Are Political/Social Structures “Sexist”?

One of the commenters on this blog actually raised this question, if not quite so bluntly, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, although there’s far more to the issue than mere labeling.

But I’ll start with politics and the question of why there are so few women in the U.S. Congress.  As I’ve noted in several earlier blogs, men, as do virtually all male primates, are more inclined and, in general, more interested and more skilled in political networking.  I suspect this has to do with genetics and natural selection, in that men operate in a constantly changing socio-political structure for single-minded goals, usually power and sex.  And if you don’t think political power isn’t related to sex for men, you have no idea of how politics operates.  Henry Kissinger once observed that power was the greatest aphrodisiac of all, and the exploits of more than a few U.S. Presidents tend to confirm that.  The American two-party system, in turn, is geared to simplify both networking and power-seeking; that wasn’t its original design or purpose, but its evolution from that design which tended to reflect early American society.

Women, on the other hand, tend to operate on two entirely different net-working styles, one a shallow communications network predominantly with other women and the other a far smaller and deeper network, primarily with women who are relatives and close friends.  Neither networking “style” is suited to the changing alliances and power plays of the kind of networking politics employed and enjoyed by the majority of men.  Women, once they’re mature, also tend to have a longer focus, most likely in part because child-rearing has historically and genetically been their role for almost all of human history, and politics, particularly at present, is incompatible with a longer focus.  It’s all about immediate gain, which is representative of male sexuality as well – get as many women as possible as much and as quickly as possible.

Female-oriented institutions, such as the nuclear family [and there is more than one variety of nuclear family], are “designed” for longer term stability, which is necessary if one wants children to survive, especially under optimal conditions.

Now… I’m not preaching here, or advocating, merely expanding the issue and question, and asking if there is a democratic/representative political structure that would be less structurally biased toward either gender.  I’m certainly not the first to make such a suggestion or observation.  Both Ursula K. LeGuin, in The Left Hand of Darkness, and Sherri Tepper, in a number of her books, have made similar observations, both directly and indirectly.  I will say that, outside of some feminist rhetoric, I haven’t seen anything that approaches a scholarly analysis of the issue [not that such may not exist, but if it does, I doubt if it’s been widely circulated].

Any thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Are Political/Social Structures “Sexist”?”

  1. Wayne Kernochan says:

    I’m not sure this answers your question, but Cecelia Holland in Pillars of the Sky posits an early British somewhat equal but perhaps more female-run gatherer/farmer society that switches to male-run due to a male-driven new religion (the building of Stonehenge) and contacts with the Phoenicians. Also, I think a recent historical/military fiction author, best known for his retelling of Thermopylae, goes from there to a book re-imagining the demise of the Amazons and the founding of Athens, with due attention to how Amazon society might have worked. I have just finished a summary of research into pre-Columbus North America, Brian Fagan’s The First North Americans, which suggests at one point that in some areas, transition from male-dominated hunting to traditionally female-dominated gathering and farming did equalize matters somewhat, but was met with religious ritual that supposedly justified a continued political dominance of men.

    Finally, I am not sure that we should assume that, in politics as elsewhere, roles in social structures achieved by “social evolution” still demand that men do one thing and women do another. The two key reasons I say this are, (1) the shift of the world away from a farming dominated economy that required most of the time of most females (and males) [I understand there are estimates that it took 9 farmers or more to provide a surplus for “luxury” for the other 1, before the Industrial Revolution, and that 90% of the US were farmers before 1870 or so], and (2) females now have (at least to a far greater extent) control over reproduction.

    Finally, I would suggest that it will be difficult to reduce bias without altering the economic power balance at the same time — which I see as to some extent happening (see the paragraph above). The present gap in voting patterns between men and women would probably widen as a result, and any tendency of women to view female politicians as competitors would decrease, increasing the number of women in Congress and the state legislatures. The final result might be what seems to be happening on the Internet: two overlapping but substantially separate gender sets of networks, possibly increasing the effectiveness of the government because of the need for consensus between the two to get things done.

    Still, I do think it would be fun to imagine what government would be like if instead of Senate and House, we had a Men’s and a Women’s chamber 🙂

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t know of any, but if I’d have to look I would start by reading up on Dutch and Scandinavian history. Democracy seems to be a mainly European idea (US/Canada/Australia etc count as a European civilisation). If you include societies in which decisions were made by consensus there are many indigenous societies to consider.

  3. hob says:

    What makes a tribe/family/nation? Because essentially what we are discussing is the high probability of it being a Human Male biological personification.

    Viewed in this light, asking for a better way in which a tribe/family/nation is organized in context of two genders becomes problematic.

    If cooperation between males is genetic, and cooperation equals society, the question becomes what Female biological traits are being suppressed due to the existence of society? What are the pros and cons of those traits? What are the health implications for humans in artificially expanding male traits over female ones?

    My personal view is that female biological traits might be better suited for tool making. This hypothesis might sound silly at first but consider that without the existence of tribes/families/societies females would have to not only compete with larger males for food but also against rival females for suitable mates.

    It might mean that hunter gatherer systems echo/reflect male and female biological drives, with the female being the hunter of the species and the male being a home builder/gatherer. If we superimpose this onto todays political systems, one could say that a fairer political system would be one in which personal duels to the death were permitted.

    All this is speculation until detailed research has been conducted.

  4. Bob Howard says:

    Sociobiology is currently somewhat out of favor, but I find much of its underlying premise compelling–a great deal of our social behavior is driven by fundamental biological imperatives. The human forebrain, powerful as it may be for us as an advanced species, is nonetheless perched atop the more “primative” structures that continue to influence our behavior in ways both subtle and obvious, and both act together in a concert whose score is written by millions of years of evolution.

    The most obvious aspect regarding gender roles in society is the apparent fact that the male-dominant sociopolitical system seems to have been replicated, in various permutations, across human history and in every culture. There are animal social structures that demonstrate some variability from this model–compare chimp and bonobo behavior. Bonobo tribes are dominated by non-pair-bonded females in a very non-violent structure that is reenforced by frequent sex between members, including simulated sex among female members. (Lots of good articles out there on how the two chimp groups evolved…interesting that similar circumstances did not differentiate among human groups.)

    No big point to make there for human society, but does seem to say other patterns are possible…I just don’t know of any in history. I kind of like Wayne’s idea, though, and it would be really interesting to see how a male House and female Senate might operate!

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