Do you want to know what makes me nuts?

And if not, what are you doing here?

Here‘s what makes me nuts: as best as anyone can tell, for most hunter-gatherer groups, the large majority of the calories taken in by the group was from women’s gathering, not men’s hunting.  Hunting was a sporadic and infrequent activity for most groups, and not a great source of calories, because while meat is tasty and full of fat, it is not easy to get, not even for big manly men with spears.

And yet evolutionary psychologists persist in publishing studies that assume that early human society was just like ours (just like our upper-middle-class, sixty-years-ago society, that is), except where we have (had) money, they had food.  In case you didn’t read the link, here’s the basic sum-up, and the part where I had a problem.  Apparently they ran a study about dating and determined, more or less, that pretty people prefer that their dates pay for their food.  This tendency was stronger in females than in males.  Also, people prefer to pay for the food of pretty people.  This tendency was stronger in males than in females.

Rather than assume that the reason for these tendencies was 1) pretty people value themselves more highly as sexual partners than non-pretty people, and are valued more highly than others, and 2) people have been raised in a culture in which men are supposed to pay, the evolutionary psychologists had this to say:

Early human feeding ecology organized human family units into systems where a man provided food sources, particularly meats, to a woman and the woman cooked the food and maintained the household and family (Carmody, Cone, Wrangham, & Secor, 2009; Carmody & Wrangham, 2009; Wrangham, Jones, Laden, Pilbeam, & Conklin-Brittain, 1999).

But that’s simply not true.  Early human feeding ecology – assuming that that means “hunter-gatherers” mostly got way more of their food from women’s labor than from men’s.  (Also, I think non-food-supply-related maintenance of the household and family was a much smaller job among hunter-gatherers than it is today.  I could be wrong, of course.)  The effort to naturalize certain features of our social interactions would be annoying even if it were based on solid premises, but it’s not.  Why is it not?

This is related, although not well, to this thing I’ve always had about The Taming of the Shrew.  See, I always think that I like The Taming of the Shrew, because I like modern “takes” on it, such as Kiss Me Kate or 10 Things I Hate About You. So I do things like buy tickets to productions of The Taming of the Shrew and then I sit and seethe because, instead of a totally hot Heath Ledger playing paintball with Julia Stiles, there’s this horrendously abusive asshole brainwashing an unreasonably nasty bitch into being a compliant servant.  Why do I want to watch this?

But there’s this thing that gets me.  In her final speech about why a woman owes obedience to her husband, Katherine says  it’s because husbands work so hard to earn the living that keeps their wives in such luxury.

Except that, in The Taming of the Shrew, they don’t!  Certainly Katherine’s husband doesn’t; the whole plot is that he’s looking to marry for money.  SHE (indirectly) provides the funds that support HIS ass.

I can’t tell if Shakespeare knows this and it’s all meant to be played for laughs, or if Shakespeare is just an asshole male who thinks women do owe their husbands obeisance just because the husbands have penises and the women don’t.  I’m kind of hoping it was meant to be played for laughs because I know Shakespeare can write an awesome (if hideously anti-Semetic) speech for a woman to triumph over the men around her.  And also it’s a pretty glaring error if he wasn’t aware of it.

But if Shakespeare was aware of this, most current producers of this play do not seem to be.  The show I saw years ago at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater didn’t play that speech for laughs; neither did the Elizabeth Taylor movie.  And this same thing is going on when evolutionary psychologists say, “Oh, well, our social patterns are set up this way because women are looking for a man who can provide them with all the food they’re going to eat.”  That was not the pattern.  The pattern was, women worked their asses off on a daily basis for relatively boring shit like berries and nuts and naturally occurring starches, which frequently required much labor to be made edible, and when men brought home a big animal carcass once in a while (depending on where they lived), everyone had a party and told these guys they were the most awesome guys to ever awesome.  And men typically distributed their kills widely among the tribe; they did not typically reserve the most or the best for their own families.

Sometimes, when I’m willing to buy the very basic premise of evolutionary psychology, which is that the social groups in which humans evolved affect our behavior today, I think that possibly both the distribution of labor between men and women and the lying to ourselves about it are constant features of our lives.  Sometimes I think it’s all bullshit.

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One thought on “Do you want to know what makes me nuts?

  1. rebleah18 says:

    In total agreement. I don’t think there was an era in history where women just sat on their tuchases while men brought home the bacon (even in the 50s, looking perfect, having a perfect home, and never having a nervous breakdown was probably enough work!). This is especially true in the Jewish community, where women did all the earning/physical labor so the men could study. Plus, weren’t the hunter-gatherer societies communal? It’s not like one man was bringing home food for one woman or vice versa. . .
    And I do like dates to pay for my food, but not because I think I’m pretty. It’s usually because I think they’re boring and they should at least contribute something to the evening if not stimulating conversation:).

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