Posts Tagged ‘submissiveness’

Athene’s Comments on “Natural Order”

December 29, 2008

From time to time, questions are raised on different issues that have interest to many readers. If I don’t have answers, or can strongly support an argument, I will direct readers to various websites for what they can find in the answers of others.

I have been discussing this issue of “Natural Order” with Athene and others here, this “Gorean” concept, and as I am NOT a scientist, and luckily Athene IS, I asked her to read other sites of writers that I know who do either hold to this Gorean concept of Natural Order, or can explain it. Hence, she gone to various sites and is reading. Her answer is below, as she wrote to me in private email.

Lady Nyo

Another blogger’s views on this submission issue:

“I believe that a female’s submissive nature is greatly determined by genetics. IOW – it is encoded into the very cells of her body through many years of evolution […] However, I do believe that the natural tendency to submit is wired in from birth.”

(from Mackenzie Cross’ blog:

Athene’s response:

Evolution would not favor an organism (male or female) to be completely submissive to the other sex. Evolution is regarding the change of allele frequencies from one generation to the next, and these alleles are usually favored through time because they confer advantageous traits to the organism in question. If there are genetic determinations for behavior (and the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate is still quite huge), only in rare instances would submissive behavior [as he describes] be favored as advantageous for the survival of the species.

Females exercise sexual selection in choosing the best partner for bearing progeny. Take, for example, peafowls/peacocks. The female will choose the male with the most colorful tail, the longest train. To her, this is the healthiest male, and the one that will ensure that her children will survive to pass on their genetic material to another generation (biologically speaking the males with the longest tail train are the healthiest ones because they have excess metabolic energy to cultivate a well groomed and presented tail, but I digress). She wouldn’t want to mate with a weak male that might potentially pass on genes that make for weak progeny.

If women should submit to males because women are genetically “wired” to be submissive, and that such behavior (1) is genetically based and (2) evolutionarily favored, then one wonders why and how the species survived all this time. Some ideas a natural order theory would have to take into account and explain would be:

Does this theory make a differentiation between strong evolutionarily fit males, or any male at all? How does this theory account for sexual selection in species?

In regards to evolution, females exercise sexual selection for this reason – they do not want offspring at a disadvantage for survival and reproduction; therefore, they will choose the male that, in their view, is the most successful and will pass on “good” genes to the progeny. Females will avoid males that they deem not successful.

In regards to a natural order theory, I see two approaches to roles of domination and submission for each sex:

1. There is universal male dominance over females (no exceptions).

Any male could make any female submit. However, if this occurred, our species might not have survived because those males who were evolutionarily unfit would be able to pass on their genes to progeny, creating potentially weakened unfit organisms who were unable to successfully compete with other species alive at the time (other Homo species). As a fledging species, way back then, this would have been disadvantageous, and most likely evolution would have selected against it swiftly and quickly. Perhaps today the world would be populated with Homo erectus.

This wouldn’t account for the behavior of rape. Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have published studies on rape and how it corresponds with evolution, and have concluded that the behavior of rape may be present in today’s society because it was one way for (presumably unfit) males to force a female to bear his progeny (ensuring HIS genes’ survival), because she wouldn’t do so on her own accord. So, for some males, this behavior actually was advantageous from an evolutionary view, which is how it survived through the years into today’s society (note: that doesn’t mean that rape is justified; it’s just an explanation of how that behavior might have developed in the first place).

This wouldn’t account for courtship rituals. The male bald eagle flies in complex patterns (dances) and sometimes will exchange fish with the female. The bowerbird builds a complex nest and decorates it to attract females. Fireflies will flash their lights in signature patterns that are unique to each male to attract females. Tarantulas will build competing webs to attract females.

Humans court too. We date. And some biologists say that the female orgasm is essentially a huge test of the male to see if he has the patience and communication skills required to bring her to a climax as well as himself. If he lacks this patience and cannot bring her to orgasm, she may not prefer him as a sexual partner (and potential father) in the future because she will prefer males who will be able to care for the offspring, and need patience and communication to do so successfully. If females are genetically hardwired to be submissive to males, if female submission to males is evolutionarily favored, why do so many species (including our own) engage in courtship rituals where the male has to win the affections of the female rather than just forcibly taking her (rape)?

Males court females because all the time and metabolic energy involved in producing eggs and raising young is a LOT compared to the metabolic energy it takes to produce sperm. It is in the best interests of females to choose males that will give their children the best advantage in life; therefore, males must convince females he is worth it genetically and hence, sexually.

Therefore, universal male dominance over females is highly unlikely to be a viable natural order position, and certainly not one favored by evolution. So, what is the other option?

2. There is non-universal / incomplete male dominance over females (exceptions).

To keep in line with evolutionary theory and sexual selection, you could say that only the evolutionarily fit males make females submit. But, if you subscribe to that thought process, then

(a) you concede that females do have the power to be selective in which partner they choose, and they may (and often do) disregard males that they deem to be not fit or successful (which seems at odds with natural order ideas) or

(b) you disregard the non-fit males completely and make no attempt

to explain sexual selection (but you can’t do that and expect to have a tenable position) or

(c) you reason that dominance/submission dynamics are based purely on strength, and that weak males (perhaps evolutionary unfit males) do not have the means to dominate females – but if you base it on strength without sex considerations, then you must concede that there are strong females who may be able to dominate and/or overpower males as well (which also seems at odds with natural order thoughts).

Therefore, non-universal / incomplete male domination over females is also not a viable position from a natural order viewpoint.

As it is highly unlikely that evolution would favor universal male dominance, and incomplete male dominance strays from natural order thinking, female submissiveness is more a social construct than a biological one, rooted in my favorite word, heteronormativity.

But, getting away from all this, let us say, just a hypothetical exercise, that female submissive behavior IS genetically biologically based, and let us say that it has been favored by evolution. If so, this is a valid reason for saying that females should submit to males in today’s society?

If evolution can be summed up in one word, that word would be change. Populations change, organisms and individuals change, allele frequencies change, and most important of all, environments change.

The most “fit” organism is one that is most successful at reproducing in the current environment; however, environments change. Food supplies change, carrying capacities change – even the weather may change. What may have been advantageous for survival at one time may no longer be advantageous anymore.

Think about sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a disease where the red blood cells are abnormally shaped (like sickles). People stricken with this disease have a life span of 42-48 years and are often afflicted with complications such as strokes, osteomyelitis, kidney acute papillary necrosis, pulmonary hypertension, and cholelithiasis and cholecystitis. It is due to a mutation, and it seems that evolution would have already selected against this mutation; however, while 2 copies of the mutation will make you diseased, 1 copy gives you resistance to malaria AND you won’t suffer from the disease as you need 2 copies to be affected. And of course, 0 copies of the mutation means you won’t have the disease, but you also won’t benefit from the malaria resistance either.

Before we had adequate control methods of water, pests, and sanitation, the environment was favorable for mosquito breeding and populations, so having 1 copy of this mutation was advantageous to survive from malaria. The mosquitoes would be the vector for the parasites, and the mosquitoes bred in standing water, and if there were dirty pools of standing water everywhere, malaria was easily spread from person to person. Having that 1 mutation was “good” – so those people with that one mutation survived and passed that mutation to their offspring, who also survived and passed it on to the next generation (and so on).

But, the environment has changed, and now we have better control for water (water sewage treatment plants, running water in pipes) and pests (spraying for mosquitoes) – not to mention anti-parasitic drugs and advanced medicine; therefore, the mutation that protects from malaria is no longer beneficial because the environment has changed and malaria is no longer an evolutionary pressure. Now, having that mutation may actually be a disadvantageous thing because if two parents with 1 mutation [each] have a child, there is a 25% chance that child will inherit both mutations (2 copies) and will suffer from the disease. Before, when the environment was different, it was worth taking that 25% chance because it was offset by the 50% chance that the child would get only 1 copy and be resistant to malaria.

So, the red blood cell mutation that used to be advantageous for survival is now a detriment because the environment changed, the evolutionary pressures changed.

If we apply this to our hypothetical gene that makes women submissive (let’s call it SUB-1), it works the same way. A long time ago, when human society was loosely organized (hunter/gatherer society) and mere survival was a challenge, it was advantageous to delegate positions, rely on others and work in groups to ensure survival (both group and individual survival). Food was an animal that needed to be stalked and hunted, or a plant that needed to be cultivated and grown. Water was a supply that needed to be obtained from a clean safe water source, and clothing and tools were things that needed to be made by hand after the supplies were gathered to make them. In this type of environment, it was more advantageous to delegate tasks within the social group so that all the survival needs could be met adequately: food, water, clothing, etc.

As males are usually the stronger of the sexes, it made the most sense for the males to hunt, defend, and oversee the tasks that today are regarded as traditionally masculine. On the flip side, females who would bear children also produced milk to nurse them, so it made more sense for them to stay at home and take care of the domestic tasks that are today regarded as traditionally feminine. It was advantageous for a female to “submit” to a male because in return, she would get food (meat) and protection – it would help her survive, and her children (and his children) survive.

However, the society and the environment we live in today are dramatically changed. We no longer have to go out hunting for food – anyone (male or female) just needs to go to a grocery store and pick up a package of chicken or beef and go bag their own vegetables and fruits. Clean water comes to us when we turn on the facets, and if it’s not clean enough then, we can always filter it with a Brita system. Clothes and tools can be bought at stores. Even protection is no longer something a female would need from a male partner with the development of laws and law enforcement agencies. Even the invention of guns would allow a female to defend herself without the need for a biologically stronger male defender. Our society has become more complex, and we have simplified living so that it is no longer a challenge to survive. With this changing society and environment, the necessity for a female to “submit” to a male is no longer a requirement (or even a recommendation) to be successful. She may choose to have a male partner and have a family, but the NEED to rely on him for survival is now negated. – the evolutionary pressures have changed.

Because such reliance is no longer necessary, our hypothetical SUB-1 gene no longer grants an advantage for survival. What might have been a genetic advantage THEN is NOW either neutral or detrimental. And thus, evolution may now either be indifferent to that gene, or it may select against it, respectively.

So saying, “Because SUB-1 was evolutionarily favored in the past to make women submissive, today, women should go back to being submissive and stop taking on traditionally male roles” is outdated, silly, and completely disregards evolutionary theory. That’s like saying, “In the ice age, the gene that made mammals grow a lot of fur to keep warm was favored; therefore, let’s embrace that gene today even though temperatures in the summer can be over 100 degrees F.”

So, no matter how you look at it (submissiveness as a social construct OR biologically based), being submissive in today’s society is a choice, not an imperative that evolution demands.

And, just for some more fun biology questions that natural order theory would have to account for:

If there are dominant/submissive behaviors that are biologically based and specific for the sexes, is it because they are X or Y linked? If so, if there is a female who displays dominance instead of submissiveness, is it because of X chromosome lyonization? ;o)



Lady Nyo: Athene gives a lot to chew upon with this excerpt. However, it is good to have this argument afloat. I am sure that others will respond to her view on evolutionary issues, and this can only be to the good. Thank you, Athene…for pushing these important issues front and center.

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