Sex, Gender and the Body: Cross-Cultural Approaches to
the Body, Gender, Sexuality and Kinship
ANTH2170 – Fall/Winter 2011/2012 – Karen McGarry
Lecture 3 – The Animal Body – Sept 21
- Nature/nurture debate in anthropology.
o Nature theories were helped by evolutionary thinkers at the time.
- Problematic role of science in promoting the body and human behaviours as
Researchers Attempt to ‘Prove’ the Naturalness of Human Behaviours and Bodies:
- By using evolutionary paradigms to explain human behaviour.
- Through animal studies.
- Evolutionary paradigms to ‘prove’ the naturalness of gender.
- Cultural relativism.
- Historical particularism.
- Family hominidae.
o i.e. humans.
o Often time, within this family, we include humans, human ancestors,
fossils, chimps, gorillas, etc.
Primates that don’t have tails.
o Habitual bipedalism – walking at least some of the time on two feet.
- ‘Man the hunter’; ‘woman the gatherer’ (published 1968).
o Around the 1970’s people started asking things along the lines of
gendered role distinction.
o They felt and assumed that there was a gendered distinction in terms of
labour in most societies.
Men seemed to be the one’s doing the hunting in any given society.
• They felt this was a cultural universal – this lead them to
believe that there must be a genetic evolutionary reason for
this – that this was adapted in an evolutionary sense.
Women seemed to be the gatherer – collecting wild fruits, plants
and supplementing the main diet of meat.
They argued that hunting by many of our early ancestors stimulated
the evolution of hominids.
- Washburn and Lancaster in 1960s – 1970s.
- Argued that hunting stimulated hominid evolution.
Washburn and Lancaster argued: - That bipedalism led to:
o Hands free.
o Tools can be made, which increased brain size.
Tools can be used for hunting and for slaughtering animals.
o Large animals can be hunted/slaughtered.
o Hunting parties – needed language to communicate as a group.
A great degree of planning and communication skill.
You need a plan and everyone would have a specific role.
Human like sort of traits.
Critique by Feminist Scholars against Washburn and Lancaster
- Sally Slocum
o Believes that Washburn and Lancaster composed a theory that is very
male oriented and gives females and inferior role in human evolution.
o It’s just as probably, that if women were out gathering, they would need to
be bipedal because they would need to develop and use tools and be
o Argues that Washburn and Lancaster underestimated the use of protein
o Chimps and gorillas are known to eat meat but it’s a very small proportion
of food. Washburn and Lancaster are assuming that our ancestors were
simply mostly eating meat.
o Projecting contemporary ideas of food habits into the past.
o A lot of human evolutionary models that try to root gender roles in human
evolution seek to create essentialist or universalizing narrative.
Over simplifying explanation that overarches.
An explanation that ignores a lot of human diversity.
• Example: Washburn and Lancaster were assuming that men
in all societies are the ones who do the hunting.
o Women do hunt in different societies around the
o E.g. Agta (Philippines); aka Central African Republic;
some Australian aboriginal groups.
o In North American today, hunting