Are males biologically dominant?

Hey guys,

I have a question that’s been giving me trouble all day long. I’m afraid it might boil down to a nature vs. nurture argument, but I wanted to know if there was any evidence that men are more dominant because of biological differences.

I was looking for information on google, and I know gorilla’s and wolves have dominant alpha males so I thought there would be some kind of information out there.

It’s hard to know exactly what you’re asking. What do you mean by

MORE dominant? What does that mean? And more dominant than who? What biological differences do you refer to? Yes, males tend to be the fighers, defenders, hunters, controllers, compared to females, in good measure because of greater physical endowments. Biological determinants to behavior are debatable, but males also have more testosterone, which tends to make them more feisty. Does that lead to dominance? In some ways, probably so. But you’ll also have to define “dominance.” Your question is a bit too vague to get more than vague generalities in response.

Well, lets have a look at the traditional nuclear household. We have a Male who is the provider, protector and procreator. He works to provide, protects his family and makes decisions for them because he is king of his castle (home).

Specifically, what is it that makes men the “king of the castle.” Is it a pre-notion of how families are structured or is it because men are just naturally pushy and controlling?

According to some currently held theories about evolution, the “pre-notion” of family structure wasn’t written down someplace and then followed as a recipe by ensuing generations. The stucture you call nuclear family is a version of arrangements that worked for both males and females, in terms of passing on genes. Males could be counted on to provide sperm and protection for fecund females, who needed protecting. And, females could then be counted on to be available for impregnating. Women nurtured offspring and men protected them. (males don’t procreate without females). It’s the interplay of physical abilities and talents and behavioral predispositions of males and females that lent itself to that particular arrangement that you describe - all of which is ultimately the direct or indirect result of some manner of genetic contribution of both males and females. But keep in mind that the nuclear family has, and has had, many variations throughout human culture. But no doubt, the aggressiveness of males is part of the formula for the development of social and family groups in humans.

We know what behaviors in this social setting correlate with various biological markers, including maleness overall as well as more specific variables such as testosterone, and we can say that in this setting they tend to match up with what we think of as “aggression”.

But trying to pinpoint which portion of observable behavior is due to biology and which portion to socialization or the surrounding cultural environment that forms the context is a lot like deciding how much of the area of the swimming pool is caused by its length and how much is due to its width. (And then it occurs to you that it has volume, not just area, because it has depth as well).

Most of radical feminist theory posits that “power over other people” is a specifically patriarchal modality. Which does not mean the same thing as “men are like that because they are men”, btw. Patriarchy is a way of being a society, a pattern of organizing principles, not (merely) “the boys run things”. Yet at the same time, most of these theories say that it is no accident that patriarchy does, in fact, specifically enshrine male power, not just power generically (the enshrining of power generically just sort of comes with the package).

Why? Depends on which theorist you ask/read. Many of them focus on reproduction, motherhood — a biological difference that doesn’t necessarily result in male dominance but which, if organized socially in a certain way, will elicit that pattern eventually. Some focus on sexuality in conjunction with reproduction and motherhood. Some examine the individual psychological formation of the “self” and how it differs depending on whether you are male or female because of the fact of motherhood and reproduction. Some set the whole social organization of motherhood and reproduction against the specific backdrop of the development of agriculture, of settling down and ceasing to be hunter-gatherers, stating in essence that the reproductive differences did not result in male domination until a certain point in our species’ timeline. Some focus more on the herding and controlling of animal reproduction (cattle, etc) and how that affected the way we perceive motherhood and reproduction.

Meanwhile, of course, there are non-feminist theorists dealing with the same question. These are more likely to think patriarchy is inevitable, whether they base it (again) on reproduction and motherhood and how they are socially organized (in this case saying that all likely ways of doing so result in male supremacy) or on more individual differences such as testosterone or even bigger muscles (the “men dominate because they can” approach to explaining patriarchy).

It is rather difficult to know for sure, although I have a strong fondness for the agricultural-origins theories myself.

I like the swimming pool analogy very much. I’d suggest here that a compelling case is made by Steven Pinker (The Blank Slate) for the notion that socialization and culture are essentially reflections ultimately of our genetics. He does not say, nor am I, that behavior is determined by genes. But that culture is an expression of our genetic makeup, and ultimately, so is our behavior. Taking that perspective, and forcing the metaphor, is something like saying that the volume, shape and location of the swimming pool are a reflection of the capacity of the individual who decided to build it.

I think that the image that you have drawn of even a traditional nuclear household is a myth. Even before women were commonly working outside the home, they were certainly providing. And in largely rural areas, they worked side-by-side in the fields. Protection (except where sheer physical strength was involved) and decision-making were also tasks that they shared. (An exception was voting rights.)

I seem to remember that women have an equal role in procreation.

The “king of the castle” metaphor holds true only with a willing female partner. Most of us aren’t willing to fill the role of serfs. Some of us don’t mind catering to our husband’s egos from time to time.

A nitpick: In wolf packs there are also alpha females. She is submissive only to the alpha male and not to the other male wolves. These roles also shift within the pack and are not permanent designations.

I take no offense at your post at all. These misconceptions of male and female roles are common for lots of reasons. I think that one of the strongest reasons is the greater physical strength of most men over most women.

There are books that you might find interesting. One is Brain Sex. I can’t say that I always buy into it, but it is a good read. Another (more speculative) is The Alphabet and the Goddess.

Warning: you’ll have to search for cites for this post - because I can only remember off-hand from documentaries I watched and various New Scientist and National Geographic articles.

Apparently in ancient times, women had an extremely important role to play in hunter-gatherer societies. In many cases, females were alongside the males in chasing prey and trapping the next meal.

This “nuclear family” ideal is largely a modern, industrialised-nation myth. It is true that males tend to exhibit greater levels of musculature and testosterone than females - but whether this truly results in greater dominance is subject to great speculation.

For one thing, there is a tribe in Nepal in which the female members are the providers and political leaders. They display characteristics (sociologically) that in Western societies would pass for dominance.

This underlies another important problem in your question, what do we regard dominance as?

There are potentially many different types amongst different kinds of socio-ecological groups that merit attention and study.

Zoe - you somehow attributed that quote defining a nuclear family to me. I didn’t claim that formulation and in some ways indicated how limited it is. xo C.

This question is trivial. Take a trip around the planet. Try and find a society where the men are not dominant. With humans, it is quite obvious that by nature, males are dominant. Note this does NOT mean this is necessarily all good. On that trip around the planet, you’d also find in most societies people talking of wars within their lifetime. My father was a highly decorated veteran in WW II. In my youth he told me of all the people who were the enemy he personally killed. While war seems to be part of the nature of man, I hardly think WW III would be a Good Thing. Man can rise above nature through rationality. It seems to me that doing so with feminism would be as desirable as with our nasty tendency towards war. WW III would really suck.

Quite the contrary, women are far more necessary in procreation than men. With one man and five women, you can have five babies every nine months. With five men and one woman, you can have only one baby every nine months. Protection of the females in a community is of far more importance to its growth than the preservation of the males within it.

Dr. Strangelove would agree. :wink:

Oops! So sorry for the mistake, CC. Thanks for calling it to my attention. The following comment was posted by Thisnameisnotinuse:


I think there’s an informal fallacy by which you defend a proposition by stating that “everyone knows” or “it’s obvious that” your assertion is correct.

If you travel around the world you’ll find currency in use nearly everywhere but that doesn’t mean that by nature humans use money. Actually, during your around-the-world travels you’ll find MacDonalds fast food joints pretty much everywhere as well. I won’t continue, I’m sure you can see where this leads.

What you will find here and there in increasingly tiny backwater enclaves are indications that the ways of the world as we know it are only the ways of the world as settled and adopted to agriculture, i.e., a modality of existence only about 10,000 years old.

Another thing you’ll notice is that in the most modern *post-*agricultural societies the ones where growing things in the soil is a very small part of what the people in that culture do nowadays, the most egregious examples of male supremacy have been pretty much uprooted and the remaining forms of it also appear to be on the wane.

Everything is female centric. Evolutionarily human males are sperm delivery, food delivery and environmental defense and support mechanisms. Males are the way they are behaviorally because human females select differentially for those traits.

The more specific question is why human females (on average) preferentially select for stronger and more aggressive males vs less aggressive males. There are also evolutionary hypotheses by some anthropologists, and related disciplines, that suggest human mate selection by females has a strong preferential conponent for males with superior language facility and communication skills, and that this factor looms almost as large as superior physical capability in mate selection by human females.