Rethinking fatherhood is an essential step toward creating gender equality. Societies where men are more engaged fathers tend also to be more egalitarian.
“For hunter-gatherers in general, fathers provide substantial amount of direct care, by comparison to fathers where you have farming,” said Barry Hewlett, an anthropologist at Washington State University who lived among the Aka tribe in central Africa. That close physical contact has biological and social consequences. Compared to other central Africans, Hewlett said, the Aka are much more egalitarian in terms of gender.
This relative egalitarianism is partly a function of the Aka’s practice of net-hunting, in which men and women work together. By contrast, if men are off tending to cattle while women are taking care of the children, boys are not exposed to men. Their childhood passes among women, so that when they grow up, they come to understand manhood as the rejection of femininity.
Exposure to fathers lessens that fissure of identity. “It means that boys, when they’re growing up, do not have to devalue those things which are feminine to increase their masculinity,” Hewlett said. “Girls, when they’re growing up, because they’re around their mothers, intimately know what it’s like to be female. For boys, it’s problematic. But not among the Aka.”