Re: Evolution of Sexism

Gerold Firl (
23 Aug 1996 19:46:40 GMT

In article <4vdrv1$>, Beth Williams) writes:

|> In <4vdae9$> (Gerold Firl)
|> writes:

|> >In article <4v47n9$>,
|> Beth Williams) writes:

|> >|> In egalitarian societies, women do not *fade* during times of
|> intergroup
|> >|> violence/war...In fact, their social and economic importance is
|> >|> highlighted during these times (who keeps the group organized while
|> the
|> >|> 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
|> property.

|> >... 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.)

The north american indians seem to have done a pretty good job of
keeping their populations down below the level where they would have to
abandon the hunter-gather lifestyle, though maize cultivation was
encroaching on the woodlands throughout much of the eastern seaboard.
The california indians were more successful at avoiding the escalating
spiral of population growth, war, and more intensive food-production

how did the woodland cultures regulate their population? War?
Infanticide? On what do you base your characterization of them as
egalitarian? Grave goods are a reasonable measure of status
differences, especially when that's all we have, but is that all we

|> >you have a very romantic idea of life among the iroquois, where
|> >everything was wonderful, life was good, and nobody was more equal
|> than
|> >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?

The example that really stands out is your denial of iroquios
cannibalism, in the face of large amounts of eyewitness testimony as
well as physical evidence. Your reaction seemed to be entirely
emotionally based, stemming from a desire to view the indians as "good

|> >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.

That sounds really interesting, though I must confess that I view any
of your statements about indian egalitarianism with caution, given your
political slant.

I must also confess that I don't know wabanaki from susquehannock, but
here is a quote from powers, _tribes of california_, 1877. Here he
compares the martial qualities of the california indians to the tribes
of the northeast:

"And it is much to the credit of the california indians, and not at all
to be set down to the account of cowardice, that they did not indulge
in that fiendish cruelty of torture which the algonkin races practised
on prisoners of war. They did not generally make slaves of female
prisoners, but destroyed them at once.

But if on the first count they must be allowed to rank rather inferior
[in terms of military ability - gf], in the second, I think, they were
superior to the algonkin races, as also to the oregonian indians. For
the very reason that they were not a martial race, but rather peacable,
domestic, fond of social dances, and well provisioned (for savages),
they did not make such abject slaves of their women, were far less
addicted to polygamy (the klamaths are monogamists), and consequently
shared the work of the squaws more than the atlantic indians. The
husband always builds the lofge, catches all the fish and game and
brings most of it home, and brings in a considerable portion of the
fuel. In a company of 57 who passed through healdsburg, there were 24
squaws riding on horseback and only 3 walking, while there were 13
braves riding and 17 walking. The young boy is never taught to pierce
his mothers flesh with an arrow to show him his superiority over her,
as among the apaches and iroquois; though he afterward slays his wife
or mother-in-law, if angry, with very little compunction."

(end quote)

Powers certainly paints a picture of the iroquois as being more than
slightly chauvinistic. Do you believe his characterization is
erroneous? If so, on what basis do you make that judgement?

|> >|> Have I missed something? _Whose_ hypothesis is this, and what
|> evidence
|> >|> 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?

A cite? Mr. Olson presented a _hypothesis_. A hypothesis should be
discussed, with pros and cons weighted and balanced; there is no
authoritative text with "the answer".

My first reaction to his idea was pretty negative; using the 105/100
male/female birth ratio, any biological male preferance based on such a
slight difference in robustity should be small. however, on further
consideration, a small bias might well be amplified by culture into a
much larger one; the 150/100 male/female ratio of the yanomamo being a
case in point. Immediate concerns of military capability are the
obvious proximate cause of such gross imbalances as that, but perhaps
a small biological bias could act as a seed from which such customs

|> 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)

Best of luck to you and the baby.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf