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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Equilibrium is a concept from physical science; The status of "women's work" is not physical science.

Obviously equilibrium's a metaphor that has run riot over economics which, ostensibly, is a study of living things (humans). But here it is popping up in a feminist history.  


The gradual exclusion of women from coding is not a modern story. Instead, it's just one of the more recent manifestations of what historian Judith Bennett calls the "patriarchal equilibrium." Essentially, Bennett argues that, while women's experiences change, their status generally remains stuck behind that of men. Bennett has elaborated this idea through decades of work on medieval brewing, textile production, and other areas that reveal gendered hierarchies in medieval and early-modern society.

Take brewing. In 14th-century England, women did most of the brewing, as Bennett first explores in a 1986 article on the village alewife. These brewsters made ale, which spoiled quickly after the cask was broached, so they would keep some for their family and sell the rest. Often, the small profits from these sales would enable them to buy ale, in turn, from other women while they waited to make a new batch. But then beer arrived in England from the Low Countries. Thanks to the preservative power of hops, it could be brewed and sold at commercial scale. The village alewife was gradually replaced by larger and larger brewing enterprises, requiring access to capital. Although there were exceptions, men had much easier access to capital than women. By the end of the 15th century, men dominated medieval English brewing.

It seems an apt enough metaphor. As status flows in, women flow out in order to keep things "in balance." But I'll bet it gets the underlying mechanics quite wrong. Maybe not. Either way, a good example of what I mean by "Newtonian metaphors for Darwinian processes."

Survival of the fittest is science, but it's not predictable

Imagine Writing A History of The Reformation And Not Mentioning Gutenberg!