We all thought that the clamor for gender equality is a fairly recent movement, beginning in the West in the late 19th century and focusing on women’s suffrage. But a study published in Science shows that men and women used to be equal. This was during the contemporary hunter-gatherer period in our history (some 200,000 years ago).
The study showed that men and women had equal influence on where their tribe lived and with whom.
Mark Dyble, the anthropologist who led the research at University College London, explains that when men are the dominant ones and have the most influence, the community is dense with men who work together, and their wives and children are in the background. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.”
Mark and his team of researchers collected genealogical data like movement patterns and kin relations from two hunter-gatherer populations. One was in Congo, and one here in the Philippines. In both settings, they found that the people lived in groups of 20, moved around every 10 days, hunted animals, and gathered fruits, vegetables, and honey. Monogamy was the norm, and the men also took care of the children. Specifically in the Philippines, Mark states that there was division of labor between men and women, but the contributions weighed the same.
Mark said that sexual equality must have led to a more sophisticated social organization through people having “big, social brains” and language.
It’s possible that gender equality is what sets human society apart from the rest. The researchers posit that the equality encouraged far-reaching social networks and close cooperation among individuals (whether related or not). This could have caused our ancestors to share their innovations. Mark points out that “Chimpanzees [our primate cousins] live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies. As a result, they don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.”
How then did gender inequality emerge? The study suggests it was through agriculture. When people accumulated resources for the first time, “men [started] to have several wives and they [had] more children than women.” Men also formed close ties with other male kin, leaving the others in the periphery.
Source: The Guardian
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