Electricity,Steam and cotton are responsible for female rights, not feminists
Both the progressives, as leftists like to call themselves now days, and the conservatives fail to understand how changing technology and resulting economic pressures change society and culture. The purpose of this post is to show that modern feminists are giving themselves credit for something that was mostly caused by these two forces. For the progressives, the myth that patriarchy kept women out of the workforce needs to be broken. For the conservatives the idea that the past was some golden age also needs to be broken. Both the progressives and the conservatives are giving the feminists too much credit. To break this myth, we need to examine the past.
The where two major breakthroughs which drove women info the workforce, the first was the industrial revolution and the second was the age of electricity which started to take off in the 1920s.
Before the industrial revolution could begin, there needed to be a surplus of labor. This started in the British agricultural revolution which began in the 17th century, scientific methods and new technology decreased the amount of people required to raise food. This also included new types of plant crops like corn and potatoes which where brought back from the new world. Workers and their families who where not longer employed to raise food flocked to towns and cities to look for new employment.
Everyday, we wear this amazing textile known as cotton, it is so common we take it for granted. Even today, cotton and its resultant products account for over 2% of world GDP. Before the age of exploration, Europeans had only three choices in clothing, itchy wool, leather or stiff linen. All three of them where extremely expensive and very difficult to work with. Cotton on the other hand is extremely cheap, can be dyed numerous different colors and is extremely versatile. When Europeans first encountered cotton textiles in China and India they where amazed.
The book Empire of Cotton: A Global History explains how cotton resulted in globalization and specialization of labor. Prior to cotton, finished products where usually manufactured fairly close to where they raw materials where produced. This changed with cotton,raw cotton fiber was produced on plantations in the Americas, then it was shipped to England where the fiber would be spun into thread in one factory. This thread then would then be sold to another factory which would weave it into cloth. The cloth, might either be sold in England or it might be shipped to Africa or Europe to be sold to factories which manufactured garments. Along the way, other important specialized industries where created, such as the dye and chemical industries.
This type of specialization already existed in India and China to some degree, but both counties lacked the surplus labor and the one other key piece of technology which would change the world for ever.
When James Watt invented the first successful steam engine, he didn’t understand the implications behind it, his objective was just to find a cheaper way to pump water out of coal mines. What he really invented was a way to convert energy from heat into mechanical energy. Before the invention of the steam engine, mechanical energy only existed in three forms.
- animal or human power - this meant that the amount of mechanical energy a nation could produce was directly linked to now much food they could produce.
- wind power - Holland was the first county that managed to harness wind power on a large scale. They primarily used it for pumping water and grinding grain. The problem with wind is that it is unreliable, very few places have a constant source of wind.
- water power - was first used by the ancient Romans, they used water power for everything from grinding grain to crushing ore. The biggest limitations are you need to be close to a river the amount of power is seasonal.
The book The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention details how steam power revolutionized the world and the implications of it. Steam behind the scenes still powers the majority of the world, the electricity you are using some of it probably came from steam power, the nuclear reactor powers a steam engine. The laptop or tablet you are using, most of its parts travel on a ship powered by steam.
With the steam engine, people had a constant reliable source of mechanical energy which was location independent. It wasn’t long before someone got the idea to use James Watt’s invention to power mechanical spinners and mechanical looms. With an abundant supply of coal all the was required was someone to work in these factories.
Everyone has heard that joke, and that is exactly what happened during the industrial revolution. In traditional rural areas, women where required to do a lot more work in the household. As they moved into cities, that meant there was a source of untapped labour. Dexterity as opposed to physical strength was required to work in textile factories, that mean factory owners could hire female workers.
This goes against the narrative given by modern feminists, that is was men who prevented then from entering the work force. There was some opposition by men who where working in the textile industry, but their main argument was that factory owners could pay women less then men. The main reason why men earned more is because they where able to do jobs which required greater physical strength.
This is one of the premises by the economist Ha-Joon Chang in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism in his chapter entitled “The washing machine has changed the world more then the internet has”. Electricity like steam was an amazing invention in that it allowed large amounts of power to be transferred long distances. It then allowed this power to be used on demand in the average person’s home. Initially electricity was just used for lighting but another revolution started with the invention of labour saving house hold appliances, particularly the washing machine.
These labour saving devices freed women from household chores which meant they could be now be employed in other areas. A good example of this is the job of secretary or what we now call managerial assistants. Originally the job of secretary was one which was held by men, clerks where also usually men. This is evident in Charles Dickens’s story A Christmas Tale . Scrooge’s clerk is a man named Bob Cratchit, today he would most likely be called a managerial assistant. Most clerks or secretaries before the 1900s where usually male, the reason why females where hired is because it was cheaper to hire them then men.
The term secretary used to refer to a male position, but by the 1980s so many women had been employed in that position it had become associated with women. The feminists then changed history saying that it is an example of men subjugating women and then renamed the position managerial assistant.
As technology changes the amount of physical strength required to do most jobs, that meant women could be employed in more fields. This means the supply of female labour will decrease and their wages will increase since the demand is greater.
Unions which had originated in traditionally male oriented industries like steel workers and boiler makers to maintain their power where forced to ally with predominantly textile unions which where predominantly female. Modern feminists seem to have forgotten this and again the reason was predominantly economic forces. The same unions where forced to accept black workers or they would cease to have any power.
Both progressives and conservatives believe they can change human behavior using just social constructs. As the book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature shows, this is a myth. Humans are pre-wired with certain constructs. Both the Catholic Church and Soviet style communism at its core are similar, they believed they could teach people to change. When it inevitably fails, they resort to extreme measures, in the case of the Catholic Church several hundred years of inquisition. In the case of Stalin and Mao, they needed to use violence and fear.
Western Europe started to emerge from the dark ages, when governments started to use people’s own self interests to motivate them. Capitalism is a far from perfect method, but it works on the principal that people inherently will look after their own self interests. Modern Feminism is a religion, similar to Catholism or Communism and has to resort to threats and fear to advance their agenda.
In a future post, I will how biological gender differences are responsible for why certain fields are predominantly male and certain fields are predominantly female. And then I will show how modern feminism is actually increasing male resentment and hatred towards women as opposed to its intended purpose. But before I could do that, I thought it was important to show that economic forces and technology is responsible for women’s rights.
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