Evolutionary Feminism

Women and Evolution:
A Response to the position paper of Francis Fukuyama as published in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 77, no. 5, Sept/Oct. 98 issue

by

Jennifer Goehring,  9/16/98


All right, all right...I'm getting over the fact that this guy beat me to the chase in publishing these exact ideas brought forward in his position paper.   I had all sorts of grandiose plans about my first broadcast article on Evolution's Voyage, and they most definitely included much of the same discussion about feminism.  I am reconciled though, because its wonderful that a broader audience is now exposed to the subtle nuances that evolutionary psychology brings to the world of modern social analysis.  You know -- the basics of any relevant discussion of gender issues; basics that have been disappointingly absent from mainstream discourse.   How, for instance, women use much less force and aggression in negotiations, and the more clout that they are given in a particular society, the less likely that society is to be engaged in constant violent warfare.

All right, here's the deal.  The past mechanisms of feminism's strategy to achieve equal status for women was to insist that any observable difference between the genders was socially constructed, and their top agenda item became to deconstruct it.   When society claims that women are weaker, more passive, better at mothering and nurturing, and belong in domestic-related roles, feminism responded by insisting that society taught them to be that way, and that we must unteach such cultural inculcation in order to be more aggressive and violent, and all we must do to achieve peace is to teach men to be more peaceful.  In his paper, Fukuyama agrees with feminism that tempering male aggression will be necessary to further our civilization, he just insists that, much to the chagrin of the feminist movement, we will not be able to accomplish it by giving male toddlers trains or dolls instead of guns.

He does, in fact, describe how the female paradigm has successfully tempered many societies so far, but only insofar was the males in charge give their women the opportunity to have real influence over important matters.  He describes how cultures that provide their women with equal (or, closer to equal) opportunity suffer much less loss of life in violent battles; seemingly because natural male aggression is checked by their presence.  He also speculates that our future may be very different, given the fact that women live longer than men, and that overall our population is getting older as people live much longer; older women will be comprising a significantly higher percentage of the voting population.

His overall discussion of the gender issue impressed me to no end.  It was, I must say, very refreshing to see someone offer sound reasons for feminism to shed its historical aversion to claims of biological gender differences.  We need not fear these claims, we must embrace them and study them in greater detail.  Although these biological claims historically resulted in justification for the further subjugation of women, it doesn't have to be that way, and it certainly doesn't mean the claims have no validity.

It was not until the end of the article, however, that I was able to see where he was going with all of this.  Certainly, we must create systems that rechannel, rather than attempt to squelch, male aggression.  We're in perfect agreement here.   I was fine until I reached the very end, where he slipped in that part about capitalism being this idyllic system.  He suggests that competition within the free market system is the only way we will be able to successfully rechannel male aggression in socially productive ways.

This is where my liberal alarm bell rang out.

I agree to a point about capitalism's capacity to heal the moral animal.  I am no fool.  I know that the stork does not bring markets and jobs in its pouch.   However, Fukuyama has overlooked something very important in his statements (I forgive him; he's a male). Mr. Fukuyama, what gender of our species controls the banks in Japan that are $1 trillion dollars in the hole and are responsible for dragging down the rest of the Asian economies with them?  Does the phrase patriarchal oligarchy mean anything to you?  Also, perhaps you should read the commentary of Pete Engardio in the Sept. 28th 1998 issue of Business Week, p. 38.  In the essay, Mr. Engarido tells us of the work of an unknown economist from Kyoto University named Uoshihara Kunio.  In his study, Kunio details the flaws of several nations, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand detailing the culture of the capitalists from these regions who were obsessed in building their family personal wealth instead of building the infrastructures necessary to build a strong enterprise systems. Mr. Fukuyama, in these crony capitalistic systems, do you wish to hazard a guess as to which gender is in control? These are nothing more than economic AMG's (All Male Groups).  Capitalism can be used toward destructive ends as easily as any other system.  Just because men are handed capitalism, it does not mean they will use it wisely. Men in battle or in economic competition can be equally destructive.

What is needed here is to further classify the variants in capitalism.  We need to decide that overall capitalism can be good, but that in some variations, it is not that great.  In other words, does it actually serve us well to have such an exaggerated from of the system where unbridled competition goes completely unchecked?  In my opinion, this is where our problem lies.  And when you get to the point as in these southeast asian economies where "hyper-capitalism," (let's call it Predatory Capitalism on this end of the spectrum, with Beneficial Capitalism on its opposite, which I would like to see more of), I would argue that it actually hurts us in our attempt (not that this was our intent when we created it) to productively rechannel male aggression.  In many, many ways, our emphasis on competition and deregulation has created such a gross imbalance of justice, distribution and inequality of resources, that we may actually see signs that is beginning to backfire.

Allow me to elaborate.  The entire reason it came to be in the best interests of males to create and honor a structural hierarchy, whether their positions are at top or bottom, is because they all come out ahead better this way than if left to constantly and violently battle it out for resources.  The Top Dog can still enjoy his status while giving up little, and then he need not sacrifice valuable time, energy and health fighting with competitors.  The poor still receive their basic necessities, which is better than losing one's life to a stronger and meaner superior in a bloody battle; they at least get something, not the least of which is the chance to live and strive to be Top Dog themselves some day.  It is basically an arrangement of convenience: Top Dog lets you share the crumbs of his wealth, as long as you are willing to humbly and willingly concede that he is your master.  And, as long as the underlings don't get too unruly, Top Dog lets them go about their business; likewise, as long as Top Dog continues to hold up his end of the bargain and share enough to make it worth peacefully remaining at the bottom, the underlings bow their head and concede.

When comparing this to modern American capitalism, if you look closely enough, you can see why we might start having problems.  It is no secret that, when left to their own devices, the Top Dogs in Predatory Capitalism exploit every chance they get to steal more of the crumbs out from underneath their underlings.  Regulation is the only thing that has kept it at bay for as long as it has.  Have you ever seen that billboard, "Support Unions: from the people that brought you the Weekend"?   How about the  minimum wage?  Have you ever stopped to think how low it would be if left to the preference of the ones paying the wages?  I'll give you a hint -- check out how many corporations are fleeing to southeast asia, where no such burdensome standards are placed upon them.  In America, think about the fact that real wages have not risen in twenty years.  Think about how minimum wage used to put a worker at 130% of the poverty level, while now it puts him at 80%.  Think about how the "family wage" in America does not exist anymore, except for the upper echelons.   Think about the fact that one in four American children lives below the poverty line.  Allow me to spell it out: the Top Dog has gotten too greedy, and in most cases the Top Dog is of the male gender.  He is no longer holding up his end of the bargain, and you see it in the widespread discontent and crime-ridden populations of the lower-classes, which continue to grow.

Meanwhile, the gap in wealth in this country between the top executive and the lowliest worker of a business has grown to a disgusting size; the top-paid employee used to average about 25 times the salary of the lowest-paid employee -- today, he makes 270 times the amount.  In relative terms, the same guy in Japan still only averages 27 times as much.  We talk about crime, violent crime in particular, and we come up with new and more idiotic ways of trying to curtail it; namely, we build more prisons, criminalize lesser and lesser offenses, and collectively treat anyone we may suspect as fitting into a criminal profile with ever more contempt.  There could be peace among the underlings as long as Top Dog holds to his end of the deal, but he is no longer.   To retain the most basic of psychological composure, the underlings have no choice but to step out of their submissive role, and start raising hell.  As Mr. Spriggs has suggested in his Capitalism essay, it is the Resource Differential Tolerance Ratio that is the burr under their saddles.

In particular, the lower class male may not be consciously aware of why he is behaving in this manner; after all, if he pieces together his image of American society from what he sees in the mainstream media, everything is fine and dandy -- unemployment is low, everyone is happy, everyone has a germ-free spotless floor, a Honda Accord, a two-car garage, and a happy marriage.  He probably thinks he is just crazy.  But his deep-down innate masculinity, the part of him that thrived for hundreds of thousands of years before anyone dreamed up this Predatory Capitalism setup, knows when he is being shafted.   Sometimes unfortunately, in his frustrations, the dominate lower-class male strikes out at others in frustration mechanisms in what we call hate-crimes.

And so, I would like to argue that Predatory Capitalism as we know it does not have the capacity to fulfill the peace-keeping role that Fukayama suggests (wishes?) that it does.  It could -- but in the age of the political conservatives it has no chance.   Absolutely none.  Currently, the political right is on an all-out crusade to eliminate all these "burdensome" regulations from interfering with the business community's attempt to make an "honest" living.  Actually, allow me to rephrase the claim: Capitalism has no chance unless we can once again welcome and accept regulation to guide it and prevent it from mutating into its extreme, unregulated form.  Call me a pessimist, but I cannot see the conservatives allowing this to happen in the near future.  Regulation (and more of it than we allow now) is our only chance to make Beneficial Capitalism  the positive and productive cure suggested by Fukuyama.

On another note, I am afraid I must object to this original notion on more grounds than the one on which I elaborated in the preceding paragraphs.  To begin with, I guess it's best to start with a very basic question: why would we only consider the male condition in our exploration for the best way to run a society?  The capitalist system would be a very unlikely choice, had we based our judgement on what would be most natural and favorable for women and children.  As a woman, I wholeheartedly object to the very nature of Predatory Capitalism.  I understand that, by our nature, we females are less likely to engage in bloody battles to resolve conflicts, but that doesn't mean our nature should be ignored in order to "keep the peace" among men.  If I stand before two toddlers, one male and the other female, but I only have one cookie, I am not just going to give it to the one that threatens the peace with the biggest tantrum.  Fukuyama is suggesting that, since capitalism is best for men, that's all we need to know.  To some extent, I'm rather proud of the fact that women can more peacefully endure higher levels of self-sacrifice, but I must insist that we continue to expand our knowledge of the different variables between the genders in our behaviors and that we actually listen to women once in a while.

And, doesn't Fukuyama point out just that?  That is, the more clout a particular culture gives its women, the less loss of life they suffer in bloody, testosterone-based battles?  Let's face it: women tame the savage beast.  And if that's not good enough reason to allow them some say in our political system, I don't know what is.  After all, we do want to consider this a civilization, don't we? 

 

Origin: Sept. 1998

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