Ancient gender stereotypes are not a model for the present – Scotsman comment

The news that women and men performed gender-based tasks in Europe about 5,000 years ago may be open to interpretation in a number of ways, not all of them benign.

Neolithic societies of Europe some 5,000 years ago appear to have divided labour on the basis of gender (Picture: LP Repiso/SWNS)

The research was based on an analysis of stone tools found in graves. Those placed alongside women’s bodies are believed to have been mostly concerned with working animal skins, while men were buried with tools associated with hunting, woodwork, and conflict.

Archaeologist Dr Penny Bickle stressed that gendered roles were “far from… a sign of early gender inequalities”, saying that interring people with grave goods showed how “valued they were for these jobs”. So different, but equal.

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There may still be some people who would see such research as evidence of a natural state of affairs between men and women and, somehow, a model for the present.

However, humanity has been constantly evolving and will continue to do so, physically and mentally, so there is no such thing as “natural” when it comes to how we run our society.

One of the great advances made in recent decades has been the long overdue recognition that men and women are equal and furthermore, as individuals, are blessed with an array of talents that no preconceived, out-dated and plain wrong ideas about gender roles should be allowed to stifle.

As the eminent historian Professor Margaret Macmillan wrote in her book, The Uses and Abuses of History, “the past can be used for almost anything you want to do in the present… That does not mean we should not look to history for understanding, support and help; it does mean that we should do so with care”.


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