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For a while now I've gestated this concept for a culture of people who live in a tropical rainforest populated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles. To protect themselves from the wildlife, they build treehouses analogous to those of the Korowai people of New Guinea (although other aspects of their culture have Central African influences). Near these treehouses they plant little gardens to provide them with fruits and vegetables, whereas the meat portion of their diet comes from hunting and fishing (if a treehouse happens to be built near rivers). Other features of their culture are iron-working technology, a system of government based on elder councils, and a religion with animal totemism and ancestor veneration (aka "ancestor worship").

What I want to ask about is possible gender roles for this culture. I'm a sucker for jungle huntress characters, so I don't want the stereotypical "men hunt, women gather/stay at home" scenario that most people associate with "primitive" cultures. Instead I have a setup where teams of young women do most of the hunting, whereas men and nursing/pregnant women stay behind to maintain the gardens and take care of domestic chores. Men would have the additional responsibility of using their strength to protect the clan's property from predators and enemy raiders. Families would tend to be matrilocal with men being the ones to move into a new family after marriage.

Do you think this would be a viable design for a culture's gender roles?

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    $\begingroup$ First, spectacular user name. Second, cultural preference can explain a lot, especially in jungle tribes that historically have a lot of varied gender roles. If you consider that there aren't many large herbivores in the jungle (no grass and few ground level plants to eat) jungle hunting probably means hunting fish or hunting monkeys (or lizards or snakes). There is no physical reason that men would be better suited to shooting poisoned blow-darts at monkeys than women. Sounds viable to me. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Oct 19 '16 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ Your race sounds 95% or more like the Klee in DJ McHale's Black Water, part of the Bobby Pendragon series. Jungle dwelling, high tree houses to keep above the dinosaurs, ancestor veneration, elder councils, and early industrial technology- they had it all. Except they were cats, and iirc, were fairly gender-neutral regarding societal roles. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Oct 19 '16 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ there exist villages in africa where women do the manual labor and the hunt while men stay at home and protect the children or do the politics... $\endgroup$ – user27795 Oct 19 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ You may want to come up with a mechanic such that that hunting is lower mortality than staying in the village, perhaps fixed settlements sometimes get attacked by something large that hunting parties can easily avoid. many tribal cultures didn't have great population growth and males are thus a little more expendable since losing a few doesn't impact future generations as much. $\endgroup$ – Murphy Oct 19 '16 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ "I'm a sucker for jungle huntress characters" -- so you're writing fantasy for an audience that likes that stuff. Any attempt at an in-universe handwave is going to be jarringly absurd to anybody who gives it a moment's thought, so don't make the attempt. Just present it as a given. Your readers just want to fantasize about hot girls in loincloths killing dinosaurs. So cut to the action. Justifying it is like putting expository dialog in porn. They're just going to skim that part. $\endgroup$ – Ed Plunkett Oct 20 '16 at 15:55
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You would need a reason why the raw strength of men is more useful in the villages than out on the hunt. I'd suggest that you can use the tree-living nature of your people to achieve that.

Men stay in the village to haul heavy loads up and down trees, build new tree houses, and generally do the heavy lifting.

In the meantime groups of women and younger (teenage) males go out in hunting parties along routes that would not take the weight of the men. They use nets dropped from above and spears, bows, or possibly even blow darts to hunt their prey.

In this way agility and lightweight are values in hunters over strength, while raw strength is still needed in the village. (Particularly if they haven't developed the block and tackle so everything has to be done using raw strength and hauling on ropes with no leverage advantage).

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    $\begingroup$ While any woman can become a fine hunter note those roles sticked, in RL, because pregnancy AND period. If not pregnant adult womans have periods and in a jungle full of dinossaurs I guess that blood scent can attract nasty predators. $\endgroup$ – jean Oct 20 '16 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ Heavy lifting is especially important if the ironworking is done in treehouses. $\endgroup$ – MissMonicaE Oct 20 '16 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ @MissMonicaE It's blood. Even with plenty freesh water without soap, tampons and all modern hygine stuff (like a hot shower) chances are it smell enough to be get by predators (and we not even talking about bacteria, candidiase and other not pleasant stuff common happen by lack of hygiene). Also in my first comment. Preganancy also implies breastfeeding (in his context for several months) $\endgroup$ – jean Oct 20 '16 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ @jean Well, predators can already smell humans. Do you know of any studies suggesting that menstruating women are significantly easier for animals to detect than any other people? $\endgroup$ – MissMonicaE Oct 20 '16 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Seems not true for bears, but sharks apparently can (but aren't that interested). No conclusive evidence one way or another I was able to find. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 20 '16 at 15:28
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While men are, generally, stronger than women, that is not likely to be your primary concern when talking about societal evolution. Murphy hit the nail on the head with his sentence that stated "many tribal cultures didn't have great population growth and males are thus a little more expendable since losing a few doesn't impact future generations as much". Especially in a treehouse society, mortality rates are going to be high* and that is going to pressure the collective to place a higher value on the people that can give birth to new life.

So question becomes: with the heightened preference to maintain female lives, why would men stay in the village near the children and elders (the most vulnerable groups, who would generally be in the least vulnerable position possible)?

I think we can come up with a number of requirements and reasons.

1. Hunting is Not Particularly Dangerous

I understand that you stated this world was populated with dinosaurs. Overall that is fine, but I would avoid the trope that the dinosaurs are all basically T-Rex's or raptors as depicted in Jurassic Park. If even a reasonable portion of them are, leaving the village to hunt is going to be exceptionally dangerous. If the females of breeding age were all out in a jungle full of raptors as their primary activity (effectively living the human side of the movie "Predator" every day), the society is going to die off fast. Stick with tiny dinosaurs that might cause injury but probably not death. Large, predatory dinosaurs jungles work better on TV than in reality anyway.

As kingledion suggested in his comment, I would have the hunting parties mainly go after animals like monkeys and fish.

2. Inter-Tribal Warfare is Not Uncommon

Resources are generally hard to come by in a jungle and everyone wants them. Men stay at home to protect the village and scout the area around it.

Note that when a village wants to go to war it does send its men out because they are both stronger and more expendable. This is a very risky move however, as anything less than a sweeping victory may not leave enough males to defend their own village. Additionally, although women are not typically involved in aggressive action they are reasonable defenders, given that they hunt for much of the day.

If you want to play on the dinosaur theme, perhaps the "bad natural enemy" dinosaurs generally stay out of the forest but will come in and attack groups of people. They might not see an advantage in chasing around 1 or 2 hunters who are just going to escape, but when they see a cluster of people they hear dinner bells. Men must fend off or destroy these large beasts until everyone else can get to safety.

3. You Live in Trees - Things Need Lifting and Building

No reason to waste the extra muscle that hangs around the village. Goods and people that cannot climb well themselves frequently need to be moved between treehouse levels and the ground, and men supply the muscle that gets it done. They also perform jobs that involve construction while climbing trees, which is surely quite physically demanding.

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  • $\begingroup$ I actually do want some large and dangerous dinosaurs in there, but the other two points are worth considering. I will admit I am not 100% married to my culture's gender roles being too rigid however. An alternative I have considered is mixed-gender hunting parties, or hunting parties that exclude neither sex. $\endgroup$ – Tyrannohotep Oct 19 '16 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Tyrannohotep May sugest a compromise make the Large dangerous dinosaurs territorial that way they the hunters can still hunt in relative safety as long as they stay out of the territories occupied my the larger dinosaurs $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Oct 19 '16 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Tyrannohotep another suggestion is to limit the amount of men in the village (perhaps because of warfare) if there is only a small number of men then perhaps the society needs every able body man at the village in case of an attack by a hostile village. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Oct 19 '16 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure Yes, the large theropods will definitely be the territorial type. $\endgroup$ – Tyrannohotep Oct 19 '16 at 22:56
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Look at lion pride as your inspiration. Fewer males than females and the ladies do most of the hunting in a pride. Males hunt solitary mostly, and the females hunt cooperatively. Their main function as part of a pride is protection of the pride.

Societies can be set up however you would like, and in a jungle culture, there isn't much in the way of farming. Males might be encouraged to move silently, go out on their own and come back with berries and meat. Females could travel as a group to track large prey, with less focus on gathering.

Age could actually be more of a determinator as to domestic things than gender, as you and others have suggested. A specific period of time could be devoted to pregnancy, and childcare during the first year for a woman, with the duties going mainly to the male thereafter. The actual miracle of birth could be something that the males feel they have to "pay back," as in the contribution of carrying a child and giving birth is seen as such a big deal, that the men must work to show they deserve it.

During pregnancy, I can see the fathers going out to get rare herbs and other things, just in case something goes wrong, as part of the duty and ritual of it all.

And I am going to drop some linkage on you regarding societies set up more like this: The Aka

Matriarchies from around the world

Equal duties with the Agata in the Philippines

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A terrible predator that can't climb drove them into trees in the first place. A giant alligator or salamander?

The trees can't support a man's weight well enough for men to be mobile enough to be the best hunters. The lighter members of the tribe can leap from branch to branch.

Men have to stay near the village to drive the big bads away.

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    $\begingroup$ Good point about why they're living in trees in the first place - there must be something unwelcoming about the ground, which definitely plays into the hunting dynamics. $\endgroup$ – brichins Oct 25 '16 at 16:27
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A fatal genetic disorder that affects 99% of the men, and causes them to die between ages 18 and 25. The effect on the society is such that men are less educated (whats the point?), they have a strong incentive to enjoy life while they can (therefore less dependable), and their work is close to home because of the risk of them being affected by the effects of the disease.

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    $\begingroup$ Men all dying by 25 would make us far more expendable. $\endgroup$ – Miles Rout Oct 20 '16 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ If you only look at the situation logically, yes thats true... but what mother/wife could do that to their man? $\endgroup$ – Phil M Oct 21 '16 at 15:26
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Change the genetics

Currently there's statistically a 50/50 chance of having a boy or a girl child. If you increase the scarcity of males (say 15-20%) you're going to pretty drastically alter the culture and society. As Erin points out, a lion pride has a makeup that is mostly female with a male around to defend against other males (also when a male lion takes over a pride he will kill all the current offspring).

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It is certainly possible man physical advantage or woman doesn't make that much of difference when it come to hunt since must hunters are ambush hunters who will not actually be fighting with there prey.

The odds of a culture like this forming increase if there is a low population of men and constant chance of attacks from hostile tribes.

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