In a nutshell, what do the social sciences say about inequality?

As we say good-bye to Women’s History Month, a review of inequality–why we have it and where it might have come from:


Keep in mind that sexists are scared people.

A while ago I wrote about misogyny across cultures. That post has been popular and so I decided to touch on this further. Sexism is a common component in most cultures. At its heart, it is a desire to dominate women in order to gain power and sex. Women can and do accept sexism as a form of protection. After all, some of it is “benevolent” such as having doors opened for you, being given lavish gifts, or even being rescued. However, make no mistake, even benevolent sexism assumes a sense of superiority of man. As Jane Addams pointed out long ago, any form of benevolence has behind it an arrogance on the part of the bestower. This is why the alternative to benevolence is equality. Sexism then can be hostile or benevolent or a mixture of both.

Where did sexism come from anyway? Anthropologist Cynthia Mahmood points out that it is linked historically to the beginning of agriculture.  “Foraging peoples have no class or gender inequality but all ag peoples have both.” Classism and sexism is possibly tied to agricultural surpluses which can be unfairly seized by a part of the society and then used to gain power against the rest. Once an imbalance becomes entrenched, inheritance becomes important and thus women’s sexuality becomes controlled. Politics and social custom then enforce the distinctions.For example, the most unequal societies have a caste system and people are made fearful– they are convinced that if they step out of their caste they will be reincarnated into a lower one.

Foraging societies had sexual freedom for women. Once agriculture was established, women had less sexual freedom. Post agriculture the bones of early women show malnutrition and abuse that was not seen prior to the establishment of agriculture.( I guess that the dominating agricultural powerhouse in Mixed In makes quite a lot of sense.)

Inequality is at the very heart of sexism. In sexism, women are commodities to be seized and hoarded and controlled. What it does to our souls is to break human connection.

Fighting inequality requires a constant message of opposition to it,  along with boycotting products and services associated with it, and supporting education for all.

Mahmood says,”We can curb the worst excesses of inequality through high taxes and social welfare as in Scandinavia, but basically all state level socities have been founded on entrenched inequality.  (On a personal level), basing our social lives on competition and acquisition leads to a crippling alienation.  For 99.9% of human history we lived in equality and peace, and this recent 10,000 yrs is but a shallow veneer on that more beautiful human nature.  I don’t think it will last forever.  How exactly humankind will come to the realization that a system condemning so many to hopeless poverty or untouchability is not the best we can do, I don’t know. Meanwhile an excellent book about people stuck at the bottom of economic inequality is In Search of Respect ”

One thought on “In a nutshell, what do the social sciences say about inequality?


    Very interesting article Cathy, especially the agriculture part. In my recent experience with sexist men in the jury room, it was most definitely about fear. My guess is that they were all lousy husbands and they knew it, so they put themselves into the situation of the man making a settlement. None of them waned to see the woman get money from the guy. I’m still furious about that.


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s