It is the ultimate domestic cliché: a woman, pinafored and dutiful, tending a stove all day in preparation for her husband’s homecoming. As soon as he walks in, the ritual can begin: family members take their seats around the table (he sits at the head, of course) and dinner is served. Our couple are reliving a scene that has played out billions of times in our history because gender roles — husband at work all day, woman as homebody — have been forged not by relatively recent social conventions but by our distant evolutionary past.Come again? The current notion of primate evolution is that the social groups are largely mirrored by current ape configurations. The prime mover behind this idea is Richard Wrangham, who argues that the world revolves around food:
Early human marriages, he suggests, were “primitive protection rackets”, in which men protected women from hungry marauders (attracted by the smoke of the fire) in return for a hot meal at the end of the day and, almost as an afterthought, babies. This is a radical notion — that domestic unions are mainly about food, not sex — but it’s not ridiculous. Anthropologists have noted that many primitive societies will tolerate a married woman sleeping around, but will ostracise her if she feeds any man other than her husband. In the ancestral struggle for survival, it seems, sustenance was more important than sex.It is well known that the drive to eat trumps the drive for sex (but not by much). The anthropologist J. Lawrence Angel once said that "when two groups of people meet, they may fight, but they will always mate." I will be curious to see how well this is received.
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