Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Why a Patriarchal Society?

The thought triggered when I was wondering about the reason for having a male gender in a species after all. Males are clearly needed only for reproductive purposes during copulation, because otherwise the female is alone capable of nurturing the child, and helping it reach adulthood when the child can independently look after itself. The female is clearly the more needed entity of a species as compared to a male, the male only consuming resources without serving any other substantial purposes for the benefit of the species.

I got one possible answer to it, that evolution and elimination of genetic defects becomes possible only in bisexual reproduction, as compared to reproduction in hermaphrodites. This is because in asexual reproduction, the same genes of a parent are identically passed down to the offspring, and therefore genetic changes are more difficult to come about. Contrastingly, in reproduction between two genders, the genes get mixed up with crossovers and other movements, and the eventual genes in the child are borrowed from both the mother as well as the father. There is an excellent text on this - The Selfish Gene - by Richard Dawkins, which is very readable by just about everybody, and addresses questions like how only the best and fittest genes get passed down across generations.

However, pertaining only to humans, on thinking more on the unimportance of males, why did society evolve in this way of being male dominated? Logically speaking, it should have been a matriarchal society from the very beginning because the woman performed more functions than a man that were essential for the survival of a species. Many arguments have been put up for this that men are genetically made to be physically stronger than women, and are capable of performing more strenuous tasks, and a lot more things, which eventually led to a patriarchal society.

My argument here is that I am sure that during nomadic times, there must have been no functional difference between a man and a woman. Both must have been equally strong physically, and both must have been performing the same tasks to ensure their individual survival, instead of entertaining mutually cooperative survival instincts. It must have been only when civilizations began to evolve, that the division of labor based on gender came up, and it was an after effect of this societal change that male began to dominate and the female became the weaker sex. This must have been followed with something like a spiraling effect, wherein the men became increasingly stronger and dominating, and the women grew weaker and subdued.

To find out more, I read a couple of chapters from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. She writes that as social groups began to form during prehistoric times, men began to get focused on doing the more physically demanding works like hunting, while women took to looking after the babies instead. The same thing extrapolated to when agriculture started, and the gender based labor differentials became more and more mentally hardwired in the human brains. However, there are arguments against this, one of which says that even during nomadic times, humans did not take to much of hunting by men, but relied on women gathering the food in bits and pieces. Therefore, things should have evolved in the other way because the female was always more important.

There is another theory on the evolution of patriarchy, which states that male domination came along with the growth of agriculture. Women were considered enigmatic and analogous to nature, because of their mysterious capabilities concerned with creation of life. Men could not understand nature, and therefore they worshipped it out of fear of the unknown. Similarly, men could not understand the capabilities of women either, and grew on to dominate them instead. This even suited them out of simple reasoning that men were now able to own the mothers of their children, the children of course being required for supplementing to the personal labor force for agriculture and ensuring other amenities for the family.

Whatever be the correct reason, I have yet to find it. The question is indeed very subtle, that why did society evolve in this way of being male dominated, when all throughout, it was the female who was more important. In fact, there is no historical evidence anywhere that there was ever a matriarchal civilization anywhere in the world at all. Furthermore, this instinct of male domination has become so built into the psyche of men that it has led to exorbitant instances of rape and many more hideous crimes. That is of course another huge topic, and maybe I'll go into this some other time.

However, things are changing now because of more independence being given to women and the growth of feminist organizations all across the world. Women are no longer the suppressed ones, and are coming out in millions to claim what was denied to them for so many years in most parts of the world.

All said and done, thoughts do not stop just here. Statistics speak out that the sperm count of men has been dropping significantly over the years. Also, with the technological successes of in-vitro fertilization, sperm banks, cloning, and others, the time does not seem very far that men might not be required even for reproductive purposes - the only apparent function that they serve in the world. Then, how far is it, of the male becoming an endangered entity in the future?