Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Hmmm, where to begin...
Let’s start with the Neanderthals. There is growing evidence that Neanderthal clans did not separate labor by sex. Men, women and children hunted and gathered together. The separation of labor by sex began with the next gen of humans. The much smarter, more developed homo sapiens (us) figured out the clan could work more efficiently and effectively if women stayed at home with the kids to mind the village and the men went out hunting and fighting. Men were stronger, more aggressive, and willing to act alone. Women were more prone to thought and acting in community. The roles of hunter/warrior fell to men and clan welfare and development fell to women. Over time this division of labor became pretty entrenched and all sorts of knowledge, skills, and attitudes developed to reinforce that status quo. And the thing was, it was a very effective division of labor which played to the strengths of men and women and contributed to the success of the human species. So it went for about the next 35,000 years.
The end of the Second World War led to a generation of wealth and prosperity. The great depression was finally over, a new affluence emerged in the form of the suburbs and good union jobs promised security and a better future. American culture was heady with its new found prominence on the world stage. There was a fly in the ointment, however, in that during the war women left their homes to work in factories to support themselves and the war effort. When the boys returned from war to collect their jobs, women (many very reluctantly) went back to the home and hearth. Turns out Rosie preferred to be a riveter over soccer mom.
After the sleepy 1950s the 1960s exploded on the scene. Once again women left the home and hearth to claim their role creating the new social order. They did this through the advance of feminism, insistence on access to birth control, the shattering of glass ceilings, and refusal to be bound by the old rules of a fading male dominated social structure. In gaining freedom from the old societal roles women also recast the role of men in society and basically said, “as we do your roles you are welcome to our roles”.
It is unclear from the historical record when “clans” morphed into “families” but it was the definition of family that was most reshaped by the 1960s. The nuclear family of the 1950s; dad working, mom at home with the kids was rejected as the only template for family life in America. Today couples are deciding not to have kids and single parenting is gaining societal support. LGBTQ individuals are mixing and matching to form new family units that were illegal a generation before. Many families today have the woman as the primary wage earner and the man as the child care provider. For some family units two dads and one mom is best. Turns out, it does take a village.
Thanks to the female activism that rocked the 1960s and since, Americans have more choices in finding fulfillment creating “family units”. Men and women are truly at a crossroads where there is a new found freedom and cultural support for most any definition of family people want to put forward. Culturally we are working through our new definitions of man and woman.