I cannot politely say why I think it is that white, Western, and usually male anthropologists feel the need to insist — in the face of constant data to the contrary — that hunting is more masculine, more dangerous, and more prestigious than gathering. However, I find it tragic that such blatant lies about human nature — because let's be honest: that's what they are — are still extant in a book written by a woman scientist in 2002. She notes, for example, her initial belief that behavior was biologically determined (2); that the majority of scientific literature available at the time which reviewed human nature consisted of androcentric "big, chest-thumping books that touted our selfish, individualistic, aggressive nature, the inevitability of male domination, and the success of the clever, deceptive man who turned every situation to suit his personal end" (9) — which should have been a warning flag in and of itself; that hunting was supposedly more risky than foraging (12); that monogamy is "natural" to humans and definitively required for good child-rearing (32-33); that males invariably dominate females in the primate species (95); or that individual prehistoric women nurtured men (e.g. through sex, healing, feeding, possessive behavior, doing "arduous chores" for the man, etc.) due to needing an individual man to stick around to protect and provide for the individual woman (124). Fortunately the author also notes when she has learned these beliefs are incorrect; unfortunately she does not debunk them all.

Interestingly, even while including the usual garbage about "mighty hunter/man > drudge gatherer/woman," the author freely admits how persistent erroneous prejudice can become: "In science, as in other aspects of life, you can know something without realizing that you know it, and only when some jarring incongruity forces a contradiction to the forefront of your mind do you recognize what your previously implicit knowledge really means" (17). Her confession of this common human mental crutch gave me a great deal more sympathy for her, since I've been there myself. I remember the almost literal shock of recognition I had as a very young woman, the realization that I knew — and had unwittingly known for a very long time — that women are not just second class citizens in much of the world… but also that sucking up to men will never make you one of the guys, no matter how desperately you might wish this.

Returning to the book — this is theoretically supposed to be a book review, after all ;) — I was surprised to see Taylor is aware that protection from violence for females and children (regardless of species) occurs most dependably when females band together to stop it (102-103) — and yet (as noted above) Taylor still advances the amusing old trope about a female needing a male for protection! Consequently I am unsure as to whether Taylor still believes the standard (and wildly inaccurate) cant about monogamy which she also expresses. It is my hope that, since authoring this fascinating book, she has indeed read the recent scientific research on both monogamy and human nature, as it strongly suggests our prehistoric ancestors tended to troop in mingled groups rather than dangerously isolate ourselves in opposite-sex pair-bonds.

I am hopeful also that future scientific research will reveal that much of the supposed need for "[m]en protect[ing] and guard[ing] women and children in times of stress" (32) will vanish when men are no longer so bitterly and terminally invested in proving their supposed manhood through expression of property rights regarding women and children — at which point men will not need to create those stressful situations in the first place. Indeed, the many examples of still-extant matrifocal cultures in the world today seem to be already presenting this solution. Hopefully someday soon both scientists and the general public will perceive that jarring incongruity, and recognize what this previously implicit knowledge means.

Also particularly fascinating to me was learning about male dominance — as well as the fact that the word dominance itself is a poor choice which subtly directs our thoughts along incorrect paths of research. For example, we've been taught most of our lives that the most aggressive guy wins — but it turns out that's not actually the case. In every case studied, on every heavily social species examined, the most highly aggressive males are in fact the biggest losers, stuck at the bottom of the social hierarchy. As it turns out, these behaviorally disturbed animals most commonly do not receive good mothering, and so never learn how to "de-escalate cycles of growing conflict" (62). Consequently not only do they engage in more fights and riskier (and personally dangerous) behavior, but they can also be easily recognized by their greater scarring and due to being avoided and rejected by their peers.

Thus it turns out that, contrary to the usual stereotype, the most successful males are never the most physically dominant and aggressive. Instead it is those who, having been raised by attentive mothers, learned how to roughhouse without degenerating into open conflict: "those with social skills, with the ability to work with others, to form coalitions and relationships, to lure, appease, and cajole, and to get rid of those who can't play by the rules are the ones who make it to the top" (131). By expressing behavior which is both generous (156-157), and constructively assertive (62), they demonstrate an understanding of both when and how to back down the aggression leading to a fight. Most importantly, they also know when to share, to reassure, and to befriend. Why is this so critical? Because in the most social species (such as the primates) it is actually the females who decide who the most dominant male will be:

If by chance an aggressive leader, who is abusive to the females or who harms the infants or juveniles, should rise to the dominant position, the females may throw their support to another leader or to a coalition that will oust the leader, sometimes with fatal force, and replace him with a socially skilled leader who enjoys the broader support of the females. (140)

 

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