Re: Evolution of Sexism

Gerold Firl (
14 Aug 1996 20:23:34 GMT

In article <4uqhed$>, (Bryant) writes:

|> In article <4uo1tb$>,
|> Gerold Firl <> wrote:

|> >I think the degree of patriarchy and violence within a society is
|> >determined mostly by relations with neighboring cultures. Under certain
|> >conditions of competition for resources between neighboring cultures,
|> >an escalating "arms-race" will ratchet-up the degree of violent
|> >patriarchy; it's not a matter of keeping the wife down, but of keeping
|> >up with the military capability of the joneses.

|> If you have time, I'd appreciate some clarification (maybe some
|> hypothetical illustrations or something)... I may be in a theoretical
|> rut, here, but I've come to view male coercion as a primarily
|> paternity-reliability related issue.

The yanomamo offer a pretty good example; I'm taking much of this from
harris, _cows, pigs, wars, and witches_, I think 1973.

The yanomamo are both extremely violent and extremely patriarchal;
women are treated very harshly there. Rape, beatings, and deadly
violence against women are public and commonplace. Female infanticide
is widespread; despite the heavy loss of life among men due to the
constant warfare, the male-female sex ratio is something like 1.5.

A game-theory analysis of social stability shows why universal pacifism
cannot endure; violent societies rapidly colonize and exploit a
peaceful mileau. Under conditions of resource scarcity, this can lead
to increasing escalation; one of the ways a population can improve
their competitive position in a violent environment is by female
infanticide. By skewing their sex ratio in favor of males, they can put
a larger fighting force in the field for a given food supply. This
might make the difference between survival and extinction, but at the
cost of disrupting sexual balance.

One the one hand, it seems like a shortage of women should result in an
increase in the status and value of females; in the long run, this may
in fact tend to correct imbalances such as the yanomamo. But the social
justification for female infanticide and a high warrior/acre ratio
leads to an ideology which glorifies men and downgrades women, and as
long as the fundamental cause of conflict remains, the anti-female
ideology will be reinforced. And as long as the society exists in a
violent environment, any move which decreases military capability risks
total destruction for all.

Paternity-reliability is a major issue, but largely internal to the
society, as opposed to the external factor of war and conquest. The
yanomamo probably reflect a social transient, as cultures adjust to
rapidly changing conditions, particularly the destruction of the river
indians by amazonian rubber-tappers in the last century or so.
Paternity-reliability is an ongoing struggle between male and female
which is always present, while extremes of violent patriarchy like the
yanomamo are aberrant fluctuations occupying the chaotic transition
from one state to another.

The yanomamo were, until recently, "foot-indians" who lived in the
remote interior by migratory hunting and gathering. They recently moved
to the more productive river banks, subsisting largely on high-yielding
crops of plantains. The subsequent population increase has resulted in
the clearing of the forest game upon which the former yanomamo depended
for protein, but has not yet led to the development of technologies for
exploiting the nearby fish and other river animals. This transition
looks like a miniature version of the transitions to agriculture, to
industrial production, and to the information age, all of which have
precipitated/been precipitated by population crises and their
concommitant violence.

In times of violence, men step up and women fade into the background.
In times of peace, women become more prominent. It might be interesting
to look for cycles of patriarchy and egalitarianism related to
conditions of turmoil/violence/resource scarcity and stability/peace/

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf