Bloggingheads.tv has John Horgan interviewing Richard Wrangham of Harvard on a variety of topics related to his new book Catching Fire. The part of interest to me – and to our ongoing discussion on patriarchy – relates to cooking as a “primitive protection racket” in which men agree to protect women’s food supply in return for being fed so they can just hang out and do manly shit. It’s a fascinating discussion, if you can get past Horgan giggling in sheepish delight every time Wrangham points out what a shitty deal patriarchy is for women.
Interestingly, this section of the interview is advertised as “ancient connections between food and sex” but it would more properly be described as “ancient connections between food and the sexual division of labor”. I guess “sex” is more sexy and sells better than “sexual division of labor”. Because Wrangham clearly points out that the sexual division of labor that involves women cooking and feeding men is NOT related to who’s having sex with whom.
He also clearly makes the point that this sexual division of labor is not a result of our biology, but a consequence of a choice of a particular set of social relations – one of which, in modern industrial societies, we have chosen in many ways to undo. Single men are able to feed themselves, if only by ordering pizza, and married men often do the cooking these days.
Incidentally, the mini-review of Wrangham’s book on Amazon illustrates why the term “mankind” is not an appropriate substitute for “humankind”:
By making food more digestible and easier to extract energy from, Wrangham reasons, cooking enabled hominids’ jaws, teeth and guts to shrink, freeing up calories to fuel their expanding brains. It also gave rise to pair bonding and table manners, and liberated mankind from the drudgery of chewing (while chaining womankind to the stove).
The second sentence is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. It sounds sort of nice on first glance with that oppositional mankind and womankind. Until you realize that those who were liberated from the drudgery of chewing were, well, everyone, women as well as men. The sentence sounds like it’s working to say men got liberated from x while women got chained to y by the move to cooking, but that’s not what happened. Humans got liberated from x, while simultaneously, a subset of humans, women, got chained to y. Using the term humankind would make it clearer that women simultaneously benefited from and were harmed by the move to cooked food. Using mankind as a substitute for humankind attempts to work both meanings into this sentence. First, the fuller and true meaning, that humans benefited from something that also harmed a subset of humans. Second, the less true oppositional meaning that men (only) gained and women were harmed. That second oppositional meaning also serves to reinforce the notion that mankind really means men and that women are a special (lesser) case of mankind – a subtextual meaning that the use of the word humankind in this instance would not convey.