There is a whole lot of conversation about why women don’t/should have equal places in society to men. Now that I am a father, I spent a lot of time thinking about what will be available to my daughter. What I want to available for her, what I hope to give to her, what I hope she earns for herself, and importantly what she aspires to. I have come to the personal conclusion that our advancements in engineering have been the most foundational bastions for women’s freedom and equality.
In 1900, you likely were a farmer. Women and men certainly had different roles in society. Most jobs were physical labor. A few men were capitalists/managers, but the majority of wage labor involved physically exerting yourself in an environment that would be considered brutal by today’s modern standards. Simply put, if you need someone to do some heavy lifting (literally). Men are biologically developed to be superior at this task. If you need a boulder moved, better a man than a women (not always, but usually).
On the other hand, women are uniquely engineering to give children what they need to survive. Men don’t have the mammary glands. Women do. Fin.
A number of men went off to war in both WWI and WWII. Women entered the workforce and demonstrated that they could contribute meaningfully. Also, by 1950 have a much better control over electricity and other energy. You know what makes it hard to move children around? Riding with them on a horse. You know what makes it hard to drive a car? Breaking your arm using the hand crank starter. How about turning a car without power steering? All of these technological advancements drew down the need for pure physical strength.
Our mastery of energy has equalized men and women in many ways, by reducing the need for pure 1900-style physical strength. Less strength is required to simply live your life. Less strength is needed at work to do your job. More ingenuity, creativity, and, coordination are needed. Unlike raw strength, there seems to be no biologically predisposed advantage for men in these adjectives. In fact, I would say women tend to be better at coordination (not always, but usually).
Now women have been demonstrating their capability in the workforce for many years. Slowly changes many of the social norms/biases that have been constraining them. There are calls for more equality. Looking back, I find myself asking a few questions:
- Why aren’t there more female doctors, lawyers, and politicians? For doctors, I imagine you used to have to physically use saws to cut off legs in the 1900s at times, but still more broadly why did we not see female participation in these careers race up sooner? My guess is three-fold: (a) cultural momentum (aka boy’s clubs), (b) the biological dependency for raising children and (c) the strong gravity towards status quo (easier to stay a stay-at-home mom than to re-enter the workforce). This is particularly puzzling for me because I would expect women to be better politicians than men. What helped change these 3… we’ll I would say:
- Writing. Women sharing experiences and communicating overtly. Small demonstrations of the possible + sharing those demonstrations. What would help further
- Powdered formula. Dads with bottles can now rear children. Something previously impossible without a wet nurse.
- Inevitability/latent talent. There was bound to be some exceptional doctors, lawyers and politicians that were underused simply because they were women. People simply want to work with the best.
- What is the deal with the WNBA and women wanting to join the army? Only the top top top athletes compete in these exceptional competitions. It isn’t really a women vs men thing. Are there extremely talented women ball players? Yes. Is the top 1 ball player a woman? Any in the top 10? Top 100? The same thinking applies to the military. There are no weight classes. There are fights and guns and hauling rucks. There is another person trying to kill you, no “women vs women” fights. *A note *I should note that for some sports like distance swimming, women dominate. I feel the same way here in that people talk about the best swimmers. No one cares who the fastest man to swim the English channel is. They just care about the fastest English channel swimmer. (They do not care about this as much as basketball, but that is a cultural matter).
- What is next? Exoskeletons would radically change a lot of this. Roboticized sports would change things. If men could augment to have breast milk, that would tilt society more. En vitro has likely already empowered women.
In brief, a lot of our technological enhancements are what have provided the infrastructure for all of us to escape the brutal, physical nature of existence. I would suggest that women have seen increases in freedom (degrees of freedom) more than men, even if not yet on equal footing to men. It is women who will likely dominate our future in all domains non-physical, which is becoming a larger and larger space.