My recent blog post titled “Nice guys finish first” about males in the tech industry was focused on breaking down the stereotypes of an average programmer. People tend to think that programmers are the “savages” of the twenty-first century incapable of having pleasant social interactions and feeling empathy. The kind of empathy that women truly desire in a perfect partner. But stereotypes are generally based on a series of experiences with a common pattern. This post will examine one of the roots of this particular stereotype by analyzing the gender relationships during a different economic boom – the Gold Rush.
The Gold Rush started with the discovery of gold in Sutter’s Creek in Coloma,California in 1848, which marked a mass exodus to California. Because of the physical nature of the gold mining profession, the population of California in 1850 was only 8% female, which put men in the dominant position. They Saw The Elephant: Women in the Gold Rush by JoAnn Levy, reports experiences of women during that time.
A woman’s value escalated with her rarity. The arrival of women was anxiously awaited as Alta California noted, when in May of 1850 the paper read: “the bay was dotted by flotillas of young men [who gave their welcome to the] fairer sex in full bloom.” The initial discrepancy in the gender ratio could be explained by Kanazawa and his theory of evolutionary psychology. According to popular belief, men have historically been a more competitive gender which might explain their willingness to go through hardships of traveling great distances to put themselves in a better financial situation. The necessity to do so stems from the concept of fitness variance. Kanazawa believes, that since sperm is cheaper than eggs, men have more to lose in case of failure to procreate, thus making it more competitive for men to find a potential mother for their offspring. Women, on the other hand, absolved from the pressure of “fighting” for a “sperm donor”, place their value on their ability to give birth to and care for their offspring. Women started migrating to California only a period of time after the initial boom, which could be considered as a strategic move to finding a husband that had the luck of profiting from the Gold Rush. The biological differences between men and women could explain the initial male to female ratio during the Gold Rush.
That shortage of women allowed them to have their “pick of the litter” when it came to both men and professions. Any woman who could carry herself respectably was treated with utmost esteem and enjoyed the luxury of freedoms that were previously unknown to women in the East Coast. The services that were considered primarily female (like washing, sewing and cooking) were quickly taken over by women and somewhat monopolized by the female gender. Women were also believed to have a civilizing influence on society that encouraged the promotion and growth of communities. They displayed acts of benevolence for the poor, attended church and made schools a necessity for their children.
In the society of the Gold Rush, gender were distinctly divided into what evolutionary psychology calls type E and type S brains. It can be easily observed that women who possessed an empathetic brain benefited from being active participants of community-building. Women offered a perspective that a man normally couldn’t, since an average man was too busy looking for personal fortune. Perhaps this correlation between gender and a brain type is the reason the stereotype of men being socially impaired exists. But even in the Gold Rush, women had competition when it came to the laundry business, when Chinese men took advantage of the same opportunities, which suggests that correlation does not imply causation.