Dastardly dimorphisms

Women’s brains are 10% smaller than men’s, yet the sexes are equally intelligent. It might not have turned out like this.  It’s easy to imagine a world in which natural selection had made men brighter than women. The image is an awful one, a dystopia in which the relationship between the sexes would surely have been that of master and slave.  Thank goodness it didn’t turn out like that.

But actually, it did turn out like that: not with brains, but with brawn. We’re so used to men being bigger and stronger that we don’t regard this disparity with horror. Yet most men can dominate most women physically, and I believe this is the main reason why in most societies throughout history, the men have been in control. Why do men dominate women? Because they can.

In recent generations, thanks to the cognitive demands of advancing civilization, we are beginning to rise above the physical differences and approach equality. It might not have turned out like this. If the dimorphism had been in brains rather than brawn, the advance of civilization might have increased the inequality between the sexes rather than diminishing it.

[22 April 2011]