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 area, 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.

An accidental small businessman who reads a lot and thinks about what he reads, sometimes productively. Currently writing a book on marriage.