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misogyny patriarchy we hunted the mammoth

Rebecca Solnit Tracks, Kills the Myth of Man the (Mammoth) Hunter

So I missed this when it first came out, but an alert reader by the name of Rebecca Solnit recently alerted me to an eloquent Harper’s Magazine takedown of the “myth of man the hunter,” by, well, Rebecca Solnit.

Solnit, you may recall, is the writer who came up with the idea of “mansplaining” after a dude mansplained one of her own books to her.

In her “Man the Hunter” piece, which you should all go and immediately read, she lays out the assorted sexist assumptions underlying the notion that our cave dude ancestors basically did all the real work while their prehistoric wives sat on their asses back at the cave eating prehistoric bon bons.

Yep, it’s the old “we hunted the mammoth” thing. Solnit describes it, quite aptly, as “the story of the 5-million-year-old suburb.” Every day, the story goes, cave men put on their grey flannel suits mammoth-hide shorts and trudged off

carrying their spears and atlatls to work and punching the primordial time clock. Females hang around the hearth with the kids, waiting for the men to bring home the bacon. Man feeds woman. Woman propagates man’s genes.

The reference to prehistoric suburbs is especially apt, because, as Solnit points out, the myth of man the hunter is actually a pretty new myth, as myths go, gaining widespread currency only in the 20th century, the century of the suburb.

In what we might call The Flintstones Era, anthropologists as well as TV producers set forth a vision of prehistoric life that

trace[d] the dominant socioeconomic arrangements of the late Fifties and early Sixties back to the origins of our species.

But it turns out that The Flintstones wasn’t a documentary.

I’m tempted to keep quoting until I quote virtually the entire article, but you should just go read it.

Oh, and while I’m talking Solnit, she’s also got a great new article up titled “Men Explain Lolita to Me,” discussing the reaction she got from the dudes of the internet after taking on an exquisitely dudebro Esquire list of “80 Books Every Man Should Read” — all but one of them written by, you guessed it, dudes.

Our old friend Scott Adams makes a cameo in the Lolita piece, BTW.

PS: If you’re doing any last minute Christmas shopping, or just looking for an interesting read, might I suggest Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me

 

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guest
guest
6 years ago

@budgie Where have you heard/read about the behaviours you’re describing? Nothing I’ve read about either ancient or modern hunting/gathering societies–this book, for example:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-Side-Eden-Hunters/dp/0865476381

suggests that what you describe is typical; in fact it’s often suggested that when we see these kinds of behaviours in non-industrial societies now it’s due to colonial/occupying influence.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
6 years ago

Although the theory of man the hunter may seem sexist it’s supported by a lot of evidence and rather than being a product of patriarchy it actually explains why we’ve evolved to be a patriarchical species.

Citation needed. Primeval-style hunter-gatherer cultures are highly egalitarian. It’s only with the introduction of agriculture that kyriarchial systems start to develop. There is no evidence that what you describe is true in any fashion for hunter-gatherer cultures untouched by agriculture or modern-day slave raids, or other forms of cultural contamination.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201105/how-hunter-gatherers-maintained-their-egalitarian-ways

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

Firstly I’d like to say that I’ve really been enjoying this thread and have really liked hearing people talk about science. I was hoping that maybe I could ask people about science.

I want to get into a career in science and I’m at the point in school where I have to start thinking about which field of science I want to go into but I don’t actually have much information about it. My school and parents are being very supportive but they haven’t told me what it’s actually like and are just trying to encourage my enthusiasm which I really like but it also makes me feel scared because I’m just going in blind and I’ve heard lots of bad things too but only second hand. I want to do research but I want to work in a field which is female friendly and which won’t be too mean for me for coming from a religious family. I was hoping that if Scildfreja and EJ are still reading then that would be really great.

Also hi everyone, this is my first real post here. I’ve been reading for ages but have always been a little scared to post but I really like lots of the people here and feel that I know them after reading so much of what they’ve written. I hope that isn’t weird. I really like how safe this site feels. David does a really good job.

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
6 years ago

Welcome, Dave!

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

Thanks! I’m a fan of yours so this is sort of scary for me. Are you ever going to do more of your drunken game of thrones writings? I found them very funny even though I don’t drink.

I’m girl Dave by the way. The name is a sort of joke.

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
6 years ago

Dave,
Oh, you’re one of the few who read my blog? Thanks!

It’s a little harder now that I’m no longer unemployed, but I have been thinking about resuming it lately. Maybe I will soon.

Viscaria
Viscaria
6 years ago

The women in most HG societies are treated pretty badly by the men. A common occurrence is that when a man comes home from hunting his wife is expected to jump and and get the fire going for cooking. If she doesn’t she gets a walloping.

I mean… Really? The sexual partner of the specific man who made the kill (on his own I guess) is the person who is expected to cook it? That’s kind of weird and arbitrary, and while lots of weird, arbitrary systems exist in human societies it’s hard to argue that natural selection put them in place. There are much more efficient ways of hunting meat and then preparing it for a group of humans.

It’s like a man in our society coming home from work and shouting at his wife to get in the kitchen and make a sandwich.

You say this like that’s a typical behaviour, rather than something that happened in upper middle class households in the 50s and essentially never again.

The women are often treated like domestic slaves and made to carry out labours like fetching firewood, cleaning and carrying stuff when traveling.

Even if the division of labour that you’re describing did/does exist, which I’m not sure about, the tasks you’re describing are just as necessary as hunting food, so I’m not sure why women are “dependent” on men when men handle the one task but women are “treated like domestic slaves” when they handle the other.

guest
guest
6 years ago

Re coming home with game:

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22595-the-fold-behind-the-knee-kopenawa-and-alberts-falling-sky

‘For example, we learn that Yanomami hunters never eat their catch: they give it away, relying on what others give to them. It makes no commercial sense: the best hunters derive no benefit.

Such explanations are often met by a sneering, “noble savages” riposte from uninformed cynics. But whatever else giving away your food might be, it’s a sacrifice to the community’s well-being above the personal. Davi has his own quite different explanation: the animals, it turns out, recognize a “hunter who generously gives away all the prey he arrows, they fall in love with him.” Yanomami boys are taught that they will never become good hunters unless they are generous.

It turns out that this is the most fundamental of all Yanomami codes and extends beyond life. Davi explains, “Since we are mortal, we think it is ugly to cling too firmly to the objects we happen to possess. We do not want to die greedily clutching them in our hands.”‘

guest
guest
6 years ago

Hi Dave–I’m an engineer, not a scientist, so you didn’t ask me, but I’m going to suggest you get in touch with your local Women in STEM group; you’ll probably get some great advice online but it would also be valuable to you to meet people face to face who’d be happy to share information about their jobs, and maybe invite you to have some experience of them.

I’m also going to mention something to you that may seem counterintuitive, but finding work and making a living in science is highly dependent on government policy. This was pointed out to me years ago by someone who works in environmental science–government doesn’t believe in environment, doesn’t fund environmental research, no jobs for environmental scientists. This is true to some degree of every branch of research. I guess your job security would be relatively safe if you’re into research for war stuff, or stuff that will guarantee that someone makes lots of money.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
6 years ago

Although the theory of man the hunter may seem sexist it’s supported by a lot of evidence and rather than being a product of patriarchy it actually explains why we’ve evolved to be a patriarchical species.

The women in most HG societies are treated pretty badly by the men. A common occurrence is that when a man comes home from hunting his wife is expected to jump and and get the fire going for cooking. If she doesn’t she gets a walloping.

Eew, who bought us evo psych and dog whistle racism for Christmas? Please tell me you kept the receipt so we can exchange it for a nice kitten video. =|

@Dave

Welcome! ^^

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
6 years ago

Hi Dave

I’m also a new commenter and have been enjoying reading WHTM scientific discourse for some time now; it’s really the only place on the internet where I feel I actually learn something from the comments. I look forward to talking with you in the future!

Edit: I feel like I didn’t actually address what you said. I love neuroscience, I can’t imagine working in any other field. If you like science I just recommend following your passion, as cheesy as it sounds.

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

WeirwoodTreeHugger:
If you start writing it again then I’d very much like to read it.

guest:
Thanks very much, that’s a good idea. I looked on the internet and there’s a group called WISE in my city. I’ll see if my school can get me to go to something that they do. They have an event on 14th January but I might not be able to get there.

I don’t really want to make large amounts of money but I also don’t want to work on weapons. It might be difficult to know whether your research is going to be used for weapons or not though, lots of my favourite scientists discovered things which have been used for weapons. I would like to have something which pays a steady wage of course but I don’t want to become a millionaire if it means working in an environment that’s scary and full of bullies.

Thanks so much for the advice.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs:
Thanks!

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

DepressedCNS:
I really like it here even if some of the people terrify me. It took a big act of courage to post for the first time but it’s getting less scary each time now.

My passion isn’t so much for any one field as for being able to discover new things and advance what humans know. When I read books about scientists it’s so exciting to imagine that I was in their shoes and was seeing everything for the first time and trying to work out what it meant. It must be so amazing to realise that you’re the first human being ever to see a particular thing and that nobody can hold your hand and explain it to you, but instead you need to explain it to everyone else, and to know that in a hundred years time other people are going to be learning about it in school. Even if nobody remembers your name it’s still something you can give to everyone that comes after you.

I’m also in the process of trying to work out whether I’m religious or not and while I don’t want to call myself an atheist even online yet, I think science is something that makes a lot more sense to me than a lot of other things that people teach me.

Is neuroscience a woman-friendly field?

Viscaria
Viscaria
6 years ago

Please feel free to comment, lurkers! The first time I ever posted here I was so nervous, and then I put my foot in it rather spectacularly. Luckily everyone was understanding and cool.

Paradoxical Intention
6 years ago

@Dave: Being a graphic designer, I have no idea if neuroscience is a woman-friendly field, but I can share one of my favorite books by a woman neuroscientist!

It’s called The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons from the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals, and it’s by one Kelly Lambert, PhD.

I found it while I was doing a presentation on rats for one of my college-level science courses, and it’s a really interesting read. I learned quite a bit, and it’s one of the books that turned me from a rat-hater to a rat-lover, and I feel like it’s helped me understand myself (and of course the lil’ babby rats) a bit more.

Also, welcome Girl Dave! Did someone link you to your Welcome Package yet?

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
6 years ago

It must be so amazing to realise that you’re the first human being ever to see a particular thing and that nobody can hold your hand and explain it to you, but instead you need to explain it to everyone else, and to know that in a hundred years time other people are going to be learning about it in school. Even if nobody remembers your name it’s still something you can give to everyone that comes after you.

This is why I love my work as a palaeontologist even though it barely pays minimum wage. It’s pure discovery, with every find adding a new piece to the puzzle or a new angle to the view. And every time I see one of my published theories work its way up into a documentary… *happy squeal*

(For the record, palaeontology is surprisingly friendly to women, but it’s not at all friendly to religious people. You need a high tolerance for Dawkinsian asstheists, or at least the ability to tune their self-important hate-rants out. =P)

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
6 years ago

Viscaria,
I wonder how often that even happened in the fifties? Probably less often than reactionaries think. Neither of grandmothers are/were the type to stand for that. They both did the bulk of the domestic work, but they were definitely not domestic slaves. Neither of my grandfathers were the types to have the slightest inclination to treat their wives like slaves either.

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

Paradoxical Intention:
Thanks! Rats are very cute. We had some once in my school and they were amazing. I was always taught that rats are filthy but they were clean and squeaked all the time.

I’ve seen the welcome package. It’s full of jokes I don’t understand but it looks like it would annoy a lot of MRAs.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs:
Have you published things for documentaries? I’d really like to see those now, knowing that I actually talked to the scientist who did some of that. That’s weird but very cool.

I’m not sure about Dawkinsian asstheists. I like Dawkins sometimes when he talks about science but then when he says things about Muslims then I feel I have to defend my people even if I’m not sure I want to stay a Muslim. It’s confusing. I wish there were people like him who weren’t also Islamophobes. I sometimes dream about being that person myself but I’m not sure I could do it in real life with the amount of hatred that he gets.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
6 years ago

@Dave

There are a couple of options for you. First, the freshman year of university is practically made for you to be able to dip your toes into a variety of fields until you find what most sparks your passion. There’s not any need to declare a major immediately. Unfortunately this makes you kind of dependent upon the quality of the professor – even a great field can be turned into a snorefest by a bad prof.

Your other major option is, if you have a postsecondary school nearby (university or community college), you might try contacting them to see if there is any way you can arrange 30 minute interviews with faculty in different fields. There is unlikely to be a program in place for this (but you never know until you ask) but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means that you’ll have to set it up yourself. This can be super-intimidating, just cold-calling strangers to ask if you can interview them, but you are extremely unlikely to be turned down for an interview, especially if you approach younger or female scientists.

Something to think about. Welcome to WHTM!

weirwoodtreehugger
6 years ago

Dave,
You’ve inspired me. I’m going to write a new blog post tonight. I don’t know if you’re still following this thread so I don’t know if you’ll notice or not.

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
6 years ago

Welcome, Dave!

While I’m naturally extremely fond of my own field, it’s my experience that enthusiasm and talent aren’t fungible: people don’t perform nearly as well if they aren’t doing something they love. For that reason I’m going to recommend that you do as PolicyOfMadness says and behave like a scientific dilettante for a while until you find what you need.

Based on the people I know in science, the two fields that are the most female-dominated are pharmacology and biology, but it really does depend more on what your local community is like than what the global scientific establishment is like. I know less about religion-friendliness; I’m told that geology has large numbers of young Muslims going into it because the Saudis are fed up of relying on foreigners for oil geology, but I would be speaking from ignorance if I said anything definitive about it.

I will give you three pieces of advice:

Firstly, if you want a field which is going to revolutionise itself over the course of our lifetime, do biotech. The next fifty years of biotech are going to be amazing in ways that the last fifty years of computer science were: it’s time really does seem to almost be upon us. If you want to work in a field where exciting research is going to happen during your career, this is my best guess for where to go.

Secondly, if you want a field which allows you to go into other areas and work with them in case you prefer those areas to your own, do physical chemistry. It teaches you skills that can easily be transferred to other fields, gives you the freedom to actually work out what sort of science most interests you, and is actually pretty interesting in its own right.

(Disclaimer: my sister works as a physical chemist.)

Thirdly, you may want to stay away from physics. I say this with sadness: I love physics dearly, but it attracts the Great White Male egos like nothing else does.

Dave
Dave
6 years ago

PolicyofMadness:
I live in Britain and our universities make you decide what you’re going to study much earlier, almost making us decide what our career is going to be before we start our A-levels. It’s very stressful. Most of the people I know who know what they want to do are doing it because it’s what their parents have decided for them, usually because it’s what their parents did. Everyone else just thinks of something that they’ve heard is good whether or not it actually is. Our school doesn’t really have a very good careers guidance person either because he’s very friendly and very supportive but if he’s supportive all the time even when people are doing something that makes no sense for example deciding to study art history and start a band, so I’m not sure how much I trust him to give me actually good advice.

Contacting the university directly sounds really really scary so I might have to pass on that.

WeirwoodTreeHugger:
I read it and thought it was really funny. Thanks very much for writing it. Please don’t feel that you have to do it just for me though, I would feel very guilty if you did that.

EJ (The Other One):
Thanks a lot for the advice and for the welcome! I’ll look at the fields you mentioned. I don’t want to do oil geology because of the politics but pharmacology, biology and biotech sound really interesting. I’d never heard of biotech before but I’ve read wikipedia about it now and it sounds interesting so I’ll do some more reading about it. Being part of the growth of a new field sounds really exciting and means that there won’t be as much of an old established group of people to avoid as there would be in other fields.

Thanks again to PolicyofMadness and EJ for being much less scary than I thought you would be.

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

I wonder how often that even happened in the fifties? Probably less often than reactionaries think. Neither of grandmothers are/were the type to stand for that. They both did the bulk of the domestic work, but they were definitely not domestic slaves. Neither of my grandfathers were the types to have the slightest inclination to treat their wives like slaves either.

On the subject of reactionary myths around mid-century American women, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend this 2009 article by Ariel Levy:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/11/16/lift-and-separate

Here’s the third paragraph:

” It’s as if feminism were plagued by a kind of false-memory syndrome. Where we think we’ve been on our great womanly march forward often has less to do with the true coördinates than with our fears and desires. We tend to imagine the fifties and the early sixties, for example, as a time when most American women were housewives. “In reality, however, by 1960 there were as many women working as there had been at the peak of World War II, and the vast majority of them were married,” Collins writes. Forty per cent of wives whose children were old enough to go to school had jobs. This isn’t just about the haze of retrospection: back then, women saw themselves as homemakers, too. Esther Peterson, President Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of Labor, asked a high-school auditorium full of girls how many of them expected to have a “home and kids and a family.” Hands shot up. Next, Peterson asked how many expected to work, and only a few errant hands were raised. Finally, she asked the girls how many of them had mothers who worked, and “all of those hands went up again,” Peterson wrote in her 1995 memoir, “Restless.” Nine out of ten of the girls would end up having jobs outside the house, she explained, “but each of the girls thought that she would be that tenth girl.” “

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
6 years ago

Dave,

Sorry for the late reply. Psychology is itself very women friendly. It’s female-dominated at the student level. Neuroscience tends to have more men as it is rather data science heavy, though I personally have always had positive experiences (After I left Arizona, see first comment!) Neuroscience research itself can be kind of reductionist and sexist though, especially because you might actually have to deal with research on the differences between men and women’s brains which can be wildly misinterpreted by the general population (see EJs comment re: science and the general public). If you are really interested I recommend checking out “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine, the author is a neuroscientist who debunks lots of neuro findings related to innate differences between women’s and men’s brains, though I have not read it. I know I’m preaching here 🙂 but neuroscience is a great field if you are interested in new technology; many labs use technology and statistical techniques that are really brand new, though neuro labs require extensive funding so you have to work in an area where that is available

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