Our world is marked by the Great Gender Divergence. In India, Iran and Egypt, most women remain secluded and surveilled, with few friends. Chinese women work but are locked out of politics. Latin America has undergone radical transformation, with now near gender parity in political representation and mass rallies against male violence. Scandinavia still comes closest to a feminist utopia, but for most of history Europe was far more patriarchal than matrilineal South East Asia and Southern Africa. What explains the Great Gender Divergence? To answer this question, we need to go back, ten thousand years.
After the Neolithic Revolution, two kinds of agricultural societies emerged. In Eurasia, patrilineal communities transmitted land and herds to sons. In southern Africa and southeast Asia, horticultural societies tended to be matrilineal, tracing descent and property down the female line. In the former, female chastity was tightly policed; whilst in the latter, women moved more freely. Native Americans were mostly bilateral and recognised the importance of women's contributions.
Eurasia itself saw another important division several thousand years ago. The Middle East and South Asia grew even more endogamous (through cousin marriage and caste). Meanwhile Europe emerged from Late Antiquity with several latent advantages: nuclear families and participatory assemblies. When families were trapped in agriculture, this variation in kinship did not make a huge difference. Men governed, while women were pushed into arranged marriages, worked on family farms, and struggled to escape male violence.
The Great Gender Divergence really occurred in the 20th century. Sustained economic growth and technological innovations alleviated domestic drudgery and tightened markets for skilled labour. Thriving firms ran out of qualified men, so recruited women en masse. They gained status, autonomy and much broader friendships. But this progress towards gender equality was contingent on strong growth, weak kinship and democratisation. If prevailing wages were too low to compensate for the loss of honour, female seclusion persists (as in much of India, Iran and Egypt). These effects are compounded by political trajectories. Only in democracies (so excluding Russia and China) can women openly challenge patriarchal privileges, foster feminist consciousness, and collectively mobilise against male violence.
This podcast offers some preliminary explorations of
The Neolithic Revolution
Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages
Pre-Colonial Matrilineal and Bilateral Societies
The Eurasian Divergence
Colonial Latin America
The Death of Matriliny