Until today, I always believed that women sat around tending to the kids as the men went out hunting and "brought the bacon" home. I don't think I learnt this at school, it's just one of those things I knew, you know - "general knowledge".
Then, as I was reading Born to Run I learnt that scientists can almost conclusively say that when we were hunter-gatherers the women were part of the chase. For instance, in most mammals, the male is much larger than the female. In human beings on the other hand, the male is on average only 15% larger than the female as we're both designed for the same function: running.
Our small nimble size is ideally suited to long chases. Human beings are designed to endure very long runs in pursuit of their prey - meat for food.
I once read of a woman who had a baby and went out to complete a marathon the very next (or same) day. I thought she was mad but apparently it's not so crazy. Hunter-gatherer women were exactly the same way; running was not some big thing that you had to go and do. It was a way of life - something you did everyday, kind of like waking up and watching TV in today's world.
Is there any evidence for this way of life?
In fact there is. Modern societies and the digital revolution remain very new. Hunter-gatherer societies still exist. The Mbuti or Bambuti pygmies in the Congo maintain their hunter-gatherer way of life. Both men and women gather and forage. When it comes to hunting for meat, the women and children take part by 'driving the prey into the nets' (Wikipedia).
The Mbuti live in groups of 15-60 and total 30- to 40,000 worldwide. They have developed hunting boundaries so that one group doesn't impinge on the ground of another. I expect that this is as much for sustainability as it is for maintaining the peace.
Ultimately, people who live this sort of nomadic lifestyle live as one large family. Everything is shared. I kind of envy this way of life. In modern society it's every man for himself: eat or be eaten.
On the issue of running. There is an ultra running competition every year, the Leadville Trail 100. Ultra running is running on very rough terrain, on routes where cars can't pass. It's been found that although men can out-sprint women over short distances, when it come to ultra races like the Leadville, 90% of women finish but only 50% of men do. The book didn't drill down on why this phenomenon exists but it serves as further evidence that we were both designed to persevere and persist over hard terrain for long distances.
Born to Run is a book about running but I decided to zone in on the issue of women for this post. I have reviewed the book here and written more about the book from a different angle in these posts:
I highly recommend this book.
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