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Genes Can Vary

Lauryn points to an article discussing the possible roots of men's shameful refusal to take on their fair share of unpaid labor. While generally good, the first argument offered is quite odd:

The animal kingdom is too full of bizarre exceptions to suggest that the roots [of gender differences in work] are chromosomal. Lionesses bring home the bacon, seahorse dads tote their young in pouches.

By this logic, size isn't genetically determined -- after all, some animals (like humans) are big, while others (like seahorses) are small. I have no doubt that seahorse parenting is entirely genetic, though I would imagine there's at least some small proto-cultural/learned element to lions' gender roles.

What's going on here is, I think, a confusion between the old moral idea of naturalness and the newer scientific idea of genetics. To justify something as "natural" is to give it the imprimatur of universality, a principle woven into the very structure of the universe. But while the basic principles of genetics (e.g. how DNA replicates) may be universal, the outcomes are not. (This is what makes the "there are gay chimpanzees and giraffes" argument so strange. It does counter the claim that animals provide evidence that homosexuality is "unnatural." But that claim is wrong independent of any empirical evidence about animals' mating habits. Homosexuality among chimpanzees does not logically tell us anything one way or the other about the origins or appropriateness of the practice among humans.)


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