What Do Women Want? #3 - Farm Wives

Farms work men to death.

This series started by discussing the decline of customs which encouraged men to stick around and help women raise children.  The issue of marital fidelity has become a political issue as we've watched politicians being caught being unfaithful to their wives.

Marital stability impacts the long-term stability of our society, because married couples turn out to be the best environment for raising children.  The introduction noted the weakening of many of the factors which urged men to marry and settle down.

The previous article discussed the forces by which natural selection has shaped the basic emotional drives of men and women.  It's pretty clear that there is a great deal of unhappiness in how modern relationships between men and women work out in practice.

The point of discussing the fundamental forces behind your ancestors' survival is to help you decide what you really want and then help you get it.  If an engineer bases a bridge on wrong ideas about cement and steel, the bridge usually falls. When men and women base relationships on incorrect ideas about men and women, the relationship usually falls.

For the last generation or so, our society has been pushing the silly idea that men and women are alike in their wants and needs.  A husband or wife who thinks the other party to a marriage has the same desires is not going to be able to fulfill the other's needs.  Marriages suffer when major needs are neglected.

This article discusses some of the aspects of how marriages worked out in the past to help you understand how to make relationships work today.

Were Wives Property?

Given the risks to women of getting pregnant without means of support, earlier societies had laws and customs designed to regulate who can have sex with whom.  The basic custom is to insist that men agree formally to take responsibility for feeding a woman and her children before having sex with her.  Women agreed among themselves that a woman wouldn't have sex with a man unless he married her first.  To oversimplify a bit, if marriage was the only way a man could have regular sex, he'd get married.

When women's lib first started, there were complaints that marriage had treated women as property.  Women were dependent on men and some men used their power over the food supply to control women.

This was old news; in her book Herland, The Yellow Wall-Paper, and Selected Writings Charlotte Perkins Gilman pointed out around the turn of the previous century that the arrangements at the time suppressed women's creativity and wasted their potential.  She was completely correct in that observation, but what she and most feminists overlook is that the technology of the day also suppressed men's creativity and wasted their potential.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who married the Chinese general who fought (the future Communist Party Chairman) Mao Tse-Tung for control of China, graduated from Wellesley College in 1917 - Hillary's alma mater, as it happens.  She addressed the student body in 1943 and told them of her uncle.

He was a man with a lively sense of humor, she told them, and he was interested in almost everything, but he spent his working life sitting out in the fields pumping pedals to lift water a few feet to flood a rice paddy.  All his intelligence, all his creativity, were wasted as he pumped his life away.  The output of his entire working life, she said, could be replaced by a 5 horsepower pump running for a few hours, but the village had no pump.

That's the way it was for both men and women until the Industrial Revolution made it possible to get away from farming for a living.  It's hard to imagine what it must have been like to be bound to the land and having to work from "can't see 'til can't see" every day of the year.

I met a woman who was wearing a family reunion shirt and asked her about it. "It was great," she told me, "I met my great grandmother, she's over 100. After she and her husband got married, she didn't get to town for more than 8 years even though they lived only 5 miles out. He wouldn't let her go to town." It was clear that she disapproved of this inconsiderate, overbearing male chauvinist pig.

"That's a 10 mile wagon trip on bumpy dirt roads, right?" I asked. When she said yes, I asked her how many kids her grandma had. She'd raised eight, but she'd been pregnant more than that. "She was pregnant most of those 8 years, right?  Isn't pregnancy a 'delicate condition'?  Maybe her husband was afraid to drive her all that way on bumpy roads?  20 miles was a good day's journey by wagon.  5 miles in and 5 miles out would take most of the day.  Could he possibly have been thinking of her safety?  Why don't you ask him why she never got to town?"

"I can't. He died 55 years ago."

"He died in his 40's, she lived to be over 100.  It's a lot of work to farm by hand.  Sounds like your grandfather worked himself to death supporting your grandmother and her 8 children.  Marriage binds women and limits them, of course, but it goes both ways.  Your grandfather may have been in charge, but he had to feed your grandmother and all the children she could have.  He probably worked himself to death taking care of her."

I then told her about Madame Chiang's uncle.  I don't know if she was convinced, but she promised to think about it.

In muscle-powered societies, men need women as badly as women need men.  A strong man could farm, but who'd handle baking day or wash day if he didn't have a wife?  It wasn't unusual for a widow to hear a marriage proposal over her husband's open grave.

The fact is that without industrial sources of energy such as coal or fossil fuels, farmers make do with muscle power.  Muscle-based farming is an almost unimaginable amount of work and it's relatively unproductive.

Traditionally, the landlord took 1/10 of the crop, leaving 9/10 for the farmer.  Why didn't landlords, greedy capitalist exploiters that they were, take more?  If they took more, the farmer's family starved and there'd be nobody to pay tithes next year.  Knowing that dead men pay no taxes, medieval rulers contented themselves with a mere tithe.

Everyone's creativity and potential were stifled; being stifled was inherent in living in a low-energy, muscle-powered society, no matter what the "Small is Beautiful" crowd may say.

On the other hand, it is true that many men exercised their strength and their position to control women, often to their hurt.  The mother of a friend of mine got pregnant illicitly in her teens.  Her father more or less forced her to have an abortion.  The abortion was botched, damaging her reproductive system.

Her next child was stillborn, and her three live births all had severe complications due to the damage to her.  Issues with her children's health increased the stresses on her marriage and contributed to her divorce.

Being pregnant was more dangerous than not being pregnant, but abortions were even more dangerous than pregnancy.  People forget that laws against abortion were passed to protect women.

When women's lib came along, women had a lot to be liberated from, but as we've seen, a lot of a man's tendency to turn into a jealous control freak is based on his naturally-selected drive not to raise other men's children.  Instead of reforming men or persuading men, women went to war with men.  It's not clear that things have worked out necessarily to women's complete advantage as we'll see.

Detecting Fertility

Women weren't strong enough to farm, so a woman's reproductive success depended on a man feeding her.  His reproductive success depended on keeping other men away from her so he didn't raise other men's children instead of his own children.

It's good for a woman if her husband can't tell when she's fertile so he has to guard her all the time and feed her every day, but if a man's going to risk getting killed trying to get some other man's wife pregnant, it helps if he knows when his target is fertile. Sure enough, natural selection has found a way.

Natural selection has arranged things such that a woman's sex drive changes throughout the month.  Medical studies have shown that female interest in sex peaks at the moment she's most likely to get pregnant, and comparatively speaking, she's not much interested the rest of the time.  In an evolutionary sense, women don't have a sex drive; they have a drive to reproduce which is not the same thing.

Her current fertility level changes a woman's behavior.  Research shows that women dress to impress men more when they're near the fertile point in their cycles:

Using a sample of 30 partnered women photographed at high and low fertility cycle phases, we show that readily-observable behaviors - self-grooming and ornamentation through attractive choice of dress - increase during the fertile phase of the ovulatory cycle.

In other words, the more fertile a woman is, the more she tries to attract men.  Natural selection may not be destiny, but it sure is influential.

There's other evidence that fertility affects a woman's behavior and that men pick up on it. The Economist reports that lap dancers who are not on the pill get much higher tips when they're fertile. When they aren't fertile, their tips drop back to what lap dancers who're on the pill get every day.

A lap dancer who's on the pill doesn't ever become fertile so she doesn't do whatever it is that makes fertile women so attractive to men. Attracting men at the right time enhances a woman's reproductive success, and being able to sense when a woman's fertile increases reproductive success when a man's looking for a one-night stand.

Discussing issues with traditional marriage can and does fill many books.  The purpose of this series is to get you to think about how relationships work in the real world as opposed to whatever theories you may have been taught.  The next article discusses polygamy, which is historically one of the most common forms of marriage.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Oh. Wow. This is Crap.
I will show you why:
Question one: You say it is a fact that marriages are better to raise children in, where is your proof? I have to wonder if the studies you got your idea from are based on mirrages nowdays, chances are that yes if there are two people together they will probably raise a happier child, this is probably because they enjoy each other enough to get along where as people who divorce have to deal with nasty lawers who exploit their emotions for finacial gain but consider this: if every one right now where forced to stay married, as back before the industrial revolution, do you think that all children would be better off simply because they have to parents? Or would you think that being raised by two people who hate each other is good simply because there are two?

Question two: women have no sexual drive you say, really, they just want to reproduce? WHAT ABOUT LESBIANS? What about the fact that both men and women enjoy oral and hand sex, and not only that but monkeys Bonobos have recreational sex, both men and women, i believe that this fact refutes your evolution theory, oh yes and then there's the whole chicks do masturbate thing. IF YOU BELIEVE THAT WOMEN DON'T HAVE WANT SEX DRIVE IT'S PROBABLY BECASUE YOU CAN'T GIVE THEM AN ORGASM. it's not that they don't want sex, it's just that they don't want sex with you.

Point one:
women were stifled more than men after the industial revolution, and during the renasiance, where it got to a point where men could choose, if they so happened to be wealthy enough to be a batchorlore for the rest of his life and have what ever career they desired, women on the other hand were expected to marry point blank. it was though that they didn't have the same sort of capasities as men. when now know that these things aren't true.

PLEASE SITE REFERENCES TO YOUR FACTS. were your studies double blind and recreated and tested? what did you read or see or expirence that makes you an expert?

One of my biggest problems i have is that YOU ARE GROUPING MEN AGAINST WOMEN AS IF THEY ARE COMPLETELY SEPARATE AND SELLING IT AS FACT. people are people and there are always exceptions to the rule.

okay i can think of more things to say but i have actual things to do, let me konw if you wanna hear more, or if you can think up sensical, logical arguments to my rebuttal.
April 2, 2008 12:48 AM
none said "consider this: if every one right now where forced to stay married, as back before the industrial revolution, do you think that all children would be better off simply because they have to parents"

hmmm.... yes. What was the violent crime rate, rape rate, suicide rate during that time? Was it higher or lower than now? What about education? Was the US better or worse on average than other countries with primary/secondary education and test scores during that period?

Oh, and let's now forget what came about because of all that discipline and proper child rearing - a little thing you mentioned called THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION! You have your answer.
April 2, 2008 8:11 AM
I've often wondered about the same thing. When men say

"women have no sexual drive"

is it really just (as None to One said)

"it's not that they don't want sex, it's just that they don't want sex with you"

April 2, 2008 8:17 AM
There's no shortage of studies saying that kids are better off in families with involved parents, from educationally


to criminal activity


to teen pregnancy


... need I continue?

Concerning the issue of lesbians, if you read the entire series you'll see that the author is discussing how natural selection over the millenia has caused men and women to be the way they are. Simple evolution. In this context, lesbians are irrelevant - they are evolutionary dead ends since they don't reproduce (generally speaking, throughout history). Anyway, the article had several links to various studies on the subject, though for sure it's the sort of issue that'll probably never be anything other than controversial. Last, any study or overview like this is speaking concerning averages and generalities - there will always be individual exceptions, but on the macro and evolutionary level they make little difference in the long term.
April 2, 2008 8:41 AM
Gays and lesbians are never irrelevant! If white Christians would get out of the way, gays and lesbians would have no problem nourishing children in a loving, family environment.
April 2, 2008 8:58 AM
Lesbians are CERTAINLY not irrelevant, but I think we mean two different things... :-)
April 2, 2008 9:07 AM

back to ya said:
"... THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION! You have your answer..."

I was using the industrial revolution as a time frame, if you claim that being married caused the industrial revolution i get to claim that divorce caused the information revolution! THANKS DIVORCED PARENTS BECAUSE OF YOU I CAN USE THE INTERNET AND READ SCRAGGED!

Patience said:
"no shortage of studies"

There is no doubt in my mind that two are better than one when it comes to raising a child but what i would like to see compared is rather than married couples vs divorced couples would be unhappily married couples, (who would ever admit that though?) who can't divorce vs divorced couples.

It's not wheather marriage or divorce is better, it's wheather people are better if they are marriaged or divorced.

What i see instead of "marriage" and "divorce" are people who know how to work out their problems vs people who don't (or at least can't effectively)

Bottom line would divorced couples, if they couldn't divorce still work together, or would they create disfunctional families? or would the over all quality of marriage decline? how can we test this?

Because people have the option of divorce doesn't that allow some people to escape problems (as well as admittently cause them), couldn't children be raised be raised by a community, or dare i say a grandmother, and a single parent? wouldn't that be better than, say being around daily fights, drunks or manipulators?
April 13, 2008 11:00 PM
I can't find the link ATM, but I recall a series of studies that indicated that it was better for the kids if the parents stayed together, no matter how poor the relationship between them was, obviously excepting physical or sexual abuse. In other words, obviously it's better if the parents love each other; but if they don't, it's still better for the kids for the parents to stay together even if they hate each other, as long as they are not committing crimes against each other or the kids.

In part, this was because, statistically speaking, boyfriends and step-parents are far, far more likely to be abusive to the kids than natural parents are. So the myths of the evil stepmom are not totally bogus. Of course this is on average, there are many, many stepparents who love their stepkids and are fine to them, but statistically speaking it's worse.

Now, as I recall, this paid attention to the results of the kids, not the parents themselves. So it's quite possible that a divorce was better for the parents, but the kids paid the price. Of course, in a sense, that's what parenting is all about.
April 14, 2008 9:57 AM
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