Sociobiologists and feminists agree that men in patriarchal societies and religions seek to control females. Sociobiologists go a step further and by using Darwin’s theory of sexual selection attempt to explain why males should try to control female sexuality. Sexual selection covers both competition between male and female choice. However, Darwin assumed that choices were made by essentially ”coy” females. Sarah Hrdy argues in ‘Raising Darwin’s consciousness – Female sexuality and the prehominid origins of patriarchy’ that,
“female solicitation of multiple males (either simultaneously or sequentially, depending on the breeding system) characterized prehominid females; this prehominid legacy of cyclical sexual assertiveness, itself possibly a female counter-strategy to male efforts to control the timing of female reproduction, generated further male counter-strategies. This dialectic had important implications for emerging hominid mating systems, human evolution, and the development of patriarchal arrangements in some human societies. For hominid males who will invest in offspring, there would be powerful selection for emotions, behaviors, and customs that ensure them certainty of paternity. The sexual modesty that so struck Darwin can be explained as a recent evolved or learned (perhaps both) adaptation in women to avoid penalties imposed by patrilines on daughters and mates who failed to conform to the patriline’s prevailing norms for their sex. Other supposedly innate universals, such as female preferences for wealthy husbands, are also likely to be facultative accommodations by women to constraints set up when patrilines monopolized resources needed by females to survive and reproduce, and passed on intergenerational control of these resources preferentially to sons.”
Hrdy’s study is both stimulating and extremely valuable. Applied to patriarchal religions it can help to explain the institution of feminism. Feminism is not a natural step in evolution, neither is it a deviation from the ‘natural laws of God.’ Feminism is, in fact, an awakening of the female to realise that patriarchy is not natural and hence could not have been created, implied or advocated by the Creator. It is a regression to the natural origins of the homo-sapiens.
Hrdy originally delivered the chapter as a lecture in the Herbet Spencer Lectures at Oxford University in 1995. In the article, Hrdy argues that selection of a young female for mating is against the natural selection of all primates who almost always choose an adult female for copulation who are experienced and parous hence indicating that they can produce offspring. She asks, “why would male Homo sapiens, virtually unique among primates, be so attracted to neotenous traits?” This unnatural preference, she states, is patriarchal and is derived from purely human institutions whereby men “do not merely mate with virginal and compliant young females, but acquire them as wives, concubines, or slaves whom they essentially ‘own’, and as a consequence … are also obliged to provide for long term.”
Providing for the female
In all other species males and females fend for themselves, indeed in many species it is the female that hunts while bearing offspring, giving birth and lactating. But in human beings the need to control and own the female is so strong in the male that he is willing to take the responsibility to provide for her. It is no wonder then that “patriarchal marriages guaranteed maintenance for discarded or superseded wives, as well as widows.” In this way, alimony does not offer women prestige, honour or freedom but is actually a contributor in their possession by men.
Controlling women’s sexuality
Men control women’s sexuality and make them believe that polygyny is natural while polyandry is unnatural because that is the only way a man “can be absolutely sure that he is the one to have contributed that sperm.” Thus, he may “keep her separate from any other man as in a harem, he may threaten her with violence if she strays, he may devise a mechanical method of preventing intercourse like a chastity belt, he may remove her clitoris to decrease her erotic impulses, or he may convince her that sex is the same thing as love and if she has sexual relations with anyone else, she is violating the sacred ethics of love.”
The argument is that polygyny is not any more natural than polyandry and if we were meant to evolve as monogamous couples then both polyandry and polygyny must go. Hrdy quotes Sherfey (1966) to argue that “women’s inordinate orgasmic capacity did not evolve for monogamous sedentary cultures”; like other primates a human female is designed for multiple partners which she tactfully managed in ancient cultures when patriarchy hadn’t engulfed her freedom.
Human females are also known for not overtly exhibiting ovulation any longer. This is not because we are ‘coy’ as Darwin assumed, but because overt exhibition of ovulation endangers the chances of the male mate to copulate. Thus, human females were commanded by patriarchal males to assume modest clothing so as not to display ‘sexual swellings’, the explicit signs of sexual maturity and ability to produce offspring.
Polyandry to counter infanticide
Socialbiologists have established that female primates cast a ‘wide net’ of possible paternity so as to ensure the safety of their offspring which are often killed by males that are sure they were not the father. Thus, uncertainty about paternity assured ancient polyandrous women (as well as modern Tibetan and Kalahari desert women) that all mates could be possible fathers who all looked after the child even if the biological father died or was captured. Hrdy gives the example of biblical accounts where suckling infants and other children were to be killed outright as highlighting the natural male ability to commit infanticide which is a “protean phenomenon across animals especially humans” to ensure quick resumption of ovulatory cycles for the mother when her child from another mate is removed from her through death. Patriarchy is therefore unnatural to the human species since it restricts women from casting a wide net of possible paternity while allowing men to have multiple sexual partners. Hence if eradication of polyandry is marketed as an evolutionary step, polygyny should also be eliminated from society since it severely restricts the resources available to a human female through sharing it with other unrelated females as is shown by Chisholm and Burbank (1991).
Hrdy states that concealed ovulation, continuous receptivity, face-to-face copulation and female capacity for orgasm are not uniquely human attributes that have evolved, but all this is “much older prehominid heritage that does not assume monogamous mating systems.”
The author also argues that, “relative sexual freedom is permitted women under some circumstances, but the vast majority of human cultures practice a double standard of sexual morality which combined with the human capacity for language and propensity for gossip, subjects any woman who cannot account for her whereabouts to damaging , even lethal, penalties, as well as to internally produced feelings of mortification and shame.”
Related to such intimidation and indoctrination is also the monopolization by patrilines of resources needed to survive and successfully rear offspring concentrating resources in male hands through patriarchal inheritance systems. Such systems biases intergenerational transfers of resources in favour of sons who can “keep hold of cattle or land, versus daughters who are particularly vulnerable from having it taken away or diverted to their husband’s lineage.”
Concealed ovulation, inheritance transfer, and continuation of polygyny are results of modern life but they are patriarchal and not necessarily a natural step in evolution. Patriarchy was not invented only 2,500 years ago but dates much further back into history. In any case, it is arguably a creation of the mind of the alpha human male to ensure that he can own and mate with the women of his choice so that he only provides for the offspring that his sperm has produced.
I thought the article was brilliant. What are your thoughts? … if you are still awake!