Was Gender Equality Really a Thing in Prehistoric Peoples?

After reading my novel, Azaria, one of the points people often challenge me on is whether females really had as much power as the males. In the story, the characters Azaria, Daneel and Yumineh are free to behave in the same ways as their male counterparts. They can hunt, fight, explore, compete and dominate just like the boys. Not all choose to do so, of course. Azaria and Yumineh are brave, adventurous souls, while Daneel prefers the safety of camp and the flow of gossip.

But would it really have been that way 13,000 years ago. Sadly, the “Me man – you woman” stereotype is a view many people share today. It’s hard for some to imagine how people running around with rocks and sticks could have a more progressive attitude toward sex equality than we have now.

Scientists and archaeologists believe this misogynist view is completely wrong. The truth is women did just about everything men did. They also find that prehistoric men also performed tasks many people today still consider “women only.” Here are some fascinating examples.

So how do scientists know this? For one thing, they have studied modern hunter-gatherer groups. Yes, there are still groups of people in isolated parts of the world who live very much as our ancestors did 13,000 years ago. They’ve found that these groups show a high degree of equality between the sexes.

Furthermore, in a new study by a team of scientists from the University College London, even more evidence for the equality of the sexes is provided. These scientists lived among hunter-gatherers in the Philippines and the Congo and found these groups show a low level of relatedness – the number of family members in your group.

This is unexpected, because people tend to want to live with their loved ones. So why would someone choose to live with so few family members? The scientists compared their hunter-gatherers with other small groups, specifically male-dominated, pastoral groups and found them to have much higher levels of relatedness than the hunter-gatherers.

This means relatedness is inversely connected to gender equality. Groups with fewer related members tend to show more equality between the sexes. And it makes sense if you think about it. In hunter-gatherer groups, wives decide where they’ll live just as much as husbands do. This diversifies these small bands, ensuring family bloodlines are spread to many groups.

As is turns out, spreading the family bloodline is a great idea. Not only does it reduce the likelihood of incest, but it also encourages cooperation between non-related peoples, which allowed the rise of civilization. So cheers to gender equality!

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