In the chapter on existentialism, we concentrated on the individual person. We examined the individual as he/she faced the world with its turmoil, pleasures, tragedies and joys. The emphasis was upon the person facing the world alone, and how the person could meet that challenge. Now, it’s time for us to take a look at the other side of the coin --man’s social nature. In doing so, I would like to focus on two aspects of social living. They are: marriage, and living in a society which has a government. For the first part, we’ll take a close look at what it means to be married. Some of the points we may discover may be very interesting to us. It may be that our ordinary notions of marriage need emending. With respect to living in a society which has a government, we’ll examine whether or not our particular government, a representative democracy, is all that it’s cracked up to be.
SECTION ONE: MARRIAGE AS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION.
Go back and reread the selection from Genesis. At a certain place when God is rendering judgment against Adam and Eve, God states more or less directly that Adam shall rule over Eve. We may take it that the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage, from a conservative reading of this text, is that the man shall govern the family, or at least rule over the woman when there are no children involved. But, is it true that, morally speaking, this state of marriage is correct?
There may be reasons to think that something is amiss with a patriarchal society. Consider the following short story.
INSERT: “When It Changed,” by Joanna Russ. From Book #4, The Road to Science Fiction (Mentor Books, 1979) Catalog of Congress Unmgber 78-070642.
There is a fact that is pointed out in this story; women can exist in the world without men. A sperm bank can allow women to continue as a particular gender of the species Homo Sapiens indefinitely. It is not clear that the same option is available even theoretically to man, although new advances in cloning promise that possibility. Does this possibility that women now could survive without men (given a sperm bank) mean that males are evolutionarily inferior to females? It could. A simple test for superiority is survivability or procreation of the species given adverse circumstances. Women can do that now.
The science-fiction story prompts us to take a closer and fresher look at the relationships of men to women.. What is striking about this story about the science-fiction story is the resentment the heroine has with the return of men. As far as she can determine, rather than being intelligent creatures, men are more like animals driven by hormonal influence rather than intelligence. Is she right? Let’s take a look at some arguments used today which affirm that men are driven by hormones which boost their skills in meeting the demands of a complex environment. It follows, then, that females are inferior to men and that they ought to be governed by men. In other words, with respect to the science-fiction story, the conclusion can be reached that, “Thank goodness the men have returned.”
Let’s take a look at the belief that women are naturally inferior to men. And, let’s see if that belief is held by our society in such subtle ways that we may not even recognize that the belief is a working part of our social system.
1. The argument that women are naturally inferior to men. I have already mentioned that some interpretations of religious doctrines tend to reduce the status of women. There are arguments which support the interpretations in the following way. Take the example mentioned in Genesis. The argument is that it is clearly stated in the text that Adam shall rule over Eve. The claim of persons who rely on strict interpretations is that since there is no ambiguity about the meaning of the words, then the thesis holds. Other more liberal readers insist that the Bible taken as a whole should be looked at as a source for an overall thesis about the status of women. So, there is debate over how we should interpret religious texts to obtain theses about what is actually meant by the texts.
But, are there non-religious arguments to which we may turn our attention, ones which will not get bogged down into the problem of what constitutes “reading the texts properly?” An argument that women are naturally inferior to men is given by Stephen Golberg. See, The Inevitability of Patriarchy (William Morrow and Company, 1973). Here’s a brief overview of the argument.
Good detectives rely on hard evidence to explain a situation. A detective will assess the evidence at the crime scene to determine possible causes of the crime. Let us be detectives with respect to the hypothesis that women are inferior to men. What are the facts relating to the hypothesis? Take a look at the world to find hard evidence for the hypothesis. The evidence which we find is overwhelming. In the history of the world, no more than a handful of advanced societies have been truly run by women. Consider our country alone; how many women Presidents or vice-presidents have there been? None. How many top CEOs (Chief Executive Officer) of major corporations have there been and are currently running top Fortune 500 companies? Very, very few. In almost all walks of business and political enterprise, men are dominant. Given these facts, what are we to make of them. Our argument may go something like this. 1. If men are naturally superior to women, then we will find evidence that men are the dominant figures in most social enterprises. 2. We find that men are dominant figures in most social enterprises. Conclusion. Therefore, men are naturally superior to women. Just like a good detective, we have supported our hypothesis with evidence.
Even statistics help with the evidence. Given that there are about the same number of women as men (and have been throughout the history of the world), we would expect, statistically, to find the following percentages among various societies. All things being equal, we would expect to find 33% patriarchies, 33% matriarchies and 33% societies which were more or less evenly balanced. However, the fact of the matter is that the history of society has been the history of an overwhelming percentage of male dominated societies. So, statistically, something is out of balance. There must be a cause for such a statistical aberration.
OK. We have some hard evidence, but we need more. Why is it that men are naturally superior to women?
What factor(s) makes men superior to women? Goldberg says that it is the hormone testosterone. Let us suppose for the moment that women and men are equal in all respects except that men have much higher levels of testosterone in their systems. The net effect of these higher levels is analogous to two identical cars, one of which is tanked up with regular gasoline, the other with super-premium, high-octane fuel. In a road race, the high-octane gas will generate more horsepower and the car with it will come in first. Well, it is the same with men. The testosterone generates more aggressive tendencies which tendencies turn out to be related to success in our dog-eat-dog world. Men, by their biological make-up, are superior to women in that testosterone generates a “success” factor, aggression. They are able in the warlike world of capitalistic business to dominate transactions. Again, the evidence we can use to establish this hypothesis is that there are very few women CEOs in business; they simply do not survive the battles. Historically, women just do not fare well in competition with men in circumstances which require aggressive dispositions. To be sure, there may have been and still are some unfair men and practices which could be said to be the causes of women’s being coerced into subordinate roles. But, we would expect in the overall environment and history of the world that more women would be in positions of power and responsibility than is and has been the case, for it is hard to imagine that almost all circumstances involve unfair practices and unprincipled men.
The argument can be put in brief form. Biological differences make psychological differences. Psychological differences make behavioral differences. Testosterone is more prevalent in men. As a result, the behavior of men is more aggressive. Aggression is one of the key factors to success in the dog-eat-dog world of business and politics. As a rule then, because men have an additional factor which contributes to their behavior, we can expect them to dominate in fields in which that factor plays a critical part. In fact, when we look at those areas, men do dominate.
What then are the roles proper to women, given that men will dominate in business and political environments? There is an old expression that ought implies can. What the expression means is that if a duty is made of someone, it is at least possible for that someone to do the duty. For example, it is a legitimate for me to say of us that we have a duty to care for someone who has been injured in an accident. Legitimate in at least the sense that we can perform the aiding actions. Most of us know how to stop bleeding from a wound. If someone in an auto accident is bleeding and we can stop the bleeding easily and thus save his life, we ought to stop the bleeding. On the other hand, it would not be legitimate for me to say that we have a duty to jump over a three-story building. We simply cannot do such an action. So, if there are proper roles or duties for women in our society, women must be at least able to perform them.
Would it be fair to say of women that they have a duty to succeed in business? Would it be fair of society to encourage women to enter training in the business and political arenas? No. Why? Because our analyses have revealed that women, considered as a general group, will fail in competition with men in those disciplines. If ought implies can, then it would be unfair to women as a group to expect them to enter into competition with men in the business and political arenas. It is immoral to demand of women as a group to compete against men in areas in which we already know men will prevail.
There are areas in which women are said to have superior behaviors. For example, in communication and caring, women seem to fair much better than men. It could be that women, being less aggressive, take the time to communicate rather than fighting. The hypothesis is that women do better in these areas. What evidence may support this hypothesis? Well, take a look at the numbers of women in the fields of teaching and nursing. Those disciplines belong very much to women. Also, there is the historical belief that that women raise children better than men. Courts today usually give the children to the women in cases of divorce, though this practice is on the wane. So, there are worthwhile roles in our society for women to enter; there are roles in which their natural talents will enable them to succeed and thus be happy.
A moral principle which applies at this point of the argument is that society has a duty to make its members happy, or at the least, protect them from harm. Given that principle, we may say that society should promote tasks, roles and occupations for women and men in which they will be successful and thus happy. On the other side of the same coin, women should be encouraged to stay away from roles which will lead them to compete with men, which roles probably will lead to their failure and consequent unhappiness. Accordingly, men should be encouraged to enter into business and political enterprises whereas women should be encouraged to enter into careers in which their natural skills will flourish. Sex roles promoted by society along these guidelines would be an overall good thing; both men and women will receive gentle guidance to enter into areas which will maximize their natural talents. Of course, there will be exceptions to the rule. There could very well be an outstanding female President. And our society should allow for instances of the actualization of individual talent. However, given the statistical average, sex roles will promote more good than harm. People will be better off in being guided towards work at which they succeed than fail. It is the natural place of men to lead in business and politics, while for women, enterprises which actualize communication and caring skills are better.
2. Women are the best homemakers. Given the above arguments, what can be said for the institution of marriage? First of all, it may be well to establish the nature of marriage; just what does it consist in? To do that, we must first come up with a definition of ‘society;’ for a marriage is a type of society.
Let’s define ‘society’ to mean “the coming together of persons to adapt mutually agreed upon means to achieve mutually agreed upon ends.” A society consists of the individuals who make it up and the relationships between (among) those persons. A family consists of at least two members who have deliberated over mutually desired goals and have agreed upon means to achieve those goals. The ends and the means are important to any family. Certainly, the grounds on which the family is formed is important. Deception or coercion at the beginning (or at any point in the marriage life span) will undermine the very foundations of the society. For example, were John to lie to Mary about his health (he actually has a serious disease which could be transmitted to Mary), the likelihood of a good future of the society constituted by that marriage is not good. Or, were Mary to threaten John with loss of his job unless he married her is an example of how coercion can undermine a marriage. The “agreement” of the members of the society should be based on the characteristics of making a voluntary choice with the proper information.
Men and women form societies. They come together to establish mutually desired ends with agreed upon means. At a primary level, the ends are survival and procreation. On a more refined level, persons fall in love and wish to commit their lives to one another. The commitment involves sharing joys, turmoil, pleasure, pains, fortune and famine --the whole ten yards. What is important in a marriage is the realization that the persons involved are different, sometimes radically different, in characteristics. A man may be adept at math skills whereas they women adept at communication skills. Or, the woman may be a first class musician while the man is a computer specialist. Sometimes the characteristics are contrary; the man may be an artist while the woman couldn’t draw stick figures, or, the woman may be a talented poet and the man barely capable of rhyming ‘moon’ with ‘spoon.’ The general point here is that in a marriage persons are different with different capabilities.
The survivability of a marriage looks to depend on how these differences are used to strengthen the marriage and commitment rather than weaken or destroy it. Sex roles play a prominent part in assisting the longevity of marriages by encouraging, in general, that whatever traits may belong to one sex be utilized. If marriages survive through the use of sex roles, then they serve a function in society. Remember, if society has a duty to make its members happy and sex roles are an efficient way to promote that happiness, then it follows that sex roles should be used in society. The primary sex role appropriate for women is to take care of the family through home economics. What this is to say is that women are best at maintaining a home and taking care of children than are men. A woman’s place is in the home taking care of family needs. Women and men will be happier if, in general, this role is carried out by women.
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