Stone Age Mercies

Stone Age Mercies

Jurek Martin, writing in today’s Financial Times about the parallels between America’s deepening military commitment to Afghanistan and LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War nearly 45 years ago, says “Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, is known not to want to leave Afghan women to the stone-age mercies of the Taliban again.”

This is terribly unfair to the Stone Age.

Life for Stone Age women was probably no picnic, but it may have been no worse than men’s lives of the time. Anthropologist Jared Diamond cites archaeological evidence that the introduction of agriculture, in addition to spreading disease and lowering life expectancy for both sexes, increased inequality between the sexes, sharpening the sexual division of labor and forcing women into almost constant pregnancy to produce more hands to till the fields. Women in many agricultural societies were, andĀ  – you can see this in many parts of Africa and Asia today – still are made beasts of burden, forced to carry heavy loads of water , firewood, and grain. Other evidence suggests that women of the Upper Paleolithic period enjoyed substantial sexual freedom, while artistic objects and funeral sites also indicate that women were held in high esteem, especially in religion, in which many shamans were women and fertility goddess cults abounded.

None of this can be proven, of course, but on all evidence your average burqa-clad Afghan woman would be far better off tradingĀ  21st century Kandahar for life as a member of a Stone Age band of hunter-gatherers.

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