Dec. '99/Jan '00
Notes from the Cultural Wasteland
This being both my last column of this millennium and my first of the next millennium, I feel a lot of pressure to make it an especially good one. Technically, I guess this really isn't the turn of the millennium. See, there's no year zero, so the first millennium started with the year one and ended with the year 1000. This one started with 1001 and ends with 2000. The next millennium, then, doesn't start until 2001.
However, the calendar's been changed so often that the date is pretty arbitrary, anyway. Everyone wants the new millennium to start January 1, 2000, which is when we all have to start getting used to writing checks where the year begins with a "2." Since we're all in such a hurry about it, I'll go with the flow.
So at some point in the next few paragraphs, I have to say something truly profound.
Therefore, I've decided I'm going to stick my neck way out--while teetering at the very tip of a long, long limb--and make a statement that, if I'm right, will ensure my immortality as "the first guy who noticed this", but for which I have very little evidence. Hopefully, if I'm wrong, everyone will forget I said it.
I had this epiphany while seated at a luncheon--one of those affairs where everyone eats rubber chicken while politicians talk about what great jobs they're doing. There's nothing special about that--publicly patting themselves on the back is one of the few things politicians do well, and so much of American politics is accompanied by servings of chickens that one wonders if a serious chicken-shortage wouldn't cripple the government.
I was eating chicken and listening to the politicians, and I noticed something--a lot of these politicians were women. Then it dawned on me: Western society is turning matriarchal.
You see, societies are either patriarchal--that is, controlled by guys--or matriarchal, with the women in charge. Whether a society's social structure is male-dominated or female-dominated is mainly determined by how its economy functions. If survival of the tribe depends on how well men do the really big jobs, then control of the social structure is in the hands of men. If, on the other hand, women do the "really big jobs," then they end up controlling the social order.
Among primitive societies, matriarchal structure is relatively common. Perhaps the women go off to slash and burn while the fellas stay home and take care of the kids. Family structure is very different in these societies; childcare might be a communal enterprise, for instance.
For thousands of years most of the civilized world has had a patriarchal social order. This is because most societies depended on men to go do some physically challenging job in order to get food and left the women at home to raise kids and stay out of the way. That's why we have monogamous male/female marriages, incidentally; survival and procreation required clear sex-role differentiation and a stable home environment.
Now, about half of all marriages end in divorce, and about a third of all children are born to unwed moms. Not only that, but we're seeing more and more "chosen families"--gay and lesbian marriage, for example, and other groups of people who aren't related by "blood" or matrimony (legal or holy) joining together to create a support network, share the chores, spread the financial burden, and so on. Clearly, the social order has evolved away from the "traditional family."
The traditional structure clearly defines job functions as either "men's work" or "women's work." Sex-role stereotyping of jobs has, for the most part, crumbled. Women are just as capable as men of performing most of the tasks society now depends on. In fact, they're probably more so. Men tend to be physically aggressive and intellectually math-oriented. Women tend to be physically nurturing and intellectually language-oriented. Which group do you think is better suited for the information age, when most of the "really important jobs" depend on communication?
Face it, guys: if we're not killing something, plowing something, or toting something, we're pretty useless.
There are other signs of this matriarchal tendency, too, like bumper stickers proclaiming, "God is coming back, and she's really pissed off." The growth of Wicca and other Goddess-religions, in fact, may be one of the clearest indicators that the philosophical underpinnings of our social order is mutating. Christianity, you see, is highly paternalistic.
I can hear the guys screaming already. "Those damn feminists! Look at all this trouble they started!" The guys are wrong, though. Feminism didn't start the trend; the trend already existed, and feminism was a necessity. Probably, a lot of the current neo-conservatism (like screaming about feminists) is backlash against that trend. As a society evolves, no doubt many of its members cling by their fingertips to the old social order. To some, the new one is scary.
Personally, I welcome the change. Unfortunately, I probably won't be around to see it come to full completion. I imagine it will take a few more generations and a bunch of elections before men get paid less than women for the same work. Hopefully, too, the nurturing non-mathematicians will be more egalitarian than we were.
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