12 June 2007

Sexual Dimorphism, and Caveman Love

Sexual Dimorphism, and Caveman Love

Its the scientific term for species where the genders have non-reproductive body features which are distinct from each other, like a mallard's green head or a peacock's tail.  The fiddler crab probably doesn't count because his giant claw is used directly for the mating process.  Many species the genders are both the same size, but differential size sexual dimorphism is very common.

In insects, spiders, microscopic animals, some sea life, a lot of variety exists. Often the female is many times larger than the male, sometimes the male lives symbiotically or even parasitically within the female for a life time, or males live only a few days while females live for months or years.
In the larger animals, the chordates, there are two primary strategies. 
In some species, the males show off for the women, build a better nest, do a sexier dance, show off bright flashy colors, and the women get to choose. 
In others, the men threaten each other, fight if need be, and the winner gets his pick of women - or as many as he can handle, or even all of them.  In this case, it is purely a question of physical dominance.  It doesn't matter if he is ugly, or stupid, or mean.  As long as he's strong, he gets to mate with all the women, whether the other guys like it or not; not to mention whether the women like it or not.  Occasionally, in many species, the women have affairs with certain less dominate males, risking the wrath of Brutus for themselves and their partners.

Sexual size dimorphism is present in humans. 
The stereotype is that cavemen would hit a woman over the head, and drag her back to his cave.  Given our size difference, and the patterns of every other similar specie, there just might be some truth to that.
Most people assume that our size difference is meant to support a system in which women take care of young that are slow to mature (and by extension, takes care of the household as well) while her mate hunts. 
In truth, in most per-agricultural societies a far greater amount of calories comes from gathering than from hunting. Gathering doesn't require a whole lot of strength. 
There are few if any examples of species where the male is much larger and stronger and he is monogamous and invests energy in taking care of his mate and children.  The animals where both genders raise the children together, like penguins, both genders are similar in size and strength.

A female taking care of young is in need of strength, in order to defend them from predators.
In the species where the males have bigger muscles or antlers or horns, they use them on each other to win the right to claim women as their own.
We have obvious differences in both size and strength. 
However, we have largely decided as a specie that we prefer the strategy of non-dimorphous animals.  With our language and our intellect, we are not ruled exclusively by instinct, and we find we are all happier when we agree to a more civil system, (whether its arrangement by parents or mutual attraction). 
Both genders try to make themselves attractive, and both have the option of turning down advances - and there is a lot less violence as a result.
In an earlier time, post-cave-man but still pre-agriculture, we made use of our physical characteristics by adapting our body differences to monogamy, which lead to the misconception most of us have today.  Since the male is in fact stronger and faster, if somebody has to hunt for some occasional protein, may as well be him.

That doesn't mean our biology evolved for this purpose anymore than our fit with a keyboard means our fingers evolved for typing.

The modern world has no application for this difference in size.  And we have moved ever father from the roots of female clubbing and hair dragging.  We have criminalized cave-rape and in keeping with our modern idea of universal human rights, it is now a crime against the female, not against her father or husband.

And yet...

Women still want men who are taller than they are. 
Men are turned off by women with muscular arms.  We correlate masculinity with strength, which inherently implies femininity with weakness.  In the gym women do aerobics, men weight lift.  Its not about natural body type anymore, we put lots of effort into maximizing the difference.  Humans of both genders, even within a particular race or nationality, come in a huge range of shapes and sizes.  There are plenty of women who are taller than or stronger than plenty of men; but they rarely partner with each other, and are barred from competing against each other, because the woman is assumed to be at a disadvantage.  Even sporting events with several weight classes, or for children, usually separate the genders.

Why isn't a woman with big muscles sexy and feminine.
Why can't a short skinny man be hot?
Why can't they be alluring and seductive to each other?
If modern women are independent and capable, why do they still insist that their mates be bigger and stronger than them?  A woman lifting heavy in the gym will never be as powerful as a man lifting heavy in the gym, but there is absolutely no reason she shouldn't try.  For that matter, those no good reason a guy in the gym doesn't focus primarily on aerobics.

I always wanted a woman who could keep up with me, who could run and ride and climb and practice martial arts with me.  I much prefer a solid arm to a squishy or a bony one. 
5'2" Prince was just dripping with raw masculine animal male sexuality... before he became a Jehovah's Witness.

Biology is slow to adapt,
But when does our supposedly evolved mind-set catch up to our societal values?

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