It’s Over, Man

The era of human male domination is ending. Will modern culture welcome the dawn of a new gender equality?

By | February 1, 2015

W.W. NORTON & COMPANY, MARCH 2015Since 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. Sex, although very old, was an afterthought, perhaps derived from other ways of exchanging and shuffling DNA, any of which foiled parasites by increasing variation. Ever since sex, there has been an almost inevitable tension between male and female.

In many species females prevail. Komodo dragons can reproduce parthenogenetically if there are no males around, and whiptail lizards have done away with males altogether, instead engaging in female-to-female intercourse that triggers gestation. Human-size flightless cassowary females dominate diminutive males and fight  to form a harem of doting dads who bring up the young while the female waddles on to her next conquest. Praying mantis males keep copulating after their beloveds have eaten their heads, and tarantula females that devour their mates post coitus increase their reproductive success.

Like a spent spider, the human male has a tenuous future, and as I argue in my latest book, Women After All, we’re ushering in a new era of gender equality.

Primate species can go either way. Among lemurs, even the lowest-ranking female cows the highest-ranking male. In marmosets, fathers lug around weighty twins that only go to the mother to nurse. Our two closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, have contrasting mating systems. Chimp males are brutal to each other and to females, while bonobos’ female coalitions—sealed by the obviously delightful rubbing of vulvas—keep males in line.

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.

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 naturally 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 has held high carnival” too long, and “the difference between man and woman” is the strongest reason for gender equality. We are past the myth that men and women are the same, and the reality of the difference, as women are empowered, will make a better world.

Our species will soon take greater control of its evolution. Women could blend their DNA and cut men out in the near future, but most don’t seem to want to. Instead, we can use our new powers—biotechnology, robotic brawn, vast online knowledge at our fingertips, and ever-present social media—to restore the gender equality our species had for so many millennia, and while we’re at it, stop wasting half of humanity’s gifts.                              

Anthropologist and behavioral biologist Melvin Konner is the author of The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind; The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit; and Becoming a Doctor, among other books. He teaches at Emory University. Read an excerpt of Women After All.

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Avatar of: MaleMatters

MaleMatters

Posts: 2

February 21, 2015

The joke's kind of on you. Men have never felt they dominated so much as responded to the obligations and responsibilities foisted on them by society. This is what women are in fact learning as they move into "male" positions.

Re: "the reality of the difference, as women are empowered, will make a better world."

This will make you change your mind:

"Would the World be Better If Women Ran It?" http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/would-the-world-be-better-if-women-ran-it/   Also:   “The Doctrinaire Institute for Women's Policy Research: A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality” www.malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/the-doctrinaire-institute-for-womens-policy-research/  

 

Avatar of: MaleMatters

MaleMatters

Posts: 2

February 21, 2015

The joke's kind of on you. Men have never felt they dominated so much as responded to the obligations and responsibilities foisted on them by society. This is what women are in fact learning as they move into "male" positions.

Re: "the reality of the difference, as women are empowered, will make a better world."

This will make you change your mind:

"Would the World be Better If Women Ran It?" http://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/would-the-world-be-better-if-women-ran-it/  

Also:  

“The Doctrinaire Institute for Women's Policy Research: A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality” www.malemattersusa.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/the-doctrinaire-institute-for-womens-policy-research/  

 

Avatar of: iMGS

iMGS

Posts: 1

February 21, 2015

Or until the artificial uterus is developed.

I am one of the few women in a very high stress occupation, and I can hold my own with the boys, but I have come to understand that far fewer women than men have the psychological strength to endure the psychological torture tests that the men in this field create in order to win.  These are high-stakes negotiations that few women seem to even want to do.  Almost all the people who apply for open positions in this field are men.  Women just to seem to fall away before they even have the idea the they are qualified or interested in this work.

And the analogy of the author is a ruse because there is all kinds of odd behavior in animals, such as cannibalism, that will never be widely adopted by humans.

Avatar of: D.B. Bradt

D.B. Bradt

Posts: 2

February 22, 2015

 

I don't mean to be simplistically stupid responding to this learned article but....The male is sexually charged at a young age, compared with the female, making him energized, forthcoming taking the lead and the aggressor setting our social roles and expectations at an early age.
The article does not propose a change to that dynamic so men will continue to take the lead by nature beyond the foreseeable future.

Avatar of: typicalanimal

typicalanimal

Posts: 7

February 23, 2015

This is all dangerous nonsense. You can't just "decide" what you're going to do like buying a new coat. All of these ideologies such as equality are things to be strived for in this life. Not by changing the DNA makeup to suit fashionable notions. Nobody has any right to do that, it is like killing the human race itself. The author is also anthropomorphising the natural way of the world, like as if it's "us" vs "them". All things have their place. This thing is so messed up it's a joke. 

Avatar of: D.B. Bradt

D.B. Bradt

Posts: 2

Replied to a comment from typicalanimal made on February 23, 2015

February 25, 2015

 

Don't worry typicalanimal.  The biggest theater draw are leading men because a movie is a journey and every man, woman and child prefers to make a journey with an alpha male.  Nothing in this article deals with this aspect of our nature.  Like Einstein said after presenting the theory of relativity "Everything has changed, except us".  Don't worry about the claims of the title, he didn't mean it. 

Avatar of: Amy Anderson

Amy Anderson

Posts: 3

April 2, 2015

As I mentioned elsewhere, the author doesn't seem to know very much about the evolution of sexual reproduction. I can speak to some of this as a theoretical biologist.  

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. Sex, although very old, was an afterthought, perhaps derived from other ways of exchanging and shuffling DNA, any of which foiled parasites by increasing variation.   

Absolutely wrong. No such thing as a "female" before the origin of anisogamy, this is pretty basic biology. If anything one could argue that femaleness arose from a "male" state since all gametes were originally small and motile in the ancestral isogamous condition, but I wouldn't take that at face value. Sexes are defined by gametic differences, with females DEFINED as the sex that makes the fewer, larger, less mobile gametes, so there is no way in which "females" were around before this differentiation, BY DEFINITION. I bet most biologists would be surprised to learn that all prokaryotic life is "female," but hey, to heck with theoretical biologists and their foolish definitions, this anthropologist has it all figured out!  Additonally, he confuses the origin of sex with the origin of gender itself, as well as with the maintenence of sex. The idea that sex is maintained to evade germs is one valid explanation, but he fails to mention dozens of others, like many mutational and genetic theories, which have been well established for many years. Also, extolling parthenogenesis is ridiculous, especially since all mammals are physiologically incapable of it. This guy frankly has no idea what he's talking about.  

In the modern world women are naturally 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.  

LOL Okay.... But one could easily counter by arguing that these "male bents" are also responsible for civilization, discovery, and achievement. There's an interesting evolutionary idea that male sex drive, manifested via sexual selection, is responsible for all art and culture, etc. Also, women are more prone to breast and ovarian cancers, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Rheumatoid arthritis, and though they live longer, are more prone to Alzheimer's disease, clinical depression, a litany of anxiety and phobia problems, more likely to get PTSD, attempt suicide more frequently, and suffer from various eating disorders.

In addition, women are physically weaker, have a lower tolerance for pain, (despite "folk wisdom" to the contrary), more likely to suffer chronic pain, less tolerant of risk and uncertainty, are less represented at the extreme high end of cognitive ability, have lower vital capacity in general, recover slower from injury, are on average worse at cognitive relfection, worse at various spatial tasks, mathematical reasoning tasks, and mechanical reasoning tasks, etc.  

Sorry I just had to go there.

Contrary to Konner's assertion, studies do not show women as more "cooperative" and some even show that they cooperate less well with other women than in mixed sex groups (see Balliet, D, et al. 2011. Psychol Bull. Nov 137). Most sex differences on psychological variables are small or nonexistent, aggression is moderate in size (Hyde, JS. 2005. Am Psychol. Sep 60). Sex differences in leadership behavior, despite the junk science studies that appear in the media done by corporations and advocacy groups, are not significantly large in the social science literature (Anderson, JA, Hansson, PH. 2011. Lead & Org Dev Journ. 32.)  

Women could blend their DNA and cut men out in the near future, but most don’t seem to want to.  

sigh ... Well, sure, but so could men. This author is awfully short-sighted when it comes to reproductive technology, as ectogenetic devices like atificial wombs are certainly a possibility. Using such a device could also eliminate women from the reproductive equation, but who wants to do that? Nevermind that it would be infeasable to even attempt on a broad scale.

The rest of the article is politically motivated baloney, and in my view doesn't belong in this magazine.   

 

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