Monday, December 04, 2017

What Did Women Ever Do?

You may have come across this recent tweet exchange:

Dr. James Kent's argument is common in the manosphere, almost part of its basic bible:

That men are viewed as superior to women is because men are superior to women.  It is, after all, men who created everything, and have done so  all through history*.  The usual examples on the manosphere sites are buildings, roads and bridges, and that's probably what Kent meant when he asked people to look out of their windows and list five things that women have made.

Mel Condon's answer to the tweet is of course the most important one:  Women, indeed, do produce all human beings by gestating them and by giving them birth, and in most cases by caring for them in their childhoods.

That is a very time-intensive job, and before reliable contraception it kept most women from building bridges or buildings or roads, though women were also traditionally kept away from all building sites and from the kind of education which teaches how to build such things.

But wait, there's more!  If we open our mental eyes a bit wider and accept not only directly seeing something but also deducing its presence as evidence,  lots of things made by women can be discerned by looking through our windows in any place where the view includes humans.

Most of the clothes on those humans women made were also made by women, for one example, and many of those humans have food in their stomachs that was cooked by women.  More generally, if we can see into other domestic buildings or hotels from our windows**,  the dirt and disarray we do not see is because of the work of mostly women.  That the drivers on the streets outside can read the traffic signs might be because of the work of elementary school teachers, a female-dominated profession.  And so on.

Still, one aspect of the bigoted comment by our dear Dr. Kent made me note that the traditional gendered division of labor has, indeed, resulted in a situation where the things women make or have traditionally made seem more ephemeral:

People die and disappear before bridges do, meals are digested and new meals must be cooked, clean rooms will become messy again.  Even the few arts traditionally viewed as women's arts (or crafts!), such as textile arts, are by their very nature less permanent than granite statues, most of which were sculpted by men until very recently.

Or consider archeological finds:  The early tools we find tend to be made out of stone or bronze or iron, and most of them apply to hunting, agriculture or warfare.  Those, together with pottery shards, are among the most common finds, not because women didn't make anything but perhaps pottery***:  Rather, those tools are simply much more durable than clothing or woven baskets or other similar artifacts.

*  The more academic argument on that is discussed in this old post of mine and also in this series of earlier posts.  Still well worth reading.

Note also, that many books explain in great detail the kinds of obstacles women faced if they tried to enter arts or sciences in the past.  Women were formally excluded from universities and arts until the nineteenth century, the medieval guild systems in Europe limited women's access to many professions, to give just a few examples.

To this day girls are steered into different occupations than boys.  Such steering is ubiquitous but hard to spot and almost everywhere in our cultures, but it also happens in explicit career counseling and the same effect can be created by hostile environments in traditionally male occupations or during the education for them.

My point is that more has been going on with respect to this assertion than Dr. Kent seems to know.

**  In many countries women also clean administrative buildings, offices and so on.  This is less the case in the United States where those fairly low-wage jobs are often done by men who are recent immigrants.  I haven't found the reason that difference, though it may reflect the greater fear of crime here (a lot of that work happens at night).

***  And we don't really know who made the tools or the pottery.  We infer the likely answers from how later societies were arranged.