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(The image of the girl with her vulva sewn shut has been playing on my mind, and this entry is just the result of one of my mental meanderings on the matter.)

From a sociobiological viewpoint, many of the chief customs associated with patriarchal societal patterns are underpinned by what Richard Dawkins termed "the selfish gene".

Primarily, these customs include patrilineal inheritance*, sanctified marriage, and taboos against female adultery, and, primarily, they are usually explained as arising from a male drive to insure the uninsurable. The uninsurable, in this case, is the traceable heredity of children; a factor which women have had very little reason to concern themselves with, for obvious reasons - when you are the individual who concieves and gives birth, you can be certain that your genes have been passed on.

Natural traceability of bloodlines, however, is not a gift of the males of the species. As the argument goes, until the very recent introduction of genetic identification technologies, a particularly paranoid male could never be certain that any given infant was definitely "his", in the sense of possessing no less than half his genetic chromosomes. Patriarchical customs, then, are explained as attempts by male elites to impose social norms & taboos that limit female sexual & reproductive freedom in the goal of better insuring their ability to control the lines of parentage.**

The results of this sort of institutionalized paranoia are thus many and varied. On the one hand, there is the social pressure on girls to abstain from sexual activity before marriage. On the other, there is female "circumcision" in its various historical forms, which has ranged from the applications of acids to the clitoris in pre-modern Europe, to its surgical & quasi-surgical removal in various areas on the African continent, and in the Middle-East in the 21st century. The general goal in all cases has been the same: to remove the possibility of girls experiencing sexual pleasure when they reach maturity, thereby reducing the incentive for sexual activity that has not been authorized by the community.

In contemporary times, however, it is interesting to note that the so called "paternity question" is no longer of issue, at least in the developed world, where access to paternity tests is a simple matter. The question then becomes, if paternity is no longer an issue, where does that leave patriarchy, and patriarchial customs?

The answer suggested by the sociobiological argument is that patriarchial social customs will neccessarily break-down in the face of irrelevancy. If every male is equally capable of identifying "his" children, the logic goes, there is no strong incentive (from a male standpoint) to curb/control female sexual activity. From a gene's standpoint, at least, there is no longer any "danger" of its vehicle - the human male - potentially wasting energy raising and protecting offspring that are not his own. If such were the case, it would lead to a disincentive to place energy in maintaining social structures meant to insure a line of paternity that no longer needs protecting. The longterm results would be a decline in socially sanctified marriage rates, increased divorce rates, lower systematic inforcement of taboos against female sexual activity, and a general increase in non-marital coitus.

This is one viewpoint. But is it useful information in considering the battles for women's freedoms & security in the 21st century?

* It should be noted that patrilineal inheritance can just as easily be argued as a caustive factor in the arisal of patriarcial structures.

** Note that feminist & memeticist viewpoints on this issue vary from the sociobiological one, though to differing degrees that depend on the author, and their contemporary era. Early liberal feminists, and late-20th century radical feminists have often argued the source of patriarchy is male ego, and a product of social conditioning. A memetic viewpoint places shared emphasis on genetic and constructivist sources.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 28th, 2005 09:53 pm (UTC)
Colin, you should consider a career in writing.

Are any of the other students you study with this eloquent, or are you the exception to the rule?

I've had the misfortune of reading undergrad essays before, and they were horrible. I have trouble believing that anything remotely intelligent can thrive in an academic environment.

Keep it up, and I might be forced to admit that Universities aren't intellectually bankrupt through and through ;)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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