Women’s Work by Alma Boykin

Women’s Work  by Alma Boykin

So, Sarah’s recent posts about feminism, plus some reading I’ve been doing for an upcoming book, got me thinking. What is women’s work? How did it affect women’s place in society? Here are some very, very general thoughts and observations, with a few books for more reading if you are interested.

The idea that women do certain tasks and men do others, and rarely the twain shall meet, goes back a very long way and has a great deal of truth to it. It has nothing to do with “patriarchal oppression” and everything to do with biology. Despite claims in the media within the last few months, human males (the individuals with an X and Y chromosome) do not give birth. They do not lactate. Bearing children and rearing them was the original women’s work, the main focus and goal of women’s lives for much of human existence. There were a lot of other things as well, but anyone who wants to complain because “B culture oppressed women” has to look at women’s and men’s physiology and what it took to survive for most of history. You cannot fight off marauders while chivvying two small children and carrying a third.

Once we get past “having little humans,” the next tasks for women were gathering, a little hunting and fishing, and doing things with hides, furs, and fibers. These were all jobs that could be done with children in tow, or while children napped, and that contributed to survival. You can watch children and spin wool or other long fibers into yarn and thread. You can dig tubers or gather clams and keep one eye on a child. Tubers don’t run, and they don’t fight back. And gathering had a better chance of providing calories than did hunting. Granted, when hunters are successful they brought in a lot more nutrition per pound than did gatherers, and the two together were the best strategy for group long-term survival. But if the aurochsen got away, there were still tubers and fruit and nuts and maybe a snared rabbit or netted fish.

With the so-called Neolithic Revolution[s], and the rise of agriculture, things shifted a little. When you have draft animals and heavy farming, men will have to do more of the work, and their contribution to survival becomes greater. Women were still very, very important, because children, and pottery, and textiles, and some gathering, and processing food so it could be stored, but women’s work became less visible and less obviously critical to survival. And women with small children, or very pregnant, still couldn’t fight well. As long as upper-body strength is critical, guys have an advantage in aggregate. (See Adriana Meyer’s Amazons about the steppe nomads and classical Greeks for an example of where technology made women warriors far more important than was normal among settled peoples.) This change was not because of the evils of the patriarchy, or because a sedentary, matrilineal and matrilocal and matriarchal egalitarian society was cruelly overrun by he-man woman-hating horse-riding Indo-Europeans. Actually, the cultures of Old Europe had some problems with climate change and water-logging of soils to contend with even before the Indo-Europeans showed up. But that’s not Grrrrrrl Power! It’s called Life.

The change seems to have come about because of physical strength, and children. As long as physical strength and pure muscle power was vital for survival, guys were more important in the eyes of the law. Warriors fought, warriors moved around, and warriors could raid and bring in more goods for prestige and better survival. Guys could handle the large livestock more easily than women, especially nursing women, or women trying to wrangle small children. The thought of trying to break a horse to harness with a toddler wandering around scares me spitless. Little kids are fearless. Fearless plus large animals is a very bad thing. And since men seemed more important for survival, and were more visible, they gained more rights because they could carry out the duty of defense. Roman law sealed it, at least in southern and western Europe. Germanic-influenced law was . . . different. And economic realities were different again.

Weaving and making clothes became women’s work, at least in northern Europe. And in places where enslaved women and other crafts workers could be forced to do it. There’s some evidence that the introduction of large frame looms shifted the weaving and making of high-end luxury fabrics to men, much as tailors and professional weavers tended to be men. Once there was cash involved, the fancy stuff moved out of the women’s quarters, sometimes. Women’s work was still important for survival. No kids = no humans. No preserved food, no warm clothes, no safely prepared food, no medicinal herbs, no hens or other small livestock meant very hungry people. Women’s work was always important, but not visible in the sense that it appears in archival records. Archaeological records, yes. Other non-traditional sources, like business accounts, and letters, and law-suits, and other things, oh yes, you’ll find women.

Even in China, which has not been exactly a feminist paradise, women had a lot of rights up until the Mongol conquest and the subsequent Ming Dynasty. Although the neo-Confucian writers of the late Tang and Song Dynasties (roughly AD 700-1250 CE) insisted that women should stay in their proper inner sphere and only concern themselves with matters of the Inner Courtyard, they had few difficulties with women managing the household budget, overseeing household management, buying and selling property for the good of the family, inspecting properties to make sure the tenants were taking care of things, and other “matters of the household.” And filial piety meant that even the Neo-Confucian who disapproved of his mother’s Buddhist practices kept his mouth shut and let her do her thing, because respect for his mother and domestic harmony was far more important than obliterating Buddhist superstition, at least until the 1250s.

When we look at medieval and early modern Europe, we see women working. They did not have the same legal rights as men, or so it seems in many cases, but a little more digging reveals cases like that in Lübeck, the imperial free city on the Baltic, where widowed women who managed property for minor heirs or for absent merchant husbands had the same rights and duties as their male counterparts. They had to help defend the city, they participated in religious and social events, and did business in the name of the family. Nuremberg looks like a patrician patriarchy, and it was, but again, women had to know how to help keep the books and manage the household, which might have ten or twenty members. A good wife, competent in household management, was crucial for the family’s success, and the patrician’s letters and bequests show this. There are numerous accounts of noble women acting as advisors to their husbands and sons, or preparing castles for defense, or defending against sieges. Women had fewer legal rights on paper, but by tradition and necessity they had a lot of clout. They always have.

The New England colonies had the legal tradition of “deputy husbands,” where women were authorized under law to do everything necessary for the family and family-business while their husbands were away. They had to.

And no farm could possibly succeed without a good farm-wife, the bachelor farmers of Scandinavia being exceptions and rather late in history. Women cared for the family, ensured that food was prepared and preserved, raised kitchen crops, cared for livestock, kept the house in good repair, doctored the sick (two footed or four), taught the children, sold extra produce on the market, tended dairies and processed dairy products for home use and sale, made and repaired clothing, and other things as needed. Are you tired yet?

What do all these things have in common? They are sedentary. They can be done with children in arm, or on the floor, or in the house. And they are not outdoors where people can see them. Women were defensive fighters, physically and morally. When Black Jack Ketchum and his gang tried to rob the Gallegos house and estate store at Gallegos, NM, the matriarch got the kids and other women into shelter, then sniped with a rifle from upper floor windows, shot a few of the bandits, and drove them off. The men finished the job.

To read more: Elizabeth W. Berber. Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. Great when she sticks with textiles, not so great when she wanders into other areas.

Man Xu. Crossing the Gate: Everyday Lives of Women in Song Fujian. A little heavy on gender-history theory, but otherwise excellent.

Steven Ozment. When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe. About Nuremberg. The family that lost 9 children before one lived to his first birthday is heartbreaking, but not unusual.

150 responses to “Women’s Work by Alma Boykin

  1. c4c

  2. Guys could handle the large livestock more easily than women, especially nursing women, or women trying to wrangle small children. … And since men seemed more important for survival, and were more visible, they gained more rights because they could carry out the duty of defense.

    I would make one change — men were important for immediate survival.

    If you did not fend off the attack of other groups your group was immediately doomed.

    If your women did not successfully bear and raise children your group had no future.

    Ultimately both were essential and both necessary to advance the group as a whole. In an agricultural dependent society you had to get enough planted and harvested to support your group. Pre-mechanical (and early mechanical) agriculture required the male strength, so the grunt work was in the hands of the males. The women were involved in the processing, preserving and storage. The group profited by the cooperation of both, for to the extent that the women took on food and fiber processing chores the men were freed to do more heavy lifting.

    • Oh, sorry, you, of course, got there.

    • It’s a very human thing to consider the urgent to be more important than the longer-term necessities. Not altogether wrong – you can’t raise the next king if you don’t survive this battle – but rather situational, and we’re not good at flip-flopping status to match the situation.
      Thus the warrior whose success and for whom support from the populace was critical yesterday, continues to wear the laurel today, ‘tho the mother/teacher & domus may actually be more important for today’s progress.

    • No guys, things will MASSIVELY SUCK.

      No women, there is no things.

  3. BobtheRegisterredFool

    No mention of torture?

    Women have also traditionally, in some cultures, done some of the violence banned by the men’s mores. If the men’s mores hadn’t banned it, the men’s other violence would have lost some of the factors inhibiting escalation.

  4. Some sisters came to Moses and said that they had no brothers to inherit the land; their father had died in the wilderness. Moses took the matter up the chain; the answer was that Zelophehad’s daughters were correct and should inherit. This ruling was generalized (see Numbers 27:1–8).

    • It was conditional, any women who so inherited would have to marry within the tribe so that the land would remain within the tribe.

  5. But oppressive patriarchy and toxic masculinity. It’s men who force women to menstruate, lactate, and get pregnant. Isn’t it?

    • I believe that, statistically, without a man involved somewhere in the process pregnancy is very highly unlikely.

      • Nonsense perpetuated by the patriarchy! I’ve read of some women stating that, without men around to suppress their natural abilities through violence and rape, women will be able reproduce through parthenogenesis. Now if we can just get a bunch of those type of women and isolate them somewhere to test this…

        • cabbage head! I wonder if she’s still alive?

          • Well, she’s no longer blogging, but she was slowing down for a while before the end.

            and of course she would never reveal her identity for fear of dreadful punishment by the patriarchy.

            • Patriarchy as represented by all the women who would rip her to shreds for daring to threaten their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, etc.

              • I think I would start with the way she would dismiss us as hollow shells over men’s words whenever we argued with her.

        • I guess while she is at it this woman is of the opinion that women are so special the problems created by narrowing of genetic diversity would no longer apply. If this is the case then obviously we must move to suppress the male patriarchy so as to prevent the extinction of the Cheetah.

          If you believe that I got a line on a lovely little stone pre-war bridge in a prime location in New York City.

          • Narrowing genetic diversity isn’t that big of a deal in asexual organisms. A harmful recessive isn’t going to express unless another mutation makes an organism doubly recessive, and harmful dominants will usually weed themselves out. You don’t have to worry about two carriers breeding and creating offspring with the condition.

            Of course, a narrow genetic window means that there isn’t a lot of flexibility in the species, the wrong shift in the environment means that there aren’t any members of the species capable of adapting.

            • Pre-war: a common term in real estate listings for New York City indicating properties pre-dating WWII.

          • Considering she was of the opinion that some women can actually communicate with plants — yeah, probably.

  6. analytical-engine-mechanic

    *****
    The New England colonies had the legal tradition of “deputy husbands,” where women were authorized under law to do everything necessary for the family and family-business while their husbands were away. They had to.
    *****
    This seems to have been especially true in (maybe even driven by?) coastal areas with much long-distance shipping or sailing. I’m most familiar with Nantucket Island, from the recent book about the loss of the “Essex” (whale sinks whaling ship), etc., where the whole local culture was shaped by this way of life and its demands. Here “they had to” was taken mostly for granted, and a marriage was as much a business partnership as anything else (and woe to a family if either partner couldn’t hold up their end). Probably more than anywhere else in the region, the “house” had to run routinely as well with or without “the man of the house” anywhere nearby for months at a stretch; and the nautical was the foundation of everything. (Or so my various sources say, almost certainly all of them “coofs” or off-islanders.)
    I’m sure there are other 19th-century candidates, but this is probably one of the places (in America) that came closest to “equal” for men and women, though in a specific way more like “different and almost-equal” than any kind of interchangeability.
    Compared to my imaginings of a world settled mostly by people “lost” in various nautical disasters and disappearances, Nantucket in its whaling heyday turns out to be amazingly similar to what I’d guessed, reasoned, and intuited for my “New Albion” — right down to the “feel” of society (male vs. female roles, the small-town-ish atmosphere, family as the foundation of social identity, coming of age) itself. That was a pleasant surprise.
    (And both comfortably far from modern-esque wishful-thinking, anachronistic vaporing.)
    Interesting to speculate what Nantucket might’ve become, if the collapse of the whaling trade hadn’t changed everything long before, say, 1920 or so… and its underlying social and cultural dynamics had just kept rollin’ on.

    • Have you read Island in the Sea of Time, S.M. Stirling’s novel about Nantucket sent back in time to 1300 BCE?

      • analytical-engine-mechanic

        Yes, indeed I have, it was even one of the main “other sources” I swept under the rug of “etc.”
        It’s always a bit hazardous to take any fiction setting for factual research, even if you do that with a bit (or a lot) of salt; but Stirling obviously has a good eye for detail and (.IIRC.) actually spent at least a few whole summers there.
        What makes the “Essex”- era account(s) so useful is that this was probably the zenith of the sailing/whaling era there, so the associated social changes should likewise be most distinct. (And there’s a certain brutally-inescapable practicality to long-run sailing; mess it up badly enough and not even the lessons of your demise will ever be further known.)

        Meanwhile on New Albion (ca. 1920), the maritime influence is so strong and pervasive that Laura “the girl from Oxbridge” Davies-Briggs* can say on a pocketwatch and as a proposal,

        At need, as far and as long as you will,
        Across absolute space and through invariable time,**
        Let me be your true anchor

        — and NOT be misunderstood the way our society, for instance, likely would do.
        Not sure it would ever have worked even on Nantucket Island, though.

        *granddaughter of Bejamin Briggs, briefly captain of the briefly-notorious “Mary Celeste” (who did take his family on board)
        **near-quote from Isaac Newton, because, scientist-sailor in love

        • “Meanwhile on New Albion (ca. 1920), the maritime influence is so strong and pervasive that Laura “the girl from Oxbridge” Davies-Briggs* can say on a pocketwatch and as a proposal,

          At need, as far and as long as you will,
          Across absolute space and through invariable time,**
          Let me be your true anchor”

          Is this from a novel, or where?…

          • analytical-engine-mechanic

            From a partially-written story, “Miraculosity” — the pocketwatch etc. just showed up with the fiancé, without any particular intent or premeditation. (And I doubt this story + any later ones would ever run to more than novella length.)

            The point of including it here is that this bit only “works” or “makes sense” if the society back of these characters is “Nantucket-like” in the ways mentioned — otherwise she’s simply never going to be able (societally) to keep (all) the promise / offer implied — and it might have to be even more so than the real Nantucket Island ever was. (Along with “let me be your anchor” NOT being what most non-sailing men would ever want to hear…)

    • Yes, and another bit, related to the “deputy husbands” or the idea that women had rights to run the household….
      During most of history, a family was considered an organic unit. It was one thing. It had one vote (where votes occurred). Families were taxed, not individuals.
      This wasn’t because of patriarchy (only the man counted), but because … families. A family worked a plot of ground. A family had children. A family bought things at the store (so the family had credit and such). Very often, entire families were punished for the transgressions of a single member.

    • A lot of New England law followed English law in making exceptions (in a bad way) for widows not of the local state church. (So don’t be Catholic or the wrong kind of sectarian.) But in general, colonial American law was better for women than regular English law.

    • One of my family history classes at BYU was “Women and the Law of Property” in Colonial days. It went through all the regions and detailed how the laws treated women and how many work-arounds there were to get past the law when need be because of survival issues. Very interesting. New England was one of the more “equal” in treating women legally.

    • I made the “partnership” aspect a part of my historicals – that the wives on the Texas frontier were full partners in whatever businesses their husbands owned; wives in a functional marriage were the executive officers, the second-in-command, as it were. In the event of absence of hubby, for whatever reason – the wives had full authority.
      Fun fact from a research project I did for another local author; the wife of Samuel Colt (the developer and manufacturer of assorted popular weaponry throughout the 19th century) left everything to his wife. Pre-Civil War, the Colt Arms company was one of – if not THE – wealthiest companies in the US. And Sam Colt left it all to the control of his wife. Who was effectively in control for about a half-century after his death. (Well, according to my client, her brother actually did a lot of the yeoman’s job, day to day. But Elizabeth Colt was the one in charge of a fabulously profitable enterprise.

    • From my experience–limited as it is– even now there are a lot of house holds where the husband is on the papers but hasn’t signed a document in (however long they’ve been married.) There are a few sad but funny stories of guys going into the local bank because their signatures were declined after their wife passed unexpectedly– they hadn’t signed anything since their wedding paperwork….. (who the heck is going to pull a rancher in to do PAPERWORK?)

  7. Purely a matter of force. That a woman would think it worthwhile to go through the process is inconceivable.

  8. All of that is historically accurate, well reasoned, fair, and balanced. Pity the imbeciles who scream about Patriarchy aren’t any of those things, and don’t value them in others.

    In cold truth, the hysterical Feminists of today (and most of the movement’s history, but they used to be a smaller minority) are mentally ill. In a decent society, they would be placed in care and looked after where they could not communicate their illness to others. They are in hysterical opposition to a delusion. Their enemies largely do not exist, their fears are cartoonish exaggerations, and their explanations nonsensical.

    • Ipso facto, reality is their enemy and thus must be silenced and history rewritten to support their current narrative.

      • “Ipso facto, reality is their enemy ”

        And that seldom ends well. I used to look forward to the crash, but they’ve gone so totally ‘receiving radio venus on their bridgework’ recently that I think the crash is going to be really, really ugly. And if I wanted really, really ugly I’d watch relatively harmless crap like HUMAN CENTIPEDE, not the humiliation of the mentally maladjusted.

        • If things get ugly they’ll be among the first to die unless they have family members to take care of them. They’re nuts! If they don’t have family to take care of them and no skills outside of academia they’ll not fare well if our society changes to one that is more hardship prone.

    • And yet they are awarded degrees, professorships, and endowed chairs in major institutions of learning, and trusted with education of the next generation.

      • Oh, hell, academia has been a refuge for self-important doctrinaire imbeciles for a long time. Back before the founding of the United States. In fact I seem to recall my Father citing an example from the mid fifteenth century.

        Of course it would infuriate the modern bunch to be told they are just another example of the hot house flowers of intellectualism that infested Oxford during the 18th century. So we should do so at every opportunity.

  9. One thing I would point out is that men got involved in politics (in its various proto-forms) partly because women were busy, actually keeping life going. I would go so far as to suggest that those who achieved the most mischief probably had the most successful wives – because they had nothing at all to do at home, and we know what the devil does with idle hands.

    As to
    They did not have the same legal rights as men.
    Well, what legal rights did men even have? For most of human history, legal rights were divided between different classes of people, not between men and women. Those who ruled had the most, and those who served had least. Period.

    One last point. As to the “rightness” of a gender-based division of labor, there is also a moral aspect (as against a purely practical matter) to keeping the one who bears and cares for children out of harm’s way. If all the men in the tribe died, the women could still raise the children and repopulate the tribe.

    • “For most of human history, legal rights were divided between different classes of people, not between men and women.”

      Actually I would argue that for most of human history, legal rights depended on a wide variety of categories including social class, religion, wealth, and sex. Women were not treated differently JUST because of their sex. Women were treated differently because EVERYBODY was treated differently.

      • The idea of an individual having rights and duties as an individual, and not as a member of [groups] is really strange and new when you look at the span of human history. Your duties were as a free peasant, or citizen of the city, or resident alien, or apprentice, or second son, or person who had passed the first bureaucratic examination, or the mother of a son, or member of [tribe], or . . . As an individual person, male or female? Huh? Why on earth would that happen?

        The USA is really strange that way. And even then, people are trying to reimpose birth/profession/sex categories and identities on us.

        • Oh, hell, yes. The idea that individual non-elite citizens had rights that the Law was bound to respect is something that only grew in the last few centuries, and for the most part it grew first and strongest in Protestant societies. The United States Constitution was a fantastically recolutionary document when written, and various groups (including the men who signed the perishing thing) started trying to weasel around it before the ink was dry.

          And the modern Left hates, Hates, HATES the idea. If the rights they jabber about come from nature instead,of from the State, then the State must respect them even when it is unfshionable or inconvenient. And since the modern Left firmly intends to rule the State they view this as an unconscionable intrusion on their rightful authority.

          Guillotine. Bait.

          • That whole “consent of the governed” idea is poppycock! If their consent mattered they wouldn’t be the governed, they’d be the governing.

        • even then, people are trying to reimpose birth/profession/sex categories and identities on us.

          The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the regressive Left is very very uncomfortable of the very idea of self-determination. They are so against the idea of such that they need the boxes.

          It’s becoming clear to me that they behave rather much like the concept of those people who have always lived in a cave, and do not ever believe that there is an outside and will kill the person who dared wandered outside and discovered that there is a sky…

  10. One of the big factors in China was the craze for women having tiny feet, which eventually led to footbinding. Since footbinding was associated with chastity, even peasant women started binding their daughters’ feet, to give them a chance at marriage. There is no telling how much this held China back, although peasant girls had to manage chores and burdens even with bound feet.

    Before that, you do have some very busy ladies of China. Poetesses had some interesting lives.

    But yeah, part of the tiny feet thing was probably a reaction to Mongol ladies being pretty scary and much freer.

    • In the book _Cindarella’s Sisters_ by Dorothy Ko, the author looked at just that. The peasant and lower tier families would pick one daughter, the one most likely to succeed as a concubine or courtesan, and hire someone to do a full foot binding. The other women had less strict bindings, if at all. And just how bound, and what shape varied over time and place. Ko includes some interesting results from modeling just how easy or hard it would have been to walk with bound feet, based on surviving shoes, and found that the pressures were quite evenly divided, so getting around would have been less painful than it seems. Not that it is much easier in terms of balance and endurance. The last factory that made shoes for bound feet closed in 1999, because the market had disappeared at last.

    • Oh, and Manchu (Qing Dynasty) women were forbidden from binding their feet. It interfered with fighting on horseback.

    • Foot binding, as a tradition, survived for almost a thousand years. It did have a measurable death rate, if the records were more complete—infection when undergoing the binding, and falls in older women. (Side note: if you are getting to be a senior citizen, the best thing you can do for your overall health is to do exercises to improve your stamina and balance. A fall usually signifies a steep downgrade in health in older folk.)

      China also had some dynasties with uncut nails for similar status purposes: I’m so wealthy I don’t need to use my hands. I have seen at least one modern example of someone who intentionally grew out his nails but shaped them while they grew so they would be out of his way.

  11. Oh, and I can’t find Adriana Meyers in Amazon at all, much less a book called “Amazons” by her. Help?
    (I’ve been researching amazons recently for some world-building.)

  12. To read more: …

    Yet more books to look for. I am not sure whether I should thank you or curse you. I shall never live long enough to read everything I wish to read. Oh, heck, I know I’m going to pursue books anyway, so thank you.

    • Lovingly grumble about and thank, in my case. Grumble, because oh my budget, and thank because I am really leery of history books these days. Am scared of not knowing if what I am reading is revisionist lying versus ‘we have discovered new facts!’

  13. As long as upper-body strength is critical, guys have an advantage in aggregate.

    Ah-Ha! And that is because men deliberately choose women with less upper body musculature as part of the patriarchy’s long-term selective breeding scheme, thus ensuring that future generations of women would be weaker and easier to physically dominate!

  14. A truly long-range and nefarious plot, going all the way back to the Mesozoic, when males forced females to give up laying eggs and start giving live birth.

    • analytical-engine-mechanic

      So–

      Mammalism is Patriarchy!
      Mammalism is Oppression!
      Mammalism is Racial Hatred!*
      Mammalism Must Be Overcome!
      Lay the Eggs of Our Glorious Future!
      Fascist Mammals Go Home!

      …coming soon to a Leninist blackshirt agitation / peaceful counterprotest of evil near you??

      *makes as much sense as the rest of it, nach eil**?
      **Scottish for “doesn’t it?”

  15. Although it ought not be necessary, it is useful to remind that in ancient times women tended to have significantly larger families than is presently the norm, and not simply from lack of birth control and rapist husbands. Apparently the odds of a child surviving into adulthood were not always as good as is presently the case.

    • Not even ancient times. 1850s America. Ancestor had 10 children born alive. 5 lived to be named. Three survived to adulthood and parented children of their own, two survived Mom (who lived to her 80’s). At least one child’s name was recycled within 5 years. I’m figuring for this family, at least, that genetics must have played some role in it, but it wasn’t that far into the past.

      • My mom is named for her dead sister, who was exactly a year older to the day.

      • The sister had been dead 9 months when mom was born.

      • There’s a gravestone picture that makes the rounds whenever somebody starts spouting the nonsense that vaccine-preventable diseases weren’t that dangerous. It lists eleven children of various ages who died within a two-week span, IIRC. I don’t remember which vaccine-preventable disease it was (I think diphtheria), but it’s pretty telling.

      • My maternal grandfather born in 1912 was the youngest of 12 . Those 12 took two wives at 6 apiece.

        • Bought my farm from the estate of a successful Italian immigrant food importer (the local Banana King of the early 20th c.). He & his one wife had 20 children that lived (no twins) and 17 were still alive at his death. Medicine and hygiene have made inroads in our society…

          In my Brabant-and-surrounding family tree, dead infants & toddlers were very common, names were commonly recycled from dead to living siblings, and families were all large.

    • There are, of course anomalies, which would explain how back in Momma’s family there was a generation where there were thirteen children, all from the same wife, all of who grew to adulthood and none of whom succumbed to the Spanish Influenza. And here I am the only surviving child of two only surviving children.

    • It was thought the next thing to miraculous that all of Queen Victoria’s children lived to adulthood.

      Indeed, she succeeded to the throne only because one of her dead father’s older brothers had several children, none of whom lived to double-digit age.

    • Heck, the “massive third world population boom” that was supposed to overrun us all? It’s actually the kids surviving to adulthood in much greater numbers. The first generation that survives tends to continue to have many kids, but the second generation in an area where most children survive has an abrupt and dramatic reduction in number of their children.

      I will find it very interesting to see what demographics do in the next few generations, as cultures slowly change to accommodate better nutrition, medicine, and birth control.

  16. Does she get a step stool when she needs something from off the top shelf? No, she calls me first.
    Does she use a wrench to open that jar? No, she hands it to me.
    Who pushes the car while the other one steers?
    Equal, but different.

    • Actually there were times when my father handed the jar to my younger sister to get her to open it. It was weird.

  17. Tom Kratman has an interesting essay about women in the armed forces, called “The Amazon’s Right Breast“.

    His conclusion: men work best when they are on the offensive, women are fantastic on the defensive.

    I would also add that I’ve seen speculation on how the splitting up of chores between the sexes may have opened us up to civilization — essentially, the notion that individuals can specialize on doing something, and then trade with someone else who specialized on doing something else.. There’s evidence that neanderthals didn’t have differentiated sex roles…and that neanderthals* didn’t trade, either…

    * Which isn’t to say that neanderthals have nothing to contribute, to be sure. There’s *also* evidence that neanderthals interbred with homo sapiens, and that spacial thinking may have come from neanderthals…but it’s also interesting that there’s evidence that neanderthals weren’t as social as homo sapiens…

    • I’m rather good at spatial thinking, and I’m not particularly social.

      And I have more Neanderthal DNA than 99% of the people on 23andMe. Hmm… 🙂

    • There are areas of the world that are almost entirely 100% Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and areas where there are Sapiens with varying percentages of Neanderthal DNA.

      Doing a map overlay of the gene distribution vs. the Industrial Revolution is… interesting. And probably racist by SJW standards.

      “Correlation does not imply causation”, but there might be an SF story in there somewhere…

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Oh, those Homo Sapiens, they’ll sleep with anything!

  18. Great-great (I don’t know how many greats)-grandmother Ruble was an exceptional woman. When the James gang (minus Jesse at that time) came to her family’s farm to force her husband to give them his money, she appeared out of nowhere with a hatchet in hand, and buried it in one of the gang’s shoulder. Then, with her husband, they fought off the crooks, and forced them to leave.

    • Great great something grandmother was a widow with a teen daughter at the time of the peninsular war. When a French regiment came through the village looking for places to quarter, she got the wood-chopping ax and stood in the doorway holding it. They quartered elsewhere.

      • My father remembers when his widowed mother took her hoe and ran off a suitor. Mother’s grandmother was famous for her command to her dog “Crush his bones,” uttered when he cornered various four legged varmints.

        Wife’s grandmother once had someone try to break in on her. After calling the sheriff, she took her pistol, sat in a chair in front of the door, and said “You might break in here, but I have something to stop you when you do.” The burglar fled. I wouldn’t have put it past her to have shot through the door.

  19. I’ve seen pictures of Granny Ruble – she was NOT a tiny woman!

  20. This entire post is why I’m so glad I live in the modern era. I can’t understand how some people- mostly rabid feminists- get the idea that pre-Industrial Revolution societies sucked for everybody, with brief periods of non-sucktitude in between fighting off the insects trying to eat your crops, the diseases trying to kill your children, and the marauders trying to steal everything that wasn’t nailed down.

    Men and women worked their butts off, whether in the fields, in the home, or on the battlefield; men’s work was simply more visible/ easily recordable, and since people like to read/hear epic stories about big damn heroes (and villains), male accomplishments got more screen time. Penelope undoing her weaving every night while she waited for Odysseus is a nice touch on the part of the storyteller but not interesting enough to compose an entire epic about it.

    • That would be ‘I can’t understand how some people- mostly rabid feminists- DON’T get the idea that pre-Industrial Revolution societies sucked for everybody’.

      Proofreading, what’s that?

      I mean, I totally meant to do that. I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Yeah, that’s it.

      • Proofreading? I usually engage with 90 proof but will sometimes opt for a stronger brand.

        There’s hardly a day goes by that I don’t give thanks to the Lord for placing me on Earth during the Age of Plumbing. I don’t regret missing the days of hauling water up from the well or the crick, nossir, not one bit. Hard enough hauling home forty half-liter bottles from Sam’s every week.

        • Running water is one of my biggest markers for civilization. I work at a water treatment plant; you would not believe how much technology is required to separate out the H20 from everything else. As for what happens when it goes wrong, well, accounts of any cholera epidemic will tell you that it’s not pretty.

          • I turned down a very wonderful, and relatively lucrative, flying job in Alaska that required being based off-grid. Specifically, I told the lodge owner, “I’m sorry, but I’m addicted to hot running water.” (Having lived without only served to make my addiction clear, you see.)

            He looked briefly regretful, nodded, and said, “My wife is, too.” And we parted on excellent terms.

            • THIS is why I don’t camp.

              • Camping? I am fortunate enough to be born in a time and place with 24/7 working power, potable water, sewer service, clean heating and cooling of food, water, and air. Why should I be so ungrateful and reject these incredible blessings?

              • I actually like camping. To me, there’s something attractive about being able to put a miniature house in your car or on your back, and go to places that you otherwise couldn’t go.

                I’d like to think I find this more attractive than using an RV.

                Although, having said that, I haven’t really tried using an RV in any capacity, so I have no idea whether or not I’d like it…but they *do* give me the impression that they’d be difficult to get up dirt hills.

                But camping is good for only a few days. I wouldn’t want to sleep in a tent for months on end. (I’d make exceptions for emergencies or government collapse or what-not, but then, those really aren’t exceptions: I would do it if I had to, but I don’t particularly relish the idea of having to do it!
                Well, ok, I can sort-of imagine liking it, but only in a “See, I could survive even *this* thing that Life has thrown at me!!!” sort of way….)

            • I don’t drink, smoke, or dope. I don’t run around on my wife. I pay my taxes. I don’t even speed, st least most of the time…

              I *will* run the hot water tank dry twice a day.

        • That’s why I come by later at night, to amuse myself with your corrections.

        • Half-liter? Most of my stuff comes in 3/4-liter sizes.
          Oh wait, you’re buying water…….

      • It’s okay. You’re forgiven. If you puzzled me pre-European caffeine time.
        Yeah, precisely that. Yes, it sucked to be a woman. It sucked to be a man too. Just in different ways. And it doesn’t mean we should make all the women into sword swinging heroes to compensate, because upper body strength andhell, you need women’s work and heroism too. It’s just a different type of story.

      • Yeah … sucked BY OUR STANDARDS. By theirs – most people had about the kind of life they expected to have, were not disappointed, and were often reasonably satisfied. Y’know – got the fields planted in time, alewife’s brewed a good batch, the kids are healthy — it’s been a pretty good week.
        It’s credited to Martha Washington that “most folks are about as happy as they decide to be”

        • You can put up with a lot, as long as you don’t know any better.

          The inhabitants of Easter Island weren’t allowed to leave, “to preserve their native culture.” They told Thor Heyerdahl they were being kept as prisoners. Every now and then one would build a canoe and take off, two thousand miles from nowhere.

          There were the cargo cults further east, for that matter. And the illegal immigration problem North America and Europe have.

          • “… as long as you don’t know any better” — yah, and your great grandchildren will be saying the same about you, in time. Our expectations constantly rise, as we learn to live more comfortably – but truly, most of these things are discretionary and most people can find both peace and pleasure at lower expectations.

    • It’s nostalgia. Remember that Tolkien, who probably had a pretty good idea of what pre-industrial life was actually like, had a huge soft spot for it. Saruman is one of the bad guys, and he’s also the only character involved in anything resembling industrialization in TLotR.

      • We’re told he was copying Sauron. We never did get a close-up look at Barad-dur.

        • Although we do know Sauron had collective farms; they’re mentioned in an aside when Frodo and Sam don’t know what the Orcs could live on besides foul air and poison.

      • Sort of. The Dwarves are mentioned as being relatively industrial, especially compared to the Hobbits.
        And let’s face it, early 20th century industrialization did cause a lot of problems–it arguably solved even more, but the problems created were more obvious than the problems solved.

  21. Catalan civil law had the institution of the pubilla. A family with no sons the first born daughter would inherit. The pubilla diffentiated Catalunya from Castile not only from law but also society and social evolution. I believe the pubilla played a role in industrialization

  22. Another good book about the role of women in traditional society is Regine Pernoud’s “Women in the Age of the Cathedrals.” Medieval women had more rights and were economically and socially more active than most people have been led to believe.

  23. One reason why Christianity prevailed was demographic. Since Christians raised all the children, their daughters lived — and we have Christian writings defending their peculiar behavior, so the injunctions were actually obeyed — and indeed, they started to take up foundlings and raise them in orphanages, resulting in a disproportionate number of Christian women on top of their own daughters.

    Turns out that while a pagan father had, at law, absolute rights of life and death over wife and children, the children raised by a pagan father and Christians turned out Christian.

    • I’ve heard that the younger generations in the US are becoming increasing conservative when compared with the older generations.

      If so, I suspect it’s for similar reasons to the roman cultural shift.

      Which goes to show that nobody actually learns anything from history.

  24. FeatherBlade

    Brewing and tavernkeeping were also women’s work!

    At least according to the Code of Hammurabi.

    And also fit into the interior-sedentary classification of the OP

  25. I wonder how many of the women who scream about The Patriarchy actually understand Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage. If you don’t understand Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_advantage) is one of the foundation principles of economics. You might as well try to deny it as to deny the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (Yes, I know some people try to deny the Second Law, too.)

    • I made a comment above that attempted to address this idea (while I have heard of the Law of Comparative Advantage, I didn’t remember it). The law is probably comparable in importance to the concept of Marginal Utility in understanding how economies function….

      It’s also interesting to think that Neanderthals disappeared (or at least became absorbed into Homo Sapiens), at least in part, because they didn’t have differentiated sex roles, and weren’t open to the idea of trading with their neighbors…