Watching Feminine Mystique Evolve into a Feminine Mistake

By Fields, Suzanne | Insight on the News, June 27, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Watching Feminine Mystique Evolve into a Feminine Mistake

Fields, Suzanne, Insight on the News

From conception to commitment and the afterlife of marriage, men are objects of female suspicion. To a lot of women, anyway.

Male-bashing by modern feminists did not spring suddenly from the head of Hera but evolved from the prehistoric days when the first cave lady, as curious as a big cat, wanted to know exactly what Mr. Cro-Magnon was doing all day on the hunt while she was gathering nuts and wild berries with a baby in a pouch on her back.

Could he be having more fun than she, all the while accruing more patriarchal power, clubbing, bonding or networking with the other hairy Homo sapiens? Probably not, but you can't blame her for wondering, since he wasn't carrying the baby on his back.

Anthropologists tell us that in hunting-gathering societies, men and women had relatively equal (but very different) roles for millions of years of nomadic existence and each contributed to the evening meal. He stalked big game; she looked for water dribbling from rocks, honey oozing from bee nests and fruit hanging from trees or growing on low shrubs. Not until the invention of the plow, which cost women their jobs as gatherers, did women begin to lose equal status.

"In cultures where people garden with a hoe, women do the bulk of the cultivating; in many of these societies women are relatively powerful as well," Helen E. Fisher, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, writes in Anatomy of Love. "But with the introduction of the plow -- which required much more strength -- much of the essential farm labor became men's work. Moreover, women lost their ancient honored roles as independent gatherers, providers of the evening meal."

When sexual standards changed with sedentary living, a woman wasn't worth as much. But raising a child assumed more importance. After the industrial revolution when men entered factories, women preferred to look after their children. Their men wanted them to do that, too.

Then it was more important than ever for a woman to find a man on whom she could depend to help her raise her children, supporting her in the home. Hence the old mothers' admonition: "It's just as easy to marry a rich man as a poor one."

Of course, many women couldn't find a rich man. Women assumed the double burdens of work outside and inside the home. Ironically, feminism emerged from the middle class, in which women who were privileged enough to live in suburban houses and stay close to their children had the time to consider turning everything upside down.

Working women, as the feminist elite have begun to find out, have considerably more reason than the elites to complain about double burdens.

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