Here’s a puzzle. What’s wrong with this argument from Benedict de Spinoza?:
If by nature women were equal to men, and were equally distinguished by force of character and ability, in which human power and therefore human right chiefly consist; surely among nations so many and different some would be found, where both sexes rule alike, and others, where men are ruled by women, and so brought up, that they can make less use of their abilities. And since this is nowhere the case, one may assert with perfect propriety, that women have not by nature equal right with men (Political Treatise, ch XI.)
We could question the Gauthierian belief that human rights emerge from power. Or we could object that the peculiar nature of women’s oppression (“divide and rule”) meant that they nowhere had the chance to demonstrate the equality of their power – though this merely raises the question of why this form of oppression really was so universal.
My answer, though, would be that, up to Spinoza’s time, men subjugated women partly because of a cognitive bias.
Put it this way. When we deny some group – a gender or race – opportunities, we’re gaining a greater share of the pie for ourselves, but losing some chances of getting a bigger pie thanks to the contribution the oppressed group could make.
Now, because there was almost no economic growth up to Spinoza’s time, men naturally under-rated the potential for the pie to grow – because this just hadn’t happened. They therefore focused upon the gains from a bigger share of the pie.
What lends this story credence is that women achieved greater equality in those times (late 19th century) and places (the “west”) when economic growth came to be taken for granted – a process which caused the cognitive bias to fade away.
Is my story right? Is it consistent with methodological individualism? What other answers are there to Spinoza? Feminists – what have you got?