Sunday, February 7, 2021

Why it makes a difference which sex wears the distinctive headgear

It can mean assuming a protective role, or an off-limits status.


Sikhi and Judaism have several things in common. They are both scriptural religions with a line of religious teachers: the prophets of the Torah and the Tanakh and the gurus of Sikh tradition. They are both minority religions who have suffered a long history of persecution. In both religions, it is the men who wear the publicly distinctive clothing, specifically head gear: turbans in the case of Sikh men, various hats and caps for Jewish men.

The last two similarities go together. By wearing publicly distinctive clothing, Sikh men and Jewish men become the first line of defence of their communities. They stand, clearly labelled as men of their community, and so ready to be the first to take whatever crap comes their community’s way. They thereby form a protective line around the women and children of their community.

If one is not prepared to embrace this role of publicly-marked protector, one is not fit to be a husband and father within that community. The distinctive garb is a test of character and commitment.

Dominion rules

In Islam, the pattern is rather different. There, it is the women who wear the most publicly distinctive clothing (also headgear). The garb of Muslim men can be somewhat distinctive, but that is also often about minority status. Even so, the publicly distinctive clothing of Muslim women is a very obvious feature of Islam, even if the adherence to such practices have varied widely across time and place.

Ever since Muhammad became ruler of Medina in 622, mainstream Islam has been a religion of domination. Much of the Quran, the hadiths and Sharia are concerned with how to behave towards non-believers, and with the regulation of non-believers under Muslim rule (the dhimmis), all based on the presumption of rightful Muslim dominion. The famous concept of people of the Book expresses this presumption of Muslim dominion and of its rightful expansion. Muslim dominion flows from, and is justified by, submission to the rules of the Sovereign of the universe.

What makes the various minority forms of Islam (Ibadis, the third version of Islam, Alevis, Ismailis, Ahmadis, etc.) much less problematic to deal with is that, as permanent minorities, their versions of Islam have had to eschew the outlooks of presumptive dominion. This is not the case with mainstream Sunni Islam, which retains the traditions and outlooks of the religion of domination it has been since 622 (so almost 1400 years).

Dynamics of polygyny

From it origins Islam was a polygynous religion. A Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man. A Muslim man can have up to four wives, though he is also permitted sexual access to, as the phrase in the Quran goes, those that your right (i.e. sword) hand possesses. If 5 per cent of Muslim men have four wives each, that means that 15 per cent of Muslim men do not have possible wives from within the Muslim community.

This problem of substantial numbers of Muslim men having no marriage prospects within the community is one that all polygynous societies have to deal with. There are four possible patterns of response.

(1) Do nothing and so have a bandit problem. This is the pattern of Chinese history, where a polygynous elite left an underclass of males with no marriage prospects that turned to predatory behaviours. This is why bandits are such a feature of Chinese history and literature. Indeed, as more wealth and income inequality meant more polygyny, so more excluded underclass males, and as peace and stability (such as from the rule of a long-established dynasty) tends to lead to rising wealth and income inequality, the bandit problem tended to worsen as each Chinese dynasty aged.

The reason why peace and stability leads to rising economic inequality is, first, there is some tendency for the sorting processes of commerce to lead to the accumulation of property and, second, that all societies tend to form self-serving interest coalitions that impede the operation of the society and advantage their (generally well-connected) members. Both processes lead to rising inequality. Prolonged peace and stability gets in the way of the removal of such interest coalitions. Hence, prolonged peace and stability tends to lead to increased economic inequality.

(2) Also permit polyandry. Some polygynous societies have also permitted wives to have more than one husband. A low-status male might not be able to afford a whole wife, but he might be able to afford a half, a third, or a quarter of one. In such cases, brothers would often marry the same woman. That way, the children who weren’t their sons and daughters were their nieces and nephews. (China was too patriarchal a society, and Islam too patriarchal a religion, to accept polyandry as an acceptable social pattern.)

(3) Some version of wait-your-turn. This was generally a pattern of hoe-farming societies, where women did most of the farming, so wives were not dependant on their husband’s income. In such societies, a man who survived long enough had a good chance of entering the marriage ladder. Such societies could also have some version of the boy-wife phenomena, where a as-yet-unmarried male would enter into a relationship with a younger male. This relationship was typically formally acknowledged and involved some equivalent of bride-price, such as a gift of the spear. The expectation was that the relationship would end once the older male got married (to a woman). (There is some evidence of an analogous practice in Southern China.)

(4) Those people over there have women, steal their’s. This was the pattern of every pastoralist raiding society ever and of other raiding folk, such as the pagan Norse. Going a-Viking was the seafaring equivalent of pastoralist raiding on horseback. The various Great Walls of China had a range of purposes, but impeding the stealing of Chinese women by pastoralist raiders was one of them.

Arabia at the time of Muhammad was, of course, a few towns scattered among a pastoralist raiding society. From 622 onwards, Islam sanctified the stealing of women who had not accepted Muslim dominion. This sanctification appears in the Quran (the phrase those your right hand possesses occurs 15 times), in the hadiths, in the sira, the life of the Prophet (such as killing all the men of the two Jewish tribes of Medina and distributing their women and children as slaves), and in Sharia, where the marriage of any woman seized by a Muslim man is immediately annulled (so, of course, she becomes sexually available).

Islam never had any difficulty recruiting ghazis, holy warriors, precisely because (1) there were Muslim men without good marriage prospects due to Muslim polygyny and (2) Islam sanctifies stealing women who were outside the protection of the umma, the Muslim community. The virgins a Muslim martyr — someone who was killed fighting for the umma — is supposed to receive as his heavenly reward is just the after-life apex of an entire system of sanctified sexual predation.

The two great drivers of Islamic expansion were conquest, significantly driven by the pattern of polygyny and sanctified sexual predation, and trade (as Sharia also provided a generally superior commercial law system and network).

Hence, in Islam, it is women who wore the most publicly distinctive clothing. There were two main reasons for this. First, in a multi-wife household where the husband controls the wealth and income, wives compete for the prospects for their children. So elite Muslim women needed to protect their reputations and veiling signalled their “respectable woman” status. Second, in societies where sexual predation was religiously sanctioned, Muslim women wearing distinctive clothing made it very clear who was off-limits.

This is a very different dynamic than that of Sikh men and Jewish men wearing the publicly distinctive headgear.

Since the 1970s, a third reason has been added. Under Sharia, to convict a man of sexual assault generally required a confession or four male witnesses. This generated societies with a high level of segregation by sex that therefore generally did not evolve norms for dealing with women wandering around in public away from their neighbourhoods.

Muslim jurists actually discussed the issue of when it was permissible for women to go out in public. Up until the C19th, Muslim visitors to Christian countries would express their surprise and disorientation at how busy the streets of Christian cities were, because there were all these women going about in public. They would also express their surprise (and at times their contempt) for how deferential Christian men were to Christian women: the Muslim (male) observers sometimes describing it as the Christian men being unmanly.

During the C20th, there was a shift away from veiling by Muslim women, due to the influence of a westernising understanding of modernisation. This trend reversed in the 1970s among middle class Muslim women as they began to go outside their neighbourhoods for education and then employment. Wearing the headscarf, and even more the veil, broadcast their commitment to Islamic norms, thereby providing protection and self-commitment in societies with a long history of sexual segregation.

This massive increase in religious signalling by Muslim women presumably helped along the Islamic religious revival of recent decades. In the West, it sharpened the distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim women.

The underlying point remained to identify those women who had accepted the norms of Islam and so were off-limits. Thirteen centuries of sanctified sexual predation against women who had not accepted the norms of Islam deeply embedded within mainstream Muslim society social schemata (patterns of belief) and social scripts (patterns of action) of sanctified sexual predation against women not under the protection of the umma.

So, what happens if millions of Muslim men get imported into non-Muslim countries so that there are critical masses of men who accept such schemata and such scrips? You might well get mass sexual assaults and systematic sexual predation against (unveiled) women.

Oh look, we did.

With survivors reporting their attackers used religious justifications. The same ones used by Islamic State adherents in raping Yazidi women.

A problem cannot be dealt with if it is not acknowledged. And it really does matter which sex wears the distinctive clothing.

(Cross-posted from Medium.)

Friday, February 5, 2021

Is toxic masculinity a bullsh*t concept?

It is far more effective at attaching a negative adjective to masculinity than in helping to understand human behaviour.

I am using bullshit in its technical philosophical sense — statements made for rhetorical effect regardless of how factually accurate they are.

About violence

To understand the problems with toxic masculinity as an analytical concept, it is useful to start with looking at something that is highly patterned by sex: violence. Especially as the patterns of violence by sex are regularly linked to toxic masculinity.

A Swedish study found that 0.1 per cent of the population made up a fifth of violent crime convictions, 1 per cent made up almost two-thirds of violent crime convictions and 4 per cent were responsible for all of them. The offenders were overwhelmingly (87 per cent) male.

So, clearly violence is correlated with being male, right?

Wrong. Yes, violence is disproportionately male, but only 7 per cent of males were in the convicted-of-violent-crime group. Something that pertains to only 7 per cent of a group is not significantly correlated with membership of that group.

Conflating being disproportionately x with being correlated with being x is done all the time. Including, of course, by a lot of feminists.

If there is any group that the violent offenders are more than 7 per cent of, especially if such a group also includes the 1 per cent of women who were violent offenders, then membership of that group is going to be more correlated, potentially far more correlated, with being violent than is being male.

As it turns out, completely unsurprisingly, certain personality traits (often aggregated into the Big Five of Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion and Neuroticism, or OCEAN) are way more correlated with violence than is being male. Given that no personality trait is only male, and no personality trait applies to all males, this is more or less bound to be true.

Once you starting asking about personality traits and behaviour, then biological sex becomes something that may generate patterns, but is not likely to be significantly causal.

Being of a sex changes the constraints one is facing. This, on its own, is enough to generate patterned behaviour.

As a general pattern, the small gamete sex (males) is likely to be more violent than the large gamete sex (females). This is for the obvious reason that violence is usually less risky for the small gamete sex than it is for the large gamete sex. The difference in the pattern of risk produces differences in the patterns of behaviour.

If the small gamete sex is also larger and stronger than the large gamete sex, this tendency to be more violent will be strengthened further. Amongst Homo sapiens, men are, on average 7 per cent taller and 13 percent larger than women: while women, on average, have 52 per cent of the upper body strength and 66 per cent of the lower body strength of men (in part due to male spines being more rigid and providing a better lever for strength) while women generally both have, and require for health, proportionately more fat as a share of body mass than men.

Given these biological realities (even without considering the risks of pregnancy and the constraints of child-minding), of course physical violence among humans is going to be disproportionately male. Of course aggression by human males is going to manifest much more as physical aggression than will aggression by human females.

That does not mean that men are more aggressive then women: actually, the two sexes are about equally aggressive overall. It is more the patterns of aggression that differ, due to the differences in risk patterns, with male aggression tending to be more physical and more overt while female aggression tends to be both more relational and more camouflaged.

Ask someone who went to a girls’ school whether they have ever experienced or witnessed toxic female aggression.

The patterns of aggression differ by sex, but they are not entirely separate. There is physical aggression from women and relational aggression from men. It is their relative distribution and ways of manifesting that differs. Those patterns of difference can also vary, depending on social circumstances. A result of us being so much the cultural species.

Arguing that biological sex matters is not remotely the same as postulating some deeply and pervasively essential differences between men and women (apart from the small-gamete, large-gamete distinction).

About domestic violence

While all this is enough to raise large questions about the concept of toxic masculinity, including tying any pattern of negative behaviour specifically to being male, it is worth looking at the use of descriptive terms in a particular arena of violence: domestic violence. There has been a strong (feminist) push to conflate domestic violence with intimate partner violence. In response, the term family violence is being adopted as the more general category.

Treating domestic violence as if it specifically means intimate partner violence is rhetorically very useful, because what form of domestic violence does conflating it with intimate partner violence leave out? Violence against children. And why is it useful for feminists to reducing the salience of violence against children? Because it is more often perpetrated by women than men.

This is partly because women have more opportunities to commit violence against children than men do. But it is also that children are generally smaller and weaker than adult women. That there is a pattern of (some) women engaging in violence against those who are smaller and weaker than they rather gets in the way of valorising women in general and deprecating men in general. Or otherwise essentialising violence or aggression along male-versus-female lines.

Acknowledging that intimate partner violence itself has two general patterns (1) violent men and women hitting each other, and (2) intimate terrorism, where one partner terrorises the other, also gets in the way of postulating some deep causal gulf between male and female. Especially as, while the pattern of intimate terrorism is wildly disproportionately a male partner terrorising a female partner, the reverse also occurs, just much more rarely. Much of the public discussion about intimate partner violence is, however, framed as violence against women, essentially writing any violence against men out of the social script.

Toxic aggression

Both men and women, both boys and girls, can and do engage in toxic aggression. While such aggression has patterns by sex — that is, the distributions differ by sex — no form of it is purely limited to a single sex.

The questions then become, is there any useful element of the concept of toxic masculinity that (1) is not about a form of toxic aggression, (2) is reasonably specifically tied to being male or to masculinity and (3) is to any significant degree characteristic of or, or caused by, either? Or are we, at best, dealing with a small sub-group of males who, due to specific personality traits and/or beliefs, choose to manifest their masculinity in particular ways?

The rhetorical value of the term toxic masculinity is obvious. It ties a negative adjective (toxic) to masculinity, it encourages the attribution of causality to being male and/or being masculine (as if it is what happen when masculinity “goes too far”, so masculinity is to be treated as potentially toxic) and it discourages attention to any analogous female behaviour.

So, it is excellent rhetoric, and it is excellent rhetoric regardless of its analytical soundness.

Given the above considerations, toxic masculinity is looking like a bullshit concept.

One reason toxic masculinity is excellent rhetoric, is that there is male behaviour based on a sort of hyper-masculinity that we are familiar with, and which is widely (often intensely) disliked. But, of course, it is disliked by a lot of men. That general dislike of such behaviour among both men and women gives toxic masculinity much of its rhetorical power.

Cultural phenomena

An objection to the above considerations is that the notion of toxic masculinity is not about violence and aggression as such, but pertains to a cultural phenomena.

One of the perennial problems of cultural analysis is that culture, and cultural patterns, can easily be turned into analytical “silly putty” — able to redefined to fit any analytical hole. Especially as culture itself is infamously so variably defined.

The overwhelming majority of human societies have had presumptive sex roles, driven by how expensive human children are to raise. This has led to very strong patterns of activities that could be done while minding children being presumptively female and activities that could not be done while minding being presumptively male. This is usually driven much more by relative risk and level of constant attention required than by strength.

Hence, in foraging societies, women generally gather, but they will hunt small animals, such as lizards. Meanwhile, men generally hunt, but they will gather more risky-to-get things, such as honey. In hoe-farming societies, women generally farm, as that can be done while minding the kids. In plough-farming societies, men generally farm, as ploughing cannot be done while minding the kids. And so on.

This very long history of presumptive sex roles probably has something to do with why Homo sapiens are so cognitively dimorphic. A recent study found that around 70 per cent of men have a mix of personality traits that no woman has and around 70 per cent of women have a mix of personality traits that no man has. Only 18 per cent of us are in the personality-trait-bundles overlap group. (An earlier study found even higher rates of cognitive dimorphism.)

We are, in fact, as a species more cognitively dimorphic than we are physically dimorphic (apart, from the mammaries-ovaries, testes-penis, small gametes versus large gametes pattern). Different patterns of risk-management behaviour, and associated interactions, can be expected between men and women, with both continuities and variations between cultures.

Dealing more with physical risk, men are likely be more drawn to philosophies such as Stoicism, or analogous outlooks. Declaring such stoicism to be toxic masculinity is just silly.

We live in the only societies in human history largely without presumptive sex roles. Thus, any implicit or explicit pathologising of the notion of presumptive sex roles is, analytically, pretty silly.

Similarly, tying any phenomena to masculinity that also manifests among women is pretty silly. it is, for example, fairly clear that the breakthrough for queer emancipation was a major shift in attitudes among women. The strictures against homosexuality being part of a moral order that raised the social exchange value of sex.

It is, after all, generally hard for any broad cultural patterns to persist, or to change, without significant numbers of both sexes “buying into” the persistence, or into the change. Hence second-wave feminism was as successful as it was because lots of men agreed with the goal of expanding opportunities for women.

Strictures against homosexuality have a complicated relationship to masculinity and patriarchy, because in some societies, the celebration of masculinity extended to celebration of male beauty and eroticism. They could be highly patriarchal societies (e.g. Ancient Athens) or rather more gender egalitarian societies (e.g. Sparta). If we are dealing with patterns that are specific to some culture or set of cultures, toxic masculinity is clearly a misleading label.

Unless we are dealing with attitudes and patterns of behaviour that are specifically male, are specifically tied to masculinity in general and are not tied to specific cultures (and would therefore have a specifically cultural source, not a generally masculine source) toxic masculinity is a misleading term.

It would also be helpful if the concept was, at least to some degree, quantifiable. How general is the pattern? If it is very much a minority phenomena, then it will be tied to something else more strongly than it will be to masculinity.

There is also a problem of context. Something that might be functional in one context may be much less so, or even dysfunctional, in another.

Drawing causal connections between specific behaviours and cultural patterns is also notoriously difficult. Especially as manifestations of cultural patterns can vary markedly between individuals within the same culture.

So, are we dealing with a well-defined concept, that is usefully quantifiable and tied to careful causal analysis?

Not really, we are dealing with something much more motte-and-bailey like. That is, there are discussions of toxic masculinity that have all the sophisticated trappings of careful analysis (the motte version) that defenders of the term point to. And then there is the much more blunderbuss rhetorical uses of the term (the bailey plays).

Any objection to the latter will be referred to the former. But the tying of toxicity to masculinity makes the concept of toxic masculinity ideal for such rhetorical games, given that the boundaries of the concept are so unclear. Or, at least, easily shifted. Especially as masculinity itself can mean or imply (1) to do with being male or (2) to do with conceptions of masculinity.

If the concept of toxic masculinity was part of a general taxonomy of masculinity, it may be of some interest. As a stand-alone pathologising tag, not so much.

So, yes some men choose to manifest their masculinity in particular, unfortunate or destructive, ways. Certain cultural milieus may encourage or discourage that. But it is not their masculinity that is driving that.

Ultimately, the giveaway is that toxic masculinity is a stand-alone pathologising tag. Part of a more general pattern of conflating disproportion with correlation and so treating disproportion as characteristic-of or specific-to.

So, toxic masculinity: rhetorically powerful, yes; factual or analytically useful, not so much.

(Cross-posted from Medium.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Piling up pathology by pretending that biological sex is incidental

Treating disagreement as delinquent does not mean that things are working

Here’s a striking result: according to happiness research, since 1970 the pattern in Western societies has shifted from women being generally happier than men, to men being generally happier than women.

Given the triumph of second-wave feminism in changing law, social mores and public policy this may seem a surprising result. Actually, it makes sense.

First, men have less responsibility as providers. They are no longer expected to be the sole provider for their family. As part of feminism setting matching-what-men-do as the benchmark of female progress, women are now expected to do paid work, and so contribute to the income of the household.

Second, the price of sex has fallen dramatically. The moral language of virginity and chastity has almost entirely evaporated. Casual sex is much more respectable. Erotica and pornography is far more available. Since sex, as a social exchange, has usually been based on men doing things to earn sex from women, lowering the social price of sex is generally good for men.

Feminists have long advocated women taking control of their sexuality and being more sexually assertive. In other words, once again, setting matching-what-men-do as the benchmark of female progress. As is the standard pattern for setting matching-what-men-do as the benchmark of social progress, it implies having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries is incidental to being a woman.

Yet, as we shall see, men and women continue to display different patterns when it comes to sex. As Harper’s magazine put it: “Women are inclined to regret the sex they had, and men the sex they didn’t.” While former sex researcher and science journalist Debra Soh has suggested that the extraordinary surge in teenage girls identifying as trans might be, at least in part, them taking refuge from hyper-sexualisation.

About courtship and chivalry

In a huge array of species, the males display courting behaviour. That is, the sex with small, mobile gametes (males) court members of the sex with large, immobile gametes (females). In other words, the sex taking less risks, and with less intrinsic investment in the process of reproduction, has to prove their fitness/seriousness to the sex taking more risks and with more intrinsic investment in the process of reproduction.

As psychologist Marco Del Giudice points out:

The biological definition of sex is not just one option among many, or a matter of arbitrary preference: the very existence of differentiated males and females in a species depends on the existence of two gamete types. Chromosomes and hormones participate in the mechanics of sex determination and sexual differentiation, but do not play the same foundational role. Crucially, anisogamy gives rise to a true sex binary at the species level: even if a given individual may fail to produce viable gametes, there are only two gamete types with no meaningful intermediate forms. This dichotomy is functional rather than statistical, and is not challenged by the existence of intersex conditions (regardless of their frequency), nonbinary gender identities, and other apparent exceptions. And yet, anisogamy is rarely discussed — or even mentioned — in the social science literature on sex and gender, with the obvious exceptions of evolutionary psychology and anthropology (emphasis added).

Fancy that!

Homo sapien childbirth is unusually risky and, as I have previously discussed, Homo sapien children are unusually biologically expensive to raise. The combination has (until recently) created a particularly intense risk-differential by sex.

As a predictable consequence, human courtship has frequently been an elaborate process. Especially as it is often the parents of the bride (or of both bride and groom) who have to be convinced. A complication of being the cultural species. (A complication that evolutionary psychology often appears to fail to grapple with.)

Dowries (payment to the husband), dowers (payment to the bride), groom price (payment to the groom’s family), bride price (payment to the bride’s family) or bride wealth (some mixture of bride price and surety) can be part of, or substitutes for, the courtship process. As anthropologist George Dalton observed:

Bridewealth paid at marriage has different functions in different societies and may have several in the same society: to indemnify the girl’s family for the loss of her services, as an earnest of good intentions on the part of the groom and his family, to solidify the new affinal bonds created by marriage, and to legitimize children born to the union.

These transfers are often more an investment in connection (so gifts) than merely an exchange.

Given the dramatic drop in the risk-differential by sex due to modern medicine, welfare systems and unilateral female control of fertility (via the Pill and legalised abortion), some reduction in the level of effort in courtship was likely. Especially as unilateral female control of fertility permitted more female investment in human capital and in credentials, increasing women’s access to income.

The normative language of chastity and virginity, and the social rituals of courtship, were, of course, intimately tied together, as both imply a relatively high social-exchange price for sex. The circumstances that led to the evaporation of the former also led to the attenuation of the latter.

Setting matching-what-men-do as the benchmark of female progress led to an attack on the rituals of chivalry and courtship. They were re-interpreted as implying female incapacity or otherwise being affronts to equality between the sexes.

What the rituals actually did was to allow men to signal respect for women in situations of unequal vulnerability. While the vulnerability gap had certainly lessened significantly due to the above changes, it did not disappear.

Stripping away the rituals of acknowledgement without the vulnerability gap actually being eliminated created somewhat delusional social circumstances, where the vulnerability gap persisted but was not allowed to be handled by social mechanisms that had evolved to do so.

If the functional is not permitted, then the pathological will fill the gap. Much of the “toxic masculinity” nonsense is a response to the statistical evidence that the vulnerability gap persists while also attacking the socially-evolved mechanisms to deal with it.

To put it another way, of course the man should pay for the first date. Pathologising chivalrous politeness removes a whole set of socially-evolved markers of respect for women based on acknowledging the vulnerability gap. Of course trying to replace that by new norms that use evidence for the vulnerability gap to pathologise men and masculinity, while insisting that paying everyday attention to the vulnerability gap is an attack on equality, is not going to lead to good or sensible replacement mechanisms.

Nor is extending matching-what-men-do as the sign of female progress to matters of sex and dating. There is no reason to expect women to have the same attitude to sex as men and many reasons to expect rather different (if somewhat overlapping) patterns of response. This is an area where it is particularly silly to treat having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries as being incidental to being a woman.

One of the features of the modern dating market is massive inequality between (young) men and women. The dating-app data shows that (1) women’s rating of the sexual attractiveness of men is way more skewed than is men’s rating of the sexual attractiveness of women and (2) this female advantage in breadth of attraction is extremely age-dependent. That is, as they age, men can retain relatively high levels of sexual attractiveness much better than women do.

This is entirely predictable, flowing from the large-gamete sex (1) being comparatively more interested in the resource and status value of their potential mates, and (2) requiring a higher marks-of-attractiveness bar to peak their interest. While (3) the small-gamete sex is more interested in signs of fertility.

This creates a dramatically asymmetrical dating market, where women go from being in high demand followed by a dramatic drop-off in their sexual cachet as they age while most men struggle in the dating market but have the capacity to improve their relative standing as they age.

The pretence that having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries is incidental to being a woman — as female progress is measured by matching-what-men-do — makes it much harder to evolve mechanisms to sensibly cope with these asymmetries. Especially as the pressure to pretend all male-female differences are products of “patriarchy”, “toxic masculinity”, or some other sin-generating-secular-demon, creates a stilted public discussion.

About fatherhood

Homo sapiens evolved two primary mechanisms to deal with our biologically very expensive children. Grandmothers (females who live for decades after menopause) and fatherhood (as a social mechanism, not merely as sperm donor).

Grandmothers represented experienced females who stopped having their own children and so could invest in the children of their children. Fatherhood entailed men who invested in raising their children. (Or, in a few societies, unclehood — men who invested in raising the children of their sisters.) The paternal investment was presumptively in their own children, as otherwise it would have been very hard to stably select for such behaviour.

The rise of mass manufacturing led to the golden age of working-class fatherhood, as working-class men found it comparatively easy to take on the provider role. As manufacturing employment has collapsed in developed democracies, working-class fatherhood has also declined.

The growth of services employment has enabled many women to achieve a high level of income independence. The trade-off the loss of independence that marriage involves for the income advantages of live-in husband and father has significantly declined in value. The “cheaper” children are, the lower the woman’s reservation income and the more the connections of wife and husband overlap, the less value the husband-as-father has to offer. So lower-income-and-status men struggle to be accepted as fathers. Meanwhile, marriage and fatherhood is fine (indeed, never healthier) in the upper reaches of society. There, due to higher expectations, children are more expensive, reservation incomes are higher and the husband and wife’s networks are more likely to be complementary, hence the husband-as-father trade-off is much stronger.

State policy has tended to further undermine the advantages of the live-in husband and father. Both through tax and welfare policies that tend to penalise marriage (and so fatherhood) and through enabling women to get unilateral access, on behalf of their children, to the income of their exes through the garnishing of wages by the state.

The latter is a replacement for the social mechanism of shotgun weddings, which have collapsed. With the supporting rhetoric about “deadbeat Dads”, and supporting theory about patriarchal power, compulsory paternal child support though state garnishing of wages is a much more pathological mechanism than the shotgun weddings that it replaced.

Shotgun weddings traded-off the biological father stepping up to his paternal responsibilities with him getting the status and authority of being a father and husband. By contrast, compulsory paternal child support through garnishing his wages puts a man at the financial behest of his ex without any trade-off whatsoever. No paternal rights, no sex, no status, no authority. He is essentially turned into a bonded source of income.

The worse his income prospects, the more proportionately onerous such obligations become. To support the system, being gaoled for debt has been re-instituted. If he is gaoled due to failure to pay, his debt continues to accumulate. This fundamentally pathological arrangement is a systematic attack on working-class fatherhood.

In much of the US, such purely-financial fatherhood is a matter of strict liability. It does not matter if he was underage when the child was conceived (and so he could not form the legal intention to have sex). It does not matter if his sperm was harvested during a non-conceptive sex act and then used to impregnate the woman. The only thing that matters is that his sperm was used to conceive.

In some circumstances, it does not even have to be his sperm. DNA tests are rarely used to establish paternity and if, after some years, a man does find out it was not his sperm that conceived the child, he may be informed that does not matter, as he “accepted” (the compulsory) financial responsibility for the child.

By contrast, a mother can always give up her financial obligations to a child through adoption. Where, elsewhere, the benchmark of female progress is matching what men do, in this area the systematic exploitation of men, on the grounds of women’s greater vulnerability and superior parenting status, is public policy. So, in this areas, having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries really counts.

No dissent allowed

An approach that veers between pretending that having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries is incidental to being a woman — because the benchmark of female progress is to match-what-men-do — and justifying systematic financial exploitation of men on the grounds of women’s greater vulnerability and superior parenting status (so having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries really really matters) has, as we have seen, all sorts of problems.

But these problems generally lack any social or policy salience. The difficulty is straightforward: criticism of (establishment) feminism is regarded as inherently delinquent. If, for example, you start noticing the pathological nature of the child support system you are, clearly, a “men’s rights advocate” and so a misogynist supporter of patriarchy.

The combination of capture of public policy (and so the coercive capacity of the state) and dominance of the cultural commanding heights (so dissent is de-legitimised) permits pathological policy and social patterns to continue to entrench themselves. Such mechanisms do not, however, eliminate the consequences of such entrenched pathologies.

A situation that cannot continue, won’t. While the present level of social dysfunction in these matters probably has considerable life in it yet, it is very unlikely that these are stable long-term patterns.

In the very long-term, the replacing response is probably going to be a religious one, as the religious are consistently more fertile than the non-religious. In the shorter term, these pathologies will continue to generate alienation and eat away at the resilience of our societies.

Either way, the feminist pretence that female progress comes from matching what men do, and that having a uterus, ovaries and mammaries is incidental to being a woman, except when it is convenient to claim the opposite so as to undermine (working-class) fatherhood, is very unlikely to wear well.

(Cross-posted from Medium.)