Salvo 03.26.2024 15 minutes

Gynocracy Takes an L 


Paleogals weren’t the hunter/girlbosses contemporary anthropologists want them to have been.

“Move Over, Men: Women Were Hunters, Too,” proclaimed The New York Times back in August of last year. In a stunning reversal of decades of academic consensus, the world could finally, at last, begin to recognize the vital role women played in securing nourishment for their tribes. A new study, published in prestigious academic journal PLoS One (we’ll call the study “Anderson et al (2023)” from now on), showed that our primitive female ancestors weren’t relegated to gathering tubers, berries, and other plants while the men did the real work, going toe to toe with mammoths and bison and other dangerous wild animals. Nor did women simply help prepare animals once they had been caught or killed. No: women were directly and “deliberately” involved in hunting, using spears, bows and other weapons to down game and bring home the most valuable, calorie-dense food for the rest of the tribe.  

But it wasn’t just that women’s role in hunting had been neglected by the fields of anthropology, archaeology, and history. It had been completely erased. Women didn’t participate occasionally in hunting: they were there all the time, taking part in “100 percent” of hunting activities in societies where hunting was the main source of food. In fact, women even played a “dominant role,” excelling and outperforming men in this most supposedly masculine of activities.  

Just how could academics have got it so wrong, for so long? 

The signs had been there for some time, of course. In 1963, The New York Times tells us, archaeologists in Colorado discovered the 10,000-year-old remains of a woman buried with a projectile point. But instead of interpreting this as a sign that the woman was a hunter, buried with the remains of a weapon, or type of weapon, she had used during her life to kill animals, the archaeologists told us the sharp piece of stone was a scraping knife. In doing so, they put this unknown woman firmly back in the (Neolithic) kitchen, where the discipline, and society, wanted us to believe she belonged. 

These moments of cognitive dissonance, if you will—as clear evidence that women were involved in hunting in our Stone Age past mounted, only for that evidence to be swallowed back into the dominant theory of gender roles in primitive society—continued for decades. Then something changed. A few years ago, one of the authors of “Anderson et al 2023,” Sophia Chilczuk, was made to listen to a podcast with her classmates about the discovery of the remains of a Paleolithic woman, in Peru, in 2018. The evidence that this woman was more than a berrypicker and a food-preparer seemed impossible to deny: her body was surrounded by a vast haul of “projectile points, flakes, scrapers, choppers and burnishing stones.” The researchers who found the woman’s remains were led to reinterpret the findings of other early burials in pre-Columbian America, and to conclude, in a 2020 follow-up paper, that big-game hunting 14,000-8,000 years ago was likely to have been a “gender-neutral” activity.  

The time was now right for a broader reinterpretation, and so Chilczuk joined forces with four other women, including her teacher, Cara Wall-Scheffler, to provide it. They reinterpreted the data from over 60 ethnographies of hunter-gatherer societies written during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and looked for evidence of deliberate hunting by women.  

Women hunted in 50 of the 63 societies they studied, and 87 percent of that behavior was deliberate. In societies where hunting was the principal source of finding food, the evidence was overwhelming. In these societies, women played an active role all the time, in all the hunting that took place. 

“It’s a natural thing to have assumptions, but it’s our responsibility to challenge those assumptions, to better understand our world,” Chilczuk told The New York Times. Notice the moral freight here: it’s our obligation to challenge what “seems natural.” This sentiment was shared by Tammy Buonasera, one of the researchers who identified the Peruvian huntress in 2018 and wrote the 2020 follow-up paper. “I always assumed that women did hunt probably more often than was recognized,” she said. After all, women tend to be seen “as just passive actors in history.” Her colleague Randy Haas made even more explicit the link between present-day inequality and distorted interpretations of the past. “In light of what my study [the 2020 paper] shows, their findings [“Anderson et al 2023”] align with the same narrative: We’ve had biased interpretations,” he said. “And the idea that sexual division of labor is an inherent part of human biology is a trope that has played out in structural inequalities today.” 

The narrative is clear: archaeology, anthropology, and history have got women in the past wrong, because we—as a society—have got women wrong in the present. The two things are inseparable. So only when we get women right in the present can we get them right in the past. Above all, getting women right, in both society and the academy, in the present and in the past, means ensuring “diversity,” and that means ensuring there are fewer white men in positions of importance. Maybe even none, since they’ve hogged those positions for as long as they—white men and the positions—have existed. 

It’s simple thinking, bordering on magical. As archaeology, anthropology and history become more “diverse” disciplines—as they become less stale, pale and male—the stale, pale, male interpretations that serve simply to reinforce stale, pale, male power over in all its forms will just evaporate. Into thin air. Without their moorings in white cis-heteronormative patriarchy, these old interpretations will float away, like feathers caught in a spring breeze. That’s the idea, anyway. Past interpretations have no real content, apart from as labels for power. 

There’s only one problem, at least with “Anderson et al. 2023”: it’s made up, or large parts of it appear to be. A new pre-print study has found serious discrepancies in the methodology used by the authors, including “sample selection bias” and “numerous coding errors undermining the paper’s conclusions.” Basically, what that means is that the authors of “Anderson et al. 2023” mislabeled their sources and misinterpreted their data, almost certainly with intent.   

Whereas the original study was widely trumpeted—it wasn’t just The New York Times that picked up on the story, but virtually every media outlet from CNN to MSN—it’s guaranteed that this preprint takedown will get no media attention at all, for reasons that aren’t hard to imagine. Since it’s a pre-print, it may not even get published, especially if it upsets the wrong people, which seems all but inevitable. 

The discrepancies. First of all, the authors of “Anderson et al. 2023” said they got their data from a database called D-Place, but at least 35 percent of the societies sampled didn’t come from that database. This means that the literature review as described cannot actually be replicated. Even more damaging for the paper’s credibility is the lack of clear sampling criteria. Although the researchers sampled societies from outside D-Place (without telling us), they chose to ignore a number of societies outside D-Place for which detailed evidence on hunting existed. The 35 percent of societies sampled from outside D-Place “were heavily biased towards societies that they coded as ones in which women hunt,” and not societies in which women didn’t. “Inexplicably,” the researchers chose to omit data from 18 societies within the database, “none of which provide evidence for women hunters.”  


It also turns out, upon re-examination of the data chosen, that 16 out of 50, or 32 percent, of the societies coded as ones in which women hunt, were nothing of the sort: women “rarely or never hunted” in these societies. In the 17 out of 63, or 27 percent, of societies in which women “were claimed to hunt big game regularly,” the re-examination showed that this was only true of nine societies, or 14 percent. Overall, the re-examination suggested that women in 56 percent of the societies chosen for “Anderson et al. 2023” hunted “sometimes” or “frequently.”  

“Women sometimes hunt”: not much of a headline, is it? Hell, you can go to Minnesota or Wyoming and find that out in a day. So why write a paper about it? 

The authors of the re-examination don’t directly accuse the authors of “Anderson et al. 2023” of setting out to deceive—of lying—but others will not be so charitable. I’m one of those people. Liars! Still, as far as academic rebuttals go, it’s pretty strong. “To build a more complete picture of the lives of foragers in the present and the past, it serves no one to misrepresent reality. In correcting the misapprehension that women do not hunt, we should not replace one myth with another.” 

There’s a lot of that going around these days: replacing one “myth” with another. A closely similar paper to “Anderson et al 2023” was published in September 2023, a month later, in the journal American Anthropologist: “Woman the Hunter: The Archaeological Evidence.” I won’t go in to too much detail about this one. The broad thrust is exactly the same—“the idea of a strict sexual labor division in the Paleolithic is an assumption with little supporting evidence, which reflects a failure to question how modern gender roles color our reconstructions of the past”—but the authors take a different tack, using contemporary evidence, including physiological studies, to show that women are “well-suited to endurance activities like hunting” and may even have been better hunters than men.  

As with “Anderson et al 2023,” the evidence and the argument built on top of it crumbles with the lightest of pokes. Scarcely a prod. For example, the authors of “Woman the Hunter” rely heavily on a contemporary study of atlatl use, in the journal Nature, to bolster the claim that women could use spears as effectively as men. An atlatl is a simple handmade tool, of either wood or bone construction, that can be used to launch spears with greater power. While there are well-known physiological differences between men and women, such as the structure of the shoulder joints and the hips, that make men far more effective throwers than women of every kind of object you can imagine, of everything from baseballs to hand grenades, the Nature study aims to show that women, with the help of an atlatl, could hunt with spears at least as well as men. 

Without actual data to show the effectiveness of atlatls in hunting, the authors of the Nature study posed a small-scale experiment. A hundred or so amateur participants, both male and female, were asked to throw spears and then use an atlatl to launch them. The velocities of the throws and the launches were measured and compared, to provide what, at least on the surface, appears to be a gender-based comparison of throwing and launching power.  

But instead of being put into male and female groups by the study authors, the participants were allowed to choose one of three categories: “male,” “female” or “not reported.” Which is to say, the participants were allowed to choose their gender. As such, it’s impossible to know whether there were biological men in the “female” category and biological women in the “male,” or who or what ended up filed under “not reported.” Almost 10 percent of the sample chose not to report their gender at all. Since the authors say absolutely nothing about actual biological sex and not just self-identified gender, I think it’s safe to assume something is very off here. The study isn’t a valid comparison of actual men and women. 

There are other problems too. The study in no way assesses the accuracy of the throws and launches. You could hurl a spear like Zeus launching a thunderbolt from Mount Olympus, but if you can’t hit a barn door, what’s the use? Boys from a very young age are known to be able to throw much more accurately than girls, as well as faster and further. This is due not only to physiological differences, but also probably owes something to differences in perception and cognition.  

We also don’t know how widespread atlatl use was, or even when they were first invented. The earliest surviving examples are from around 30,000 years ago—modern humans have been around for at least 200,000 years—there are no surviving atlatls from Africa, and many present-day hunter-gatherers use spears but not atlatls. We have no reason to believe the atlatl is a universal tool of primitive hunters. 

The authors of “Woman the Hunter” also claim that women must have participated in hunting because estrogen, which women have in significant excess of men, allows them to “excel in endurance activities like running.” Men’s excellence, by contrast, lies in their increased “speed and power,” which are an effect of men’s higher testosterone levels. This is arrant nonsense. While it’s absolutely true that estrogen has important functions with regard to fat metabolism, and that this might have something to do with long-term endurance, the evidence of one hundred years of precisely recorded professional athletic competition shows that, despite having lower estrogen and higher testosterone than women, men are still much better at “endurance activities like running.” 

Here’s just one example of how much better. Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record is 2 hours and 35 seconds, almost a full seventeen minutes faster than Mary Keitany’s female world record of 2 hours 17 minutes and 1 second. If Kipchoge and Keitany ran those times in the same marathon, Kipchoge would complete the marathon almost four miles ahead of his female opponent. Not exactly a freeze-frame finish. 

Even if women were better endurance runners than men, long-distance running probably wasn’t as important to primitive hunters as you might expect. If we consider how present-day hunter-gatherers hunt, they mix long bouts of walking with short bursts of very intense running and sprinting, usually in the process of attempting to make the kill. There is at least one documented case of modern hunter-gatherers who don’t run at all, but instead walk their prey down over long distances. 

Again, it’s hard to resist the conclusion that researchers are choosing to distort evidence to fit a pre-conceived narrative. We might call that narrative, since we haven’t given it a name yet, the “Marvel-girlboss-yass-queen weltanschauung,” for short. You’ll be familiar with this worldview and everything it entails if you’ve consumed any cultural product of the last ten years, from Mad Max Fury Road to the latest, diabolically bad series of True Detective, or if you’ve watched the news, read the papers, or just spoken to a young woman, especially one who dyes her hair a bright color and has a nose ring and awful tattoos. She might even call herself a “witch,” just to add to the effect.  

In recent months, especially with the revelations about Harvard President Claudine Gay’s extensive plagiarism, which included stealing the acknowledgments for her doctoral dissertation, there has, quite rightly, been an intense focus on academic integrity and the moral health of universities in the West. AI is being used for the purposes of academic falsification, but it’s also being used to detect it, revealing anomalies not just in students’ essays but in published scientific data and text that would otherwise escape the hallowed “peer-review” process. When the wife of billionaire investor Bill Ackman was accused of plagiarism in her doctoral dissertation, he promised to unleash fire and fury on the entire faculty of MIT, where his wife had once worked, by scraping its full published output and feeding it through a sophisticated AI plagiarism detector. “No body of written work in academia can survive the power of AI searching for missing quotation marks, failures to paraphrase appropriately, and/or the failure to properly credit the work of others,” he wrote in a long series of posts on Twitter

Various reasons are given to explain why somebody like Claudine Gay would violate the most sacred commitment of the academic enterprise, the commitment to the truth, and why others would make excuses for her doing so. Many rushed to defend Gay before it became clear that the scale of her fabrications made her position untenable. Some claimed the truth doesn’t matter, insofar as it clashes with the more noble goal of “elevating marginalized people” to positions of power, like the Harvard presidency. In this view, truth is subsidiary to diversity.  

Academics are under increasing pressure, too. Nobody would deny that. With the massive professionalization of the academy and record numbers of people taking undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and with many of the latter group now expecting an academic job at the end of their MPhil or PhD, the leisurely days of teaching a few classes and publishing the occasional paper and maybe a book once every ten years are gone. Now, it’s publish, publish, publish, teach, teach, teach—and maybe you’ll get a job or still have one at the end of the year. Seen in this light, you can understand why somebody who isn’t endowed with talent or great intelligence, someone like Claudine Gay, might fall back on plagiarism or falsification to pad their work and appear more impressive than they really are. Every little bit helps. 

But none of this special pleading applies when it comes to the recent “female hunter” papers. They remind us that there are other, more sinister reasons, for distorting and falsifying data, especially if we’re talking about history. Falsification is not simply a means: it is an end in itself. As Orwell put it in 1984, “He who controls the past controls the future.” Control of knowledge and ensuring the acceptance of a particular vision of the past is necessary for the advancement of radical political, especially leftist, agendas.   

Now, I could be Nietzschean about this and say that both truth and untruth are necessary to human existence, full stop. Man cannot live by truth alone, Nietzsche might have said. I’d be inclined to agree with him. Researchers are right to note that there were clear elements of untruth, of myth, in the theory that only men engaged in hunting and other dangerous pursuits, including warfare. It’s beyond doubt that the configuration of society—the elevated place of men within it—was part of the reason for this. Historians and archaeologists, usually male, have been too quick to say stuff like, “Oh, Herodotus was just making up all those things about Scythian warrior-women!” Stunning recent discoveries in the old Scythian territories of southern Russia and Ukraine have now shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that those doubters were wrong. 

But the important point that Nietzsche makes, and that willful misinterpreters of his work, looking for an easy “perspectivalist” or post-modern justification of their own desire to play fast and loose with reality, overlook, is that different regimes of truth and untruth—where the truths and untruths that are accepted vary in their number, type, size and importance, and their relation to one another—are not all equal. Some are better, more admirable, more conducive to life and human excellence, while others crush and constrict life, twisting it and turning it in and against itself, with grotesque effects.  

One such grotesquerie was the recent suicide of Aaron Bushnell, who came to accept that he bore an unbearable burden, a secular form of Original Sin, simply for being born white and male, and that the only thing he could do—maybe—to expiate that sin was to kill himself in service of “persons of color,” the global downtrodden class he was oppressing through his continued existence. This deeply unedifying gesture is a prime example of what Nietzsche called “the bad conscience.” For Nietzsche, the development of conscience—the idea that man and his actions are calculable, basically like commercial transactions—is a radical, potentially very fruitful development in human history. It’s necessary for the emergence of Nietzsche’s “sovereign individual,” “an animal that can make promises.” But it also leads, under the wrong conditions, to the moral and physical torments of the Christian sinner and, perhaps even worse, the moral and physical torments of a young man like Aaron Bushnell, bereft from God in a cold world without forgiveness or reprieve. 

The “female hunters” myth is part of a deeper, more expansive mythos associated with the broader leftist, and especially the Marxist, tradition and its attempts to transform Western society in the most radical way possible, from top to bottom. The whole edifice of the Marxist “materialist conception of history” is built on a hokey theory of prehistoric gender relations which sees the distant past, before the advent of class-based societies, as being controlled by women. This theory was first developed in Friedrich Engels’s 1884 work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, written and published after Marx’s death. The very first societies were forms of “primitive matriarchy,” in which class and ownership didn’t exist and women exercised power because mating, rather than being monogamous, was “promiscuous.” Femininity itself was elevated to the level of a divine principle and worshipped. But this idyll couldn’t last. Patriarchy and class society arrived together, uninvited guests of male desire and physical power, and women became the first living pieces of property. The largely unspoken assumption of The Origin of the Family is that the final overthrow of capitalism, and with it class society as an historical phenomenon, will be the final overthrow of patriarchy, which means a return to conditions approximating those that obtained in the state of primitive matriarchy. Though Engels himself had little to say about this revolution, feminists from the 1960s onwards enlarged on the subject at length, as well as criticizing Engels for his own misogynistic attitudes towards women, which are baked in to his work, like his distinction between domestic and market labor and his emphasis on the value of the latter but not so much the former.  

If what I’ve just written reads like claptrap, that’s because it is. Nobody has discovered a living matriarchal society, not even in the most exotic of locales, nor has anybody found evidence that matriarchal societies have ever existed, not even in the darkest recesses of prehistory. Yes, there are societies where women have fared better than in others—ours is one such society, in case you didn’t know it—but women have never ruled a society by virtue of their sexuality, nor have there ever been societies that worshipped women alone. There have of course been female gods and fertility idols, but no society we know of has called on them exclusively without also having recourse to the powers of male gods and idols. Matriarchy is just a word. 

That the entire grand historical scheme of Marxism begins with and rests upon an out-and-out fabrication has done little to curb the pretensions of Marxists, or the radical feminists they have inspired. In fact, if anything, those pretensions have only grown, have only become more monstrous, as the divorce from reality has become clearer and more obvious. Instead of abandoning attempts to reshape the world in the image of a society that never existed, the true believers redouble their efforts. Their zeal increaseth. And that’s how we should understand these “female hunter” papers and their made-up stories about Stone Age girlbosses who can beat men at their own game, with spear and bow. They are myths, nothing more, and they serve to justify the creation of a new type of society, a gynocracy where all forms of male striving and expressions of masculinity are squashed beneath the enormous flabby buttocks of a new feminine idol, a latter-day Venus of Willendorf. Go sit on someone else’s face, love. 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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