Some archaeologists say the image of caveman as macho big-game hunter is just a figment of our 20th Century imagination. Then what were Neanderthal gender roles? Faye Flam asks in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Did primitive peoples form relationships, the males playing father to sons and daughters, or did we act more like our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins–promiscuous, violent, with males fighting over the females?”
Most likely, fathers took more care of their kids as males and females approached the same body size. Human men and women are closer in body size than chimps. “In species with males and females closer to the same size, the sexes are more likely to work in pairs, cooperate, and share the burden of protecting their young,” Flam writes. “So determining how long ago we reached our current ratio should point to when our ancestors stopped organizing themselves like apes and started acting more like people.”
Speaking of prehistoric gender roles, this study is about two years old, but its absurdity is timeless: A researcher at Texas A&M University somehow demonstrated that female monkeys like playing with pots and pans. “Just like boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars whereas female monkeys prefer dolls” the Washington Post reported without irony, along with about 36 other news sources. “Males also played with balls while females fancied cooking pots.” They quoted the researcher, Gerianne Alexander as saying, “The differences apparently date far back in evolutionary history to the time before humans and monkeys separated from their common ancestor some 25 million years ago.”
So when in evolutionary history did monkeys learn what pots and pans are all about? Actually, that discovery launched the earliest known era of stay-at-home motherhood, by enabling moms to put dinner on the stove while their boys were out playing baseball with monkey dads. I saw it in Planet of the Apes.
A few years earlier, the same psychologist demonstrated that female monkeys like pink and male monkeys like blue. Maybe the next study will prove that monkeys associate white with weddings and black with funerals. Except for Chinese monkeys, who would, if they could, wear red to weddings and white to funerals. No doubt there are mental differences between the sexes due to hormones. One recent discovery was that men pay more attention to crotches than women, as shown in this eye-tracking study. (Scroll down). But that monkey study has such blatantly unscientific bias; it’s like a university psychology department conducting research into whether or not African Americans are innately drawn to cotton.