For years, student zoology made me feel like a sad misfit. Not because I love spiders, I like to cut dead things I had found on the side of the road, or I would like to take root in animal feces to look for clues about what their owner had eaten. No, the source of my concern was my sex. Being a woman meant only one thing: she was a loser.
“The female is exploited, and the fundamental evolutionary basis for exploitation is the fact that the eggs are larger than the sperm,” my college tutor Richard Dawkins wrote in his best-selling evolutionary bible. The selfish gene.
According to the zoological law, egg makers had been betrayed by our voluminous gametes. By investing our genetic legacy in a few nutrient-rich eggs, instead of millions of mobile sperm, our ancestors had taken the drop in the primitive lottery of life. We were now doomed to play the second violin of the sperm shooters for all eternity, a female footnote to the main sexist event. I was taught that this seemingly trivial disparity in our sex cells laid the biological foundations of cast iron for sexual inequality. “It’s possible to interpret all the other gender differences as derived from this basic difference,” Dawkins told us. “Female exploitation begins here.”
Male animals led recreational agency drive lives. They fought among themselves for the leadership or possession of women. They roamed indiscriminately, driven by a biological imperative to spread their seed everywhere. And they were socially dominant; where the males drove, the females followed meekly. The role of a woman was like a selfless mother, of course; as such, maternal efforts were all considered equal: we had zero competitive advantage. Sex was a duty rather than an impulse.
And in terms of evolution, it was men who drove the bus of change. Women could go for a walk, thanks to shared DNA, as long as we promised to be kind and quiet. As a student of the evolution of egg making, I could not see my reflection in this situation comedy of the 50s of sexual roles. Was I some kind of female aberration?
The answer, thankfully, is no.
In the natural world, female form and role vary greatly to cover a fascinating spectrum of anatomy and behavior. Yes, the affectionate mother is among them, but so is the jacana bird that abandons its eggs and lets them breed in a harem of horned males. Females can be faithful, but only 7% of birds are sexually monogamous, which makes many beautiful females looking for sex with multiple partners. Not all animal societies are dominated by males in any way; Alpha females have evolved through various classes, and their authority ranges from benevolent (bonobos) to brutal (bees). Females can compete with each other in the same way as males: Topi antelopes engage in fierce battles with huge horns to gain access to the best males, and meerkat matriarchs are the most killer mammals on the planet, killing their competitors’ babies and suppressing them. its reproduction. Then there are the fatal women: cannibal female spiders who consume their lovers as post or even pre-coital snacks and “lesbian” lizards who have lost the need for males and reproduce only by cloning.
Sexist mythology has been incorporated into biology and distorts the way we perceive females. But fortunately, in recent decades there has been a revolution in our understanding of what it means to be a woman.