The Plow: Origin of Sexism?


You read that correctly. There have been all sorts of theories as to why discrimination towards women seems so pervasive and near-universal, and from where it comes from to begin with. But a crude farming tool is by far the most interesting and unexpected origin. As the Economist – my most cherished and regularly read source – recently reported, a team of economists, of all people, set out to prove that the adoption of the plow coincided with a change of attitudes towards women that persists to this day.

Specifically, a move towards large-scale and labor-intensive agriculture – defined by the adoption of the heavy plow – created an economic system in which one’s physical strength and endurance became a major basis for productivity, and they key to society’s survival. Men were naturally more adept in this new function, and from this crucial role they would subsequently come to dominate…

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2 thoughts on “The Plow: Origin of Sexism?”

  1. Wow, what a novel idea. It is true that “horticulture” – which was the way we produced food prior to “agriculture” – was dominated by women. It turns out that the plow (and clearing fields) was a really bad idea because turning the soil over kills the beneficial bacteria and fungi that are essential for plant health. Plowing depletes soil very quickly, which is why the introduction of artificial fertilizers and pesticides became necessary (which caused even more damage to soil health). Through the spread of permaculture and its emphasis on soil health, there has been a massive return to “horticulture” worldwide. There are several decades of research already, showing yields are much higher with permaculture.


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