From their earliest writings, the Euro-American colonists portrayed the native American women as overburdened drudges who performed masculine chores that exceeded their physical strength, suffered abuse by their husbands, and had no rights or privileges, while the native American men idled and routinely engaged in the frivolous diversions of hunting and fishing. Though this perception of stark imparity between the genders in the native American society has persisted for four hundred years, it was wrong.
The division of labor in the native American society was far more equitable and complementary than most Euro-Americans believed. While women were responsible for agriculture, childcare and household management, men performed the more physically arduous tasks like hunting, clearing forests to make new land fit for agriculture, making tools and weapons, and fighting wars. The work done by women was both socially and economically important, and therefore, rather than being a marker of their low social status, conferred prestige and respect upon them in the community.
Moreover, most native American tribes practiced matrilineal patterns of inheritance and were matrilocal, which meant that the husband moved into his wife's house upon marriage. The wife owned both the house and the agricultural land and tools, and she remained their sole proprietor upon marriage. If mistreated by her husband or loaded with unjust labor by him, a woman could easily divorce him or evict him from her house. While public roles and positions of authority were usually taken up by men, most men acted in consultation with their wives in important family and communal decisions. The marital relationship was often egalitarian.
The distorted picture of native American gender-relations that the Euro-Americans presented was a result of their ethnocentric biases. They viewed their own ethnic group as civilized, and therefore, believed that a civilized society was one in which men worked hard to provide sustenance for their families through economic activities like farming and trade, hunting and fishing were gentlemanly sports for the unproductive rich, and women occupied a "privileged" position in which they were exempt from hard physical labor and economic activities and had time for leisure pursuits. The perceived slothfulness of the native American men and the perceived drudgery of the native American women were, therefore, in stark contrast to the Euro-American ideals of civility - masculine diligence and feminine idleness. The Euro-Americans concluded that the native Americans were savage and contemptible. This perceived superiority of the Euro-American culture served to provide a moral justification for continued usurpation of native American land and destruction of native American society.
Primary Source: The "Squaw Drudge": A Prime Index of Savagism, by David D. Smits www.jstor.org
Secondary Sources: cloudfront.escholarship.org