Friday, April 09, 2010

Gender Roles: Why Do Men and Women Do What They Do?

Ben Bova, in Voyager's II, said it quite explicitly, thereby expressing something that is probably considered quite un-PC nowadays.

In abbreviated paraphrase: Men do what they do because they want to attract women and have sex with them. Women do what they do, because they want to find mates that will make genetically and socially good fathers for their offspring.

This, of course, does not apply to the homosexually-inclined, where the rules are a rather muddled up; predictably so. But otherwise it seems pretty straightforward. Maybe the veneer of 'civilization' overlaid on this has wrought some changes, but ultimately these are skin-deep. Scratch and scape away the veneer, and you'll find that the straight metrosexual still thinks he's a caveman, even if he'd never admit it. Just like every poodle thinks he's a wolf. And inside your average 'liberated' 'career woman' lurks a mother-animal, who isn't all that sure that the price she's paying is worth the prize she's going to get one day, or has already won.

The homogeni (for a definition, see here) of the world will probably treat such statements with disdain and, in extreme cases, anger. I can hear invectives like 'redneck' or even 'caveman' hurled at me. But the truth is what it is. And the evidence for it is not just biological—said evidence being sufficiently incontrovertible to make the case all by itself!—but there is a cultural component as well. You just have to look at the stories told, most of which, when you strip away the MacGuffins, end up as variations on the 'looking for the girl' and 'looking for a potential father for my children' tales—and if that's not the main theme, it usually lurks there somewhere. There are variants, of course. The most obvious ones are 'failing to find or get the girl' or 'failing to find the potential or actual father for my children', which often metamorphose into the more general 'being a failure'.

And, yes, I know there are stories that don't follow that pattern, but they're in a definite minority and often they are often agenda-driven of blatantly polemic, of just self-indulgent. They're also usually far less as popular; and popularity is, after all, the only serious measure of a story's 'success'. By which standard Avatar ends up being the most popular 'film' story of all time.

Since its collective story and the stories is believes in and those it treasures, are what defines a culture, this pretty much says it all.

But what does all that mean? Well, depends on the context. If you're talking about evolution—well, we've dealt with that in a previous blog. If you're talking about 'civilization', it's clear that it's pretty much smoke and mirrors, and self-deception and hypocrisy. If we're just interested in human psychology and how to lead happy lives...

Well, we need to allow the cave people to exist inside us. It's like the 'dark side'. Suppressing it is counterproductive and in many cases destructive, not just at an individual level. Allowing it to take over one's psyche is also undesirable. Like always, it's a matter of treading a careful middle path, walking along what's a kind of psychological knife edge. Easy to fall off from and land irreversibly on either side, thereby effectively losing the game and the plot. Very easy. Which is why most people prefer not to walk it, and to pretend that what they're living is the 'right' life. If they think about it at all.

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