Life Coach

Dr Peter L Nelson

Gender Reflections

Can we consciously create a more gender-balanced evolution?
I found an article on “toxic masculinity” by Stephen Asma very interesting (click here to read). Taken together with an examination of the politics of gender in an article by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper (“Gender is not a Spectrum”—click here to read), we are presented with some excellent reflections that provide insight into gender relations.

Having been a neuroscientist and having studied ethology as well, I tend to see that we have a bio-evolutionary inheritance from which a significant amount of our behavior arises. These survival strategies of the ancient past (our 'baboon-brains'), that depended on hierarchy and gender domination, are now experienced as toxic to many of us. However, I don’t see that our evolutionary past necessarily has to dictate how we live in the present. By acknowledging that we are both biology and culture as a starting point, we can revision our survival strategies looking toward a future of more balanced relationships. Although feminists have argued that gender roles are culturally inculcated and not biologically determined, a failure to recognize a strong bio-evolutionary component will prevent us from successfully managing who and what we are.

When I observe people and, in particular, gender-driven behavior, I’m reminded of the studies conducted on baboon troupes. The gender domination by ‘alpha’ males is not the only aspect of this bio-social formation that has been passed down to us across speciation. Alpha male ‘rule’ also appears to be the socio-economic foundation of the ‘one percent’ hierarchy that we find ourselves in today. Feudalism (serfs attending to and supplying the lord of the manor with wealth) is a more sophisticated baboon troupe but still with an alpha male at the top dominating all below and garnering most of the available power (wealth).

The central socio-economic issue throughout history has been the successful propagating of one’s family and clan into the future through the use of power and dominance. It appears to be a neurological, evolutionary fact that the limbic brain, together with its neo-cortex, are wired to survive and thrive through physical domination of people and supplies. This drive is the basis of our primate inheritance and underlies our gender and social imbalances that we experience today. However, as society and consciousness have evolved, there has been conscious reflection on our ‘troupeness’ and how it works. For many of us, allowing our inherited bio-evolutionary impulses and desires to remain unaltered is no longer acceptable.

It appears that people are awakening from their programmed evolutionary ‘bio-trance’ at different rates. Anyone who has been the object of the dominance imposed by this neuro-evolutionary hierarchical drive probably has had greater motivation to awaken sooner, and that would include members of any group that has found itself the object of the hierarchy’s oppression—first and foremost women. The issues of group protection and passing on the most ‘fit’ genes may have generated a successful ‘one percent’ solution in our past evolutionary history, but it does not mean that this is the answer to a successful socio-economic future. Simply stated, it is within our conscious capacity to alter our evolution to operate more fairly as well as benefit our species overall.

The first step in such a change process is to start to behave from conscious reflection, rather than blindly following limbic reflex. In the case of male behaviors toward women, we can start by assuming that women’s desires, needs and capacities have equal valence to men’s. In a sense, it is recognizing what evolved as a successful biological strategy for passing on the most ‘fit’ genes is no longer the best way forward for our species. What has been described as the evolution of consciousness can be understood as a growing awareness of ourselves to a degree that allows for our conscious participation in our future evolution. Mindful, reflective attention to our behavior and its impact now has the capacity to become a selective ‘pressure’ resetting our species evolutionary direction.

It seems to me that a central part of this conscious evolutionary process is to recognize women as equal partners in our species development. Women can choose together with men how to form socio-economic relationships, rather than being driven by male dominance mediated through manipulation and violence. The old model may have worked for pre-human primates in our evolutionary past, but now it’s more an obstacle to long-term survival of our species than a means of creating safety and stability.

It is also arguable that the reframing of our gender relations toward a conscious, participatory model may facilitate a move away from the current socio-economic system that creates ‘one percent’ economic hierarchies—a topic I will explore in a future blog.