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“Men are naturally dominant, women are naturally submissive, thus men are superior.”

March 17, 2014

*Yes, there are genuinely still people who think this. This may not be an oft expressed view, but you will hear variations of it dotted subtly around conversations surrounding leadership, sports and fair wage. So, for those of you  most interested in this blog who almost certainly don’t think Men Are Superior, this is just something a bit academic to get your teeth into.*

There are five points to be made in response: that dominance is not the same as “superiority”; that true submissiveness does not exist; that dominance and relative submissiveness are co-dependent; that male “superiority” in the past was determined by factors no longer in play; that males and females are also co-dependent and thus render any question of “superiority” irrelevant.

First of all, what is “superiority”? Superiority can only be defined if we can call agree on what characteristics are superior. However, we cannot. While some may rank assertiveness highly as a desirable characteristic for a leader, others may think that assertiveness equates to bullheadedness sooner or later and that cooperativeness is more important. Usually, we agree on a mixture of these factors. Further still, we may not even agree that to be a “leader” necessarily makes a “superior” being; a leader indicates to some a megalomaniac in the making, and such people may consider a philanthropist to be “superior”. Without any external, objective figure to decide, one group or individual’s “superiority” cannot be established.

Because we work within a hierarchy system, using desire to get to the top of the pecking order as motivation to strive hard at work (thus giving meaning to what otherwise might be set of a tedious, thankless tasks), we like to believe in superiority, at least in some sense. As superiority is difficult to measure for the reasons mentioned above, we opt for the marginally more tangible concept of “dominant”.

One of the most problematic parts of the argument for men’s natural dominance is the assumption that we know what dominance is, or that all men are naturally dominant. Knowledge of the world and people in it will show you that there are several men who like the idea of not being in power, if only as release from the social expectation that they will be.

An important part of understanding humans and human relationships is to understand that people are different things to each other on different days. “Dominant”, like “best”, is not a fixed concept. Whether we take the reigns depends on our situation and the people we are with. Anyone who can conclusively say that they are in a permanent submissive position must either be living under an oppressive regime or communicating from the inside of an S&M dungeon.

Following this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how dominance and submissiveness connect to each other. We talk of dominance as though it is a God-like force of power that bends the universe to its will. However, we see time and time again that absolute domination is impossible because there will always be someone to challenge leadership.

Dominant creatures fight for the right to get what they desire. If everyone in the world was dominant, there would be no end to fighting and bloodshed. Indeed, there are those who do attribute the amount of violence and bloodshed in our society to reliance on dominance and a subsequent inability of those in power to relinquish it. In other words, dominance is not synonymous with superiority, as submissiveness plays a vital part in establishing the status quo.

Dominance is nothing without submissiveness. As opposite sides of the same coin, they are co-dependent. It is the submissive that establishes the status quo and is thus the entity with the greater power. If dominance is assertiveness, action, determination and incorrigibleness with a liberal dash of bravado, then submissiveness is caution, consideration, uncertainty and diplomacy. The ability to hold back and play safe is a vital survival technique known colloquially as “looking before you leap”.

Moreover, complete powerlessness is a myth. It has been shown throughout history that people thought to be naturally “submissive” have broken the chains of this and chosen to stand up for themselves; i.e., to become assertive, dominant forces. That means that within each submissive soul lies a dormant dominance, and their choice to remain submissive creates the status quo we have come to rely on. Submissiveness can be socially enforced where our dependence on social units is such that we will conform to the most unjust of rules for fear of ostracism.

Without these social pressures, submissiveness becomes the choice of the individual, depending on whether or not she considers that it serves her, though she might not call it “submissiveness”, favouring more nuanced descriptions of her choice to be a wife, a mother, an advisor, an secretary, or on the receiving end of attention in clubs and bars. Submissiveness has its uses but natural, unbreakable submissiveness does not exist. It cannot, because though dominance (within reason) works in tandem with survival and self interest, submissiveness does not and thus must be able to be switched off.

Take the female mammal or bird that chooses to shun the attentions of a male who wishes to mate her. His dominance is a constant. He has no choice, if he wants to pass on his seed, to be tenacious. It is up to her, as the “submissive” or receptive partner to accept his advances or spurn them as she pleases, usually in favour of another male she perceives to be more worthy of her attention. Since determination statistically improves one’s chances, the seed of the more determined male goes passes on this trait.

This trait then becomes the norm and is more likely to be desired in the female of the species, as what is normal usually meets with more approval than what is foreign. Equally a matter of preference and natural selection are mating rituals. Mating rituals of do not, as some imagine, usually include the dominance of the female counterpart by the male counterpart; rather, the domination of one male over another, or simply a non-aggressive display directed towards females designed to prove his worthiness and capture her attraction. In effect, he performs an entertainment service for her. If males were truly “superior”, then they would not have to seek the approval of females in order to pass on their seed.

The fact that mating rituals involve, not so much the use of blunt force, but rather displays of masculinity – albeit displays so colourful and fancy that the human equivalent would make a redneck flush – suggests that conscious selection choice of the female and its role in shaping evolution and social interaction is not to be underestimated. In the case of humans, the existence of sexual pleasure in females further indicates this; it is non-essential to conception, so its only uses are for social bonding and as an incentive for copulation.

Such an incentive is not required, in evolutionary terms, if it is easier for males to impregnate by force. Evidentially, the blunt force model of mating works less well than the attraction model. It is not a far stretch to suggest that blunt force by males causes upset and trauma in females, making them afraid and aggressive, thus leading to the death of one or the other. The result will be no passing on of those genes, so the strain gets bred out and replaced by a better tactic; i.e., the ability of males to be attentive to female selection. It is the female selection process, with its submissiveness (or rather the receptiveness) that makes sexual reproduction possible.

But a male’s increased assertiveness nullifies the necessity of a female’s submissiveness. If the male of that species is more assertive and determined with every passing generation, the female need not be more receptive in order to pass on her own genes; the male’s persistence will allow him to breed with many females of varying levels of skittishness or irritability, leaving only the most aggressively resistant females. Thus, the mildly standoffish stance of some females is not bred out. She can become more selective, but she does not become less powerful or less in control. Her potential dominance lies dormant, ready to surface when it is needed.

It will be needed. In solitary animals, males disappear soon after the conception of their young, leaving females to raise them on their own. Females must be aggressive in order to defend their offspring and pro-active in order to feed them. Even before she becomes pregnant, she must also display these characteristics in order to defend herself so that she might live to breed in the first place. Female polar bears are canny and evasive, and female hamsters are downright vicious to any male who approaches them at the wrong time, as their survival depends upon it. She is only receptive to him when she wishes to breed; thus from birth until death, it is the female of the species that dictates the terms of the entire breeding and family process.

To say that female submissiveness is due in any way to the inferior nature of females ignores the fact that “female” is not a socially significant concept in and of itself. The best proof of this is in the dramatic differentiation between species in regards to male and female, from female toads which are ten times the size of males to female praying mantises who eat the male after he has impregnated her.

It may, in both cases, be the task of the male to approach the female, but to suggest that he is in a dominant position smacks of lunacy. Even the important process of nurturing young does not make a female; species like the seahorse rely on the male to take care of the young. Egg-laying animals need not necessarily nurture at all, as is the case with turtles who lay their eggs in the sand and leave them.

The only thing that females across species have in common with each other is the basic definition of female; the half of any sexually reproducing species that produces the larger sex cell (the egg), as opposed to the smaller sex cell (sperm). Males in all species exist in the first place to provide an extra level of complexity to the gene pool and thus contribute to the enhanced development of the species. You would have to be imaginative indeed to identify the social significance of that.

Our problem is that when we discuss male and female across different species, we tend to ignore solitary animals, placing too much emphasis on social animals like us. Therein lies the significance; it is behaviour of social creatures compares to solitary ones that better dictates the terms of  relationships between sexes (though notably, in some social animals such as lions, it is still females who do the hunting). In their primitive form, small family units work best for social animals and thus, members need clearly established roles.

These attributed roles will be dependent on convenience; those who are pregnant and own mammary glands are the obvious choice for child rearing – why pregnancy, the delivery of live young and mammary glands developed in mammals is a complicated issue best explained by biologists, but for now it is enough to assume that these were the best survival options. Those who are not pregnant are the obvious choice for any work that does not involve being constantly hindered by pregnancy and dependent children. This work requires more activity and operating in challenging conditions.

If we are to state that males and females are naturally different, we must indicate how and why. The “why” in this case is easy enough; increased strength and speed were attributes of humans that developed in half (the male half) of the species, for the simple reason that this adaptation was necessary for survival and convenient for the male half more so than the female.

A human male, in evolutionary turns, is an extension of a human female. He serves the purpose of obtaining for her what she cannot get for herself due to biological constraints. In some people’s perception, this makes him her servant and she his master. In reality, harsher times dictated that no human could have survived if half its unit went AWOL during the process of raising defenceless dependants. If human females had raised their children alone, then suffice to say that, had we survived as a species at all, we would be so different we would be unrecognisable. Men and women really would be as different as we delude ourselves into to thinking they are.

There is no natural superiority in strength alone, or at least, not for a creature dependent on social groupings, such as human beings. Clearly, males however strong would simply die out without the ability to breed or feed young, making all family members of equal of value. When talking of co-dependency, the question of superiority becomes absurd. Though a division of labour dependent on natural ability makes perfect sense in a small and primitive social groups, the mistake comes when we arbitrarily attribute superiority or inferiority based on these roles, particularly when we retain these views into an advanced age where most of these attributes (particularly, it must be noted, the male ones) hold little to no worth.

The reason that these ideas continue is that our concept of power is more complicated than physical strength. It has developed in our changing society to include measurable worth. If the female half of the species would have starved had it not the addition of an extra non-pregnant, food-gathering half of its population, food becomes currency and those who fetch it realise that they can use it for leverage in the quest for their own desires (i.e. sex, the only transferable service after food that is both desirable and in ready supply). We now think of “power” as being, not strength, but wealth and resulting clout. This exchange was the first step towards a society that exchanges money for services, including sex, as well as goods.

This model of power may continue, but its historical relevance has faded. Where there is no struggle for survival, there is no dependency on the stronger and faster and there is no necessity to exchange food for sex. In a world of machines and computers where the most extraordinary work is completed behind desks and in a labs, the concept of male “power” loses all meaning.

It may suit some to concoct from the ether a vague and abstract hypothesis that women are of lesser intelligence (conveniently unprovable in both directions), despite growing evidence that women can do just as well as men in the most challenging fields of work in the modern world. It must not be forgotten that this insistence on male power could be a biological problem to be overcome; while submissiveness is not in the nature of a female, dominance may be, to some extent, in the nature of a male. To relinquish his grip on this dominance will, then, be difficult, but is a necessary step in contemporary society.

Those who wish to act as reasonable human beings should accept that male evolution has played its hand in our society and that, by and large, human evolution is over. Our medicine and our technology has allowed us to heal the sick and aid the disadvantaged who would have died in the Stone Age. Our situation may be cleaner and safer but the major hope is that it becomes more logical and more empathetic, more compassionate and more open minded. All our changes now will be academically created and socially enforced. If nature has little hold over our every day lives, there is no value in continuing to follow the early map of life laid out by it.

Insisting on male dominance as superiority does not so much undervalue women as it does underestimate men; far from suggesting that men are “superior”, it suggests that a man lacks the capacity to change and adapt to his environment, and that his usefulness is entirely dependent on his role as family protector, rather than as a person (if ever men needed feminism, it was now; feminism taught women to see their own worth as individuals, something which men, it seems, have trouble establishing).

If this were true, it would be catastrophic for human development, since society remains mainly led by men and all the inarguable perks of maleness have been rendered almost obsolete by technological advances. The rest, being potentially more nurture than nature, are not necessarily male at all but rather the result of historically-hardened positive expectation and social privilege.

Since adaptation is the whole reason why males and females differ, to refuse to adapt on the grounds that men should retain their natural superiority makes no sense, as surely this “superiority” must have been gained by natural selection in the first place. Now that we are beyond natural selection, social change is our only evolution and should be embraced for the positive (if messy) force that it is, not shied away from in horror.

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From → Gender Politics

8 Comments
  1. Akriti permalink

    I LOVED THIS POST. SUPERB 🙂

    The fact is people who ‘feel’ are superior are actually the ones who are scared to the core since they know inside they suffer from an inferiority complex. They are threatened. They can continue living in their’s fools paradise. The world progressed right over their face. I call such people retrograde!!

  2. Akriti permalink

    Wrote this recently. Will strike a chord.

    Does the ‘F’ Word Scare You ? http://wp.me/p3N7Ca-8r via @wordpressdotcom

  3. An interesting article. I’m going to pick a fight with you, then help you win.

    “The reason that these ideas continue is that our concept of power is more complicated than physical strength.”

    This is the crux of your article.

    You then go on to say “We now think of “power” as being, not strength, but wealth and resulting clout.”

    But, in fact, power is still about strength, not exclusively, or even necessarily male strength, but strength itself. And we still, even in this environment, intuit that. Strength is a measure of physical power. The word “strength” is akin to the word “temperature” or “mass”. Power is the ability to do work, “to move something.” It so happens that leadership, psychological/social influence is in fact the leveraging of multiple people’s strengths and talents, their ability to move things. Wealth itself is “work in reserve”.

    You say “his model of power may continue, but its historical relevance has faded. ” But it has not. We still need to survive, and while technology has greatly leveraged out energy to work output, the essential needs of survival still exist. It is still the case that humans must work to survive.

    ” the concept of male “power” loses all meaning.” I would be more inclined to say that men’s power has been successfully distributed in such a way that access to male physical strength is more easily accessed (and easier to take for granted). Roads are built using large machines, and mostly men’s physical work. Machines have not replaced men, but have supplemented men’s strength. And these machines were built mostly by men’s labour, and so on down the chain of events. Roads permit cars, which permits an economy of human energy and thus greater access to benefits. There is not a single item in the existence of humans in today’s technological world that is not a direct pointer to men’s strength.

    “despite growing evidence that women can do just as well as men in the most challenging fields of work in the modern world” … Any WILLING woman can… with the overall exception of the physical work that require men’s strength.

    “Those who wish to act as reasonable human beings should accept that male evolution has played its hand in our society and that, by and large, human evolution is over. ”

    Of course not. The evolution of our species continues, and there is no distinction between “male evolution” or “female evolution”. Evolution refers to the evolution of a species, which comprise both males and females. Individuals do not evolve, we serve the evolution of our species. And we are still evolving as a species, simply under different circumstances than in the infancy of our race. We are currently struggling just as we have since the dawn of time. Despite our best medical technology, has infantile death still occurs, and some procreate more than others. We now die of car accidents rather than saber tooth tiger attacks; we fall off of buildings, rather than cliffs.

    “Our situation may be cleaner and safer but the major hope is that it becomes more logical and more empathetic, more compassionate and more open minded.” Absolutely.

    “If nature has little hold over our every day lives, there is no value in continuing to follow the early map of life laid out by it.”

    But nature still has us firmly clenched in it’s grip. Speak to anyone who lives in areas where tsunamis, flooding, forest fires, earthquakes, the need to grow food, the need for clean water and air, safe disposal of detritus and disease exists–speak to anybody who lives in an environment subject to the laws of physics and who wishes to survive.

    “Since adaptation is the whole reason why males and females differ,”

    Adaptation is the reason why male and females exist.

    “to refuse to adapt on the grounds that men should retain their natural superiority makes no sense, as surely this “superiority” must have been gained by natural selection in the first place.”

    But adaptation can only be refused at the expense of death, or luck, that is to say, not at all, thus the point is moot.

    “Now that we are beyond natural selection, social change is our only evolution and should be embraced for the positive (if messy) force that it is, not shied away from in horror.”

    We are still subject to natural selection, and will continue to be so even when we can bio-engineer our species by purely technological means such as creating artificial sperm, eggs and uteri. The comment on social change is a pure non sequitur.

    I agree with you in that the argument “Men are naturally dominant, women are naturally submissive, thus men are superior.” is false. Your conclusion is correct, but your arguments don’t support your conclusion. Both the initial claim and the response share the same presupposition: that dominance and moral superiority have any relationship to each other. It would be senseless to argue “measurable (rather than ‘moral’) superiority” unless we were to list every aspect of human ability, skills and compare it to all human goals. In either case, the argument is a generalization which cannot be supported.

    The way to by-pass and discredit the argument can be made much more simply:

    Claim: “Men are naturally dominant, women are naturally submissive, thus men are superior.”

    Response: “Even though physical or psychological dominance are a factor that influence social status, social status and moral superiority bear no relationship to each other.”

    Done.

    Do note, that this argument goes both ways, and can be as easily applied to those who would claim that women are superior to men.

    It was an interesting read. I wish I had more time to spend on it. Perhaps this weekend I’ll take the time to peruse more of your articles.

  4. guchubrenda permalink

    Reblogged this on munchywritings.

  5. Brilliant. Thank you for this.

  6. jge permalink

    Francis, it’s worth noting that women have the strength of adaptable survival because the children depend more on the mother for survival. Women are more likely to survive famines and wide spread plagues etc. because our bodies adapted for it to help ensure the survival of the infants and children. This has been noted throughout human history.There is more than one kind of strength that evolved in humans.

  7. Men are more likely to survive widespread famines and plagues while women are more likely to die. Men’s bodies are stronger and adapted to it while women’s bodies are weaker. Men survive better than women because they are stronger and superior

  8. jge said “Francis, it’s worth noting that women have the strength of adaptable survival because the children depend more on the mother for survival.” You are conflating the term “strength,” a measure of physical power, with the sense of “having an advantage.” I agree with you, however, that both sexes have advantages and disadvantages. All creatures do.

    As to whether men or women, as a sex have the better chance of surviving plague and famine, you and Lisa are duking it out. I personally don’t have an opinion on it, other than the very vague and unresearched one of “it depends on the person and the circumstance.”

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