Biological Essentialism refers to a way of thinking that says, in essence, “biology is destiny”. In the past this kind of view has been used to create different classes of human beings, like saying that Native Americans are ‘savages’, black people are somehow ‘less’ than human or women are not ‘capable’ of being scientists. These more blatant examples have given way in our era to much more subtle ways of perpetuating power based gender differences. “Boys being Boys” is one very routine example. The idea that men are somehow entitled to behaving immaturely because of biological differences is a way that men hold on to dated understandings of the roles of men and women. And I am not an exception here – I still try to get away with some ‘typical male’ behaviors when I don’t want to accept responsibility for my actions and motivations. And don’t get me wrong – I think that these distinctions are reinforced by the WHOLE culture, not just by men.
My opinion these days is that the essential purpose biological gender differentiation has served so far in evolution is now vastly overwhelmed in importance by the evolution of ideas / thoughts. Not all my ideas seem to be determined by my biology. I also seem to have some strong male biological urges and traits, which are backed up by lots of evolutionary biology research. When I unconsciously walk through my life, using my biology as destiny, I do things that are essentially harmful to the survival of the planet and the survival and well-being of my relationships. I love being a part of the ManKind Project because it gives me a safe place to look at and work with ALL of these pieces of me. I don’t deny my biology, the hormones and genes that carry information about what I look like and how I react, or that there are some differences between men and women – but the fact that we have 40,000 years of evolution in our frontal lobes should also carry some weight. Whatever biological advantage was offered by the differentiation of male and female personality traits has probably run its course.
The more we learn about our brains, the more we learn that our thoughts are also physical functions of our beings and have the power to trump our basic biology. Our ‘soul’ is in our head and in our bodies – one integrated unit. I believe that what we call “masculinity” is 99% ideas, concepts and values that are culturally driven, not biologically determined.
The question I like to ask – how are my biological urges (which could be harmful or beneficial) serving the long term survival of my species (OR of my marriage!)? This is the unique place that we humans find ourselves in – we actually have the power to use the choice making machines on top of our shoulders and act contrary to the biological evolution of our cells and bodies (which take EONS to change through natural selection). We have managed to render biological evolution almost irrelevant – because we have destroyed the natural predators and overcome the major obstacles to survival.
Now we (human beings) are the primary predators. We are now officially our own worst enemies. So what evolution have we developed to handle this predator? Ideas evolve very rapidly – we can choose to NOT act on the biological urges which are destructive to ourselves and others, even when our choices run counter to our ‘masculine’ drive to procreate and dominate. I believe that this evolutionary step in our development – brains that can choose contrary to basic biological urges – is our only chance of survival. I can choose to hold my breath til I pass out, to NOT eat when I am hungry, to NOT kill when I am enraged, to love even when I am afraid. This, as much as anything else, is what makes me a man.
The things that seem to be most beautiful about men and women are the things that we share; like love, compassion, strength, intelligence, passion and beauty. I like being involved in Men’s Work because I want to be able to fully experience my connection to other human beings – and having a place to look at the really hard stuff, the painful things that I usually hide from even myself, is a way of helping me feel empathy for all the people I run into in the world.