Research highlights centuries-long persistence of gender bias – ScienceDaily

New research from Washington University in St. Louis provides evidence that modern gender norms and biases in Europe have deep historical roots dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond, suggesting that DNA isn’t the only thing we inherited from our ancestors.

Results – Published March 13, 2023 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – To highlight why gender norms persist in many parts of the world despite the great strides made by the international women’s rights movement over the past 100-150 years.

Using dental records of more than 10,000 people from 139 archaeological sites across Europe, researchers found that individuals living in areas that historically favored men over women show more pro-male bias today than those living in places where gender relations were more equal. centuries ago. Evidence that gender attitudes are “handed down” or passed down from generation to generation.

These prejudices have outlasted massive social, economic, and political changes such as industrialization and world wars. The researchers found one exception to the rule: in areas that experienced a sudden, large-scale population replacement—such as an epidemic or natural disaster—the transmission of these values ​​stalled.

“The average age of the skeletons in this study is about 1,000 years and date back to the medieval era. It is therefore remarkable that patterns of gender bias that existed during those times and before are still being repeated in contemporary situations,” said Margit Tavets. William Taussig in Arts and Sciences at Washu University.

“Given the enormous social, economic, and political changes that occurred in Europe during this time, our results speak to the power of cultural transmission of gender norms.”

The amazing stability of these norms over hundreds, if not thousands of years, also explains why the movement toward gender equality has been so difficult in some regions.

“It was widely believed that gender norms are a by-product of structural and institutional factors such as religion and agricultural practices. Our findings call attention to the fact that gender norms passed down from one generation to the next can persist even if institutions or structures motivate inequality, And vice versa,” Tufts said.

“For those working to advance gender equality, the message from our research is that norms and policies will not be enough to undermine deeply held sexual beliefs and maintain equality. We must also address the cultural forces that drive these beliefs.”

Taylor Daman and Jeremy Siew, PhD students in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington, conducted research and co-authored the paper with Tuvits.

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Previous archaeological research has used linear enamel hypoplasia–permanent lesions on the teeth due to trauma, malnutrition, or disease–to analyze prehistoric gender equality. Because lesions form exclusively in situations of sustained physical stress, their presence or absence can tell researchers a great deal about a person’s health and living conditions. Moreover, the differences between male and female teeth at the same site is an indication of which gender received preferential treatment in terms of health care and food resources at that time.

According to Tavits, the study of gender norms in Europe is useful due to the relative similarity of the different institutional and environmental conditions across the region. This allowed the researchers to control for factors that can influence modern attitudes to gender, such as religion and political institutions.

As differences in attitudes between the sexes are fairly small across the continent, compared to the rest of the world, this setting also set a higher standard for detecting significant correlations between historical and contemporary attitudes. However, over and over again, researchers have found evidence of this association. For example, individuals who lived in an area that was historically egalitarian were 20% more likely to have pro-female attitudes than people who lived in areas that were historically more pro-male.

Additional tests showed that historical gender bias failed to predict recent gender attitudes in immigrant populations. The researchers also found no evidence of historical gender bias influencing contemporary attitudes in the 14 regions hardest hit by bubonic plague.y a century. Finally, they looked to the United States, where the arrival of European settlers in the 16th century led to a large-scale exodus of Native Americans. Again, they found no association between historical and current gender norms.

“Together, these results provide further support for the idea that historical biases persist because they are passed from one generation to the next and only occur when intergenerational transmission is not interrupted. We were surprised to find such a clear relationship,” Tavits said.

Tale of Two Cities

In the paper, Tavits, Daman, and Sioux highlight two archaeological sites to illustrate how the contrasting historical treatment of women compared to men is reflected in current gender attitudes.

At the first site in Istria, a small urban Greek settlement on the Black Sea in the modern-day Dobruja region of Romania, researchers found evidence of a pro-male bias in historical dental records dating back to around 550 AD. Information about sex and teeth can be extracted, 58% of females show signs of malnutrition and trauma to their teeth, while only 25% of males show signs of malnutrition and trauma in their teeth.

According to the authors, the position of men and women in society today remains relatively unequal in the southeastern region of Romania, based on recent indicators of gender equality. For example, they note that only 52.5% of women participate in the labor market compared to 78% of men, and only 18% of representatives in modern municipal councils are women.

Likewise, they wrote, residents’ beliefs about gender norms are uneven. More than half of the population believes that men have more right to jobs than women and there is almost unanimity (89%) that women should have children.

Compare this with Plinkaigalis, a rural community in modern-day western Lithuania made up of Balts. In contrast to Istria, Blenkigalis favored women’s health. Of the 157 skeletons at this site – also dating from AD 550 – 56% of the males show signs of dentition from trauma and malnutrition while only 46% of the females show signs. Separate studies also found evidence that gender norms here were favorable to women.

In modern times, this site, now called Ke? dainiai, is relatively even between the sexes. Employment levels in western Lithuania do not differ strongly by gender: 76% men versus 72.7% women. Women are almost exclusively represented in local politics (48%). Similarly, less than a quarter of the population of the modern site believes that men have a greater right to a job than women, and 56% believe that women need children.

“In sum, the similarities between historical and modern gender norms in both of these sites are stark and consistent with our argument for persistence,” the authors write. “Male preference in Istria, dating back at least to the early Middle Ages, is still reflected in the unequal relations between the sexes today. On the other hand, the region around pre-medieval Lenkigalis continues to treat men and women with relative equality (according to skeletal records). It happened about 1,500 years ago.”

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