miércoles, diciembre 12, 2007

A lo macho

Al segundo día todo indica que se irá confirmando la sospecha de que el nuevo gobierno de nuevo tiene muy poco. Entre lo poco nuevo está eso de lo que, por falta de alguna diferencia más relevante hablan tanto: ahora el presidente es mujer.
Entonces, si llevados al plano de lo banal vamos a encarar la diferencia entre el presidente y la presidenta, hagámoslo en términos de género, para hacer así una aproximación más general.
Para ello echo mano al magistral War in human civilization de Azar Gat, obra magna del historiador militar israelí dedicada al estudio multidisciplinario de la violencia desde la biología más primitiva hasta la compleja sociedad actual. En el subcapítulo que me propongo copiar Azar no deja nada librado a su nombre; escudriña la genética y memética de hombres y mujeres, valiéndose de los más granados conocimientos en neurobiología, sociología, psicología evolutiva, arqueología y antropología.
Dejándoles pendiente la consigna de analizar si la violencia es un asunto sólo de hombres, aquí tienen al respecto un abordaje sin desperdicio del maestro Azar.

Interlude: Man the beast? (pp 77-86)
It would appear that up till now I have been a little vague about something. I have generally discussed ‘humans’ and ‘human warfare’, where perhaps I should have more accurately referred to men. From earliest times and throughout history, fighting has been associated with men. Crosscultural studies of male/female difference have found serious violence as the most distinctive sex difference that there is, except, of course, for child bearing itself. Is that a matter of education and social conventions, or are men naturally far more adapted to fighting than women? This question has much contemporary relevance and is at the centre of a heated public debate about women’s equality in modern society: can and should women nowadays enlist in combat roles in the armed services? The first obvious and generally controversy-free, fighting-related difference between men and women is that of physical strength. Men are considerably stronger than women, on average, of course, and all the following data are on average. To begin with, men are bigger than women. They are about nine per cent taller and proportionately heavier. Even these facts do not tell the whole story, because in muscle and bone mass men’s advantage is bigger still. Relative to body weight, men are more muscular and bony, with the main difference concentrated in the arms, chest and shoulders. Fat comprises only 15 per cent of their body weight, compared with 27 per cent in women. As athletic results and repeated tests show, men’s biggest physical advantage is in strength. Although they are less flexible than women, only about 10 per cent faster, and have a 4:3 advantage in aerobic capacity, they are doubly as strong as women (except for the legs, where the ratio is again 4:3 in favour of men).

As throughout human history fighting has been a trial of force, this sex difference has been crucial. Anatomy is not everything, however. As mentioned, the quoted data are average. It in fact comprises a wide range within each sex, and there is obviously some overlap between the scales of the two sexes. Some women are stronger than or as strong as some men. There is, however, another sex difference to consider. Are men by nature mentally more aggressive than women, especially being more predisposed to violence and, even more, to serious violence? Are the minds as well as the bodies of males and females different? This is a highly charged topic in the contemporary debate. Tabula rasa liberals and feminists during the 1960s and early 1970s believed that, apart from obvious physical differences, men and women were the same. All other differences were attributed to education and social conventions. Over time, however, as more and more women entered the ‘man’s world’ in the workplace and all other walks of social life, many later-generation feminists have come to a different position. They have come to feel that the ‘man’s world’ was exactly that—very much structured to fit the needs, aims, and norms that were peculiarly male. They have felt that mere equality of access to male-structured domains was unsatisfying for women. Gender attitudes to sex are one of the most interesting cases in point. One of the greatest achievements of the sexual revolution of the 1960s was that women in the west have earned the right to much the same freedom in sexual relations as men had always enjoyed. Soon, however, women discovered that they did not want to exercise that freedom in quite the same way as men. Thus, although latter-day feminists have continued to seek equality and opportunity, many of them now feel that these mean freedom to behave in greater harmony with women’s own particular needs and aims, and, wherever necessary, change the world in that direction. Interestingly, it has now been feminists, not only male chauvinists, who have stressed women’s qualities versus men’s. Indeed, feminists have charged that it was peculiarly male tendencies, such as overcompetitiveness, emotional coldness, faulty communication, and aggressiveness, that were responsible for many, if not most, of this world’s ills, including war. Those feminists may claim some support from the scientific research of human biology, which earlier had all too often been somehow regarded impatiently as irrelevant to the debate.

The whole trend of recent scientific research has stressed sex differences in the mind as well as the body. In this chapter, we have already referred to the biological explanation for the differing sexual attitudes of men and women, but scientists have discovered many more differences. Repeated cognitive studies have revealed, on average, male advantage in spatial orientation, which might also explain the persistently recorded male advantage in mathematics, especially at the very highest levels. Women have recorded better in spatial attention to detail and spatial memory, verbal skills, and judging other people’s moods and complex human situations—the famous ‘female intuition’. These differences have long been attributed solely to education and social expectations, but the great changes in social attitudes that have taken place in the last generationseem not to have altered them much. Indeed, one of the ‘hardest’ sciences of them all, brain research, has yielded significant sex differences.

Cognitive studies, aided by brain scanning, have revealed that men and women in fact use different parts of their brains in coping with various cognitive tasks. Furthermore, whereas the right and left hemispheres of a man’s brain are much more specialized, those of women operate in greater co-operation, and the corpus callosum connecting them is larger. Not only are the bodies of women and men structured somewhat differently but also that particular organ of their bodies, the brain, and hence their minds. The architect of these different structures is our genes, and their agent is the sex hormones, particularly the famous male hormone, testosterone. Scientists have found that its presence begins to structure the male as different from the female right from the start, from the very beginning of the fetus’s evolution in the uterus (biologically, the original form is the female). Male and female differences in identity are already largely shaped at birth, and behavioural differences between the sexes are recorded very early, before social conditioning can play an effective role. Crudely put, baby girls are more interested in people, whereas baby boys are more interested in things. Later on, despite the great changes that have taken place in educational patterns and the efforts of conscientious parents, boys and girls show differences in play preferences, with the boys much more inclined to competitive, rough and tumble, aggressive games and toys. Females also produce testosterone, only much less than males. In addition, some divergences from testosterone norms have occurred as a result of natural reasons (which produce identified medical syndromes) and owing to chemical influences caused, for example, by medication. It has been found that so-called tomboy behaviour in girls correlated closely with higher levels of testosterone. On the other side, low testosterone levels in males result in unassertive and ‘feminine’ behaviour, whereas the highest levels of testosterone to which men are exposed during adolescence result in extra aggressiveness. Traditional human insight, embodied in such concepts as the Chinese yin and yang, has been found to be not that far off the mark. Perpetration of serious violence and crime is in fact the most distinctive sex difference there is, cross-culturally. As mentioned earlier, among the !Kung Bushmen, all of the 22 killings registered in 1963–9 were committed by men. Of 34 cases of bodily assault, all but one were committed by men. In the USA, males comprise 83 per cent of murderers, a similar share of those committing aggravated assault, 93 per cent of drunken drivers and about the same percentage of armed robbers. Even though murder rates diverge widely in other parts of the world, the woman/man split remains roughly the same in favour of men. Furthermore, even that sharp split does not tell the whole story. The actual split is sharper still, because much of the serious female violence and murder comes in response to male violence or under male leadership. Thus, as a comprehensive survey reveals: Crime statistics from Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England and Wales, Germany, Iceland, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Scotland, Uganda, a dozen different locations in the United States, and Zaire, as well as from thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England and nineteenth-century America—from hunter–gatherer communities, tribal societies, and medieval and modern nation-states—all uncover the same fundamental pattern. In all these societies, with a single exception, the probability that the same-sex murder has been committed by a man, not a woman, ranges from 92 to 100 percent.

This brings us to the nature of women’s aggression and violence. Women can also be aggressive. However, their aggressiveness is much less channelled to physical violence than men’s aggressiveness is, and even less to serious physical violence. Typically, women resort to serious violence in two cases: when the danger comes close to home—in desperate defence against an acute threat to themselves and their children; or to harm the ‘other woman’ in rivalry over a man. Furthermore, in comparison with men’s violent aggression, that of women tends to be non-physical, indirect, and anonymous. What is the source of this most distinctive sex difference in serious violence? Again, the biological explanation is clear and was first elaborated by Darwin. Both the bodies and minds of women and men have been subjected to somewhat different evolutionary pressures during the millions of years of human evolution. These pressures have been most different where sex specialization and diverging reproductive roles have been most involved. As scholars have pointed out, precisely because in humans both parents invest in child rearing, sex specialization/division of labour became more possible than in some other animal species, including our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. In evolutionary terms, women specialized in child bearing and rearing and in foraging close to the home base, whereas men specialized in long-distance hunting and in the struggle to acquire and defend women and children, specializations that required, among other things, force and ferocity. Indeed, the difference was more than occupational. Not only did men compete for women both inside and outside the group, but, in case of a threat to the children, the father, although also highly significant for the children’s provision, was more expendable than the mother in this respect. For this reason as well, the men formed the group’s main line of defence, while the women covered the children to the best of their abilities. Moreover, Palaeolithic men were of no use to the enemy. For them, the options were either running away or fighting to the finish. By contrast, women were themselves a resource in competition. They had better chances than the men did to survive the day by submitting, conforming, co-operating, and manipulating.

Both the capabilities and evolutionary strategies of men and women, capabilities and strategies that were of course interconnected and mutually reinforcing, made men much more predisposed to fighting than women. But do environmental influences, most notably education and social norms, not count at all? Do genes not always interact with culture? Obviously, environmental influences matter a great deal and are responsible for a wide diversity of cultural norms. However, contrary to the fashion in much of the gender studies, cultural norms are not infinitely flexible and wholly relative. As a rule, cultural norms play, and diverge, along a scale set by our inborn dispositions. (Needless to say, the subject is extremely complex and, as we see later, it becomes even more complex with the new opportunities, interactions, and tensions created by accelerated cultural evolution.) The fact remains that among hunter–gatherers, in the ‘human state of nature’, women’s participation in warfare was extremely marginal. Even more than hunting, in which women also marginally engaged in a few societies, fighting was a male preserve and the most marked sex difference. Indeed, in this case, it can certainly be said that among hunter–gatherers social norms reinforced inborn dispositions. Even if some women were physically and mentally capable of participating in a warriors’ group, this very rarely happened. The ‘culture of war’ and the ‘bond of brotherhood’ within the warriors’ group were famously cultivated among the men. As mentioned earlier, the local groups in the human state of nature were literally composed of brethren. Furthermore, women were to be defended rather than interfere with the warriors’ group cohesion by the powerful forces of sexual distraction.

This does not mean that women had no role in warfare. In most cases they, too, had very high stakes in what the men were fighting for, or at the very least in their men themselves. Thus women in primitive warfare often accompanied the men to battle and took part in it as cheerers and providers of auxiliary services, such as the gathering and re-supply of used arrows and spears. As mentioned earlier, only in very rare cases did they actively participate in the fight, mainly by shooting arrows, and if the danger reached the inner ring of women and children, women also desperately tried to contribute to the defence. The famous Amazons, of course, were, significantly, a myth, albeit, like many myths, not entirely devoid of some basis in reality. The Scythian and Sarmatian pastoralist horse archers of the Ukrainian steppe were described by the classical Greek authors as the ‘neighbours’ of the Amazons. Some of the warrior graves excavated in the region were those of women, buried with full military gear. In one Scythian royal kurgan (mound) four of fifty warrior graves belonged to females. In the supposed Sarmatian region, 20 per cent of the warrior graves excavated were those of women. The bow made possible a marginally greater female participation in warfare. Civilization created many new, ‘artificial’ conditions and relationships, making a far-reaching transformation in the human way of life possible. Nevertheless, throughout most of history, female participation in warfare barely changed at all from the patterns described above, which had been evolutionarily shaped by physical, mental, and social constraints. Apart from desperate home defence, women’s participation in warfare was limited to auxiliary services to the male warriors as camp followers and prostitutes. To be sure, women were excluded from many activities and occupations in historical societies. Still, they were absent from the warriors’ ranks to an ever-larger degree than from any other occupation in which they traditionally did not participate. But what about modern, industrialized, and especially advanced industrial societies? These have undergone tremendous, unprecedented changes, which, among other things, greatly transformed women’s place in society.

How do these changes affect, and how can they affect, women’s participation in combat roles in the armed services? The bottom line is that they do, although overall perhaps not by a very wide margin. Physically, fighting with guns and explosives has already made a change. For example, in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Dahomey, the king’s army included an elite bodyguard unit of women, which grew in number from hundreds to thousands. The women, armed with guns, as well as with bows and arrows, machetes and clubs, were reputedly ferocious warriors. From the late nineteenth century, women began to participate actively in many revolutionary and guerrilla forces, which combined informal social structures and radical ideologies. Their participation in combat roles in the Soviet and Yugoslav armed forces during the Second World War and on the communist side in Vietnam is well known. However, even in these often-cited cases, where a radical social ideology prevailed, the home country was invaded and women were anyhow at grave risk, and an acute shortage of manpower existed, women’s role in warfare was still limited. Most women took men’s places in the factories and fields, or performed auxiliary services within the armed forces. Those who actually participated in combat roles amounted to no more than 8–12 per cent of the combat troops, not far from their estimated share in the famous Dahomey army or in those very few tribal societies that had allowed women to participate in battle, including the Scythian and Sarmatian ‘Amazons’. Furthermore, in Soviet Russia, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and other revolutionary countries, women were excluded from combat roles once the war was over. Why is this so, and how likely is this situation to persist in advanced industrial societies? After all, the modern mechanical and electronic battlefield has created numerous tasks that involve little if any physical force. Fighting is done with firepower, and the movement of people and loads is largely mechanical. Many women can drive or fire an armoured fighting vehicle as well as many men, or for that matter command the vehicle, an armoured battalion, or an armoured army. Some women are even strong enough to be able to serve in ordinary infantry units, which still rely heavily on physical force. However, Hollywood’s G. I. Jane notwithstanding, women are rarely likely to be strong enough for elite infantry and commando units—no more in fact than they are likely to compete successfully in any serious men’s football league, let alone boxing or weightlifting. Women flew as combat pilots in the Soviet air force during the Second World War. But how many of them can successfully compete for similar capacities in the much more competitive air forces of modern advanced powers has still to be ascertained. In any case, this leaves many active combat roles that women can perform.

The mental sex differences in respect of warfare have similarly narrowed but not closed. As much of today’s fighting activity is done from afar and with little physical contact, it involves much less of the aggressive and violent attitude traditionally associated with men. Even if not wholly a matter of pushing buttons, modern fighting more than before bears the character of an occupation that requires more cool-headed professionalism and organizational discipline than aggressive predisposition. There can be little doubt that women could cope successfully with the mental task if they so wished. But would they so wish? The indications are that the number of those who would wish it is far smaller that that of men. Even if the physical aspect posed no problem, far fewer women than men are inclined to combat activity and combat careers. The reasons for this motivational difference again go back to fundamental sex-related predispositions. On average, men are more attracted to this type of competitive, high-risk, violent, machine-related activity. In the same way that the introduction of effective contraceptives, although greatly affecting women’s sexual attitude, has not closed the gap between the sexual behaviour of men and women, far-reaching changes in social and family patterns do not wholly eradicate sex-related occupational preferences. Throughout history women’s overburden with child bearing and rearing was one of the factors that precluded their active participation in warfare. Indeed, significantly, the famous Dahomey women warriors unit was only possible because its members, officially married to the king, were forced to celibacy on penalty of death. The force may have evolved from the harem guard, to which no man was allowed access. Furthermore, the women may have customarily undergone excision at childhood. Even though women in today’s developed world give birth to only two children, on average, and household duties are far lighter than before and more equally divided between the sexes, the woman’s share in raising the children still tends to be larger. (Despite the doctrine of equality, the law recognizes this by tending to prefer the woman for custody of the children in cases of divorce.) More than men, women would shrink from a highly risky career that involves long periods of absence from the husband and children. This sort of preference has long been attributed to lingering cultural inequalities in the way society is structured. Although these inequalities were indeed acute and still exist, it would now seem that their inborn element was too easily overlooked. Even if the greatest equality of access to the educational and labour markets were achieved, the sex differences would be such that the inclinations of men and women would, on average, be different in some important respects. Even in Scandinavia, where nearly 80 per cent of women are in the workforce, fewer than 10 per cent of the women work in occupations where the sex balance is roughly equal. Half of all workers are in jobs where their own sex accounts for 90 per cent of employees. The choice of a combat career is a field in which the sex difference is particularly marked.

The Netherlands is a case in point, having the most egalitarian legislation and policy in the developed world. From the late 1970s the Dutch authorities granted women equal access to all military jobs and have acted intensively to encourage them to exercise this freedom of opportunity. Nevertheless, as the feminist authors of a study on the subject have written with dismay: ‘The interest of women in the army seemed to diminish more than to increase. . . . The physical requirements remained a problem and so did the acceptance of women by their male colleagues. . . . The demands for combat jobs in the infantry, cavalry, artillery and the Royal Engineers are too high to be met by most women.’ Female participation in the army, especially in combat roles, remained in the low percentage points. In Norway as well, another country with highly egalitarian legislation and policy, the picture is very similar, partly, although not solely, because of women’s own lack of interest. But what about those women who do desire a combat role and a combat career? In the labour market as well, many occupations are unevenly divided between the sexes, but equality of access on merit has nevertheless been secured in the developed countries to any member of either sex who chooses any particular occupation. Are there any special arguments that might warrant an exceptional status to the occupation of fighting? More complex family arrangements, mentioned by reluctant armed services, have already been discussed. These may be overcome by a combination of female and military compromises. The prospect of possible captivity is a major consideration. As we have seen, women are far more exposed than men to sexual abuse, especially when out of the protection of the law and orderly society. This, too, however, is a risk that society might choose to leave to individual female choice. Finally, can men and women live close together for long periods of service in intimate combat groups without being distracted by sexual attraction that would disrupt their combat effectiveness? Does not the famous ‘male bonding’ in the combat group depend on the absence of women? Is not the ‘culture of war’ itself, those traditional qualities of warrior masculinity, best inculcated in an exclusive man’s world? Indeed, at this point some feminists form an awkward alliance with male sceptics, arguing that experience shows that participation in combat units makes women forfeit their own true nature and adopt male-type thinking and behaviour.

We lack sufficient experience to judge how significantly the dynamics created in modern mixed-sex fighting units would affect their combat effectiveness. In principle, fighting units need not, of course, necessarily be mixed for women to participate in them. Separate units for men and women are also possible. In summary, it would probably not be wild speculation to suggest that the forces that have opened the labour market for women are too irresistible for the armed services to withstand. Women are integrated in larger numbers, even in combat roles. On the other hand, women’s participation in such roles will probably remain marginal compared with that of men. The evolution-shaped physical, mental, and social factors that have made fighting the most polarized sex-related activity are unlikely to disappear.

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