Since the beginning of the “Me, too!” movement, “patriarchy”—and the very idea that females prefer to be feminine—is under attack as never before. The Swedish capital Stockholm has banned ads that portray female stereotypes [Stockholm bans “sexist” and “degrading” adverts from public spaces, By Sara Malm, Daily Mail, 13 June 2018]. An Austrian museum about James Bond will cut out “sexist” aspects of the movie series about the Alpha male and his assorted scantily-dressed Bond girls [Not Licensed to Offend, By Tim Walker, Guardian, June 11, 2018]. On Father’s Day, fathers were supposed to receive “feminist” gifts, to undermine the patriarchal undertones of the celebration [9 Feminist Father’s Day 2017 Gifts For The Dad Who Believes In Equality, By Lindsay Mack, Romper, 7 June 2017, ].
But if a theory recently presented by two female researchers from Britain is correct, then patriarchy only evolved because of the male need to give women what they wanted, females are literally evolved to like and accept the patriarchal system, and, by implication, we’d have no civilization if it hadn’t developed.
Zoologist Dr Rachel Grant, of the University of Northampton, and biologist Dr Tamara Montrose, of University Centre, Hartpury, presented their explosive findings in the Spring 2018 issue of the “racist” and “sexist” journal Mankind Quarterly. In their study, entitled It’s a Man’s World: Mate Guarding and the Evolution of Patriarchy, they argue that there is fundamental conflict of interest between men and women. Men have nothing to lose from a sexual encounter, so they want to have sex with as many good-looking (and thus genetically healthy) and young (and thus fertile) women as possible. But women have a great deal to lose from a sexual encounter, because they can get pregnant and they produce a far smaller number of gametes than men. They and their offspring are more likely to survive if they get a man who will invest in them and look after them.
So the rigours of Darwinian selection have made women far pickier than men when it comes to who they’re prepared to have sex with. They are attracted to high status males—and, indeed, are prepared to have extra-marital affairs to obtain a child by an even higher status male than their husband—so that their more limited number of offspring, compared to what a male can achieve, has better genetic qualities and is more likely to survive. And among our pre-modern ancestors there’d be severe punishment—from brothers or the girl’s father—if you tried to force yourself upon her.
Therefore, argue Grant and Montrose, it was Strike One for the Sisterhood. Men had no choice but to invest their resources, and signal commitment through marriage, if they wanted to have sex with a desirable female.
But this led to a very difficult problem. For his investment to be worth it, the prehistoric man had to ensure that his female did not become pregnant by another man. Obviously, to raise another man’s child would do nothing to help him pass on his genes and everything to help his competitor. Grant and Montrose report that, depending on the nature of the sample, across cultures between 1% and 30% of births are “false paternity events,” in which the “father” is not really the father at all. (The high number is found in paternity tests, where putative fathers are suspicious, but 10 percent is not uncommon in places like Detroit, Michigan and parts of Mexico.)[How Well Does Paternity Confidence Match Actual Paternity?, by K. G. Anderson, Current Anthropology, June 2006]
Among our chimpanzee ancestors, the solution was perfectly simple. The male chimp would jealously guard his females during estrus, the signs of which were clear for all to see. However, the signs of estrus in human females are just far too subtle: a slight lightening of the skin, for example. Accordingly, a male—from whom most of us are likely descended –was forced to devise a solution: the woman needed to be guarded pretty much all the time. Only this way could he be guarantee that his investment—of time and resources—would not go to waste.
But how, ask the authors, could he possibly guard her all the time? When would he have time to gather food?
He wouldn’t, so he’d have to gain a reputation for extreme jealously and violence such that other men wouldn’t go near his woman. The result would be a tense, untrusting society with lots of inter-male fighting, such as you find among the Bushmen of the Kalahari. Such a chaotic society could never develop anything close to civilization.
So he came up with a much better solution: Patriarchy. There developed, argue the authors, a hierarchal system which would uphold males and their needs and desires at the expense of those of females, who would be subjugated and controlled, especially in terms of their sexuality.
The authors are clear that this could never have developed if females’ estrus was clear for all see and if human females, like female swans, were evolved to be monogamous. But this is the crucial point. Human females are not evolved to be monogamous. They’re evolved to be, albeit cunningly, “polyandrous”: marry the kindly Beta male if you must but get pregnant by the Alpha one.
Grant and Montrose argued that patriarchy is, therefore, entirely understandable in evolutionary terms. In China, women’s feet were bound so they couldn’t run away and have affairs. In the Islamic world, women are concealed in public so that no potential cuckolder can be attracted to them. Religions render these traditions—as well as general obedience to the male will—as the desire of the gods, making it even more likely to be obeyed.
And females who fail to obey risk severe punishment, including simply being killed to restore the families’ honour. There are, the authors report, about 300 honour killings in Pakistan annually, with sentences being very lenient compared to those for other murders. In the Middle East, women are killed for actual or alleged adultery, for refusing arranged marriage, for not being virgins when they get married and for being raped, as this implies that they were not being chaperoned by a male relative as mandated. Most societies give daughters far less freedom than sons. Not only are daughters worth more—in the sense that their child will definitely be your grandchild—but we’ve been selected to control them.
The fascinating result of this, argue the authors, is that females are literally evolutionarily selected to accept patriarchy. Those who refuse to have their feet bound, or be circumcised so they can’t enjoy sex, will not be able to get married and so won’t pass on their genes. Such refusal to obey the rules also elevates the likelihood that they’ll be ostracised—in societies where laws make it very hard to be an independent female—or directly killed. Grant and Montrose argue that abortion is particularly problematic in patriarchal societies because it allows women far too much control over themselves.
What this system means is that males—trusting that their investment in the female and her offspring will be worth it—can afford to be less violent, less jealous and more cooperative. They will invest more of their energy in looking after their children, making these children less short-term oriented, able to create stronger social bonds, and likely to be more cooperative.
And so a civilization will duly be able to develop.
This is a compelling theory and the authors also present some clear ways that future researchers can test it: Cuckoldry rates should be lower, and fertility higher, in more patriarchal societies and fundamentalist sub-cultures; the more fundamentalist and patriarchal a society the faster growing its population will be, as women will have no control over their bodies and no option but motherhood; and patriarchy will be stronger in polygamous systems, like Islam, because there will be more women for a husband to control.
Anecdotally, at least, this all these seems to be the case.
So, reducing these findings down to their basics, patriarchy is a result of the evolved psychology and physiology of females. Its development has, in turn, pushed females, for biological reasons, towards being more accepting of patriarchy.
Could it be that the rise in “feminism” is not just due to the collapse of patriarchy but, more profoundly, due to weakened Darwinian selection, due to the less harsh life created by the Industrial Revolution? (See Social Epistasis Amplifies the Fitness Costs of Deleterious Mutations, Engendering Rapid Fitness Decline Among Modernized Populations, By Michael Woodley of Menie et al., Evolutionary Psychological Science, June 2017).
This would mean more “mutant genes” not being removed through high child mortality or spinsterhood for “undesirable” women, such as those which might make people challenge patriarchy?
The authors insist “It’s a Man’s World” but it only became that way due to the power women have over men to force them to bend to their evolved desires for investment and status, as evidence of the ability to invest in resources in their children.
“It’s a Man’s World”—and it’s Women’s Fault?
Lance Welton [Email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.