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January 10, 2005

Man & woman

Will Wilkinson on male & female, and a follow up, and Matt Yglesias' response (sort of).

I've wasted enough time on this (a few semi-grammatical comments over at Will's blog), it seems that these arguments when involving people with college educations devolve into working-back-to-first-principles and conscious or unconscious strawmen on both sides (because so many assumptions are left implicit and unelaborated). It seems clear that some signals of masculinity are contingent upon fashion. For example, during the Roman Empire, the preference for facial hair seemed to track the preference of particular emperors, that is, the tendency toward clean-shavenness of the early Empire gave way to beards in imitation of philo-Hellene Hadrian, while in the late 3rd century beards disappeared again, so much so that Julian the Apostate was mocked for his facial hair in the 4th century (again, in imitation of Greek philosophers). On the other hand, there are some male tendencies that seem invariant culture to culture. To be trivial, men seem to be more physically aggressive and less verbal. Additionally, I know of no culture where men and women are on average the same size, unlike say among gibbons where there is size parity, or among most whales, where females are larger. The size difference suggests some obvious implications when viewed through the lens of sexual selection.

Science does not always conform to our intuitions or our ideologies. The intersection between human sociology, psychology and biology is difficult to encapsulate in a few setences. Perhaps this is one reason why rejecting or muddling the salience of the above intersection is the preference of some.

Update below:

In Will's follow up post one commenter brings up what I call the men in pink point. That is, x was once considered masculine and !x was once considered feminine, but today the situation is reversed, ergo, masculine and feminine really don't mean anything.

The problem I have is that the data points to me all seem rather superficial and faddish, for example, the way men or women wore their hair, or the color associated with each gender in a culture. To me, it is like saying that there is no human universal social reaction to death because in Asia white is the color associated with mourning while in the West the color is black. My understanding is that the modern subdued gray/black formal uniform of men is derived from the defeat of the Cavalier cultural style by the Puritan cultural style. This is a historical outcome, and I don't see it as inevitable, and there are still cultures where males do all the "display."

The fact that I think is salient is one should reflect on whether during the 17th & 18th centuries, during the peak of Cavalier and Puritan cultural rivalry, did the relationship between males & females reflect the stylistic dichotomy??? I don't think so, by feminist lights I suspect both cultures would be judged "patriarchal."

It is true that there are great variances in the way males and females manifest their differences. In some West African cultures males are far less the typical "breadwinner" than is the case in the Middle East. Yet despite the fact that women have more public roles in West African cultures than in the Middle East, the vast majority of political-military leaders in both cultural traditions remained male. In both cultures I suspect women would put a priority on their role as mothers and evince very similar emotional attitudes toward threats to their children. There are basic differences undernearth the variation, contingent upon our evolutionary history in the EEA.

Posted by razib at 04:54 PM