To better understand what happened over the course of the 21st century, we should clarify the concepts of masculinity and femininity.
People are born, with a few exceptions, either male or female. They are then subjected to profound social conditioning according to what’s between their legs. ‘Masculinity’ is a package of behaviours traditionally associated with males. ‘Femininity’ is the package of behaviours traditionally associated with females. Both act as a kind of template into which human beings must squeeze themselves, regardless of what their true nature might be.
Archaeologists broadly agree that the very earliest societies, accounting for the vast majority of human history, were egalitarian. In the impoverished Stone Age, neither sex had the resources to oppress the other. This changed with the advent of farming, when raising crops (traditionally a female activity) became harder and harder for women with the advent of the heavy plough and much more regular pregnancies. Men had control of the main new source of wealth just as it was revolutionising society. It is from this time that males began to dominate over females.
Masculinity and femininity were creations of this era. Masculinity represented authority, strength, competitiveness. Femininity represented the beguiling, the decorative, the submissive, the housebound.
With the rise of female power, these labels underwent profound change. As women spread into previously male professions, they increasingly adopted ‘masculine’ behaviours: wearing trousers, drinking more, becoming more confident and self-assertive. When women were the majority in politics and the professions, it no longer made sense to refer to such behaviour as ‘masculine’. ‘Masculine’ identity had shifted to mean ‘feminine’ identity — behaviours associated with females.
At the same time, men were under great pressure to change their behaviour. With the woman at the head of the household, it seemed absurd to continue with the machismo of before. Men, pushed out of their jobs by women and relegated to looking after the home, were pressured to take on the feminine role that women had abandoned. Women expected men to be decorative and submissive. ‘Feminine’ was the new ‘masculine’.
The gender inequality inaugurated by the agricultural revolution was still with us, but in a historically unprecedented new form.