The Fundamental Difference Between Men and Women

As a follow-up to my talk at the most recent Ancestral Health Symposium (2019) in San Diego, here is an excerpt from my latest submission to the Journal of Evolution and Health about how we arrived at our current state of gender dynamics from an evolutionary perspective. 

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"A unique facet of human evolution is our having developed such an extensive life stage of childhood dependency. By slowing down maturation, humans are able to achieve more complex brain development than other primates; however, this lengthy dependency results in an enormous economic burden on mothers in terms of the amount of energy, calorically speaking, that those mothers must acquire and spend in the feeding and care of each offspring.

According to Daniel Lieberman in The Story of the Human Body, “It takes a whopping twelve million calories to grow a human into an eighteen-year-old adult." Notably, for the first nine months of gestation and the subsequent period of nursing until weaning, the mother herself is the primary source of nutrition for her infant. This sunk cost, in terms of both time and caloric energy expenditure, then makes it imperative to her reproductive fitness that such investment continues until the child survives to a level of independence. This results in the most fundamental difference between men and women.

For women, the minimum investment in each reproductive opportunity is two to three years and a few hundred thousand calories, all of which would go to waste if a mother could not guarantee her child reliable support for another decade. As a result, women were evolutionarily incentivized toward tribal unity: to generate a robust system of caretakers, maximizing the number of people invested in the wellbeing of every child. This is a highly socialist motivation.

Men, on the other hand, have a minimum investment measured in minutes, rather than years. Their ability to reproduce is limited only by their rate of access to fertile females. Furthermore, they could count on those females’ commitment to feeding any subsequent children with or without male assistance. As a result, men were evolutionarily incentivized to minimize energetic expenditures in offspring; more specifically, to restrict any resources they did provide to aid only their direct offspring. This results in a much more capitalist motivation.

Before agriculture, women addressed this conflict of interest by expanding the use of sexuality in two ways: first, to create a way of rewarding men for providing care and resources by being sexually available even when fertilization was not a possible outcome; and, second, to make it challenging for men to know which children were theirs (through promiscuity, obscured estrus, and constant-but-uncertain signals of fertility) so that men would be unable to dictate which children to feed. As a result, distribution of resources was left up to women’s control.

With a sex drive ramped up by women’s novel utilization of it, a sufficiently lusty and devoted man might still improve his reproductive chances by keeping his chosen woman more infatuated with him than any of her other suitors. However, it was not until agriculture allowed one industrious man to single-handedly provide enough food for a woman and all her children that he had justification to require her sexual monogamy and thus know that all the children he was feeding were his. This profound shift placed resource distribution under men’s control.

Beyond new food sources, agriculture allowed us to build permanent structures which could divide families up by sexual exclusivity, and thus paternity, as well as to house wealth that could be passed down to selected offspring generationally. This drastic evolutionary advantage (in men’s favor) of being able to sequester resources for their direct offspring was so strong that it trumped any other purpose for which we might organize a household or community."

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In other words, the fundamental difference between men and women is that, due to differing evolutionary pressures from the costs of offspring, women are basically socialist in nature, and men are basically capitalist in nature.

In an environment where women work together to control resource distribution (i.e. the feeding of children, and everyone else), men's productive and innovative strengths are prized and employed to the benefit of everyone. In an environment where men control resource distribution, with the power to support only their "own" children, women's cooperation and related strengths are stifled.

Stay tuned for future suggestions I have on how we could use a novel power distribution framework, called Holacracy, to restore a higher order to this system, balancing both our capitalist and socialist strengths in a way that benefits everyone.


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