It's Tu b'Shevat on the Jewish calendar, one of my favorite holidays because it's all outdoorsy and all about nature and cycles and trees and seasons and the coming of Spring. It's a good time to fall in love with the earth and the life cycle, and I usually do just that around this time of year. But it never fails: every time I start to fall in love with nature again, I remember how it screwed with the sexes, and I get angry. This time, I found myself thinking that nature just doesn't respect males very much, and they deserve better, and problems arise as a result.
Think about the genetic nudges we get from our bodies when we're at the breeding age. Men can sniff out the women who are at the fertile point of their menstrual cycle, and apparently there's a tendency for males to feel motivated to sleep with as many fertile women as possible--a feeling of reward for more notches on the bedpost. Along with that goes the motivation to be attached to each one of those gals only up until the point she starts talking about babies and settling down; then suddenly she's gone all psycho in his eyes and the siren song of the wide world calls him and he can't resist and he's got to go, and the cycle starts over for him. Meanwhile, a woman who's not pregnant can sniff out the men who have the genetic immunities she lacks, so that she'll like best the smell of the guy who could father the child with the strongest immune system. Once our bodies shift into pregnancy mode, we prefer the smells of our blood relations. We're motivated to leave the man who fathered our baby-to-be, if necessary, so that we can go home to our siblings and parents.
What kind of monstrous system is this, in which men and women seem instinctively inclined to conspire together to make sure men don't get to raise their own children? Of course there's other competing instincts, such as pair-bonding between the couple and nurturing instincts between the father and his children, to compete with the tryst-and-split model I described above, and those are well and good, but I'm not going to cheer for a system that has a huge gaping flaw in it just because that flaw got covered up later by some other nice things. We rest on a cracked foundation.
The more I thought about this flaw, the worse it seemed to get. Women get the brunt of the biological responsibility for ensuring the continuation of the species. They carry the developing fetus, they labor to give birth, and they produce food and feed the infants. Men? They fertilize the women. Of course there are other things required for the continuation of the species, such as teaching the little ones, supplying and preparing food, making living quarters livable, and inventing better ways of doing the other three things, but those jobs can and are done by both sexes. Without the help of medical science, only women can incubate, give birth to, and feed the little ones, and a good portion of a woman's fertile years might be spent doing those three things. Males can be finished with their contribution to the reproductive process in a few minutes, and if they're trying to be useful, they spend the rest of their working time doing the gender-neutral jobs.
Why such asymmetry, Nature?? Why not arrange things so that we can all carry, give birth to, and feed children, and we can all impregnate someone else? Why this rigid sexual dimorphism nonsense? If I were a male, I'd be angry that I'm locked into this sex-determined role of never being able to do what looks to me like the most amazing work for the continuation of the species, besides being dependent upon someone else's decisions if I want children.
Which brings me to my main point: if, at the dawn of human society on earth, there were no patriarchy, I suspect that a patriarchal system would have developed out of the resentment and confusion many males must have felt about women doing all the special work and controlling all things baby (who has them, how many, etc). I imagine a young boy noticing all the attention someone gets each time her belly starts swelling, and then seeing her with a new baby, and envying her new-mother status, and I imagine him craving that attention. He'd hear his sisters told that someday they can be mothers, but then he'd be told that he never can be because he's a boy and not a girl. If I were that boy, I'd be crushed, and I'd be angry at women.
It's not fair that they can get all the attention and I can't. I hate my body for its limitations, and I hate them for making me hate my body. If there is a god, she must be female, because only a woman would make me so that I don't matter. Well, I matter, but only as long as I support the women. No! It's only fair for the world to be designed according to male needs, for a change. Isn't it our turn? I deserve the love and attention of my community just as much as any woman does, and maybe I deserve it more for all the pain I've endured. It's only fair.
I need to feel needed or else I shall die. Show me that I'm needed! Make me feel important! If you can't find food or build a house, if you need me to be by your side when you take a walk, then I will want to stay with you, because you soothe my fears of being irrelevant. Your helplessness makes me sure that I have a reason to live. If you need me, if there are things that you tell me only I can do, and if I am exhorted to throw all my energy into the pursuit of those things, if they challenge me and test my body's strength as much as pregnancy and labor and birth test yours, then maybe it will be ok that your body does things that mine can't. Then maybe there will be balance in the world, and then maybe I will have a reason to live, and I will know that my creator loves me, too.
But listen. You have to let all the other tasks be my job. You mustn't do them. You mustn't even be able to do them. Do you understand? I will have to stop you somehow if you try, and if you keep trying, I will have to leave, because I won't be able to bear it. You will be alone and I will look for someone else who needs me. Do you see? I need to be needed even more than I need to be with you.
You will do this for me? Oh, thank you! You are good to me. Well, I mean, of course you are. You need me. Where would you be without me, after all? Look at you. You're helpless. Maybe you should be thanking me.
Yes, I will provide you with your dinner, but I expect you to thank me for it, to show me the gratitude which is my due. Remember that. If you don't show gratitude willingly, I might just take what I deserve anyway.
If I'm right, then our gender-related dynamics (and the oppression of most women and some men that is so common around the world) stem from a human need to be needed and attempts by males to compensate for their biological inability to bear children. If patriarchy-related oppression hadn't always existed, men would have had a strong motivation to establish it, for the sake of clumsily trying to balance the injustice they perceived. So,
1. What can we do to break the link between the injustice of our biology and the injustice of patriarchy-related oppression?
2. If you attribute human body design to divine intelligence, do you think the uneven division of the burden of reproductive work is
a. an unfortunate by-product of some larger plan? If so, how do you account for such a serious flaw in divine creation?
b. a good in itself? If so, what's so good about it?
c. explainable in some other way? If so, how do you explain it?
3. I've heard the opinion expressed that a pregnant woman shouldn't be able to abort without the permission of the person who inseminated her. As abominable as that opinion is to me, I sympathize with the attempt to balance out the biological injustice that gives women the deciding vote on whose children they bear, and when, and how many.
a. Women, if your access to motherhood were dependent upon someone else's biological health and good will towards you, and all you could do to have children was inseminate your partner and try to take care of the person's needs, would it change how you feel about the circumstances under which abortion is acceptable?
b. Men, if you could be inseminated and could bear children as women can, with all the difficulties that go with pregnancy and childbirth, would you feel different about abortion?