I was not planning on writing about this, but in the process of finishing my paper for the Exam II re-do I was really captured by a common theme that I read about while researching gender roles in Mesoamerica. The common theme came from two female anthropologists that introduced the idea that gender roles in society are not ones that have been imposed by male dominance. On the contrary, the basic description of what these anthropologist’s impose is that during Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica the age of death was extremely low and the infant mortality rate was very high. These combined together, plus the rapid growth of these ancient states placed an extremely high value on women as child bearers. Women have the unique ability to produce the next generation of laborer’s, specialized workers, hunters, agriculturalists and warriors. Unfortunately, because of the low death rates and the high infant mortality rates women of child bearing maturity would most likely have spent almost all of their time pregnant and/or with small children hoping some of them will survive until adulthood.
Obviously, women are most certainly not greatly limited in what they do just because of their ability to have children, but for the sake of safety, both for the unborn child as well as the mother, it would have been unintelligent for women to be warriors as well as a risk to the health of the mother, the child and the sustainability of the state for women to be involved in tasks that could lead to falling or other unhealthy activities. This would narrow the amount of roles and tasks for women to do midst the society. Over time these roles have been shaped by more of a practical stance and into cultural concepts. These concepts have just recently been challenged over the past 60 or so years as sciences have allowed for longer life expectancies and lower infant deaths and now there is less of a necessity for state sustainability to be heavily reliant on the production of laborers.
Merely an interesting thing I came across. This in no way is a representation of my viewpoints regarding modern gender roles.
When did the role of the women become regarded as inferior? In my ANP 320 class today there was a heated discussion about gender roles and a few students were arguing about whether women were viewed as inferior because of biological reasons which lead to differentiated social interactions and cultural beliefs or if the roles that women took on because of the changes from hunter gatherers to agriculturalists eventually became viewed as inferior because men began to take up “ruler” roles because of the increased time they had to do things other than survive.
The professor gave a quick overview of how women’s role changed as societies changed explaining that as hunter/gatherers men and women had equal roles and because of their low body fat content they were did not reproduce often. As agriculture allowed women to gain more weight they began to have more children and finally when domestication of animals allowed even less physical work to be required by humans that women’s role became primarily to stay at the home and take care of the children. Men also had less physical work to do and to fill up their time began to engage ub politics and deem themselves in charge and as rulers.
Now I am not exactly sure how this overview she gave fits in with how we are going to be learning about the development of societies but none the less it was interesting to think about how women’s role became inferior to man’s role.
“It is worth noting that the greatest recent falls in fertility rates come not as the result of food shortages or technical advances in contraception, but as correlate of increasing educational levels for women, great social mobility, increasing urbanization, the expanding role of women in the work force –in sum, the lessening of women’s dependence on husbands and children for support” (Wenke & Olszewski pp.300).
When I was reading and came across this quote it provoked further thought into this topic for me. Many of these proposed reasons for why women fertility rates have decreased are things associated with women empowerment and breaking the gender roles deemed inferior.
This idea of men having the time to take on administrative roles seems like it could coincide with Marvin Harris’s “big men” idea where the emergence of “influential older men whose advice and guidance the community seeks” is associated with the rise of chiefdoms (Wenke & Olszewski pp. 308). Later in the text the authors further explain this theory and how Harris’s ideas are not often accepted it still is interesting to think about the beginning part; the “big men.” When men started to become rulers and leaders and possibly began to gain respect as such, what implications did this have on women’s position in society? Did the fact that women were primary caregivers and homemakers start to become the inferior role in society because of the power roles men had?