Study suggests more gender equality in pre-agricultural age

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This makes some sense if you think about it.
Before agriculture everything a nomad could imagine owning fit in a skin sack around their neck, maybe on a pack animal, everything needed was mostly DIY on site, and a woman could walk away if she didn’t like the arrangement. Once we became tied to a marked piece of land there was enough stability that wealth was able to be acquired by the few and also enough to pay others to enforce that hoard things fell apart. Women, who could otherwise become homeless in a patriarchal legal system, have also fallen among the things that a strongman can collect, and the road back to equality becomes very difficult to bring ourselves to travel.

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Nope, I’m not buying it. They make observations about modern hunter-gatherers and then, ahem, “extrapolate” to the prehistoric past. In most sciences, this is not considered a valid method, it is considered pure projection, and the results teach us far more about the biases of the researchers than about reality. Cf. Margaret Mead.

There is a considerable amount of extant history about pre-Columbian Indian life, and based on that, there was quite a lot of diversity. Some nations were peace-loving farmers, and others were horrific oppressive human-sacrificing tyrants. If we “extrapolate” this to the past, we learn that different people are different. That’s about all.


I mostly agree but the study is being used by left wing journalism to serve its own principles.
But we can ascertain from the study is that a fixed preconception of a male only dominated society is wrong.
And that a culturally driven gender bias is more important than we thought. I assure you that most people take for granted that current male run society has and is always so but clearly it is not the case.


In the community I grew up in, there were tyrannical male-led families, laid back egalitarian families, and families where the women ruled. They had all come from the same stock, same religious environment, and all were farmers. I think this study assumes a homogeneity in early communities that there is little evidence to believe existed. There may be any number of reasons that they lived in the groupings they did. I think the researchers have let what they wished to find guide their interpretation of the data.

RTFM. From the article:

The findings appear to be supported by qualitative observations of the hunter-gatherer groups in the study. In the Philippines population, women are involved in hunting and honey collecting and while there is still a division of labour, overall men and women contribute a similar number of calories to the camp. In both groups, monogamy is the norm and men are active in childcare.


When only one sex had influence over the process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, tight hubs of related individuals emerged. However, the average number of related individuals is predicted to be much lower when men and women have an equal influence – closely matching what was seen in the populations that were studied.

At the very least, @Boundegar notes, to my mind, the shakiest part of the research, that a computer model can accurately reach back through millenia to predict human social behavior:

The scientists constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment, based on the assumption that people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin: siblings, parents and children.

Anyone would think that F Engels had never written “The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State” back in 1884. A work itself based on the researches of the anthropologist L H Morgan, who’d done a study of the Iroquois and had concluded matrilineal descent had been replaced by patrilineal descent pretty much as soon as enough property could be accumulated to pass on to later generations…


It’s still a small number of groups, and we simply don’t know how representative they are of the distant past. They are not living under the same conditions. They have been forced into smaller areas than they would have had access to and are under tremendous pressure from the outside world. We wouldn’t use prisoners as a model to extrapolate modern human behavior as a whole. I just think there are too many “unknown unknowns” to try and extrapolate…especially when the result conforms to exactly what kind of a society most modern educated westerners would like to see.

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Pretty sure it isn’t. The abbreviation RTM is not in the mainstream lexical currency of the net.


Sorry, point taken. Should not have read it with the rudest interpretation. Will assume it was written as “Fine” manual.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the statistics in the study, but this makes sense to me. Before aggregation of property, a small group of people simply couldn’t afford to have half of the population not contributing equally. Just like the idea of women working outside the home is a recent phenomenon only from the point of view of the middle and wealthy classes…poor women have always worked a multitude of jobs to help the family make ends meet. And that’s not even considering the kids: it’s a major form of privilege that most of us don’t even recognize, to be able to have one spouse at home and the kids at school.


Why such sensitivity? It’s just a word.


What @LemoUtan said.

When studying people who, to the best of our scientific ability, acted as hunter-gatherers, then it makes perfect sense to study contemporary people of the same ilk. Or, to paraphrase your comment, we don’t use prisoners to understand non-prisoners.

Oh? How much outside “pressure” do these groups in the Philippines and (presumably) the D.R.C. face? Is the cable salesman always knocking at their tree? Science-y people looked at populations worth studying in this regard and chose these groups for a reason–I sincerely doubt the “hunter-gatherer” groups they chose are just grubby millenial tree-huggers up in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Ah, the crux of the issue! Those damned scientists, skipping over the whole science thing and merely writing a study based on what The Atlantic says society should look like!


It most definitely wasn’t written that way, I can assure you.


There’s also an argument that goes way back to Aeschylus. where the Oresteian Trilogy can be read as a contemporary allegory of a still more ancient - perhaps prehistoric - tale about the very same ‘takeover’ - a replacement of vengeance by justice, where vengeance is aligned to matrilineality and blood-lines and justice to patrilineality and property-lines. But, well, I dunno. Just please don’t shoot the messenger.

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As they say…history is written by the winners. :wink:

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Seriously? Hunter-gatherer groups all around the world are/have been forced into smaller and smaller range areas, made to conform to nation government rules, and culturally changed by uncontrolled contact with majority populations. To assume that hundreds of years of contact with missionaries, soldiers, traders police and social workers are not likely to have affected their social structures seems naive at best.

Scientists are not immune to confirmation bias. In fact they may be more likely not to notice it.

How charming that your first response was intended to be hostile and childishly nasty. Glad I found out about the “Mute” option.

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Again, please see @LemoUtan’s point above. And if muting me is what you need, go for it. May I also recommend not venturing out into the wider “Inter-net”.


Gonna step out on a limb here and suggest that scientists call these groups “hunter-gatherers” because they tend to live in remote areas offering little chance of regular contact with outside groups. These people live in areas where they’re not likely to get the lost driver looking for the starbucks. As for conforming to “nation government rules”, WTF…I mean, what the gosh? Are hunter-gatherer groups being made to support Olympic teams and stuff? They’re probably not allowed to carry their axes and blowdarts onto overseas flights…

Right, so scientists doing research into human behavior wouldn’t notice their confirmation bias concerning gender bias/equality. I’m sure they mess that sort of thing up all the time.

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Don’t have time for a lengthy chat, just thought I’d let y’all know that many students of ancient history and pre-history believe that nearly all very early human cultures were matrilineal and matriarchal or matrifocal. It’s not at all unusual for mythologists to interpret various ancient legend cycles as distorted accounts of the cultural changeover from maid/matron/crone social dominance to warrior thug dominance. You can read Gimbutas and Eller for opposite viewpoints on this, although it’s probably fair to say that Gimbutas is motivated by a search for the truth about the past while Eller is more bluntly political and concerned for our future.

Personally I’d rather read The White Goddess by Robert Graves instead. :slight_smile: Now I have to go feed the Gabriel Ratchets and freshen up the red-caps.


Indeed. And just in case the bleedin’ obvious has been missed (seems we must now watch our language) there’s a very good reason for this. A clan member’s mother knows who her children are. Father, meh - not so much. When your lifestyle improves to the point at which you can leave property and divide labour, the ‘establishment’ of fatherhood becomes rather more of a thing.


Didn’t I learn about this in The Chalice and the Blade some decades ago?

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