Men still hunt and women still gather

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

May 2009

"You've come a long way, baby!" Equality for women is clearly just but no renovation of our social structures will erase the biological and psychological differences between human males and females.

For any species of animal, survival trumps everything. It even explains why it's so much harder for a woman to lose weight than her mate, even though they eat identical meals and follow the same exercise routine. Nature designed women's bodies to conserve energy during periods when food was scarce so that she could maintain a pregnancy or provide milk for a nursling. The lower body fat that gives her a pear-shaped figure doesn't melt away quickly, to the anguish of every woman.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago Stone Age men had no way to store or carry food. Accumulated belly fat was a source of available energy during a hunting excursion. If guys carried their weight on their thighs it might slow them down in a hunt. That mattered in the Stone Age because they often simply outlasted their prey, whether a rabbit or a deer, on a chase that could last for days. Present-day hunter-gatherers still hunt that way.

The females of our species are smaller than the males and they are not as muscular. Their tendency to shop (gather) or even to visit the restroom in pairs or small groups is a hard-wired trait that might protect them from a single predatory male.

Women usually have better memories for faces, places and events than men do. These days they never forget where they bought a handbag or kitchen tool. Hundreds of generations ago their ancestors remembered where the best berry bushes and nut trees were. Then as now, the guys probably would be content to look for new ones.

Women have a better sense of smell and better hearing than men do. Fifty thousand years ago that might have given them a few minutes more warning to escape from a human or animal predator. Back in the Stone Age most women were either pregnant with or nursing a baby. They needed a head start.

Nature occasionally makes short-term mistakes but not long-term ones. For that we are grateful.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.