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Sex Differences


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “A Vision of Fiametta,” 1878

1,195 words

Translations: French [2]Russian [3]

This essay is from Michael Polignano’s book Taking Our Own Side, available in hardcover, paperback, and PDF download here [4].

October 21, 2003

A few days ago I had a heated discussion about sex differences with a female friend of mine who calls herself a feminist. She agrees with me that races differ on a variety of traits and that genetics play a large role in shaping these differences. Yet she found it impossible to believe that behavioral differences between the sexes might also have a genetic basis rather than a cultural one.

She began by decrying “sexism,” which she sees as ubiquitous in American culture (and even worse in many European cultures.) As evidence, she pointed out that nearly all mainstream advertisements use women, rather than men, for sex-appeal. She finds such advertising “degrading to women” and asked “why don’t they use men just as much?” She expressed the opinion that society teaches men to treat women as sex objects through such advertising, saying “it’s no wonder such men hit their wives when they get married.” She also expressed a belief that societal expectations and traditional gender roles were “sexist” as well, holding women back from achieving their potential. She used the fact that women are underrepresented in certain fields as evidence of gender discrimination and “sexism” at work, calling me “sexist” to think otherwise.

The more she continued, the more bellicose she became. After mentioning domestic abuse, she remarked, “I’d hit back if that ever happened to me.” Then she looked at me in the eye with a fiery glare and said, “You think women can’t fight?” She then expressed a dangerous and destructive feminist sentiment: “When cloning becomes available, women won’t need men. We could let men die off if we wanted. We’ll be able to take care of ourselves.”

It would be otiose to pick apart the logical flaws in her reasoning about sexism, since they essentially mirror the flaws made by those who decry racism in society. Her main premise, namely, that biology has nothing to do with observed differences in gender representation, is untenable given what science knows about sex. Yet her statement about cloning provoked me to consider sex differences further: specifically, their origins, their future, and how society should deal with sex and sex differences.

Evolutionarily speaking, it’s not clear at first why sex arose in the first place. Searching for a mate takes time and energy, and may increase the searcher’s risk of being killed by a predator. Once found, a potential mate may demand additional exertion or investment before agreeing to cooperate. Sex itself may expose the parties to sexually transmitted diseases. And after all that, the mating may prove to be infertile. Why not avoid all the trouble and risk, and simply reproduce asexually instead?

The current prevailing view of why sex came about is called the “Red Queen hypothesis.” It holds that sex arose as a result of a host/parasite “arms race”: hosts (usually larger, more complex organisms) have to continually adapt to prevent parasites (usually smaller, single-celled organisms or viruses) from targeting a specific genotype.

Sex allows for genotypic variation between parent and child, since children are genetically distinct from their parents and from one another (except in the case of identical twins). If we reproduced asexually, and had families comprised of identical individuals (barring chance genetic mutations), then a parasite that could kill one member of the family would kill the others just as rapidly. If humanity were comprised of merely large families comprised of identical individuals, then parasites would have a much easier job.

So why do the sexes differ with regard to size, appearance, and behavior, not only among humans but among every other sexually reproducing organism? Sexual reproduction places very different selection pressures on females versus males. Simply put, eggs (or pregnancies) are more expensive than ejaculates. In more general terms, females typically make a larger parental investment in each offspring than do males. “Parental investment” refers to the time and energy expended in creating and caring for offspring. Parental investment increases the reproductive success of a particular offspring while simultaneously decreasing the parent’s future reproductive successes.

In more than 90% of mammalian species, females provide substantial parental care and males provide none whatsoever. One extreme example is the orangutan. After a brief tryst, including about 15 minutes of copulation, the male and female go their separate ways. If a pregnancy results, the mother will carry the fetus for eight months, give birth, and nurse and protect the baby for about seven or eight years. For the father, on the other hand, the beginning and end of parental investment is a few grams of semen.

Sex differences came about as a result of these differing demands. A female’s potential reproductive success is relatively small, and is limited more by the number of eggs she can make (or pregnancies she can carry) than by the number of males she can convince to mate with her. In contrast, a male’s potential reproductive success is relatively large, and is limited more by the number of females he can convince to mate with him than by the number of ejaculates he can make.

These facts allow predictions about differences in the mating behavior of the two sexes:

Males should be competitive. If the reproductive success of males is limited by access to females, then we expect males will compete among themselves for opportunities to mate.

Females should be choosy. If the reproductive success of females is not limited by opportunities to mate, but any given mating may involve the commitment of the female to a large investment in offspring, females should be selective about with whom they mate.

The competitiveness of males and the choosiness of females have manifested themselves in the physical and behavioral differences between the sexes. That advertisers choose to use women rather than men in sex-appeal advertising is no surprise: women, being choosier than men, aren’t as responsive to pictures of attractive men as men are to pictures of attractive women. Advertisers simply do what sells.

Sex has been around for far, far longer than the 140,000 or so years human races have. That people still argue that behavioral differences between men and women result purely from cultural influences (or that such a belief ever arose in the first place, given the ubiquity of sex and sex differences in the animal kingdom) highlights just how irrational some so-called “progressive intellectuals” can be.

On a closing note, it’s worth noting that the sexes are designed to complement one another, both physically and mentally. Humanity is only half complete with one or the other missing. Thus, it’s nonsense to talk of one sex being superior to another: Each has qualities the other lacks. Discord between the sexes stems from a lack of proper understanding and respect for these differences. Since sex is and will probably always be the simplest, cheapest, and most pleasurable form of reproduction, such discord (seen far more among Whites than any other race, and far more among the more intelligent than the less) can only hurt the future of the race.