Our ancestors and we.

They’re our ancestors. Men, women and children had fireside dinner and chat 300,000 years ago. Women were not asked to sit in separate places. I do not think women were forced to eat less or leftovers.

After 300,000 years, in the 21st century, women are secluded in many parts of the world only because they are women. Not only that, they are forced to eat leftovers and they obviously suffer from malnutrition. Some evolutionary biologists may find logic behind it. I do not find any fucking logic to oppress half of the world’s human population. Sometimes civilization is used to destroy equality.


  1. Chris Ho-Stuart says

    This really bothers me.

    I’m a supporter of equality. I love the A+ movement; it’s a move in the right direction.

    I’m also a skeptic; I need reasons for accepting a statement of fact.

    You seem to be projecting here. On what basis do you form beliefs about social structure in our ancestors?

    I don’t know what social structures were in place 300,000 years ago. I don’t expect them to be a close match to the structures in place today — neither the structures in my own circles, or in repressive theocratic societies, or in (say) traditional Japanese society.

    But I do know that all kinds of societies frequently adopt some strong gender related societal roles and expectations. Equality in the sense I advocate and try to live out and support is not an attempt to return to some ideal of the past. It is an attempt to work out a better way for the future. Some of the features of modern life give us new opportunities for a fairer and more equitable society.

    Traditional hunter gatherer societies usually (I think) have strong status for male and females within their society; but not equality. It’s common to have feasts or ceremonies which are limited to one gender only. It’s also reasonably common to have precedence in who gets to eat first, and who gets priority in a time of famine.

    I don’t think you can project what we would like to support and encourage for the future back onto the past.

    It’s also worth noting: 300,000 years ago there were at least two and possibly more distinct human subspecies; much more distinct than the biologically minor variations that exist within our species today. I don’t see any reason to presume a social or cultural uniformity 300,000 years ago; people then, like people now, probably had all kinds of variation in social structures and conventions.

    • Me says

      I’m not Muslim and I’m pretty sure I’m fully dressed. Although just being a woman, perhaps I am not qualified to have an opinion on the matter.

    • DaveL says

      Do people on the street point and laugh at you, that you cannot tell the difference between clothed and nude? Do you ever feel inexplicably weighed down after bathing, and find it takes an inordinate amount of time to dry yourself? Do you find lovemaking confusing and strangely unsatisfying?

  2. says

    I agree that we have little if any evidence that the picture represents reality.

    “Traditional hunter gatherer societies usually (I think) have strong status for male and females within their society; but not equality. It’s common to have feasts or ceremonies which are limited to one gender only. It’s also reasonably common to have precedence in who gets to eat first, and who gets priority in a time of famine.”

    Also true. On the other hand, keep in mind that traditional hunter-gatherer societies today need not necessarily have the same social structure as societies 300,000 years ago. Just because technology hasn’t advanced in some societies don’t mean that other things (language, culture etc) haven’t either.

    • Chris Ho-Stuart says

      Absolutely agree.

      Another point… I suspect there would be significant variety in cultures and societies around the world at that time… as much and quite possibly more variety than we have today. That’s only a guess, but not a totally uninformed guess. The biological variety in humanity at that time was greater than we have within the human species today.

      Neither was human society static in the past. The rate of technological development in the present has resulted in very rapid changes over short periods; but there were also substantial changes in the past. Presumptions of stasis and uniformity are just as unlikely as utopian presumptions. Over the last 300,000 years there have been a series of glacials (“ice ages”) and interglacials (like the present Holocene). In a dynamic world, I’d expect rise and fall of paleolithic societies as well.

  3. Kevin Alexander says

    I’m a big fan of yours Taslima but I have to agree with other commenters and I think that you are projecting your wishes here.
    Human behaviour follows mostly from human nature and that’s something we’re born with. Civilization is about overcoming that nature. If anything 300,000 years ago women had it even worse the they do today. Over that time span we have learned, thanks to people like you, that it’s wrong and that women are equal to men. If things still look ugly it’s because the civilizing job isn’t done yet.

    • punchdrunk says

      You’re using the same sorts of projections in your assertions.
      We don’t know what ‘human nature’ was like that long ago. Which seemed to be your point at the beginning.

  4. kraut says

    “If anything 300,000 years ago women had it even worse the they do today”

    From history we know that most societies with religions based on animism were matriarchal.

    Almost all our mammalian relatives living in groups have organizations where the alpha is female(s) or the leadership is shared among a male and female alpha.
    From there one could deduce that early humanoids had equally either mostly female leadership or were at least equal.

    A subjugation of the female as happens in so called “civilized” society does rarely (if ever) exist in animal groupings or in situations were the female just meets the male for breeding.

  5. The Bobs says

    “Traditional hunter gatherer societies usually (I think) have strong status for male and females within their society; but not equality.”

    At least some of the Native American peoples were fully co-equal. Some were even matriarchal. Have you ever spoken to a full blood native woman? I have two friends who are. The difference in their self-perceived status within their societies is readily apparent. They are not submissive or deferential.

    But the problem I have with what you said is that it amounts to a justification of patriarchy. Patriarchy is the worst thing that humans have ever done. It has prevented humans from fully working together and deprived billions of women of their lives. Stolen by men. Men, tortured by their own egos, taking it out on the women.

    I agree with Talisma, the patriarchy had to have started at some time in the past, so there must be a time before that. 300,000 years ago were neanderthals, human beings with brains as large as ours, but with a different type of society. They were killed off by the violent, egotistical and patriarchal homo sapiens. I don’t know that this is true, but there are reasons to think it could be. My own feeling is that the oppressive patriarchy we have now started about 10,000 years ago when the first cities were formed. Religion was used then and now as a justification for the subjugation of women, just as it was used to justify slavery and racism.

    The most oppressive and patriarchal region now is the middle east, where “civilization” started.

    I thought the real point of this post was to paint a picture of what she thinks is the ideal human society. Why aren’t you talking about that?

    • Chris Ho-Stuart says

      Hi Bobs. There are many things wrong with your response, in my opinion.

      In my post I did not indicate anything about one gender being more significant than another or a ranking of any kind. I also emphasized that we don’t know what society was like 300,000 years ago; and also that it is unlikely to be a single uniform society anyway.

      My understanding is that typically both genders have status and importance in a hunter-gather society; but they are not equal. BOTH PATRIARCHAL OR MATRIARCHAL STRUCTURES MAY BE EXAMPLES OF THAT. So also is the case where a “leadership” role linked to gender varies with context; which cannot be simply called matriarchal or patriarchal. In fact, I suspect labelled of societies as patriarchal or matriarchal is usually over simplistic. But in any case, these are all cases where the genders are not equal — gender makes a difference and a constraint on your roles within the society. Which is what I said was usually the case. You just gave an example of the same thing.

      NEITHER matriarchal nor patriarchal societies are examples of the kind of equality of standing that I think we should be striving for in directions for society and civilization in the future.

      You speak of knowing two women in native American societies. My point that I have made repeatedly is that you cannot pick one society as definitive. I’m from Australia; and in Australia we had hundreds of different Aboriginal societies and language groups at the time Europeans first arrived. And they were different from each other; just as European societies are different from each other. I would expect that 300,000 years ago there were MANY human societies with all kinds of variations in how gender played out within the society.

      But most importantly of all; I object in the strongest possible terms to the idea that any of this is about justifying patriarchy or anything else. That is indeed the major error; we cannot hope to understand ancient or modern traditional societies by trying to fit them into a justification or critique of any particular perspective; neither equality nor patriarchy nor economic theories. Trying to view another society through the lens of our own expectations or ideals is one of the basic errors in any kind of serious study of another culture.

      My other main point is that we DON’T use ancient societies as an ideal or justification for the future. The kind of society I would like to strive for in our future is based on equality and fairness and justice; and whether it happens to match the past or not makes not the slightest difference.

      • Kevin Alexander says

        My other main point is that we DON’T use ancient societies as an ideal or justification for the future.

        My main point as well. There’s a real problem with the Garden of Eden phenomenon which is the seeming need to see the past as the good old days even though we have to imagine it.
        We know absolutely nothing about prehistorical societies. We can only guess based on extant anthropological examples.
        Matriarchal societies? Name the anthropologist who discovered this wonder. I’d like to read his work or, more likely, her work.
        A big reason why Steven Pinker’s book The Blank Slate is so hated is that he exposed, with evidence, this fallacy.

  6. Birger Johansson says

    Nets do not survive except in rare cases, but surviving fragments indicate that women and children may have played a role in trapping smaller prey using nets.
    So not all meat came from (male-dominated) big-game hunting.

    Bushmen like the !Kung might illustrate the lives of early humans, but the Inuit (where gender roles were quite distinct) should also be considered.

    Anyway, the past is not a rigid blueprint for how human societies should be organised -just look at the high frequency of homicide in the old skeletons near the Atacama desert.

  7. Bob Jase says

    I also see no logical reason to oppress women but I don’t see anything wrong with eating leftovers, I make certain things like chili, soup, spaghetti and bbq in big batches just so I can enjoy the leftovers.

    Nothing like reheated spaghetti for breakfast!

    • fork says

      If this is a joke, hur, hur, starving women.
      If it’s not, leftovers means something else in this context. It means women eat last, whatever is left over, if anything, after everyone else, especially the men, have had their fill.

      • Bob Jase says

        Then its a different meaning. What’s being called leftovers here is what I’d politely call table scraps, impolitely called garbage.

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