Since life began, males have been a sort of addendum. The earliest organisms were, in a real sense, female—producing new individuals from their own bodies.
In our species, culture, more than genes, has shaped gender roles. For at least 90 percent of human history, we lived in small seminomadic bands where decisions were made around the fire. Studies of extant hunter-gatherers show that men could not exclude women even if they wanted to.
But when our nomadic ancestors settled down, agriculture blossomed, and face-to-face life yielded to hierarchies, armies, priesthoods, and separate private and public spheres. Now women were excluded, oppressed, and drawn or dragged toward strongmen who had multiple wives and concubines. This was the human story for 12,000 years, and a mere two millennia of nominal monogamy hasn’t budged gender inequity much.
The shortened life span of men, higher mortality at all ages, an inability to reproduce, premature hair loss, and brain defects variously resulting in attention deficit, hyperactivity, conduct disorder, hypersexuality, and an enormous excess of both outward and self-directed aggression. The main physiological mechanism is androgen poisoning, although there may be others. I call it the X chromosome deficiency syndrome, and a stunning 49 percent of the human species is affected.
When you make new life on your own, you basically clone yourself, and ultimately lots of your offspring and relatives have the same genes. Create males, and in due course there is much more variation. Mate with a male that’s a bit different from you, and you produce a creature different from both of you. Meanwhile, you export the fiercest part of the competition. Women do the reproducing (except for his donation), so he can duke it out with the other males and they can evolve faster. Your daughters inherit the variation, and they compete and evolve, too.
Women, of course, compete as well, against men and among themselves, also with skills honed over eons. But the need to reproduce, with all its risk and cost, has kept them relatively levelheaded and dubious of men’s schemes. For most of the history of sexual reproduction, females have often stood by while males fought over them, physically or otherwise. They know that they won’t always be able to tell a lifelong pal from a sperm donor, and in many species one good sperm is all they want. But they, too, have to reproduce, and that means tolerating uncertainty and being prepared for contingencies. For us humans, the trouble is that men’s competitive antics and untold ages of imposing their will on women have created a world in peril from their rivalries.
Women have always had to struggle for equality, even in the small hunter-gatherer bands we evolved in. Yet with further cultural evolution, it got worse. With the rise of what we like to call civilization, men’s superior muscle fostered a vast military, economic, and political conspiracy, enabling them to exclude women from leading roles. Jealousy of women’s power to give sex—and, more importantly, to give life—led men to build worlds upon and against them for millennia. Or as Camille Paglia put it in Sexual Personae, “Male bonding and patriarchy were the recourse to which man was forced by his terrible sense of woman’s power.”
Appealing myths about Amazons are just that: myths. Only women whose fathers, sons, or husbands gave them the scepters of power could wield it, and then only temporarily. Even in matrilineal society, men had most of the power. The result was ten millennia in which we squandered half of the best talent in the human race. Brawn mattered for those one hundred centuries, but in spite of their greater strength, men had to make laws to suppress women, because on a truly level playing field, women were destined to compete successfully and very often win.
That is the meaning of the quote of Simone de Beauvoir: “The problem of woman has always been a problem of men, but it marks the place in history where an enlightenment begins.” Although I don’t agree with her that all differences between men and women are culturally determined, I fully accept that the majority of the differences we have seen throughout history are caused by male supremacy and the subordination of women. History is written by the victors, and the victors in the battle between the sexes have for many centuries been males; of course they have defined women downward and have invented and promulgated an “essential” inferiority of women as a part of femininity itself. That is the part that is not at all inherent in biology; rather, it is, literally, a man-made myth.
But millennial male dominance is about to come to an end. Glass ceilings are splintering into countless shards of light, and women are climbing male power pyramids in every domain of life. Even in the world’s most sexist societies, women and girls form a fundamentally subversive group that, as communications technology shows them other women’s freedoms, will undermine age-old male conceit and give them the sway of the majority.
The freer and more educated girls and women become, the fewer children they have; men are proven obstacles to family planning. Even in the poorest lands, the increasing availability of women’s suffrage, health services, microloans, and savings programs, is giving them control over their destinies. As soon as that happens, they reduce the size and poverty of their families. It becomes clearer every year that the best way to spend an aid dollar in the developing world is to educate and empower women and girls. The consequences are manifold.
Replacing quantity with quality in childbearing will not save just women, or even just struggling, impoverished countries. It could save the planet and make it habitable for our species. It will greatly reduce the necessity for violence of all kinds, as it has already begun to do. Male domination has outlived any purpose it may once have had. Perhaps it played some role in our success as a species so far, but now it is an obstacle. Empowering women is the next step in human evolution, and as the uniquely endowed creatures we are, we can choose to help bring it about.
But that is changing. As the value of males’ brute strength wanes, technology is leading us back to our fairly egalitarian hunter-gatherer origins. In the modern world women are seen as superior. They have longer lives and fewer deaths at all ages; very few X-linked genetic problems; much lower susceptibility to autism, attention deficit, hyperactivity, and conduct disorders; and they are far less violent and sexually voracious—male bents that have led our species astray for thousands of years. In business and politics, women are better cooperators, less conflict-prone, a lot less likely to let sex interfere with their work, and much better at getting their own egos out of the way.
Androgens shape the male brain in utero, and the behavioral effects are lifelong. In 1869, suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “The male element is a destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, acquisition, breeding in the material and moral world alike discord, disorder, disease, and death. See what a record of blood and cruelty the pages of history reveal! Through what slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice, through what inquisitions and imprisonments, pains and persecutions, black codes and gloomy creeds, the soul of humanity has struggled for the centuries, while mercy has veiled her face and all hearts have been dead alike to love and hope!
The male element has held high carnival thus far; it has fairly run riot from the beginning, overpowering the feminine element everywhere, crushing out all the diviner qualities in human nature, until we know but little of true manhood and womanhood, of the latter comparatively nothing, for it has scarce been recognized as a power until within the last century. Society is but the reflection of man himself, untempered by woman’s thought; the hard iron rule we feel alike in the church, the state, and the home. No one need wonder at the disorganization, at the fragmentary condition of everything, when we remember that man, who represents but half a complete being, with but half an idea on every subject, has undertaken the absolute control of all sublunary matters.
People object to the demands of those whom they choose to call the strong-minded, because they say ‘the right of suffrage will make the women masculine.’ That is just the difficulty in which we are involved today. Though disfranchised, we have few women in the best sense; we have simply so many reflections, varieties, and dilutions of the masculine gender. The strong, natural characteristics of womanhood are repressed and ignored in dependence, for so long as man feeds woman she will try to please the giver and adapt herself to his condition. To keep a foothold in society, woman must be as near like man as possible, reflect his ideas, opinions, virtues, motives, prejudices, and vices. She must respect his statutes, though they strip her of every inalienable right, and conflict with that higher law written by the finger of God on her own soul.
She must look at everything from its dollar-and-cent point of view, or she is a mere romancer. She must accept things as they are and make the best of them. To mourn over the miseries of others, the poverty of the poor, their hardships in jails, prisons, asylums, the horrors of war, cruelty, and brutality in every form, all this would be mere sentimentalizing. To protest against the intrigue, bribery, and corruption of public life, to desire that her sons might follow some business that did not involve lying, cheating, and a hard, grinding selfishness, would be arrant nonsense.
In this way man has been molding woman to his ideas by direct and positive influences, while she, if not a negation, has used indirect means to control him, and in most cases developed the very characteristics both in him and herself that needed repression. And now man himself stands appalled at the results of his own excesses, and mourns in bitterness that falsehood, selfishness, and violence are the law of life. The need of this hour is not territory, gold mines, railroads, or specie payments but a new evangel of womanhood, to exalt purity, virtue, morality, true religion, to lift man up into the higher realms of thought and action.
We ask woman’s enfranchisement, as the first step toward the recognition of that essential element in government that can only secure the health, strength, and prosperity of the nation. Whatever is done to lift woman to her true position will help to usher in a new day of peace and perfection for the race.
In speaking of the masculine element, I do not wish to be understood to say that all men are hard, selfish, and brutal, for many of the most beautiful spirits the world has known have been clothed with manhood; but I refer to those characteristics, though often marked in woman, that distinguish what is called the stronger sex. For example, the love of acquisition and conquest, the very pioneers of civilization, when expended on the earth, the sea, the elements, the riches and forces of nature, are powers of destruction when used to subjugate one man to another or to sacrifice nations to ambition.
Here that great conservator of woman’s love, if permitted to assert itself, as it naturally would in freedom against oppression, violence, and war, would hold all these destructive forces in check, for woman knows the cost of life better than man does, and not with her consent would one drop of blood ever be shed, one life sacrificed in vain.
With violence and disturbance in the natural world, we see a constant effort to maintain an equilibrium of forces. Nature, like a loving mother, is ever trying to keep land and sea, mountain and valley, each in its place, to hush the angry winds and waves, balance the extremes of heat and cold, of rain and drought, that peace, harmony, and beauty may reign supreme. There is a striking analogy between matter and mind, and the present disorganization of society warns us that in the dethronement of woman we have let loose the elements of violence and ruin that she only has the power to curb. If the civilization of the age calls for an extension of the suffrage, surely a government of the most virtuous educated men and women would better represent the whole and protect the interests of all than could the representation of either sex alone.