It may be that the instinct of motherhood led woman into marriage, but it was man’s superior strength, together with the influence of the mores, that virtually compelled her to remain in wedlock. Pastoral living tended to create a new system of mores, the patriarchal type of family life; and the basis of family unity under the herder and early agricultural mores was the unquestioned and arbitrary authority of the father. All society, whether national or familial, passed through the stage of the autocratic authority of a patriarchal order.
The scant courtesy paid womankind during the Old Testament era is a true reflection of the mores of the herdsmen. The Hebrew patriarchs were all herdsmen, as is witnessed by the saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
But man was no more to blame for his low opinion of woman during past ages than was woman herself. She failed to get social recognition during primitive times because she did not function in an emergency; she was not a spectacular or crisis hero. Maternity was a distinct disability in the existence struggle; mother love handicapped women in the tribal defense.
Primitive women also unintentionally created their dependence on the male by their admiration and applause for his pugnacity and virility. This exaltation of the warrior elevated the male ego while it equally depressed that of the female and made her more dependent; a military uniform still mightily stirs the feminine emotions.
Among the more advanced races, women are not so large or so strong as men. Woman, being the weaker, therefore became the more tactful; she early learned to trade upon her sex charms. She became more alert and conservative than man, though slightly less profound. Man was woman’s superior on the battlefield and in the hunt; but at home woman has usually outgeneraled even the most primitive of men.
The herdsman looked to his flocks for sustenance, but throughout these pastoral ages woman must still provide the vegetable food. Primitive man shunned the soil; it was altogether too peaceful, too unadventuresome. There was also an old superstition that women could raise better plants; they were mothers. In many backward tribes today, the men cook the meat, the women the vegetables, and when the primitive tribes of Australia are on the march, the women never attack game, while a man would not stoop to dig a root.
Woman has always had to work; at least right up to modern times the female has been a real producer. Man has usually chosen the easier path, and this inequality has existed throughout the entire history of the human race. Woman has always been the burden bearer, carrying the family property and tending the children, thus leaving the man’s hands free for fighting or hunting.
Woman’s first liberation came when man consented to till the soil, consented to do what had theretofore been regarded as woman’s work. It was a great step forward when male captives were no longer killed but were enslaved as agriculturists. This brought about the liberation of woman so that she could devote more time to homemaking and child culture.
The provision of milk for the young led to earlier weaning of babies, hence to the bearing of more children by the mothers thus relieved of their sometimes temporary barrenness, while the use of cow’s milk and goat’s milk greatly reduced infant mortality. Before the herding stage of society, mothers used to nurse their babies until they were four and five years old.
Decreasing primitive warfare greatly lessened the disparity between the division of labor based on sex. But women still had to do the real work while men did picket duty. No camp or village could be left unguarded day or night, but even this task was alleviated by the domestication of the dog. In general, the coming of agriculture has enhanced woman’s prestige and social standing; at least this was true up to the time man himself turned agriculturist. And as soon as man addressed himself to the tilling of the soil, there immediately ensued great improvement in methods of agriculture, extending on down through successive generations. In hunting and war man had learned the value of organization, and he introduced these techniques into industry and later, when taking over much of woman’s work, greatly improved on her loose methods of labor.