The selfish gene-dering

Sep 24

I always find “the gender divide” fascinating; the question of how much of male and female difference is socially constructed and how much can be put down to physical difference. Being the parent of boy/girl twins has probably heightened my interest.gender

My wife has always contended that we should just think of ourselves as “people” first and foremost, and I agree… and we’ve raised a son who still loves his pink stuff and a daughter who’s up for anything (whether her brother is or not). But, ultimately, they’re aware of these facts as running against society’s grain, and they’ve had some of their more ‘equal’ preferences worn down over the years too. And when my wife argues with me (a rare thing, of course), I do find that I have to shift perspectives – or perhaps just be prepared to get out of my own head – to have a better understanding of where she’s coming from. So while I sometimes find it an unlikely thing to believe that our differences are entirely socially constructed, I also recognise that, then again, that’s exactly the power of socially constructed difference.

A thought occurred to me last week: what if we’re evolutionarily geared to seek out a mate who is psychologically fundamentally different to us in some way, as a way of ensuring genetic diversity (i.e. along the same lines as how we find ‘mixed-race’ individuals attractive). In some senses that would seem to run counter to the aim of species longevity, since domestic bliss would surely be more likely to be conducive to a safe upbringing for offspring. But of course the idea of, and opportunity for, domestic bliss is a very new one in evolutionary terms (as indeed is monogamy in anthropological terms – itself by no means “normal” if you consider other cultures and the history of the Abramic religion upon which our own culture was founded), so by seeking a psychologically polarising mate, we may be pursuing/creating a more divergent gene pool.

Under this scenario, over time, as males came to identify themselves collectively as males ‘dealing with’ their female partners, and vice-versa, you could end up with cohorts of people who defined themselves by what was between their legs – the most obvious difference – as an explanation for the “otherworldly” differences they encountered in dealing with their partners. But if male and female cohorts were both made up of people who, in the majority, sought out partners who were psychologically very different from them, that could be the difference that actually united them, rather than what was between their legs.

It’d be a recipe for marital disharmony – which, judging by the divorce rate is certainly the norm – like the selfish gene being so selfish that it doesn’t even consider its own “carrier’s” happiness. In that sense the facts seem to support the hypothesis; our lives would be a bit like one of those card tricks where the cards are dealt out in a mismatched fashion – jacks and queens and kings and aces all grouped together – and then after reshuffling, magically became paired up in their more obvious groupings – aces with aces, jacks with jacks and so on. And maybe that’s what ‘affairs’ are – people who have pretty much performed their biological ‘duty’ of perpetuating the species with psychologically different partners and are now looking for personal fulfillment, which could well mean finding someone who doesn’t seem so “alien”; the discovery that, actually, there are also men from Venus and women from Mars.

It’s an idea that has some explanatory power. In a reductionist kind of way. And not universally explanatory, by any means, but I could certainly spin it as though it does and make a killing by writing self-help books by grinding that axe as a thinly veiled ideology that would appeal to masses of people. Who wants to crowd-fund me?