Women gather, men hunt?


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Recently Overcoming Bias had a post about how men are evolved to hunt, women to gather. It then went on to speculate about how most sports are based on hunting instincts:

"Now sports let us show off many kinds of physically-expressed abilities. But it seems to me that most sports emphasize hunting skills, such as chasing, evading, throwing, and hitting, far more than gathering skills, such as visual search and fine finger control. Now it makes sense for men to prefer hunting sports, but oddly females also seem to prefer them; pretty much all sports emphasize hunting more than gathering skills. Why don’t women prefer sports designed to show off the skills for which female bodies were designed?

Sorry, but there is a "sport" that uses exactly these "gather" skills--it's called hunting! Perhaps our ancestors did persistence hunt and our most popular sports are based on those skills, but the persistence hunt only works in certain environments.

Modern hunting really isn't much like persistence hunting, even when practiced in open plain environments that would be suited to persistence hunting using ancient methods. There isn't much chasing, that's for sure, in waiting all day in a tree blind for a deer to walk by. Visual search and fine finger control are extremely important in modern hunting.

Besides that, I think anthropological studies have been heavily clouded by modern ideas of "the hunt" that are only relevant to academics who have probably never hunted themselves. They seem to think that all hunting involves chasing animals around. For example, in some ethnographies, net hunting, trapping, and spear fishing are counted as "gathering." This has led to two erroneous ideas now embedded in pop culture: that women squatted around gathering leaves all day, and that such leaves made up most of the diet.

The real truth about the study posted on Overcoming Bias that showed that women in rural Mexico are better foragers for mushrooms is that mushrooms aren't exactly the most important food in the world. They are of very little food value, but have high culinary value, and the more hours you put into learning to forage for them, the better yields you get. I have zero experience with this myself, and in Sweden I got zero mushrooms, while my male Swedish roommate got several bucketloads.

But this is not all to throw away the idea of gender roles in evolution. A recent NYTimes article about the challenge of building a decent sports bra reminded me of the biggest foil to the "born to run" idea of human locamotion. Maybe men are born to run, but women happen to have breasts: jiggly protusions that are often quite large. When running they can be rather painful. Modern women get around this obstacle by using sports bras, but when was the last time you saw a hunter-gatherer with a bra? This explains quite well to me why women who hunt in those tribes utilize traps, nets, and bows. But maybe women get used to the "bounce" after awhile?

Elite female runners often experience amenorrhea which can lead to infertility and low bone density (and it's not associated with low body fat, it's associated with running). Do male elite runners experience such reductions in reproductive "fitness?" 

But it is an interesting question: what do you think? Were all humans born to run? Or just men?