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What creates the social curse of gender inequality?

Phil Fitzpatrick recent
Phil Fitzpatrick

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - We all know that men and women are biologically different. This difference is necessary if humans are going to procreate and maintain their species.

Of itself this doesn’t mean men and women are not equal. It just means that men and women have different biological roles.

How many times have you heard the argument that men are usually bigger and stronger than women and therefore more powerful? This may be so but what has it got to do with equality? Absolutely nothing.

Neither gender can survive without the other. It doesn’t matter whether one is physically stronger than the other. The difference is essentially complementary, not one of strength.

Men and women should be different but equal. But they are not. Why is this so?

If inequality is not a product of nature it must, therefore, be a product of nurture.

It must be related to the way men and women are brought up and what they are taught. It must be related to the way influences work in their societies.

What are some of these influences?

One of the biggest causes of inequality is tradition. Or should that be the subversion of tradition?

This is the way things have always been done so why should that change now? Men have always dominated women and that’s the way it should be.

Is that really true? I think not. Even in Papua New Guinea you only have to go back a few generations and you come to a time when the gender balance was decidedly more equal.

Men and women had different roles but the power balance was equally shared. It had to be because the survival of the clan depended upon it.

It is only in recent times that traditions, cultures and customs have been reinterpreted to mean something else.

Another big influence has been religion.

No matter what the brand, religion has always been a men’s club. Among other things, both politically and socially, it has essentially been a deliberate instrument for the subjugation of women.

To see the truth of this, you only have to observe the level of equality of women in a country and contrast this with the strength of its religions.

In strongly Muslim countries women enjoy very little equality. In strongly Catholic countries the same thing is true. In countries with large secular populations there is a much higher level of equality.

Another influence is capitalism.

Right from the beginning of the industrial revolution employers recognised that when they employed a married man they were actually getting two people for the price of one.

They were getting the actual worker and they were getting a support system provided by the worker’s unpaid spouse.

Without that spouse the maximum effort could not be wrung out of a worker. It was therefore in the best interests of the employer that such a partnership endured. The institution of marriage had to be designed in such a way that this essentially unequal institution prevailed.

These are just a few examples of what created and continues to create gender inequality. There are many more.

What stands out however is their essentially antiquated nature. Most of them don’t fit into the high tech societies that now prevail in most countries.

Automation and robotics are doing away with the old concepts of labour. Religion is dying under the onslaught of science. Traditions that were once powerful have been rendered into the realms of folklore.

In the 21st century, even in developing countries, there is no need for inequality anymore. And yet it still persists.

It doesn’t make sense.

Comments

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Philip Fitzpatrick

One of the tasks when preparing a social mapping report is digging up all the old anthropological data and other literature, including kiap era area studies and comparing them to present day situations.

I think in just about all the social mapping studies I prepared (>100) I found that while a lot of core data remained the same other stuff had changed, sometimes dramatically, and especially in relation to gender balance and the division of labour. In some cases old matrilineal societies had effectively become patrilineal.

One of the reasons for this latter change was the government's view that all PNG societies were patrilineal. Even judges in the courts were and still are making this assumption. The only reason I can think of for these new interpretations is the spread of highlanders to every corner of the country.

There were other differences too and I feel pretty confident in claiming that the older societies in any one area were quite different to those that exist there today.

One of those marked differences was gender balance and equality. Where it once existed it unfortunately no longer pertains in many places.

In many cases Great Grandma had a lot more power and freedom than do girls today.

Paul Oates

I seem to remember many times in many village meetings having a lively discussion about what project or action should be undertaken and finally achieving agreement with everyone at the meeting.

The men at the meeting then said in effect: We'll take this to the women and see what we're allowed to do.

While at other village meetings, men would sit on one side of the group and women on the other, there was a noticeable interchange of ideas and agreement on what should or could be done.

It's true that this interaction concerned important aspects like who would do what role and who would be able to ensure there was food available and collect materials from the bush to enable what needed to be done. It's true that this interaction in managing projects and undertakings involved different roles that were gender based.

However it also seemed to me that provided there was no tribal warfare, and that has to be a 'given', there was then an equality of understanding that one couldn't achieve much without the other being in agreement and being on side.

Perhaps this spirit of co-operation was determined by the understanding that each gender had an accepted and equal place in society.

Perhaps the introduction of a cash economy has altered the natural balance that had previously existed?

There is no doubt that in a European context, the Christian church until recent times, helped cement a more masculine theory of dominance that was not altogether present in ancient times.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Nature versus nurture is a very old argument dating back to Darwin's time and before that too.

If we go with the nurture argument not only are women conditioned to feel inferior but males are conditioned to feel superior. You can see this at work in many of the comments by PNG males on this blog.

That, of course, reinforces the view that if women are to achieve equality in PNG both the brains of men as well as women need to be re-tuned.

Perhaps not so much tradition but certainly religion and capitalism can contribute to such changes if they are prepared to do so. It may involve giving up some power and profit but it would make for a much better world.

Garry Roche

Phil raises some interesting gender issues. Some scientists believe that the male brain is wired different from the female brain.

Some will claim that men are better at reading maps and women are better at multi-tasking, that men give more attention to things, and women give more attention to people.

However, more recent scientific research raises questions about the source or cause of any difference in ‘wiring’ in the female and male brains. There is evidence that cultural and social pressure and emphasis can effectively ‘rewire’ the brain.

If young girls are told they are not as good as boys at maths, this social pressure can effect the brain itself. In brief, the brain adapts itself to circumstances around it and differences in brains of women and men may be due not to biological causes but rather to the cultural environment. (see Gina Rippon, “The Gendered Brain” Bodley Head.). https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/24/meet-the-neuroscientist-shattering-the-myth-of-the-gendered-brain-gina-rippon

In the Hagen area the books “Women in Between” by Marilyn Strathern, and in the Enga area the book “From Inside the Women’s House” by Alome Kyakas and Polly Wiessner both endeavoured to present a woman’s viewpoint of the culture as it was back then.

I believe they helped us to at least become aware of some issues, and to be more aware of women’s contribution to the whole fabric of life.

Now the writings of younger PNG women are again making us more conscious of various issues. What can we men do? Perhaps we can listen more to women and try and understand their viewpoint.

There is some progress. Currently the President (Vice-Chancellor) of Divine Word University Madang is a lady from Manus Island, Dr Cecilia Nembou, and until recently her deputy was Dr Pam Norman, a lady from Australia (Pam is a long time teacher in PNG, formerly Pam Ellis).

Philip Kai Morre

Gender inequality is a neo-contemporary concept. Gender roles are biologically and socially constructed in a given society. Sexual orientation is also a problem that is so mixed up with homosexual, bi-sexual and lesbians.

The problem of gender is created by irrational thoughts which produce negative results. In any society men and women co-exist attracting each other with their gender or sex roles and responsibilities. Women are biologically weak but socially stronger.
__________

What science says: There is consistent evidence that males and females are basically alike. Given the lack of evidence, the misrepresentation of sex differences harms men and women of all ages. The American Psychological Association has said, "The claims [of gender difference] can hurt women's opportunities in the workplace, dissuade couples from trying to resolve conflict and communication problems and cause unnecessary obstacles that hurt children and adolescents' self-esteem". I think it's time some of those divisive myths were busted - KJ


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