[Greta Aurora] During my interactions with men’s rights advocates, I have noticed they often refer to the “truth” with regards to feminism and gender relations. I get uncomfortable whenever I hear someone claim they’re in possession of some kind of absolute truth. I don’t like dogmas. How do you feel about this? Do you think human beings are able to ever uncover the complete truth about anything?
[PW] I can understand your discomfort. I would split truth into two categories, the first is absolute truth such as gravity or light on which everyone can agree, and secondly being what we might call contested truths which often come with conflicting sets of evidence, especially as we see in complex subjects like race or gender politics. When faced with conflicting hypotheses and evidence, “truth” is best applied to an individual who takes one partial position among the many available – it is his or her truth alone. But that partial position becomes dogmatic when pitched as the one and only truth, good for all people. The tendency toward dogma underlines the importance of holding a polycentric approach – ie. the understanding that there are numerous truths involved in any complex field of relationships.
[GA] You trace the origins of chivalry back to the Middle Ages, and the evidence you present is all very clear and convincing. Gynocentrism seems to me as a lot more complicated concept though. Would you not agree that it’s an integral part of not only human, but even mammalian nature? For example, in the vast majority of mammalian species, the males fight each other for dominance and mating opportunities. To what extent do you think humans are capable of consciously overwriting their instincts?
[PW] In mammals, and specifically in human relationships, there exists an interplay of gynocentric and androcentric acts. But the overall relationship between males and females is not necessarily gynocentric as some would insist. The wombs of females are a precious resource for perpetuation of a species, and that reality elicits some measure of protective gynocentrism from males. Conversely, the offspring produced by women’s wombs would be in extremely high danger of perishing without the protective civilization and infrastructure created mostly by men, thus we can conclude that some measure of androcentrism is also necessary. So what we have is not “gynocentric relationships” as necessitated by evolution, but rather a reciprocal relationship between males and females designed to bring the next generation of children to maturity. With that in mind it makes little sense to characterise human relationships as simply gynocentric (meaning woman-centered), and it makes much better sense to characterise them as relationships of reciprocity.
As for male creatures fighting each other to gain access to females, this is the behaviour of dimorphic tournament species, which is contrasted with more monomorphic, pairbonding species. According to biologists like Robert Sapolsky, humans show traits of both dimorphic tournament species and monomorphic pairbonding ones, indicating that we have a more flexible potential to move between these behaviours than other mammals. (Perhaps your readers can watch this short clip by Sapolsky)
A more recent paper by Steve Stuart Williams explores wither humans are highly dimorphic, polygynous animals like peacocks, or are a relatively monomorphic, pairbonding animals like robins, and he concludes that we are closer to the latter than the former. The paper, for anyone interested, is titled Are Humans peacocks or Robins?
With such wide variability in human potential, our cultural customs can be set up to encourage male behaviours into just one side of that potential – say for example the competitive tournament style. If for example we are steeped in the cultural mythology of gynocentrism, a convention that has arisen over recent centuries, we might assume human males are a singularly a tournament species fighting for female access, despite the more complex evidence against this viewpoint. As is often the case, this demonstrates that a cultural myth creates biases in our perspective and limits our potential.
The last part of your question; are humans are capable of consciously overriding reflex instincts, I would say definitely yes – we’ve evolved with large neocortexes for precisely that purpose – rational reflection acts as a survival mechanism in potentially dangerous situations that our instinctual reflexes might lead us into when not checked.
[GA] I’m curious how you interpret one story from Greek mythology in particular: the Trojan War. Is the story of men sacrificing themselves merely to retrieve a beautiful woman a reflection of the human psyche, or merely a form of scripture meant to condition people to see the world a certain way – or anything in between?
[PW] The short answer is yes, myths are correct in stating that beauty is an immensely powerful motivator, so I agree with that truth in the Helen mythology. As an aside Aphrodite, who represents beauty, sensuality, sexuality and love, and to whom Helen prayed for release from her powers, is said more powerful than even the so-called Patriarchal Gods …… able to weaken even the limbs of the mighty Zeus himself.
Mythologies like those contained in the Illiad or Bhagavad Gita contain profound truths about human tendencies, but they can equally be misleading regarding human behaviour. As I stated the elsewhere, fictional material from classical era such as in Helen of Troy (a Greek myth), or Lysistrata (a Greek play) when used as “proof” of gynocentric behaviour or gynocentric culture is too meagre in terms of evidence…… as the old saying goes, “One swallow does not make a summer.” Further, in terms of biological facts about human behaviour, myths can be about as trustworthy as would be the movie Planet of the Apes to future researchers studying the history of primates, or My Little Pony for future researchers studying the real evolution of horses.
[GA] My ultimate question is: to what extent is gynocentrism biologically programmed vs socially constructed?
[PW] I partially answered that above in response to your earlier question, ie. that isolated gynocentric tendencies/acts are part of our biological heritage, as are isolated androcentric acts part of that same heritage. What I don’t buy is the belief that humans are somehow a “gynocentric species” or that overall relationships between men and women are biologically designed to be gyno-centric. This totalising proposition for gynocentrism, that gynocentrism should somehow dictate and swallow all aspects of male-female interaction is both extreme and, unfortunately, popular. This viewpoint is based on mythology arising out of European culture in which gynocentric customs have become amplified through the deployment of what are called supernormal sign stimuli – a term used in ethology circles to show how the behaviour of mammals can be made to overrun their evolutionary purpose via the deployment of sophisticated sign-stimuli and propaganda. I co-wrote an article on this complex topic with Paul Elam entitled ‘Chasing The Dragon’ which is available in print and on YouTube which explains the sign stimuli of chivalry, and romantic love, exaggerates gynocentrism in human populations in a way that overruns gynocentrism’s evolutionary purpose.
[GA] You previously mentioned you don’t agree with looking at masculinity and femininity as the order-chaos duality. Is there another archetypal/symbolic representation of male and female nature, which you feel is more accurate?
[PW] Some archetypal portrayals are distinctly male and female, such as male muscle strength and the various tests of it (think the Labours of Hercules), or pregnancy and childbirth for females (think Demeter, Gaia etc.). Aside from these universal physiology-celebrating archetypes, many portrayals of male or female roles in traditional stories can be best described as stereotypes rather than archetypes in the sense that they are not universally portrayed across different mythological traditions. For example you have a Mother Sky and a father Earth in classical Egyptian mythology, and males are often portrayed as nurturers. Also, many archetypes are portrayed interchangeably among the sexes – think of the Greek Aphrodite or Adonis both as archetype of beauty, or Apollo and Cassandra as representatives of intellect, or warlikeness to Ares or Athene.
To my knowledge the primordial Chaos described in Hesoid’s Theogeny had no gender, and when gender was assigned to Chaos by later writers it was always portrayed as male. There is no reason why we can’t assign genders to chaos and order by which to illustrate some point, but we need to be clear that this rendition is not uniformly backed by archetypal portrayals given in myths – and myths are the primary datum of archetypal images. So broadly speaking the only danger would be if we insist on the female = chaos and male = order as incontrovertible dogma (which, to be clear, I know you are not doing as you rightly oppose such dogma).
There’s a rich history of psychological writings which look at chaos as a state not only of the universe, or societies, but as a potential in all human beings regardless of gender.
[GA] You correctly point out that men and women are more alike than different in temperament, on average – the main disparities are seen at the extremes of the curves, when lined up next to each other. However, there are some significant biological differences, which make me doubt complete equality is possible to achieve. Obvious reproductive and hormonal differences aside, I’d like to ask you to consider physical strength. The average man has approximately double the upper body strength of the average woman. Do you think differences like this can be discounted in a liberal society? Do you not see it as a potential problem with regards to equality under the law and in work environments (e.g. sentencing perpetrators of rape and other types of physical assault; military service; dangerous jobs with a physical component)?
[PW] I agree with everything you mention here. Completely. Those differences between men and women are very real and are not going away. While equality may be possible in the numerous areas in which men and women are alike either psychologically or physically (in the area of overlap underlined by Jordan Peterson who stated that “men and women are more the same than they are different”), a complete equality is a ridiculous thing to want or to attempt to mandate socially. That’s why we hear the popular slogan among men’s advocates that “we support equality of opportunity, but not equality of outcome.”
[GA] Speaking of equality in society more broadly, I wish it was possible to achieve. In theory, I do believe we can be different and equal at the same time. However, it’s just not obvious to me what this would look like in practice. Do you think men and women must become more like each other in order to be fully equal? Or can we have equal opportunities and fair legislation, while also celebrating our differences?
[PW] This is something that each modern individual or couple must decide for themselves. Modern society has graced us with the option of following traditional gender roles, or creative modern roles, or perhaps something in between. In his book Myth Of male Power, Warren Farrell advocates a partial move away from traditional gendered roles that ensured cooperation and survival. He referred to those roles as “Stage 1. survival roles” and proposed a move toward roles which are more shared – such as sharing the child rearing and money earning. This proposition of course infuriates advocates of traditional roles. I wouldn’t personally go so far as advocating the transition to Farrell’s Stage-2 roles, but I think its worth noting that we all do have such options available now.
[GA] In ‘The Dying Femme Fatale’, I mourn the death of femininity in the western world. At the time, I was looking at these issues purely from the female perspective. Do you think there’s a place for traditional masculinity and femininity in today’s culture?
[PW] Yes absolutely, there’s a place for traditional femininity and masculinity – especially for those who are attracted to these ways of being. I look at women in traditional cultures who can be powerfully alluring and simultaneously demure by way of complimenting men’;s strength, agency and sexuality – and to my eyes it is art, a beautiful dance that has stood the test of time. Conversely, I also see the art and beauty of men and women who embrace more of their human potential, and if they can make that work in a relationship I say power to them. Again it all comes back to individual choices rather than who is right or wrong….. at least that’s how I tend to view it.