Among all the topics Jordan Peterson has addressed during his meteoric rise in the public sphere, dominance—or dominance hierarchies, and how without them “there’s nothing but conflict”—is the one that stands out to me, since I’m the midst of writing a book on this subject as it relates to marriage and relationships.
Since time immemorial, man has been the dominant sex. But that has been slowly eroding, as Hanna Rosin pointed out in her infamous 2010 essay, “The End of Men.” “Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed.”
She goes on: “For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more nurturing and more flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end?”
That era has not come to an end because men and women were fulfilling biological imperatives, and they continue to do so regardless of whether or not the need for it remains. Case in point: Scandinavian countries are widely considered the most progressive with respect to gender equality, and men’s and women’s preferences there have in fact widened, or become more disparate—not less. Why? Because of biology. The more choice you give men and women, the more they will choose gendered norms.
Nevertheless, the subject of Rosin’s essay has been at the forefront of culture and politics since its publication in The Atlantic. Are women becoming the dominant sex? And if so, how will this affect, or how has it already affected, the relationship between women and men?
The reason men have been the dominant sex is not, as the culture would have you believe, because men are oppressors. It’s because their work, their earnings, is needed for the protection of women (and children), who at some point become more vulnerable than men due to their ability, and their desire, to bear children, and to breastfeed and care for said children.
So what happens when a country reverses its hierarchal structure, when women (who are still vulnerable for the same reason and always will be) now have to do the providing and the protecting? What happens is as Peterson suggests: conflict ensues.
Has there not been constant conflict and strife between the sexes at the exact time we’ve experimented with gender role reversal? Why yes, there has! Endless, endless conflict.
But here’s the rub: Despite women’s increasing focus on college and career, according to the Pew Research Center the share of women who place marriage and parenthood “high on the list of priorities” is undiminished.
What is also undiminished is women’s desire for dominant men, or men who can provide for and protect them. It may be true that women no longer need to be protected and provided for, but their desire for this hasn’t changed at all.
As just one example, in extensive interviews with medical students for my co-author, John M. Townsend’s book, What Women Want—What Men Want, one-third of the women said they wanted a man who makes them feel “protected.” When Townsend asked the female med students what they needed protection from, they were vague and said it isn’t a rational desire. They knew they would have sufficient money and resources themselves, and they did not actually expect a man to have to protect them from physical danger. Nevertheless, having a man they respected would make them feel more secure. No male medical student offered responses remotely similar to the women’s. Men, in other words, are not looking for a woman to provide for and protect them.
All of which is to say this: If women are on track to become the dominant sex, how will we square this new reality with their desire for dominant men? And how will it square with men’s desire to remain the dominant partner? As Peterson explains in this excellent 5-minute video, men tend to choose the less accomplished woman over the brainiac who’s on track to become highly successful. Men will always move in a direction that allows their dominance to flourish rather than to diminish.
Which is just as well since that’s what most women want, too. Women’s desire for dominant men has not eroded as their own power has increased. On the contrary, the more accomplished women become, their desire for dominant men increases. That’s because women tend to marry across and up the dominance hierarchy, while men tend to marry across and down the dominance hierarchy.
By my calculations, then, that means the gender role reversal that’s currently underway in America is going to translate to a lot of lonely women and men.
It already has.