It’s a man’s world out there. Most males and females have believed this although some have resisted, for thousands of years. Are men innately more aggressive, more promiscuous, and stronger? From Aristotle to Freud, the common myth of gender roles has been that males are more refined and evolved than their female counterparts. The belief that females are good only for birth, and that men must do the rest of the work has been prevalent in many cultures over the centuries.
Many sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists tell us that females must accept the fact that the reason why their spouse has slept with another woman is because that is an instinct of men which insures the propagation of their genes. The conclusion that today’s women can become anything they put their minds to do has been only experienced after stifling their female nature. But, in recent years, a new attitude based on preliminary research squashes these ideas. It says that women are just as promiscuous, dominant, and important as men.
And sure, their bodies may be structurally different from men, but they can be just as strong. Not surprisingly, this new research has been done primarily by women. The first area in the role of the female is the idea that men have stronger, bigger bodies than women. The latter may be true, on average they are 10% taller, 20% heavier, and 30% stronger in the upper body region. But, women are more resistant to fatigue, which is proven in marathon running times. Since 1964, they have dropped 32% compared with only 4. 2% for men.
If this continues, the marathon time for women could surpass the men in the next century (Enrenreich 1999). In a 1995 U. S. Army test, 41 out of shape women after six months of physical training achieved the fitness level of male Army recruits (Hales 1999). One can look at the feats of women athletes to realize that females have as much potential as males to be physically strong and to excel in sports. In terms of intelligence, boys are less likely than girls to get into college and have more difficulty in high school (Knickerbocker 1999).
As Hales says, “Women are not the second sex, but a separate sex, female to the bone and to the very cells that make up those bones…. In affirming our femaleness, we are not diminishing or discrediting our mental ability or essential equality. Rather, we are recognizing a fundamental source of strength and sustenance. ” (110) Many feminist scholars discredit past scientific research because they feel that the methods and conclusions reflect gender bias. Some even go as far as to compare this to the “scientific” theories of the innate inferiority of African Americans and Jews compared with the more highly evolved WASPS.
But, the only cure to bad science is good science. The story of human evolution has been examined by new female researchers and a number of concerns have been established. It seems obvious to point to males as the ones who, in prehistoric days, hunted the dangerous beasts and heroically brought food home to the family. But wouldn’t it be unwise for Paleolithic men to go hunting, leaving the supposedly weak women and children to fend for themselves? In what other carnivorous species is only one sex an actual predator?
In the mid-’70s, anthropologists Adrienne Zihlman and Nancy Tanner pointed out that 70% of the hunting peoples’ calories came from plants gathered patiently by women, rather than meat hunted by heroic men. Much of the hunting done was not by men with spears; it was by “communal hunting” done by everyone where they drove animals off a cliff to their death (Enrenreich 1999). One of the most widely accepted myths of gender roles is the idea that men are intrinsically more aggressive than women. It seems obvious in the United States, men brawl and fist fight more, and vastly outnumber women in prisons.
Two males caused the recent Columbine High School shootings. But studies of toddlers show that both sexes are equally aggressive until about age three, when boys are handed water guns and G. I. Joes and girls are handed Barbies. In cultures where girls and boys were offered the same toys, girls often grew up to be professional warriors (Enrenreich 1999). Jeannine Davis-Kimball of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, reports that some graves she excavated containing females adorned with daggers, arrowheads, and swords.
One had an arrow lodged in her body cavity, suggesting that she was killed in battle. (Enrenreich 1999) Any high school girl can tell you that while boys focus on physical aggression, the teasing and insults done by girls hurt just as much. Another myth is that it is the male’s genetic self-interest to impregnate as many females as possible. But we have to remember that basing that assumption on our world today is like studying caged rabbits and concluding that they can’t jump. This is yet another stereotype induced by conditioning.
Many cultures have taken drastic and sadistic measures to stop women who “stray”. In parts of the Middle East and Latin America, “honor killings” are common. Some African countries practice female genital mutilation every day. If women are the more monogamous sex, why the widespread efforts to discourage promiscuity? There also may be evolutionary advantages to this. A study of chimp behavior showed that despite bullying by males, the females were “sneaking off” so often that half their offspring turned out to be fathered by outsiders.
Bonobo monkeys have sex with anyone, male or female, as readily as humans shake hands. (Enrenreich 1999) There are still numerous and staggering obstacles in the way of reaching a gender equal society. We still object to straightforward talk of human biology, especially the biology of women. The United States may be one of the only countries left still to surmount the obstacle of considering that sort of language to be public. The French talk openly about menstruation, when we still sometimes ban Judy Blume’s Are You There God?
It’s Me, Margaret. Communities in the Amazon talk each morning about the activities of the past night which may include talk about how members slept, the dreams experienced and even sex. In our culture, police officers still sometimes confuse breast feeding with indecent exposure. And teenage girls still have to deal with body image problems and impossible notions of beauty. But thanks to this new feminist research, women are understood better and we are on our way toward abolishing any gender stereotypes.