The political-economy perspective on women's rights
June 29, 2008 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Women's rights: What's in it for men? - "Women in rich countries largely enjoy gender equality while those in poor countries suffer substantial discrimination. This column proposes an explanation for the relationship between economic development and female empowerment that emphasises changes in the incentives males face rather than shifts in moral sentiment. Technological change that raises demand for human capital may give men a stake in women's rights."

also see "A Spontaneous Order: Women and the Invisible Fist"
All of this can happen quite naturally when a large enough minority of men choose to commit widespread, intense, random acts of violence against a large enough number of women. And it can happen quite naturally without the raping men, or the protecting men, or the women in the society ever intending for any particular large-scale social outcome to come about. But what will come about, quite naturally, is that women's social being — how women appear and act, as women, in public — will be systematically and profoundly circumscribed by a diffuse, decentralized threat of violence. And, as a natural but unintended consequence of many small, self-interested actions, some vicious and violent (as in the case of men who rape women), some worthwhile in their origins but easily and quickly corrupted (as in the case of men who try to protect women from rape), and some entirely rational responses to an irrational and dangerous situation (as in the case of women who limit their action and seek protection from men), the existence and activities of the police-blotter rapist serve to constrain women's behavior and to become dependent on some men — and thus dependent on keeping those men pleased and serving those men's priorities — for physical protection from other men. That kind of dependence can just as easily become frustrating and confining for the woman, and that kind of power can just as easily become corrupting and exploitative for the man, as any other form of dependence and power. (Libertarians and anarchists who easily see this dynamic when it comes to government police and military protection of a disarmed populace, shouldn't have any trouble seeing it, if they are willing to see it, when it comes to male protection of women.)
and btw "a book penned by a woman who lived with Roma for a time. The bare threads of Roma society are disturbing," cf.
posted by kliuless (29 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

It's an interesting theory, and I'm a big fan of trying to understand the power, development, and existence of human capital, but there were a couple things that stuck out at me on first read that simply didn't jive.

The rapid advance of women’s rights in today’s rich countries suggests that it is not some immutable cultural reason that explains cross-country differences in gender equality, but an interaction of women’s rights with the development process itself.

This statement was an assumption, and one that wasn't necessarily born out of the evidence.

so ideally men would prefer their own wives to have no rights.

And call me progressive, but I find it really hard to believe that human beings (men or women) are such logical, robotic Darwinians that their status quo state of being is oppress anything that isn't them. Do you mean to tell me that throughout history men have been so narrow-minded as to never acknowledge women's differentiated (I know, crappy marketing term) abilities (whatever they may be)?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:34 AM on June 29, 2008

And actually, here's another question. The author in the first link goes to great pains to discuss the difference between the beginning of the 19th century vs. the end of the 19th century as a critical changing point in women's rights. But there was no real proof that that change occurred then, and not a millennium ago. What DID change was that political institutions began allowing people other than white property owners to have more rights than before. (I'm thinking US history, world history is not a forte of mine.) There was a real change in political thinking during this time, which evolved from 1750-1950 through the industrial revolution and, additionally, a need for women in the labor force.

I think that the first link has a lot of holes in it, as I think about it more, and it sounds more like an econometrician trying to make the data fit a pre-existing theory.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:43 AM on June 29, 2008

I need to read this more thoroughly, but I would like to note that there were important differences between the status of women in the pre-modern world that didn't go along with economic prosperity, but rather with nuclear household formation. Though they had no independant legal rights after marriage, lower-class girls in early modern England, for example, had a similar level of resources invested in them as male children (food and education) and often had inheritances not dissimilar from younger sons (though not as great as older sons).
posted by jb at 8:44 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was initially put off by the assumptions about men as well, but that's what economists do- they assume people rationally (read: coldly) trade for benefits. I don't think it's the primary factor for actions throughout history, but it's one of several factors to consider- as the comments above me have clearly pointed out.
posted by Maxson at 8:50 AM on June 29, 2008

okay - finished reading this now, and yes, I think the authors have taken gender equality as something which only increases over time, and not realised that it goes up and down. My Anglo-Saxonist friend, for instance, has told me that women in Anglo-Saxon England could petition for divorce (and illegitimate children also had more rights) - I think they could also own property within marriage, but my memory is shaky. My own research on the 17th century shows that while husbands have control of a wife's property during marriage, he did not own it outright - the right to the property was still recognised as being hers - it may be that restrictions were placed on his use or sale of that property (which wouldn't show up in my sources), or else why would they be so careful to always note when it was hers (not his)?

Unmarried women exercised many legal rights within the pre-modern English context - married women had fewer because they were part of their husband legally (at least by the nineteenth century - I think it may be a weaker concept earlier) - whereas many places with strong gender inequality today do not differentiate between married and unmarried. Does Saudi Arabia, for instance, allow unmarried women to drive, while banning married women? Women also did exercise legal rights, so long as they weren't against her husband. They could sue other people, for instance, men and women, and did so frequently. They did own property, and manage businesses. Daughters were as valuable as sons to households, as they were just as likely to support parents in their old age as sons. And so there was a relatively equal investment in daughters and sons in terms of food (a major issue in some countries today) or inheritance (at least with younger sons).

The status of women in pre-modern Europe was inferior, but very different to that of women in other premodern societies. Just from some unspecialist reading, it seems to me that polygamous or extended household societies appear to have much greater differentation between men's and women's worlds, and they have separate male and female heirarchies; at the same time (though I don't know if caused by it), women appear to have lower status in relation to men than in nuclear household societies. Perhaps this is because in a nuclear household, the wife was inferior to the husband, but superior in status to male servants, apprentices or children. It creates not two separate heirarchies as you see in many societies in which men and women live quite separately (with male and female areas of the house, for example), but one heirarchy in which gender is mixed up with class and age. And wives were characterised even as early as the 16th/17th centuries (if not earlier) as helpmeets to their husbands, lower, but not much lower in status.

about legal rights: The rumblings are, of course, much older than 1850. Mary Wollstonecraft lived in the late 18th century, and she was not that much of an outlier, but of a number of people who talked about the status of women then and earlier.

I did hear a talk on these issues recently, especially the push for women to get the vote. And it also struck me (as Seize points out) that the push for women to get the vote was at exactly the same time as the push to extend the vote to male non-property owners - including wage labourers. I think there were similar arguments were made against both women and non-property owners voting - that they would be swayed or coerced by their employer/husband, and couldn't act as independant voters. But as the vote was extended to more and more men, it may have been that the arguments against full legal rights for women were becoming weaker and weaker. I do know that sufferagettes used the argument that intelligent/educated/etc women were excluded
posted by jb at 9:33 AM on June 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

On the economic side: I would think that economic independence for women could only help women's rights. If women have the choice whether to marry or not, and can support themselves outside of marriage - especially without stigma and with the continued support of their families - it may change the dynamic of gender relations within the household. As well, if families maintain more bilateral kin-networks - where a woman's relatives are as important as her husband's - that would make it more likely for daughters to be seen as being as valuable as sons. But she would also have to be paid as much - I have heard that in some places in China, despite all the advances for women in the last century, continued pay inquity between men and women means that sons are still more valuable than daughters because even if the family bucks tradition and daughters try to help support their parents in their old age (instead of just their in-laws), they simply make less money than sons.

So, if I were to direct policy, it would be by creating economic opportunity for women, trying to reduce or eliminate pay inequity, and try to increase the value of daughters to a family. People will treat their daughters better when they are seen as worth more - they will invest more in them, such as food and education. And with more independence, women will have more choices about who they marry and when.

But this would also be an uphill battle against some strong cultural prejudices, just as women's rights advocates have faced in the developed world in the 19th and 20th centuries, and continue to face in some places in the developed world.
posted by jb at 9:43 AM on June 29, 2008

The very first sentence of the article is loaded with false assumptions:
Pessimists argue that differences in gender discrimination across countries are due to cultural and religious factors that neither can nor should be addressed by policy.

"Pessimists"? Casting those he disagrees (which I assume he means to be those nefarious, mythological "cultural relativists")with in a negative light right off the bat.

"due to cultural and religious factors": OK, partially.

"neither can nor should be addressed by policy.": What? No.

"equality before the law": Equality before the law != equality.

"Why did men decide to share power with women?": Yeah, it was purely a male decision, women weren't involved in it at all, being the passive victims that they were. Eh, sorry buddy.

"women tend to attach more weight to the well-being of children than men do,": When legally and culturally confined to the household where their primary task was childcare, yeah, they do. But this reeks of gender essentialism.

"Ultimately, inducing developing countries to improve women’s rights on their own accord may be a more promising strategy than trying to impose gender equality from the outside." Yes, that is true.

There are lots of problems with this article: 1) in a broad sense, it boils down to "capitalism saves the day!" without looking at the way that capitalist political economy relies on its own particular forms of gender discrimination; 2) it is pretty historically naive, assuming not only some absolute measure of progress, but also that the status of women was identical throughout history up until the wonderful advance of industrialization; 3) as Maxson notes, it assumes a calculating, purely rational approach on the part of the people of the 19th century, and that purely rational capitalist individual exists ONLY in theory; 4) it ignores any and all efforts of female activists in the expansion of liberal rights to women; 5) it is extremely anglo-centric, assuming the US and the UK to be the pinnacles of gender equality, ignoring the rest of Europe, let alone the rest of the world.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:50 AM on June 29, 2008

If you read, The Chalice And The Blade, there is a discussion of our "Barbarian" ancestors, who were peaceful tribes, living in the river valleys of Northern Europe for some ten thousand years. They used metals to make cups, and lived in unfortified towns, on the edges of rivers. The men and women were buried in the same order of respect.

Peace makes peace. There is an ample discussion of the illnesses that surround extreme stress. The daughter cells of stressed individuals persist, unless the individual consciously alters their endogenous brain chemistry, by whatever means they may. Implied threats of violence against any sector of society that are tolerated by other sectors of society, make everyone complicit in the violence. Without human rights and equality between sexes first of all, then the iron fist rules, the strongest most corrupt males rule, and the entire world pays for this.

Ignorance imposed upon one class of individuals, lessens the overall intelligence of a society, especially if this ignorance is imposed on those who raise the children of the society. If girls are told that their only worth is attraction and service, and this is violently enforced, then the intellect of that society is diminished by one half. The kind of service rendered under force, is entirely different than services freely and lovingly offered. This would be especially true in the case of a polygamous society, where women are utterly devalued, and in that state are charged with the raising of step children from deceased other, possibly more favored wives. In societies where women have no rights, their health is also not considered important, and many die in child birth, leaving their existent children to the care of other undervalued women.

Without equality and Democracy, there are no protections for children, or "unwanted" children from "unwanted" women. The status of "Wanted" or "unwanted", in many parts of the world are a matter of whim. Women who fall out of favor, must raise and support their children, and still entertain and obey a husband that does not favor them, and give him the money they make, at the market. Slavery is legal in many parts of the world, and "unwanted" women and children are put to work in the slave trade, to support the very individuals who sold them to begin with.

Equality is a must for decent society. Every step closer to equality makes society better, I can still spend that .76 freely in this society, that chooses to pay someone with a penis $1. Rationalizations, dogmatic rationalizations abound as to why women are deserving of less than men. You know, and I know that is crap. We know what slavery and domination look like. I particularly dislike the fact that religions that sprang up with the knowledge of the male's role in reproduction, uniformly over the last two and a half thousand years, have abetted the theft of property of women, and sought to reduce women to brood stock the world over.

Greed of the sort that currently rules this planet, is caused by human traits lost, or never imparted. So much of what we can be is centered in peaceful family that is comfortable and affectionate, and not plagued by violence and neglect.

A hyper-religious family, where Daddy beats up on Mommie, and domineers everyone because of his Mosaic rights, are just as emotionally damaging as crack houses. From one household, sure the kids are fed, and make it into school with horrific psychic wounds; and the crack kids are on school lunch, and their wounds are just as acute, but in the case of crack kids, everyone knows THEY are wounded.

We are all harmed when we allow the violent, and casually human rights thieving, to flourish, thinking that we are all protected by this status quo. Even the services in Country Clubs are lousy for well heeled women, in contrast to what is offered to men.

In societies where equality is assured, they have the lowest infant mortality rates. In societies where equality is assured, they are the happiest and most peaceful societies in the world. In peaceful societies, violent types get the help they need, rather than being elected to public office.
posted by Oyéah at 10:21 AM on June 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

One important thing for men to remember is that the patriarchy sucks for them too. Not as much as it sucks for women, but it isn't very good for most men either. The keyword here is "most". *Some* men benefit greatly from the patriarchy, but they do so at the expense of other men.

Look, for example, at the typical abstinence ed drivel, which is largely the patriarchy boiled down to its purest form. Women must remain pure, must dress "modestly", act "modestly", and take all responsibility for being sexually abstinent because men are vile, brutish, bags of lust. That's not a good deal for the women, of course, but look at the ugly picture of men it paints.

The patriarchy is based, in large part, on the belief that men are vile sleaze balls, and that ain't my idea of a good deal for men.
posted by sotonohito at 11:51 AM on June 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oyeah, as a former archaeology student, you lost me at "The Chalice and the Blade." We are not descended from a race of peaceful egalitarian Goddess-lovers who were overrun by misogynist Indo-European speaking Kurgan peoples. No such paradigm can be shown to exist. Just because sculptures of fat women are found doesn't mean that women, fat or otherwise, were obeyed or even respected in their daily lives.

Some societies were better for women than others, by increments or by light-years; for example, ancient Attic Greek culture was nearly as restrictive towards women as modern Saudi Arabian culture, while Pharaonic Egyptian women had property rights and a great measure of free will in their lives. But we have no evidence whatsoever that a measure of institutionalized misogyny is not part of the baggage of every human culture.

This is probably a slight derail, but it's important to me, as a woman, that we don't justify our progress by setting up a new mythology to replace the old one.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:52 AM on June 29, 2008 [8 favorites]

Countess Elena Well, in his defense, the idea of a matriarchy of goddess worshipers was quite popular not too long back. It never had any real evidence going for it, but it did get a lot of press.

But, yeah, trying to make the present better by imagining an idealized past is ineffective in addition to being false. Really the whole matriarchy/goddess thing is just nostalgia expressed over thousands of years rather than over tens of years.

Women get a better shake in modern, Western, societies today than they ever got in any society prior to this time. Which is pretty frightening when you think about it.
posted by sotonohito at 12:06 PM on June 29, 2008

I really hope the current fad for economists of writing on non-economic issues ends soon. Things have really gotten out of hand as we can see from this article, where we find two economists who take an obvious correlation between two data sets and then make up a theory to explain it based on some bullshit model of human economic behaviour. If we are all such assholes as economists claim we are, life would be much, much worse than it is.
posted by ssg at 12:10 PM on June 29, 2008

looking at data and making up bullshit to try to explain the endlessly perplexing patterns of it is the sole purpose of all academics, at least for everything which cannot be tested under laboratory conditions (which includes most human behaviour, economics, and earth science and astronomy and...) It's just that it has to a) fit with all of the data, not just some, and b) kind of make sense based on what we know about how stuff works. (We already know that people are irrational economic actors, so any argument about economic action has to proceed from the idea that people act for a whole lot of reasons, some of which are perceived self-interest, and some of which are lots of other reasons, mostly cultural and personal).

what are the patterns of legal rights and other forms of gender heirarchies? How does something like voting rights relate to other forms of gender equity, like pay equity? Seems to me that there was a long lag - I doubt both were being driven by the same situation/causes (though voting rights probably contributed to the pressures for pay equity).
posted by jb at 12:48 PM on June 29, 2008

In the last hundred years in the West, there has been a readjustment towards more women working instead of keeping house and bringing up children (though many always had to work, and many now have to try to do both), and pay and politics have adjusted accordingly to the economic logic of equality of pay. More women are now obliged to work to make ends meet, whereas in the past more of them were obliged to be housewives because married women were not allowed to work and, in compensation, married men were generally paid more than bachelors.

But this seems to be just capitalism grinding a bit harder; is the feminist rhetoric anything more than conveniently persuasive froth on top? And is the change really part of any longer-term historical process, or just recent and particular?
posted by Phanx at 1:44 PM on June 29, 2008

"The law gives women so little power because nature gives them so much" -- Samuel Johnson
posted by Faze at 2:00 PM on June 29, 2008

Phanx Hard to say if its long lasting, since I'm a feminist I hope so. Increasing rights for women does seem to be the trend in most industrializing nations. Japan and Korea make good examples of this.

Both places, though historically Korea was worse in this regard, treated women as either valued property or second class citizens depending on who you talk to. As both nations industrialized the status of women rose, and has continued to rise. Japan still lags behind the US and Europe when it comes to women in positions of corporate and political power, but since it got a later start that isn't very surprising. Korea got an even later start than Japan but the status of women in Korea increased even more quickly than it did in Japan, they're roughly on par now.

History doesn't tell us that its impossible to have an industrial society that treats women as second class citizens, but so far that's been the case.

I suspect it has to do with the general rise in status of all people as a society industrializes. Its harder to maintain strict class barriers as labor becomes mobile, communications improve, literacy increases and education becomes commonplace. Not impossible of course, but harder. With better communication and a higher literacy rate its easier (though by no means easy) for any underclass, including women, to effectively protest their mistreatment.

Further, any society that stomps down any significant portion of its population will generally do worse than a society that doesn't. More educated people == more people to come up with cool stuff. Cut women out of that and you lose 50% of your potential talent pool. For that reason alone I can't see any society that vigorously oppresses women succeeding when it competes against a society that doesn't.
posted by sotonohito at 2:05 PM on June 29, 2008

Using capitalism to help those in need instead of just serving self interest? Bill Gates calls it Creative Capitalism. Some, like Michael Kinsley and Richard Posner, disagree while others find it intriguing. A couple people sponsored by Bill want to write a book about the whole conversation, and have invited anyone and everyone with intelligent comments to contribute and get paid. Check it out.
posted by Parallax.Error at 2:41 PM on June 29, 2008

married women were not allowed to work and, in compensation, married men were generally paid more than bachelors.

Actually, there was never a time when married women were not allowed to work, at least not in Britain, or in Canada or the US (as far as I know).

for the last several hundred years, not working has been a priviledge of women whose husbands had enough money to allow them not to work (and for the gentry and nobility, there was so much money neither had to work). Even many middling sorts of women worked a great deal in their husband's enterprises, whether that was a farm, or manufacturing or a shop.

Lower class women might not have worked as much when their chidren were young, though many did productive work (as opposed to reproductive) in the home by taking in spinning, or other crafts. Many did part-time day labouring, or full-time during harvest; their incomes for both were much less than a man could make, but still very important to the household economy. In fact, one historian has suggested that female under-employment contributed significantly to poverty in rural southern England in the 19th century; families complained that there wasn't enough work for women.

What changed in the 19th and 20th centuries was that more people made enough money for women to stay home. So I guess you could say that increasing economic prosperity certainly affected women's lives, but it took them out of the workforce. And male married workers began making arguments that they should be paid more, so that their wives didn't need to work. It had to do with the workers bargaining to increase their own statuses.


about industrialization: this may be a big part of it - I don't know, I'm just guessing. But certainly industrialization in Britain greatly increased job opportunities for both men and women, and industrial pay was often higher than agricultural (definitely for men - I should look up if so for women, but I suspect it was).

But maybe also industrialization does weaken some of the earlier arguments about gender inequality. You could justify paying a man more doing farm work if only men can handle a scythe, for instance - even though women did backbreaking work tying up what the men cut. But as production changed, so did the labour needs. Women might even be more desirable as workers - willing to work for less, but able to do as much work. And if your new manufacturing process didn't need upper body strength, or actually required small hands - hey, suddenly one female worker is the same as one male. And what does that mean for the women working these jobs, seeing themselves do as much but get less?

But there are a lot of factors here - you can see that by the timing of changes in gender equity. Women got the vote in many places in about 1920 (after long campaigning, and a major war in which they took up many men's jobs on the homefront - it was even earlier in some frontier communities in Canada, for instance), but it took until the 1960s or 70s for people to stop making the argument that men should be paid more than women (because they had to support a family, or because they were just better). I think the voting issue was because of changes in ideas about male voters and the purpose of representation democracy, at least in Britain; it was much easier to exclude women when the majority of men were also excluded. But pay equity only changed several decades later, and is still an on-going debate; ideas about why men worked and why women worked continued (men to support families, women just to make a bit extra), as well as cultural prejudices about the value of their work.
posted by jb at 2:54 PM on June 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

What do you mean, what's in it for men? That's a sexist question to ask.
posted by kldickson at 4:27 PM on June 29, 2008

Saying nothing about so limited a piece of work as this, let me just say that people as a mass are economically rational actors, and it makes perfect sense to apply rational economic behavior as an analytic of societal trends, particularly when mediated through political and judicial dispositions which respond very explicitly to economic pressures.

Were people as a mass not rational economic actors, we wouldn't have a functioning economy, to say the least of one that steadily grows by most measures, because no one could bargain properly for wages, prices, and required returns on invested capital, and no one could plan for production (and hence would produce nothing).

Even when it comes down to the individual, we rarely see irrationality so much as we heuristics which take one perfectly rational direction rather than another, when the road not chosen is statistically the more optimal. The non-optimized modes of behavior demonstrated in the classic experiments are have perfectly good explanations -- risk-aversion, sacrifice for the maintenance of norms of fairness, etc. No economist neglects these, as much as they feel the math might not parse.
posted by MattD at 5:28 PM on June 29, 2008

Here's an alternate theory :

In dirt-ass-poor countries where life really sucks, men take out their aggression on women because they're furious and hopeless and the women around them make easy targets.

In rich or developed countries, everyone is just a lot nicer to each other in general, because their lives aren't hell, their neighborhoods don't have open sewers, and their countries aren't constantly on the brink of revolution.

Humankind is essentially neutral, and our actions are largely dictated by our circumstances.

Discuss amongst yourselves.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:44 PM on June 29, 2008

Saying nothing about so limited a piece of work as this, let me just say that people as a mass are economically rational actors, and it makes perfect sense to apply rational economic behavior as an analytic of societal trends, particularly when mediated through political and judicial dispositions which respond very explicitly to economic pressures.

You can claim that it makes perfect sense, but you haven't provided anything at all to back it up. I don't think a big mass of rational economic actors is the best way, or even a good way, to model the behaviour of societies over generations and I don't really see why anyone would think that. We aren't talking about the decision to buy a new TV here, but cultural and political changes that come about over long time periods. The factors that influence those changes are varied and complex and certainly not predominantly economic. Believing that the sweep of history can be reduced to simple just-so stories about utility-maximizing actors is the height of hubris.
posted by ssg at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2008

Heh, I just thought of something amusing:

"ideally men would prefer their own wives to have no rights"
"housing prices will never go down".

Both bogus arguments. I really wish that the sanity test would take hold in more economic theories.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:39 PM on June 29, 2008

Those river dwelling Northern Europeans, had a whole pantheon of male and female gods and goddesses. They weren't goddess worshippers. Though there is still some goddess worship in Estonia, and some Solstice celebrations too.

The barbarians weren't that barbaric it seems. The Viking badboys did some damage, but ultimately were called the Russ, by the society that became Russia. The Viking princes were hired to run Russia, they were good at that stuff.

The victors write history, so the Northern Europeans were Barbarians. They were some of the only peoples on earth who chose their own spouses, and married after a child was due. Their great variation in appearance, came from healthy interest, variation and choice. They had a more egalitarian society than Southern Europeans, and today have the most equal societies on Earth.
posted by Oyéah at 8:30 PM on June 29, 2008

I was watching a documentary on the History channel about nomadic conquerors and they made an interesting point. It seems that the Vikings and Mongols both were rather peaceful peoples until they became overly populated with idle manfolk. So what to do? Rape and pillage!
posted by Parallax.Error at 10:26 PM on June 29, 2008

there was never a time when married women were not allowed to work

Perhaps there were always some jobs for married women, but it's within living memory in the UK at least that married women could not work for the Civil Service, banks, the Post Office or many other large employers. They couldn't be teachers until the Education Act of 1944. If you were a single woman in one of these jobs and got married, you had to leave. I've spoken to a number of elderly ladies who still resent this having happened to them in their youth, and one who claimed she remained a spinster partly because she wanted to keep her job.
posted by Phanx at 1:49 AM on June 30, 2008

Phanx - thanks for more details, and for the correction. I thought you meant to say that married women were banned from working entirely. Certainly, their options were limited (because married women were banned from many jobs, and all women banned from even more) and it was frowned on - and, as you pointed out, men used the idea that married women shouldn't have to work as a reason to argue for higher wages.

But earlier many married women did work - often at things like piece work, which could be done in the home, or part-time agricultural labour, and for poorer families this never stopped. The ability for a women to be 'just' a housewife ('just' in quotations because it's still hard work) was something that families achieved as they became more prosperous or had higher wages, even as individual women felt restricted by this. Not that those poorer women had good job opportunities - their opportunities were terrible, and paid terribly.
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on June 30, 2008

This is an interesting article but I don't think that women's rights has been this linear advance or that strict patriarchal societies were designed for the benefit of all men. Most societies that sharply limit women's rights also sharply limit the rights of the vast majority of the men, especially young men. In a lot of ways law codes like Breton Law gave far more power to the individual (man or woman) than more recent law codes did and I don't think the reason was entirely related to education.

I read an interesting article many years ago that basically said that limiting womens' rights prevented young men from establishing their own families and self-interests for an artificially long period of time, making them available to those in power as soldiers or labor. I thought that was interesting and could see how it would work in practice, essentially giving them very little to live for that was counter to the interests of those in charge. I think you can see this in practice with the young men who are expelled from some of the more out-there fundamentalist religions in Utah for example. Or suicide bombers. Much easier to get someone to be a suicide bomber if they don't have a girlfriend or a car or a job. Anyways, I'm sure the real driver towards equality for women and the other disenfranchised is a combination of these factors, I find this stuff fascinating to read about.
posted by fshgrl at 4:18 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

arriving late to my own thread :P

lemme just say that yeah the human capital perspective on women's rights is probably (intentionally?) oversolddetermined, kinda like diamond on geography, but i think interesting nonetheless!

also came across this admonition recently, which i find useful:
ALL MODELS ARE BY DEFINITION WRONG. They are approximations, a numerical depiction of a small portion of universe. The true question for interested statisticians, mathematicians and economists is "just how wrong are they?" And, is there any inherent bias in the model? Are the errors random, or systemically leaning in one direction?
oh and re: young men, i remember a study like that too (forget where tho ;), which tried to predict wars, but it also reminded me of another article...
Black September had served its purpose. The PLO and its chairman had the recognition and acceptance they craved. Indeed, any continuation of these terrorist activities, ironically, now threatened to undermine all that had been achieved. In short, Black September was, suddenly, not a deniable asset but a potential liability. Thus, according to my host, Arafat ordered Abu Iyad "to turn Black September off." My host, who was one of Abu Iyad's most trusted deputies, was charged with devising a solution. For months both men thought of various ways to solve the Black September problem, discussing and debating what they could possibly do, short of killing all these young men, to stop them from committing further acts of terror.

Finally they hit upon an idea. Why not simply marry them off? In other words, why not find a way to give these men—the most dedicated, competent, and implacable fighters in the entire PLO—a reason to live rather than to die? Having failed to come up with any viable alternatives, the two men put their plan in motion.

They traveled to Palestinian refugee camps, to PLO offices and associated organizations, and to the capitals of all Middle Eastern countries with large Palestinian communities. Systematically identifying the most attractive young Palestinian women they could find, they put before these women what they hoped would be an irresistible proposition: Your fatherland needs you. Will you accept a critical mission of the utmost importance to the Palestinian people? Will you come to Beirut, for a reason to be disclosed upon your arrival, but one decreed by no higher authority than Chairman Arafat himself? How could a true patriot refuse?

So approximately a hundred of these beautiful young women were brought to Beirut. There, in a sort of PLO version of a college mixer, boy met girl, boy fell in love with girl, boy would, it was hoped, marry girl. There was an additional incentive, designed to facilitate not just amorous connections but long-lasting relationships. The hundred or so Black Septemberists were told that if they married these women, they would be paid $3,000; given an apartment in Beirut with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a television; and employed by the PLO in some nonviolent capacity. Any of these couples that had a baby within a year would be rewarded with an additional $5,000.

Both Abu Iyad and the future general worried that their scheme would never work. But, as the general recounted, without exception the Black Septemberists fell in love, got married, settled down, and in most cases started a family. To make sure that none ever strayed, the two men devised a test. Periodically, the former terrorists would be handed legitimate passports and asked to go to the organization's offices in Geneva or Paris or some other city on genuine nonviolent PLO business. But, the general explained, not one of them would agree to travel abroad, for fear of being arrested and losing all that they had—that is, being deprived of their wives and children. "And so," my host told me, "that is how we shut down Black September and eliminated terrorism. It is the only successful case that I know of."
posted by kliuless at 3:21 PM on July 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

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