Extending Lenski's Schema to Hold Up Both Halves of the Sky—A Theory-Guided Way of Conceptualizing Agrarian Societies that Illuminates a Puzzle about Gender Stratification



This paper suggests that Lenski's classification of agrarian societies into simple versus advanced, based on the use of iron in the latter, obscures important variations in the gender division of labor and the level of gender stratification. In particular, his categories lump the gender egalitarian irrigated rice societies of Southeast Asia with the great majority of agrarian societies, which are strongly patriarchal. Based on my general theory of gender stratification and experience coding and analyzing gender stratification in the ethnographic databases and fieldwork in 39 countries worldwide, I propose a three-category alternative. First, agrarian societies are divided according to the technological criterion of irrigation into dry (rain-fed) and wet (irrigated rice) categories. This distinguishes two gender divisions of labor: a male farming system in dry agrarian and an “everybody works” system in labor-intensive rice cultivation, in which women are important in production. Second, irrigated rice societies are divided into patri-oriented-male advantage and those neutral to positive for women, based on the nature of the kinship system. This distinguishes the gender egalitarian Southeast Asian wet rice societies from the highly gender stratified majority of irrigated rice societies. Furthermore, these distinctions in gender equality are predicted by my gender stratification theory.