A casualty of female hunters?

Did "feminism" contribute to Neanderthals' extinction?

By Catherine Price
November 14, 2007 2:25AM (UTC)
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I'm not kidding. The headline of an article in this weekend's Boston Globe is "Stone Age Feminism? Females Joining Hunt May Explain Neanderthals' End."

According to the article, theories on what caused the extinction of the Neanderthals abound, with potential culprits ranging from climate change to genocide by "real" humans. But here's a new one: "Stone Age feminism." As the Globe puts it, "Among Neanderthals, hunting big beasts was women's work as well as men's, so it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency. And a high casualty rate among fertile women -- the vital 'reproductive core' of a tiny population -- could well have meant demographic disaster for a species already struggling to survive among monster bears, yellow-fanged hyenas, and cunning Homo sapien newcomers."


Now, I don't mean to criticize the theory itself -- if it is indeed true that female Neanderthals joined in the hunt along with the males, and if there were only about 10,000 of them to begin with (which the article asserts), and if they were constantly getting gored, then yeah, eliminating the females and their wombs probably didn't have a great effect on Neanderthals' prospects for survival. But I think it's pretty stupid to suggest that these Neanderthals were "feminists." They weren't feminists. They were Neanderthals. I don't mean to knock animals or anything, but I think that being a feminist also requires that you be a human. Calling Neanderthals "feminists" is like making a feminist out of a female gorilla. But perhaps I'm underestimating animals' abilities. If so, maybe we should be recruiting help from some of the female-dominant species out there. Anyone know a ring-tailed lemur that's looking for a cause?

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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