Duane HelmerGender Roles History a la carte
What was the Hunter-Gather’s sociological perspective of her/his culture/society? Their social structures and functions were expressed as a crude but pure and necessary collaboration of natural resources and conditions contiguous to multiple adaptive strategies and behaviors which self perpetuated by the fact that they either succeeded or failed, and in doing so sustained or terminated those carrying out said actions or accomplishing said tasks. In other words their view of themselves was in a way, futile, it could serve no exigent part of daily life. The structure and function of their culture were merged into a single purpose which in turn gave meaning to all subsequent behaviors and activities; each group member thus being defined as much by their relation to and ability to exploit the environment as to each other. The group and individual focus was on this very high stakes game of survival; should one or two group members fail, all then might be in jeopardy.
This live or die existence resulted in what architects define as “forced perspective”; (a cognitive trick based on minor changes of width to height ratios that result in structures appearing taller than they actually are however in the case of our Hunter-Gather’s, nature and physical survival forced roles and determined manifest functions by unspoken fiat. Their “perspective” of self and world was “forced”, as a result of the needs of daily survival, no make up exams allowed) leaving little room for existential angst or attempts at self-actualization. Survival strategies determined group behaviors and cultural norms, there was no oxygen for the development of any sub or counter cultural traits; role strain and conflict were non existent by today’s standards, role exit would be defined as death. In this stark milieu, gender was probably the penultimate role determining factor, the primary being any and all activities that resulted in a net surplus either physical or social to the group and its entropic effects on the phenotype of possible cultural traits: (i.e. what was expressed, needed expression).
Intentional and or subjective efforts to define or alter micro or macro level elements of group structure and/or individual roles were left to the vicissitudes of life. Yet over time more efficient utilization of resources and plain old good fortune reduced the survival coefficient of energy output to sustenance from nearly 100% to something less and that new proportionality is what began to allow individuals more physical, psychological, and cultural room to influence, nuance and define social-structures, norms and roles in ways that might have resonated naturally with human traits including gender.
Pity that no sooner had human kind acquired the ability, privilege, and magnificence of incorporating reason as an effectual and defining characteristic of our relationship to each other and the world we inhabit, than we abandoned such enlightened folly opting instead for a much more practical expression of social-construction based in the myopic, avaricious, and fallacious belief that might makes right. “Never was there a man who made so little so little that another man with a club could not come and take it away from him.” Aynn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
Thus dawns the agricultural age and it’s resultant increase in food production which leads to significant increases in population numbers and in turn the advent of larger towns and cities, logarithmically increasing social interactions resulting in the need for coherent systems or paradigms to make sense of them. This allowed for persons of influence and power to at every social stratum to begin to define establish and enforce the “rules”. Rules which derived their power from life and death consequences connected to knowing and complying with them. Gender featured again as a prime, nearly axiomatic factor in determining a person’s station, role, and caste in all but the rarest of exceptions. The race to control the most resources and power was off and running and a woman holding a child in each arm with another on the way was ill equipped to win it. This status, (which is defined primarily by its characteristic of dependency for survival) would predominately continue to define the “gender roles” waning only in very recent times and only in the face of heroic efforts and the technological shattering of the chains and shackles latent from the past. The perspective of a white male living in the dusk of the industrial age, and the dawn of the post-industrial is not without its challenges. Definitions that define the roles of women and men are in flux. The “should” factor is greatly increased, along with the consequences attached to making a mistake. One might fantasize about a simpler time when the rules were clear, a seeming time of no harm no foul, where each person new, accepted, and played their part content in the doing, but no more.
As more and more of each person’s identity stems from and takes on “real-ity” from self-defined inter and intrapersonal processes and interactions, societal expectations, definitions, and roles will lose focus, meaning and coherency. Subjectivity becomes supreme, and each and every I-ME in the world becomes a deity.
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