(This is a silly little story I wrote to try and talk about gender roles and feminism. In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t believe that Neanderthals talked or lived like this. Please don’t use this to judge my understanding of anthropology because I have none.)
Brack, the oldest of our tribe, sat on a rock, staring at me for a moment following his lecture. I stood somberly in front of him. He had said his piece to me, but still managed to retain a sour expression on his face.
“Go!” he cried out suddenly, slamming his club on the ground. “Go now, Melky, go do what you’re supposed to do!” He stood, turned, and stomped back to his cave.
What I was “supposed” to do was go find a woman I wanted to be my wife, club her on the head, and drag her to my cave, that being the marital tradition going back as long as anyone could remember. I slowly walked over to the tribe’s common area and came upon Fligger and Bum, friends of mine, who were locked in a game of Rock, Leaf, Spear.
“Hey, guys.” I said as I approached. Fligger grunted, and Bum let out a “HA!” as his leaf had just defeated Fligger’s rock.
“Hi, Melky,” Fligger mumbled.
“I just had a special meeting with Brack and he told me to go club a woman,” I said, “but I just don’t want to do it that way. Do you guys have a strong opinion about this? It doesn’t seem right to me.”
Fligger turned, grabbed hold of my animal skin, lifted it, and peered under, scrutinizing my male assembly. “Hmm,” he said as I knocked his hand away, “You look like a man, but you talk like you’re not.”
“C’mon, you know what I mean!” I shot back defensively.
“I don’t know what your problem is,” Bum interjected, “Just go club a woman and get on with your life.” He resumed the game with Fligger.
I continued on to my cave. What was wrong with me? That wasn’t the only part about my life that just seemed different. Yes, I was a decent hunter, somewhat athletic, manly by most standards, but when it came time to do the, say, the cooking, I was interested in how the women prepared what we had just killed. Secretly, during hunts, I’d be looking for certain spices that I knew would blend well with the meal of the evening. I would surreptitiously pluck them and put them into my satchel for later.
I also enjoyed, and was skilled at painting. Not the kind that keeps records of our history that our historians do in the communal cave. I use painting to express myself and the walls of my cave were covered with this. I was currently working on a surreal piece that would eventually become a water buffalo locked in a dance with a saber tooth tiger. In the background, off to the left, is a man standing, leaning on his spear, and near him a berry bush. I am trying to send a message that the man must choose between the meat and the berries. He is enamored at the dance and is in a philosophical quandary, knowing that if one of these two dancing animals became dinner, the dance will have to be cut short. He’s way off in the distance because I have a hard time painting hands.
My cave is different as well. It isn’t the usual bachelor’s cave like Fligger’s or Bum’s. Mine is always kept in immaculate shape, neat and tidy. I’ve created some wonderful pieces of furniture that accommodate any guests that come by. I’ve got an excellent set of wooden dishes and spoons that I carved myself. And the aroma is always exquisite. I use a combination of lavender and eucalyptus leaves that I boil, and then I pour the liquid into a container that I place in the corner of my cave. Lovely! You walk into Fligger’s cave and you may as well be walking into the side of a cliff.
Our tribe moving to Neander’s Valley ten years ago has largely been a disappointment for me. We moved, I assumed, to be a tribe that would take ideas to a much higher lever, to live in a more civilized manner, but we seem to have stagnated. Even as I pondered these thoughts I glanced outside and saw that Fligger and Bum were now having a contest of seeing who could hit their head with a rock harder than the other. Bum won, but lay there unconsciously on the ground. Fligger was glassy-eyed.
There is, indeed, a woman that I would like to have as my wife. Sure, other men would consider Lently a good candidate for them as well: Strong, wonderful cook, excellent birthing hips. But I like her for different reasons. Over the past two years we’ve had many delightful conversations covering a wide range of subjects. She has compelling thoughts and dreams and ideas, and many fall in line with mine. We’ve conversed and struggled together over tribal customs, gender roles, power issues, so many things. We’ve laughed at the silliness that accompanies the stiffness of our current council. We genuinely love being together. Clubbing her on the head seemed to me to be, well, caveman-ish. I decided that I’d just ask her and what will be will be.
Three days later, after the evening meal, Lently and I went on one of our many walks. After about two hours of sublime dialogue, I decided to take my chance.
“Lently,” I meekly started, “I believe that you and I are destined to be together. We are alike in so many ways and I am delighted when I am with you. And, I believe, you are delighted when you are with me as well. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
Lently closed her eyes, turned around, and didn’t speak for an entire minute, which seemed like an hour. Finally she opened her eyes and looked over her shoulder at me.
“Well?” she said.
“Well, what?” I replied.
“Aren’t you going to club me and take me back to your cave?”
“I wanted to treat you differently and appeal to your mind.”
She paused for a moment. “I don’t know if I like that or not,” she said, turning around to face me, “It feels like you would rather have me as a cavemate instead of a wife.”
“No, no! That’s not the case at all! I just don’t want to hurt you!”
“Being hurt is part of the tradition, part of who we’ve always been as creatures,” she replied.
“I know, but it is so violent and so degrading at the same time. Plus, many women have been killed because of an over-zealous man banging the life out of his bride to be.”
“But isn’t that the chance we take for love?”
I was frustrated. I thought I knew every part of Lently, but she clearly could not let go of this violent tradition. Why was this? In conversations we had challenged so many of the other conventions of our tribe, what was the sticking point on this cruel ritual?
Her voice softened. “Melky, everyone in the tribe knows that we are to be together. Why do you think none of the other men have clubbed me these past two years? Why do you think Brack forced you to come and see him? Did he not specifically give you the instruction to club a woman?” I nodded. “He was talking of me. I would love to be your wife, so let’s just do what we need to do.”
I must have totally missed this. Everyone knew about our love for each other? Fligger and Bum never teased me about this? I was discouraged. I didn’t want to go through with this custom, but I was now realizing that it might actually have to be.
“Wait here,” I finally said in resignation.
I didn’t own a club, only a spear for hunting, and I wasn’t going to spear her. I walked over to Bum’s cave.
“Are you home, Bum?” I yelled into his cave.
“Yeah, c’mon in,” he sloppily said, obviously not recovered from his “game” he’d had with Fligger days earlier. I stepped in and immediately had to check my gag reflex at the door.
“Oh no, Bum! You shouldn’t let the tribe use your cave as the trash dump!”
“Shut up! What do you want?”
“Can I borrow your club?”
“Sure. It’s over there to your right. Clean it off when you’re done!”
I walked over and saw it on the ground next to the rotting leg of a water buffalo. Why he wanted me to clean it off, I had no idea. I actually planned on cleaning it BEFORE I used it.
“Thanks,” I said as I walked outside into the fresh air. A mound of Woolly Mammoth dung would have emitted a better aroma than that cave did. “I’ll bring it back soon.”
After scrubbing the club with water, I walked back to where I’d left Lently and found her studying a flower.
“Would you mind facing me?” I asked.
“Melky, you know that’s not how it’s done.”
“This is a compromise. I’d like for you to face me and look me in the eye. We will slowly change things about this dreadful tradition together.”
She turned to me. “Alright, I will, because I think you might be right. I don’t know why I’m stubborn about this. The whole institution of clubbing is disgusting, but for some reason, when it comes to me, I feel that I’m compelled to be traditional. But I shouldn’t be. I think it’s more difficult because I know that all my ancestors have had this tradition and that maybe I must do it to honor them.”
“Lently, you’re so very far above this,” I responded, “at any rate, here goes.”
We stood there, eye to eye. I reared back the club. But, instead of conking it hard onto her skull, I slowly brought it up and around, and gently touched the side of it onto the top of her head and let it rest lightly.
“Is that good enough for you?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, and smiled. “But, I’m going to have to pretend to be unconscious while you drag me back to your cave.”
I sighed. “Oh well. Baby steps, I suppose.”