Sex Roles of our Ancestors


Over the years, the debate over the sex roles of our ancestors has been more than just fierce. In discussing their sex roles, it intertwines with the discussion of gender roles today. In modern day, there are different arguments based on gender equality and gender stratification. However, the patterns of ancestry show that some cultures were patriarchal and others matriarchal, which defined the roles of women and men at the time (Booth 1). It is much different from today where almost all societies have been absorbed into the Western culture, and their way of doing things is based on the precedent taken by their cultural masters. Anthropologists have always tried to poke into finding an establishment of the sex roles from the early days, and their findings are extremely interesting in a big way.



Research into the happenings that have been there over the years relating to sex roles indicates a lot. The prehistoric endeavors try to establish how our ancestors divided among themselves the roles of getting food, clothing and shelter, and how the roles shaped the evolving species. One of the most fundamental arguments on the basis of gender roles is that it played a great role in ensuring humans dominated the earth for a long time. This argument is based on the fact that today, a person can perform several tasks without messing around like other primates would.

It is common for social mammals to have a division of labor, setting up the culture of the species. For instance, it is the role of the female lion to hunt, while the male one fights fellow male lions and loaf around. The chimpanzees have a patriarchal social setting, with the contrary happening to the bonobos who have a matriarchal society. This is what anthropologists have always tried to get to the bottom of, with regard to human ancestors of early days, essentially starting with the Neanderthals.

One of the most interesting findings is the one that anthropologists based their argument of gender roles on the wear and tear differences of teeth of the Neanderthal man. The teeth show continued task manipulation of teeth, leading to a pattern of tear and wear (Lents 1). The valid conclusion is the differences shown in the tear and wear of the teeth is brought about by the differences in tasks that they committed their teeth to. Though some of the wear patterns are similar between men and women, much of it is different, asserting the researchers’ arguments of differences in gender roles for them (Lents 2).

A look at the Neanderthal ancestors exclaims that both had a hand in doing dangerous works like hunting. The primitive tools in the archeological sites of the Neanderthals must have informed the fact that they hunted large animals, and the claims that both women and men participated is because they all had broken skeletons when their remains were observed (Flam 1). This is the first clearest view of gender roles playing a part among the ancestors, where it seems the first one was not split, but it was a co-duty of everyone. Anthropologists also exclaim that the co-participation in the work was as a result of lack of other options for the Neanderthals (Flam 1).

There is also the impression of women having woven clay show fabrics, and men emphasizing the hunt of oversize prey like mammoths and bear (Flam 2). This is all from the Stone Age texts and exhibits that help anthropologists try to make meaning out of the lives that people of the period used to live. However, there is a valid argument that the current gender roles started showing when the differential brain capacities of men and women were estimated to be at the level they are today. That is when gender roles crept into the society in full throttle. Anthropologists argue that when the brain sizes of men and women were similar, working in pairs and cooperation was the order of life, the burden of protecting offspring was bore by both the male and female.

The prior statement is a testimony that gender roles have come a long way, evolving to be what they are today. The major role of women is cited as making wind and water-proof clothes, as well as trappings for small animals. The appearance or artwork and jewelry in the last about 50000 years is cited as a major starting point in understanding the way gender roles played out(Flam 1). Women became the major players in taking care of children while men would find food via any possible means for their people.

The agricultural history also brings about a clear distinction in gender roles. The way that the ancestors approached planting crops and farming in general, redefined the gender roles. The labor intensive shifting agriculture that used shovels and hoes did not require much physical strength and was undertaken by both men and women (Price 1). That was the first approach to farming. The second approach required the plow. As such, it demanded a lot of upper body strength. A steady pace, great stamina, strong arms and bursts of power were required to undertake plowing, laying the burden primarily on men (Price 1). This demanded that men tend to the fields, and women to look after homes.

There is one description of gender and their roles that one would feel impossible to leave out. The scarcity of the female cells of reproduction and the adequacy of the males has been cited by historians, scientists and others as a pointer into how gender roles shaped from time in the past. When humans realized the difference, women became more cautious, contrary to what men were (Booth 1). This altered the bargaining power, shaping behavior and actions of both sexes at this time.


Sex Role Debate

In the society today, the debate over the roles of gender in the past has been raging for years. The information provided by researchers is incredible and breathtaking; it makes one think as it offers a great insight into the past and the evolution of persons. The realization, or basically the feeling of being man or woman must have been a great turning point in the way labor was divided. As such, the current generation is based on the demand for clarity and clear explanation of the beginning of gender roles. When basing the argument on today’s society, gender roles are a result of social stratification, and what the society thinks of the genders (Mackey & Coney 288). However, all information that comes from the past is speculation and guessing.

With no discrete information on what shaped the gender roles, the debate may keep on raging. The size difference between the sexes in Neanderthal age was there to be seen by all. However, the size is not cited as the major contributor to the division of labor among the sexes. In my view, as long as clarity on the reasons for division of labor remains at large, the debate about the ancestor roles will remain for quite some time. Then again, the incredible knowledge dispensation in circulation in the current world has opened the people to different realities of the evolution of man. The current generation and their philosophical stand of argument continue taking sides while hotly debating ancestral sex roles.



Anthropologists have made magnificent progress in their quest to demonstrate the evolution of sex roles over the different spans of human evolution. Through their works, observation of archives among other tactics, they have come up with a sequence of how actually tasks have been divided over the years until today. Sometimes, it seems to provide more complexity than green light, but at least one is left with something new. One of the most certain things that anthropologists can outline is that division of tasks based on gender started a long time ago, and it has continued up until today (Mackey & Coney 293). In fact, the separation has become clearer today in economics, politics, and home roles. The past, and the developments that have occurred up to date show a clear path that has been followed in getting the low down to what the society expects of each gender, culminating in the gender roles of today.

Works Cited

Booth, Alison. “The Origins of Our Gender Roles.” – Al Jazeera English. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013.        Web. 01 May 2016.   <>.

Flam, Faye. “The Evolution of Sex Roles Anthropologists Are Looking at How Prehistoric Tasks             Were Divided, Perhaps Indicating the Moment When We Became Truly Human.” Philly-           archives. N.p., 2007. Web. 01 May 2016.

Lents, Nathan. “Did Neanderthals Have Gender Roles in Their Division of Labor?” The Human   Evolution Blog. N.p., 2015. Web. 01 May 2016.

Mackey, W. C., and N. S. Coney. “Cultural Evolution and Gender Roles: A Re-Affirmation of J.             K. Brown’s Note.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 41.3-4 (2000): 285- 298.     Web.

Price, Joseph. “Hand to the Plow: How Farming May Still Affect Gender Roles | Austin   nstitute.” Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. N.p., 18 Feb. 2014. Web.         01 May 2016.

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