Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Redundant Male

from the diary: “Saturday 5/3/86

“Reading The Redundant Male. ‘Is sex irrelevant in the modern world?’ asked the subtitle. Halway through the book the answer seems to be, ‘Yes.’”

Before moving on to humans authors Jeremy Cherfas and John Gribbin review reproductive strategies among other animals. Russell Bell summarizes thus, “In some genera asexual species dominate and, in many environments, have displaced sexual species entirely. They find the illustrative examples such as the Jacana, a tropical American bird whose females mate with multiple males, the males incubating the eggs (the males build nests to encourage a female to give them an egg.); hermaphroditic snails and fish (they switch between sex as their relative population warrants, or do both at once.); an insect like the Ascaris Lumbricoides, a parasitic worm whose male lives only in the cloaca of the female; the stickleback, a fish whose male makes the nest and chases the female away after she lays her eggs and raises the fry alone; crocodiles and turtles whose eggs develop into males or females depending upon their temperature (but with an opposite relationship between the two.)” I recommend another review of varieties of reproductive strategy that appears in Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, pub’d in 2004.

Then they ask, with the advent of effective birth control (& female autonomy) what is the advantage of having men? Men don’t help much with rearing the kids. Women could make the gecko’s choice, just make more of themselves. What with all the wars, graffiti, and missing the bowl, aren’t men just not worth the trouble?

Lionel Tiger in his review in the New York Times asks, “Does the apparent shift in the sexual balance of control condemn the male sex to a kind of shiftless and baffled exclusion from committed participation in the central biosocial process? To paraphrase Marx, have men become alienated from the means of reproduction? In strict behavioral terms, the authors' answer is yes. Given the broad evolutionary canvas on which they draw their picture of contemporary sexuality and kinship, the threatened self-sufficiency of females for reproductive purposes might be expected to drive men wild.” Poor things.

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