The biggest problem with modern day politics is the fact that we get too bogged down in our own moral assumptions about the world. If you actually want to understand politics—and by extension, human behavior—you have to recognize that human beings are animals. We aren’t free agents trying to change the world for some higher purpose. Everything we do is fully informed by the interplay of our genetics and the environment we grow up in. Because of this, there are recognizable trends in human behavior that are observable across cultures and throughout history. The best way to understand these trends is to approach it from an evolutionary perspective.
When I think about sex politics, I don’t look at it according to what is just and what is not just, at least not when I want to lay down the basis for my understanding of the subject. Instead, I look at it through an evolutionary lens, because I think much of this is easily explained in this way. I want to note that this argument is not a one hundred percent proof of anything. Through Occam’s razor, this evolutionary explanation is the one I fall back on.
The first thing I want to do is refute a few common misconceptions held by many people about the biological explanation for behavioral differences. Claiming that there could be a biological reason for a difference in behavioral trends does not mean every individual person in these collectives are equally different from one another. We are talking about trends, not absolutes. The only way evolution can work is with genetic variation, so of course there will be exceptions to the trends I am talking about. Pointing to any exceptions does not negate the argument since the argument rests on the claim that these trends exist for a reason.
The next thing I want to refute is the false assumption that biological explanations for behavioral differences necessarily indicate that the differences are fully genetic. Things are rarely one hundred percent due to genetics. There is almost always some environmental component along with some genetic component. So when I say that there is an evolutionary explanation for a behavioral difference, this merely means that the basis is genetic; differences can certainly be amplified by the environment. For example, if a certain genetic population A has genes that make them predisposed to aggressive behavior relative to genetic population B, then it should be noted that population A will also construct a social environment that conditions people’s behaviors to be more aggressive, thus amplifying the aggregate aggression. Pointing out that the social environment in population A affects people’s behavior is not an argument for why there is no genetic component to their aggression relative to population B.
Finally, I think I should establish what men and women are, given this rise of postmodern deconstructionism. In many cases, I think postmodernism goes a bit too far with their deconstruction of some categorizations. This subject would be one of those cases. Here, we are talking about human relations as it pertains to our role in evolution. So the biological sexes are defined by their gametes, or by their role in sexual reproduction. Men create the sperm, women create the egg, and any deviation from this is an evolutionary dead end.
All of this established, I will get to the actual point of the post: When looking at sex politics throughout history, I have come to the conclusion that you can place men and women at opposite ends of a spectrum. This spectrum has freedom on one end and safety at the other. The closer you are to the freedom end the freer you are, at the expense of your safety, and vice versa for the other side. Men have been placed on the freedom end of the spectrum, while women have been placed at the safety end of the spectrum. Feminist scholars usually characterize this as patriarchy, where men take up the public sector of life, with women being relegated to the private sector. Basically, men are the ones out in the world working for a wage and women are left in the home for domestic duties. They generally are correct, though I think my characterization is better since I am not pathologically adhered to the idea of how unjust this is. Whether it is unjust or not is irrelevant. Biology does not care about your morals.
I think there is an evolutionary explanation for why the varying forms of patriarchy exist. As biological creatures, it is in our nature to reproduce and spread our genes on to the next generation. Much of our behavior can be traced back to our desire to do this. Because of this, the male and female roles in society are predicated on our respective roles in sexual reproduction. Given the fact that women are the ones who bear the children, and also given the fact that this is a long and arduous process that makes them incredibly vulnerable, it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint for our species as a whole to value the safety of women. If women are not kept safe, then that will imperil the entire species. And this does not apply to men in the same degree, since all they need to do is inseminate and their deed is done. Ideally, he should remain alive so he can provide for the woman, but since their tribe can compensate, his value is less than that of the woman.
Put another way, a women who is prone to taking risks is less likely to successfully reproduce and pass her genes on to the next generation than a woman who prefers safety. Going through nine months of pregnancy is a severe handicap on reckless behavior. Through the process of natural selection, the genes related to risk averse behavior will begin to take up a larger and larger percentage of the female population. At the same time, if women are becoming more prone to safe behavior as a collective whole, then men necessarily need to compensate if the species is to survive. There needs to be someone to risk their life against the horrors of the natural world in order to retrieve the resources needed to live. A safety prone woman paired with a safety prone man is less likely to succeed in passing her genes on to the next generation than a safety prone woman paired with a bolder man. The result of these selection patterns is women who are collectively less likely to put themselves in harms way and men who are collectively willing to compensate for that.
And there is evidence of these sex differences up until today. These behavioral differences can also be looked at in terms of the five big personality traits. They are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. If you score high on all of these, then you are inventive and curious, efficient and organized, outgoing, friendly and compassionate, and nervous and prone to worrying, respectively. They all score around fifty percent heritability based on our knowledge gained from twin studies, so genes have an effect.
A study with a sample size of 23,031, across a selection of 26 different cultures, has shown that there are recognizable trends in personality traits generally held by women relative to men. Women tend to score higher on neuroticism, agreeableness, an element of extraversion known as warmth, and openness to other’s feelings. Men tend to score lower on neuroticism, agreeableness, and higher on openness to ideas and assertiveness, the latter being an element of extraversion. There is some variability in the degree to which these differences exist, but the freer the society the more stark these differences get. This strongly suggests that there is some biological component to the differences in personality traits. Given these differences, women are more likely to have the personality traits of person who places herself in positions where there is little risk and low stress. This is consistent with my hypothesis for an evolutionary explanation for patriarchy.
Applying this to history, the further back you go the more dangerous the public sector gets. Depending on how far you go depends on precisely what horrors you may experience, but this trend absolutely exists. This correlates with another trend: the further back into history you go, the more likely it is that men dominate the public sector. In other words, the more dangerous something is, the more likely it is to be the domain of men. It was men who historically went out into the world as hunters, coal miners and soldiers. The only reason for the move of women from the private sector to the public sector as time goes by is because of western development that has made the public sector a much safer environment. Today the public sector isn’t coal mines and battlefields, but desk jobs with air conditioning.
So it makes sense, from an evolutionary standpoint, for women to be historically placed in the private sector where it is safe, with men placed in the public sector where it is free (but dangerous); our species would likely have gone extinct if it wasn’t otherwise. It also makes sense to have this rise of feminism to push women into the public sector today. The public sector of life has been softened, so there is no longer a severe existential threat to women or, by extension, the species as a whole. This is not to say that the public sector is as safe as the homelife, but this is explained by the influence of feminism and its desire to protect women. Our biological drive to keep women safe is still kicking.
The important thing to note here is that there will likely never be a society where men and women are equal in representation, when these institutions are specifically tailored for an output of the best of the best. Although our species has evolved in environments that are much different than it is in the modern west, our evolved behavior will not just disappear. Women prove to be generally more competent than men in some fields, and vice versa for men in other fields. In the event that we allow people to fall where they may in a free society, a least a soft form of patriarchy is likely to characterize our species.