Gender relations have only slightly changed in the midst of the growing complexity of human societies through the centuries. Women remain the primary caregivers and are expected by their society to be responsible for child and infant care whether it be in subsistence economies or in modern day stateshood. However, men’s traditional roles of hunting, construction, political leadership, and even combat have slowly become shared with women as societies become politically and economically more complex.
In subsistence economies, males conduct hunting activities while their female counterparts gather wild plants for food. Both of them can together collect shellfish and tend to small animals. An example of this type of society is the Hadza tribe of Tanzania. In contrast, there are also tribes where hunting is carried out by women. This is the case of the Agta tribe in Philippines who would hunt for wild pigs in groups. Since the women are the ones responsible for child care, it is a common sight to see young children accompany women in these hunting trips.
Another type of economic system is that of horticulturalists. These are people who engage in slash and burn cultivation. An example of this type of society is the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon. Their residence actually straddles the countries of Venezuela and Brazil. Members of this group are both horticulturalists and hunter and gatherers. Their leader is called a village headman and would always be male. The headman’s leadership is by example. He does not usually give orders but would influence others to help him by doing the chores himself and then others would assist him. Their society is comprised of many clans and descent groups. Within the village, the households would either be comprised of nuclear or extended families.
The Yanomami also engage in warfare and raiding. Intertribal warfare is common.
Male supremacy is the rule in the Yamomami village. The women here have very little value. Infanticide is allowed with girl babies because the Yanomami prefers boys. Women are also treated as goods and raiding of villages to capture women is a common activity. The majority of men in this society are polygamous.
Pastoralists, like the Massai of Kenya, have more complex organizations. Individuals own herds of cows and as a group they would travel together towards the other part of the land to find the grazing area for their cows. Cattle raids are common, thus pastoralists would also have warriors to protect their herds. Women in these groups are in charge of food production. It is a male-dominated society, thus women are subservient to the men.
In chiefdoms, the political system has become more complex and their economic activities are more permanent. In these societies, the leaders occupy ranks and leadership is inherited. Policies of governance are also imposed. Women still do not occupy leadership positions, however being related to the governing individuals give them power. Their influence and power are dependent on the amount of power that the husband or father gives to them. The most important role of women in these societies is the production of heirs.
In the present structure of nations and states, the economic system has become very complex and the system of governance is protected by law. The role of women in productivity has gone beyond producing children. Women are able to participate in the labor force and are considered a major contributor of a country’s health. Women’s participation is also valued in different industries. There are however societies where women’s contribution to leadership and industry is limited. An example is the country of Saudi Arabia where women’s tasks are limited and subjected to gender segregation.
Despite the changes in leadership structures and economic systems, gender relations are still a bit similar to those of the simpler societies. The women’s function of reproduction is still of prime importance. Women’s value as caregivers of children sometimes functions against women’s access to better-paying jobs. Employers would hesitate hiring women because of the legal benefits accorded to them such as maternity benefits and sick leaves. Women, no matter what their positions in the office are, would still be expected to be the one to skip work to attend to a child who is sick.
In terms of tasks that women can do to contribute in the company, there is a wide variety of acceptable tasks. Women are now in occupations that were previously exclusive to men. There are even women in combat and in the frontlines now.
Gender relations underwent slight variations over the centuries of changing political and economic structures. Women, from being regarded as just another commodity in the simpler societies, are now part of the ruling class. However, despite the increased access to education and employment, a woman’s reproductive contribution to society remains important. The recognition given to this capability varies within societies and countries. Women who are employed are often faced with the double burden of earning an income and caring for the children. The perspective that it is the woman’s responsibility to care for the children perpetuates despite the woman’s full participation in economic and political activities. It has been centuries since simple societies have depended on hunting and gathering. However, these deep set notions of women’s function in society seem to have no chance of being eradicated in the coming years.