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them to: D.J.Watkins
A view from other cultures: Must men fear "women's work"?
Anthropologists have found that around the world
whatever is considered "men's work" is almost universally given higher status than "women's work." It
in one culture it is men who build houses and w omen
who make baskets, then that culture will see housebuilding as more important. In another culture, perhaps right next door, the reverse may be true, and
basket-weaving will have higher social status than
Anthropologists agree that biology is not a sufficient explanation ol male dominance. Follow ing
are three different theories anthropologists have suggested to account tor the universality of male dominance and female subordination.
• Nature Versus Culture: In all cultures women
are seen as closer to nature than men, whereas men
are seen as more involved with culture than women.
Since the cultural is universally valued more lhan the
merely natural, women, by being closer to nature, are
Women arc considered closer to nature than men
because their bodies share the same reproductive functions as non-human female mammals. These involve
more time, energy, and bodily risk than men's reproductive role. Men therefore have more freedom and
energy to invest in technology, trade, games, arts,
politics, and religion.
And since women spend more time with young
children, who are born incontinent and unsociali/.ed
and thus seem more like animals, women are also
seen as more connected to nature because of their
care of "unacculluratcd" children. Because of this,
women are often seen as more "childlike" themselves.
• Domestic Versus Public: Although women's
reproductive activities do not inevitably force them
to keep their activities close to home, women are more
apt than men to do domestic tasks that are easily combined with child care. For the same reason men are
more likely to engage in "public" activities that take
them out of the home and away from the children.
These public, male-dominated activities almost always have commanded more cultural respect than the
domestic, less visible activities of women.
• Object Relations and Family Life: Psychologists have traced the process by which children become aware of being male or female. It is not until
around age three that a child is able to reason that he
or she is either a boy or a girl, and alwavs will be.
From that time on, one of a child's developmental
tasks is to become emotionally secure and happy about
being either a boy or a girl.
1 lere is where the role of mothers as almost exclusive child rearers begins to matter. Both little girls
and little boys are naturally attracted by the nurturance
and apparent power of the mother, and want to be like
her. But a little boy soon finds out that he can't grow
up to be like Mommy. He must be like Daddy—the
big male person he sees only a short time mornings
The boy is caught in a double-bind in that he
cannot stay attached to his mother; yet his role model
for imitation is largely absent.Thus his sense of being
securely male is less solid and he may nurse deep and
unconscious doubts about his ability to cope with the
But as the boy grows older, he begins to realize
that being male is supposed to be a privilege, and if
men are "real men" they are socially more important
than women. Already somewhat insecure in his masculinity, he must now try all the harder to prove to
himself and the world that he is a real man.
How to do this? The safest way is to have as
little to do with women and their activities as possible, to repress and deny any "womanly" qualities or
impulses in himself. In extreme cases he may do this
by openly scorning or even mistreating women. Or a
man may simply avoid women except when he has
domestic and sexual needs to be filled, spending the
rest of his time in visibly and exclusively male groups.
Or paradoxically, he may idealize women, "placing
them on a pedestal." This too keeps them at a safe
distance, but is often accompanied by impossible
demands of "womanly perfection" from them as well.
In some cultures, men may seesaw between attitudes of scorn and idealization, a common feature
of the "machismo" cull in many Latin American societies. In such cultures, aggressive displays of masculinity may alternate with reverence for the Virgin
Mary and heavy-handedness toward the women in
one's own family.
Whatever strategies arc used, they allow an insecure man to mask w hat amounts to an unconscious
"dread of women." His earliest associations are still
of a mother who seemed all-powerful. When combined with his early deprivation of an available male
role model, the result may be a deeply repressed yet
powerful conviction that women can somehow strip
him of his masculine identity.
In this way we can see how masculine insecu-