Tracing Back Inequality


By Veronica Chavez

Image courtesy of Ethan.

In 1854, a group of women congregated in Albany, New York for the State Woman’s Rights Convention. There, they put together a letter for the New York State Legislature outlining the important role they held in society despite the few rights they possessed at the time in comparison to their male counterparts.

In response, the NY Legislature absolved themselves from the situation stating that “a higher power than that from which emanates legislative enactments has given forth the mandate that man and woman shall not be equal; that there shall be inequalities by which each in their own appropriate sphere shall have precedence to the other.”

According to the NY Legislature, the education of women “has not been the result of statutes” but of civilization and Christianity.

During this era, in order to strip women of fundamental rights with minimal guilt, many men believed this notion–that Christianity had pronounced them the head of the family–and to go against such a destiny would be going against the religion itself.

Such a notion also implied that men and women were always held on different planes of superiority.

This concept however doesn’t align with the findings of recent research.

According to a study led by anthropologists from the University College London, men and women in contemporary hunter-gather tribes had equal influence on where their group lived and whom they lived with.

Despite the wide perception that hunter-gatherers were more male-dominated, researchers argue that it was only with the emergence of agriculture that inequality began to arise.

Before agriculture, the men and women of these nomadic tribes had a fairly equal role. Scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines.

The data included kinship relations, movement between camps, and residence patterns–information acquired through hundreds of interviews.

Anthropologists believe that men and women had equal influence over whom they lived with at this time because research shows that when only one sex has influence over the process, “tight hubs of related individuals emerged.”

As reported by The Guardian, Dyble explained, “when only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery.”

In the populations that were studied however, the average number of related individuals was low.

According to Dyble, the “egalitarianism demonstrated” helps to differentiate our human ancestors from primates. Chimpanzees, he explained, “live in aggressive, male-dominated societies” and as a result “don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.”

Similarly to the hunter-gatherer tribes of our ancestral past, men and women in farming families during the 19th century held relatively equal roles.

Men did heavy fieldwork, woodwork, and repair, while women typically did food and clothing preparation, and food preservation. While the law at this time favored men, and gave women few formal rights, the economy within the family farm was equal.

However, this balance changed as more and more household goods were purchased outside of the home instead of made by women. With less responsibility, the woman’s role on the family farm began to diminish, leading Americans to begin reconsidering the gender roles they had become so accustomed to.

Some believed that women should concentrate on homemaking and domesticity, given their gentle nature and knack for taking care of children. Others argued that women possessed just as much intellectuality and mental capability as men, and should have an active role in politics and the business world–and so began the women’s rights campaign of the 1850s, as mentioned above.

While it’s clear that some major societal advances have been made, including women’s right to vote, own property, and acquire virtually all of the same jobs given to men, there are still several areas in which women are not given the same freedom as men.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For example, in the past, feminism views have shifted from wanting men and women to have a completely equal work-home balance to wanting women to have complete freedom of choice as to whether they wanted to be a full-time business woman or a full-time mother.

Although this ideology gives a semblance of equality, such a harsh separation of roles–mother or businesswoman–leaves women with a tough decision to make.

American mothers in particular have to make this decision quickly, with many of them only granted 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. Single mothers arguably don’t even have the luxury of such a decision. In turn, husbands of new mothers are forced into the position of sole-breadwinner.

It’s also widely known that women receive a lower wage than men occupying the same exact position. In 2013, female full-time year-round workers were paid 78 percent of what men were paid, though that percent point changes if broken down by different races.

Similarly, there are certain job sectors where women are not treated equally to men, sometimes so severely that they leave their jobs. This can be seen in the field of engineering, where research shows that nearly 40 percent of women who earn engineering degrees quit the profession or never enter the field at all. The study that surveyed over 5,000 women, found that 30 percent of those cited non-supportive supervisors or coworkers as a primary motivator for leaving.

Although many strides have been made to create more evolved and equal gender roles, it is clear that there is still much more work to be done. Involving women in important sectors like science, technology, engineering, math, and politics will create a vastly more diverse and powerful society–a fact proven by our ancestral history.