There is a difference between sex and gender; I am going to begin with sex (you’ll see why.) Sex refers to our physical, biological bodies. Usually, it’s how we are identified as babies, by the sex of our genitalia.
So are the sexes unequal? Yes, absolutely. Women are many many times more important than men. This is because the success, indeed the survival, of any population is dependent on the number, not of men, but of fertile mothers.
In China right now, a disaster is unfolding because of decades of legal restriction of family size to one, and a cultural misogyny which has seen female foetuses routinely aborted. This means that China simply doesn’t have enough women and it is facing financial — and possibly existential — collapse as its population ages. Doubtless the Chinese will soon be seeking net immigration on a huge scale; whether they’ll be able to persuade anyone is less sure.
One man can father hundreds or thousands of babies, but a woman can only carry perhaps 20 or so children in her lifetime and very few do that. Most women have far fewer children, which makes each individual mother more important. We explain how human society developed around core groups of women and children in Why Men Made God. Without children, humans cannot survive and the key to this is not men but women. This is why we developed a ‘two-group’ social structure, based around the mothers and children, with the men in a peripheral role.
Further and, as we discovered while researching, in most traditional (i.e. ‘hunter-gatherer’ or ‘forager’ cultures, it is the women who feed the tribe, not the men. For example, the amongst the !Kung San bush people, the women spend around three hours a day foraging and collecting food. They plant small gardens also. This is enough to feed the tribe.
The men hunt, but hunts are only successful 5% – 10% of the time, so actually, it’s a pastime and the people survive by the efforts of the women. Yes, the sexes are unequal: women are worth more than men.
Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct of behaviours, appearance and gendered roles. It is independent of sex, as transgender people prove. It is entirely possible to be born male, for example, and still have a feminine gender; indeed, this happens in about 1% of mail births, everywhere, according to GIRES.
We discovered that in traditional societies there are some gender markers. These include divisions of tasks by gender. The habit of women dressing their hair and wearing some sort of make-up appears universal, even in such traditional peoples as the Zoé, who wear no clothes.
As above, the efforts of the women in traditional societies actually tend to be more important. (This is not always the case, although it is so generally; in extreme regions, for example the Arctic, where foraging is more difficult, the hunt becomes more important. However, even there it is never all-important; that it is presented so is a function of patriarchal academia.) Gender in traditional cultures, which are frequently matriarchal, does not suggest that men are ‘worth more’ than women; if anything the opposite, as these cultures, we discovered, are frequently matriarchal.*
Gender within the patriarchy is different: it is a social construct designed specifically to disempower women and to reinforce the cultural understanding that women are the property of men, and their bodies may be bought and sold though a system called ‘marriage’. This is a contract in which a man gains proprietary rights over a woman’s body and fertility. In the older versions of the patriarchy a woman always ‘belongs’ to a man, either her father, her male relatives or her husband. (A few hours reading the Bible — Patriarchy 101 — will soon demonstrate this.)
In the modern versions this right of property is partially transferred to an external body called an ’employer’, and those exceptional women who learn to play the role of men well enough may be afforded some illusory patriarchal privilege — which ends at the ‘glass ceiling’. The patriarchy’s structures are designed to give the illusion of fairness while actually being the opposite. That is why so few women sit in legislatures: after all, they should be a majority, if ‘democracy’ actually had any meaning.
One way or the other, the woman’s freedom is removed altogether. That is the point of the gender construct. This being the case, the only way to make the genders equal (which I hope by now you understand that I would like to see, although I doubt if I shall live long enough) would be to completely destroy the patriarchy root and branch. That will require the destruction of its economic system, capitalism, at the same time.
The problem, of course, is that men use violence, particularly sexualised violence like rape but also homophobic attacks, and, as we see al over the world, concerted military attacks and other acts of the most obscene cruelty to maintain control. Just today I read of a 19-year old girl being stoned to death in Afghanistan for running away from the much older man she had been forcibly married to. (Western men need not point the finger: their patriarchy is quite as evil and wrong as the Islamic one, it’s just more media-savvy. It does its dirty work in the dark, not in front of cameras.)
At low level you can see it all over the stinking swamp that is YouTube comments; at a more serious level in the fact that a woman is raped in the US every six minutes. The patriarchy will fight tooth and nail to preserve its privilege and men, being the idiots we are, will largely go along with it.
Ending the patriarchy and replacing it with a modern matriarchy will be very difficult. But it must be done.
*We use Peggy Reeves Sanday’s definition of the matriarchy. This is not the patriarchy in reverse, as is sometimes claimed. That’s because women socially organise differently from men. It is rather a culture where women, especially mothers, are central. We discuss this at length in Why Men Made God.