Gender Evolution: Division of Tasks and Groups
Gender is innate. It is not a social construct. This article discusses how it evolved.
Early human society was fluid, with survival always the goal. It was, in general, divided by sex. Women and children formed a home group, which focussed on protection of the children and nursing mothers, foraging, perhaps trapping small game and birds, and the preparation and cooking of food. This group would have been a sisterhood of equals, but led, in all probability, by the elder women, the grandmothers, who were also the teachers, the midwives and shamans.
The other group was of men and older boys, based on the hunt. This group had to be able to respond quickly to the changing circumstances of the hunt, which could, especially when hunting large game, be lethal. A command system developed, probably around the best and most experienced hunters. We call this the ‘away’ group.
These two groups have long been identified and are still obvious in non-Western societies today. They are the evolutionary basis of gender.
Men and Not men
Professor Don Kulick, in his 1998 book ‘Travesti’ describes these groups as ‘men’ and ‘not-men’. Others use different terminology; we will use ‘home’ and ‘away’ to avoid any gender confusion.
The home group is built around the grandmothers, who are the matriarchs. with them are the younger mothers and their children. Here too, are the great-grandmothers and even older generations. These form a ‘council of the wise’, but the day-to-day management is handled by the grandmothers. In this group, too, we find Gender Non-Conforming males. These, in traditional culture, often adopt the dress and behavioural characteristics of the women surrounding them. Principal within this group are homosexual men. Also a part of this group, but somewhat at arm’s length, are the grandfathers and older generations of men who can no longer hunt, or, in modern societies, go out to work. They tend to socialise together, but they stay close to the orbit of the home group.
The away group consists of the remaining men and older adolescent boys who are physically fit and able to hunt, or, again today, go to work. This group’s membership is strictly policed in terms of behaviour. Those in it, when not hunting or working, the modern equivalent for most, will smoke, drink, talk about sex, encourage each other to pursue women, relate their triumphs and so on. In today’s cultures they may play sport, and if they do, it will be a contact sport like soccer or basketball.
Sexual behaviour is extremely important within this group; although, in many cultures, the men will have sexual relations with adolescent boys, they must not allow themselves to be penetrated, or they will lose status. They may be shunned, ejected from the group, beaten or even killed.
If a man is ejected, then his life becomes very difficult. He will not be accepted within the home group, which will reinforce the away group’s opprobrium. He will likely become an outcast, a lost soul with allegiance to neither his away group nor his home group, Reduced to desperation and starving, he may become a sort of bandit, joining with men rejected from other groups to form new bands — which may prey on the ones they were forced out of.
Men’s susceptibility to peer pressure and their deep sensitivity about homosexual activities may well have its root here, in the dire social consequences of transgressing the away group’s rules.
The Evolution of Gender
These two social models, the home and away groups, give us the
archetypes of the two earliest deities we know of: the Mother Goddess and the God of the Hunt. The former represents the idealisation of the women at the centre of the home group and the latter the idealisation of the hunters and the complementary ‘out’ group. This tells us that gender, the physiological, social and behavioural differences consistent with birth sex, is an essential part of being human.
This ‘two-group’ arrangement minimised the risk to fertile women and young children, and meant that hunters could move quickly and silently, an impossible thing to do with babies or toddlers. Neither group was superior. Each had its area of life, which did not interfere with the other. The hunters could provide meat, animal fat, skin and bone, and the gatherers would catch small game and collect vegetables and grains, nuts, berries, roots and fungi, as well as firewood. The division of roles by gender was the beginning of task specialisation, which always leads to improvements in performance. It is likely that without such a social structure, Homo sapiens would not have been nearly as successful as a species.
Discussing this separation of tasks by gender, Steven Kuhn, from the University of Arizona, says:
‘The competitive advantage enjoyed by modern humans came not just from new weapons and devices but from the ways in which their … lives were organized around…roles for men, women, and children.’
The task divisions between groups were not quite rigid. When game was scarce or the weather too bad to hunt, the men would join in to help the women to forage, set snares for small game and catch fish in the rivers. When a herd of big game that could feed and clothe the tribe for months was spotted, everyone, men, women, and children, might have joined in to drive them towards the spears or over the edge of a cliff. In some modern hunter-gatherer cultures, women and children even follow the hunting men, as spectators.
The divisions, which we still find in extant hunter-gatherer societies, may have had a consequence that remains important. When men hunted for bigger game they would travel far from their bases, and inevitably would have come into contact with other people. Should the two tribes come together and cooperate? If they do, who will lead them? There is game nearby — should we cooperate just on this occasion, to improve the chance of success? Suppose the other group is hostile — should we stand our ground and fight for this territory, move on, or just agree on a boundary? These difficult and important decisions, which impacted the whole tribe, would necessarily have been made there and then by men. Perhaps here we see the beginning of political activity between societies, and already the separation of tasks tended to ensure that it would be the domain of men.
Adult Human Males and Females are Different
Human males and females have morphological, skeletal and physiological differences. Women are on average 20% smaller and lighter than men. Women’s pelvises are different from men’s, in order for them to pass the large head of a human baby. Instead of the strong, boxy male pelvis, women have a wide, shallow one, which forces their hips out. The legs have to turn in toward the midline, causing the classic reverse angle at the knee so that their tibias can be more vertical. Women’s upper bodies are very much less massive than men’s, and their shoulders tend to be narrow.
The differences are not just skeletal. There are two types of muscle fibre, one adapted for the explosive release of large amounts of energy and one for repetitive but long-lasting release. Men mostly have the first type, women the second. Normal, healthy women of appropriate weight carry a greater percentage of body fat than any other land animal except polar bears. Far more of their body mass is fat than in men, enabling them to build up reserves to sustain them through childbirth and breastfeeding. Women’s weight is lower down, to help them balance when heavily pregnant and carrying children. Men’s weight is higher up, in powerful muscular torsos perfect for running and throwing, and their high centre of balance lets them knock down a prey animal. There are differences in the brain, too. These are all species characteristics: all humans, everywhere, on average, hold true to this model. In other words, women are morphologically suited to one set of tasks, and men to another; women are indeed, on average, better adapted to gathering and raising children, and men to hunting.
An Essential Part of Human Development
The division of tasks by gender and the consequent establishment of two complementary groups with differing roles and responsibilities was an essential part of human development. Since the underlying function of human society is to continue through reproduction and the survival of the young, which was dependent on women, in matters concerning the home and children they had authority. There was a balance, an equilibrium that allowed the two groups to function independently yet in a co-operative manner. However, the division of tasks exposed men to higher risk of violent death or life-shortening injury. Since age and experience were regarded as important and the elder mothers were probably the oldest and wisest people in the tribe, they were natural candidates for leadership.
Here we see a birth-oriented culture in which the leader, certainly of the home group, would have been the most trusted mother. She was sacred in her motherhood, respected for her wisdom, knowledge and shamanistic power, loved by and loving the people around her, many of whom would have been her children.
 A woman in this culture could easily be a grandmother by the time she reached thirty. The term should not be taken here to suggest great age, but greater experience and knowledge.
 Gurven, M and Hill, K. Why Do Men Hunt?
A Reevaluation of “Man the Hunter” and the Sexual Division of Laborhttp://www.anth.ucsb.edu/faculty/gurven/papers/gurvenhill2009.pdf, retrieved 03 Aug 2017
 Probably these were not just women, but the older males who could no longer hunt, the young boys and males who otherwise did not fit into the hunter or ‘pit’ group.
 Note: NOT genetic specialisation, which is the tendency for organisms to evolve such that they can better exploit specific environmental niches. This tends to make them less able to cope with changes in environment. Human task specialisation made the entire species more adaptable.
 Cited at: Lovgren, S. Sex-Based Roles Gave Modern Humans an Edge, Study Says. National Geographic News, 07/12/06, retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/12/061207-sex-humans.html accessed 12/02/12.
 In good weather, a drive like this would have been a pleasure for the people, not least because of the anticipation for the feast they looked forward to after its success. At the same time, a large party making as much noise as possible would be likely to drive off any other predators. So this was a relatively safe form of hunting.
 Ortner, Sherry. Making gender: the politics and erotics of gender Beacon Press Boston 1996.
 This is on average. Successful women runners tend to have narrower than average hips, straighter than average legs and are taller than average — in other words, their morphology more closely resembles an average male’s. All living things exhibit variation and this is just an example of it.
 The reproductive potential of any mammal is a function of the numbers of females, not males.
Originally published at Rod Fleming’s World.