Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

Woman against nature

It’s a moral obligation of every woman to turn against her nature. At least, if she wants to realize her full human potential. Which every decent human should strive for. So – an obligation.

Nature played on women an evil joke. Endowing them with the same intelligence as men, and yet – subjecting them to a reproductive race that rewards the least worthy human qualities, the ultimate reward of which – to be confined in the prison of activities that degrade human mind.

First, let’s define human potential. My claim is that what makes us human is our reason. Reason is the most noble and most divine part of man’s nature. Aristotle famously claimed that humans have three types of soul. The vegetative soul responsible for growth, which we share with plants, the appetitive soul responsible for independent movement, which we share with animals, and the rational soul – uniquely human. This is the faculty that allows us to think, speak, read, write, and contemplate abstract concepts. The same idea can be expressed through the lens of neurophysiology and the studies of human brain structure. The plant soul is reducible to spinal cord, the animal soul – to reptilian and mammalian brain, the human soul – to cerebral cortex, a part of nervous system that evolved the latest and made all higher cognitive functions possible. It’s the most unique human faculty, the best thing in us, and it’s reasonable to strive to utilize it.

My claim is that most activities traditionally associated with womanhood are degrading to any worthy individual. They don’t contribute to development of any higher faculties of human character – whether you call it soul, mind, or brain. Thinking, abstract reasoning, writing, and creating things. It’s difficult to respect people who dedicate themselves entirely to things trivial, practical, and domestic. Those who internalize house and family as the ultimate values. Whose hobbies are limited to cute crafts. Who treat appearance as the apex of human existence. I have no respect to women who dedicate themselves to the mere life maintenance. But I have an infinite respect for Hannah Arendt, Louise Bourgeois, Kay Sage, and all other women who do writing, art, and philosophy. Expanding the boundaries of knowledge available to the humankind. Doing things that are universal, scalable – not merely practical, trivial, domestic.

It’s a personal choice – feminists say. Indeed, it is. But I argue that some choices are inherently better than others. Some choices submit us to lives that are not entirely human, but more characteristic of animals and plants.

Are gender roles natural or socially constructed? Obviously, both – there’s no strict distinction between the two, because on a sufficiently long time-horizon culture becomes nature.

Nature is a load of useless baggage, dead weight, a set of expired goods. Let’s all strive to do something better with this burden rather than to blindly follow its obsolete dictate.

Natural legacy

First, let’s define nature. Despite our hopes and inclinations, we are utterly conditioned beings. Originated right at this place and adopted to it. The origins of species is impossible without environment that dictates life conditions. Every species evolve to fit their particular environment. On Jupiter, conscious life could have emerged in the form of inert gas like in Isaac Asimov’s ‘Caves of steel’, somewhere else – as an earth-wide mycelium, a superorganism manifesting itself in the form of little blue flowers (as in some novels by Clifford Simak). The possibilities are limitless. But here on Earth, we have adapted to this rock that has a mild force of gravity and a thin layer of atmosphere, a narrow range of temperatures, and bearable barometric pressure. The organisms came in multitudes, those multitudes having to propagate themselves through time. This happened to be done through sexual reproduction. Fast forward 3 billion years – this has created certain social arrangements that we now call natural.

But what we consider natural is what was a good fit thousands of years ago. Since then, the humankind has successfully transfigured external environment to its own preferences. The environment we find ourselves in these days is no longer consists of nature – but civilization. What’s natural now? Whatever is best fitting to the current way of living. We’re free to modify the environment in any way possible. 

What’s certain is that now humankind has more leisure time that can be dedicated to activities beyond mere survival. Finally, we can transcend the lifestyle of animals whose sole preoccupation was reproduction. And ascend to the next level of the Aristotelian ladder, from living in accordance with mammalian soul – to the life guided by human reason.

Social constructivism

In order for any society to survive, someone needs to take care of the private realm: centered around life maintenance and rearing of children, mainly in the domestic sphere. Who? Someone who’s better suited for it. For thousands of years these were believed to be women. The word ‘economics’ came from the Greek ‘oikonómos’ – household management. Not surprisingly, Greek economists were predominantly women (in cities like Sparta women were main land-owners, while life maintenance was mainly delegated to slaves of both genders).

In any case, social constructivism is easy to devour. If early history made the split of responsibilities between men and women advantageous (every specialization of labor is advantageous), capitalism and the need for more skilled workforce allowed women to get access to education and participate in the labor market. As a result, in the modern society any person can choose a role of a ‘hunter’ or a ‘bread-winner’, and anyone can be a ‘homemaker’ – prosperity of a family is defined by the education and professional field of each parent rather than their gender. Anyone can be an engineer or a banker.

So, who should perform the life maintenance tasks these days? Who’s better suited for them in the 21st century environment where gender roles are no longer binding? It’s clear to me that other factors like IQ are a better indicator in determining one’s social role. In a sense, that’s what is already happening under capitalism (people with low IQ resort to service jobs: life maintenance is outsourced to those who don’t aspire for anything more intellectually taxing). And obviously soon it will be all done by the machines. The automation is inevitable. The future is bright.

Gender equality paradox

Alas, when social gender roles were eliminated, another devil remains on the way – the natural instincts. So the next goal is to rid ourselves of those.

Thousands of years of evolution have left their mark in the human genome. The so-called gender equality paradox shows that in the most gender-equal societies like Sweden, girls still choose to become teachers and nurses, and boys – engineers, despite the decades of social policies aimed at ensuring a perfect equality among men and women.

Indeed, the research shows that the split of responsibilities in hunter-gatherers’ communities (staying with tribe vs leaving the village, picking of berries vs hunting for animals) made genders develop ‘distinct psychological abilities to fit their prehistoric roles’ that now manifest themselves in the human genome. As a result, women are better at distinguishing shades of colors, while men are better at tracking fast-moving objects.

Similarly, it’s perfectly understandable why many women these days prefer to spend time with their families – contrary to, say, working 80 hours per week in a corporation. It’s natural and easy for us to take care of others, to be attracted to things cute and things beautiful, to nurse and look after other creatures, to spend time decorating ourselves and stuff around, placing emphasis on the visual appeal and contemplating one’s immediate social life rather than abstract principles that govern the universe. All of it is totally explainable – after millennia of being rewarded for visual appeal and being good at taking care of others instead of going hunting in the wild, this lifestyle has become a default. It doesn’t even make sense to quarrel if it’s nature or culture – whatever’s been culture for millennia will become nature. The neuroscientists have already found evidence that genes can be turned on and off as a result of factors present in the environment (such as repeated stimuli that trigger gene activation).

But nature is not our friend. What’s natural doesn’t equal good. The classic chasm between Is and Ought, descriptive and normative. When human biology drags behind the fast-paced technological progress, natural doesn’t equal good – natural equals obsolete. Dated. Outworn. Irrelevant. The legacy of evolutionary biology is hopelessly outdated. Not all instincts aged well and are equally useful in a highly developed society. An obvious example is a human desire to eat high-carb high-energy food upon encountering it. Once evolutionary adaptive, this feature has now become harmful. Hiccups are an atavism from the times when our fish ancestors breathed though gills. Yet they’re natural. The vagus nerve in the neck of giraffe is natural too, yet – totally useless.

Nature is not our friend. Imagine a hypothetical group of slaves that has been forced to do agricultural work for 10,000 years. They would have evolved to be good at it and perhaps even love it. But would they have to continue when it’s no longer necessary? I think they should find some better stuff to do.

Physis should be refined, improved, transfigured in accordance with reason. Subjected to deliberately chosen aims. ‘A noble human is the one who has transfigured his physis and acquired self-mastery’ wrote Nietzsche. It’s merely a choice to remain an animal. Only by ‘overcoming oneself, sublimating one’s impulses, consecrating passions, and giving style to one’s character’, can one become truly human. The moral duty is to overcome our nature. Even if we love it.

Things to do: women

Society has done its fair part. Now fulfilling her full human potential is the responsibility of every individual woman herself. I would identify the following four things that every woman should strive to renounce for the sake of perfecting her best human self: the tendency to serve others, appeal to domesticity, excessive emphasis on appearance, and the infantilization of interests.

First, we should stop romantizing the idea of serving others. Putting ourselves in a position of servants and care-takers of other creatures. Personal fulfilment through tending others is a harmful myth dictated by Christian tradition. The social roles of a loving wife, caring mother, grateful daughter frankly conceal one single label – a secondary human being. Negotiating with a three-year-old whether he should go to a hairdresser is not the pinnacle of human development. Obviously, we shouldn’t stop having children, but we should stop treating mere life reproduction activities as the ends in themselves. Women who dedicate themselves exclusively to motherhood often find themselves lost and desperate after children leave parents’ home. What’s even worse fate – to watch one’s children grow up to respect their father more than their mother, for his character, moral qualities, and intelligence, not for mother’s care and dedication. 

Second, we should renounce the domestic mentality – the housewife lifestyle that seems to make a come-back under a new hipsterish wrapper. I’m repulsed by these Instagram ‘lifestyle’ pages filled with cosy coffee places, home-made bread recipes, cute kid clothes, fiction books, thrift stores, eco-friendly lifestyle, farmers markets on Sundays, nature trips, coffee play-dates, cotton linen, ceramic homeware, pies, dogs, dogs, DOGS. The new cult of domesticity. In 1966, Barbara Welter described historical development of the concept of ‘true womanhood’ that set standards for femininity. ‘A woman’s proper place was in the home. Cooking, needlework, making beds, and tending flowers were considered naturally feminine activities, whereas reading anything other than religious biographies was discouraged.’ How far are we from Barbara Welter’s 60s definition of a perfect housewife? There’s nothing bad in reading fiction novels, running aesthetic Instagram pages, and preaching self-care, but putting these as the ends in themselves is unworthy of human character. 

Third, we should stop putting excessive emphasis on the visual appeal. Last week, the female part of Twitter was contemplating whether it’s reasonable to spend EUR 600 per month on beauty products – and concluded that yes, as long as it’s personal choice of a woman herself. Well, that’s a notoriously bad choice! What we should do is to cultivate hobbies worth of human beings, not of cute animals.

Just by looking around it’s disturbing to notice the sheer number of industries created for the sole purpose of serving females’ desire to be visually pleasing. Clothing stores and fashion brands with trends lasting for several months, designed with a planned obsolescence in mind. The vast extent of beauty and skincare industry that keeps inventing dozens of useless products every year. Lip scrubs. Quartz face rollers and Gua Sha face tools. Cremes against dark circles under eyes (they aren’t fixable). Skin foundations, highlighters, and bronzers (who even came up with idea to put a thick layer of paint on one’s face?).

The first step should be to stop falling prey to marketing, and focus on better things to spend time and money on – for example, collecting books, not make-up. Appearance can be a secondary hobby but not the end in itself because visual appeal is a crappy foundation for self-worth. It’s well described in the books of Michelle Houellebecq – in the aftermath of sexual revolution (which for him was the peak of European culture starting from Goethe, Thomas Mann, and Marcel Proust), society started to place youth and beauty above all intellectual and moral qualities. Alas, when youth and beauty fade, people are left with nothing else but depression and sorrow, becoming old and undesirable according to their own standards of human worth. Visual appeal is futile and unsustainable. If we want to be attractive even at the age of 70, we need to be mentally attractive.

Finally, we need to reject the infantilization imposed on female character both by society and the females themselves. Have you noticed how much of female content on social media is just about snapping cute dogs in cafes and on streets? Instagram is a predominantly female network, and a typical Instagram page is full of flowers, pastries, outfits, and pics of clouds. What’s even worse is the spreading attraction to tarot, astrology, numerology, and other instances of cheap spirituality. Women should stop infantilizing themselves. Astrology doesn’t work. There’re no ‘other ways of knowing’. The science is not the domain of masculine. Practicing astrology, numerology, yoga, and tarot are not worthy of human reason. Staying ignorant is a choice. Cultivating reason is a duty. Ursula K. Le Guin has formulated it well.

So, if natural instincts are not a good guidance for living, what principles should we follow instead? 

Well, the answer is: everything that has a mental and creative value in it. There’re no biological differences between male and female brain when it comes to intelligence – the average intelligence is the same (even though the statistical distribution may be somewhat different). There’re some other biological differences in male brain caused by exposure to testosterone in utero, which, for instance, make men more aggressive and fighty. Perhaps that’s why we don’t have too many women in the spheres of management and politics (or even philosophy), as these domains require a certain sense on anger, the urge to fight and prove one’s way to others. At the same time, there’re lots of women in art and music – because an artist doesn’t have to be assertive to make his art. Literature, science, art – none of these necessarily require the cultivation of anger (and neither does engineering). So, if not fighting, we should be reading, thinking, and writing. Striving for magnificence, magnanimity, ambition – these are the true moral virtues, and activities worth of a decent human. Not knitting, crafting, and baking.

Men need to change too

Obviously, women have a lot of work to do. However, there’s one last problem to address: men. Alas, reproduction requires both genders. 

Nature acts thorough instincts. Instincts act through males and females. Men seek pleasing facades, women seek men who like pleasing facades. Pleasing facades are a driver of reproduction. In the words of Houellebecq, ‘girls obeying some irrepressible hormonal impulse go on reminding men of the need to reproduce the species’.

As long as evolution dictates survival of the prettiest, the most beneficial reproduction strategy for a female would be to optimize her appearance – it’s merely the most rational choice to pursue that plan. When my girlfriends say they want to have lip fillers – well, no matter how stupid, it’s a rational strategy. For why won’t a beautiful flower take advantage of its predicament – and turn to become something else entirely? Perhaps, if I had a conventionally acceptable appearance, I wouldn’t have much incentive to read Aristotle either. And what a crappy incentive it creates! Instead of thinking of virtue, a wise female would spend her time thinking about how uncomfortable her high-heeled shoes are. Instead of spending money on books, she would spend money on nail appointments. Indeed, why bother with essence, if you can optimize appearance? John Berger wrote that men act and women appear. It always frustrated me that no matter what I post on Instagram, selfies and mirror photos would always have a larger follower engagement.

So when it comes to natural instincts, men have their share of work to do.

First, men need to embrace the idea that best visual appearance doesn’t ensure to the best fit for producing optimal offsprings. Physical beauty is a natural gimmick, an evolution trick (like a peacock’s tail) – a proxy signal to give a vague indication that an individual is likely to possess good health. Obviously, appearance on its own is a useless quality for survival – a tiger would eat any human, no matter how ugly or pretty. So which parameter is more influential in maximizing one’s survival and determining life success? Obviously – intelligence. The research shows that the intelligence of a child is clearly correlated with education level of a mother. The smarter and more fulfilled the mother is, the better off and more suited for life the offsprings will turn. Choosing partner only by looks is irrational from the male’s perspective if his goal is to optimize the reproduction outcome.

Second, if a male’s goal is to maximize such parameter as duration of a relationship, choosing partner by appearance is a bad foundation too. Let’s approach it from the side of philosophy. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle devotes two chapters to the examination of friendship – a very broad concept for him that covers all sorts of human relationships between various parties: citizens of the same polis, rulers and ruled, fathers and sons, and finally – men and women. Friendships can be those of utility, those of pleasure, and those of virtue. Marriage for Aristotle is mainly a utilitarian union, while love affairs belong to the friendship of pleasure. However, when appearance of a beloved one fades, the whole relationship collapses. Unless both parties derive pleasure not in merely seeing one another, but in taking interest in the same things, activities, and intellectual pursuits. In such case, a relationship has a potential of becoming a friendship of virtue – the most noble, long-lasting, and fulfilling out of all.

Finally, we might need to rethink the institution of family as a whole. After all, society still has a list of things to do. So, in the next post I’ll try to describe the potential ways to rebuild social institutions related to the sphere of reproduction. The future is bright. As long as we’re ready to embrace it.

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