One of the themes woven through out the opening chapters of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is that of the noble savage. The Native Americans lived, in Zinn’s view, free of the corrupting influences of civilization. They were pacifists, egalitarians, even progressives. This portrait fits into Zinn’s broader historical narrative of white Westerners as uniquely anti-progressive in the history of mankind.
As part of this narrative, Zinn draws a picture of the tribes of North America as gender egalitarians. He writes that “women were important and respected in Iroquois society,” which, he claims, “was in sharp contrast to European values as brought over by the first colonists.”