Feminism, Sexism and Biology

I attended a panel discussion last night at Soho Skeptics called “Challenging Geek Stereotypes” – specifically female-geek stereotypes.

I think I have mostly avoided feminism issues for most of my life, but over the last couple of years I have become more and more involved in it. Just incrementally. But now I think I am on the cusp of full blown involvement because I not only care about equality, but I worry that large portions of the feminist movement are very seriously shooting themselves in the foot.

To cut straight to the chase, I noticed last night listening to this panel that it seemed like there was a pervasive implicit agreement that Men and Women are fundamentally the same. In the way where a debate about racism would have everyone agreeing that Black and White people are fundamentally the same, skin colour isn’t important – so too penis vs vagina isn’t important and we’re the same deep down. Unfortunately, I believe, biology just flat out contradicts this. Men and Women ARE fundamentally different, and if I am correct in this fact, then pretending they are not and trying to work from a ‘blank slate’ origin towards equality will create more confusion and difficulty than not.

Are Men and Women Different?

On one level, obviously they are. For a basic introduction to this, the wikipedia article on ‘Sex Differences in humans‘ seems as good a place to start as any. However when talking about being the ‘same’ in this context what we are really talking about is emotionally. Mentally. Instinctively. Are our personalities fundamentally different? Or is all of the difference we see in our society a function of our cultural conditioning?

It is the confusion of our cultural conditioning which makes it a hard question – because no one is brought up a blank slate. Everyone is influenced, and groomed, and manipulated – we can’t be sure what traits are ‘nature’ and what ones are manufactured through precise ‘nurture’. So it is a challenging question – however, i think an understanding of evolutionary theory and biology is enough for anyone to see that Men and Women are necessarily different. Different Emotionally. Mentally. and Instinctively.

It IS all about Sex

One of the first people I spoke to after the talk about this observation of mine kept pulling me up when I mentioned the sexual reproductive strategies used by either sex in an evolutionary context. She complained that I was focusing on the sex as if it was of core importance, when she didn’t think it was. So I am going to start there – Sex IS of core importance.

We are a result of evolution. This is certain. Evolution has crafted us to the ultimate reproductive tools. And reproductive success is EVERYTHING to evolution. Nothing else matters. And reproduction is about 1. Having offspring, and 2. Ensuring those offspring survive. This is a biological fact, and just as applicable to humans as it is to every other sexually reproductive species.

So everything evolution selects for is about successful reproduction. Sex is the method of reproduction in all vertebrates, and so sex is central to everything about us. Everything we have evolved, whether it be balance, strength, speed, endurance, a digestive tract – ALL OF IT is so that we can achieve reproduction via sexual intercourse – and in some species – continue to provide for those offspring to a degree.

Successful Sexual Strategies

So we have two sexes. In humans, and all vertebrates. The definition of the sexes really just comes down to which one provides the greater or lesser investment to sexual reproduction. Females provide the greater investment in terms of cellular material. When we specifically talk about species which also involve internal gestation, then the consequence of sex for the two sexes is immediately starkly different. Males spend mere seconds engaging in sex, and are not committed beyond that. Females on the other hand risk committing themselves to months worth of sharing their limited energy and nutritional supplies with a parasitic organism, inability to mate with ‘superior’ males during that time, and potential risk of complications which could result in death. The difference between these two realities is stark!

This disparity is very physically real. And contrary to popular desire to discount the affect of evolution on the mind – evolution made our brain! It is the thing which created the nature of our brain which is open to the affects of nurture! btw, in case you were wondering, the answer to the Nature vs Nurture debate, it is Nurture VIA nature. It always has been both, but if it wasn’t for evolution crafting the malleable brain, there would be nothing for nurture to act upon! And thus it is here. yes, we are malleable creatures. Yes you can manipulate people in to certain patterns. It seems incredibly unlikely that Pink is somehow inherently Female, from a biological perspective – but that does not mean that there aren’t innate differences! Particularly when it comes to innate desires towards sex, and reluctances to participate in sex!

When there is clearly a biological disparity between successful evolutionary strategies of the two sexes, it makes sense that each sex will approach the problem of ‘Who do I mate with?’ differently! Males have endless sperm and can mate freely without risk. Females suffer from months of inability to select new superior mates when pregnant, are forced to give up large percentages of their limited nutritional and energy supply to a parasite organism, and worse than that, they risk death in child birth – all from engaging in sex. The idea that women would think and feel about sex exactly the same as men is absurd!

But in our modern world, we can choose to be…

Yeah yeah yeah. We’re all enlightened clever intelligent persons now aren’t we? We are no longer victim to our animalistic past are we? Of course not. That is why we all choose to ignore our programming and rationally think through the fact that we have contraceptives, antibiotics and abundant food, and spend all of our spare time engaging sex with numerous partners, often people we don’t even know. right?

Oh, you don’t want to do that? Why not?

See, it is easy to justify what you want, but you still haven’t choosen what it is that you want. Our evolutionary past controls us more than any of us want to admit.

“Human beings aren’t rational, but rationalizing, animals.” -Robert Heinlein

I want to stop eating Chocolate, and carbohydrate rich foods. But damnit, my brain keeps telling me they TASTE SO GOOD! Why don’t I just choose to stop enjoying them? We are slaves to our evolutionary past until we can actually change our biology – or so comprehensively agree to ‘train’ each new generation to act and think the ‘right way’ that it looks like it is natural.

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