I suppose, on the face of it, many human cultures appear to be patriarchies. They operate in patriarchical ways. For instance, in over 200 years the United States has never had a woman President – or Vice President – or Chief of Staff. Who wears the pants in our family?
Well, I hate to admit I have spent more than my share of time alone, contemplating why it is so darn difficult to maintain a good relationship. Maybe it’s just me. But I will go to very great theoretical lengths to attribute it to something else!
Here’s some of what I have come up with so far:
Males and females have completely different biological priorities. And this is primarily due to different investments in offspring. Males have virtually no investment – females have extreme investment. (With such a “sociobiological” postulation as this, it isn’t always convenient to explore examples in human culture, because we stopped obviously playing by Nature’s rules a long time ago. And also because these stories don’t usually turn out so good for the males!)
For the question of investment in future generations though, humans aren’t a bad illustration.
A human female must carry each offspring, one (sometimes more) at a time, for 9 months. For the first few years of the child’s life it is practically helpless. Initially, a human child cannot feed itself, mobilize itself or protect itself against anything. It is *totally* dependent on its Mother for everything. It’s Dad? I suppose, push-comes-to-shove, a human child could take or leave its Dad (look around!) A human child is not reproductive (a biological, not sociological milestone) for about 13 years. It needs guidance for a long time – investment.
But it’s more than that… A human female is born with all of her ovules, or reproductive, haploid cells, essentially intact. Meiosis, the process that halves the genetic compliment in the cells, takes place prenatally for the most part in females. The monthly menstrual cycle is the cleaning out of unfertilized, unused eggs (ovules). These ovules are physically, and biologically huge compared to the sperm cells the adult male makes on a regular basis. They’re huge.
Women make a few, huge, precious reproductive cells. We make a bunch – a whole bunch – of sperm cells, but they’re cheap. If something doesn’t work out, that’s okay – we’ll try next time!
This is a fairly common phenomenon in the biological world. Females have the investment in the future. Males are just there to ‘mix things up’ (genetically). And in species with more ‘Natural cultures’ the relationship often extends to the individuals producing those genetic cells, too.
I think the implications of this are far less trivial than we as a culture give them credit for.
For instance: Men don’t care. Why should they. The future is cheap.
While I am being a little pejorative to the concept, I am quite sincere in my suggestion. With a small investment in future generations, males are less likely to prioritize future potentialities.
Females sacrifice a lot to reproduce. A whole lot. A physiological lot, but perhaps more significantly, a lot of time. The fact that we actually have a term such as ‘deadbeat dad’ suggests the *required* input for males.
This argument reaches some rocky ground at this point because we are taught the course of Evolution is not directed. In other words, the parents have no way of knowing what environmental conditions their babies will suffer (or enjoy). So they are not able to provide the “best” combinations of genes in any purposeful way. All parents can do is try to create a stable enough environment and enough “normal” kids to survive. (I don’t mean to sound crass here. In fact, the “non-normal” kids provide the variation for the unpredictability of the future environments. Like I said, it doesn’t always sound so good with human examples!)
So the best that a female can do is pick a good example of a male to mate with and, especially in the case of humans, try to make the future environment as predictable as possible.
So, you can imagine spiraling implications in all of this. They manifest in most other species in what could be considered as grotesque by our standards of civility.
For example, the Praying Mantis. Get this… (it isn’t always true, but sometimes it is…)
A male Praying Mantis has a limited amount of … um … ‘stuff’ to give to the next generation. Only so much sperm and all that goes with it. So he has an interesting “choice.” He could find a great gal and give her all his stuff, hoping she’s as great as he thinks and doesn’t get eaten by a bird or anything. He’ll have a batch of great kids.
But he could also hedge his bets. Perhaps he’d be better off giving some to one female and then some more to another and as many as he can. But most Mantis species are territorial predators. This means the females will be few and far between (I feel the empathy kicking in!) But it also means many female Mantids will eat another Mantis before something like a grasshopper because it represents competition for food in her territory! This is some hedge!
Different species of animals employ some variation of these extremes.
Well, in some species of Mantids, Nature didn’t trust the males to make the right choice and so they have in the back of their brains a gland that produces a hormone that inhibits their mating behavior to the extent that they will tend to save some stuff for the next female.
Is that better than putting all your eggs in one basket (so to speak… um)? I don’t know. But females are unlikely to think so. They want as much stuff for their babies as they can get! This male reproductive inhibition doesn’t always sit so well with them.
So, when she gets the idea she’s being taken for granted, often during the sacred act itself, she unceremoniously eats his head, removing the hormone-producing gland and so the inhibition!
I suppose it is worth mentioning here that while insect nerves operate in very, very strikingly similar ways as ours, they are arranged much differently. The Arthropod “segmented nervous system” (contrasted with our “central nervous system”) allows each major section of the animal’s body to move and perform, to some extent, independent of other segments. They have a ‘brain’ in their heads that sort of guides them, but many reactions to the environment and the signaling required for survival never involve the brain in their heads.
This means he can perform his reproductive duties just fine without his head, thank you. In fact, without that gland making that hormone anymore he really gives it his all! When he is finished, the female finishes eating him cause, well... why not at that point. This also means his offspring – into which he has all his marbles placed (so to speak) – get a big protein burst (him) at the time when the female needs it the most.
That such a system has become common in populations suggests that it has some advantage – but personally, I don’t like it!
So here’s the problem. Because female investment is so high compared to males, when it comes right down to it, females have the choice. (okay, I know there are many apparent ‘exceptions’ to such a blatant statement, but that is part of my point. We don’t play by the rules!)
And for all the bravado displayed by males in the interest of furthering their reproductive potential, it is painfully obvious in most plants and animals that the females have the males at a distinct disadvantage. And they act like it.
And it makes sense. Females care. Males worry whether they can mate with one female or more (disturbing lack of empathetic feelings here). Females have a huge investment in the future. A ‘culture’ in which the major ‘moral’ designs (referring to the mores of the culture) originate with female sensibilities is more likely to result in a stable future environment.
Look at a honeybee colony. Heck, it’s practically all female – to the extent that the reproductive strategy that has evolved results in the sisters being more closely related to their mother than to their brothers. The males do *nothing.* Well, they mate with the queens (from other colonies!)
The all-female work staff takes care of the small cadre of males while they also tend to all the other needs of the society. Of course, when times get tough, the boys gotta go! They are virtually reproductive vessels. It seems like it could be the life. While I don’t speak ‘honeybee,’ I imagine the girls are not very nice to these loafers.
But the colony has a sweet order to it that leads to almost perfectly consistent environmental conditions from one generation to the next without harming the greater habitat. A matriarchy is copacetic.
But we are the only species on Earth (that I’m aware of) that attempts patriarchy. And look at what it’s gotten us. When times are tough, males are not the first to go (except voluntarily*). And, as a society, we are not the least bit forward-looking nor apparently concerned one bit about the future environment for our cheap offspring.
And, it doesn’t work. Men (referring specifically to human males) approach interactions with females from a position of biological insecurity. It’s almost embarrassing.
Men drone on and on about how they are all this or all that. In strictly biological terms, they aren’t. And, deep down inside, we all know it – so do they, the women. They know it, too.
But if both genders know instinctively the insignificance of male contributions to future generations, how can our patriarchal model survive?
By Brute Force – and the Future be Damned!
*Chivalry is not dead. The phrase ‘women and children first’ is famous for when a ship is sinking. And the Captain, arguably the “most fit” on the boat is supposed to go down with his ship. In this paradigm, chivalry is an extension of males needing to make unnatural demonstrations of their ‘fitness’ to females who have to accept certain anomalous circumstances living in a patriarchy, yet still having choice. Drowning at sea will not help you reproduce! (There are various extenuating complications to all this, such as whether or not the Captain already has offspring – especially males – who may benefit from his brave reputation, but, I mean, I already talk too much!)