Human societies weren’t always male-dominated. The switch came when we became farmers – and that suggests ways to roll back towards a more equal system.
For most of our history, we have been hunter-gatherers, and patrilocal residence is not the norm among modern hunter-gatherer societies. Instead, either partner may move to live with the “in-laws”, or a couple may relocate away from both their families. According to Hrdy, a degree of egalitarianism is built into these systems. If they reflect what prehistoric hunter-gatherers did, women in those early societies would have had the choice of support from the group they grew up with, or the option to move away from oppression.
“The #MeToo movement is about female cooperation,” says Hrdy, “but getting cooperation among non-kin is difficult.” Competitive instincts can prevail, or events can cause cooperation to fall apart – for instance in times of war, Hrdy says. “Women start to look out for the safety of their own children and their husbands.”
Restoring and strengthening equality will require effort on multiple fronts, she says. If patriarchy originated in sedentary social structures that formalised male ownership and inheritance, then laws that give women the right to own property in their own name, for instance, can help.