Eve offers Adam the forbidden fruit. From The Fall of Man by Hendrik Goltzius (National Art Gallery Washington DC)

This article aims to bring into question the fundamental assumption of modern feminist theory. Namely the assumption that gender inequality arises from the fact that our society has preconceived gender roles, and that these roles are purely subjective in nature. The explanation given is that these gender roles arose because Western civilisation was built as an oppressive patriarchal structure, created by and for the benefit of men alone.

Modern feminism proceeds by dismissing any aspect of culture which assigns gender roles as politically oppressive towards women. Only once the cultural slate is wiped clean will the behavioural differences of men and women evaporate, and the era of complete gender equality will be realised.

My concern is that this egalitarian vision does not sufficiently take into consideration the reasons underpinning these roles, namely men and women’s inherently different biological nature. It therein mistakes the consequences of natural differences for a patriarchal conspiracy. I believe the question of why men and women are different would be better resolved through a concise explanation of why the basic sex difference of human reproduction results in behavioural dimorphism.

The feminist’s main argument is the appeal to sociological factors, therefore an answer must be based on a premise which is inherent, undeniable, and not subject to societal forces.

Such a premise fits with the singular observation that women are limited by their biology in their ability to reproduce. In order to have a single child a woman must go through a long nine-month gestation period, followed by intensive infant rearing. No amount of social engineering which is non-scientific can change this fact.

This limitation is in stark contrast to a man’s reproductive capacity, which biologically speaking, is only restricted by the number of women who are willing to give birth to his offspring. This is the basic sex difference of reproduction, and means that a woman’s reproductive capacity is finite whilst a man’s is potentially infinite.

This consequently means that the number of women present in a society directly represents its capacity to produce the next generation. And so if society wishes to continue existing then it should logically behave in a manner which safeguards the lives of women, even at the cost of men’s.

Evidence for this aspect of societal self-preservation is seen in the unofficial maritime custom of saving the “women and children first” during the event of a life-threatening breach. From the perspective of societal continuation, women and children represent the best hope for another generation, whilst the men on board do not. This is also evidenced in the outbreak of war, where only the men are drafted out to face and be killed by the supposed societal danger. How do we reconcile female oppression in the face of male expediency?

This notion of societal self-preservation leads to the question of whether society’s norms are created purely subjectively or are part of a group survival instinct that arose as a consequence of natural evolution.

It would also appear that nature has selected for sexual reproduction over asexual reproduction across a vast range of species. This is a consequence of the evolutionary benefit derived from having two specialised organisms within a singular species. Almost all sexual species are differentiated by the same basic sex difference of reproduction.

The adoption of this basic sex difference by one of the earliest forms of sexual species has had enormous ramifications for male and female physiology. It appears that nature has given man superior forms of physical power such as strength, size and speed, in response to having given woman the power to create life. Many religious systems see this as the complementary duality of male and female forms, and recognise it as the source of creation.

If we accept the self-evident differences in physiology as a result of natural selection in response to the basic sex difference, then how might natural selection have differentiated male and female behaviour? One approach might be to examine the many cases of extreme Y-chromosome proliferation. Y-chromosomes are passed down identically, from father to son only, and there have been remarkable studies done which map out the genetic constellations of powerful male ancestors.

One such study was done in 2003, and estimated that 1 in every 200 males worldwide is the direct male descendant of the 13th century Mongol emperor, Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan founded the largest contiguous empire in history, and during his reign it spanned from the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Such a vast conquest is attributable to the fact that he was a ruler with an absolutely savage lust for power.

Therefore those male descendents found in the study possess the same Y-chromosome as a ruthless historic warlord. Quite a remarkable fact, and made possible because Genghis Khan was able to use his vast empire to sire and provide for the hundreds, if not thousands of children he had with many women simultaneously. This forms an example of extreme male evolutionary strategy, and we must ask: what ramifications does this have for inherent male behaviour?

Another example is the Uí Néill dynasty in the north-west of Ireland. A genetic study by Trinity College Dublin in 2006 found that around one in five men living there were the patrilineal descendants of a single influential medieval ancestor, possibly 5th century Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. The study estimates that about 2–3 million men worldwide bear this haplotype, and also claims to have found “a powerful illustration of the potential link between power and prolificacy”.

If there is a potential link between power and prolificacy, combined with the fact that men have no reproductive limit, would nature therefore select for a higher drive towards personal risk in males? An individual who instigates conflict, struggles for personal power, and builds a dynasty is faced with enormous social and even mortal risk, but historically if you were male and successful at it, then the reproductive potential was massive.

The same evolutionary strategy does not hold for would-be female rulers, because their natural restriction in reproduction reduces the potential evolutionary benefit of the risks involved. Would this explain why the propensity for risk is higher amongst men than amongst women? The common fact that insurance prices for men are consistently higher than the equivalent for women would certainly suggest it.

Another study found that humanity’s ancestors were 67% female and 33% male. Historically, this suggests that around twice the amount females who ever lived found the opportunity to reproduce than did males. It would appear then that women hold the lever of power when it comes to reproduction, meaning men must vigorously compete and take risk to secure any degree of female attention.

If we accept the hypothesis that women are inherently more risk-averse than men, should we therefore expect women to equally accede to the same societal positions as men? Might we realise that men can never take on the gender role of women as the givers of life? Could the propensity for risk be a factor in why men also dominate the most unfortunate outcomes in life, such as incarceration, homelessness, and suicide? If so, then modern feminism must acknowledge these facts and respect women when they freely and naturally make safer choices when it comes to family, study and employment; regardless of the representative inequalities that may create.

And in conclusion, the strain of feminism which seeks to mold all human behaviour to fit its ideological vision will never arrive at its desired destination, namely that final smashing of the patriarchy which gives rise to perfect equality forever after. This is because its ideological foundation does not accommodate for the human nature that is inherent in us all. I fear that as a result, third-wave progressive feminism will only ever serve to make all of our lives, but especially the lives of women, progressively unhappier.

Posted by Fergal Martin