myth debunk: only men were hunters, women stayed at home

According to ethnographic records gathered from around the world and spanning the past century, women — young and old alike — hunted large game as well as small animals.

The idea that men hunt while women stay at home, my lovelies, is about to be heavily debunked. New research on foraging societies around the world found that women hunt in 80% of the reviewed societies, while they were found to be big-game hunters of animals heavier than 30 kilograms in a third of these societies.

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, consolidates lines of proof that women not only were habitual hunters but also that they hunted using specialized tools and strategies, and even taught children to hunt.

The findings add to a growing body of archaeological and observed evidence debunking the age-old myth of strictly gendered roles in so-called hunter-gatherer communities from prehistory to the present.

This meta-analysis overturns the idea that men were always the hunters and women were exclusively gatherers.

“We have nearly 150 years of ethnographic studies sampled, we have every continent and more than one culture from every continent, and so I feel like we did get a pretty good swathe of what people do around the world,” Cara Wall-Scheffler at the University of Washington in Seattle says.

The analysis also found that women’s hunting strategies were more flexible than men’s — women were using a wider range of tools when they go hunting.

The research found that women were hunting alone or with a male partner, other women, children, or dogs, and even while pregnant.

While the bow and arrow were commonly used by female hunters around the world, women also used knives, nets, spears, machetes, crossbows, and more.

Wall-Scheffler’s team looked at a database called D-PLACE that has records on more than 1400 human societies worldwide made over the past 150 years. There was data on hunting for 63 of the foraging societies recorded and, of these, 50 described women hunting.

For 41 of these societies, there was information on whether women’s hunting was intentional or opportunistic – that is, whether they were going out to hunt rather than catching animals they stumbled upon while gathering plants, say. In 87% of cases, it was intentional.

“That number was higher than I expected,” says Wall-Scheffler.

The team also looked at data on the size of animals hunted by women, which was recorded for 45 societies.

In 46% of cases, it was a small game such as lizards and rodents, 15% medium game, and 33% large game. In 4% of the societies, women hunted games of all sizes.

Given that woman did and do hunt in so many societies, Wall-Scheffler says she can’t explain why the popular notion is that only men hunt.

“I don’t understand it,” she says. “I think it is just as remarkable that women with babies on their backs are going out to shoot animals.”

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