Posts Tagged “evolution”

With a degree in Mircobiology and minor in Psychology, I’ve always been interested in the intersection of the two, in particular how our biology dictates and/or strongly affects most, if not all, of our psychology…even when we don’t realize it.

I ran across an article a while back about Neanderthals proposing that  recent archaeological evidence suggests female Neandertals may have hunted alongside the males, and that fact may have contributed to their extinction.  Two thoughts there:  1)  How equitable!  Males and females doing the hard work together.  Isn’t that sweet?  2)  If they are willing to draw the “may have contributed to their extinction” inference for Neanderthals….what if they flipped that logic around on us?

Here is the conclusion:  Women belong at home.

Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t say, “I think women belong in the home.”  It certainly isn’t a personal value statement.  Women can do whatever they like and I support that.  I’m saying nature dictates that for species like ours with long gestation periods and unsafe environments….the species does better if women stay safe…which means they stay at home.

Here is why:  Let’s say there are two tribes…..each with 5 men and 5 women.  In tribe A the women and men hunt.  In tribe B the men only hunt. 

Tribe A:  4 people die hunting, two men and two women.  Now there are only 3 women left to have babies.  How many babies can the tribe have in a year?  Three…and that will be true until the female babies reach puberty.  Every woman that dies is a big deal for the tribe….it reduces the overall reproductive potential.

Tribe B:  4 people die hunting…..all men.  Now there is only one man left, but there are still 5 women left to have babies.  How many babies can the tribe have in a year?  Still 5.  The reproductive potential of the tribe has not changed. 

This thought experiment neatly shows that men’s lives are not nearly as valuable as women’s.  Men can die in flocks.  Everytime a woman dies, the reproductive potential of the tribe/species decreases.  In short, one man can have a hundred (or even a thousand) babies, while the reverse is not true.  From the perspective of the species, it pays to keep the women safe, which means they aren’t out hunting.  They belong at home….where its safe.  No sexism required.  (For those who object I point out again that this is not a personal value judgment…it simply IS.  The math doesn’t lie.  Those species who keep the fertile women safe long enough to have babies will succeed.  Those who don’t will be extinct.)

The point here is that often times we place blame on the environment (on men for example for trying to keep women down) when the fact is we just don’t understand the biology well enough to know that there are often other, better, more constructive explanations that do not require (in this case) men to be perpetuating the “women should stay at home” viewpoint.  Division of labor is an inborn tendency for good reason.

I’m not sure if Neanderthals died out because women hunted, but I do know if women hunted they must’ve been about as big as the males and skilled with weapons…..which debunks the myth of big hairy oaf clubbing the woman and taking her back to the cave.  She would’ve clubbed him back.

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