Re: Evolution of Sexism

Len Piotrowski (
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 13:17:09 GMT

In article <4utck6$> (Gerold Firl) writes:


>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.

At great risk of stepping into the direct line of withering Firl Fire, I would
like to point out that the social goal of increasing the number of males in a
corporate group for the purposes of warfare on neighboring corporate groups
is _not_ facilitated as well by a patrilineal structural arrangement as that
provided by a matrilineal arrangement, suitably augmented by a corresponding
marriage-residence rule. Unmarried children belong to the corporate group in
both arrangements, but males obtained through marriage can be made immediately
available to the matrilineal group for such real-time crisis like warfare.
In the patrilineal situation, too much time would be spent in the investment
of raising males to fulfill a similar function, yet suited to a social crisis
that was largely more cyclical and dispersed through time, or more endemic,
institutionalized, and ritualized within the societies, much like the Yanamamo
"warfare" scenario.


>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.

As was noted above, a patrilineal arrangement by it's nature is incapable of
reacting rapidly, by mobilizing corporate males, to handle a large crisis.
They would be at a relative disadvantage to respond to "rapidly changing
conditions" with respect to a matrilineal society. Under crisis conditions,
patrilineal corporate groups would indeed tend to suffer greater stress. I
wouldn't necessarily claim that this fact alone calls for a "transition"
model. Many societies may just disappear under the pressure, or move, or
incorporate into a dominating group, or "devolve" into several "simpler"
social-ecological relationships.

>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 crisis and their
>concommitant violence.

Forest clearing by a corporate group requires the same mobilization of
"man-power" as warfare, which is not facilitated as well by patrilineal versus
matrilineal group structures. There is no reason, therefore, to assume that a
patrilineal structure is necessary to such a development, or for that matter
the development of agriculture, industrialization, information, or whatever.
In fact, there are plenty of examples from ethnography, including the
Contact American Southeast, where the obverse is true. No demonstrated
significant relationship between violence and social-structure has, to my
knowledge, been presented in the literature.

>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/

As a general statement, this is likely true in many situations. However,
social-structures aren't so easily changed as stepping up to the plate and
swinging the bat. In fact, as I tried to suggest above, many
social-structural arrangements impede change, whether rapid or long term, even
those, like patrilineality, which might intuitively seem at first glance to be
the best fit to a particular situation.



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