Female oppression

Posted: December 17, 2010 in books
Tags: ,

Empowerment of women is  a topic that is close to my heart. I had thought a lot about the origins of patriarchal societies. It’s obvious that there are biological reasons that are at the root of the problem when it comes to gender bias in society. I feel nature has unfairly put women at a disadvantage by making them bear most of the burden of carrying forward the genetic lines of our species.

I recently came across this very interesting talk that was given at American Psychological Association by Roy F. Baumeister, provocatively titled Is There Anything Good About Men? In the talk, the author gives a very compelling explanation of the gender differences and how they led to gender bias in cultures. His arguments seem entirely reasonable to me:

Maybe the differences between the genders are more about motivation than ability. This is the difference between can’t and won’t.

Several recent works have questioned the whole idea of gender differences in abilities: Even when average differences are found, they tend to be extremely small. In contrast, when you look at what men and women want, what they like, there are genuine differences. Look at research on the sex drive: Men and women may have about equal “ability” in sex, whatever that means, but there are big differences as to motivation: which gender thinks about sex all the time, wants it more often, wants more different partners, risks more for sex, masturbates more, leaps at every opportunity, and so on. Our survey of published research found that pretty much every measure and every study showed higher sex drive in men. It’s official: men are hornier than women. This is a difference in motivation. Likewise, I mentioned the salary difference, but it may have less to do with ability than motivation. High salaries come from working super-long hours. Workaholics are mostly men. (There are some women, just not as many as men.) One study counted that over 80% of the people who work 50-hour weeks are men. …

What percent of our ancestors were women? It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children. Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.The huge difference in reproductive success very likely contributed to some personality differences, because different traits pointed the way to success. Women did best by minimizing risks, whereas the successful men were the ones who took chances. Ambition and competitive striving probably mattered more to male success (measured in offspring) than female. Creativity was probably more necessary, to help the individual man stand out in some way. Even the sex drive difference was relevant: For many men, there would be few chances to reproduce and so they had to be ready for every sexual opportunity. If a man said “not today, I have a headache,” he might miss his only chance. Another crucial point. The danger of having no children is only one side of the male coin. Every child has a biological mother and father, and so if there were only half as many fathers as mothers among our ancestors, then some of those fathers had lots of children. Look at it this way. Most women have only a few children, and hardly any have more than a dozen — but many  fathers have had more than a few, and some men have actually had several dozen, even hundreds of kids. In terms of the biological competition to produce offspring, then, men outnumbered women both among the losers and among the biggest winners.

For women, being lovable was the key to attracting the best mate. For men, however, it was more a matter of beating out lots of other men even to have a chance for a mate. Tradeoffs again: perhaps nature designed women to seek to be lovable, whereas men were designed to strive, mostly unsuccessfully, for greatness.

Whatever the biological and evolutionary origins of our male dominated culture, I think it is not acceptable in today’s world. During the early stages organised in primitive societies, our species probably wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the fact that it is not acceptable to oppress half of humanity in one way or the other. Now we have that conscience, let’s listen to it and let the women take back their rightful place in society.

[This entry had been lying in my drafts since August. I had even forgotten what I wanted to write here.]

  1. I’d love to see a citation for the study on women having reproduced more than men – can you point me in the right direction? I have always wondered whether the human gender ratio has historically (and prehistorically) always been as close to equal as it is now. What impact might a different gender ratio have had on human behaviors that are regarded as normal, or at least unavoidable (like violence, war, competition, sexual objectification) in a 50-50% context. If we are descended from twice as many women as men, that raises some very interesting questions about historic and prehistoric human gender ratios.

    • introspeak says:

      The article is not saying that women reproduced more than men. On the contrary, it claims that men reproduced more than women. It also states that more women reproduced, compared to men. This essentially means some men had more partners, and some men were completely left out because women were not available to them.

      Mathematically, 50-50 gender ratio is maintained at birth on average.
      The fact that we descended from twice as many women as men, does not have any implications for gender ratios of our ancestors. It simply means that only half of the men ever born had a chance to reproduce, while almost all women got to reproduce. This is easily explained by prevalence of polygamy. As some men took more partners, some other men had to have lived without any partners at all.

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