Part 2 of a series of posts on Sex in History, by Reay Tannahill. The next post will have an interesting genetic/evolution-y tidbit I bet you didn’t know.
Who Really Brought Home the Prehistoric Bacon?
We Feared and FED Men
“At the peak of the ice ages it was man who kept the human race alive, and his social status at such times must have soared to gratifying heights, even if it often slipped back when the climate improved and woman’s contribution to the food supply rivaled his own.”
Oh, Brother! Even if male mammoth-murder did see us all through when the air got a mite nippy, I got a mite snippy when I read that the female food fraction “rivaled” man’s. On the next page, Tannahill repeats the insult: She credits women with providing, in warmer weather: “…as much food as men…” [italics mine]. When I was in college, (also in prehistoric times, BTW), I was taught that based on field observations by anthropologists, women in Gatherer-Hunter societies (yeah—I said it) brought in 70% of each tribe’s food supply—in comparison to the men’s far-more-meager 30% (this was based on field observations of the G-H societies then known). What’s more, the women had to spend a great deal of time daily to find and gather food, while the men’s efforts were of shorter duration and separated by far longer periods spent on activities not related to survival.
This Cave-Dude Hunter Clearly Has Plenty of Leisure
Who Fried That Bacon Up In a Pan AND Even Made the Pan?
In primitive prehistory, as in technologically-primitive third-world societies today, besides bringing home the bulk of the figurative bacon, it is a good bet that women also did all of the:
• hauling of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
• grinding, chopping, cooking, and serving of food.
• pounding, scraping, spinning, weaving, and sewing of clothes
• basket-weaving, gourd-carving, or clay-working to make containers
• young child care
• cleaning of everything needing it: floor, clothes, containers, kids
• often, house-building, if houses were built of sticks or grasses
• AND: episodic bleeding and cramping, baby-carrying, and birthing.
So, even during the Ice Age, when more of the calories likely came from male-provided meat, primitive men likely had plenty of time to rest up from their food share efforts within their exhausting one-tenth share of the total work. That would have given them the energy to lord it over the women and claim higher status, yes?
It’s Lucky for Him Wilma Loves Him
Now, to be fair, in the years since Tannahill’s book was written and since I was in college (Good ole’ Styracosaurus U.), anthropologists have learned more about Gatherer-Hunters. According to one anthropologist (see after the end of this post), in some G-H societies, women and men were closer to equals (except, I bet, for that list of daily chores given earlier). That almost makes me want to go out and start gathering nuts and acorns, ’cause, with what’s going on today in the undoing of Roe V. Wade, living in a prehistoric society might be a better place for a woman than living near today’s Republican party.
Official end of this post.
“This Post Ends Here”
“The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways”, by Robert L. Kelly, describes the broad diversity found among Gatherer-Hunter societies. For an overview of the book’s material, see the very thorough and excellently-written review by L. Miller. An excerpt appears below, followed by a link to the complete review:
“Kelly investigates the relations of forage quality to settlement patterns, of kinship and marriage customs with foraging activity…the roles of abundance and scarcity…of foraging territory on cultural activities and structure…Most important, the investigation culminates in an attempt to explain why some foraging societies are egalitarian and others inegalitarian, why in some men and women are veritably on social par, and why in others women experience lower prestige. There is a strong correlation between inequality and ranked or hierarchical societies and the lowered status of women, and a high correlation between egalitarian social practices and the parity or near-parity of men and women in social status. It appears that long-term-storage societies, which settle for long periods due to the nature of their food resources, have a strong tendency to become ranked and hierarchical and (not a term Kelly uses here) what many now would call “patriarchical.” Societies that remain highly nomadic tend to remain egalitiarian.”
2013/11/25–fixed a typo and some unclear wording (hey–finished and posted this at 3AM last night, guys!)