Once and Future Gender Equality
Even today a few egalitarian societies remain. Like the !Kung of Africa or New Guinea’s Tchambuli.
Gender-equal Minoan Crête
Even further into history and we find Minoan Crête where women and men acted in partnership and women held high social, economic, political and religious positions. There, the so-called “feminine virtues” of peacefulness and sensitivity were celebrated. Actually, they seemed to have little inequality of any kind. Personal ambition wasn’t important, and archaeology finds no statues or pictures of those who sat on thrones.
Now move into pre-history, the Neolithic age, when goddesses were widely worshiped, and where women’s graves were central and richly decorated in some parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Evidence also points to high levels of equality among Paleolithic hunter- gatherers, since that’s what we find among forager peoples today. Boston College psychologist and research professor, Peter Gray, observes (to paraphrase):
During the twentieth century, anthropologists discovered and studied dozens of different hunter-gatherer societies, in various remote parts of the world, who had been nearly untouched by modern influences. Wherever they were found — in Africa, Asia, South America, or elsewhere; in deserts or in jungles — these societies had many characteristics in common.
In each of these societies, the dominant cultural ethos was one that emphasized individual autonomy, nonviolence, sharing, cooperation, and consensual decision-making. Their core value, which underlay all of the rest, was that of the equality of individuals.
These people were not passively egalitarian; they were actively so.
They would not tolerate anyone’s boasting, or putting on airs, or trying to lord it over others. Their first line of defense was ridicule. If anyone–especially if some young man–attempted to act better than others or failed to show proper humility in daily life, the rest of the group, especially the elders, would make fun of that person until proper humility was shown.
Recent research on population movement suggests the same thing.
Gender-equality in pre-history
Anthropologist, Mark Dyble of University College London, has identified a pattern: when men determine where a family lives, the core community is a network of closely related men, with their spouses on the periphery.
But when men and women have equal power to decide where to live the number of people who are related is much lower.
And people in hunter-gatherer societies tend to live in groups with few closely related individuals.
This suggests that sex equality was common in our earliest societies. And it may have created an evolutionary advantage, says Prof Dyble:
It gives you a far more expansive social network with a wider choice of mates, so inbreeding would be less of an issue. And you come into contact with more people and you can share innovations, which is something that humans do par excellence.
Gender equality is not only possible. It once was.