If you haven’t read Margaret Mead’s Male and Female, it’s worth reading. Yes, I know her anthropological research has been discredited, but her sociological theorizing is still pretty good. What M&F tell us is:
- In every culture, men and women do different, and non-overlapping, tasks.
- Tasks that are assigned to women in some cultures may be assigned to men in others, and vice versa.
- But, in every culture, those tasks assigned to men—whatever they are–are considered more important than those assigned to women—whatever they may be.She doesn’t get to what I consider the crucial corollaries to those rules:
- In situations where men are not available to perform their traditional tasks, women will be expected do them, and will often do them very well.
- But no matter how well the women perform these male tasks, they will never get the recognition or the compensation that the men got for them, and as soon as the emergency is over, the tasks will revert to traditional male dominance.
- And on the other hand, in situations where traditional male tasks are no longer necessary or possible, the men will generally do nothing at all, and expect (and often get) the same amount of recognition and compensation as consolation for the loss of their social roles that they used to get for performing them.
- So far, there has never been a situation in which traditional female tasks are no longer necessary or possible. The closest to it was the” empty” life of the middle-class stay-at-home wife of the late ‘40s and ‘50s described by Betty Friedan, and work rapidly rushed in to fill that void, as Parkinson’s Law dictates it must.