Sex and Society – part 2

By October 21, 2012History, Other, Society

If we start from the position that human beings ought to be treated as equals, and that men and women are likewise best considered as equals, then it is plain that, since women have to bear the children and care for them at least in their earliest years, they should decide whether or not to have children, and which man would make the best father. There is no doubt that this is a major change in human relations, but to me it seems both a good change and an inevitable one. The contrasting notion, that women are somehow inferior to men, that they should obey their husbands, and that single women should cover themselves up for if they do not do so they are responsible for a rape if it were to occur, seems to me fundamentally wrong-headed. A young woman who dresses to draw attention to her beauty should be seen as self-confident, as many women now are. She may be interested in inviting some attention on the part of a particular man, or even of men, but not that she is sexually available to anyone, let alone that she is seeking rape. To assume the latter is simply ignorant as well as arrogant.

It seems to me that in the business of shaping ourselves sex plays a most important part. For most men it is an ever-present theme in the day, as women pass by and are inspected for their beauty and desirability. For women, the ‘biological clock’ adds a dimension that men hardly appreciate, and women find the other sex more or less interesting most of the time. What occurs in the head is one thing, and no one need know about it other than ourselves. Behaviour is something else again, and here the Golden Rule applies perfectly, if men (particularly) are prepared to put the time and energy in to understand the differences between themselves and women. For me, being ‘civilised’ implies my preparedness to understand my own hard-wiring and to always be in control of it. For younger generations than my own that process has become easier, partly because women are much more confident, partly because a lot of old taboos have been dropped (we can now talk about politics, religion and sex with one another), and partly because so many more people have been well-educated and can deal with difficult issues. I hope that process continues.

Hard-wiring is important in our make-up in other ways, too, for human beings have been evolving for several million years. We carry with us genetic inheritances of all kinds, which have been instrumental in allowing us to evolve at all. Men’s relatively greater strength, speed over the ground, sense of direction and capacity to focus all available energies on one task were of great moment in hunting game and in defence. Women’s capacity to do many things at much the same time probably comes from the long period of living in caves or flimsy shelters, caring for infants and controlling older children, gathering and preparing food, managing domestic animals, keeping peace within the tribe, and warding off marauding creatures of all kinds. Some of our inherited attributes may not have much contemporary utility, although women’s ‘multi-tasking’ skills have given them an increasingly powerful role in today’s organisational life. But the time we human beings have spent in organised society is minuscule — only 10,000 years in several million — which emphasises even more how important it is to ensure that our social customs take account of our genetically acquired attributes, and to start with strong and positive values about equality and responsibility. If we are not careful, we will discover that the genetically acquired attributes are offered as though they were an important defence, as they have been, for example, in some rape cases.

Hard-wiring is obvious, too, when we become parents. During the 1960s,when my generation was making lots of babies, a new book about bringing up babies came to be widely known. It was by Dr Benjamin Spock, an American. His Baby and Child Care, which sold 50 million copies, was encouraging and generally permissive, and he had a great influence, especially in convincing parents that they, not doctors, were the true authorities on their children. Before long he was joined by new feminist writers, who said that we should stop training our babies to be ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. Rather, we should let the girls have trucks and hammers, and let the boys have dolls and furry creatures. This would open their minds to other possibilities, and prevent their being ‘typed’ in the traditional way. We parents followed that advice too. But we learned before long that if most little boys didn’t have guns or swords they would construct them out of sticks, and that girls were not especially interested in trucks or guns but liked to ‘mother’ dolls and furry animals, and would construct them out of other objects, or invent them, if they were not available. Hard-wiring seemed to be in evidence.

A working lifetime in various forms of administration has convinced me that men are ‘hard-wired’ to be competitive, to respond quickly to combat-like activities such as war, organised team-sport and driving in traffic, in a way that women in general do not. The ruling metaphor through life, for men, seems to be ‘the game’. For their part, women seem interested in activities that relate people to one another, to search for solutions to problems that are generally harmonious, and to be more interested in ‘caring’ for others. On the whole, men seem relatively uninterested in these pursuits. In contrast to ‘the game’, I think the ruling metaphor through life for women might be called ‘the relationship’. In both cases, I think we are seeing hard-wiring at work. Of course, there are exceptions, and men can learn about caring just as women can learn about game play. There are in any case men who care, and women who think that winning in life, as in sport, is everything. If these metaphors are more or less correct, then it will be plain that the ruling culture in Australian society is heavily male. These metaphors are important because they underpin our individual and social life. For that reason, we need to understand them, and understand where each of us fits, in the dispositions that the metaphors describe.

In my view, contemporary Australian society over-emphasises our competitive side at the expense of our caring side. The outcomes have been positive as well as negative: that emphasis has helped us internationally in sport and in creativity. Our sporting teams, actors, orchestras, painters and novelists are conspicuous in their worlds, and that brings some satisfaction. But let us notice that to concentrate on winners is to categorise most of us as ‘losers’, unless we are careful. Let us remember that our prisons and our social welfare system cater for the real losers, and that we spend an extraordinary amount of money that way. Any better Australia, it seems to me, will have learned how to go on being a successful country but one that allows more people to enjoy success. In that process we will have brought out more of our caring side, and civilised our competitive streak.

Speed the day! And that’s enough about sex for moment.

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