Re: Personal responsibility [was Re: Genderless societies]

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 20 Sep 1999 11:48:07 -0700 (PDT)

>> Sex between an older woman and young boy is a qualitatively
>> different act than the same act between parties of the same age and
>> opposite gender. The consequences to the victim--both physical ones
>> like pregnancy and disease and emotional ones--are different in
>> degree and character, and /should/ be treated differently.

> Please state what makes them ``qualitatively different''. > Please state what you consider ``different natures''.

This thread is straying a bit from Extropian themes, so I should justify my response by saying that it is necessary for us to fully understand our natures in order to transform them intelligently, and we should adopt legal and social systems that are capable of adapting to new discoveries--even if those discoveries are about things that have existed for centuries.

The most recent fairly comprehensive study on adult-child sex is the APA's "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples", which raised considerable (and almost violent) controversy because it dared to be honest. Its primary findings were that sex between adults and minors does not usually cause as much harm to the minor as generally believed (by their measure of "harm" which was basically how psychologically well-adjusted the victim is in their college years), that girls are harmed more than boys, and that social systems for dealing with such abuse can themselves cause iatrogenic harm.

This should really be no surprize. On a pure percentage basis, a typical male human shares more DNA with a typical male chimpanzee than with a typical female human. Of course that comparison is a bit naive, but it is instructive. The gene pools for men and women have evolved for millennia in tandem, but they are still two gene pools. Even those genes not on the Y chromosome may have their expression regulated by hormones during fetal development or later in life, so even they can contribute to gender differences. Men's and women's bodies (and therefore brains, and therefore psychology) have evolved to suit their functions.

The primary factor influencing the divergent evolution of males and females is, of course, the simple inescapable fact that women must invest many times as much energy and risk to produce a child as do men. To a woman, the act of sex was risking her life to the dangers of childbirth, then risking years of producing the necessary food and labor to raise the child. There was doubtless considerable selection pressure on women to develop physical and cognitive traits to minimize that risk. One of those traits, for example, is selectivity. Since reproduction was so dangerous, it paid to make sure that her investment had the greatest chance of paying off. This means that the ideal strategy for a woman is to carefully select a mate that she could be sure would co-invest in the child after birth, and a mate that has good genes to ensure the child's survival (note that there is no particular selection pressure for those to be the same man:)

For a man, the ideal strategy was to be more promiscuous. It was in his benefit to select a stable, healthy mate and spend energy caring for their children, but there was no downside to also spreading extra sperm around when the chance arose. There was no selection pressure for men to evolve psychological traits causing them to avoid or dislike random sexual encounters that involved little or no economic investment on his part. He's not the one risking his life to childbirth.

Today, modern medicine, birth control, economic wealth, and other new technologies make all that old hardware irrelevant. There's no longer any great reason for these differences, and to some degree we have overcome them. /But the wiring is still there/. We can hope that in centuries to come evolution will even the scales (and we're already seeing that happen to some extent; women's sports records, for example, are already far beyond men's records of only a generation behind, and the gap is closing).

Even if we completely ignore the psychological effects, there is still the fact that a woman who is raped risks pregnancy and has a much higher risk of disease than a man. That alone might justify treating the crimes differently based on the victim's gender. But still there's that wiring. On the savanna, women who resisted sex in their youth and selected good mates produced more offspring on the whole, because they were less likely to die in childbirth and more able to care for their children. Men, on the other hand, who had sex in their youth produced more offspring than women the same age, because they had no downside. We are those offspring, and we share those traits. To the extent those traits are caused by genes that differ in expression between sexes, they differ in us.

It's actually quite remarkable that women and men aren't even more different than they are. It is that remarkable similarity that makes it tempting to assume blanket similarity in areas with little research, like psychology. That assumption is made in things like drug studies too. Rarely are drugs tested independently in men and women (except for obvious sex-related things), and that assumption usually works: Aspirin doesn't cure men's headaches and poison women. But let us remember that this assumption is just that: an assumption, with good reason to suspect it's not universal.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC