Is the inequality between men and women a human universal



In this essay I will look at whether the inequality between men and women is a human universal, or whether there are or have been societies in which women shared power equally with men, or even exercised power over them. In order to do so, I will look at the writings of a number of anthropologists.
In "The Subordinance of Women: A Problematic Universal", author Ruth Bleier indicates that a central premise in the biological explanations inequality between women and men in present-day cultures, is that the subordinate position of women is a universal - across all time and all cultures. She tells us that these assumptions and conclusions have always invited the biological explanations that woman is subordinate because childbearing and motherhood limit her productive contributions, her mobility, and her participation in the public sphere of human activity. These same assumptions are used to explain that man is aggressive and universally dominant because of his genetic makeup that has given him his hunting prowess, successful sexual competition and his male sex hormones.
Bleier tells us that this claim that women have always had an inferior status makes it necessary to look at some of the important recent conceptual and empirical work of feminist and other anthropologists, that calls into question this viewpoint and assumption. In doing so, we examine the validity of those universals that have been important assumptions in anthropological research
Bleier looks at the variety of relationships and responsibilities to characterize the position of women throughout prehistory in history, and analyzes some of the factors that may account for the particular patterns in a culture. Her other purpose has been to examine evidence, and propose hypothesis relating to the question of how in the cultural evolution of civilization, women came to lose control over most aspects of their lives in patriarchal societies. Recognizing that the subordination of women to men is a historical development characterizing patriarchal cultures that have come to dominate world civilization, Bleier tells us it then becomes possible to reject the ideology that this subordination is both natural and inevitable, and to work for the elimination of that subordination.
Bleier points out that the anthropological evidence simply does not support traditional assumptions of universals such as the subordinance of women, or their biological segregation to reproductive and other nonproductive labors. She finds that the assumption of universals such as the subordination of women, has placed it outside of any analysis of the dynamics of change and interaction, making explanation impossible and unnecessary. She also tells us that such mystification invites further mystification, by automatically assuming an equally universal explanation. Since the only phenomenon as universal is women\'s presumed subordination is women\'s reproductive capacity, biology becomes the obvious explanation for the inferior position of women.
To Bleier, the significance of women\'s biology, of her reproductive capacity, is culturally constructed. Not only are universals not reflective of the truth, but the very concept or idea of universals plays an integral role in culture-bound ideological frameworks.
Bleier tells us that in recent studies there have been egalitarian, classless societies, in which there were no hierarchical relationships between individuals, or relations of domination and subordination between the sexes. She feels that this probably characterized all or most societies until changes occurred in the organization of subsistence activities, and productive relationships in particular societies. Bleier suggests that in those cultures that evolved toward patriarchies, sexual division of labor following sedentarization facilitated the formation male networks of control, authority, and information. With their the increasing importance, the roles and authority of women became more circumscribed, as women were separated both from control of their products of the labor, and from positions of authority in kinship networks.
According to Bleier, the state represents the most complete codification and institutionalization of patriarchal authority, and the separation of women and men into private and public spheres. With the establishment of the state, monogamy for women was enforced by law, patriliny succeeded matriliny, and the patriarchal family was established to bring women\'s sexual autonomy under male control. This same male control ensured paternal descent lines, established patriarchal authority at home, and ensured the ideological development and socialization of children for their proper gender and class position. By controlling the content and flow of