Scientific Progress, Roles, and Culture – Part 1

As little as 150 years ago and long before that, men and women where physically different.  Men tended to be bigger and stronger than women.  In addition, they were different sexually.  Women would get pregnant, by having sex with a man, and bear a child.  Then, for the first year or more, she would be necessary for its survival.  There weren’t formulas and bottles and nipples readily available so if she did not spend time with it, the baby would die.  Food and shelter were important to everyone’s survival.  Food came as it does today from animal raising and killing and farming.  But there were not implements as there are today to do that.  Instead it required strength, stamina and some brute force.  Erecting shelter was also by hand and men were much more suited for providing food and shelter physically than women were.  Likewise men could not do what women could do for  a new-born child.  But women could also keep house, wash clothes, and cook the food that was brought to her family’s home.  So in the old days, for survival and a propagation of the species it took a man and a woman who performed different roles.  And for this to continue until the children were grown and able to fend for themselves, there needed to be a commitment between a man and a woman to stay together and help each other.  So the roles were defined at least partly by physical attributes and what it took to survive.  A man and a woman needed to be willing to stay with each other and perform these role for a long time.  So the culture blessed marriage and commitment.  Children outside of marriage were in danger of not having what they needed to survive.  So the culture considered sex outside of marriage as bad because it endangered survival.  Most religions embrace this idea as a moral imperative.

Today things have changed to make the necessity of separate roles not what it used to be.  Through scientific developments there are implements available for farming and ranching that have taken a lot of the strength and endurance requirements out of them.  Not only are they easier but they take less time.  These things did not happen all at once, but evolved over time as science has evolved and provided new tools and implements.  By the mid-twentieth century, men still went off to work every day.  Many of them were not hunting and farming, but working in an office or doing other jobs that them required much less manual strength and effort.  Household chores began to take less time than they used to take, but not like today.  Fifty years ago we had washing machines, but a lot of the work was manual. My mother still hung clothes outside on a line for drying.

Today, most kids have not ever seen a clothes line.  Clothes washers and driers and dishwashers have taken a lot of time out of the requirement to keep a house and most men work in an office where their size and strength is not particularly important.  There are even other jobs where advance implements reduced a lot of the time and effort.  As men’s jobs have gotten easier and house work takes less time, more and more women have been after jobs in offices that used to be a man’s world.  The cultural moray’s have changed more slowly than the change in role requirements.  A lot of this has happened in the last 60 years.  The first part of the last century saw the beginning of a lot of this with the development of the internal combustion engine which not only powers automobiles but farms and construction equipment.  But the recession of the 1930’s probably slowed some of this down.  Then,  WWII with its increased amount of research in the 1940’s no doubt contributed to the increase in the development of new devices in the 1950’s and later.

At the time I got out of college in the 1960’s the physical differences in size and strength did not matter too much but the sexual differences were still important.  Men could have sex with a woman and walk away without worrying.  Women, on the other hand worried about getting pregnant.  And having a child without being married was still not good.  But the nature of the work place was changing and women were starting to be accepted in jobs that used to be for men only.  I thought this was good. As a manager in a large division that supplied services to most departments in a fortune top 100 company, I think I had promoted the first female supervisor and at one point I had the highest ranking female manager in the company.

Those were the days when female roles were changing and the public emphasis and news  stories were about the difficulties that women had getting accepted in the work place.  News headlines in the 1960’s and 1970’s were about women getting accepted in the work place which had been a “male domain” up until then.  Then came the development, general acceptance and availability of the birth control pill.  Men have always been able to have sex outside of marriage and been able to walk away without worrying about the consequences afterward.  Now women can do the same thing. In addition, working alongside men in the work place women and men have much more contact and a different relationship during the work day.  And spouses, if they exist, are not present.

In the old culture, men were supposed to be the initiator’s of romantic relationships.  I think that this was – at least in part – due to the differences in the consequences of having sex.  Forced rape has been a criminal offence for as long as I can remember, but it requires going to court and proving it was non-consensual.  A difficult thing to prove because there were usually no witnesses.  If it wasn’t proved, the culture condemned women who had sex outside of marriage.  So the woman involved had a lot to lose and not much to gain, and either way she was going to have a lot of publicity.  Understandably, women were reluctant to do this.  On the other hand, in a working world office, fairness has always been a positive requirement.  So doing sex for a working advantage has always been unacceptable.  But it happens.  on the other hand,  unmarried men and women are together much more in the work place than ever before.  So having relationships that don’t involve work happen.  The result of all this is that the work place has different rules than the culture at large, and those are changing.  In today’s world, sexual advances without sexual intercourse can be considered harassment or molestation in the work place.  And with the sensational orientation of the news, if the person accused is well-known or high-ranking, this will be reported on the front page.  And because the organization that he works for doesn’t want the bad publicity, he will be fired.  There is no proof required, and the woman’s name usually will not be reported.  There is no criminal charge, but the man may have difficulty finding another job whether he’s guilty or not.  So there are a lot of women coming forward with stories that may or may not be true.  (When I was younger, the Hollywood stories were that if a woman wanted a particular movie role, she would seduce the director.  Who ever knew what instigated what?)  The reason for her charges may or not be sexual – there was a story in the local paper recently about a manager who was charged by a woman and was fired.  She got his job.  Was he guilty or not?  Will he be able to find another job or not?

Part 2 and 3 will look at some personal stories related to this from a work place perspective.  We need some rule changes in the work place, but I don’t know what will happen or specifically what I think should happen.  But I know the things I think are important to the reasonable continuation of the human race.


About tjc13

BE - Chem Engineering, Vanderbilt Univ, MBA, University of Tulsa - Worked for an energy and chemical company for many years and then started a management consulting business working for both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.
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