kaigou: under this playful boyish exterior beats the heart of a ruthless sadistic maniac (2 charming maniac)
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We've been having dinnertime discussions over the past few nights about whether certain advancements in society could only happen because of previous advancements -- specifically, a shift in perception or understanding of one's role in the world. Like, for instance, the development of unions. There were guilds in the western medieval world, but those were owned/operated by the master craftsman. The workers themselves -- apprentices, journeymen, not-quite-masters -- weren't the ones who had say-so. Seems like the guilds acted more like chambers of commerce, in some degree; they allowed the businesses to band together to set prices, to protect a monopoly, to lobby the local government for lower taxes or better treatment, and they might extend loans to their own. Still, not quite the same as a union -- and I would say one of the biggest things unions did was present the notion of a place where workers could air grievances, be heard, and get bad situations changed. Like, allowing for lunch breaks or not making children work (let alone for twelve-hour shifts) and so on.

CP's comment was that the union movement seems to have its sociological nucleus in the socialist/communal movements of the early 19th century. In other words, that you couldn't think of "the worker's rights" until you had some kind of framework for understanding what a "worker" was. As in, not an individual but as one of many other "workers" who formed a collective, and could/should claim rights as a collective.

The same kind of goes for democracy, in that it's not like the US was the first to think of sufferage (not being truly universal until almost 150 years after the country was founded). It was just the first to think of broader sufferage, having the most lenient voter requirements anywhere -- sure, not even a fifth of what we have today, but compared to its contemporaries, damn near any (white, male) could vote regardless of class, education, land ownership, finances, or marital status. Now I can't remember where I read the essay last week, but apparently there was representational government elsewhere (ie Britain, and I think Germany) but it was highly limited. The upshot was that of the white male population in those places, roughly one of every twenty or so men (or fewer) actually qualified to vote. When the US first began, it requirements put the sufferage closer to one of every five adult white freedmen could vote, and the rest of our history has been knocking off the rest of the requirements, one by one*.

My point is that the notion of "universal" sufferage wasn't really possible until certain other factors had been satisfied. As in, at a certain point universal sufferage became conceivable, but it wasn't considered feasible until other major shifts had occurred. Like, for once, realizing that human beings are human beings regardless of the color of their skin, which translates to "and therefore adult black men should get to vote, too". But first there had to be the shift from seeing a segment of the population as insignificant to seeing them as part of that voting collective, or having the potential to be part.

This kind of stuff intrigues me, especially since my current wip has heavy leanings towards being more alt-history than fantasy. (Or more like alt-history with a heavy veneer of fantasy, I guess.) But the historical basis means paying attention to what would be an anachronism -- and, say, feminist mindsets would be anachronistic. Even the Iroquois, whose influence is definitely there in the earliest American feminist essays, were more proto-feminist. But meeting them proved to be the consciousness shift required for someone to take the next step.

What lies underneath this, I think, is money.

Not to be crass about it, but when slaves were freed, they stopped being something you paid for and became someone you paid. The economic freedom of owning your own home (your own castle, as it were), putting food on your own table, and providing for your own family, becomes a first step for people to demand further rights. In a way, it's a repeat of the earlier process the British colonists went through during the French & Indian War -- having economic opportunities they'd not had in Britain, they chafed at heavy-handed British rule. (Another case of "something had to shift before something else could happen"; if the French & Indian War hadn't occurred and started that major shift in self-perception for the colonies, the US might be the southern half of Canada right now.)

Anyway, it's a different set of issues with Native American sufferage, since IIRC that was less of an economic thing and more of a political issue (boiling down to taxes), and had to do with whether individuals of a sovereign nation had rights to vote in US elections. Given the various treaty-holders were thus at the mercy of those they hadn't elected, duh. But that's kind of its own case, so forgive any misstatements or glossing, here.

With women, though, I'd say it's also economic. The industrial revolution didn't just get more women into work in the various shirtwaist factories and cotton mills and so on; it also brought about advancements that were major housewife time sinks. Like gas stoves, and electricity, and widespread indoor plumbing, and so on. Being able to get out of the house and get a paycheck leads to economic independence (or at least less economic dependence); the rise of the unions also benefited women, too. What had been wifely chattel became something (someone) that might, someday, achieve economic parity, and the push for sufferage -- which seems to have been pushed aside by abolition and then reconstruction (at least in the US) -- rose again.

So. That's what I'm thinking: that as a group achieves -- or finally realizes the potential for achieving -- economic independence, the next step is to reach for greater social power. Or maybe I should say: seeing economic independence within our grasp gives us the sense that we now also hold the currency of power, and we'll trade on that for social, political, emotional, etc, power. I know I'm glossing a lot of details, but I think the basic concept is sound, here.

Which brings me to something I'd been thinking about several weeks ago, about political power and how it's tied to economic power. What triggered the contemplation was reading a review of... uh, I can't even recall the story's title. I'm pretty sure it was SF, and by an avowed feminist, and most of the reviews indicated the story showed its age (late 80s, mid-90s, maybe?) in terms of its gender flipping. That was big, for awhile, to reverse everything like some kind of a thought experiment. I'm not bothering recalling the title since it's not really an issue with the book per se (which I haven't read), so I can't say whether the book handled the premise well. It's just the premise itself that jumped out at me.

The story posits a world where women have the political (and cultural and religious/magical) power, and men are the subservient class. Highly objectified and sexualized, as well, almost a one-for-one flip in those regards. Here's what jumped out at me: the men continue to be in charge of commerce. (One reviewer made a comment to the extent that the story posits commerce/trade as 'dirty' and therefore not something that women would lower themselves to do.) In short, a world where the political/social power is in women's hands, yet the economic power appears to remain in men's hands.

Uh. I can't think of a historical instance where this would be true. The one who does the work and brings home the money -- the cash, to buy things and pay for things -- is the one "in the world" and thus the one with the social/economic clout to be part of that world. This doesn't seem to change even if one brings home the money and gives it to someone else, like in Japan where the wives (whether or not they work) appear to be the vast majority of household-account managers, including giving their (working) husbands a weekly allowance. Who ends up with the money doesn't change who earned the money, and I think it's the earning that's the signifier, here. Or else all those Japanese women, like plenty of American women in the past, would have far more economic power by dint of being in charge of their household's overall income.

It's possible the story had other factors in play, to offset the shift that'd come about from such economic realities. Like, say, I don't know, some kind of mass hysteria that strikes men in political situations. Or something. But barring that, the ones who hold the economic power -- the ones able to earn -- are the ones who get to run the show.

That in turn reminded me of one of the rare cases where a matriarchal society exists and the woman are the money-earners. (There are other matriarchal and matrilineal societies, but in a lot of those, it appears it's similar to the Japanese setup, where the men willingly turn over their social power and/or earnings to the women's control.) It's the Haenyo ("sea women") of Jeju Island, in South Korea.

Note: the Wikipedia entry says the women only started near the end of the 19th century, but the translated-from-Korean articles I've found give dates more like around the 16th or 17th century. From what I'd read previous, I'd been under the impression it was a matrilineal society where maybe the women doing the ocean-farming (for abalone, seaweed, and other sea-floor goodies) were given their positions by dint of the older indigenous religion, or some such.

Turns out that it's actually due to Confucian assumptions that the only person in a family who'd ever earn a wage would be the husband. When the Joseon nobles decided they needed to increase tax revenue, they decided that the products of sea-farming were luxuries (and abalone was a huge luxury in massive demand), and therefore should be taxed heavily. The tax was just too high to make a living, though, and the men who'd been sea-farming had to stop, and start looking for other work.

I have to wonder who had the bright idea, since it seems so obvious but it's the last thing that'd be obvious if you had the big blindspot known as Confucian Assumptions: the women do the sea-farming. Women aren't taxed, after all. From what I can figure out, the women weren't taxed for a really long time, because taxing them meant the Confucian minds in charge of Korea would have to acknowledge that women could a) work outside the home, b) get paid for it, and c) get paid enough to owe taxes. Just A alone probably made some of their heads explode, let alone carrying onto wrapping their Confucian assumptions around B and C.

However, the result of this paradigm shift was that now the families had children and homes that needed caring-for -- and the women were busy making a living for the family. Over time, by necessity that role fell to the men, and now among the Haenyo communities it's the men who take care of the house, do the cooking and cleaning, and raise the children. Incidentally, the Haenyo also retain more of the pre-xtian indigenous/shamanic rituals/beliefs than other similar groups, which maybe has to do with the shamanic traditions in Korean history being strongly pro-women, compared to Confucian and Christian assumptions. I guess if you're the wage-earner, you also get to say what religion the household is going to be. Which is another duh, but speaks to how economic power also informs religious power.

The Haenyo themselves, maybe more than anything else, are shining examples of just how ingenious humans can be when it comes to figuring out how to get around paying a penny more in tax than required. (Death and taxes, the two truly universal experiences.) But beyond that, it's also a counter to the argument that bringing home your income and giving it to your wife makes her the 'economic power'. No, it just makes her the person holding the purse strings; she's still within the domestic sphere only, with no social/political currency except as what's borrowed from her (money-earning) spouse.

A story that posits women as the money-receivers, while men remain the money-earners, feels too much to me like the premise my grandfather thought was appropriate: the man does the dirty work, and the woman (up on her pedestal) shouldn't worry her pretty head about the cost of things. She has power over him, but only insofar as it's power he's granted her. She doesn't actually have power on her own; that must be earned, and she's got no chance to earn it. (It's especially ironic that my grandfather felt this way, given that my grandmother made $5 more a week than he did when they first got married, and she continued to make more than him until she finally left work -- eight years later! -- to have their first kid.)

But anyway. Am I missing something? Is there another solid economic example somewhere, in which the past few centuries of social patterns (male wage-earner, female wage-receiver) ever resulted in women having the social/economic power? Does that even seem likely, given the entire history of women (up to this day) marginalized income-wise compared to men? Or am I the only one who sees a correlation between the slow but incremental increase of women's wages as a percentage of men's and the slow but incremental increase* in women's voices within the social/economic/political spheres?

* not counting those places that would really really like us to backslide and undo the past fifty years, but I figure these things come in waves.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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