I been thinkin’ (a dangerous pastime, I know). There’s a preponderance of male-centered form and content in traditional Judaism and Christianity\, something that can be demonstrated by simply counting words in religious texts. However, in a crucial area — mating — the doctrine seems to clearly emphasize something much more tuned to women’s evolutionary best interests.
Background: Evolution Applied to Behavior & Sex & Stuff
From an evolutionary standpoint, women’s optimal reproductive strategy may be to pursue a long-term relationship with a man who can bring home the bacon, whereas men’s best strategy would be the “shotgun approach,” a long string of one-night stands. That’s the current thinking of several evolutionary psychologists, anyway, building on the seminal ((heh heh… I said “seminal”)) work of David Buss, among others ((Buss’ and others’ work owes heavy debts to the 1970s work of Our Favorite Atheist, Richard Dawkins, who elaborated a theory where behaviors, thoughts, cultural patterns, etc. are shaped by evolutionary processes, just like physical characteristics.)).
Here, more specifically, is the core of this line of research and thinking:
- Evolution “cares” ((Strictly speaking, of course, evolution doesn’t care about anything. It has no goals or endpoint. Whatever genes we have are probably a result of a winnowing process, in which the majority of our genetic inheritance is still with us because it has worked, so far)) about getting one’s genes into the next generation. This means we are “programmed” to have offspring, and to do so in whatever way is most successful at getting said offspring to survive long enough for them to have their own offspring, ad infinitum.
- Women have a multi-year commitment, per child, to get their genes into the next generation. The bare minimum is nine or ten months (gestation), but realistically, the wee ones should probably be at least nine or ten years old before they are kicked out of the house and left to fend for themselves.
- Men’s minimum biological commitment is about thirty seconds per child, because we don’t have to carry the kid, and we know the woman will take care of the child after it’s born, because she’s following her own genetic programming (as above).
Have you lost your faith in humanity yet? Read on.
- Because of the biological realities, men’s optimal mating strategy is to impregnate as many women as possible, as soon after puberty (for both them and us), and not to waste our time, food, or money on any one baby mama. Love ’em and move on. And come back every once in a while to make sure no rivals have moved in to impregnate our ladies, and to get said ladies pregnant again, if possible. A dame in every port.
- Women’s optimal strategy, by contrast, is to extract a firm commitment from a man, acquire (and keep) long-term access to his material resources and protection, and have as many children as biology and the limits of the man’s money will allow. Ride that money train until it’s got nothin’ left.
- You will notice that neither of these strategies paints a cheerful picture of human motivation in love and sex. Perhaps I should not have used an entire list item to make this obvious point.
In other words, men’s preferred strategy looks like all the worst “what a jerk” stories you’ve ever heard, and women’s preferred strategy looks sort of like a retelling (albeit a selfish, cynical one) of our standard true love stories and morality tales. Before we go on, I shall belabor the point that we men have been charged with manipulating myths, stories, legends, customs, norms, and (it has been argued) Judeo-Christian religious doctrine in our favor. Most of these charges have considerable evidence to support them (especially among those who rule out the possibility of a higher power being involved), including the fact that women have always had limitations placed on their authority, probably reducing their influence.
Arrested Cultural Penetration ((heh heh)) of Patriarchy?
Although our beliefs about right and wrong are a mishmash of secular culture, personal psychology, and the idiosyncrasies of our teachers and caregivers, religious doctrine is still a strong determinant of our moral ideals ((I know male infidelity and promiscuity occur frequently and are often implicitly rewarded, but here I am concerned with explicit morality, as it directly reflects our religious traditions)). Judaism and Christianity have been, as previously mentioned, widely criticized for their patriarchal elements. Some people interpret all ostensibly gender biased elements in religion as mere leftovers from ancient, flawed social structures, while others see divine patterns in this patriarchy. Either way, these elements are part of traditional Western religious and cultural institutions. I have even seen references to the oppressive or relentless or ubiquitous patriarchy of Christianity ((not so much Judaism; Christian-bashing is currently more popular in intellectual circles)).
It is somewhat counterintuitive, then, to find a preference for a feminine mating strategy as a core behavioral regulation in Judeo-Christian doctrine. In religions accused of catering to male conveniences, pleasures, and preferences, then it might be argued that we should see the evolutionarily-optimal mating pattern for males being endorsed by their doctrine. Jewish and Christian religious texts should be teaching men to mate with as many women as possible, and teaching women to just deal with it, and not give them the third degree when they leave. Instead, the doctrine commands men to be more feminine in their reproductive patterns ((I am fully aware of the hypothesis that monogamy is a compromise strategy between men’s and women’s optimal reproductive strategies. This explanation has never fully satisfied me, and as a theory that allows no room for God, it’s ripe for reframing, speculative tweaking, and using material not available to atheistic varieties of science :-] )).
Jewish and Christian men are commanded to commit, usually for life, to one woman, and to acquire and provide the material resources necessary to take care of her and any children. Even in traditional polygynous Judeo-Christian communities, where a man may have committed to more than one woman simultaneously, long-term commitments were still required, and their number was supposed to be limited by the husband’s resources, among other things. Pretty evolutionarily feminine, if you think about it.
Of course, some people (both men and women, laity and leaders) have always violated religious mating rules. But that’s (sadly) to be expected. The rules clash with the strongest of biological urges — the “natural [wo]man”. Now, consider what these rule violations are: Rape. Child molestation. Adultery. Among the most morally repugnant acts in the Western world. And the men who commit these acts also seem to be the ones (more or less) who go with their evolutionary programming. Research has found, for example, that sexually coercive men (think potential date-rapists) tend to have a more short-term, uncommitted strategy in dating than other males, as well as more sexual partners ((Quinsey & Lalumiere, 1995)).
To be clear, these religious rules about mating and reproduction are not exactly the same as the feminine “best practices” for evolutionary success ((Rule violations for both men and women seem to represent a “drift” toward the evolutionary patterns for each gender, actually.)). But they are more feminine than masculine, in this regard ((According to current evolutionary psychological thinking; this is all offered with the grains of salt required for scientific research in general and evolutionary psychology, specifically.)). God commands Jewish and Christian men ((I know there are more religions, and that these generalizations apply to many of them. I’m writing about my own heritage, which is something I know something about)) to form long, stable relationships with women, and forbids them to divert their sexual, emotional, or economic attentions to other potential partners. Of course, women get the same mandate, but it’s closer to their natural proclivities. Depending on your interpretation of scripture, God also commands men to acquire material resources, for the purpose of supporting their female mates.
Mortals Have Silly Ideas About Femininity and Masculinity
To clarify, I absolutely do not mean, with all this talk of gender and sex, to imply that there is any sort of gender neutrality or duality in the persons of Heavenly Father or Jesus ((As a Latter-day Saint, I believe these people are male. I also believe that Gods come in twos, male and female)). But the doctrine under discussion here is not, by traditional Western cultural standards, very male-centered. My point is that our definitions of masculinity and femininity, as well as our penchant for dividing up our human characteristics, behaviors, and thoughts along gender lines, are heavily influenced by our particular cultures, which are probably influenced by our biological imperatives. But this is probably not the way God sees things, even if there are similarities.
A church leader recently reminded us men that God created the earth and its inhabitants in a hierarchical sequence: heaven and earth, then sea and land, then plants and animals, then man, then woman. This sequence appears to be a progression. Simple to complex? Raw materials to finished products? Less Godlike to more so? The least tortured explanations, no matter what they are, give a status to women that is at least equal with men.
Jesus’ core teachings during His ministry are another source of expected-gender-bias-switcheroo, but instead of emphasizing culturally feminine attributes as an ideal, they seem to de-emphasize aspects of traditional/biological masculinity. he taught us not to hurt others, even when they hurt us first; and to never use our greater physical or social power to take advantage of those who are less powerful. Old-school evolutionary psychology theories (and new-school crime statistics) have much to say about men’s propensity to be aggressive and abuse those who are weaker.
Is Femininty Asprational in Christianity?
It seems to me that Christian doctrine is biased toward “natural” feminine tendencies in mating. Additionally, “natural” traditionally masculine strategies are deprecated in potentially aggressive interpersonal interactions. Sex and violence; not exactly fringe areas of doctrine. Then, just in case anyone is still unclear about the importance of women, we have the creation story.
In another context, my next statement would sound lame ((i.e., as an unsatisfying quasi-explanation for the relative political status of women in the Church)), but here it makes a sort of sense to me: maybe God is trying to tell us that there are aspects of womanhood that represent much of what He wants men to be. Maybe women’s natural tendencies in certain areas are a model for tempering our own ((I haven’t thought about it much, but I suppose it’s also possible that the reverse may be true in some way)).
It’s as if God has been saying, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” for ten thousand years.