The Cavewoman Who Stopped Gathering & Brought Home the Bison

Two mistakes were made that day. 

If I had read the brochure, I’d never have let my friend drag me into that lecture. 

If the speaker had read my expression, she’d never have called on me for my opinion. 

But I didn’t read the brochure, so I was stuck, sitting in the middle of the front row, when the lecturer proclaimed,

“Men and women are different psychologically.”  

I silently moaned and openly rolled my eyes. She was rehashing the old cliché, “Men are hunters. Women are gatherers. Men – heroes. Women – damsels.” 

She had examples. “Men read maps. Women ask for directions,” she said and I wondered, “Does this mean I’m a man?”  

She trotted out the old caveman/cavewoman story as proof of her hunter/gatherer theory that it’s only natural for men to value competence and accomplishments, and for women to value feelings and nurturing.  

To pass the time until I could leave, I imagined the first cavewoman who got fed up with gathering and nurturing, grabbed a club, and waved goodbye as she marched off to bring home the bison. That first heroic woman, dressed in bearskins, her hair, tangled and wild, defied custom, ignored danger, overcame obstacles, to go out and do extraordinary things. That woman was awesome, and she has millions of awesome descendants.  

Suddenly, I realized the lecturer had left the podium, was standing directly in front of me, and saying, “I’d like to hear your thoughts.” 

She couldn’t mean me! Did she think eye-rolling and head-shaking were signs of appreciation and support?  

I said, “No. You really wouldn’t.” 

“Yes, I would. Don’t be shy.” 

I sighed.

Okay. I think your premise is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Those traits, courage, competence, pride, and feelings are neither masculine nor feminine. I grew up with competent women, heroic women. My mother for one. When she saw that workers in grocery stores were not being paid fair wages, she didn’t wait for a knight to come forth and save the day. She researched unions, sought out the organizers for retail clerks, and worked with them to unionize the stores in Mobile, Alabama.” 

The woman smiled indulgently. “That was true for your mother, but not for most women. Psychologically, men are still hunters and women still gatherers and nurturers, looking for a knight in shining armor.” 

Was she kidding? It was true not just for my mother. My grandmother was on her own, with no skills or money, but she didn’t look for a man to take care of her. She apprenticed herself to a seamstress, then built her own business, making gowns for the wealthiest women in California. My cousin, when she was a grandmother, went to work for FEMA and received accolades from governors for her management of disaster areas.  

I knew there were millions of women who disproved the cavewoman theory, and I tried to think of other examples, but after Eleanor Roosevelt and Madam Curie, I was stumped. It was embarrassing, but it set me off on a search to learn about awe-inspiring, heroic women. I discovered them in all ages and in every country, enough heroic women to fill the world with inspiration – women such as, Moving Robe Woman, a warrior who fought at the Little Bighorn, Ching Shih, a pirate queen, and Hypatia the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer in the third century, BC. 

In the 20th century, Wangari Maathai (Kenya) was an environmental and human rights activist, who founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization that still works to conserve the environment, reduce poverty, promote gender equality, enhance gender relations, and involve women in decision-making processes.  

Cease to be a drudge, seek to be an artist,” said Mary McLeod Bethune, businesswoman, business founder, educator, college founder, and co-founder of the United Negro college Fund. She was an outspoken crusader for racial and gender equality. When she was on the advisory board that created the Women’s Army Corps, she insisted that it was racially integrated. Mrs. Bethune’s statue, in Lincoln Park in Washington D.C., was the first to honor an African American woman. 

The lecture I didn’t want to attend opened my eyes to the heroic women who worked or fought to get out of the cave, and gave the world so much. Now, I get to share them as I celebrate their birthdays on social media.  

July 16, 2019