In this second installment, I examine the historical roots of women’s subordinate status around the world, but I must begin with a brief discussion of levels of causation.
In psychotherapy we attempt to explain behavior by identifying the reasons it occurs. The search for causation is the same whether our theoretical system is expressive, experiential or existential. Many events have multiple causes, some whose influence is distant and general, others with closer effect, and one or more that are the immediate source. These levels are the ultimate, intermediate and proximate causes. Intermediate causes, themselves, can be distant or near to the observed effect.
For example: you’re holding an egg, a loud noise startles you, you drop it and the egg fragments on the floor. What causes this event? The proximate cause is your loosened grip that allowed the egg to start its downward journey. A near intermediate cause is the loud noise. A distant intermediate cause is the human nervous system startle reflex, hard-wired into our bodies. The ultimate cause is gravity. If any one of these factors was absent, the egg would still be in your hand. You might describe the event as, “I dropped an egg”; in other words, by its proximate cause alone, but the observed result requires all four causes. Without the ultimate cause, gravity, the egg would remain intact.
Ultimate causes, even powerful ones, exist in the background and seemingly at a distance from the event. Their influence is often unrecognized or ignored, and sometimes even denied. We typically concentrate on proximate and near intermediate causes to explain why things happen and assign to them all the credit or blame. If we asked the women on the TV panel (the example given in Part 1 of this article) about their choices of clothing, make-up and jewelry, they might explain them in terms of current fashion (an intermediate cause) rather than how those choices emphasize their property value and contradict their professional reputations. Women’s property status is an ultimate cause. Although its cultural impact may not be apparent, it has a persistent adverse effect on the lives of women.
The origin of women as a form of property can be traced to the earliest moments in the record of our species when small groups of Homo sapiens roamed in unrestricted territory. As their populations increased, tribes began to encroach on one another’s land and the first wars began. Archeological evidence suggests this change occurred “only” 30 to 50 thousand years ago, a split second of geological time, and too recent for any meaningful evolutionary change in our species. We are biologically and, in many ways, culturally the same people now as were those ancient tribes. When those prehistoric clans fought over territory, the winners killed the men and took the women as the rewards of victory. One benefit of these acquisitions (an intermediate cause) was to enhance the tribe’s genetic diversity and reduce inbreeding, but from the female standpoint these looted women were simply chattel. They had no power or freedom of choice. Often, they were used as slaves.
Today we see the same male behavior in modern wars. The Imperial Japanese used Korean “comfort women” to service their soldiers. Nigerian militants seized hundreds of young women from a Chibok school to distribute as sex slaves and wives to their soldiers. The ISIS caliphate slaughtered Yazidi men but kept the Yazidi women for the same sexual purposes. The leaders of these contemporary tribes acted exactly like our primitive forbears when they distributed the spoils of war to their modern warriors. In the United States, women who serve in the army may still be treated as property. Sexual predation toward female soldiers constitutes a major problem not only among the active duty forces, but also within the academies training future officers.
As a corollary, consider the inclination women have to attach themselves to strong, powerful, wealthy men. This behavior also arose in the earliest days of our species, when our ancestors lived in a hostile, dangerous environment, food was not always available, and children could be killed by fellow tribe members, especially other females. In this setting, high status tribal males offered protection from imminent dangers, the promise of sufficient food to survive, and security for the offspring. Today, a Harvey Weinstein or a Steve Wynn or a Bill Clinton — or any powerful, predatory man who offers financial benefits and career enhancements in return for sexual compliance — can treat women as chattel because his power and money stir those ancient fears and appeal to the same primal needs in his female prey.