Is Patriarchy "Avoidable"?

And if so, How?

Profs. Ridley and Goldberg dispute

Introduction by Robert Sheaffer

On July 1, 1994 the Times Literary Supplement (London) published a review of Steven Goldberg's Why Men Rule by Mark Ridley, Professor of Anthropology and Biology at Emory University, Atlanta, under the heading "Anthropology - Patriarchy is Avoidable - Why men need not rule."

The surprising thing to me was how much Prof. Ridley was willing to grant to Goldberg. It reads almost as if he concedes that Goldberg is correct on each major point, but is wrong in his final conclusion. Ridley even goes so far as to say that Goldberg's argument concerning the role of sex hormones in determining human behavior "is not manifestly absurd"; in the Politically Correct world of academe, this comes dangerously close to the forbidden territory of so-called "biological determinism." Ridley's main argument against Goldberg is to cite the example of phenylketonuria, "an inherited disease of the nervous system: if you inherit a certain genotype, you get the disease. Or at least you did until it was discovered how the relevant genes work.... if you have the genes that 'cause' the disease, and you eat a normal range of food, you get the disease; but if you only eat food with low amounts of phenylalanine, you grow up without the disease. A change in the dietic environment changes the expression of the genes... it was a 'universal' effect, with a 'physiological' cause. But that did not show it was inevitable." But the analogy suggested by Prof. Ridley strikes me as quite inappropriate; one would have to argue that there must be something in the environment that could counteract the genes causing male dominance (which, in this analogy, looks something like a disease). But even if we grant this to be the case, there arises the difficulty that attempting to counteract male dominance, even if it turns out to be possible, would be akin to an absurdly strict diet, from which no deviance was possible: the smallest divergence from the correct path, and male dominance would once again reassert itself. Entropy itself would eventually thwart any widespread effort to suppress the natural expression of the human genome forever; the effort would be like trying to tread water in the middle of the ocean; you can keep it up for a while by working hard enough, but sooner or later you will stop, and nature will take its course. Even if Prof. Ridley is correct about this (no matter how unlikely that may be), it would render male dominance not absolutely inevitable, just inevitable for all practical purposes. The difference to society would not be significant.

In my view Prof. Ridley, having granted the greater part of Prof. Goldberg's argument to be correct, is clutching at straws to avoid being obligated to follow all the way through to Goldberg's conclusions about the 'inevitability of patriarchy'.

Below is Prof. Goldberg's reply to Prof. Ridley.

Response to TLS Review of Why Men Rule

By Steven Goldberg
Chairman, Department of Sociology
City College, City University of New York

In his review of my Why Men Rule, Mark Ridley does quite a bit of granting of my argument before raising an objection.

He acknowledges that I have identified three institutions that are found in every society: Patriarchy (males fill the overwhelming number of hierarchical positions), Male Attainment (whatever non-maternal roles are given highest status are male roles), and Male Dominance (both males and females feel that males dominate in male-female relations).

Professor Ridley even seems to grant that the male-female neuroendocrinological differences I see as determining the limits within which institutions must fall is sufficient to explain the universality of the institutions in every society that has yet existed.

This represents a heavy bit of granting. To grant that the institutions are universal and that they are sufficiently explained by sexual physiological differences is to grant an argument that is as unfashionable as it is correct.

(Professor Ridley does say that "any cross-cultural generalization has to have a physiological cause". This is true only in the trivial sense that any behavior or institution, whether universal or found in but one society, requires a physiological capacity; but a universal can owe its existence to, for example, an inherent requirement of society for which there is no physiological propensity of the type I discuss. Indeed, the crime found in every society requires institutions of social control that are necessitated by the absence of a physiological-rooted abhorrence of committing a crime.)

After granting all this Professor Ridley takes exception to my prediction that the institutions will be universal for as long as males and females are neuroendocrinologically constituted as they are now. He argues that I must demonstrate that the neuroendocrinological renders the institutional inevitable not merely in all of the varied physical and social environments represented by all of the varied societies of the world (from the Pygmy, to the Jivaro, to the Japanese, to the English), but that I must demonstrate that this must be the case for every possible social and environmental situation.

Let us ignore the unlikelihood that any society in the imaginable future will differ from ours as much as do any of a host of primitive societies do now. Let us ignore the fact that a modern society lacking the hierarchy that elicits hierarchical behavior more easily from the male is virtually a contradiction in terms.

The fatal flaw in Professor Ridley's criticism is his failure to see the importance of the fact that social variables are not independent variables that can, at least in principle, eliminate the effects of the physiological differentiation; the social variables, (e.g., expectations, norms, values) are dependent variables that are given their direction and limits by a population's observation of the differences of male and female behavior that are rooted in the physiological differences. (Professor Ridley briefly mentions the issue of dependent vs. independent variable, but does not see the crucial importance of the point.)

Thus, Professor Ridley invokes the example of phenylketonuria, a genetic disease whose manifestation is prevented by an appropriate diet. The problem with this analogy is that diet is independent of the genetic reality. There is no gene preventing an individual from eating a diet that will prevent the phenylketonuria. No one is "motivated" to favor phenylketonuria. Male dominance behavior and female nurturant behavior, on the other hand, are manifestations of physiological differences that set limits of possibility by engendering different male and female hierarchies of "motivation". Males tend to dominate (in the sense implied by the universal institutions) precisely because their physiology makes it more important to them to do so. They are more strongly "motivated" to learn what is necessary and to do what is necessary (e.g., give up love, family, relaxation, etc.) to attain dominance than are females (statistically-speaking, as always).

The members of every society observe this and they can no more have expectations of an equal female "aggression" or competitiveness than could they have expectations of an equal female height. Societies' institutions conform to this observation. These institutions see males as "more aggressive" because males are more aggressive. Society determines what happens within the limits set by physiology, but it has no choice about whether the limits will be there (i.e., one society may treat women as they are treated in America and another as they are treated in Saudi Arabia, but no society can fail to manifest the institutions mentioned above.)

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