A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
PART TWO: The Origin of Women's Oppression

CHAPTER 6: The Origin of the Sexual Division of Labor and the First Stage of Supraorganismic Formation
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Copyright © 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.

If “patriarchy” is simply an imaginary, “puppet power” set up to divert resistance away from the “real” power, in fact to channel the energy of resistance into power’s use (for women are all the more willing to go into the public to be exploited when they are under the illusion that they are thereby doing such noble deeds as fight against “tyranny”) – in just the same way as the imaginary of the “tyranny” of the king was used and the concept of the no-longer-relevant Law was created – who or what is that real power? If patriarchy is not what has been oppressing women, if patriarchy is not the “real” oppressor, who is? For surely, women’s lot in the past, even before the emergence of nation-states in Europe and certainly elsewhere among the civilizations of Eurasia at least, cannot be said to be a happy one. They have been oppressed. But by which power? This is a tricky question. For the very formulation of such question is power-motivated, and shows that the questioner is still operating within the framework set down by power. It presupposes (1) that the essence of power lies in oppression; (and Foucault has shown that such construing of power came about precisely when power had shifted in its modus operandi from suppression of the resistant to normalization of the obedient. That is, such construing of power came precisely when it was out of date, so that the nature of power might remain hidden.) and (2) that there have been, on the one hand, a target group to be oppressed, and on the other, an oppressor group aiming to oppress the former for benefit; or at least that there was a system (patriarchy) which favored one of its constituent (men) at the expense of the other (women). We have learned from Foucault that in the new modus operandi of power, the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” have merged into one and the same person who therefore does not “oppress”, but disciplines ITSELF. That is, the distinction between oppressor and oppressed is itself out of date, and serves now as the mask of power, the “puppet power.”

Tricky though is the question, “Who is the real power, the real 'oppressor' of women in the past?” the existence of power remains nonetheless an undeniable reality. Let’s try to formulate the question without ideological baggage that deceives. Who is the real power that has made women’s lot in the past, or the traditional woman’s lot, an unhappy one? We have already answered the question in the preceding discussion: the real, authentic power is, and has always been, the metabolism of the supraorganism, of the human collective, itself ultimately grounded in the second law of thermodynamics. It is the exigency of the metabolism of the collective that produced in the past the near-enslavement of women (and freedom of a minority of men) and is producing in the present the “liberation” of women onto the public domain of production. The ever-augmenting consumption and defecation rate of the human collective, the ever-increasing energy output of the human supraorganism (measured as “power of the nation”), exerts pressure upon its individual members to arrange themselves into a configuration of labor distribution (one of a minority of aristocracy ruling a majority of near-slaves, or one of a majority of middle-class exploiting themselves like crazy; or one of males in public and female in private domains, or one of males and females producing in public side by side) that best fits its current energy requirement. Now that we have established the metabolism of the collective as the determining force behind the evolution of human social structures, we can understand authentically the cause of women’s past unhappy lot by interpreting the rise and fall of women’s social status in history as the function of the vicissitude of the configuration of labor distribution required by the state of collective metabolism at the time.

The hypothesis of this essay is that the origin of women’s oppression lies in the division of labor according to sex, established during beginnings of our species, Homo sapiens sapiens. The differentiation of labor in the social body of Homo sapiens sapiens, which thenceforth became more integrated (i.e. its members became more interdependent on each other for survival), is the factor that allowed this species to out-compete its archaic cousins throughout the Old World. We know the most about this competition in Europe, in the case of the extinction of Neanderthals. When the Homo sapiens sapiens tribes arrived in Europe circa 35,000 years B.P. (probably as the Dene-Caucasian speakers), they drove the already established Neanderthals into extinction in several thousand years not through warfare, but by slightly higher consumption rate (living standard) and the attendant higher population growth rate which diminished progressively the environmental resources available to the Neanderthals. The distinctive quality of these new arrivals on the ecological scene which made possible for them this “higher living standard”, was not in the final analysis anything related to greater brain power and higher intelligence, but the more elaborate division of labor. If any superior language ability possessed by the Homo sapiens sapiens species gave them a more competitive edge over the older archaic Homo sapiens it was in the end due to the more complex social division and organization that the more efficient communication through full-blown language permitted. This new pattern of social organization/division of labor, this new invention of our species, involved two aspects: first, the division of labor according to sex; second, the marriage exchange system, whose properties are familiar from anthropological literatures on the so-called primitive peoples: moieties, incest taboos, marriage laws (e.g, the imperative cross-cousin marriage with prohibition of parallel-cousin marriage; and its frequent dissymmetricity, marriage with mother’s brother’s daughter at the expense of marriage with father’s sister’s daughter). The complex division of labor that ensued from this new organizational pattern not only allowed greater and more efficient production (in the way of extracting energies from the environment) but also resulted in a higher degree of interdependency of the social body members upon one another. We have here a step forward in the advancement toward supra-organism. The emergent supraorganism had a higher metabolic rate, via the more efficient acquirement and redistribution among its constituents of foodstuffs, thus raising the quality of life and the species’ proliferation rate, which enabled the species to gradually push its cousin competitors into ecologically less favorable conditions and finally into extinction. Note that these two new principles of social organization were based on sex, or obvious sexual characters; and the subordination of females in the total social body, and the domination of males, were effects of the new social organization pattern; that is, the primary “reason” of the new social pattern was not to institute political domination of the male sex over the female, which was a by-product of such new system, but to augment the metabolism of the social collective as a whole (supra-)organism, without regard for the good of any parts of its constituents. As the collective grew, some of its parts (males) benefited while the other (female) suffered, all as secondary functions.

A clear distinction between the Neanderthal social organization and that of the arriving Homo sapiens sapiens is the loose relationship between the sexes among the former and the necessary togetherness of the sexes among the latter. James Shreeve made the point in his The Neanderthal Enigma:

Remember the hint of an ancestor left behind in the French cave of Combe-Grenal. Lewis Binford speculates that the pattern of bones and tools in that cave reveals a curious and very un-like-us aspect of Neanderthal social organization: the presence of two separate but contemporaneous kinds of living area, one suggesting a life lived very locally, the other showing the comings and goings of more mobile folk. Binford calls the first type “the nest”, and believes its occupants were females and their dependant children, foraging in the immediate vicinity. The second kind – smaller, more peripheral to the cave itself, -- he calls “scraper sites,”… these sites.. were produced by males. There is a connection between the two types, but a small one. Binford sees some provisioning of the young on the part of the males, but only in a haphazard sort of way. This dual pattern, which occurs again and again through the 75,000 Mousterian years in Combe-Grenal, is utterly unlike anything produced by modern hunter-gatherers. Modern men and women live together and divide the labor of food procurement and preparation between them. The Neanderthal sexes may have lived apart… [Among the Neanderthals] there’s independent food preparation, different land-use patterns, different uses of technology. In modern humans the relationships are more integrated… [Amongst the Neanderthals] the lives of sexually mature males and females were not bound together by the long-term, reasonably stable sexual and economic relationships that exist between the sexes in all known human communities today (p. 331).

This recalls a comment concerning Lévi-Strauss:

Although every society has some sort of division of tasks by sex, the assignment of any particular task to one sex or the other varies enormously… Lévi-Strauss concludes from a survey of the division of labor by sex that it is not a biological specialization, but must have some other purpose. The purpose, he argues, is to ensure the union of men and women by making the smallest viable economic unit contain at least one man and one women. [Thus writes Lévi-Strauss:] “The very fact that it [sexual division of labor] varies endlessly according to the society selected for consideration shows that… it is the mere fact of its existence which is mysteriously required, the form under which it comes to exist being utterly irrelevant, at least from the point of view of any natural necessity… the sexual division of labor is nothing else than a device to institute a reciprocal state of dependency between the sexes.” (Lévi-Strauss, 1971, 347-48) The division of labor by sex can therefore be seen as a “taboo”: a taboo against the sameness of men and women, a taboo dividing the sexes into two mutually exclusive categories, a taboo which exacerbates the biological difference between the sexes and thereby creates gender. (Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex.”)

Gender then is an artificial necessity created by a taboo, which is itself a reflection of the exigency of efficient food-production (procurement) by means of division of labor, i.e. by a new differentiation of functions within the total supraorganism: this internal differentiation of functions, which meant greater interdependency among the constituents of the whole, signals the commencement of the constitution, consolidation, or integration of the supraorganism. The first step toward the constitution of supraorganism, thus, is the division of labor between the sexes (presumably with women specializing in reproduction and men in production), somewhat mirroring the first internal differentiation of functions within the beginning multicellular organism, that between the somatic and reproductive cells.

It seems that the familiar theme of biological evolution, structures serving a certain function taking up an irrelevant function in the process of evolution, took hold also in the evolution of Hominid social organization. Sexual distinction for the purpose of reproduction of the species was now used also as the fundamental criterion for the division of labor to augment consumption-ability, the other “natural” biological characteristics of the species so used being age. Sex (the natural distinction between the sexes) was already there, a most noticeable feature, most available to hand, so why not use it? Thus the division of labor, so needed for increased consumption (just as in the beginning of the formation of muticellular organism the troubled metabolism of the colony of identical cells sought division of labor among the cells, or functional differentiation, in order to save its metabolism), was effected along male/female lines, as yet without regard to the political, economic and social inequality between the sexes that would in the future be consequent upon it.

The hunting and gathering mode of subsistence, as is familiar today among the so-called primitive tribes, became full-blown some time in the history of the homonid evolution. The earlier homonids (e.g. Australopithecus) were scavengers. If, as is likely, the gathering and scavenging style of subsistence was originally practiced homogeneously by both males and females, but the hunting of live animals for meat eventually emerged as a regular strategy among the males (while females remained in the older strategy because of the restriction of mobility that increased encephalization of infants imposed upon them), and if the procurement of meat-stuff was given greater symbolic significance, then the stage was set for greater political influence of males over females. This is a case where the increase in the metabolic need and metabolic rate of the social collective of the Homo sapiens sapiens species as against the archaic Homo sapiens, resolving itself through a complex division of labor (specialization, differentiation of function) and the necessary togetherness of the two sexes in complementarily differentiated metabolic roles, resulted gradually in the elevation of one sex and the subjugation of the other without such resultant political configuration ever being intentionally planned. Such is, according to the hypothesis here expounded, the true face of power: the exigency of the metabolism of the collective prompted the homogeneous body (the golden age of equality) to differentiate into constituents of complementary functions and, in the process, created among them relations of inequality; just as in the ontogenic growth or phylogenic evolution of a multicellular organism (a plant or an animal) cells of an originally identical type became distorted, each according to its eventual function within the organism, into distinctive morphologies unrecognizable from the viewpoint of the original, to form an organism heterogeneous in its internal structure, some cells directing and others directed, but with metabolic capacity unattainable by a homogeneous multi-celled colony. When the division of labor of the collective of Homo sapiens sapiens became even more complexified in the mode we call “civilization”, inequality among the differentiated constituents naturally got intensified and complexified, with a whole hierarchy of domination, under the same pressure from the tendency of the collective to augment its metabolic capacity. It is on account of this same pressure that the “Revolution” took place: not for reason of “justice”, but for the establishment of a bureaucratic “national” government sufficient for the internal regulation of the new level of social metabolic capacity designated “consumer society”.

The contemporary ethnographic data indeed lend credibility to the view that, within that local archaic Homo sapiens population living in Africa circa 100,000 to 130,000 years BP and which was to leave behind descendants as the new Homo sapiens sapiens species, the integration of the sexes into a single economic unit and the consequent specialization of males to the procurement of animal protein did endow a political superiority upon them vis-à-vis females. On the spectrum of variations within the contemporary hunter-gatherer social organizations, for instance, four major breaks in the gradation may be selected. Here we are following Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin in Origins: the four breaks are in the gradation of “variation in the amount of meat consumed by hunting peoples, determined largely by the ecological setting: in tropical regions plant foods form a major part of the diet, whereas on the arctic tundra the Eskimos eat virtually nothing but meat and fish” (p. 233). For these they cite: (1) the Hadza of Tazania and the Paliyans of southwest India, the major part of whose diet derives from plant; among these peoples the sexual division of labor is consequently very weak, men foraging for themselves and women for their children as well as for themselves. Here the Neanderthal style of (loose) social organization reappears as a sort of atavism. Of course it is not that they have preserved the older archaic Homo sapiens’ social organization intact, but that they have reverted back to it when the environment of “plentiful” they moved into did not exert enough pressure to compel them to keep the strict sexual division of labor intact. Their case also makes manifest the role which the male provisioning of meat for female partners has played in the integration of the sexes into a single economically viable unit (i.e. the first supraorganism). (2) The BaMbut (Pigmy), “characterized by some degree of cooperation between men and women in their hunts, which usually involve chasing the prey into nets, without the long treks engaged in by the !Kung” (p. 233). (3) The !Kung, definitely a hunting people, but whose hunting activities supply still less than 50% of the diet, approximately 30 to 40%. (4) The Eskimos, who eat only meat, and where meat procurement is the exclusive business of men, women concerning themselves only with the processing of meat and skins. “[A]mong the Hadza and the BaMbuti there is something approaching social equality between men and women, with little concern about overall status. Men and women are equally free to choose their spouses, to take lovers, and to separate if they so desire. Among hunters of the !Kung type, in which power gained through distribution of meat sets apart the men from their women, there is a much greater awareness of status. The man with the greatest status is the one who has shown himself to be a skilled and resourceful hunter – and who is therefore much sought after as a potential groom. Among the Eskimos, women suffer badly on the social scale, being treated largely as sex objects with little control over their own fate” (p. 234). One can see that men’s political significance within the group, or male domination, surges in proportion to the increase in percentage of meat they supply in the total food supply for the group. (Note also that the greater the dependence of the group on male generated food-supply [i.e. on meat] for its energy-intake, the tighter also the integration of the social collective – the more advanced the formation toward supraorganism. Before the economic integration of the sexes, that is, before the sexual division of labor, namely when males and females foraged separately and each for his or her own sake, males were, after all, at least ideally, redundant to the survival of the group/species, except in time of reproduction.) This is to say, as we have been trying to argue, that the origin of women’s oppression, of “patriarchy”, lies in the first integration of the sexes, in the first step toward the formation of supraorganism. Thence, the more mature the growth of supraorganism (i.e. in “civilization”), the more hellish the situation of women – until today. The question is: how did this integration of the sexes get itself started? To answer this question, to understand the historical process which led to the sexual division of labor at the onset of Homo sapiens sapiens we must retrace the history of sociality for the whole primate order. Our principal sources here are The Archaeology of Human Ancestry, ed. Stephen Shennan and James Steele (1996), and Chris Knight's Blood Relations (1991).

In general, the evolution of sociality of primates proceeded along two axes: sociality between members of the same sex and between members of different sex.

Sociality among members of the same sex was the first target of evolution. Compulsive sociality (which means “…individuals associate with each other for extended periods, interact in patterned ways, and form relationships that can be defined by their quality and intensity” [The Archaeology of Human Ancestry, p. 196- 97]) was a pleisiomorphic adaptation already present among the platyrrhines (i.e. since the New World Monkeys) 35 million years B.P., from a local population of whom the catarrhines (the entire ape system) were to evolve. The principle for, or underlying thread that governed the evolution of further sociality from then on is set down by Foley as “the differential cost of reproduction to males and females”; males, with their timely and energetically inexpensive gamete production, have their reproductive potential determined by access to potential mates. It makes sense for them to abandon their mates immediately after conception and to inseminate other females. Females, on the other hand, with the heavy energetic and time cost of internal gestation and subsequent lactation, are severely tied in reproduction to nutritional intake, and need to ensure access to sufficient energy for reproduction. They have little to gain by being continuously inseminated but would be more interested in ensuring that the existing offspring survive. Together the two points determine sociality in that the distribution of females in the environment is determined by “the way in which energy (in the form of food and resources) is distributed in the [same] environment”, while male distributions will follow those of the females and take into account the number of other males also attempting to maximize access to reproductive females.” (Robert Foley and Phyllis Lee, “Finite Social Space and The Evolution of Human Social Behaviour”, in The Archaeology of Human Ancestry, p. 51.)

This, as noted by Chris Knight -- on whom we shall depend for much of our genealogy of women's oppression -- is the view of modern sociobiology -- that, despite the apparent fact that "[m]ost primate species are male-dominated, in the sense that a dominant male will displace any female from her position if he wants to", "among primates it is [in fact] the strategies pursued by the female sex which ultimately determine the overall social structure" -- which had reversed the pre-1980 "traditional" view that male-dominance is "the 'natural' or 'default' condition for primates" (Blood Relations, p. 131).

Knight in his classics describes in better detail the difference between the sexes in spatial distribution in consequence of the aforementioned "differential cost of reproduction to males and females" and which results not only in the primate social structure in question but also in the common sense situation that "females tend to be more interested in 'economics' than sex" (ibid., p. 132), which in the contemporary society is manifested in the saying, "men want sex and women want money":

Female primates, who are burdened with the task of producing and provisioning their offspring, distribute themselves in space according to their needs and preferences for shelter, comfort, safety and -- most importantly -- for particular types of food. Instead of endlessly searching for males, they prioritise such on-going, day-to-day 'economic' concerns. Males, on the other hand, are primarily interested in securing access to oestrus females. Foraging activities are subordinated to this overriding sexual quest. The result is that while females distribute themselves according to their own foraging and nurturing requirements, males note how the females have arranged themselves in space and then decide how to map themselves on to this pattern so as to maximise their mating opportunities.

The extent to which the males fight or co-operate, form large or small groups, define 'closed' or 'open' systems -- all this depends on what the females have set about doing in the first instance. The extent to which the males are 'tolerant' or 'intolerant' depends not just on genes but on the immediate social situation, and this is at root female-defined. It is in this sense that the female pattern is 'basic'.... In Marxist terms, one might say that the female distribution pattern is to the male sexual-political pattern as 'economic infrastructure' is to 'political superstructure'. To change the whole system in any fundamental sense, the underlying 'economic' pattern of female ecological relationships would have to be changed first.

How the females arrange themselves in space depends (a) upon immediate geographical and ecological conditions and (b) upon the females' genetically determined preferences and abilities to make use of what the environment has to offer. For example, chimpanzees have digestive systems rendering them dependent on ripe fruit, which require much traveling and searching to find. Quite different are gorillas, which can munch almost anything, including leaves, and so can usually feed on what is immediately to hand without moving much at all. Most monkeys fall somewhere between these two extremes, combining leaf-eating with a preference for ripe fruit when these are available.

Where food is hard to find and widely spaced, females may have to travel fast and far in order to eat; if food is available almost everywhere, little movement may be required. If the food is scarce -- in the form, for example, of an occasional small bush or tree transiently laden with fruit -- the females may not want to be accompanied by others but would prefer to be alone so as to monopolise what they have found for themselves. If the food is abundant, and/or if there are other considerations -- such as defence against predators -- making group life advantageous, they may prefer to cluster in groups. The variations and permutations are numerous, but the basic result is that females arrange themselves across the landscape in characteristic patterns -- grouped or isolated, fast-moving or slow, in trees or on the ground -- and the males in pursuing their sexual goals adopt strategies which take account of the situation which the females have defined.

How do the males "map" themselves on to the pre-existent female distribution pattern? It all depends on the circumstances. If the females are clustered in manageable or defensible groups, a male may realistically attempt to monopolise a whole harem all to himself. [E.g. among the gorillas and baboons.] If the females are very isolated and scattered, however, any one male may only be capable of monopolising one female at a time. If the females are clustered quite closely, but move too independently, are too assertive or are in groups too large to be fenced off and defended by single males, those patrolling or defending their ranges may find it best to collaborate, particularly if they are close kin, the result being... a pattern in which two or more brother-males collectively defend the joint ranges of several females. This happens among chimpanzees.... (Ibid.)

These two are the basic modes of male-domination prevalent among the higher primates, the first "popularly conceptualised as a 'Cyclopean' system more or less corresponding to Freud's 'Primal Horde'" and the second "seen... as a form of 'group marriage'" (ibid., p. 130). The lower primates, on the other hand, are typically female-dominated and the first humans, as we shall see, come into the mode of culture through the replacement of this higher primate male-dominance by what can only be called "gender solidarity."

With the general principle for primate sociality laid out, we now trace out the evolutionary trajectory through individual species.

Among the lower or earlier primates, the promisians or the strepsirhines in the Eocene period (54- 38 million years BP), whose descendants today are lemurs and lories, females and males lived separately outside the mating periods. This is because “female receptivity is seasonal, of short duration within an oestrus period and… male-female co-residence provides few reproductive, foraging or anti-predator benefits to either sex” (Foley and Lee, ibid. p. 50). "Matriarchal tendencies" prevail among them. For example, among the ring-tailed lemurs in southern Madagascar studied by Alison Jolly [The Evolution of Primate Behavior, 1972], "despite male swaggering 'females were dominant over males, both in threats and in priority for food. Females at times bounced up to the dominant male and snatched a tamarind pod from his hand, cuffing him over the ear in the process'" (cited by Knight, p. 131).

In the beginning of the catarrhines, the same-sex sociality already developed into kin-based groupings. The first catarrhines to emerge were the cercopithecoids (the Old World monkeys), circa 30- 35 million years BP. At this time, in the African dense forest, high-quality food resources were clumped in large patches and uniformly spread across a landscape. This condition allowed related females to form into group in order to better exploit and defend the resources against others in competition for the same resources. That is, the first sociality was formed (among kin-related females) because the benefits of such (efficient exploitation of energy source for reproduction) outweighed its costs (from the partitioning of resources amongst kin). The sociality that emerged was kin-based female alliances or residences with male dispersal between them, in accordance with the aforementioned determining principle for sociality.

When the hominoids, the great apes, emerged from the cercopithecoids (circa 22 million years BP), monogamy predominated, and in consequence female kin-based residence lapsed to favor the dispersal of both sexes. The direct descendants of this state of affairs are the gibbons, who today preserved such pattern. At the next moment (10 –16 million years BP), when the gorilla and gibbons branched off from the ape family, central Africa was a fully forested area where resources were abundant and distributed in large and uniform patches. “Females would have been able to survive within small home ranges, and in turn single males would be able to defend groups of females” (Foley and Lee, ibid.; p.61): thus the Cyclopean system developed, such as the gorilla harem system: now males’ tenure was reinforced by greater body size, encouraging the dispersal of females to join the successful males (ibid., p. 55). The manifestation of this pattern among the gorillas takes the form of a single male controlling a group of females, with his sons occasionally remaining at the periphery to inherit the harem. Among the orangutans, however, both sexes lived solitarily.

Then, as the Miocene African forest condition deteriorated and dried up, being replaced by woodland and savannah, the resources became dispersed and less uniformly distributed. Among the ancestral chimps that branched off at this time, “females would have to forage more widely, and males would thus no longer be able to employ a strategy of female defense” (ibid.; p. 61 –62). The classic harem system broke down, females no longer attached themselves to individual males, and kin-related males found alliance in defense of a territory more advantageous than individual defense of a group of females. Thus began the kin-bonding of males co-existing in larger communities with female dispersal in between: the group-marriage system. By this time the female kin-based residence that was the ancestral catarrhine system of social organization had been completely reversed.

The evolution of primates since the catarrhines, based on DNA analysis.
From Frans B. M. de Waal, "Bonobo Sex and Society", in Scientific American, March 1995, p. 84.
This article examines the society of Bonobos, the closest relative of chimpanzees, and among whom, unlike among the chimps, the females play more conspicuous roles.

Hominoid sociality (ibid., p. 85).

Evolution and relationships of the major groups of primates. Tupaia represents in a general way the type of primitive placental (either insectivore or primate) from which the basic stock of the primates was derived.
Taken from Edwin H. Colbert and Michael Morales, Evolution of the Vertebrates, 4th ed., Wiley-Liss, p. 275.

Alexandra Maryanski (“African Ape Social Networks”, in The Archaeology of Human Ancestry, p. 67 –90) describes the evolution of sociality of the African apes in more detail, though she sees less of a transition and more of a continuity or divergence between the social structures of gorillas and chimpanzees. The social organization of both is of the type of a loose, low density social network, composed of a few strong ties and many weak ties. Thus an aerial view of a chimpanzee regional population reveals “a widely dispersed ape colony composed of unattached individuals…” (p. 71). The strongest ties are between mother and her dependents. Mother-daughter ties vaporize when the daughter transfers into the neighboring community according to the female dispersal pattern. Mother-son ties are strong throughout, since the two can be together feeding and grooming even after latter’s puberty. Relationships between male-siblings are the most enduring. Other adult male ties are weak to moderate (“with interactions as infrequent as once in a period of weeks or months” [p. 74]). There are never stable adult male-female ties. Adult female-female ties are absent to weak. Finally, “[f]ather-offspring ties are void in a promiscuous mating system” (p. 74).

Among the gorillas, looking away from the “stable core” (i.e. the harem system) of “a silverback leader and a number of mothers and their dependents,” the strongest ties are, as among the chimpanzees, between mother and her dependents. Here also after puberty mother-daughter ties dissolve when the latter moves to a neighboring group or a lone silverback. Son, after puberty, still remains close within his natal home range. Bonds between silverbacks are weak, and so are adult male and female ties, females only attaching to silverback when burdened with premature infant. Adult female-female relationship, here as there, are absent.

Thus the majority of network ties for both apes are constructed from weak rather than strong ties. This configuration contrasts strongly with that of Old World cercopithecines which is made up, on average, of many strong ties, and which is based on male-biased dispersal and female-bonded networks and on supportive cliques that entrench individuals into well-defined relationship network – the exact opposite of pongid situation. (“For example, among the well-studied common baboons and macaques, natal males transfer into non-natal troops, slowly working their way into an all-male hierarchy of dominant-subordinate relations. In turn, adult females remain in natal cliques with up to four generations of mothers, daughters, and sisters” [p. 77]. This high-density, kinship clique is the anchor for “the stability and cohesion of a baboon or macaque troops.” [ibid.])

Among the pongids, the dispersal of females outside their natal range into neighboring population blocks the formation of matrifocal cliques. But the absence of stable heterosexual bonds and male parental effort does not allow as yet the formation of patrilocal cliques in place. “Thus, even in a community organization where only females are dispersing, until males can be linked by ‘patrifocal’ kinship relations, voluntary ties must assume more importance than kinship ties. As a result, for both gorillas and chimpanzees, there are few nested and enduring strong-ties cliques” (p. 77).

Maryanski maintains that “all extant ape genera – gorilla, chimpanzee, gibbon (Hylobates) and orangutan (Pongo) – evidence low density networks, with the gibbons isolated into nuclear families and the near solitary ways of adult orangutans generating the sparsest network patterns of any living monkey or ape” (p. 77). The portrait of the Last Common Ancestor of the Hominoid in respect to its sociality can be drawn: “a social structure of very weak ties, with low sociality, transient mating and a lack of group continuity over time” (p. 77) – rather like the contemporary orangutans (p. 78). The cause of this she explains: in the mid-Miocene the adaptive radiation of monkey species into the original hominoid niche caused a rapid extinction of ape genera and drove them into peripheral zones with sparsely distributed and limited resources, where forelimb dominant locomotion (and other novel skeletal features) were selected for and dense organization with stable cliques against. The transition to the low-density social structure was prompted by lowering sociality among adults and bias for female dispersal. Then although descendant hominoid species underwent selection pressure in their new habitats for increased sociality density, female dispersal was retained and they had to forge novel bonding patterns all within the constraints of female dispersal.

As hinted at, the ("female-determined") male-dominance in these two contrasting types (the Cyclopean and group-marriage) is most manifested in the males' selfish unwillingness, common to both systems, to share food (especially the meat they have hunted) with the females, in such contradistinction with human males.1 Otherwise, in the first system, such as among the baboons, the males fought each other over the females, "the victors organising their seized or kidnapped females into compact harems which could be efficiently supervised and controlled from above. A straying, wayward female would be brought back into line by means of a bite on the neck -- a bite so hard that it sometimes lifted the female off the ground..."; whereas the chimpanzee males are rather "easygoing... being sexually more tolerant of each other" (Knight, p. 129).

Now we come to the age of the Australopithecus, when the blockage of the westward wind by the Rift Valley further dried up eastern Africa, forcing the eastern chimpanzee population to develop bipedality.2 Maryanski maintains that the new environmental pressure encouraged among the eastern population the continuation of the patrifocal trend already started in the ape social world. The trend would have culminated in the formation of “a kinship system with a residential bias of patrilocal residence, female-biased dispersal (or female exogamy), and conjugal family units without unilineal descent” (p. 80). This would be the end point since the selection of the time was for increased sociality, the starting point was the chimpanzee sociality (strong ties between mother and young, female-biased dispersal, continual mother-son tie, strong male sibling tie) and the most efficient way of transforming this chimpanzee blue print into tight sociality would be via patrifocality. Maryanski's view is that the important sexual division of labor that is to come can also most effectively be implanted in a social system of female dispersal or exogamy (known as the “exchange of women”) and retention of natal males on home ground for mutual aid and defense (p. 81). The final component to be added to arrive at the Homo sapiens sapiens situation is then reciprocity, or the rule of the gift. The patrifocal intensification, therefore, must be the determining principle for the social evolutionary process from Australopithecus to Homo sapiens sapiens. Hence she sees it as no surprise that the resulting patrifocal pattern matches the prevalent social organization among hunter-gatherers. But, as we shall see, Knight is to add an intermediate stage of women's "revolution" through a sex-strike, and the prevalent patrifocal pattern only comes about after a male counter-revolution to reverse the female revolution. Now, the exciting part of the story is why human females needed such revolution at all.

Robert Foley adds that within the larger male kin-based communities of the Australopithecus subgroupings would have had to appear in view of the necessity of foraging in more savannah-like conditions. (Robert Foley, “The Adaptive Legacy…”; p. 198) Under this "traditional" view which Knight challenges, then, the Australopithecus had essentially the same social organization as their chimpanzee ancestors, except with perhaps a decrease in community size and increase in community range. The decisive transition from ape (Australopithecus) to human, or the first Homo, Homo ergaster, was marked by the enlargement of brain-size through the mechanism of heterochrony called neoteny. The birth of large brain babies posed problems whose solutions initiated a revolution in sociality among members of different sex. Increased brain-size in infants created new energetic cost required for its growth and maintenance; hence encephalization increased females’ burden of rearing of offspring and prompted them to seek paternal investment in offspring as aid. “These additional costs [of encephalization, or brain enlargement] may represent up to 9% of an infant’s nutritional requirements… the additional size of the human brain means that brain metabolism for humans accounts for 22% of the basal metabolic rate, whereas for chimpanzee it would account for only 8%” (ibid., p. 200). To adjust to this new energetic cost balance sheet, the social structure of the hominids had had to change to adopt the new foraging behavior of procurement of meat that, with its more concentrated nutrients, would supply the extra energetics to support the greater brain growth. Foley sees this as the beginning of meat-consumption for “what was essentially a frugivorous primate” (ibid., p. 201).3 Females further debilitated by greater energetic cost of infant care, and males recruited into shared parental effort by females (especially as providers of meat whose greater concentration of nutrient than plant was now essential to maintaining large brain babies), the outcome was thus stronger associations between particular males and females (and also the beginning of "man the hunter"). We are finally approaching the appearance of the sexual division of labor, that distinctive pattern of sociality of the Homo sapiens sapiens. The number-one problem of socioanthropolgy in the 1980s, as Knight has noted (ibid., p. 157), then becomes explaining why human males provide food for females and offspring -- something that no other primates do -- instead of robbing females of the food they were lucky enough to find -- something that all other primate males do. (For this, next.) The causal chain that led to a reorganization of sociality beginning with the inauguration of the Homo era (with Homo ergaster 1.5 million years ago) thus runs as: larger brain infants; the need for higher quality energy input (meat) and better child care to ensure infant survivorship; paternal investment solicited by females (males solicited as providers of meat); and a new pattern of sociality: sociality between the sexes. This preliminary integration of males and females into a single viable unit resulted, no doubt, in “the consequent potential for males to monopolize resources and hence influence the distribution of females. This may indeed be one of the most significant changes in hominid evolution… Females distribute themselves in relation to resources and males distribute themselves in relation to females [the aforesaid principle of sociality], but if males are essential to access to high-quality resources, then the distribution of males and females become far more interdependent” (ibid., p. 201). In fact, when females had put into males’ hand the access to higher quality energy supply (meat) by soliciting male investment in their common offspring, they had given males potential authority to govern the totality of the social collective with latter’s monopolization of the collective’s energy input: which fact explains the previously mentioned gradation of variation in male dominance in hunter-gatherer societies according to the group’s dependence on meat. The construct of high patriarchy that was to emerge later on with the founding of “civilization” was based on this foundation of primordial male political authority which the females, unawares of future, themselves laid down.

The question of timing: If the emergence of sociality across sex was in intimate causal connection with encephalization, then it could not have been full-blown with Homo ergaster. Though this species showed some activities of foraging for meat together with their slightly enlarged brain, consequently implying a certain degree of cross-sex bonding, the most significant transition occurred in late Homo erectus, 0.5 to 0.3 million years BP, according to the evidence of neoteny. With cranial capacity reaching the threshold of 1,000 cc (Foley and Lee, p. 63), the females, also, could not have been able to sustain infant growth if heterochrony altering (slowing down) infant growth rate did not come into the picture to spread the cost of increased encephalization for mother and infant over a longer time. A new life history parameter emerged at this time, essentially the same as modern human’s, along with a new social organization, a new diet, and a larger brain: the archaic Homo sapiens.

To meet the new energetic cost of the new life-history parameter or encephalization, different archaic Homo sapiens in different regions employed different methods: thus Neanderthal females in Europe pursued the alternative of becoming more robust themselves to withstand the increasing dependency of their offspring; while Eastern European Neanderthal females met the new cost of child-rearing by restricting movements to biotically rich environment that permitted area-intensive foraging (p. 336). Thus among the Neanderthals, usually the prime example of archaic Homo sapiens, the process of intense encephalization was able to persist with still weak male parental effort; the sexes lived apart and foraged each mainly for their own consumption. The complete integration of the sexes, the onset of sexual division of labor, males being specialized for high quality energy input upon female solicitation and females for high quality child-care required for the maintenance of increased encephalization and neoteny, only came about among the (or a small) African population of archaic Homo sapiens.


1. “Far from bringing meat for females to eat, the usual pattern [among non-human primates] is for males to rob females of whatever meat they may have been lucky enough to obtain” (Knight, ibid., p. 160).

2. This scenario was first proposed by Yves Coppens. C.f. his short summary in “East Side Story: The Origin of Humankind” in Scientific American, May 1994, p. 88 – 95. He made this hypothesis since at that time all fossils of the Hominidae family since three million years ago were found on the east side of the Rift Valley, where no fossils of the precursors of chimpanzee and gorilla (Panidae) were ever present (p. 91). The situation was the reverse on the west side. “Before Hominidae and Panidae had separated, the Rift Valley did not constitute an irregularity sufficient to divide equatorial Africa… Then about eight million years ago, a tectonic crisis arose that entailed two distinct movements: sinking produced the Rift Valley, and rising gave birth to the line of peaks forming the western rim of the valley. The breach and the barrier obviously disturbed the circulation of air. The air masses of the west maintained, thanks to the Atlantic, a generous amount of precipitation. Those of the east, coming into collision with the barrier of the Tibetan plateau, which also was rising, became organized into a seasonal system, today called the monsoon. Thus, the original extensive region was divided into two, each possessed of a different climate and vegetation….” (Ibid.) “The western descendants of these common ancestors pursued their adaptation to life in a humid, arboreal milieu: these are the Panidae. The eastern descendants of these same common ancestors, in contrast, invented a completely new repertoire in order to adapt to their new life in an open environment: these are the Hominidae” (p. 92). Under the drier condition on the eastern side, the Hominidae changed from gracile australopithecines “ensconced in tree-filled habitats” (p. 95) to robust australopithecines and then to humans (p. 93). The birth of large-brained, bipedal humans was then catalyzed firstly by the tectonic event and secondly by the climatic pressure (aridity). “Essentially, the first adaptation changed the structure of the brain but did not increase its volume… At the same time, the change caused Hominidae to retain an upright stance as the most advantageous and to diversify the diet while keeping it essentially vegetarian. The second adaptation led in two directions: a strong physique and a narrow, specialized vegetarian diet for the large australopithecines and a large brain and a broad-ranging, opportunistic diet for humans… [I]t was the latter development that proved to be the most fruitful, and it is this one that prevailed.” (p. 95). We shall see below that this “opportunistic diet”, essentially meaning meat-consumption, went hand in hand with brain-development and complexification of social organization. Until 2002, new discoveries since, such as that of the fossils of Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad, had not threatened this “East Side Story.” But then the discovery of Toumai (supposedly a Hominid) in Chad, dated to 7 million years ago, has forced Coppens to concede that “l’East Side Story n’existe plus”. See his interview with La Recherche, 361, Feb. 2003.

Furthermore, today it is known that Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy) did not develop bipedality under the condition of open savanna. This species is “a walker who still spent much of her time climbing in trees” (Knight, ibid., p. 231). Knight suggests a watery condition for the East African Rift Valley’s northerly end (flooded rivers, watered lakes, estuaries, and tree-shaded shorelines), such that Lucy could probably swim as well (p. 230). Coppens’ famous scenario here for the evolution of humanity must have been wrong. Knight’s suggestion of the development of bipedality and much else of our humanity in a shoreline, watery environment – the importance of this scenario for our story of the origin of sexual division of labor and the evolution of gender politics we shall see next – is currently much more realistic.

3. C.f. the press-release by U.C. Berkeley, 6/14/1999, by Patricia McBroom: "Human ancestors who roamed the dry and open savannas of Africa about 2 million years ago routinely began to include meat in their diets to compensate for a serious decline in the quality of plant foods... It was this new meat diet, full of densely-packed nutrients, that provided the catalyst for human evolution, particularly the growth of the brain, said Katharine Milton, an authority on primate diet. Without meat, said Milton, it's unlikely that proto humans could have secured enough energy and nutrition from the plants available in their African environment at that time to evolve into the active, sociable, intelligent creatures they became. Receding forests would have deprived them of the more nutritious leaves and fruits that forest-dwelling primates survive on, said Milton... Milton argues that meat supplied early humans not only with all the essential amino acids, but also with many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they required, allowing them to exploit marginal, low quality plant foods, like roots -- foods that have very few nutrients but lots of calories. These calories, or energy, fueled the expansion of the human brain and, in addition, permitted human ancestors to increase in body size while remaining active and social... The brain is a relentless consumer of calories, said Milton. It needs glucose 24 hours a day. Animal protein probably did not provide many of those calories, which were more likely to come from carbohydrates, she said... Since plant foods available in the dry and deforested early human environment had become less nutritious, meat was critical for weaned infants, said Milton. She explained that small infants could not have processed enough bulky plant material to get both nutrients for growth and energy for brain development. 'I have come to believe that the incorporation of animal matter into the diet played an absolutely essential role in human evolution." The old view that early Homos, e.g. Homo erectus, were merely scavengers of meat is now increasingly being contradicted by new evidences and consequently abandoned. The report in Der Spiegel, June 2004, "Die Spur des Jaegers", summarizes the new trend. It seems that Homo erectus (in the general sense, i.e. inclusive of Homo ergaster [the African specialized branch], Homo antecessor, and Homo heidelbergensis [both European types, the latter evolving from the former]; in the restricted sense Homo erectus refers only to the East Asian specialization of this general genus) were already active hunters, in fact hunting down large herbivores such as hypopotamus and elephants: these giants were actually easier to hunt because they "feared nothing, and so they did not run away" (p. 148; referring to the excavation in Levant currently being led by Sabine Gaudzinski). During the million years or so of their hunting career and meat-eating across Eurasia, the H. erectus were changing shape, discarding old herbivore teeth and shortening intestine. ("Die Kaumuskeln verschlankten sich, die Backenzaehne wurden kleiner, das schnauzenfoermige Gebiss schob sich zurueck. Der Darm verkuerzte sich... Mahlzaehne, grosse Schnauze und lange Darmschlinge waren also nicht mehr noetig." P. 146; c.f. next section, "reduction of gut size" as correlative with encephalization.) It was this meat consumption which fueled the growth of brain size, not the other way round ("Erst ass er [H. erectus] Fleisch, dann wuchs sein Gehirn -- und nicht umgekehrt"; p. 150.), since brain-growth required constant supply of white blood cells ("Aber auch das Gehirn waere ohne die staendige Zufuhr von tierischen Eiweissen nicht gewachsen"; p. 146).

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