Re: Evolution of Sexism

Mary Beth Williams (
21 Aug 1996 02:23:29 GMT

In <4vdae9$> (Gerold Firl)
>In article <4v47n9$>, Beth Williams) writes:

>|> Before accepting Firl's comments as true, it would be useful to
>|> actually look at data (something he often forgets to do.) In
>|> egalitarian societies, women do not *fade* during times of
>|> violence/war...In fact, their social and economic importance is
>|> highlighted during these times (who keeps the group organized while
>|> men are at war? Who feeds the remaining population and provisions
>|> travelling troops?) The development of patriarchy is linked not to
>|> violence (which is more likely a *symptom*) but to private
>For one thing, you are looking at too short of a time scale to see how
>violence effects evolutionary change. I'm looking at a timescale of
>centuries, not years.

No, Firl, my work in both the Northeast and the Lower Illinois Valley
spans nearly a millenia and a half, not merely a few *years*.

>Secondly, what are these "egalitarian" societies you refer to? The
>farther we get from hunter-gather lifeways, the less egalitarian
>societies tend to get - with an interesting exception in the case of
>the west. hunter-gatherers do not tend to engage in war, except as the
>victims of more "advanced" cultures, so the most egalitarian cultures
>are not involved in the process of adapting to an environment of
>violence and war.

This is completely wrong. Both in the Lower Illinois Valley and the
Northeast we see an increase in inter-group violence among
hunter-gatherers -- heck, in the Northeast, the most *advanced* and
*violent* groups, the Pequots, Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Wabanaki,
etc., remaind highly egalitarian, as well as predominately
hunter-gatherer up until Contact (maize agriculture never advanced very
far among coastal groups until after Contact, namely due to the
overabundance of local resources.)

>you have a very romantic idea of life among the iroquois, where
>everything was wonderful, life was good, and nobody was more equal
>anybody else. I realize it's important to you to believe that, so lets
>not use them as an example;

Firl, just where do you come up with this crap? Just why do you think
that I hold some *romantic* view of the Haudenosaunee which is not
supported by reams and reams of ethnohistoric evidence? Have you ever
even read any ethnographic/ethnohistoric work from the 17th-19th
centuries? BTW, it seems you _still_ have Wabenakis confused with
Haudenosaunee, as you continuously allude that my interests in the
latter are somehow related to my ethnicity... It appears that in fact
*you* are the romantic by thinking that _all_ Indians got along.

>can you name another society which has made
>long-term adaptations to war without depreciating the status of women?

See the groups listed above, and add to them numerous other Eastern
Woodland groups from the Delaware to the Susquahannock (see Handsmans
work) to the Cherokee (Just ask Steve Russell how valued women are, and
have been, in Cherokee culture.) In fact, can you name a single
Eastern Algonqion group where women were deprecated? In the case which
I'm currently working on in the Lower Illinois Valley (a very well
studied area, in case you'd actually like to do some reading on the
subject), we see a movement _toward_ greater egalitarianism, where
groups go from patrilocality in the Middle Woodland to matrilocality in
the Mississippian (see Buikstra et al.), and there is also a distinct
decrease in the highlighting of status males in burial ritual from the
Middle to Late Woodland, when we also see the greatest increase in
violence in the region.

>|> > However, I've wondered about the hypothesis that universal male
>|> bias by
>|> >mothers (for males) might be related to, or else compensatory for,
>|> male
>|> >genetic weakness, i.e., at every stagew of the life cycle, from
>|> conception
>|> >onward, human males die in significantly greater proportions than
>|> females.
>|> Have I missed something? _Whose_ hypothesis is this, and what
>|> is there to support such wild claims?
>See my previous reply; you have missed something. The fact that males
>die at higher rates than females at every age is well known.
I wasn't questioning the *fact* the males die at higher rates at all
ages, but rather the silly hypothesis that mothers somehow
overcompensate for this weakness in the treatment of male children.
Have a cite for that one?

MB Williams
Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst
(who, btw, will not be following this, or any other thread over the
next few weeks, as birthing will, believe or not, take priority over
this newsgroup ;-D)