Size Does Matter
Here, for those of you paying attention, we will discuss how size and sexual differences between males and females evolved and how, in turn, that has created different roles for each sex. Many cross-cultural studies have noted that the division of labor falls along sexual lines, (The Structures of Society, 1951, and, Social Structure, 1949) You may have noticed that, on average, the human female is slightly smaller than the human male, and that our nearest primate cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos, which both share over 98% of our genetic software, are similarly built in terms of size differentials between the two sexes. But in some of the primates, such as the orangutan and gorilla, the male is larger than the female by an even larger margin. We call these size differences between the two sexes "sexual dimorphism."
As a general rule of thumb, the larger the difference between the two sexes, the less reproductive choice for the female. The opposite is equally applicable: The closer in size that male and female are in their respective species, the more reproductive freedom afforded to the female. This is important because it results in behavioral patterns that affect you and me in all phases of our lives. What is really interesting is that in the majority of personal ads placed by women seeking males, one of the most important requests is that the male be "tall." This is a direct result of our cultural socialization patterns and may, in fact, be an innate biological hangover from the time when taller, larger males were more successful in hunting and food gathering. This behavioral pattern is part of what sometimes has been called "the battle of the sexes." In the final chapter, I will argue that is not really a battle, but an attempt by the female to "correct" the direction of her evolutionary requirements.
Want a Poke?
There are two theories as to the evolution of sexual dimorphism among our primate cousins. One is sexual selection, and the other is ecological selection. Sexual selection is broken down into two parts: Competition among males for access to females, in which the male uses various behavioral maneuvers to mate with the female; and female choice of a male with whom to procreate. The first part is fairly obvious. males physically compete among each other to gain access to the female who is most fertile. In simple terms, it usually means the bigger and stronger male beats the crap out of his opponent if he so much as puts his finger anywhere near the estrous female. Meanwhile (part two) the female positions herself within the general area of the male and "displays" her backside to the male to encourage copulation. Unless the male is completely dead below the waist, he usually responds by mounting the female and performs his mating thrusts. (Remember Monica when she lifted up her skirt and exposed her thong panties to President Clinton? Monica was "displaying" her assets and encouraging sexual contact. (She called it flirting -- and unfortunately for all the country, the president was not dead below the waist -- and the rest, of course, is history).
Ecological selection is based on "energetics." Simply stated, energetics is the ratio of (food) energy needed by the female in relation to her body size. Since it is the female that gives birth, the dietary demands of the child take top priority. A body that must endure the demands of pregnancy and lactation, influences the ratio of gut size and the quality of foods consumed, hence contributing to the females smaller size. (The smaller the female, the higher the ratio). As a general rule, higher quality foods which are lower in fiber content are needed and more easily assimilated by a female's smaller digestive system. This includes low-fiber fruits and, in some cases, small quantities of meat. We are not talking about the modern human "high-fiber" diet, we are discussing primate fiber food; like leaves right off of a branch; scrubs, roots, and grass, etc., Primate Societies, 1987, pp. 150-153.
A second component of energetics is the cooperative reduction in feeding competition between males and females by niche divergence [Ilbid, Smuts]. This in itself gives strength to the argument that the two sexes of our primal ancestors began to depend on each other for survival. The very latest study to buttress this theory of mutual assistance, Harvard's Richard Wrangham and the University of Minnesota's Greg Laden suggest that cooked roots may have helped our early human ancestors toward this mutual dependence. Cooked roots and vegetables helped to create a gap between when food was gathered and when it was eaten. This had two effects: First, it made food easier to digest, and thus easier for the female in terms of energetics and childbirth; and second, it decreased the possibility of any males stealing food from the female, and thus increasing the dependent bond between the male and female. Wrangham is quoted as saying: "There's a very good case here for the origins of the human family." Discover magazine, November 1999, p. 27.
Big Man on Campus
I assume that all of you have heard the joke, "Where does a 800 pound male gorilla sit when he enters a room?" The answer, of course, is "anywhere he wants." And so too does size matter in the primates when it comes to males selecting females when they want sexual gratification, and females selecting males for their resource accumulating abilities. Male gorillas and oranatangs, which out-weigh their female counterparts by two or three times, are the most viscous and simplistic when it comes to their mating strategies -- they take want they want. Orangutans are isolated creatures that live most of the lives in the treetops of Borneo and Sumatra. There are two types of male orangutan, large and small, and the female seems to prefer the larger of the two types. But, "prefer" is a relative description, as all accounts of observations in the wild point to the undeniable fact that male orangutans rape the females in order to breed, and that the female seems to struggle less with the larger male then with the smaller male only indicate overwhelming force is being applied. Demonic Males, 1996. Since the female orangutan also lives a solitary live similar to the male, when a male comes across a female in the forest, he takes what he wants because there is no competition from any other males. For many years the facts behind the matings of orangutans were shrouded behind muted if not bowdlerized descriptions of rough lovemaking, but as observations increased and were verified, rape become the more common and factual description.
Male gorillas, on the other hand, have harems consisting of two or more females that travel with their male protector in his limited sphere. Woe to the subordinate male who trespasses within another male's harem, for a battle is more than likely to ensue for the right to mate with the females. It is the mating behavior of the organgaton and gorilla in particular that have led some male scientists to suggest that rape is a predisposed sexual selection behavior in males, and that the feminist assumption that rape is evolved from the male's innate need for dominance and control over the female is a total myth. The Dark Side of Man,99 & Rape: a natural history, 2000]
Those of you who have studied primates know that female chimpanzees and bonobos of the old world monkeys display a bright pink to red fluid-filled angogential sack on both sides of the vagina that signals peak fecundity. This advertisement of sexual availability creates a high level of sexual excitement amongst the males, which leads to competitive behaviors to seek the copulatory prize. To get a perspective on the type of sexual frenzy we are talking about, we just have to look at recent current events which occurred in the second week of June, 2000, as the Puerto Rican Day celebration that was held in Central Park, New York City, turned very ugly as more than 50 women were groped and stripped naked by roving bands of young males. The incident was aggravated by the police who stood by and did nothing when asked for help by some of the victims.
The Puerto Rican parade had developed a reputation as a great place for young men to come and watch women as they dressed very lightly and would douse themselves with water to remain cool. The weather on this day was very warm, and many of the females were dressed appropriately for the social and cultural norms of the place and time; meaning, shorts and halter tops were plentiful, showing much naked skin. Eye-witness accounts have the riot starting as a sort of mutual teasing by the males and well-wished for attention by the females for displaying their physical features made more focused by tight-clinging, wet clothing; cheers of appreciation can do wonders for a woman's self-esteem. As if encouraged by the positive attention shown by the females, the male groupings became more aggressive as the males thought perhaps that there would be the possibility of sexual fulfillment; it is here that the flow of sexual frenzy within the male groups overcame the normality of restraint that our modern culture expects of our behaviors. Sex is a powerful force; once turned on, it is difficult to turn off. Time magazine, June 26, 2000.
Returning to our primate world, it is during this period of female display that the alpha male chimpanzee attempts to preserve a sexual monopoly while the female actively seeks out other males that may be interested. The Hunting Apes, 1999. It is this "display teasing" by the estrous female in a group setting that creates a frenzy in the lower-ranking males to challenge the authority of the alpha male. (In the case of the Puerto Rican riot, there was no established hierarchy in place for that local environment, but given time, and an established territory defined, I have no doubts that one would have emerged). In Chimpanzees, this constant battle for the top spot lasts as long as the alpha occupies that spot. It usually only lasts for several years due to the mental and physical demands of the hierarchical position. To help preserve his position, the top alpha male must constantly seek the support of others by using what de Waal calls "triadic awareness," Ilib., de Waal, 1982, 89. This reasoning module is similar to the lower-level Resource Calculation module that I mentioned in chapter 2. (If you are interested in American politics, you will note that this is exactly what occurs in that sphere. Political pundits have noted President Clinton's use of "triangulation" -- playing the interests of one third party against another third party in order to solidify one's own position). And, of course, the most interesting aspect of this triadic maneuvering is that it is the female that helps to ensure the alpha male's domination, or his fall. I am not going to suggest that perhaps our primate female cousin also knew "what boys like and what boys want" and used this knowledge extensively as a manipulative tool in achieving her objectives, both sexual and genetically throughout the ages, but something in my gut tells me that she did. It should be noted that female chimpanzees rarely mate when they are not swollen. The Hunting Apes, 1999, p.76]
It should also be noted that none of the other old world species, the gorilla and the orangataung, do not display this red fluid-filled sack. This has led some scientists to believe that the chimpanzee and bonobos just evolved this sexual selection apparatus separately in their own species. Human females today do not have any such mating signaling device, and it has been suggested that this evolved because it raised the males' commitment to the female through laziness or fear to continually compete for sexual access. In fact, in a recent book, Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty, 1999, strongly suggested that females today are "giving away" sexual access much too soon, and whines for the days when a "view of stocking was viewed as something shocking." Her call for the return to the female mystique of high moral behavior (read--not giving away sexual access) strongly confirms my suspicion that females control the mating process more than was suspected, and not the other way around. Today, however, instead of free access, females compete among themselves and battle it out with their physical attributes: Nubile age, clear and tight skin, lean and muscular body, and, of course, most importantly, their cognitive ability. These cognitive abilities of the female, when launched both with verbal and non-verbal messages, have an enormous influence on the male. (By non-verbal messages, I mean the female body moving to the language of love and draining well-needed blood from the male brain into his penis, rendering the male malleable – The part about the blood draining from the brain into the penis is a joke, of course. Or, is it?).
Getting back to the female angogential sac, I agree that the chimpanzee and bonobos could have evolved separate female sexual physiology. But since the chimpanzee and bonobos are our closest primate cousins, and the female of our species does not have this colorful sac that advertises her fecundity like a neon sign at Times Square, I wanted to offer another perspective in the female fluid-filled sac debate: that male scientists have minimized the biological importance of signaling by females that they are ready to receive callers. It is a pillar of male bias that male competitive sexual selection is the dominate, and "normal" means to reproduction. A woman would "be a fool to pass up a great hunk hunter.". But getting back to the anogenital sac and the human reluctance to overcome sexual barriers, as a small child in the 1950s I remember circus acts with male and female chimpanzees running to and froe, tumbling and climbing ropes, all the while hindered by wearing baby diapers. This, of course, was to "protect" our sensitive eyes from nature's truth and to establish the moral codes begun and transmitted by male religious and moral leaders. The practice of concealment-via-diaper can still be seen today in family variety shows, but thankfully, most televised nature shows about chimpanzees today (mostly by Jane Goodall), have ceased the stupid practice. These cultural and moral influences, which are created by humans, and not nature, still place roadblocks on the path to the truth about ourselves. It the concealment social climate, it is not at all hard to understand the reluctance of male scientists to discuss female sexual anatomy.
My logical mind seems to have led me to believe that concealed ovulation in the modern female may have had its origins in the separation of primate and early humans in the great division that I discussed in chapter 2. I hazard to guess that "loser" females who did not display as large or red an anogenetical sac were also shunned and were pushed to the outer edges of the hierarchies, similar to their weak, geekly male counterparts. After all, if you are a healthy alpha male and have your pick of the crop of young nubile females to inseminate, why would you bother to invest your time in a female that does not display properly? Fruit has color to attract low-cognitive beings to eat it. Those animals then traverse the land and deposit the seeds of the fruit on fertile ground via the poop shoot, hence advancing the genetic code of the fruit.
As for the "inferior" females who could not display the brightest or fullest of sacs, were they therefore pushed to a miserable existence at the outer peripheries of the group's hierarchy? Was it there that they met and mated their "loser" male counterparts, and faced the encroaching savanna? Is there any evidence today that could shore up these ancestral exclusionary behaviors? Well, let's turn on the ol' TV. All one has to do today to confirm these behaviors is view the plethora of television shows in America that focus on the geeks, the freaks, the "jock and cheerleader" personalities that abound in high schools. There is a message here about clique formation in high schools that is so prominent that it surely must humble us to see how we missed it. The conspiracy-minded would strike a rich trove in considering how the media have ignored studies that tell us we are an exclusionary species that pushes away people who don't fit cultural standards that mostly benefit dominant groups. And to assuage our guilt for pushing our fellow humans to the outer circles where they have limited resources, we attempt to put the blame on them for their inability to reach success by attacking their IQs. We point to their poverty; to their home life; to anything and anyone except ourselves as reasons for their lack of desire to improve. When we, as a species, publish such books as The Bell Curve,1994, or the Survival of the Prettiest, 1999, to establish legitimacy for considering another race inferior, or when we point out another person's lack of physical perfection, what we do is to give encouragement to such exclusionary behavior as the norm in our evolutionary journey. But isn't that just nature? Aren't we merely reflecting the genetic predisposition for which we humans are prisoners? Yes, but in a world of racial discrimination, female and child abuse, ethnic cleansing, and daily military conflict somewhere on the planet, are we doing the best that we can?
Everyone Looks Good at Closing Time
Was it the desperate pairing of these two "losers," pushed out onto the encroaching savanna to adapt or perish, that forged our ancestral heritage? How could these two, unfit for competition in a slot or place in primate inner circles, survive in an environment that was harsher than the one they left behind? Well, friends, isn't it possible that their higher cognitive ability may have been the very thing that got them through the difficult times? More than that, it has been suggested by scientists that because of harsher conditions, a greater dependency was forged between the two genders on each other's separate but equally important tasks of hunting animals (male) and gathering fruits, nuts, and roots (female). We must note that the female chimpanzee rarely mates when her sac is not red, and the minimizing of our outcast female's fertility sac meant that her male could have easier access, avoiding the competition with other males for her sexual holy grail. The female, on the other hand, not having a neon sign of fertility showing, would have to nurture this new bonding into a greater dependency on the male for him to remain, if not completely faithful, at least be "committed" to her needs much more than in the culture they left behind in the rain forests. She could have done this by reducing her "display teasing" to various males of the group, and allowed one, or very few males exclusive sexual access; a quantum leap in cognitive selection over animal, innate instincts. Neither gender tasks should be minimized or exaggerated. Both sexes needed each other in our long evolutionary voyage and still do today despite our minor "skirmishes."
Now would be the appropriate moment to discuss the physical differences between the penises of our primate cousins and ourselves. Afterall, if I can calmly discuss female sexual anatomy, then it should be no problem for me to discuss male sexual physiology. Wrong. In my blue-collar local environment, the slightest reference to the male penis in conversation, even if done casually, goes against established socialization norms. Any suggestion that one has an "interest" in calmly discussing the male penis runs the risk of being accused of leaning toward "femininity," and thus, being "weak;" a state not welcome in such local environments. This is particularly true, if the individual doing the assessment is "on the bubble," or is being constantly tested for "toughness" within the masculine inner circle. The only thing that I will say about the male penis is that it is two to three times larger than the size of the chimpanzee and bonobo penis, and represents one of great mysteries in physiological evolutionary thought in a science dominated by males.
It is for this exact reason that I leave the speculative theories to my female colleagues on this delicate subject.
Come Together, Right Now
It is at this point that we should begin to discuss the size of hunter-gatherer groups, because it is the overwhelming consensus of today's scientists that our primal ancestors lived in these groups for many thousands of years before the domestication of plants and animals. These group formations are important because from group interactions were born the beginnings of gender roles, complex social relationships, behavioral constructs and combined endeavors. We humans are social creatures, and much of our behavior is linked to the amount of information that can be stored in the brain concerning other humans with whom we associate. It is this complex web of human contact that keeps us dependent on others, gives us the determination to forge ahead in the face of adversity, and encourages us to regulate our behaviors in accordance with the cultural restraints of our local environments.
In the lush rainforests today, chimpanzees and bonobos live in groups of 40 to 100. Numerous studies of modern day hunter-gatherer tribes such as the Sharanahua of the Peruvian Amazon, the !Kung San of the Kalahari desert, or the Hadza of Northern Tanzania have found similar group sizes. But the best correlation of social interaction and group size appears to be the size of the cerebral neurocortex in primates and humans. Robin Dunbar, Professor of Psychology at the University of Liverpool, realized that there was plentiful data available concerning the actual count of group sizes in the primates, but little else. But with just this data in hand, he found it easy to create the statistical proof needed to correlate neurocortex size with social complexity and group size. The neurocortex, again, is the "thinking cap" area of primates and humans where complex ideas, analyses, and language are born. Simply put, Dunbar's findings were that the larger the brain, the larger the group: "There is a real sense in which the social complexity of a group rises exponentially as the physical size of the neocortex increases." Grooming, Gossip and Language, 96, p.63
Dunbar's studies are important because he has continually stumbled upon instances were 150 humans seems to be the magic number as to the maximum workable group size. Dunbar found that in modern migrating nomads 150 is the number of living descendants that a modern hunter-gatherer couple will physically produce over four generations. In other words, the ability to remember and pass personal knowledge of long gone ancestors corresponds roughly to this four generational life span.
Dunbar relates the tale of the Hutterites of Dakota and southern Canada. Living in small communities that average around 100, the Hutterites literally split their communities in half when they reach 150. Experience has shown them that when their communities number over 150, it becomes difficult to control individuals by peer pressure alone. Dunbar also point out that studies by sociologists have confirmed that in groups of 150 or more, hierarchies begin to develop. In such groups, there has to be that alpha male, which in turn creates the need for "law enforcement teams" of beta males to help restore or keep order in the hierarchy so that resources flow in the "proper" direction (that is, to the alphas). In groups smaller than these, individuals depend on their social contacts and manipulative skills to keep the wheels of society running.
In large corporations, Dunbar found numerous examples that the dividing line between a small and large business seems to be at around 150 employees. Businesses that are larger than this begin to run into communications breakdowns and require formal procedures for conducting business transactions.
But one of the most interesting examples of this magical number comes from the Mormons. Dunbar relates how the primatologist John Fleagle was just browsing the Mormon Museum in Salt Lake City when he came across an obscure fact: When Brigham Young was getting ready to lead the Mormons out of Illinois, he worried about how he was going to co-ordinate the 5,000 plus souls during the journey west. Sensing that he would have serious problems communicating instructions and news along the large convoy, he ordered this large moving mass into smaller groups numbering exactly 150. Ilib., p.73.
May I Take Your Order, Please
Now that we have established some basis for the maximum size of our ancestral groups, we need to establish the logic for such a group to remain together. Other then the obvious reasons for larger groups -- greater mate selection, group protection versus single, isolated existence, and simple companionships -- we must assume that there was also some cooperative effort done by the whole group to feed everyone, which would, of course, have lead to further group bonding. And how do I establish that fact? Well, by logic my good people, pure logic. Let's say that you are now in the savanna with a group of your blood-related clanspeople. Now, supposing that it is close to dinnertime (which is when you are hungry). The family unit next to yours gets up and walks out onto the plains, returning a few minutes later with a tasty little morsel of giraffe meat left over from a bout with a predator (we are assuming that the predator won). There they are, munching away in front of you. Close your eyes for a moment and try to visualize how you would feel. Pretty envious right? You know in your primitive mind that the grumbling in your stomach means that you have to ingest food in order to survive. Perhaps you haven't eaten since yesterday, and your kin, twice or three times removed, is chomping away in plain sight. You want some, don't you? Do you feel that your cousin may have forgotten the time you gave him some wildebeest? Do you feel that you deserve, or wish that you had some of that giraffe meat? Do you feel like going over and asking or demanding something to eat?
What happens next is what Hadza researcher Nicholas Blurton-Jones has described as "tolerated theft." Simply put, the gatherer of food is more likely to share it with the non-hunter or gatherer due to persistent begging from the beggar. The thinking that has developed, Blurton-Jones suggests, is that the food is given, not because of altruism, but because it is less effort to give the beggar some food then risk that the begging will escalate into a confrontation. This could lead to not just to the loss of food, but also to endangerment. I argue that from these points of continued friction, and the attempts to abate them, our primal ancestors may have formed hunting parties that returned and shared their prize. This habit may have started modesty, with groups of two or three related males bonding as hunting partners, and grown to include more males as the overall group grew in size and demands.
This may have led to the next level of activity in food acquisition -- the seeking out of medium to large animals by males in hunting parties and the gathering of staples by the females. This would not be a strange effort for our primate ancestors, as anthropologists in the field have witnessed hunting bands of chimpanzees, Hunting Apes, 99, and A View to a death in the Morning, 93) What is unique is the coming together into groups of early humans from different tribes or clans expunged or isolated from larger groups in the rain forests. The difficulty would be in overcoming their natural suspicion of strange primates seemingly unlike themselves. This is significant because that would require overcoming innate tendencies to combat rival or unknown primates. Cognitive free-will and resource bias prevailing over innate physical defenses could have helped to increase the size of the brain along the path advancing to Humankind. Now, this speculation on cognitive cross-clan bonding could be entirely wrong, especially in light of the endless examples of discrimination against "others" we humans display in our modern society; but these were harsh times, and a harsh environment -- desperate cognitive beings do desperate things.
We merely have to look again at our own societies today to see the distrust and animosity shown by people who have had prejudice inculcated by their parents and friends. Evolution is the adaptation to local environments, and that includes parental teachings and peer pressures. But, something deep down in my gut tells me that the circumstances of the environmental change from forest to savanna, plus the cognitive abilities of this new breed of tough survivor, somehow forged a feeling of "we are all in this together, and if we don't cooperative, the cost is death." Humankind stands again on such a brink in the form of global warming; will we form the same conclusion?
Cut Me a Slice of That Rib, Will Ya, Honey?
We do know that gorillas and chimpanzees hunt small animals on a regular basis. They have not been observed doing this, but scientists have examined fecal droppings on a regular basis and have determined that they have ingested meat. Hunting Apes, 99). In the ape world -- in particularly in the gorilla and chimpanzee world -- the males of the species does all the hunting. And let me stress again that a good percentage of scientists agree that the chimpanzee are our closest primal ancestor, sharing 98.6% of our genetic blueprint. There is no getting around the male as hunter and provider of meat from large animals. The museum diarama mentioned earlier, which could have come from the artistic mind of any male paleontologist, I deliberately described as rendered; but it could have easily been constructed in reverse with the female of this twosome doing the meat slicing, and the male waving his arms frantically shooing away the foul vulture.
Feminists have screamed bloody foul on this particular point, as wholly male in its mythological origins as man the beastmaster returning home to the campsite with meat for his adoring females. The feminist are correct, as too much emphasis has been placed in our culture on the warrior-as-savoir-male. The returning males from WWII and the incessant chest-beating of telling and retelling well-deserved victories created the unassailable male who defeated tyranny and upheld truth and honor. It was a tough act to follow culturally, and the female, as always in any war, has paid a heavy price in her evolutionary voyage.
It really is difficult to establish beyond a doubt that males did the primary hunting of meat in our primal ancestry, and hence, fit the mold of warrior-as-savior in our deep history. We don't have enough physical evidence from the early milleniums, and can justify the suggestion only by observing cave drawings that go back as far as 35,000 years before present, and observing closely the behaviors of hunter-gatherer cultures today. There can be no doubts that the male is the dominate gender across all cultures on the planet today. Whether the aggressive behavior is imbedded into the male genome is still debated, but In all the hunter-gatherer tribes mentioned earlier, this is the case. It is the case because, up till now in our evolutionary journey, it really does benefit the children of the female when she picks the male who is the best provider. Men who have the most resources; be it meat in our primal history, or multimillions in the bank today, men with larger resources or the means to get them rank higher and in turn attract higher-ranking females. But what has evolved in the past, may not be the case in the future.Man in the Mist: The Evolutionary Musings of a Blue-Collar Worker©
Copyright, Evolution's Voyage, 1995 - 2009