I’ve been reading a fabulous book (for nearly a year, have a bad habit of book jumping) called The Alphabet Verses the Goddess: Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain. It’s a fabulously scientific and anthropological telling of the journey of language, and how that journey was crucial into setting into place the patriarchal society women fight against.
I found the chapter about Hunters and Gatherers absolutely mind blowing. My upbringing was sheltered. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and attended a small private born again Christian school until my junior year of high school. I learned to laugh at the theory of evolution at the age of four, singing proudly, “I’m no kin to the monkey no no no, etc” I also never read mythology until my Freud class at Yale. The lack of that literature under my belt made my post modernist class almost impossible, but I fell in love with T.S.Eliot’s Waste Land and The Love Song for Alfred J Prufrock anyways.
So, you all may know this biology stuff, but the connection that Shlain draws between the evolving of our bodies and the connection to the development of language is fascinating! I’ll give a brief summary of the Hunter/Gatherers evolution. Humans first developed the opposable thumb, allowing us to manipulate objects. No longer forced to paw things, our sense of smell atrophied, but our sense of sight strengthened. Our eyes needed to calculate the strength of the nearest vine, the distance to the tree we wished to swing to, and the speed of the wind, and our brains grew to accommodate that.
It was around this time that there was a great climate shift, and the tree canopy thinned to the point where we climbed out of trees, and eventually developed the heel. This enabled us to stand up. Our legs were strong and stable, and our hands were free to throw, and kill prey. It was probably around this time that meat became a staple in our diets, and more meat meant more iron, which meant an EVEN BIGGER BRAIN.
But bigger brains meant a bigger head, which meant a smaller infant body to facilitate the journey out of the birth canal. This meant the woman’s role changed drastically. She needed to stay with her young until they surpassed the point of vulnerability. Over time our bodies became hairless, and needed to be covered to maintain warmth, and both Mommy and baby needed sustenance. Mommies needed to bathe, feed, swaddle and carry their young. The stay at home Mom was born.
For the first time, a woman was not able to take care of herself after childbirth. Her body needed time to heal, and while nursing she needed more food. Hunters (men) began dragging their kills home to their families instead of eating where the meat fell.
Our whole concept of marriage has its origins rooted in meat. When human females experienced estrus, or heat, they ovulated, and the male species would mate with them. This is still evident in mammals today. When a kill is made, a circle of females will approach it. The females want the meat, but the male species seek out the females in heat for sex. Meat for Sex.
Female animals are able to replenish their iron supplies by licking themselves when they bleed (kind of nast, but interesting). The changes in the female hominid body meant that she needed iron all the time. And hence marriage was born-You bring home the bacon, and I’ll cook it up real nice for ya!! Female hominids were now able to make themselves available for sex 365 days a year-if they wanted.
Interesting, huh? Just a guess, but the “natural” connection that advertisers feel between meat and women may have started here. When I was a veggie I was a little more sensitive to that type of advertising, but I’ve always found the meat eating as masculine and therefore better stereotype kind of interesting. “He’s a total beefcake!” “You need to beef up your portfolio if you want to make the best impression.” And then the reciprocal, vegging out, total couch potato, etc.
Back to language. Hand gestures only worked in the daytime and around fire, but our bodies continued to evolve. We needed a way to communicate and still accomplish the manual tasks of gathering, and nurturing. So our tongues muscles evolved to became limber and our vocal chords developed. Being able to signal to others vocally, and eventually impart culture to our young orally, a predominantly female activity, began.
There was a great amount of time when oral tradition or storytelling was not only our only form of communication, but an absolute art form. The rest of the book traces the demise of the female goddess with the invention of the written word. Think I’m crazy? Nearly every culture has multiple creation stories that began as oral tradition, and centuries later were written out, (by males, fuckers!) and then changed. Even Christianity and Judaism have the myth of Lilith, who wasn’t penned out of the creation story until the 16th century! It’s a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who studies linguistics or anthropology.