The myth of male dominated evolution and society is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is hardly questioned anymore. In reality though, women have an enormous impact on evolutionary development and in the creation of human civilization.
In a year where Americans will be deciding whether or not to elect their first female president, it is more important than ever to reevaluate what we stand for as a country. It’s time to take a hard look at the biases we hold and challenge the preconceived notion that society is driven by male forces. As Dr. Irena Scott put it, “Nearly all mammal species have social groups of families formed and led by females, including rodents, rabbits, and bats which make up most of the mammalian species.”
Which is good news considering the different roles men and women play, not only in biology, but in our culture. Men and women resolve conflicts in very different ways. Men often resort to barbaric and violent forms to communicate their opinions. Women, by contrast, have been found to resolve their conflicts and spend little time fighting.
More good news is that if we look to our primate ancestors, we can find all kinds of evidence that support the idea that women are the main drivers of society and evolution. Evidence of not only the implicit male-bias of researchers and of our culture can be found in the belief that primates, as well as other mammals, organize themselves around the male.
In essence, this view sees the male as the leader of the group and the females are relegated to members of his “harem”. This view, propagated by individuals like E.O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology, is patently false. The only need female mammals have for a male in group dynamics is for protection and procreation. They only need one male for that. This doesn’t exactly sound like a harem.
Another male-centered myth is that the male is instrumental for innovation and discovery. The often trotted out example being tool making. Many believe that it was the male, for purposes of warfare and hunting, who was the primary innovator and tool maker.
However, based on observations of primates like chimpanzees, it is shown that females played a central role in the manufacture and use of spears for hunting. A behavior not seen in male chimpanzees. Although ancient stone artifacts are often presented as spear points, they, in fact, had many uses like scraping, pounding, chopping and slicing.
There is even evidence females were the first to use agricultural tools. As Dr. Scott says, “It was woman who developed domestication, harvesting, weaving, pottery making, planting and additional activities associated with agriculture”. However, women’s contribution to domestication is not recognized today.
Due to the fact women in most mammalian groups are responsible for child rearing, this means it is the females who are responsible for passing down tool-making knowledge acquired by the group. This essentially makes women the stewards and conduits of evolutionary and technological advancement. This can be seen more concretely in observation of Japanese macaques.
When researchers provisioned a troop of macaques by putting sweet potatoes along the beach to bring them out into the open, one older female began to wash the sand off her sweet potato. Over time, her entire family adopted the practice and, before long, all the monkeys washed their sweet potatoes before eating them.
In addition, if evolutionary and cultural advancement were in the hands of males, civilization would most likely never develop. The female maternal instincts lead to the ability to bond with other like females and this does not generally occur with males. Males are often hobbled by their striving for dominance and have little response for the need of group preservation. Females can often work together in a more collaborative effort.
In a male dominated society, many are unaware of the role females played in early civilization. However, as researchers like Dr. Scott have shown, women have had a vast impact on the animal and human kingdoms. Further, she and others have shown that human societies were composed principally of females.
As we stand poised to elect our first female president, it is important to take into account the contributions women made to our evolutionary and cultural success. Equally important is to reconsider the patriarchal myth that women played a secondary role in the development of our civilization. If not, we’ll remain complicit with a culture that continually makes women second-class citizens and denies them positions of power, positions they rightly deserve.