Men Are Natural Leaders, You Say?

On a way-too-constant basis, you hear someone say something that sounds a bit like this, “I am not sexist, I just believe that men, naturally, have the traits needed to *insert masculine-identified role here*” Sometimes a person might be talking about a certain job or us this to justify why they feel women should stay at home while men go out and work.

These individuals tend overuse their own idea of sexual selection. Their theory starts with the idea that a long, long time ago, when humans were in their most primate-like state, women realized that they put much more time into the care of their offspring while men were, often, off reproducing with many other females. Because of this (so it is said) women became much more “choosy” in who they reproduced with. Evolutionary psychologists, and their followers, believe that it was this fastidiousness that led men to compete with each other; the winner getting the opportunity to mate with the deciding female. Through the years, these “victorious” men passed on stereotypically-masculine traits like aggression, competitiveness and courage, allegedly leading all men to be inborn leaders.

So, here are the issues with all of the above:

Most of the “science” behind this idea has taken place in America.

If  leadership is innately-male, this would be the same for all cultures (with insignificant variances dependent on the culture, of course) but this is simply not the case. Anthropological evidence suggests that 1/3 of small-scale societies treat men and women as equals, even if their responsibilities are slightly dissimilar. Examples of this can be seen in Koraput, Vinatinai, and in several villages in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The  absence of patriarchy in primitive communities raises red flags in regards to the validity of this “men are hard-wired to be leaders” theory.

Reproductive success and survival of BOTH sexes would have depended on both mates acting as “providers,” not just the male.

The time frame that evolutionary psychologists use to base their theory off of was a time when hunting and gathering were the only sources of food. Traditionally, women would gather and men would hunt. We know that hunting was quite the difficult task, involving finding the animal, killing it (which was often unsuccessful), skinning/cleaning it- the list goes on. Because of this, it was much more realistic for these primitive communities to live mostly off of gathered food. This means that it was usually women who “brought home the bacon” (or should we say “brought home the berries!”) This goes against every idea that men must be natural providers, as it was the women who were depended on.

So why is it, then, that men are seen as intrinsically dominant? As more complicated economies developed, so did more complex roles- a lot of them taking place outside of the home. Because men were not responsible for gestation and nursing of children, it was obvious that they would leave the home to fill these new roles and with the physical size and upper body strength of many men, they had advantages in taking labor-type roles, giving them control over many resources, and social power in general. Once this new gender hierarchy began, it snowballed from there. Free from childbearing and care-taking, men continued to occupy roles that gave them wealth and power, while women were pushed further into confined domestic roles.

Supporting the idea that the psychological differences between the sexes are not natural at all,  social psychologists Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly, propose that these differences are actually a product of the roles that men and women are expected to fill in society. With these expectations, each gender develops behaviors that are appropriate for their given roles. If we were to assume that this theory is correct, it would make more sense to see that women do not often display overtly leader-like traits because society simply doesn’t expect them to. (An infuriating thought to say the least.)

It took 10,000-12,000 years for this overwhelmingly sexist theory to develop. Patriarchy is not the product of human nature, it is a product of economic advancements and social constructs. Period.

 

 

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Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a term that Kimberle Crenshaw brought about in 1989, while writing her prolific essay, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.“Although the existence of intersectionality, itself, has been around since humans developed the absurd ability to discriminate against other humans, Crenshaw originally coined this term to capture the congruity of black feminism to anti-discrimination laws. She used the following analogy to help individuals gain a better understanding of the term:

Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.

Intersectionality is, now, used to describe the interaction of various power structures (homophobia, classism, ageism, etc.) in the lives of minorities, in addition to Crenshaw’s concentrated definition that honed in on sexism and racism.

A prime example of intersectionality is Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s nonsensical and purely ridiculous Matriarch Stereotype. In 1965, Moynihan conducted a “study”to show that the decline of the nuclear family, within the African American community, would continue to disrupt their progress toward equality, both socially and economically. He felt that because so many African American women were having children out of wedlock (therefor raising children in female-headed households) these women were undermining black men and allowing them to relinquish their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. This was the cause, Moynihan believed, of the overwhelming rates of poverty in the African American community at the time.

Moynihan’s Matriarch theory illustrates the importance of the term, intersectionality, because not only did these women have sexism and racism working against them, but also their classism. With intersectionality in mind, we see that the aforementioned elements of oppression (sexism, racism, classism) were actually the culprits behind their struggle to shift out of their low-income situations while Moynihan’s theory simply rationalizes the oppression of these women.

To get less specific, though, let’s think about trans women of color, a gay individuals with disabilities, single mothers who struggle, financially- whatever the case may be. Does it make sense to ask any of these individuals to choose which part of their identity deserves to be liberated?

Every issue that we see- sexism, the wage gap, or the alarming rate of trans women of color being killed- they can all be related back to the presence of intersectionality. These injustices will not dissipate if we, as advocates, as feminists, as allies, are only fighting against bits and pieces of the puzzle. By refusing this theory, we are leaving out a substantial amount of individuals suffering. In order to truly understand, and attempt to successfully dismantle systematic oppression, we must fight for all or we are fighting for none. This theory must be included in our rhetoric, so that we may truly make a difference.