Across the eons, most of humanity remained uneducated, toiling at physical labor to survive, never having the opportunity to discover their intellectual capabilities and make a greater contribution to society.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
In most cases the history makers, scientists, and leaders have come from upper castes. It is only in recent decades the playing field has become somewhat leveled in more developed countries, where genius that exists in poorer neighborhoods has a modicum of opportunity to be cultivated and flourish.
It has been worse than rich vs. poor, however.
Take that paltry number of people throughout history who were born into enough privilege that they could be educated and have their genius revealed, and cut it in half.
The greatest crime collectively committed by humanity across the generations has been the systematic marginalization and suppression of women. Despite their intelligence or talents, they’ve largely been relegated to reproduction and household labor since the dawn of civilization. Thoreau mentioned “the mass of men,” as though the even greater mass of women living even more desperate and quieter lives were of no moment.
I studied military history, not the history of science, so my knowledge of famous scientists is not expansive. Without hitting up Google I’ll list all the great thinkers, inventors, and scientists I can quickly recall: Galileo, Newton, Gutenberg, Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato, Bohr, Copernicus, Edison, Tesla, Shakespeare, Einstein, Freud, Jung, Oppenheimer, Colt, Darwin, Pasteur, Bell, da Vinci, Archimedes, Aristotle, Hubble, Planck, Pascal, Bacon and Curie.
Only one of those was female.
I’m not saying there weren’t women throughout history who haven’t made sizeable contributions to the advancement of humanity, but they’ve been overshadowed by a significant margin via oppression. In many cases, women who did make significant contributions to scientific advancement had their names scrubbed from the historical record.
Thus, I cannot think of a single famous woman scientist from pre-WW2 history other than Marie Curie. I expect most men can’t. It’s not because women lacked ability; it was because male-dominated society did not permit them to reveal their genius.
I have seen men’s rights activists proclaim that women should be grateful for all that men have provided. Most great scientific advancements, inventions, and explorations throughout history were achieved by men. Men built the cities, the bridges, and the roads. Crossed oceans and conquered foes. Climbed the highest peaks and traveled the deepest depths. Constructed and destroyed, advanced and exterminated. The historical record of acts both great and terrible are a list of the feats of men.
The reason so few of these things were done by women is because men physically dominated and would not permit otherwise. Women had and do have the brains to be the equal of men, and they’ve always been pushed down. Men were the ones who achieved because they used their physical strength to cut the competitive field in half. In many cases, their egos could not admit that women could be the intellectual equal of men. So much potential went unrealized.
Such attitudes persist; many men still cannot abide being outshone by a woman.
As an example, a July 2015 study published in PLOS ONE examined the threat posed by women gamers to men who were “low status” players in a first-person shooter game (these men had few kills and were killed often). They saw women players as a threat to their rank in the gaming hierarchy and lashed out with negative comments towards women at a rate much higher than offered towards other men. Conversely, those who were “high status” players were much more positive towards women players.
A partial explanation for why this is so can be found in a 2013 study of 63 college males, published in Evolution & Human Behavior, which found that social dominance rather than attractiveness was associated with having a higher rate of sexual success.
The PLOS ONE study asserted, “Low-status and low-performing males have the most to lose as a consequence of the hierarchical reconfiguration due to the entry of a competitive woman.” Also, “the increase in hostility towards a woman by lower-status males may be an attempt to disregard a female’s performance and suppress her disturbance on the hierarchy to retain their social rank.”
I repeat: this has been a great crime, one in which most men throughout history have been complicit in. Think of where we could be had this travesty not been committed. We could have cured so many more diseases and be exploring the galaxy in spaceships by now.
At long last, some are waking up to the reality of how foolish humankind has been in the purposeful limiting of our own advancement. More and more women are entering fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They’re taking on leadership roles and fulfilling destinies. Little by little, female genius is less suppressed. I say this as a man married to one of the best physicians you could hope to find. I shudder at the thought of her being born in a previous century and not having that opportunity.
Still, I have overheard my wife chair many meetings conducted via teleconference. Time and again I noticed she had to spend significantly more time explaining and convincing male board members of a course of action on myriad issues. As an MBA grad with a dozen years’ business experience I can recall how much easier it was to get assent for my recommendations. I never had to work so hard to get others on side, by simple virtue of being male.
My mother broke through glass ceilings and achieved high status in a male-dominated industry. I worked in her office for a time while in school and, beyond all the harassment she had to tolerate, saw how she had to be far more intelligent, creative and driven to be considered the equal of men of much lesser ability.
Women have had to fight so very hard to earn a place on the playing field, yet it is still not leveled. Some men continue to fight back against advancements in equality. They erroneously believe the “pendulum swung too far the other way,” and that women now have the advantage.
Such thinking is laughable. Steps towards equality evoke a defense of privilege. The men with fragile egos still cry foul and place obstacles.
Those who hinder equality are dinosaurs, and cannot become extinct soon enough.
Do not be such an antiquated lizard. Do not place obstacles. Encourage all genius to shine.
Because I want my interstellar spaceship.
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James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.