Saturday, October 21, 2017

[rajxyghb] Asymmetric society producing capable women

Consider the stereotypical historical society which assigned asymmetric roles to men and women: women remained at home, men went out and won bread.  Exactly what was expected of women and how did society produce women who did those tasks well?  (For the men, the labor market and wages induced incentives to work well.)

The obvious first possibility is that society expected child-rearing of women.  However, we discount that possibility in two ways in preparation for a radical second possibility below: child-rearing in historical societies was not just done by the mother but also by the extended family.  Because many people were involved, no one needed to be particularly good at it, yet things would still turn out all right.  The other is that children seem to be evolutionarily designed to grow up and to be able to turn out all right despite pretty bad parenting, so long as their basic needs are met.

The provocative second possibility is that the main thing such asymmetric societies expected of women was to provide emotional and psychological support for their husbands, ultimately to improve the work productivity of their husbands.  (Inspired by the complaint that society still expects this of women, who are now also working jobs and still being the primary in child-rearing, nowadays without the help of extended family.)  If true, this second possibility raises several questions: exactly what kind of emotional and psychological support did women provide to their husbands?  How, psychologically, did that support work to improve productivity of their husbands?  How did they train girls to provide such support?  What mechanisms rewarded learning how to do it well?

One cannot provide emotional support to someone else if one is oneself emotionally overwhelmed or drained, a common complaint of the stresses of modern society.  In order for a society of asymmetric gender roles to work according to the second possibility, there would have needed to have been some mechanism to shield women from outside stresses.  What was that shielding mechanism?

One cannot do a good job at anything is one is unhappy about doing it, especially for tasks so personal and intimate as providing psychological and emotional support: body language will betray one's unhappiness.  Therefore, in order for a society of asymmetric gender roles to actually work, there needed to have been some mechanism for women to be content in their roles, not resentful about the opportunities they were denied solely because of their gender.  What was that mechanism?

Understanding the mechanism of contentment versus resentment is also useful for politics: those who wish to maintain power in status quo seek to induce contentment in the populace; those who wish to gain power by changing the status quo seek to induce resentment in the populace, most famously through victim identity.

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