Patriarchy is not an inevitable consequence of human nature. Like
agriculture, it originally “evolved as a by-product of decisions made
without awareness of their consequences”Diamond (1997); Harari (2014) paints a similar picture.
of a system of
Power out of
uncoordinated actions can be understood as an Autocatalytic
At the beginning of the transition from hunter/gatherer to agricultural lifestyles, systemic gender inequality was practically nonexistent. At its end, a series of individual rational choices that were initially not ideologically biased resulted in a lasting reduction of women’s social status, a systematic power imbalance and systemic oppression, which spread with the expansion of agriculture.
These choices fall into five categories, all intimately related to the rise of agriculture:
- The relegation of women to less heavy physical work
(e.g. sifting, grinding, cooking) because they had less upper body
strength than men. In addition, there were more of these tasks to do
than previously, and they were centred around indoor spaces.Morris (2015)
- The closer spacing of child births due to sedentism, which
replaced the wider spacing required in nomadic lifestyles. In addition,
children could be weaned earlier than before by feeding them grain-based
food, which also enabled a closer spacing of pregnancies.Scott (2017)
- A change in diet to more energy-dense foods that again allowed a
closer spacing of pregnancies due to an improved energy balance and
extended the duration of women’s reproductive age, including an earlier
onset.Bocquet-Appel (2011), Scott (2017)
- An increase in the average number of offspring, simultaneously
required and allowed by the lower Energy Returns and
higher yields of farming, leading to significant population growth and a
rising need for child care.Smil (2017)
- A novel focus on material possessions due to their increasing
usefulness and the resulting reproductive advantage for those who held
more of them. From this, property and inheritance emerged as ways of
securing and extending this advantage.Morris (2015)
This triggered a number of developments:
- Due to the diverging social positions of men as “breadwinners” and
women as “carers” and their different valorisationMy friend Gregor Groß points out that
this difference is due to three distinct factors: physically hard work
was more detrimental to health, which incurred a risk premium; men
accumulated specialised knowledge not available to women with an
increasing indoors focus; and once established, the difference could be
exploited as a power differential which led to its further
, inheritance became male-dominated.
- This, in turn, created an incentive for strict monogamy to make sure inheritance went to the physical offspring of men.
- Men usually came into their inheritance in their thirties and began to enter relationships only from that age. As women had become able to give birth at around 15, men started to choose women half their age to enforce monogamy, leading to a huge age differential in relationships.
- Due to the diverging social positions of men as “breadwinners” and women as “carers” and their different valorisationMy friend Gregor Groß points out that this difference is due to three distinct factors: physically hard work was more detrimental to health, which incurred a risk premium; men accumulated specialised knowledge not available to women with an increasing indoors focus; and once established, the difference could be exploited as a power differential which led to its further reinforcement.
Taken together, these changes led to a sharp rise in child-rearing
duties for women, their increasing confinement to the domus and
exclusion from politics, a fixation on their sexual “purity”, and male
control of the personal and social relationships between the
The result is patriarchy – the oldest and most enduring ideology and system of oppression – and, in contrast to e.g. racism, one in which the oppressor role emerged only during its evolution.
- Bocquet-Appel (2011): “The Agricultural Demographic Transition During and After the Agriculture Inventions”
- Diamond (1997): Guns, Germs, and Steel
- Harari (2014): Sapiens
- Morris (2015): Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels
- Scott (2017): Against the Grain
- Smil (2017): Energy and Civilization