Monday, August 29, 2011

Women's orientation to work: part 2 - the hoe culture

I had no intention of discussing women tilling the soil when I first thought of women working in the Bible. This is for the very simple reason that women of the Bible did not typically participate in this labour. As I mentioned, it is not a universal truth that women do not till the soil. But it is particular to certain cultures, including the cultures of the Bible.

This is the general pattern internationally and historically. When tilling the soil is a task accomplished with a hoe, then women tend to be the major workers in the field. When tilling the soil is done with a plough and oxen or slaves, then men are the major workers of the soil. Plough cultivation is male dominated, and hoe cultivation is female dominated.

Although we cannot imagine that Adam and Eve had oxen and plough, the narrative of Adam and Eve was composed within a culture in which farmers did use oxen and plough. Tilling the soil was a male dominated activity as a consequence of the technology available in the Middle East at that time.

Today, hoe cultivation dominates globally, and women make up the majority of those who work the soil. It is therefore not a universal truth that women are oriented to the family, in contrast to men who are oriented to work in the fields. The pattern that is most prevalent in the world today is that women are oriented to their family and to the soil at one and the same time. These patterns are dependent on culture and technology.

We might, on the other hand, think of Adam and Eve as occupying the transition era between hunter-gatherers and farmers. In this case, it is likely that men were still hunting and women both gathering and experimenting with the cultivation of plants and intiating the first planned crops. In this case, Eve would likely be the first farmer, and not Adam.

These are speculative thoughts that present some of the difficulties in imagining that Adam and Eve exited the Garden of Eden, whereupon Eve stayed in the home and cared for her children and Adam tilled the soil with a hoe. Such a scenario presents serious questions and is not consistent with what we know about the development of agriculture. But as I said, this is speculation.

I cannot fill in more details since little is known about the very early origins of agriculture. However, we can say for sure that the participation of women in agriculture is a culturally diverse paradigm. While the subordination of women is near to universal, the dominance of men in tilling the soil is far from universal.

In conclusion, I will soon discuss the work that women did in an agricultural economy, but I will not contest the cultural pattern found in the Bible, that men tilled the soil. However, I do contest the notion that there is any sense of universality in this pattern. We are unlikely to persuade the world today that women should not be full participants in all areas of agriculture.


J. K. Gayle said...

"the hoe culture"


Somehow this post reminds me of the richness of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Here's an excerpt:

When all was finished and the house was wholly empty except for the two rakes and the two hoes and the plow in one corner of the middle room, O-lan said to her husband,

"Let us go while we have the two bits of silver and before we must sell the rafters of the house and have no hole into which we can crawl when we return."

And Wang Lung answered heavily, "Let us go."

But he looked across the fields at the small figures of the men receding and he muttered over and over,

"At least I have the land -- I have the land."

Donald Johnson said...

The advantages of the division of labor applies to hunter-gatherer societies. And even more to agricultural societies.

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

Suzanne, another good series. I’m reading mostly in the background.

On hoe and work – any feminist bibliobloggers taking this up yet? – “Honey Money ~ ... ~ Who Profits from Erotic Capital?

Suzanne, trying to do my part. But I’m not competent to do the systematic gender bias as are you and Gayle and others.

I can to the predator analyses from evo-bio and sociology (predator-prey), that Hakim’s new book might – might – precipitate – but I’m worthless at the larger systematic gender stuff.

I dunno, maybe some feminists will think Hakim is the best thing ever? I hope this comment is not offensive (not even accidentally) like one of my others?

Will look here for a response. Appreciate you criticism!



Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

.. to = do ..

Shawna Atteberry said...

I chuckled when I read this about oxen/plough vs. hoe. Somethings never change. When Mom begins her garden, Dad gets out the rototiller and turns over the soil. When it comes to hoeing the weeds during growing season, Mom's out there with the hoe.

Growing up in farm country (I'm from Oklahoma) I know that the division of labor is pretty equally split between men and women. I grew p uw/ several old couples who farmed their whole lives, and when certain times of the year came, it didn't matter what you gender was: there was work to do and everyone worked to get it done. I still think agriculture is one of the most egalitarian cultures there is. When the choice is eating or starving, gender roles die a quick death.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I definitely think that there is something to the notion of erotic capital, and it was used many times in the Bible. Would you accept Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, Abigail, Esther, Sarah, as a start?