Sexism and Material Conditions

Very highly-defined gender roles are the norm in much of the world. Women tend to be stuck at home; education and privileges for women are undervalued. Of course it would be nice to change all of that, but first lets look at some reasons why that might be the case.

You are in a subsistence farming community, or some other community which involves harsh life conditions. Children for you are not some luxury that you have in order to feel fulfilled in life, as some abstract (albeit biologically engendered) goal. Children are a necessity. They do work for you around the house when they are young, and they provide for you when you are old. If you don’t have children, you don’t have support for the many things that need to be done when you are either busy or falling apart from age.

On top of that, life is uncertain. How many of your children will survive to adulthood? Who knows? You can’t pin your hopes on any one. You can’t afford to invest all of your resources into a small family. You have to have a large family so that someone might live long enough to support you.

So a large family is not some “love of life” or “love of children.” It is your welfare program in a harsh environment. But someone has to have these kids, and biologically, it just so happens that this someone has to be female. So women are going to be making lots of babies. This restricts their time and level of physical exertion, and so their options in life.

This is all on top of the the social conservatism which is necessary to support such a community, but that is a different post. My point is this: we Americans can talk about sexual equality because we are well off. We have the luxury to have intellectual jobs that don’t demand heavy physical labor, to have institutions that support maternity (or paternity) leave and pay, and for people to be provided for when they reach retirement (through social programs and/or through their own savings). We can invest our resources in small families since there is a fair assessment that our children will make it to adulthood. Or we can even just decide that we don’t want kids, without there being any shame or hardship involved.

If we want to increase gender equality in the world, there are many things that must be done. However, there is no chance for women to have equal rights until a society has the resources to support it.