If Only Women Had Been Better Hunters...

Would gender power equations have evolved differently?

03/04/2017 1:40 PM IST | Updated 03/04/2017 5:17 PM IST
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How was it decided that Adam would be superior to Eve? I wondered, was the forbidden fruit made of steel and did Adam happen to be the one with stronger teeth? After all, it does take two to tango or to commit the original sin.

The overbearing pink messages on women's day, reminding me how strong and beautiful I am, further irked me.

Society needed men's strength as hunting was the only means to get food. In contrast, women were not perceived as fighting for collective needs.

At what point of human evolution was the very first seed of patriarchy sown?

There are multiple theories by social scientists about this question. My own hypothesis is based on the two key phenomena that must have happened when Homo sapiens first started living in "communities" during the prehistoric era:

  1. Life was much shorter, so in order to make up for the many deaths, women were expected to produce many children. Naturally, women entrusted with bearing and taking care of children.
  2. The second and the more important phenomenon pertains to food. Men were physically faster and stronger and could hunt more than women could. This allowed them to go out more in search of animals. They made contact with other tribes. It gave them power to wage wars and trade possessions with others. They were not limited to their home.

Men's ability to feed others gave him an unequivocal right to be recognised as more powerful. Society needed men's strength as hunting was the only means to get food. In contrast, little prestige was given to the tasks performed by women, who were not perceived as fighting for collective needs. Consequently, women became less important than men and subservient to them.

Over the centuries, this pattern was perpetuated even after hunting became unnecessary and contraception was invented.

We should perhaps pause to think that the reason men were considered superior many centuries ago was not the outcome of a "gender bias" but a "need bias"—it was men at the time that met the societal need for strength.

Today, societal needs from both men and women have changed. Physical strength and the ability to hunt have largely lost their relevance. Interestingly, some societies today are far more in need of women's strength to produce more children than men's physical ability to hunt food! This, of course, doesn't mean that such societies should become matriarchal! No society can thrive today without equal contribution from both men and women.

Some countries today do a good job in recognising these societal changes and adapting their socio-economic policies to them.

For example, long paid maternity leaves for women in Europe can be attributed to the need for these countries to compensate for their aging populations.

Some societies today are far more in need of women's strength to produce more children than men's physical ability to hunt food!

In Japan, the government stopped tax incentives to married couples partly to encourage dual income families and therefore bolster the stagnant economy.

One of my favourite examples is from a small rural country in Africa, Rwanda. Rwanda ranks as one of the top countries in the world for gender equality. It witnessed one of the worst genocides in human history in 1994, but since then the country's economy has shown an impressive growth of 8% per annum despite of limited natural resources. As many as 88% of the women and employed and they enjoy more government representation than men do. With women comprising 52% of the population, the country soon recognised that they needed both sexes to support their highly agricultural-dominated economy.

There are many such examples around the world where societies have evolved to be more neutral rather than patriarchal or matriarchal.

The ecosystem of a country like India cannot grow today without equal contribution by men and women. So then why should a man or woman be treated any differently from the other?

For a moment, let's go back to the past. What if both women and men hunted similarly and brought meat to the table? How would the superiority of a certain gender have evolved?

What if both sexes were not required to have intercourse to produce children (think some prehistoric version of artificial insemination). How would gender superiority have evolved?

While I'm hopeful that coming generations will not have to ask these questions, I can't help but mull over one thought: Only if we women could have been better hunters right in the beginning!

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