Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Feminist Paradox: An Index of Cultural Evolution

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Feminist Paradox: An Index of Cultural Evolution

Article excerpt

The twentieth century witnessed a sea-change in cultural evolution. Effective and available reproductive technology was aligned with the ideology of gender egalitarianism, but ideological and moral systems remain a variable. As a consequence of that variability, gender complementarity as a worldview is placed in direct competition with gender egalitarianism. The argument is presented that over generations gender complementarity has a clear and decisive advantage over gender egalitarianism. However, increased autonomy and freedoms for one cohort of women will be systematically followed by decreased autonomy and freedoms for subsequent cohorts of women. No current community has managed to solve the paradox, and such a putative solution is still over the temporal horizon.

Key Words: Cultural evolution, gender roles, tertiary education

That cultures change over time is a given. Rome of the 20th century is quite different from the Rome of Caesar. The inhabitants of Manhattan, New York, have undergone a series of transformations since 1620. Chaucer's England is clearly distinct from Elton John's England. Since 1492, cultural traditions in both North and South America have been profoundly altered. Contemporary mainland Australia and Tasmania are both distinct from their cultural heritages of 1000 years ago.

The agricultural revolution was a sea-change from the world-view of hunters and gatherers. The industrial revolution again altered the perspectives about what was considered a normative world. It is argued here that the innovations of reproductive technologies - aligned with the emergence of an ideology of gender egalitarianism - have also shifted the trajectory of cultural evolution.

Such changes could be considered random with no predictability at all in terms of the direction of changes. On the other side of the conceptual coin, such changes could be considered to reflect patterns that are both detectable and predictable. This article attempts to profile one of those changes that has arisen with the confluence of (i) innovations in reproductive technologies and (ii) the ideology of gender egalitarianism.

In the early development of Anthropology as a discipline, "cultural" evolution - across generations - was an important component to Anthropological debate and scholarship. The direction and speed and magnitude of cultural changes received a good deal of theoretical attention (e.g. Bachofen 1861, Carneiru 1973, Frazer 1958; Lowie 1920, Morgan 1963, Maine 1873, Steward 1955, Tylor 1851. See Harris 1971 for a review of the literature on macro-theories; cf. Goodenough 1999.) Impetuses of such changes have been conceptualized in the form of shifts in technology (White 1959, Childe 1951), economic structure (Harris 1979, 1998, Marx 1859; cf. Fischer 1996), communication efficacy and forms of media (McLuhan 1964, 1967, 1989). Recent contributions have focused more on modeling/simulations and non-human examples of "cultural" evolution (e.g. Nisbett 1990, Sereno 1991, and Takahasi 1998; cf. Agner 1999, Graber 1995, Pocklington and Best 1997). For theories and discussions on bio-cultural feedback loops across generations, see Barkow 1980, 1989; Durham 1979, 1982, 1991; Boyd and Richerson 1985, 1988 and Lumsden and Wilson 1982, 1985; cf. Brown's 1991 presentation of human universals.

However, the earlier enthusiasms waned. Part of the lessened interest was the lack of falsifiability to the macro-theories which were theoretically elegant, but difficult to hone down to testable hypotheses. In addition, when predictions could occur, there were too many counter-indicative cultures (Popper's "Black Swans" [Popper 1959, 1962]) which tended to invalidate the original model.

This effort attempts to make a contribution to the domain of cultural evolution. The attempt includes (1) constructing a testable hypothesis, (2) testing the hypothesis across cultures, and (3) interpreting the results in the context of a culture's competitive trajectory and viability across generations. …

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