Yesterday I mentioned the 10,000+ men and boys kidnapped or murdered by Boko Haram, and the Birkenhead Drill (women and children first), but these are not the only examples of male disposability. Men are much more likely to die on the job, to be the victims of violence and suicide, and men on average lead shorter lives. Our society places much greater value on the lives of women than it does the lives of men.
In thinking about this subject, I’m often lead to the question of why this is. Is this merely a symptom of patriarchal socialization, or is there a deeper, more fundamental reason? Full disclosure, I’m no evolutionary biologist. I’m not even a scientist. But, it seems to me that if there is a deeper reason for the association between male lives and disposability, it’s probably a link that stretches back far into antiquity- an evolutionary link. Let’s look at it this way, early man lived in family groups of ~150. These groups were then subdivided into “fission-fusion” tribes for foraging, where the composition of forage groups changes continuously. of that 150, half are women. Of that 75, how many are breed-able? Of those that are breed-able, how many of their offspring are A) female and B) post-pubescent? You end up with small numbers of child bearing women at any given time. A loss of just one of these child bearing women, could spell disaster for the larger group, purely in terms of genetic diversity.
Conversely, one adult male can sire many many children. There is no recuperative time between impregnation, and providing that “his females” have the proper caloric intake to sustain pregnancy and subsequent child rearing, one male has the ability to sire hundreds of children. His biological clock never really runs out. This is the origin of primitive gender roles. Each individual breeding female is too valuable to be lost to violence or famine. Males however are more or less interchangeable. This is why the males hunted (to provide the caloric intake necessary to bear and raise children) and warred (to primarily keep the females safe from harm). So when a male didn’t return from a hunting party or war party, I’m sure the tribe felt sadness for his loss, but better him than any of the breed-able women. This paradigm continued throughout the ancient, medieval, renaissance, and colonial world.
This may all seem far too archaic, but when you consider that human society didn’t change all that much until relatively recently, these biologically necessary gender roles remained in effect, despite the fact that they are no longer needed. The women’s liberation movement did a lot to free women from the shackles of their evolutionary imposition, but we often fail to see the biological and social constraints that men face as equally damaging or equally anachronistic. We are not equal until the lives of men are no longer considered disposable.