I’d like to start by pointing out that I am not a feminist.
Oh, sure, I agree with the central tenet of feminism – I believe in equality for all, regardless of what genitalia they happened to be born with – but modern feminism has gone beyond equality, and that isn’t a good thing. I’m no more in favour of matriarchy and the subjugation of men than I am of the patriarchy that’s currently destroying us.
If you are wondering what has prompted this particular rant against the establishment, I am about to explain.
A friend recently shared this article on FaceBook. It looks at the roots of patriarchy and provides evidence that it’s a natural state for societies and not something that has been forced on women by men. However, any argument that natural automatically equals best is full of holes big enough to drive a bus through (metaphorically speaking, of course), so that’s what I plan to do in this post.
Let’s start out by debunking ‘natural equals best’ in a neutral setting.
Have you ever heard of the paleo diet? (Has anyone ever not heard of the paleo diet?) The theory behind the paleo diet, which has been largely disproved now, is that a diet high in meat and low in carbohydrates was the natural diet of our ancient ancestors. Therefore, it’s the healthiest diet for humans.
It’s a good idea, in theory, but in practice, it misses one important fact. We are not our ancient ancestors. What was good for people millions – or even as recently as thousands – of years ago is not necessarily what’s best for people living in the modern world. If you’ve read my previous post on evolution, which is a subject that’s quite tricky to get your head around, you will know that the process of natural selection is … er … entirely natural, and it contains no intelligent design features whatsoever.
The only thing necessary for a trait to be positively selected is for the parent organism to survive long enough to pass that trait to its offspring.
So, assuming that the paleo diet was the natural diet of our ancient ancestors, all it offered them was the opportunity to live long enough to reproduce – maybe into their late teens or early twenties. It didn’t guarantee anything at all in terms of good health or longevity, both of which are considered important by modern humans.
See, we’ve already mastered surviving long enough to reproduce, and our desires for ourselves and our loved ones are now further up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Let’s take a look at how this can be applied to the evolution of patriarchy.
The article I linked to argues that patriarchy is something that came about naturally because it offered the best opportunities for survival, and suggests that this occurred in human societies and those of other animals. Here’s how it works.
In primitive societies, the males are responsible for the high risk tasks because they are expendable.
Here’s another somewhat unrelated example to show the importance of females in society.
In animal rescue, one of the most important jobs is reducing the numbers of stray and feral animals (particularly cats). This is usually done through a system called TNR (trap, neuter, return), where members of the colony are trapped, neutered, have the tip clipped off their ear to mark them as no longer capable of reproduction, and then returned to the place where they were trapped.
Imagine for a moment that you are charged with operating a TNR programme on a colony of 20 cats, 10 male and 10 female. However, you only have the resources to trap and neuter 9 cats. There are a few options available.
- Trap at random, regardless of sex.
- Trap only males.
- Trap only females.
- Trap as close as possible to 50% male and 50% female.
Anyone who has dipped a toe into rescue knows the only way to control the population is to neuter as many females as possible. If each female cat can produce 10 kittens a year, neutering 9 females will reduce the number of kittens in the next year from 100 to just 10. However, neutering 9 males will make no difference to the number of kittens because the one remaining fertile male will simply mate with all the females.
When we apply this to ancient human societies, we can see why the traits of males taking on the protector/provider role and females taking on the nurturing role are positively selected for evolution. For the species to survive, and for its numbers to grow, the females must be kept safe. Females are valuable, while males are expendable.
If you’re a woman, that must feel kind of nice. Patriarchal societies exist based on the principle that you are more valuable than men.
Until you start questioning what it is about you that makes you so valuable. Is it your nurturing and compassionate nature? Is it your emotional intelligence? Is it your empathy?
No, sorry, it’s none of those.
As a woman, your only value to patriarchal society is your womb.
(This particular train of logic is almost enough to turn me into a radical feminist.)
The next question we need to ask is: Does patriarchy serve us? Do modern human societies benefit in any way from women being valued for their wombs?
Well … no. There are currently over 7 billion humans trying to co-exist on a planet that has a natural carrying capacity of around 1 billion. The competitive, expansionist, growth-oriented ideals of patriarchal society don’t benefit us at all. We are becoming the victims of our own success.
There is some historical precedent for this. If we take the supposition in the original article as fact, and accept that all human societies, throughout history, have been based on a patriarchal model, we can see how it plays out. If you want to really get into this, try reading Joseph Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies and you will see how every society before ours has gone through phases of growth, overshoot and die off. Every human society – let’s assume they’re patriarchal – every patriarchal human society has ultimately been consigned to a collection of archaeological relics because the focus on breeding has led to it outgrowing its food source and dying out.
Our situation now is very serious. We are already 7 times over the Earth’s carrying capacity, and yet we are still trying to grow our way out of trouble. Our patriarchal religions tell us that children are gifts from God. Our patriarchal financial systems tell us that growth is essential to keep the economy functioning. Our patriarchal society is based on the concept that, in order to survive, we must breed. But those ideas were formed millions of years ago when our population was tiny and mortality (of both children and adults) was extremely high. They have no relevance to modern society.
The evidence is out there that education and the empowerment of women, by assigning them leadership roles in government, education, law, and other important areas of society, is a key requirement to reducing population growth. In some countries, populations are now decreasing as the average number of children per couple is less than two. This is the work of feminism at its best, and its critical that these changes spread to all humans, everywhere.
I’m not in favour of purely matriarchal societies either, and this is why I’ve always rejected feminism so strongly. I’m in favour of equality, of people taking on roles in society based on their individual traits and talents, not on what they happen to have between their legs. But if feminism can reach out and take its message to societies where patriarchy is still strong, where women are still fiercely oppressed, then I support it. Only good can come from that.
We are running out of time. If humanity is to make the transition from 7 billion back to 1 billion without destroying itself, we need to recognise that patriarchy has had its day.