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What is/was the historical incentive to exclude women from government, education and other areas of decision making in societies worldwide?

My Question To You:

It is clear that institutions, governments and legal systems have been dominated by men for thousands of years. In turn, women have been persecuted and cast as temptresses/witches/distraction throughout the ages. (NB Some witch hunts and claims of witchcraft did also affect men and some were killed, however 95% of deaths were women).

But why is this?
Why would women be un-allowed/excluded?
Why does/would sexism/anti-feminism exist?
How does sexism serve the elite?

Are women a threat to men?
Are women more powerful than men?

I have read much to do with religious founding and texts that speak against women, but not very much on the invested interest or original incentive to exclude women.

Some say that, as child bearers, women were given the role as primary care givers, thus meaning that their role was in the home. - If this is the case, why were women, as primary care givers - a very important role-, not given as many rights as men to make important social decisions (ie. not given right to vote, not legally owner of their property, their children or themselves)?

Personally, I have a non-essentialist view which means that I believe that, despite our reproductive organs being different, woman and men are equal in our minds and our capacity to be and feel all things. For instance, I do not believe that men are innately aggressive or women innately nurturing. It is my belief that these traits predominantly recur in both men and women through the constructs of our society, and the impact on personality, identity and therefore gender identity. Thus, I do not believe that women necessarily 'chose' their role in history.

I am trying to understand the reason for this historical positioning of women and I would love to hear your thoughts on why women have been excluded.

Thank you!

  • Apr 4 2013: My best guess:

    We started as brutes. In ancient times the virtues were the virtues of warriors, primarily strength. Women could not compete with men as warriors and had to be defended by men. Because of this, women were seen as helpless, and given the same status as children. Sexism did not develop because men desired to subjugate women, but rather because people, men and women, generalized that because women were weaker than men, then women were inferior to men.

    I think there is a second aspect of human thinking that also contributed to sexism. People organize using hierarchies. We categorize almost everything into groups and subgroups. This became our way or organizing all of our power structures, and there was always a single person at the top of the hierarchy, usually called a king. It became common sense that the family also had to have just one person in charge to make the rules and decisions, and the man was given that role because men were superior to women. Then the role confirmed his superiority.

    This notion that men were superior to women has lasted until modern times. In spite of our amazing technology, we are still, very slowly, relieving ourselves of the thinking of our brutal past. When the founding fathers of the USA wrote that all men were equal, they were intentionally excluding women, and most of them believed that white people were inherently superior to people with colored skin. Most of those men never had to rely on personal strength to do anything, they had slaves or servants to do the heavy work.

    We are fortunate to be living in this time, but we still have cultural ideas that do not work well in modern times. Women who pursue careers the way men do find themselves pushing the limits of the biological clock. Our concept of equality still requires some adjusting.
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    Apr 5 2013: In premodern times, biology was the chief contributor to the roles of men and women. Males are generally physically stronger than women, so men were the ones who went out into the wild to hunt and provide for the family. Females are biologically equipped to have babies, so childcare was their major concern. In general, women could not supercede biology with birth control options or abortion alternatives. It was a more hostile environment in which daily living was a struggle for survival.
    Roles were less complicated because they were predetermined by biology.

    I dont think it has anything to do with the thought that women are inferior or intellectually inadequate (then all human beings were raised by women).
    Science has brought about enlightenment, and consequently, change.
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    Apr 4 2013: I am not well read on this subject but found this article in the materials for a class at Stanford and think you might find it of value:
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      Apr 5 2013: Good read. Surprisingly it appeared to me the authors were saying things I thought even without reading it. :)
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    Apr 4 2013: I shall differ from both Jacob and Bary. Humans started as hunter-gatherers not just hunters. Hunting was an important survival option but it was not entirely sustainable. Gathering was another equally important option where women figured actively.
    Now, men and women had never been equal. Women had always remained more productive, more tenacious, more subtly unifying, problem resolving and wiser part of human society. As weaning out time of human babies started to get longer than most other animals/primates, they remained absent from social decision making. This absence was taken advantage of by men who first laid down social rules where women were denied deciding role. This was backed up by rudimentary religions, all of which cast women away. Work by definition excluded child rearing, care giving and home making as productive (even today a housewife's work does not add up to GDP). This was further backed up by literature that started praising women as 'fair' sex, while all statements, intellect, even language were hijacked by men.

    The incentive was to keep the control in the hands of men because men are basically emotionally insecure creatures who constantly need soft, kind, giving feminine care - from mothers for half of life then from wives, girlfriends, mistresses for the rest of it.

    Sounds terrible but truth most often is.
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    Apr 6 2013: Well, I'm not even sure it's true, I wasn't around 100 or 1,000 years ago to see what life was really like. Wouldn't one have to think that 1,000 years ago every individual's life was different, that some women were more fulfilled in the bigger social life than others.

    If women's life was in the home, I would say she made very important social decisions, i.e. the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

    It might have something to do with men having larger, more muscular bodies than women. Thus they might be better equipped to go out in the world and "hunt," and the woman stay home and nurture.
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    Apr 6 2013: I think it goes back to not being able to control reproduction, women being treated as chattel, abrahamic traditions blaming women for our animal sex drive.

    Women are no more threat to men as other men are threats to men.

    I suggest power comes down to individuals not one sex versus the other, although there may be overall patterns in different societies, homes, relationships.
  • Apr 5 2013: I also believe the key point is violence.
    Violence has been the center point of our civilization since the begining. Its easier to steal something someone made than to do it yourself. That is logical and is an idea that has been around for a long time.
    Men were tailored for violence because the death of one man is not very damaging to the group as a whole. Yet the death of one woman can damage a group not only because you lose someone who can give birth but also because women are required to tend to the needs of a newborn.
    So, men specialized on violence, organization and leadership while women became powerless and ruled by men.
  • Apr 5 2013: there actually has to be a dominant side of any species in order for it to work but of course u always have exception.worms are asexual,during mating a battle ensues and the worm that's able to lunge its tail into the other and plant the eggs becomes the "male"so to speak. with mammals its actually beneficial for one side to be "dominant" over the other. people hav been living this way a lot longer than we do as of present. peoples ability to change old ways is a slow process and decisions made that hold a certain segment of society down is due to ignorance , old paradigms but not always with sinister intention.
  • Apr 4 2013: From my understanding the role of Women was shaped over a period of thousands of years, I have my own theories on why.

    I think the main answer to your question can be found in early Humans. Historically speaking there was a time when one of the most important attributes was strength, when Humankind originally evolved the need to hunt was crucial to survive and this need was best met by men who're biologically stronger, you also have to consider that if a child bearing women was to hunt you had the risk of damaging your offspring or even worse, risking the child's death. Now back then hunters where the backbone of every society, without people bringing food society faced extinction after all. So I believe that it was purely accepted that women should stay at home so as not to risk the potential damage of the next generation.

    As human civilisation evolved a constant condition was created men as workers , women as child bearers and not workers for the same reason a women wouldn't hunt. As men took more responsibility they believed they should gain more rights and consequently more power i.e. to vote. You have to remember that at this time it was still genuinely accepted that the goal of your life was to reproduce.

    Now lets fast forward to today, this constant condition remains. However it's changing, the goal of Human life has changed which in turn has changed the conditions, it is no longer the goal of many to have a family. Now we see more Women working and voting because Men are no longer as centred on fathering a child and hence there is no requirement for Women to stay at home and consequently women get more power.

    Now to answer some of your other questions:
    Some Men are sexist because they're conservative, they don't like the idea of gender roles changing because they don't know what will happen if they do.

    No sex is more powerful than the other, we are as you say equal, without one the other would cease to exist.

    I hope my insight has been useful!