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Man, the Hunter; Woman, the Gatherer [[Part 2 of 2]]
In fact, such a rigid rendering of our ancestors behavior does not
stand up to critical examination. Hunting is never defined rigorously.
Does it include only large, terrestrial mammals? What of smaller
mammals, sea mammals, fish, and birds? In numerous documented human
societies, females actively participate in exploiting these latter
Moreover, nonhuman primates do not conform to predictions derived
from the "man, the hunter" model. For example, among chimpanzees, females
do most of the toolmaking, not the males. Finally, in most nonhuman pri-
mates (most mammals, for that matter), it is the females--not the males--
who choose with whom to mate.
Granting that the hunting hypothesis does not work, what alternatives
have been proposed? As a reaction to male-centered views, Elaine Morgan
(1972) advanced the "aquatic hypothesis." In this rendition, females are
seen as the pioneers of hominid evolution occur on the savanna, Morgan has
them take place on the seashore. As females lead the way to bipedal loco-
motion, cultural innovation, and intellectual development, the poor males
are seen as splashing pitifully behind.
Unfortunately, this theory has less to back it up than the hunting
hypothesis. Not a shred (even a watery one) of evidence has ever been dis-
covered in the contexts predicted by the aquatic theory. Little is accom-
plished by such unsubstantiated overzealous speculation. Chauvinism--
whether male or female--does not elucidate our origins and only obscures
the evolutionary processes that operated on the whole species.
Can nothing then be concluded about differential male-female sex
roles? While the pattern is not as rigid as the hunting hypothesis
advocates would have us believe, in the vast majority of human societies
hunting of large, terrestrial mammals is almost always a male activity.
In fact, a comprehensive cross-cultural survey shows that of 179
societies, males do the hunting exclusively in 166, both sexes parti-
cipate in 13, and in *no* group is hunting done exclusively by females
In addition, as we noted in Chapter 9, there is some incipient
division of labor in foraging patterns among chimpanzees. Females tend to
concentrate more on termiting, while hunting (though it is only
occasional) is done mostly by males. Early hominids, expanding upon such
a subsistence base, eventually adapted a greater sexual division of labor
than found in any other primate. Two points, however, must be kept in
mind. First, both the gathering of wild plant foods and the hunting of
animals would have been indispensable components of the diet. Consequently,
*both* males and females always played a significant role. Secondly, the
strategies must always have been somewhat flexible. With a shifting,
usually unpredictable resource base, nothing else would have worked. As
a result, males probably always did a considerable amount of gathering
and in most foraging societies still do. Moreover, females--while not
usually engaged in the stalking and killing of large prey--nonetheless
contribute significantly to meat acquisition. Once large animals have
been killed, there still remain the arduous tasks of butchering and
transport back to the home base. In many societies, women and men
participate equally in these activities.
A balanced view of human behavioral evolution must avoid simplistic
and overly rigid scenarios. As recently stated by a researcher concerned
with reconstructing early hominid behavior:
**Both* sexes must have been able to care for young, protect
themselves from predators, make and use tools, and freely move
about the environment in order to exploit available resources
widely distributed through space and time. It is this range of
behaviors--the overall behavioral flexibility of both sexes--
that may have been the *primary* ingredient of early hominids'
success in the savanna environment (Zihlman, 1981, p. 97).*
Ardrey, Robert. *The Hunting Hypothesis*. New York: Atheneum, 1976.
Dahlberg, Frances (ed.). *Woman the Gatherer*. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1981.
Lovejoy, C. Owen. "The Origin of Man," *Science*, 211:341-350, 1981.
Morgan, Elaine. *The Descent of Woman*. New York: Stein and Day, 1972.
Morris, Desmond. *The Naked Ape*. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Murdock, G. P. *Culture and Society*, Pittsburgh: University of
Pittsburgh Press, 1965.
Slocum, Sally. "Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology," In:
*Toward an Anthropology of Women*, R. R. Reiter, ed., New York:
Monthly Review Press, pp. 36-50, 1975.
Zihlman, Adrienne L. "Women as Shapers of the Human Adaptation," In:
*Woman the Gatherer*, op. cit., pp. 75-120, 1981.
Trust everyone enjoys the background information.
Terry W. Colvin <email@example.com> Voice: 538-5392
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