Hominoid Gender Roles

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In early times there were our ancestors, consisting of both male and female organisms. Roles that were laid out for both early ancestors then, were passed down to generations from Australopithecus, to Homo Habilis, to Homo erectus, to Neanderthal, and to Homo Sapiens. Our early ancestors may have had distinct roles that mismatch today's ideal gender roles of males doing the work while females are stay-at home nurturing the children. According to some research articles, our early ancestors may have had males that were stay-at home while females do the roaming looking for food and shelter. Some may even say that at a certain point of evolution, both genders did the same thing as in roaming, killing and finding shelter. Now that did progressively change individually for the ancestors listed in the beginning of this introductory paragraph. Australopithecus to Homo Sapiens were bipedal meaning that their legs were straight and purposely for walking. These gender roles were highly determined by the landscapes or environments that our early ancestors were living in. Walking on two feet and having two upper limbs (arms) to help the individual do other things is beneficial whereas most early ancestors were quadrupedal meaning that they use all for limbs for self-transportation.


Beginning with Australopithecus, the first of its species were discovered by an Archeologist by the name of Donald Johansson when he found Lucy; an Australopithecus Afarnesis. These species were dated back to roughly 3 and a half Million years ago and had an average brain size of about 400 cc. The pelvis and lower limbs of these species clearly indicates that they were fully bipedal: the pelvis is short and bowl-shaped, bringing the gluteal muscles around to the side of the body, likewise modern humans, for trunk stabilization during bipedalism, and the first toe is in line with the other toes (Ward, 2002; Harcourt-Smith and Aiello, 2004). Both genders of this species were similar, however recent studies showed that they may have been having roles that differ the ideal gender roles we have today. According to a study by the University of Colorado Boulder, they have indicated that the male Australopithecus were stay-at-home while the females do the food hunting and roaming around. Using a method called laser ablation, they zapped the hominid teeth for them to find and measure isotope ratios of strontium that were located in the tooth enamel. Strontium is found in rocks and soils then are absorbed by plants and animals. Working as a food chain, the plants and animals are therefore consumed by the organisms. Harnessing the strontium isotope ratios will indicate the direct reflection of the foods that these hominids ate, which in turn reflects the local geology (Copeland 2011). The research was done by studying both Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus individuals from two adjacent cave systems in South Africa known as Sterkfontein and Swartkans. The research concluded that males likely grew up and died in the same are while more than half of the female teeth were from outside of the local area.

Homo habilis, also known as the handy man, were dated back to 1.4 million through 2.3 years ago. They were considered the oldest member of the genus Homo, H. habilis and were discovered in 1960 by Louis Leaky and Mary Leaky in East Africa. They were averaging at 4 feet tall and a larger brain capacity size of 640cc. The nick name handy man were given to Homo Habilis because of their craftiness in creating tools utilizing stone for butchering animal meat/bones and using animal bone for digging. In a documentary video called Becoming Human, Paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond discusses of how stones were chipped where it became sharpened for the purpose of cutting into some kind of food. Richmond showed evidence of some dated animal bones where there were clear cut marks which correlates to usage of the chipped rocks to get to the marrow. Compared to the Australopithecus, Homo habilis's brain size is far greater indicating that there is an expansion of cognitive capacity (Richmond). This may have been the reason behind the specie's reasoning of breaking rocks into sharper objects to cut food and etc. In regards of their greater cognitive capabilities, they had the intelligence to make tools to find food maybe even scavenging amongst others for food. As of now, it is debatable to determine the gender roles of Homo habilis because of little to no evidence on this species.

Homo Erectus, known as the Up Right Man existed approximately 1.8 million to 200,000 years ago. According to a website by the name of humanorigins.si.edu, Homo erectus lived in Africa and Asia. Discovered in 1891 by Eugene Dubois, a Dutch surgeon while he was in Indonesia. The specie's first name was Pithecanthropus, then later adopted the name Homo Erectus because of their straight torso. Its name was tossed around because its finding across two continents. So far, this was the tallest hominoid specie yet and also had the larger brain size of 900cc. Early members of this species have cranial capacities between 600-800 cm3, but most later Homo erectus exceed 1000 cm3, which falls within the lower range seen in our own species (Groeneveld 2017). Based on its appearances, it resembles humans more than any of the other kind of early ancestors. The Up-Right Man were good walkers and as well as runners. They also were known to have survived the longest because of their knowledge of food hunting, crafty tools, shelter building and discovery of fire. Many scientists believe that Homo Erectus ate more meat than the early hominids because of fire. In a website article on austrilianmuseum.et.au, the Exhibition Project Coordinator Fran Dorey talked of how analyzing burnt stones, animal bones, charcoal and ash deposits were the components that led scientists to believe that the Homo erectus were the very first to discover and use the element fire. Of course, using fire to cook food, warm their people during cold nights, social interactions and scaring away predators played a major part in their survival. According to humanorigins.si.edu, the creation of large tools such as hand axes and cleavers increased reliance during climate changes. These traits that they have contributed to their productive lifestyle in which prolonged their kind from 2 million years to about 100,000 years ago. Even so, there isn't much details about gender roles for this group of species that scientists are able to find but it is certain that some social interactions were made.

Moving onto Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis or Neanderthals, they were living from 230,000 to just about 30,000 years ago. Discovered in 1829 but was not recognized until 1864 when it became the first Hominin species to be named Homo Neanderthalensis by Geologist William King (Johanson and Edgar, 2006). They are our closest extinct human relatives. Their body structures were almost identical and had same size brains as that of modern humans however, they were shorter and were not in the same family tree as us. The Neanderthals lived mainly in Europe and Southwestern to Central Asia. These species of hominoids were more developed than any of the other previous hominoids. According to humanorigins.si.edu, the Neanderthals were very intelligent and crafty with their sophisticated handy tools, controlling fire, build/lived in shelters and even wore clothing. Hearths were built for cooking and warmth while skins of animals were used as clothing. They advanced their hunting tools and greatly improved their weapons such as attaching sharpened rocks onto long sticks. This group was to be known as the first group to have an organized hunting group where they worked together to surround and take down large animals. Like humans, they had burials, arts and decoration but just not as developed. With the knowledge of the Neanderthals organized hunting groups, presumably is this when the gender roles start to take place where the men will go off finding food while the women stayed behind and nurture their younglings? Not according to a New York Times article by Nicholas Wade, saying that women did not just stay at home watching over kids while men hunt for food. Wades reasoning had to do with the bone evidence of a female Neanderthal and her robust built arguing that there has to be a reason why the females bone structures were built like the men. This is however debatable because it may have had to do with genetics. The later existing population did meet with the Homo Sapiens and a hand full of them did interbreed across species. As closely modernized as they were, they became extinct due to the harsh climates of their time.

Lastly, there are the Homo Sapiens Sapien also known as the Doubly Wise Men. They are the earliest and closest species to the human race existing from 35,000 BCE to 12,000 BCE. Characteristics about these modernized cavemen where that they were even more skilled and advanced in hunting, tools, communication, arts, etc. The first cave painting site was discovered in 1979 having used blood, dirt, clay and rocks to draw animals/people. Hunting has greatly improved as they have additional support for throwing spears, making hooks for fishing, bow and arrow. According to humansorigin.si.edu, just after 12,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens decided to transition from hunting to producing food as they discovered how to breed animals and grow plants. This led to farming and herding animals that transformed earth's entire shape as populations grow bigger and bigger forming villages, to towns, to cities, to entire countries. As things were escalating, gender roles start to surface. Men still are the ones to do the big game hunting to provide food, looking for shelter, keeping the family warm, and etc. Women still are the ones to stay at home, cook for the children, nurture and watch them grow into men and women.

In today's ideal gender roles, Men are the hard-worker that provides for his family and the backbone that holds the family together while women are to be at home with the kids. It has been so for hundreds of years and Society has grown into this defaulted role for both genders to act a certain and that if they do not then are considered rebellious or frowned upon. This goes far throughout all the human races regardless of color around the world. Some people may argue that Men are built to lead, and women are just followers of men, but some may disapprove. Taking a look at prehistoric species from Australopithecus, to Homo habilis, to Homo erectus, to Neanderthal, and to Homo sapiens, there were times were females hominids did aid male hominids in male duties but there was not enough evidence to prove that female's roles were distinctly different millions of years ago. The gender roles we had currently, are implemented for a reason and that reason is because it has been passed down so that is how it has always been since the early ages. Although, the idea has implemented humans to think highly of men and lowly of women. There are many problems with this kind of mentality because it creates social disparities between each gender. Comparing the 1900s to the 1950s to today, times are gradually changing where society is becoming more aware of social justice and shining away from the default gender roles. People can become or act as they want such as men finally being able to start showing emotions without being labeled as weak individuals and women taking part in manly duties without being criticized being out of place.


In this discussion, I talked about our early hominoid ancestor's gender roles from Australopithecus, to Homo habilis, to Homo erectus, to Neanderthal, and to Homo sapiens. Majority of those dated too far back in history that it is nearly impossible to determine their specific gender roles. The only group of hominoids that I was able to get intel on where the more modernized species such as Neanderthal through Homo Sapiens. Having knowledge of only those species, I was able to determine that men were the food gatherers while women nurtured the younglings at home. Gender roles of our early ancestors are highly debated because it greatly affects us today and people's curiosities inspire them to seek answers on origins of gender roles.

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Hominoid Gender Roles. (2019, Apr 26). Retrieved June 24, 2024 , from

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