Preindustrial Societies

Nor do simple societies offer counterexamples. No empirically corroborated cases are known of Amazon societies in which all (or even a majority) of fighters were female (Goldstein, 2001, pp. 11-19). Some archeological evidence suggests that early Iron Age nomadic women of the Eurasian steppes rode horses, may have used weapons, and may even have had some political influence, though probably not dominance. But excavated graves yielded war-related artifacts for about 90% of men and only 15-20% of women (Davis-Kimball, 1997, p. 47). Little evidence exists for purported Amazon societies in ancient Greece or South America.

Among contemporary preindustrial societies, both the very war prone and the relatively peaceful ones share a gender division in war, with men as the primary (and usually exclusive) fighters. For example, although gender relations on Vanatinai island (where war is rare) are radically more egalitarian than those among the war-centered Sambia, one commonality is war fighting—a male occupation. In many present-day gathering-hunting and agrarian societies, special gender taboos apply to weapons, and special practices focus on men's roles as warriors. Sometimes war and hunting are the only two spheres of social life to exclude women.

Modern nonpacified preindustrial societies are not generally peaceful. Ember and Ember find that over half of a sample of 90 societies were in a constant state of war or readiness for war, and half of the remaining societies fought every year during a particular season (C. R. Ember & Ember, 1997; M. Ember & Ember, 1994). In only eight societies did wars occur less frequently than once in 10 years on average. Of 31 gathering-hunting societies surveyed in another study, 20 typically had warfare more than once every 2 years, and only three had "no or rare warfare" (C. R. Ember, 1978, p. 444). Nonstate societies have as much warfare as states do. Relatively peaceful societies can become warlike and vice versa, as the !Kung have done. Among the very few actual peaceful societies, the common factor is physical isolation from their neighbors (Goldstein, 2001, pp. 22-34).

Thus neither gender roles in war, nor warfare itself, result from agriculture, the state, or any particular historical stage. They have deep roots in the human experience.

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