Science has offered us a fairly new understanding about the origins of our sex differences. It is all about competition and survival. Evolutionary biologists show us that in most animal populations one sex does more of the gestating, child birth and child care and the other sex competes for their services. Take Gorillas for example. The females do most of the child care and all of the birthing and gestation. In this case we see that the male gorillas compete with each other for reproductive access to the females. Once they secure access they become the protector of their group. This is nothing new. However, they now are showing that both sexes develop very specific qualities depending on whether they are the competitors or those sought after. The group that competes will be physically larger, more aggressive, more violent, slower to develop and have a shorter lifespan. This can be clearly seen in gorillas where the male is much larger, more aggressive and violent as it competes and then protects, has a longer development to maturity and has a shorter lifespan.
The most important part of this is that they are now realizing that we as humans have a very similar path. Since the females do most of the child care and all of the gestating and childbirth it is our males who are the competitors. Males compete with each other for reproductive access. They compete by trying to raise their status. The higher the male’s status the more likely the female will choose him as her partner. Status can be money, fame, control of resources, power, height, attractiveness, influence or any of a number of factors. Men compete to be first and top of their group and now we have a better understanding of why men have such a passion for competition. It’s easy to see that human males, like the gorilla’s, are larger than the females, slower to develop than the females, more aggressive and violent and have a shorter lifespan. Make sense?
Now there is an interesting twist to this tale. Males predominate in the animal world as those competing but it is not always the males. Biologists tell us that in some animal populations such as the seahorse, the Sandpiper, and the Red Necked Phalarope it is not the male who is competing it is the female! Look at Seahorses. The male seahorse carries the young in a pouch in his belly. He does more of the gestating and child oriented activities and guess what? Yep. The females compete for the males! The female seahorses are larger than the males, they are more aggressive and violent, they develop more slowly than the males and they have a shorter lifespan. Our differences are largely about whether we are in the competing group or the sought group not in whether either sex is good or bad.
This flies in the face of our last 40 years of demonizing males for their aggressiveness, competition, and violence. Would we condemn the male big horn sheep for butting heads? No. It is built into who they are. This is not to say that men should be excused for being violent, far from it. This is why we have laws. What we are simply saying is that we need to understand that men’s aggressiveness is often a part of the male package at birth. Blessing the men for this and helping them learn how to steward that aggressiveness and violence in productive ways for the general good seems far better than condemning men simply because they are male.
Tom Golden is the author or three books, Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing, The Way Men Heal, and Helping Mothers be Closer to Their Sons: UnderStanding the Unique World of Boys. Tom was the creator of the youtube channel Men Are Good and served as the vice chairman of the Maryland Commission for Men’s Health. He has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years.