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The Rise of Male Dominance

The Rise of Male Dominance

Is there a genetic origin to male dominance?

1. Men and women have equal rights as citizens of the State and adopted children of God. But this equality of rights should not be confused with an identity of functions. In fact, both biologically and psychologically men and women are different. There are inborn traits which would seem to dispose them to different tasks in society. Although these differences should not be exaggerated, they are a real part of a person’s physical and mental make-up. Underneath prejudices imposed by culture (see e), there is a hard substratum of constitutional variance. In particular, men seem by nature to be better prepared for aggressive tasks and women for nurturative ones.

2. Man’s body is much better adapted to hard physical work. In the human male the central and massive bodiness is formed by the chest. Man has broad shoulders and strong arms. Man has much stronger muscles than woman (as is borne out by international sports achievements) and projects an image of strength. Woman, on the other hand, possesses a body that is structured for motherhood. For woman the massive and central bodiness is constituted by the womb.“Woman is what she is because of her womb” (Virchow). The physique of woman is directed towards attracting the male partner by its beauty, and protecting the offspring by its reserves in natural energy. The physical and psychological differences that flow from this, dispose men and women for different social roles’.

F.J.J. BUYTENDIJK, De Vrouw, Utrecht 1961, pgs. 81ff; 162-163.

3. This different disposition has also been remarked by psychologists in the observation of children. Before boys and girls can have been inHuenced by prejudices of the culture to which they belong, they already show contrary attitudes to their environment. Generally speaking boys play more roughly, show more aggression, are more inclined to be obstinate, are more easily given to violence. Girls yield more easily and avoid physical fighting. They prefer quiet games and are more affectionate. These findings have been confirmed by studies in different social milieus and culture.

SCHEIFLER, Zur Psychologie der Gaschlechter, Spielinteressen des Schulalters, Z.F. Ang Psych. 8 (1914) pgs.124-144. HATTWICK, Sex Differences in Behaviour of nursery school children, Child Development 8 (1967) pgs. 343-355. CUMMINGS, The incidence of emotional symptoms in school children, Brit. Jour. Psych. 14 (1944) 1. pgs. 161-161. N.G. BLURTON-JONES, An Ethnological Study of some aspects of social Behaviour of Children in Nursery School, in Primate Ethnology, ed. D. MORRIES, London, Weidenfeld Nicholson,1967.

4. The genetic factor is also proved by a comparative study of the behaviour of monkeys, especially that of primates which are close to man in the tree of evolution. Among gorillas and baboons the males impose their authority by aggression. The leader is always a male who claims precedence over others regarding space, food and females. I. DE VORE, Primate Behaviour, New York: Holt Rinehart Jc Winston,1965.

Monkey parade

An interesting finding is that an injection of the male sexual hormone into young females in the foetal stage produces typically male, aggressive behaviour in the young monkey.

W.C. POUNG, R.W. GOY and C.R. PHOENIX. Hormones and Sexual Behaviour, Science, 13 (1964) 212-218. D.A. HAMBURG and D.Y. LURDE, Sex Hormones in the Development of Sex differences in human behaviour. ed. E.E. MACCOBY Tavistock, London 1967.

This kind of research, also performed on rats, seems to imply that sexual hormones have a decided influence on the behaviour of males and females. The different dispositions of men and women to aggressive and nurturative tasks would seem also the result of different hormone activity in the body.

G.W. HARRIS and S. LEVINE, Sexual Differentiation of the Brain and its Experimental Control, J. Phys. 181 (1965) 379-400.

5. The innate difference of men and women can also be demonstrated to some extent by the actual division of labour in society. In practically all primitive societies aggressive jobs are done by men, such as hunting, fishing, metal working, weapon making, boat building, etc. The women normally grind corn, gather fruits and seeds, manu facture and repair clothes, and do the work at home. Although part of this may be culture-determined (see e) the fact that the same division of labour is followed in 224 economically primitive societies from all over the world shows that it must be partly based on biological make-up of men and women.

9. R.G. D’ANDRADE. Sex Difference and Cultural Institutions, in The Development of Sex Differences, ed. E.E. MACCOBY, Tavistock London, 1967, pgs.174-204.

This conclusion was recently strengthened by experiments in Israel. In spite of concerted and explicit effort to give the same job to men and women in the Kibbutz communes, men and women are gradually returning to an acceptance of the traditional division of labour. Whereas men do work in the productive branches, more and more women join the service branches to do cooking, laundering, teaching and caring for children.

10. M..E. SPIRO, Kibbtutz: Venture in Utopia, Harvard Univ. Press 1956; L. TIGER and J. SHEPHER, Women in the Kibbutz, Harcourt Brace Jovanowhich 1975.

The central role of women in ancient societies

1. The disposition towards aggressive tasks obviously makes man rather than woman a likely candidate for leadership in society. The step from aggression to dominance, however, is neither necessary, nor was it universally followed. In many ancient, fruit-gathering societies it was woman not man, who was considered the centre of the family and tribal life. And although male dominance became the rule afterwards some societies have preserved a matriarchal organization to our own days.

2. For ancient man the female, not the male, was the symbol of life and fertility. In the pre-agricultural phase people did not know the biological function of the male seed. Fertility was attributed to mother earth, from which life was seen to spring forth in so many different forms. Undoubtedly from this originated the belief in the mother goddess as the oldest and most fundamental divinity, a belief documented in the mythology of Oceania, Africa, North and South America, the ancient Middle East and Asia.

M.F. ASHLEY-MONTAGU, Ignorance of physiological paternity in secular knowledge and orthodox belief of the Australian aborigines, Oceania 12 (1940-42) pgs. 72-78. M. ELIADE, Traite d’Historie des Religions. Payot, Paris 1959. pgs. 221-231.

This is supported by the paleological finding of many female figurines, probably amulets representing the “Magna mater” or fertility goddess. Some of these little statues can be dated from 60,000 B.C.

H. KUHN. De Kunst van het Oude Europe, Pictura, Utrecht 1959, pgs. 20-22; 31 -33; 50-58.

3. Among 565 primitive societies whose social organization was carefully studied, 20°/o were found to be matrilineal, i.e., membership in the family is transmitted through the female, not the male, members. Among them 84 societies were found to be matrilocal, which means that after marriage the young couple resides with the parents of the bride, not with those of the bridegroom. Anthropologists link this social organization to an economic situation in which the main property and source of income is the field from which women gather fruits. The centre of gravity for subsistence is fertility. In India two matrilocal societies are wellknown: the Todas of the Nilgiris and the Nagas of northeastern India.

R.G. D’ANDRADE, Sex Differences and Cultural Institutions, ibid. (see above) pgs.182-185.

The Rise of Male Social Dominance

1. Most societies that exist today and those of which we can trace the history show a bias towards male dominance. The supremacy of man over woman may be due to the increasing need of physical strength and force in economic and political leadership. Favoured by genetic factors man assumed the leadership role in cattle husbandry, heavy agriculture and urbanization. The focus on masculine power asserted itself also in religious thinking.

2. It is hard to overestimate the influence of urbanization on the life of human beings. Instead of dependence on what could be gathered freely or obtained by hunting, humankind was forced to obtain its living by continuous and hard work. People subjected animals to their use: to carry their loads and plough their land. People devised tools with which they could cut materials and build lasting homes. People fashioned weapons to meet the violence of robbers and enemies. The survival of the townships that arose depended on the strength of the workman and the valour of the soldier. It was natural that masculine power should assert itself in these new forms of society.

For the urban revolution, see the excellent description in V. GORDON CHILDE, Man Makos Himself, Menter,New York 1951, pgs.114-142.

3.Among 565 primitive societies which were specially studied, 375 were found to be patrilocal, i.e., after marriage the family resides with the parents of the bridegroom. Also, membership in the families, with names and property rights, were transmitted through males in four out of every five societies.

R.G D’ANDRADE, Sex Differences and Cultura! Institutions, ibid. (see above) pgs.174-204.

In all major societies known in the world at present, social organization evolves round the man not the woman.

4. The new organization of society implied also a new vision of the world and a new understanding of God. From reverting attention on the earth and the power of birth man began to see the world as a large city created by a supreme power. All the creation myths of the ancient religions that are known to us speak of a strong male god who created the world by bringing order in the chaos. Such male gods are now considered to reign supreme. They are thought to rule from heaven, to display their power as warriors and supreme craftsmen. Marduk of Mesopotamia and Woden of the Germanic tribes have the same traits. Fertility too is understood in a new light. It is no longer the female but the male animal carrying the seed that is considered the symbol of fertility. The bull, not the cow, came to be worshipped as the giver of life in the Middle East.

M. ELIADE, Traité, etc. ibid. (see above). pgs. 47 ff.

5. The difference also manifested ttself in a new attitude towards sex. Polygenism became accepted in most societies. Analysing customs in 200 societies it was found that man appropriated more freedom and privileges regarding sex and marriage. Women on the other hand were subjected to severe sexual restrictions.

C.S. FORD and F. BEACH, Patterns of Sexual Behaviour. Harper and Row, Naw York 1951, pgs 103, 110, 123 etc.

Sociologists can relate this unequal treatment of man and woman to the rise of autocratic agrarian societies.


For a combination of genetic and historical reasons men acquired dominance in most human societies.

It was natural that this dominance would, in the course of time, be shored up by strong cultural and social myths.

John Wijngaards

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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