I didn’t say that I didn’t want you to answer. Otherwise, why would I have posed the questions in the first place? In the interim, I’ve done some more research that addresses this topic. Below are some of the highlights:

In 2013, a group of Harvard and UCLA economists did a unique study that established that the plow has had a great impact on our beliefs about men and women and about female freedom and autonomy. This is not only true in places that currently have plowed agriculture, but is still true in urban centers that once had it. Societies with a connection to plowed agriculture, as distinct from land worked with hoes or sticks, generations later still have markedly lower levels of female participation in politics and the labor force, and they rank high on the embrace of markedly gender-biased attitudes.

To understand why we need to consider how humans lived before the invention of the plow. There is a growing consensus among anthropologists that we evolved not as monogamous dyads but as cooperative breeders. The culturally strong image of the brave pre-historic hunter bringing home the bacon to his mate who is waiting to be provided for is really just a cultural myth. For most of human history, small bands of men and women raised young collectively, and almost certainly mated with multiple partners.

This is a lifestyle with a lot of evolutionary benefits. Multiple mating in primates establishes and continually reinforces social bonds so that there are low levels of conflict, and there is every reason to believe the same was true of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Enhanced cooperation meant all were more likely to look after one another and their young, thus improving each individual’s reproductive fitness (the odds that their offspring would go on to produce offspring).

Sociologist Rae Blumberg has pointed out that it is only for less than 3% of human history and in this one type of agrarian society, that women have become fundamentally dependent on men. Plowed agriculture turned on its head the prior dynamic of women as competent, self-sufficient primary producers who make their own decisions relatively autonomously.

By contrast, a plow requires significant upper body strength, and cannot be easily set down to tend to children. Plowed agriculture meant that men worked outdoors and women became relegated to the house, and the care of the home. With land being inherited through the male line, men stayed with their families of origin and women moved to them, another factor in the diminishment of women’s status.

The authors of the study observed that beliefs from plow-cultures were inherently “sticky” and that even years later were used as a kind of shortcut to not have to evaluate people and situations as individuals. Instead, it’s more expedient to decide that “women are not good at X.” Modern cultures that grow sorghum, tree, and root crops, ones not cultivated by the plow, have greater gender equality and female labor force and political participation.

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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