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Man's Place

By Annalee Newitz

SCIENTISTS in Norway have discovered that male-dominated societies are doomed to extinction. Somewhere at a university in Oslo, a bunch of researchers decided to perform a rather mean experiment on a bunch of lizards. First, they created a group of lizards whose population was three-quarters male, then another that was three-quarters female. They compared the behavior of both to a control group with gender balance.

Turns out that when male lizards are in the majority, female lizards die younger, have fewer babies and receive two to three times as many wounds from male lizards during the mating process.

Over time, the population skews more and more male and shrinks precipitously. Eventually, the researchers speculate, a male-dominated lizard group would simply die out. They call this process an "extinction vortex." Female-dominated lizard groups, on the other hand, are a model of happy cooperation, growing larger and flourishing over time.

Somehow, this experiment made me think of Maureen Dowd, and her new book, Are Men Necessary? One of Dowd's basic ideas is that men aren't necessary to the reproduction of the species, because women don't depend on them for anything crucial like financial support (most women have jobs) or to make babies (that's what sperm banks are for). In addition, Dowd says, men aren't interested in high-powered career women like her anyway. "I think it's turned out that men ... oftentimes would rather be with a woman who is in awe of them," she told CNN in an interview.

Looked at from this perspective, Homo sapiens is doomed. The more powerful women become, the less they will want to have sex with men—and the less men will want to have sex with them.

What would our friends the lizards think about Dowd's scenario of a looming and dangerous indifference of the human sexes toward one another? Will female dominance among Homo sapiens cause an extinction vortex? Or will female-dominated humans thrive, just as the female-dominated lizards did?

Personally, I think we should conduct a series of experiments on humans to discover the answer. Instead of making women dominant in terms of population size—the way the Norwegian scientists did with their lizards—let's make women dominant by altering their biology.

I'd like to see a band of radical biopunk feminists emerge who take Dowd's ideas one step further. Instead of saying women have the same earning power as men and are therefore equal to them, why not build a new generation of women who are physically as big and strong as men?

Let's take genetic engineering into our own hands and eliminate the last of the differences between the sexes! OK, we'll keep the fun, "ice cream" differences that feel nice on warm nights. But with a little gene doping, we could have women whose upper-body strength is equal to men's and who run just as fast.

We could manipulate women's hormones so that they only get their periods when they want. Same goes for getting pregnant. Suddenly, it would start to seem stupid that men and women don't compete against each other in sports events. And there would be absolutely no good reason to keep women out of infantry duty in the army.

In truth, I think this is a great idea. What exactly would happen to sexism in a society where women could kick men's asses as often as men could kick women's?

What I'm afraid of is that precisely nothing would happen. There would be a lot of outraged editorials about how unnatural it all was. Then people would get used to it and go back to watching our male president—who happens to be a lot less physically coordinated than many women—tell his largely male staff and the largely male Congress that we're going to continue our war with another male-dominated society.

I think biology is largely irrelevant when it comes to the battle of the sexes. Even if women don't need men to reproduce and bring them food anymore, men still dominate, because they hold so much more political and social power than we do. That's why sometimes, when you're a feminist, it sucks not to be a lizard. At least lizards know why it's a bad idea to leave the men in charge.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who can't wait for the feminist biopunk revolution.

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From the November 30-December 6, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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