Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Suppose gender inequality provides a survival advantage, would that mean a fight for equality is misguided?

Asked by wundayatta (58321 points ) October 1st, 2012

In this question I started getting into issues about how a woman’s expectation than a man pays for her during a date is an example of how society pressures us into unequal behavior. Frankly, it is frustrating to me, because I feel like we, as a society, have been fighting for equality for many decades, and we seem to be no further along than when I was a teen.

It made me wonder whether these behavior patterns are reinforced on a genetic level and if they have a survival advantage. If so, does that mean that a society that valued equality of the genders would have a disadvantage? Could our bodies work against our philosophical principles? If so, can principle overcome nature? Is it even wise to try?

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17 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Humans do not live in caves anymore.

syz's avatar

Technology has largely negated natural selection in homo sapiens.

whitenoise's avatar

The more succesfu societies we have, are also those where women and men are more equivalent and equipotent. (Not treated same, but of equal importance.)

It could however be that in our evolutionary past at one moment, men were typixcally out hunting and fighting, while women were at home taking care of family.

Also there seems to be a strong desire for men (with evolutionary advantage) to control women and in particular their ability to mate with other men. Women don’t need that, since they are always sure to carry their own child. Men and women are both fighting over control of the women’s reproductive capacity.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Even gender inequality stems from a genetic predisposition that provides some type of advantage we are (capable of putting ourselves) in a position to overcome it if we so desire. Dividing principles from nature, and defining nature itself, seems a bit tricky in how well can one separate the influence of nature from the development of principles (perhaps monogamy, but then there is cultural influence underlain by nature). The wisdom in trying, it seems to me, is based on our goals, purpose, methods, and longview that define the attempt.

Perhaps it’s misguided in our goals. Blindly searching for equality fails to recognize fundamental differences which must be addressed but a singular focus on those same differences too frequently leads to strict division solely based on them failing to account for adaptation. Does society even understand these goals or why (if) they are worthwhile or do we just latch on dumbly faithful our cause is just and therefore good/right.

bookish1's avatar

Yeah, people try to use “evolutionary psychology” to justify rape too…

CWOTUS's avatar

I don’t suppose that in humans “gender inequality” has ever provided a survival advantage to the species. That’s the important thing to note: to be effective it has to be a species-wide advantage.

But “inequality” between the homo sapiens genders is strictly a human construct. That is, body dimorphism (where, in this case, human female bodies are generally smaller on average than human male bodies) likely does have some evolutionary advantage. (An advantage which probably outlived its usefulness before humans started to paint on cave walls.)

But as others have pointed out, since we came down from the trees and out of the caves, our species has not depended so much on raw evolutionary advantages to survive as a species as much as economic advantages. In that sense, we seem to have split many of our economic “specializations” along gender lines in the past, and we’re just now (in some parts of the world) growing beyond that.

DrBill's avatar

Things like equal pay for equal work is fair, there are some jobs that are better suited for specific sexes to perform. Even though as humans we have all but eliminated the sexual bias in most places, gender inequality is not really important to the survival of the species anymore.

zenvelo's avatar

The one inequality that I see as advantageous for survival (or success), even in 2012, is that only women get pregnant, and while I know many successful single mothers that were single through pregnancy, pregnancies usually run easier for a woman with someone to be with them all through gestation, birth, and newborn period.

BhacSsylan's avatar

I don’t see why it would matter? Even if it does, we are in no danger of being out-predated. We may kill ourselves, sure, but we don’t have to worry about losing ground to any other species any time soon. So, even if it does confer an advantage, so what? Evolution is a thoughtless killing machine, it should never be used to justify any kind of moral behavior.

And that’s leaving aside the fact that the data tends to show that more equal societies do better cross-culturally, as @whitenoise mentioned.

Shippy's avatar

Well yes genetically we are programed to choose a “strong” male, in order to protect us, and men a smooth skinned woman in order to reproduce his genes. I have never really bought into the equality idea, simply because at a home base level it rarely happens. More than that though I believe different sexes have different offerings. Based on simple physiology. But of course I am generalizing. I have female friends who could pick up one side of a vehicle no sweat. I am trying to think of a better word than equality it brings up all sorts of old fashioned connotations, I like post feminism better. Feminism really is old hat now. I have sort of lived each, in that I was considered gay for 16 years and nearly became separatist. Not to label separatists as wounded people, I just found healing in my soul negated this desire. For me anyway.

Call me old fashioned call me whatever, but I like to be chased by a male. I also understand some women by nature are hunters, good for them. I am not. If I am a hunter, I would do it in a subtle and clever way. Sort of like a spider weaving a web. Seduction is key to me, it is heady, it is alluring . I want to be alluring to a male. I don’t know why. I will have to go away and analyze it.

I still love to be taken for dinner, and spoiled by a man. And why not, I pay my own mortgage, bills, buy my own clothes, run my own life, empty the rubbish, buy the toilet paper, you get the picture? I also have a rabbit vibrator. So I ask myself where exactly does a “man” fit into my life?

augustlan's avatar

Even if there were some survival advantage, it wouldn’t benefit everyone. To my mind, it would be selfish to try to maintain that advantage. Given that, I’d still work toward equality.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Gender norms change all the time, much faster than evolutionary change – it makes no sense that this is why women are continually treated as inferior.

wundayatta's avatar

Why would women continue to be treated as inferior? And why would some women participate in that continuance?

Haleth's avatar

That’s a big “suppose” and a leading question.

Personally, I believe the Sex at Dawn explanation for the origins of inequality. Before agriculture, people were nomadic hunter-gatherers and nobody had that many possessions, so everyone was pretty much equal. Men and women had tasks that were equal to everyone’s survival, hunting vs. gathering, and child rearing was shared by the group.

After the invention of agriculture, the economy shifted from egalitarian hunting/gathering to male-dominated farming work. Suddenly having the most/best land and livestock gave you a huge advantage. Men ended up in control of most of the resources. They needed to know that that their offspring was their own so they could be sure they passed all their stuff onto the right person. (Leaving all your land/ stockpiles/ livestock to someone else’s kid would just be a waste of hard work.) So society became organized into social classes, marriages, etc., and an essential part of that structure was keeping women from having kids with other people. With their limited access to resources, marriage was the only choice.

Also, women’s rights started to pick up steam at about the same time as the industrial revolution. Industrialization leveled the playing field again. In an agricultural society, physical strength makes a big difference in your survival, because if you aren’t strong enough to farm the land you’ll starve. With an industrial society, other traits are more valuable in the workforce, and that started to level the playing field for women. The reason we aren’t completely equal yet is that we’re talking 10,000 years of male-dominated agriculture vs. only like 150 years of industrialization. Change is slow.

That’s a pretty simplistic, half-assed explanation- they do a much better job in the book- but I strongly think any argument that inequality is hardwired into our species is bullshit.

Paradox25's avatar

There was likely a time when it was beneficial to the human race to adhere to gender roles, and have a pursuer and the pursued when we had a rudimentary mindset that is, and at a time with fewer people. We are still evolving, both mentally and physically, and I don’t see any benefits for the human race to continue to conform to rigid gender roles anymore, and if anything I find that gender role expectations (even concerning dating issues) are likely blocking our progress as a society in general. Personally as a guy I don’t pursue women, but I don’t like to be pursued either since I prefer a more mutual approach. I guess I’ve evolved.

wundayatta's avatar

@Haleth Following from your argument, in the information age, what you have in your head is your biggest asset. Using that information, you can leverage your assets to the maximum. You can get a job, but you can also use the information to get the most from other people.

If could be to your advantage to get men to compete over you, or show you how much they are willing to invest in you.

But it can also be the other way around. It might be to your advantage to be willing to invest a lot in the right man.

To me equality would give you flexibility to go whichever way is needed. If it was the right guy, they you would go after him. If you weren’t sure, you’d let him go after you. But you wouldn’t have a one size fits all rule, it seems to me.

By the way, I hope you would give me credit for knowing it was a big if. We get to do unlikely scenarios here, you know. And it is also worth playing out less likely scenarios.

Haleth's avatar

@wundayatta “I hope you would give me credit for knowing it was a big if.” Granted, but a lot of “what if” questions are worded in a way that isn’t exactly evenhanded. A lot of them seem more like, “Here’s a premise and a conclusion. Do you agree with my conclusion?” I totally disagree with your premise here, so I had to point that out. One great thing about fluther is that you can spar with someone in one thread and agree wholeheartedly with them in another. :)

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