What you are describing is a patriarchal paradigm — one that is only a couple thousand years old. Darwin was heavily influenced by Victorian social mores. The latest anthropology indicates that we were almost certainly collective breeders. This whole idea about sexually selective women is basically pseudo-science. Women are less inclined to monogamy than men are. And for 97% of human history, we didn’t have social hierarchies. I’ve already quoted to you from several anthropologists confirming that. You restating otherwise because it’s the cultural narrative you grew up with doesn’t disprove it.

When Darwin observed that females of many species were naturally coy and choosy and reticent, sexually speaking, and males were naturally competitive and randy, he set us on a course by distorting the lens through which we view behavior. What we know today thanks to mostly female primatologists, anthropologists, and sex researchers is that when the context is right, female sexuality is assertive, adventurous, and what we call “promiscuous.”

The great anthropologist and comparativist Sarah Hrdy tells us that, across species, including among humans, the best mother for many eons was the one who was, under particular and far-from-rare ecological circumstances, promiscuous. By being so, she could hedge against male infertility, up her odds of a healthy pregnancy and robust offspring, and create a wider network of support by lining up two or three males who figured the offspring might be theirs. (5)

There is a growing consensus among anthropologists that we evolved not as monogamous dyads but as cooperative breeders. The culturally strong image of the brave pre-historic hunter bringing home the bacon to his mate who is waiting to be provided for is really just a cultural myth. For most of human history, small bands of men and women raised young collectively, and almost certainly mated with multiple partners.

This is a lifestyle with a lot of evolutionary benefits. Multiple mating in primates establishes and continually reinforces social bonds so that there are low levels of conflict, and there is every reason to believe the same was true of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Enhanced cooperation meant all were more likely to look after one another and their young, thus improving each individual’s reproductive fitness (the odds that their offspring would go on to produce offspring).

As Saint Louis University associate professor of anthropology Katherine C. MacKinnon told me, “We had predators. And we didn’t have claws or long, sharp teeth. But we had each other. Social cooperation, including cooperative breeding, was a social and reproductive strategy that served us well.”

Martin, Wednesday. Untrue (p. 91). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle

Meat was a very small portion of the diet of Paleolithic peoples. As such, female gatherers were central to the survival and well-being of the tribe. They weren’t sitting at home, tending the fire and the children, waiting for their one mate to provide for them. That’s a very recent and geographically specific dynamic.

Far from being a universal and timeless societal dynamic, man as provider and head of a two-parent family is simply an extension of one recent and distinct type of culture made possible by certain conditions. How that incorrectly became codified as universal and scientifically enshrined is the topic of another story, but it’s basically because it makes sense from a patriarchal mindset. Charles Darwin was influenced by the social and sexual mores of the Victorian times that he lived in.

Until about 10K years ago, nearly all cultures were matrilineal. It didn’t much matter who the father of a child was because lineage went through the mother. Also, society was based around caring for the good of the tribe or society, so all children were cared for equally. Partible paternity still takes place around the world today, primarily in South America and near Tibet.

The Na of China don’t even have a concept of fatherhood. It’s a completely matrilineal and matrifocual society where women sleep with who they want to, sometimes more than one man at any given time, and everyone lives in the house of their mother or grandmother. People in a relationship never live together in their own home.

I’ve already said this to you once, but apparently I need to do it again. The head of the Dian Fossey Primate Center has this to say about how we compare to most other primates.

Anthropologist, Christopher Boehm, writes in his book, Hierarchy In The Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior

The three African great apes, with whom we share this rather recent Common Ancestor, are notably hierarchical. Reproductively fortunate are the high-ranking males or females, while those relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy fare less well. The same can be said of most human political societies in the world today, starting about five thousand years ago. At that time, people were beginning to increasingly live in chiefdoms, societies with highly privileged individuals who occupied hereditary positions of political leadership and social paramountcy. From certain well-developed chiefdoms came the six early civilizations, with their powerful and often despotic leaders. But before twelve-thousand years ago, humans basically were egalitarian (Knauft 1991). They lived in what might be called societies of equals, with minimal political centralization, and no social classes.

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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