Pulling the Plow – Why we think the way we do
How do you measure success? More importantly, what is your measurement based on? Determining the answer to this may be more steeped in history than you think. Defining my life’s purpose has been a pretty windy path for me. It’s not an area I have struggled with tremendously but neither has it been straightforward. I have always sensed that my purpose in life is in some form of service to others, to help. But this is in stark contrast to what history tells me is the path to recognition or success.
Traditional roles are passed down through generations. It’s no mistake that men have traditionally been the breadwinners and women the homemakers – just look at the case of the plough. In agricultural economies, the plough is key to life. But the plough requires an enormous amount of upper body strength to operate, so often operating the plough belonged to the male dominion. This simple advantage has affected the activities of women outside their homes, and has had a lasting impact beyond farming. Cultural attitudes towards gender have been a cornerstone of social science for years, and have encroached on the world of economics. How men and women perform in the workforce today, and which sex is more competitive, is a result of what we’ve been taught to think, not what is inherent.
In UBC professor Mukesh Eswaren’s book, Why Gender Matters in Economics, several studies show that outside the Western world, women are seen as the more competitive sex. But in North America, this isn’t the case. Eswaren points to a study conducted on 1200 ethnic groups, where women in groups that historically used the plough, worked less in agriculture than in groups where the plough wasn’t a key component.
Further, a sense of gender inequality is imbued with groups that used the plough, which results in a sense of male entitlement to employment when jobs are scarce.
Who pulls the plough dictates the rules for society, and creates the yardstick for measurement. Typically, the things that men prize are not the same things prized by women. But women will consistently be measured by male standards of success, money and power, rather than female models of success, which might be more related to service, relationships and/or happiness.
Yet the yardstick has been dug into the soil for generations, and isn’t going to be dug up quickly or easily. The result of women being measured in male terms of success is that they consistently fall short, and often just end up leaving the workplace instead of inventing a new yardstick to measure success.
And what happens when women begin to redefine the workspace? For starters, women have a hard time believing their ideas are viable, given the atmosphere of success in which they have been brought up to believe. I’m consistently nominated for awards in the financial services area that I don’t win, not because I’m not good, but because I don’t measure myself by the same standards of success that the awarding organizations use. I may not have the most clients or earn the most in commissions, but those are others’ successes that don’t apply to me. I define success by the amount of people I serve and help. I define success as doing a great job of educating and empowering clients, my ability to do substantial pro bono work in my community, and my efforts to assist those who are in need. I define success by my personal service criteria.
These things don’t win me many awards, and that’s okay. If we can begin by fulfilling our own life’s purpose, and then join hands with those beside us so that they, too, might fulfill their life’s purpose, we will slowly begin to build an army that is changing lives, one person at a time. And redefining success will take care of itself.