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How and why did the patriarchy evolve?

(56 Posts)
toptramp Fri 07-Oct-11 23:48:45

I mean surely it's within everyone's interests, both men and women to have equality right? Is it something to do with capitalism? Are there any equal societies in the modern world or indeed in the past?

Also I feel so conflicted between wanting to find a big love in my life pitted agianst a fear of being controlled by a man again and a big cultural pressure urging me to find someone.

southeastastra Fri 07-Oct-11 23:49:38

i blame thatcher

colditz Fri 07-Oct-11 23:49:45

They are bigger than us and they don't get pregnant.

GrimmaTheNome Sat 08-Oct-11 00:00:14

Interesting question! Colditz probably has the nub of it - equality started to emerge in our society when women started to be freed from constant pregnancy (not just the pill, the reduction in infant mortality before that) and when physical strength started to become less important. So its logical to assume these were factors in inequality.

rosy71 Sat 08-Oct-11 09:33:59

Hunter-gather societies are/were generally equal. Ancient Egypt and Ancient Crete were egalitarian societies.

I imagine it's impossible to say exactly how and why patriarchy evolved. It could be to do with the change from a hunter-gather way of living to farming, where notions of property owership would have evolved. Ideas surrounding the role of fatherhood and the development of monotheism would also have changed the structure of societies.

sieglinde Sat 08-Oct-11 16:21:32

rosy, most of the rulers of both (Egypt and Crete) were male. Goddess-worship did nothing for women in the ancient world. Incidentally, too, men are only better in upper-body strength.

Sorry, but I don't believe there was ever an ancient society better than, well, now.

This is it. This is as good as it's ever been.

As for where 'the' patriarchy came from, it came from the same place as the class system and capitalism. smile But i think colditz is right. Don't forget too how low women's life expectancy was int he past, even in quite recent times.

Tchootnika Sat 08-Oct-11 19:31:48

Blame the Roman empire, toptramp.

Birdsgottafly Sat 08-Oct-11 20:39:13

I always though that Norman women were involved with politics/decision making?

I know that it is well documented that in some native American tribes women were equal in decision making.

If you look at the way women (M Magdalen) were cut out as being important in Christianity, even though the evidance has been found ie early churches to her, it goes way back. I think that if money is to be made then as humans we will exploit that.

solidgoldbrass Sat 08-Oct-11 21:17:09

It seems to have been a combination of the transition from nomadic to more settled ways of living, the concept of property and finally the linking of sex to birth. So some men got the idea that they could own property and pass it on to their progeny, so it became important to be sure that the progeny they were passing it onto was theirs, hence women became designated a resource rather than people. But this happened fairly gradually and was enforced by a mix of men as a class being likely to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive and the minority of clever ones who invented monotheistic superstitions, those being so much more suited to oppressing other people.

Himalaya Sun 09-Oct-11 02:20:02

Toptramp - things evolve in biological systems (...which we are...) not because they are best for the individuals themselves but because they turn out to be advantageous for the genes carried by those individuals.

So things that are quite unequal and unfair can evolve as long as they end up being more successful at passing on genes. There is no presumption of fairness in nature.

I think it is a mistake to try to look back at the past for a utopian idea. We have to accept that there never was perfect fairness in the past - we need to work on it now.

As Colditz says men dont get pregnant, and they are bigger. That is true but it isn't really a first explanation for inequality though, because it is also a consequence of the fact that there were already different evolutionary pressures (i.e. I equality) on males and females (... long before there were human beings)

Not sure if any of this helps with the second part of your OP though.

toptramp Sun 09-Oct-11 20:31:26

Hi all.
I do think that men's relative physical strength has something to do with but also I feel that the theaory of property has a lot to answer for. Women are given awy at marriage from father to another man. Men wanted to own their kids i.e; own genetic material and thus it was necessary to mantain over particular women.

Himalaya Mon 10-Oct-11 09:41:04

Toptramp, SGB -

Those explanations make intuitive sense, but I don't think they really explain what they set out to explain, because they stop at such recent and relatively sophisticated developments.

How can 'men were physically stronger than women' and 'some men were clever enough to come up with fiendish plans of oppression' be the answer? It only begs the question why men were physically stronger? (why humans had evolved so that males tended to be taller and broader, and build more muscle and females more fat..) and why humans were quite so clever in the first place.

I don't think you can put patriarchy down to clever people consciously coming up with the theory of property, understanding the basics of reproduction, having ideas about personhood, or inventing monotheism in order to oppress others etc...

Animals that don't have any of these conscious thoughts have brutal hierarchies, displays of dominance, exclusive and non-exclusive partnerships, sex roles, intra-species violence and sexual competition. Why would we assume that our long ago ancestors from didn't have any of these things (yet somehow lived in communities and had developed runaway pressures for big brained creativity...) until sooo late in their development?

If you want to go back to one 'fork in the road' that defined the pathway along which male-female relations developed I'd say it was when hidden ovulation evolved in our ancestors.

Perhaps people think such long ago stuff doesn't matter, at the level of everyday understanding, and only matters if you are interested in natural history?

Maybe, but I don't think the answer that 'the clever men outwitted and overpowered the dupes women' is true OR a good story to tell ourselves. (although it is perhaps marginally better than 'the wicked woman and the snake caused all the trouble')

Human characteristics and social systems evolved because they worked, better (in terms of number of offspring that survived) than the other 'experiments' tried at the time. It doesn't mean that those people were the happiest or more fulfilled, just that their descendants and societies survived in their harsh environment.

We don't live in the same environment now, and we recognise that it is important for all individuals to have the chance to be happy and fulfilled. So we don't have to fall for the fallacy that what comes naturally is what is best. But to draw a line in our understanding of human development at 10,000 years ago and ignore the previous 190,000 years of human develop seems a bit short sighted!

solidgoldbrass Mon 10-Oct-11 09:44:14

I think hidden ovulation may have had something to do with it (not an expert on this but have read a bit around the issue). But I also think that in evolutionary terms patriarchy is/was a mistake. It isn't terribly sustainable and it's pretty destructive.

IHaveYourToaster Mon 10-Oct-11 09:54:21

Well I think it evolved from a need for self-preservation. In many ways women could manage just fine without men. Often in social groups in the animal world men are a minority and there is a clear pecking order for those who do live in the group.

So men had to make themselves essential and that meant reducing the power of women.

That and how being up the duff all the time, raising children and the increased risks of mortality associated with those occupations can limit a woman's potential somewhat.

Himalaya Mon 10-Oct-11 10:29:29

SGB - I think it is a category error to think about evolution in terms of 'mistakes'.

Evolution isn't a process aiming towards sustainability or goodness or higher things in life. We as human beings are (hopefully) self aware, smart and compassionate enough to want those things. But evolution itself is not a self aware, smart or compassionate process.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 10-Oct-11 11:10:57

I kind of agree with Toptramp here. I think it has to do with property and reproduction, because women's oppression started in earnest when they became the property of men and had their reproductive and sexual rights curtailed to ensure that the offspring were the property of the man. Paternity matters most in societies where property is passed from father to son.

It's not a particularly natural setup because IMO it's not natural for the woman to be monogamous, but this could be the point at which man's superior physical strength meant he could exert his will - not in a direct brutal way but in that women, whether part of the clan or individually, depend on men they trust to protect them against men they don't trust.

The whole honor system and the idea that a promiscuous woman was a bad one grew as a rationale for this unequal setup and acted as a mental chastity belt ensuring that paternity was assured.

That's my tuppence worth anyway! Does anyone know of any current societies that have remnants of matriarchy / non-patriarchy in them? Would be interesting to research.

ColdTruth Mon 10-Oct-11 11:12:54

Evolution or nature is not kind it is harsh, brutal and practical, it does not care for 'feelings' or 'fairness' only survival. The world is a harsh place it always has been, on the contrary SGB patriarchy in evolutionary terms would actually be considered 'successful' humans have dominated their environment and maximised their offspring's chances of survival. That is pretty much the goal of every species on the planet the problem is that humans are too successful.

Patriarchy would probably have formed before people as we know it were humans it's a bit like how chimpanzees would be considered a patriarchy and if they suddenly evolved to a more intelligent species they would still maintain the same society as they still would be living in the same environment with the same problems they would just be better at finding solutions for their problems. And as they grow and develop future societies would just build upon their original one.

Both males and females had a purpose, they both provided a use which was not based on fairness or equality but on practicability and survival.

That's not to say that we have to have a society like that now, we have now got ourselves in a position where it is possible to change as we don't live by the normal rules of nature any more.

Himalaya Mon 10-Oct-11 11:19:53

messyisthenewtidy - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in the French revolution. I don't see how it is possible that people had human rights -reproductive and sexual rights - and that they were curtailed, before the idea of human rights existed.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 10-Oct-11 11:34:58

Hmmm I know what you're saying ColdTruth is entirely logical but something feels off ... yes evolution is all about maximizing chances of offspring, but "fairness and equality" (aka. altruism) are also important factors in our evolutionary journey in that they ensure that the whole community survives and by extension the species.

In what way does patriarchy mean that the survival of the species is guaranteed? I don't mean polygamy because that doesn't always equate to patriarchy (eg. some native american societies) but rather the whole system that "father is the head" - how does that ensure our survival as a species better than another system?

messyisthenewtidy Mon 10-Oct-11 11:38:45

Himalaya - sorry, just swap "rights" for "socially accepted freedoms" then.

Himalaya Mon 10-Oct-11 12:28:01

yup what ColdTruth said.

Messy- evolution doesn't work on the basis of the whole community surviving, or the species, it doesn't even work by what is best for the individual. It works on what works out best for the gene in terms of being reproduced. Sometimes that results in altruism (or its close cousin nepotism) but it is not guaranteed by the process.

Patriarchy doesn't mean that 'survival of the species is guaranteed' at all, thats just the way it has worked out so far. You need to look at it the other way: The biological characteristics and social systems we have today ('patriarchy' in the short hand) are the ones that survived - therefore they proved best (at surviving) up to now.

But now we can also see that they did not prove best for many of the individuals involved, nor are they much good at helping us to deal with risks like climate change which we are not good at thinking about with our puny primate brains. So we need to change the system.

But subscribing to the myth that at some point in the relatively recent past that all was good - before women were duped/evolution made a mistake - isn't going to help us do that.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 10-Oct-11 12:56:43

Himilaya - I never actually said that women were "duped" or that evolution made a "mistake" - I'm simply arguing that patriarchy is more cultural than natural, otherwise why would it need so many laws to keep it in place?

As for the "all was good" I never said that either - I'm inclined to believe that women have always been "otherized" and the deal they got depended on the way that this was done - in some ancient societies that might have meant more sexual freedom / political power than others. I expect that there are very few times in which "all was good" for anyone (male or female) except for the very top elite in society and even their positions were precarious.

But I totally agree with you that what's been natural in terms of evolution hasn't been "best for many of the individuals involved" and that now, as coldtruth said, we are freed from the laws of nature, a fairer society can evolve.

higgle Mon 10-Oct-11 13:10:34

Icelandic society is supposedly the most egalitarian - and has been throughout history. The theory is that where the living and climatic conditions are so harsh each individual is valued for the efforts they have to make - slacking not possible. From what I could gather on a recent holiday and reading around as well as talking to people about it there are some downsides, as the men are criticised for not wanting to commit to relationships and being very unromantic.

I just wonder whether in social conditions that are less harsh, and where there is the opportunity for women to take an easier path it may be the resentment of this that encourages discriminatory practices.

messyisthenewtidy Mon 10-Oct-11 13:17:57

Oh that's interesting Higgle. When you talk about the resentment towards women in Iceland do you mean a backlash has occurred as their rights have increased or that it has always been that way?

higgle Mon 10-Oct-11 15:49:22

I'm findsing this quite interesting. I started thinking about Iceland where I was told the women had always been considered equal because they were out there surviving and being strong with the men in hostoric times, and that equality is something that has never been questioned.

I then thought that maybe in other societies where life is a bit easier - hunter gatherer situation- the men would be out slaying mamoths and percieve that the women were having an easier time ( though they probably weren't) picking berries and looking after the children. From this they might feel the women's contributions were less equal and begin to regard them as second class.

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