How natural is a sexual division of labour? Very natural, claims a popular theory. Indeed, it was the secret to our success: men evolved to hunt, women to forage. This allowed women to focus on childcare while staying economically productive; after all, one can gather food with children. Men, on the other hand, could focus on high-risk hunting. At the end of the day, everyone could have steak and veggies for dinner.
But why exactly do we say this? Is this based on solid evidence? Or are we simply projecting our gender roles onto the human past?
A recent piece in Scientific American argued that this theory is outdated and should be "buried for good". As you might imagine, some heated discussion ensued. This is understandable. But I felt that much of the science was lost under the storm. To clean things up, I invited one of the authors, Cara Ocobock, to discuss the paper on the show.
I hope this can clarify the argument. It might even clear some of the unnecessary controversy. At the very least, this was a very stimulating discussion! I learned a lot of things, from the remarkable lifestyle of female Neanderthals to how oestrogen helps in muscle recovery.
I hope you enjoy the conversation! If you do, consider becoming a supporter of On Humans on Patreon.com/OnHumans.
Scholars: Sarah Lacey, Cara Wall-Sheffler, Vivek Venkataraman (ep. 14), Frank Marlow, Kristen Hawkes (ep. 6), Angela Saini, Richard Wrangham (ep. 21)
Terms: archaeology, physiology, paleoanthropology, Holocene, Pleistocene, atlatl (spear-thrower), CT scanning, lactation, testosterone, oestrogen
Ethnic groups and places: Martu (Australia), Agta (Philippines) Inuit, Batek (Malaysia), Çatalhöyük (Turkey)
Books: Patriarchs (Saini), Why Men (Lindisfarne & Neale), Dawn of Everything (Graeber & Wengrow)
For articles and other links, see https://onhumans.substack.com/p/links-for-episode-29
Thank you, as always, for listening!