matters.
Why is this situation as it is? Why are women treated just about equally in small foraging societies?
I propose two reasons for this equity. First, women are depended on for the acquisition of important (critical, even) resources — food and child nourishment. This is what was discussed above. This is the economic-social aspect.
The second reason women have equity in these societies is because of the density and small size of the groups. This reason is much more complicated than the (rather obvious) economic one.
Robin Dunbar, an Oxford anthropologist and primatologist, estimates that the connective neural tissue comrpising our neocortex (in the frontal lobes of the brain) is only sufficiently dense enough to process the inner social life of UP TO 150 people.
In other words, Dunbar has estimated a cognitive limit on the social processing of the human brain. We can’t imagine what it’s like to be more than 150 people at any one time. We can’t sympathize with more than this, we cant empathize, we cant even seriously contemplate the state of actors beyond this limit. This is known colloquially as “Dunbar’s number”. So, we can PROCESS 150 mental states. This is the human brain at its processing limit. It operates optimally around 1-30.
Interestingly, all of human evolution up to the VERY RECENT present took place in small communities of between 50-150 animals. Homo Erectus, our 1.8 million year old not-quite-human brothers and sisters lived in slightly smaller groups of roughly around this size. Their slightly smaller group size, indicated by the placement of fossils, is predicted by their probable neocortex size, which is determined by the cranial capacity of these fossils.
Anyway, so the human brain experiences diminishing returns in social processing past about 30 human beings. This was not a problem in foraging societies. Right? Because the foraging societies known to anthropology exist as roughly 30 people, in a community of about 150-300.
This is important because, once foraging tribes decide to start planting food and harvesting crops, they can settle in one place for a long time (hunting and gathering groups are nomadic, chasing plants and animals, etc.) This is horticultural society. Once they are settled in a single place (with farms), children are borne more often and more of them live. Crops are a dependable source of food (in a way hunting alone is not), enabling many mouths to be fed, so long as seasons are predictable and soil is good.
Most importanlty, the communities are no longer nomadic, chasing plants and animals. This means that women don’t have to limit the number of children they have, or commit infanticide, because they are worried that the group might have to embark on a long on-foot trek to some new area; children are HEAVY to carry and are very eager mouths to feed.
Raising children can now constitute a “full time job” for the first time in human history.
There is something else, though. This increase in child-birthing produces, to put it very simply, a lot of OTHER MEN. Yea, other guys.
You see, in a foraging society, the small number of people means that all of the men know each other. They have a rapport. They know of each others’ personalities. For better or worse, men in these foraging tribes feel as though they have a sense of the motives and personalities of the other men.
As tribes settled down and populations multiplied (ultimately leading to the present day), then, each individual man is likely to be forced to assume the awareness of a generally large number of unknown other men.
Unlike a foraging tribe, societies with populations beyond our cranial capacity’s limit produce the general problem of men having to assume the intentions of unknown other men.
This becomes important because men have a general evolutionary interest in the paternity of the children they raise. Evolution from the gene’s eye point of view suggests that men have an innate concern for the sexual fidelity of their desired romantic partners. This is largely because children take a lot of time and effort to raise, so its important from the genetic point of view that the father be raising HIS baby. Put simply, men want to know that their wife has THEIR baby (i.e., genes) in her, and not someone else’s.
When (literally) countless other men exist in a society, beyond the processing ability of the human mind to comprehend, men assume the worst when their daughters go through puberty. Far from initiating a formal, tribal right of passage, puberty in a mass society often engenders fears of vulnerability and male predatory violence. It’s a disgusting fact that much (but not most) of the interpersonal violence in the world is man on woman.
This, finally, is the socio-cognitive aspect. I told you it would take a while. Our brains are limited, and when the population density of a society increases beyond the brain’s capacity to properly process all of the social interactions, new strategies of controlling valuable resources (like women’s sexuality) arise. Female fertility is a valuable resource because of its genetic value. Where men feel they understand and have a rapport with (i.e., their cognitive capacities are sufficient to comprehend the mental states of) other men, this valuable resource (female fertility) needn’t be “defended” in any vigorous sense (where these rapports are generally stable and positive as they must be in a small cooperative band of people).
Where men feel awash in strangers with unknown intentions (a consequence of increases in population density on account of societal economic changes), they become defensive and protective of female sexual resources.
So, to the person who asked me to write this, I do hope that makes you think. I find it to be a rather complete general theory of gender oppression, though specific cultural oppressions deserve special theories of culture and socio-biology.
Who said sociology was limited and lacked interdisciplinary scope? Who said sociology is inherently phobic to the biological? Who said the study of gender had to be engulfed in post-modern defecations and ethnographic banalities?
I was also asked by this person to write something else. Not something to tickle the mind. Something to tickle the emotions. I’m only putting this in writing to force myself to actually write it.
And now, the drugs are wearing off…