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…Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) maintained that the disparities of power between men and women were not based on their inherent natures but were the result of social and historical circumstances, rooted in antiquity.

Engels contended that the earliest organized human communities lived according to the principles of a benevolent matriarchy. Classless and communal, he explained, these groupings owned neither land nor herds of animals. They derived their sustenance from the relatively uncultivated nature that surrounded them.

According to Engels, a sexual division of nature existed, but it was cooperative and egalitarian. As hunters, men were responsible for bringing meat to the table, while women took care of the social spaces in which the extended families lived, planting, preserving, and preparing food, maintaining the collective living space. Within such societies, he wrote, women were honored and lived freely. Since it was women who gave birth to children, family identity was naturally passed on through the mother line. When new conjugal bonds were established between social groups, males would move from their family of origin into the family circles of their mate. Under such circumstances, the physical domination of one sex by another served no practical purpose.

The coming of private property, initially in the form of livestock, changed all of this. As animals were domesticated, and organized breeding expanded the herd, the province of men was transformed into something unprecedented: property. With this development, the custom of defining lineage through women proved a serious problem. As long as “descent was reckoned according to mother right,” and the mother line determined a person’s family grouping or “gens,” males had no mechanism for passing on their property to their sons.

In response to this impasse, Engels speculated, men invented patriarchy, a system of inheritance that would travel through the father line, insuring that they and their male progeny would maintain ownership of the herd. As women bear children, and fatherhood is inherently uncertain, this called for severe measures. In an attempt to guarantee that their offspring would indeed be their own, men forcibly inhibited the social and sexual lives of their wives. In order for patrilineage to work, a woman whose function was that of bearing heirs could not live freely. She was cut off from all unauthorized social contact.While male sexuality was unregulated, the law of monogamy was imposed on women, save those whose task was to fulfill the extramarital desires of men. A wife was to e ruled by her husband, “reduced to servitude.” She became “the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.” This development, Engels declared, constituted “the world historical defeat of the female sex.”

Ewen & Ewen, Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality, 370-71.

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