Biological Anthropology Section
Society for Anthropological Sciences
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Danae G. Khorasani (UC - Riverside)
Sang-Hee Lee (UC Riverside)
Models proposing a paleolithic social division of human labor by sex have been influenced by androcentric sentiment for decades. These popular models of “Man the Hunter” and “Women the Gatherer” often assume a division of labor between men and women that was so significant, many believe it defined hominin evolution. Arguments regularly point to physical limitations of the female body as evidence to support theories favoring men’s specialized occupation as hunter and provider. These enduring beliefs assume much about the effect menstruation, pregnancy, and childcare have on a woman’s ability to hunt, provide, or lead. However, a growing body of ethnographic literature on women hunters allows us to reconsider the roles of paleolithic men and women and question the utility of a sexually divided past. Challenging deeply-rooted assumptions about prehistoric women, we argue that these biological limitations are socially constructed figments of a post-war masculinity and routinely fit into domestic tropes identified by previous scholars. Through literary review and material analysis, we found that the assumption of a sexual division of labor hinges on a weak body of supportive evidence that does not accurately reflect the rich variation of how different human societies organize labor. The danger of our continued engagement with weakly supported claims about prehistoric gender can be seen in the unequal representation of women in master narratives about human evolution, at the risk of naturalizing and reifying contemporary gender biases.