Change: Gender Revolution?

The change of venue

The introduction of private property and patriarchy consistently emerge together when societies transition from foraging to settled agrarian societies that cultivate crops. In other words, the revolution from hunting and moving to settle down with grocery stores in the neighborhood. Let’s learn from Hunter-Gatherer to Farmer below.

Agrarian societies domesticated crops and put down roots (staying in one location). They helped create the capitalist mentality to make and acquire wealth, buy and sell commodities, to own land. Learn more about agrarian societies.

Wealth and ownership of land created an issue – who inherits? The role in the family, who is the breadwinner? Society is formed so does social interaction. What is appropriate and what’s not?

Sexual Scripts

Sexual scripts are the rules that guide sexual interaction. When society changed from hunter-gatherer to agrarian the sexual scripts changed too. The permissive sexual scripts had to end – how could anyone be certain who is their rightful heirs were? There was no question who the mother was after giving birth. But men were the landowners, the only way to prove paternity was to control women’s sexual freedom. This marks the point in time when monogamy (the practice and encouragement of long-term intimate relationships with only one person) was constructed and started to become an ideology.

In agrarian societies, most men and women lived and worked at home. Industrialization changed all that, separating work from home. It creates separate spheres – public and private. The new industrial economy changed how people thought about marriage and reproduction.

Changes in Sexual Scripts

Sex for reproduction: The puritans were strongly opposed to sexual activity outside of marriage. They believed women to be a weaker vessel and have less control over their physical and emotional passions. The purpose of sex for women is restricted to reproduction only. Anything outside the marital was forbidden vigorously punishing transgressors with flogging, stocks, forced public confessions, and other cruel and unusual approaches. The script became more flexible with harsh conditions (disease, natural disaster, etc) and the need for a larger population.

Sex for love: The Victorians abandoned the idea that sex was only for reproduction, instead of embracing the notion sex was an expression of love. Reversing the puritan beliefs about women’s voracious sexuality, the Victorians feminized love (idealized as romantic). Women were reimagined as naturally chaste, innocent of the vulgar sexual desires felt by men. They were stirred by love, not lust. Men were believed to be more deeply tied to their bodies and constantly torn between the carnal and the celestial in a sense; they masculinized sex (sex for sex’s sake).

Sex for pleasure: Economic prosperity, technological innovation, and artistic experimentation brought in the era of sex for pleasure. A lot was going on in the roaring 20s. People with money and free time had the opportunity to socialize – necessity is the mother of invention – mas entertainment was born. People had the opportunity to go out, meet and flirt with new people. Then dating was born! The courtship moved out of the home and into the “public” or man’s sphere. This also shifted the balance of power as women had or made less money than men. Dating is expensive for men and women to look good and pay for the date. This also brought more sexual freedom and paved the way for more gender–egalitarian relationships. It also set up changes in marriage.

Changes in Marriage

For thousands of years, marriage served economic and political functions unrelated to love, happiness, or personal fulfillment. Marriages were typically arranged by older family members. Marriage was important to some for maintaining and increasing power in families. These were patriarch/property marriages with men as the heads of the households and women as human property equal to children and slaves.

The history of marriage – Alex Gendler

Feminist activists of the 1800’s and early 1900’s fought to end patriarch/property marriages. One of the demands was for women to have the legal right to own property rather than being property. This right would eventually make many other rights possible.

In modern sociology, the public sphere is that of adult males. The private (domestic) sphere is that of women and children. Within this notion comes the separation of work: productive work is done in the public sphere – outside of the home; reproductive work is done in the private sphere – within the home (bearing, caring, and nurturing the little ones and husband). In today society, productive work (wages, benefits, paid vacation, retirement/pensions, etc.) is valued and rewarded by society. Reproductive work is valued, but not rewarded by society.

The funny history of the US government that subsidized childcare, paid women the same wages for work as men and supported women in “non-traditional” jobs. That all went away when World War II ended. Everything went back to the old pattern. Three and a half million women had voluntarily or involuntarily left the labor force (Colman, P. 1995).

After WWII the US experienced an economic boom. Many returning veterans received benefits that allowed them to attend college and secure loans to buy homes. The baby boom and ultimately building of suburban homes exploded. The breadwinner/housewife model was becoming the societal ideal.

The nuclear family concept – only in the U.S?

The nuclear family brought in another time for a change. Women have experience working outside of the home, again left home for paid work. The traditional marriage was in flux. Black families struggled since the GI bill was not available to black soldiers, nor were the college loans or mortgages that launched white families into the middle class.

After WWII, the economy needed more workers due to the loss of over a quarter-million men. Women were being drafted back to work. The 1960s ushered in legislation to project women, marriage bans were being discarded, and the word “sex” was added to the Civil Rights Act – making discrimination in the workplace illegal. Divorce laws began to change – no-fault divorce an option.

The social institution keeps on changing.

Additional resources

Puritan Women’s Rights by History of American Women

Hysteria, the Wandering Uterus, and Vaginal Massage by Gwen Sharp, PhD

Sexual Misconduct in Plymouth Colony by Lisa M. Lauria – University of Virginia

Native American Marriage

The 1920’s – Let’s Misbehave

Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

Good luck!

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