Astrogator's Logs

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Artist, Heather Oliver             

Won’t ANYONE Think of the Sexbots?!

From 2008 to 2009 I was a fellow (gratis) of the Institute for Emerging Ethics and Technology. IEET is the public face of a non-libertarian branch of transhumanism that considers itself left-leaning progressive – by US standards, that is. In 2009 I left IEET, because the willful ignorance of biology and the evopsycho blather got to me (as did the fact that there were no non-white non-males in any position of power there). A month ago, they contacted me to ask if I would like to have more of my essays reprinted on their site, and if I’d answer a questionnaire.

The quality of the comments on the IEET site made me decide not to publish there. On the other hand, the questionnaire gave rise to thoughts, especially in light of the steady erosion of women’s status across the globe. I won’t quote lengthy specifics, they’re all around us: from US congressmen trying to pass laws that classify miscarriage as murder to the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and its relentless seepage into mainstream politics. Here’s the list of questions, which I call The Ok, The Bad and the Funny:

The Future of Feminism

  1. How do you think “sex selection” is going to impact women? In China and India, millions of female fetuses have been aborted… do you think this will continue as sex selection becomes more widespread? Or will it even out – or even favor girls? I’ve read that sex selectors choose girls over boys in places like South Korea and Japan…
  2. Women are advancing quickly in political and business positions. They are now 60% of college students, even in graduate programs. Do you think this trend will continue, enabling women to become the dominant gender in many parts of the world?
  3. Getting pregnant no longer requires a male mate. Do you predict a gradual or sudden decline of marriage, for this reason? Do you predict more single mothers-by-choice? An increasingly wide variety of family groups?
  4. Will men become irrelevant, if propagation can occur between two women via parthenogenesis? Is this something that is scientifically possible in the near future?
  5. Do you think the word “feminism” is going to be dated in 40-50 years, because we’ll moving towards a genderless society? That there will be numerous possible gender options, that are easily changeable? Or will there be “women” for at least the next 100 years?
  6. How do you think social institutions will change, as nations become “feminized” due to increasing female presence in power positions? Will increasing women’s power effect education? International relations? Economies? Democracy? the environment?
  7. I have noticed that women don’t seem as interested in cryonics, or life extension. Am I right about that? Why is that? Do you think women are as intrigued by immortality as men? If not, how will progress in life extension proceed in a future where men are declining in influence?
  8. Do you think male and female sex robots will be prevalent in the future? Will they dominate sexuality? Or will only men be interested in them? Will prostitution, and the sex industry in general, be impacted, or replaced by sexbots?
  9. Men presently – generally – have greater physical size and strength than women. Will this change in the future, via various enhancements and augmentations? Will the two genders become physically equal in all aspects? If so, how will this change the dynamics between them?
  10. Genetically, it appears that men are likely to be “outliers” – to be at the far extremes in either intelligence or stupidity. Do you see this changes in the future, via genetic engineering? Do you see women eventually winning 1/2 the Nobel Prizes every year, or even more, for example?
  11. There are still cultures that practice customs like Female Genital Mutilation and Arranged Marriages and Honor Killings. Do you see those misogynistic practices ending soon? Or will they be tolerated for several more decades, because many are disinclined to assert Western ideals on traditional cultures? How will notions about “religion” change as women gain in power?
  12. Do you see other technologies looming ahead that will deeply impact women? A male birth control pill, for example – how would that change society?
  13. Finally, do you see women entering science and tech in larger numbers? Do you think they have different interests in these fields? Do you think they have goals and inventions and purposes they want to accomplish, that differ from male goals/inventions/purposes?

The attentive reader will notice several overarching attributes.  Beyond the gender essentialism, half of the questions are “But… what about the men??” including the angst about family configurations, control of reproduction and, not least, sex robots – clearly, a burning issue. Also telling is that the questionnaire is titled “The Future of Feminism” rather than “The Future of Women”. Insofar as feminism is the simple yet radical notion that women are fully human and should be treated as such, it is frankly stunning that many people, and not just Anders Breivik or the Taliban, are virulently hostile to feminism. This speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of the first globally linked human civilization and its likeliest future direction: women’s prospects look ever bleaker as the global economy circles the drain, since women are shoved back into chattelship, illiteracy and poverty whenever there’s a downturn or an upheaval. Variations of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale have replayed in many places within my lifetime.

“Feminizing” keeps popping up in the questionnaire as well. It looks like the IEET definition of the term is “if at least one woman is present in X” regardless of the final configuration. As far as I’m concerned, for any X to be feminized it requires more than 50% female representation — and last I looked, men still own and run just about everything on this planet. Equally importantly, “feminizing” that makes a difference also requires the high female representation to be across the board (not stuffed into the lower echelons, as research techs in science or gofers in corporations and governments); last but decidedly not least, it requires that X not be devalued in prestige, authority and compensation because it is XX-heavy (math in Japan, partly because during the shogunate merchants were classified as below peasants, and samurai did not soil themselves with money affairs: their wives handled all that, hence no prestige was attached to numbers; medicine in the USSR: most doctors were women, and the perks and pay scale of the profession were low).

Yet another characteristic of the questionnaire is conflation of cause and effect. As one example, everyone knows that many more women should have won Nobels but they were pushed aside by ambitious men with influential mentors and devoted wives. Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, Chien-Shiung Wu, Jocelyn Bell, Lynn Margulis, Jane Goodall, Susan Berget – to name just the very tip of the iceberg. Additionally, intelligence is far more complex than the isolated genius cliché propagated by the IEET questionnaire. As for idiotic suggestions by evopsychos — as a representative example, the contention that men bequeath genes “for brain size” from the Y chromosome, thereby making men routinely more intelligent than women: beyond contributions to spermatogenesis, the next major function determined by Y-linked genes is ear hair.

Here’s another example of muddled causation:  when women see that most men who sign up for cryonic preservation share the physical and emotional attributes of the male cast in The Big Bang Theory, no wonder they’re electing not to join these men in their thermos jar dreams – or in eternal post-rupture bliss (cryonics’ current zero chance of success strictly aside).

I could go on at considerable length but I won’t beat up on the questionnaire too much: it did try to include sciency questions, basic and unfocused as they were. Some of the questions amused me in a sad way, making me conclude that the movement might best be dubbed “transhumorism”. Nevertheless, the concerns mirrored in it do not bode well for the future of humanity. In the end, we will get the fate we deserve as a species. But I’ll say this much: feminism will become irrelevant when questionnaires like this become irrelevant.

Images: 1st, the cast of The Big Bang Theory (as well as an encapsulation of the dynamics); 2nd, self-explanatory; 3rd, the sex dolls of First Androids.

49 Responses to “Won’t ANYONE Think of the Sexbots?!”

  1. Christopher Phoenix says:

    I notice an overarching theme to that questionnaire- the writer think that women are different from men in some deep way, and having more women in influential positions will somehow “feminize” the world and erode male goals. “But what about the poor, underprivileged Men????”, the questionnaire whines constantly, hinting darkly that the poor men will become obsolete as more women turn to artificial insemination- or- (horror of horrors!!) as women figure out how to eliminate males from the equation entirely using parthenogenesis. They don’t forget to complain about how the icky girls will bring their cooties to the treehouse, either. Just out of curiosity- is parthenogenesis really possible between human women?

    Who would even want a sex robot? I’ve been complaining for some time now that transhumanists lack any sense of romance- and they’ve gone and proved my point. You can’t have any emotional connection with a robot, unless we are discussing a truly intelligent android like Data from Star Trek TNG, which we are not. Sex robots can’t provide companionship or hold an intelligent conversation. I can’t believe that the IEET is suggesting sex robots are the next big thing. Speculative fiction predicts that we will explore space in starships, build colonies on other planets, zip around in jet cars, wield deadly ray-guns, and converse with fantastic intelligent machines like HAL. And now the IEET is telling me that all we’re going to have is a useless sexbot?

    It is obvious what outlying extreme region of intellectual capacity the writer of this questionnaire occupies- it begins with “s” and ends with “d”. No, sex robots will not catch on- at least not with emotionally mature red-blooded humans. Women are fully human individuals with their own individual thoughts and feelings, not a unified army that seeks to take over the world with girl cooties. Maybe there is some sort of gas that is released by transhumanist concepts that clouds transhumanist thinking, like the zienite mines in the Star Trek TOS episode “The Cloud Minders”. Probably that is far too charitable an assumption.

  2. Asakiyume says:

    My younger daughter was just railing about the prevalence of “But what about the Men” attitude in discourse. I’d share her LJ entry, but it’s locked. Here’s a quote, though:

    The thing you most often get people saying in relation to racism or homophobia is, “You need to realize your privilege,” but in the case of sexism? Seriously? I need to realize my “female privilege”? What is that, exactly? The privilege to have people occasionally prefer me for certain tasks because they believe, as a female, I must be inherently less threatening, more nurturing, more pleasing to the eye, more subservient?

    This is a privilege? Because shoot, son, if that’s the case, I sure as hell don’t want to know what a disadvantage is.

    I am passionate about gender equality. I want to eliminate sexism in society. And thus, I am a feminist. If you have such an issue with that term that you think there needs to be an entire new rights movement solely for men, then maybe you need to consider your privilege.

    I always notice a tendency for the dominant group to be terrified of (and to have titillating fantasies about) a role reversal–e.g., movies in which America is invaded and colonized.

    And I’ve seen, and been flabbergasted, by men reacting with fear to small progresses of women. A person on my friends list wrote at length about what he saw as the injustices of the Indian legal system, which he saw as biased toward women. He’s Indian, and doesn’t need me pointing out his own history to him, so I just suggested that, given the history of women all over the world, and the conditions of women all over the world, that if he found himself feeling offended by a perceived injustice in the law right now to favor women, he might want to step back and think about context.

  3. Caliban says:

    Not that you need me to repeat this, but what a clunky and tin-eared “questionnaire”! It also strikes me as poorly researched (or not researched at all), such as the questions about sex-selection, about decline in marriage, all of them, really–a few moments of research would shed immense light on them.

    The mid-list SF author Michael Flynn blames “feminism” in part for the decline of the respect for science ( which is a real jaw-dropper when you read it. What he means by “feminism” is very different from what you or I mean when we say “feminism.” I use your definition: feminism = women are people too. But Flynn and many others choose a different definition. (I should give a hat tip to a friend of mine, or rather the husband of a friend of mine, a professor of rhetoric married to a female physicist, who pointed out to me what in retrospect is obvious: that there are many different feminisms, or at least different definitions of feminism.) Flynn certainly, and perhaps your interogator above, chooses to believe–and I use that phrase deliberately–that feminism means “the belief that gender is entirely constructed,” even though you’d be hard-pressed to find many who actually believe that, even in Women’s Studies departments.

  4. Dylan Fox says:

    I agree that the questionnaire has little to say apart from whining about men possibly maybe perhaps being asked to give up some of their unearned privilege.

    However, to answer one question: I’d quite like a sex robot. My dominant sexual attraction is to sentient (as in, sentient enough to give fully knowledgeable consent) animals, and there’s no way to satisfy that in nature. Sex robots are pretty much my only hope. Right or wrong, it’s the way I was made and I can’t do anything to change it.

  5. Athena says:

    Christopher, Calvin — you discuss feminism in connection with gender essentialism. Although differences between the genders obviously exist, the variability within each is at least as great as that between them (not even considering people biologically between the binary). The sole functions exclusive to women are childbearing and lactating. The rest, including capacity for thinking and acting, are shared by all humans. So gender roles are constructed, deepening whatever lines of easy flow happened to exist at a particular place/time context. The fact that most cultures devalue women and their work may have to do with the dependency started during the onset of agriculture, which deprived women of mobility and gathering skills, and shortened pregnancy intervals.

    As Francesca points out, the persistence of Michael Flynn, the transhumorists, MRAs and other suchlike on patently self-serving definitions of feminism speaks to a deep-seated and abiding fear of losing unearned perks awarded automatically and collectively to the gender based solely on visual inspection of primary genitalia. If even the worst man (by whatever definition, including resemblance to the local tribal god) is assumed to be better than even the best woman, it’s easy to see why that would be hard to give up.

    Dylan, women are furry animals also. It has been men’s eons-long preference that women remove their natural fur so that they look child-like even when they’re adult (nakedness is also a sign of vulnerability — removal of clothes and forcible shaving is an integral part of subjugation across cultures). The term “hairy-legged feminist” (or equivalent) is a common pejorative to put uppity women in their place. I for one have never removed any body hair — on principle, as well as comfort. It weeds out the chaff in relationships like you wouldn’t believe.

  6. Caliban says:

    You’re absolutely right (of course) that part of the strategy for attacking a straw-woman version of feminism is to conflate gender roles with gender physiology, and then to insist such conflation on their opponents.

  7. Zarpaulus says:

    Isn’t parthenogenesis when a female lays diploid eggs?
    And has never been observed in mammals?

    One of the three or four people who follow my blog is a (white male) feminist who thinks that women should reproduce using nanotechnology during lesbian sex and that his own gender should be reduced to “mandroid” servitors. (His blog:

  8. Zarpaulus says:

    Oh and Dylan, there’s a dating site for Furry fans you know, you could try finding a girl with one of those high-end fursuits.

  9. Athena says:

    As far as I know, parthenogenesis does not occur naturally in mammals (although it does in plants, invertebrates and other vertebrates, up to and including reptiles). Although it has been induced in mice, parental-specific imprinting is a serious problem: the mechanism silences specific and distinct portions of each contributing chromosomal set as a necessary prerequisite to development. The likeliest use of parthenogenetically produced human cells is as stem cells that are perfect matches to the person who produced them.

    As I said earlier, grown girls (aka women) have their own, very high-end fursuits. I find it interesting that people won’t recognize what’s under their noses.

  10. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > [I]t is frankly stunning that many people. . . are virulently
    > hostile to feminism. This speaks volumes about the prevailing
    > assumptions of the first globally linked human civilization. . .
    Yukio Mishima, who. . . wrote about being a weakling as
    a young man, had this to say about men [who sympathize
    with feminists]:

    “The cynicism that regards hero worship as comical is always
    shadowed by a sense of physical inferiority.”

    While this is not true of all male feminists (Jackson Katz
    advertises himself as a former “all-star football player”)
    it is apparently true of. . . [many whose] work. . . [is] extremely
    influential in the field of men’s studies [“men’s studies”
    being simply a branch of feminism, in this author’s view].

    This drive to castrate and discredit the hero-alpha-father is
    an abstract attempt by low status males to increase or regain
    status via intellectual means. The sensitive, bookish outcast
    screams “Your manhood is false, and you are a fraud!” and
    then runs into the arms of sympathetic women who tend his
    emotional wounds and deftly exploit his exposed vulnerabilities,
    or into a ghetto of other outcast men.

    The outcast, omega or low status male who abandons
    “The Guy Code” and the “themes” of masculinity idolizes women
    because fiery women are the foils of alphas. . .

    This vindictive attraction to strong women and castrating
    bitch-goddesses finds its ultimate expression in gay camp.
    Gay writer Daniel Harris described gay diva worship as a
    “bone-crushing spectator sport in which one watches the triumph
    of feminine wiles over masculine wills,” and divas themselves
    as a “therapeutic corrective [to gay men’s own] highly
    compromised masculinity.”

    The pro-feminist men’s movement has much in common with the
    gay movement, and the two have been allied since the 1970s. . .
    Together, they mounted a vengeful evisceration of the ineloquent,
    brawny philistines who gave them wedgies and made them feel
    like little bitches.

    In other words,

    Life is so simple, once you’ve figured it out!

  11. Athena says:

    Donovan’s stuff is a toxic regurgitation of half-digested evopsycho crap — alpha males, rape genes, you name it, we got it. Mishima was no better, and the regressive macho strutting didn’t even make him happy. Nevertheless, women (especially feminists) and gay men are not automatic allies and their interests intersect sporadically past the “default masculinity” issues. Diva worship by gay men is among the staples of anti-feminism for all kinds of reasons. I wrote briefly about this when I reviewed The Queen’s Throat by Wayne Koestenbaum.

  12. Caliban says:

    What the…?

    “This drive to castrate and discredit the hero-alpha-father is an abstract attempt by low status males to increase or regain status via intellectual means. The sensitive, bookish outcast screams “Your manhood is false, and you are a fraud!” …”

    Uh, no. The “sensitive, bookish outcast” actually notices that alpha male manhood is false and that the brutal, preening would-be alpha male, “the ineloquent, brawny philistines who gave … wedgies [in high school]” is generally miserable. Abandoning macho posturing is an immense relief and leads to greater happiness for all.

  13. Athena says:

    Also, as I have said many times before, there are no biological alpha males in humans, or in their nearest relatives (bonobos and chimpanzees). Hierarchies became possible only after the rise of pyramidal societies; if anything, humans are unique in having obliterated female power alliances that exist in all other primates. Freud was as wrong in this as he was in just about everything else. The (literally) burning question in human society has always been “What do men want?” Hence the conditioning to consider unquestioned male dominance the correct permanent state for both biology and culture — and the teristerical shrieks when the female furniture starts to move around.

  14. Adam says:

    A lot of this “what about the men?” question comes from the idea that women are now allowed to do “men’s work” and “women’s work”, while men aren’t allowed to do “women’s work”.

    But comparing my friends’ and coworkers’ overwhelmingly positive reactions to my decision to be a stay-at-home dad (or if money doesn’t permit, casual-working primary caregiver) to my fiancee’s experiences as an engineering student makes me think that’s not entirely true.

  15. Athena says:

    “Allowed”? That’s a hangup primarily from the male side, because “women’s work” (which differs across cultures) is automatically considered demeaning, aka emasculating, aka feminizing. Trust me, if women could exchange unpaid or low-paid housework with CEO pay rates and perks, they’d do it in a nanosecond. The problem is that while women have undertaken men’s work through most of history, the men still wanted their free time to unwind and their slippers and sandwiches fetched (to say nothing of someone else picking up the socks and doing the laundry); women, on the other hand, have had no rights to “off time” because, well, they are women.

  16. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > Donovan’s stuff is a toxic regurgitation of half-digested evopsycho crap. . .

    Yes. He calls it “paleomasculinity”

    Many of the folks who buy into this, including Donovan himself,
    seem to rationalize it by claiming that if we (as in western,
    or at any rate westernized, civilization) don’t return to
    patriarchal norms (including rescinding women’s right to vote,
    as Singularity-sponsor Peter Thiel also advocates, or at least
    so I’ve heard ),
    then the human race will die out. Either that, or the pro-feminist groups
    will simply be supplanted by the more reproductively successful
    patriarchal groups. At any rate, he thinks THIS CAN’T GO ON! ;->

    (I suspect these views aren’t at all uncommon among the >Hists.
    Here’s one example, from the guy credited with coining the term
    Notice also that “The Spearhead” leads off his blog roll.)

  17. Athena says:

    People published excerpts from Breivik’s diaries verbatim on MRA sites like Donovan’s. They were greeted with great enthusiasm and approval — in some cases, even when their source was revealed, along the lines of “The guy was fed up with being oppressed, it’s only natural!” Just as Lépine wanted to be accepted in engineering school because he had the “right” genitals, and killed a dozen women to assert his “natural” rights — or men kill their entire families when their wives are asking for a divorce. Better dead than raised by an uppity woman!

    Thiel did write that giving the vote to women doomed western civilization as he defines it, in an essay for a conservative thinktank. The money quote: “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.” This is similar to the complaint of the questionnaire that women are not falling all over themselves to sign up at Alcor.

    Tiptree nailed it in The Women Men Don’t See: “Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men // run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We’ll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You’ll see.”

  18. Adam says:

    ““Allowed”? That’s a hangup primarily from the male side, because “women’s work” (which differs across cultures) is automatically considered demeaning, aka emasculating, aka feminizing.”

    I probably should have remembered to put quote marks around the word “allowed”, yes. Sorry.

  19. figleaf says:

    Having spent a great deal of time thinking about this I think the biggest “what about the men” question needs to be “what about the men who think that just because men aren’t attractive to heterosexual men that men must therefore not be attractive to heterosexual women?” Because it sure seems like a heck of a lot of those MRA/Ev-Psych/IEET questions are based on that premise.

    I mean, yeah, they fret endlessly about what “the feminists” think about men, but… ya know? It seems an awful lot like projection of men’s perceptions of themselves.

    Take that question about what will become of men when women gain the ability to reproduce via “parthenogenesis.” Well. “Girls Gone Wild” and ev-psych fantasies of women’s sexual “fluidity” notwithstanding, ~95% of women identify as primarily heterosexual. And sort of by definition heterosexual women are still going to want to be partners with men. And so the answer to the anxiety-drenched parthenogenesis” question is almost certainly “only a very small percentage of women would use it, and chances are it’s the same percentage of women who already aren’t interested in men anyway.” But again, this doesn’t seem credible to anxious hetero men because they imagine that if they’re not sexually attracted to men then how could anyone be?

    All in all it’s pretty frustrating that men seem to ask “what about the men” mainly as a rhetorical ploy when “battling” feminism. Because near as I can tell men are far more afraid of, contemptuous of men, have less use for men, consider men more “irrelevant”, and are just generally more “man-hating” than all but the slimmest fraction of actual feminists. (And even then, the fact that men are fascinated by the pronouncements of marginal and increasingly ancient-history “feminists” like Valerie Solanas says more about what men believe than what feminists do.)

    Anyway, since this self-loathing predated feminism there’s exactly zero reason for men to worry about it. Instead of asking exiting feminists “what about the men,” men in the IEET and elsewhere need to start asking themselves.

    So yeah. What about those men?


    p.s. This self-deprecation and desperate self-loathing contributes to sexism in STEM fields: the old Red Green axiom “if the women don’t find you handsome they should at least find you handy” works if and only if women are kept from becoming handy themselves. Meanwhile women seem to find men handsome whether they’re handy or not. The fallacy would just be silly if it wasn’t so destructive.

  20. Athena says:

    Well, here’s my reply to “What about the men??”: Snachismo.

    Figleaf, your projection theory has a lot of merit. However, were parthenogenesis to become possible (and legal and cheap — neither trivial), I think a few more women than just lesbians would avail themselves of it. It would give children that would claim matrilineal descent without arguments (such descent, incidentally, also gets rid of the specters of both virginity and bastardy; but then “What about literature?!”).

  21. Walden2 says:

    Athena said:

    “Tiptree nailed it in The Women Men Don’t See: “Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men // run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We’ll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You’ll see.”

    I reply:

    I have also read that the fall of Rome was due to all the gays, which is really funny because in ancient Roman times and elsewhere the concept of gay as we see it now was not quite so well defined. Seneca wrote an essay on how to properly seduce your male teenage servants, as an example.

    So it’s both groups faults that we don’t have televised gladiatorial matches today! No wonder I find most sports so boring. We could have even had advertisements for the Jupiter 8 automobile and Neptune bath salts, but noooo!

    The idea of a future full of Sheldons and Howards makes me want to say Bring on the Apocalypse!

    On NPR this morning they interviewed a woman who may run for the Presidency of Afghanistan (!) in two years time. Her story was amazing and scary:

    They youngest of 23 children by an Afghan male politician with seven wives, she was left out in the sun by her mother because her husband had just married a younger woman and she wanted to curry his favor, since women are much less valued than men in that society. The mother had a change of heart at the last moment, otherwise NPR wouldn’t have had this story to tell.

    I admire this woman’s courage, intelligence, and strength, and sadly I have to hope she lives to achieve her goal. Hopefully this is a sign that things are slowly changing for the better in societies.

  22. Athena says:

    Actually, even today in many cultures the “top” partner in male couplings is not considered homosexual. In these, homosexuality is defined as “being penetrated” — that is, being like a woman. Which tells you how toxic this stuff is for all of humanity, not just the female half: it equates penetration with being (a submissive) Other and it poisons the well for heterosexual women (something noted by radical separatist feminists but hard to miss even if you’re relatively complacent).

    Female infanticide, of course, has been common throughout history. When people are complaining about abortion of fetuses with abnormalities, I always think of perfectly formed girls starved, exposed, drowned, poisoned, buried alive, stoned, burned — because of the missing piece of meat between their legs.

  23. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > Actually, even today in many cultures the “top” partner
    > in male couplings is not considered homosexual.

    Or it’s only “homosexual” if you admit to being in love
    with your same-sex partner, as is true in,
    of all places, Afghanistan.
    “According to Reuters, there is a lot of homosexuality going on
    in Afghanistan, but those engaging in it don’t think of themselves
    as gay, so that makes it okay since Islam officially disapproves
    of the gay and lesbian lifestyle.

    ‘They regard themselves as non-gay because they don’t “love” the sex object,
    so Allah is happy. These are the men who avoid their wives as unclean. . .,’
    according to Reuters.

    ‘Having a boy has become a custom for us,’. . . a 42-year-old. . .
    told a Reuters reporter. ‘Whoever wants to show off
    should have a boy.’ . . .

    Even after marriage, many men keep their boy-lovers, according to former
    U.S. military personnel who served in Afghanistan. . .
    [W]omen. . . if they ‘sin’. . . are stoned to death in accordance with
    Islamic law. That same law also forbids homosexuality, but the [men who
    practice ‘bacha bazi’] explain that it’s not homosexuality since they
    aren’t in love with their boys, only fulfilling a bodily need.”
    “Following the mullah’s math, this suggests that between
    18% and 45% of men here engage in homosexual sex — significantly
    higher than the 3% to 7% of American men who, according to studies,
    identify themselves as homosexual. . .

    [But t]he Koran mandates “hard punishment” for offenders, the
    mullah explains. By tradition there are three penalties:
    being burned at the stake, pushed over the edge of a cliff
    or crushed by a toppled wall.”

  24. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Athena, I think that men demand that women shave off their natural body hair because men really want to have sex with teenage boys. Homosexuality with teenage boys was common in ancient Greece and Rome, and we can find even earlier examples in history. Men like the feeling of power and dominance over a younger male, and they force women into a similar role by forcing women to shave off their body hair. That makes women look child-like and vulnerable- which is exactly what the men want in both boy lovers and subservient women.

    I would have thought that this was simply indicative of alpha males’ power and control obsession, but men seem to want women to be as similar to teenage boys as possible, which suggests that men actually prefer teenage boys. Alpha males are threatened by women on some deep level, so they prefer to dominate a male they perceive as being weaker. Shaving off women’s body hair symbolizes the suppression of female sexual desire. Alpha males don’t want relationships with strong women or equal men- they want to dominate weaker males and subservient females who aren’t allowed to have any desires themselves.

    Note that this form of homosexuality has nothing to do with two men who are equal in a relationship. It is the feeling of domination and power that the alpha male wants. He prefers teenage boys because he is able to dominate them more easily, and he is afraid of strong women who have their own opinions and desires. To “tame” the uppity women, he forces the women to share as many characteristics with teenage boys as possible. This is not bro love.

  25. Athena says:

    Jim, the attitude you describe also obtained in other societies with the erastes/eromenos custom (including the shenanigans at the US Congress by pious antichoicers blathering nonstop about “family values”). It carries over to heterosexual couplings as well: women who enjoy sex are considered “sluts” — which elides the inconvenient fact that prostitutes are professionals who fake all kinds of ecstasy to satisfy their clients’ egos.

    Christopher, I agree about the childish part and the wish to suppress the desire of “inferiors” as a means of control (this touches on Jim’s latest comment about matters in Afghanistan). However, your theory bumps against the (declared) male interest in pneumatic breasts and wasp waists. But overall, in a hierarchical configuration like patriarchy, such contortions are demanded of anyone who is considered the non-dominant partner, whether adult woman, girl or boy. That side has to be made as “other” as possible, hence the insistence on exaggerated differences of secondary sexual signifiers.

  26. Dylan Fox says:

    (Just want to say I’m sorry for not keeping up with the discussion… my computer’s in the shop and I’m having to borrow my partner’s. Will get through all the comments eventually!)

  27. silviamg says:

    The “what about the men” question seems to ignore the reality of the world. I am the primary bread winner because I am the person who was able to obtain the higher paying job. If that emasculates my husband, it’s sad, but I’d rather have all of us eat something for dinner than starve and pump his ego. If he got a job that was able to support us both, would I consider staying at home taking care of the children or doing part-time work? I might. In the meantime, I head out every day to do unladylike work.

    And regarding single mothers, marriage is a pretty recent concept. Historically, it has been fluid and single-mothers are not that odd. My great-grandmother, one hundred years ago, had a child out of wedlock. This was not (and is not) unusual for someone from a poor family in Mexico. Because she was a maid, she sent the child to live with her grandparents while she worked in the city. Eventually, in her mid to late twenties, my great-grandmother married my great-grandfather. Because he made enough money fixing transistor radios, she quit her job.

    She was not the only family member of mine from very Catholic Mexico to have a similar arrangement. My grandmother (on my dad’s side) was abandoned by her husband. However, because no one ever talked about such things they kept saying he was “on business.” My husband’s father lived with his wife for some years, but spent periods of time separated (and fathering more children) and living with other women. During those times when he left the family, the wife had to get a job. Eventually, upon his early death, she raised her family by herself.

    The thought that there has only been one kind of family (mom, dad and kids) is at best naive and at worst dangerous.

  28. Athena says:

    Silvia, exactly. The isolated nuclear family is a rarity if you look across history. Most of the time, we have lived in some sort of extended configuration. Ditto for women working: it was only in very few circumstances that families could get by with a single salaried breadwinner. Besides, everyone also worked in non-salaried capacities. Single mothers have been around forever, and society accommodated them without necessarily going into conniptions — starting with the Bronze age dictum that the children of such women came from coupling with gods.

  29. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Athena- you’ve got a point that not all declared male interests fit in with my theory. However, since this is a psychological theory, I can just claim that men simply suppressed their real desires. At any rate, alpha males want to force their non-dominant partners into humiliating contortions to symbolize their subservience, and men have shown a pronounced preference for boyish traits in women.

    One of the most annoying traits of transhumorists is that they insist that the “Singularity” is inevitable and that any other future is impossible. I really don’t know why they think this, as most of their ideas are either riddled with massive technical difficulties or are just plain incorrect.

    Last night, I saw SETI’s Seth Shostak on a TV show on life in outer space. He said that any intelligent aliens we encounter will be non-biological. Seth argues that assuming humans are the end of evolution would be hubristic. Once an intelligent computer is built (which he thinks will be soon, the breakdown of Moore’s Law notwithstanding), it will begin constructing improved versions of itself and bypass normal evolution. Humans will be obsolete!! Aliens would have gone through this same stage, so he notes that there is no reason for aliens to be “squishy guys with big eyeballs.”

    Seth seems to have the rather common misconception that evolution is a relentless march to “higher” forms of life, so that more “primitive” forms (like squishy humans) will be replaced by more “advanced” silicon lifeforms. Evolution just doesn’t work that way. If a primitive organism is better adapted to an environment than a more complex one, then it will survive while the more complex organism will not.

    Seth also seems to think that the key to creating an intelligent machine is just making a faster computer. He has forgotten – or chooses to ignore – that computers don’t actually think or reason. Computers are just adding machines. Very fast adding machines, to be sure, but not intelligent beings. Robots are useful tools, but they are not alive, intelligent, or self-motivated. Robots can’t even interpret orders or use reason to find the best way to complete a task- their every movement must be programmed by a “squishy” human.

    Am I wrong in my analysis, or is Seth just ignoring science when it doesn’t fit with his ideas? I see this with other transhumorists as well- they ignore the biological difficulties of “uploading” human minds or placing brains in an android. They don’t explain how we are going to reverse engineer the human brain when we don’t even know how the brain does what it does. Transhumorists don’t even tackle the question of whether humans can have a fulfilling life once they are uploaded to a computer or placed in an unfeeling metal and plastic body. So many human values and experiences are defined by both our “squishy” bodies and our mortality. Is that really transferable to a computer memory bank?

  30. Caliban says:

    Mr. Phoenix, have you considered the possibility that, rather than all men suppressing their real desires, you are simply projecting your own desires? It’s not uncommon, you know.

  31. Athena says:

    Christopher, don’t try to apply your theory — because Calvin is right, it’s not very sound. For one, the obsession with boyish females is very culturally specific; in this time and place, I think it ties in to the wish for eternal youth, as well as to the fears of fully emancipated adult women. I’d add that sexual topics are prickly and uncomfortable, for obvious reasons.

    I think Seth is arguing (correctly) that our view of aliens has always been anthropocentric, in large part because that’s all we have right now as a foundation for extrapolating. I don’t consider him to be in the transhumanist camp but it’s true that many space exploration enthusiasts subscribe to the von Neumann machine scenario because of the difficulty of long-term crewed travel. As for computers, I think they may acquire their own, very different, type of sentience if they become complex enough. I wrote about uploading in several articles, including Ghost in the Shell.

  32. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Ah, my short time as a psychologist has come to an end. I don’t know how I would “apply” my theory, it’s not as though I can develop useful techniques from it. To be honest, my “theory” is not exactly serious, and it was suggested by Spartan history, where the women had to shave their hair and pretend to be their husband’s boy lover in a darkened room in order to procreate. Spartans had a bizarre culture…

    I think Seth’s ideas about aliens are anthropocentric. He thinks that humans will soon go through the “singularity” of transhumanist fame, and that aliens would have followed this same technological development to a transbiological existence. Seth’s aliens must develop advanced computer technology and care enough about becoming immortal- or at least about having immortal, intelligent servants- that they develop Von Neumann machines. He also suggests that they might not be satisfied with individual brains, so they would link up into a massive parallel processor. He’s assuming an alien species composed of individuals who develop technology, just like humans.

    Linking up to form a parallel processor wouldn’t be necessary if the aliens already are a hive consciousness. There could be a planet that is populated by highly intelligent anemone-like organisms who send out tendrils to connect with each other and share thoughts and memories. These aliens won’t need to develop an internet or upload their brains to share thoughts- something transhumanists have been trying to do for some time.

    Almost anything we initially think about aliens is in some way anthropocentric or Earth-centric. As Disney’s Mars and Beyond, it is probably impossible for us to conceive of an intelligence totally unlike our own. That said, not all projections of alien life have been anthropocentric.

    Genetically identical organisms that form a shared network actually exist on Earth. The href=”″>quaking aspen is such a organism. Many thousands of quaking aspens can constitute a single organism, sharing root systems and a unique set of genes. The trees can spread for thousands of acres by sending out horizontal roots. I see plants around my house doing this all the time- a bush will spawn a smaller bush nearby it by sending out roots. It’s not just dangerous to assume aliens will act like humans, it is dangerous to assume aliens must be separate individuals or reproduce sexually.

  33. Athena says:

    Yes, the Spartans had the custom you describe — in part because boys became full-time barracks dwellers at seven and eromenoi at twelve, so they might not know what to do when they met women fifteen to twenty years later; in part because they wanted women to be unattractive so that the guys wouldn’t pine after them, since they spent their lives entirely or partially in the barracks till sixty.

    Spartan society was a fusion of Hassidism, Stalinism and antebellum South, although there was a tiny dividend for the women: because Spartan men dealt exclusively with keeping the Messenians subjugated, Spartan women were educated as well as the men, ran everything else and were not cloistered like their Athenian counterparts (other city-states were much better in that respect, especially in Ionia).

    Some biologists think that social insects act as hive minds and there is no question that each ant/bee/termite colony is linked by the queen’s pheromones. Sexual reproduction on earth is partly dictated by the organization and transmission mode of our genetic material. I agree that if we ever meet sentient aliens, they will be different in ways we may not be able to imagine.

  34. Walden2 says:

    Athena, are you saying that 300 was NOT an accurate depiction of the Spartans and life in general at that time?!

    I recently made myself watch that film. What a piece of historical and propogandistic crap! The makers even said that 300 was designed to uplift the West while villifying Middle Easterners: They were aiming at modern-day terrorists, but boy, anyone who wasn’t a white manly Spartan was either an indistinguishable member of a horde, an almost literal monster, or an effeminate (wink, wink) egomaniac with delusions of godhood. This went for non-warrior class Spartans as well as the Persians.

    To this day there are people who admire the Spartans as these noble, brave warriors (“Go Tell the Spartans!”), but as for me I can think of few other cultures that would be nothing less than a nightmare to live in or even near. Their women may have had more rights and power than other Greek city-states, but at what cost to the human lives there in general?

  35. Athena says:

    You can see my view of 300 here, Larry: Being Part of Everyone’s Furniture. The film is so crappy in so many ways (as art, as story, as history, as message) that just thinking about it clogs my brain ducts.

    On the real-world side, the Spartans were a bizarre society even by the standards of their own era and larger Hellenic culture. They’re a prime example of what can be expected to arise from glorification of hypermasculinity to the exclusion of all else. A better (though still admiring) take is Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. In it he depicts such lovely customs as the Spartan Krypteia, their equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, specifically deputized to kill helots deemed dangerous.

  36. Walden2 says:

    Yes, I remember that essay well, Athena. It has stuck with me.

    Sadly most people (and of course this can hardly be the sole domain of Americans) know little of other cultures outside what they see in films and television or from stories they are told. And heaven forbid if the people of these other cultures are complex and have shades of gray in their personalities.

    It is also “amusing” how stereotyping certain cultures at least on American television is still considered okay. I was watching Cake Boss for the first time last night (my younger son kindly DVRed the episode where they made an impressive replica of the Space Shuttle complete with ET and SRBs for the 30th anniversary celebration at Cape Canaveral – the darn thing even had its rockets fire!). The owners were Italian and to me they seemed like exaggerations of the stereotypes of the members of that nation and culture.

    Now maybe they were that way and maybe the producers picked them on purpose for being so “colorful” (they may even have been asked to Italian things up), but all I could think of is if they did this to some other ethnicities there would probably be mobs coming after the network.

    We humans have a long way to go all around.

  37. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Did someone say 300? This is not madness, nor is it Sparta, not is it art, not is it even fun to watch. This is a movie so utterly mindless and absurd that it practically makes fun of itself without intending to. I couldn’t finish watching 300, it was so bad.

    Why did you make yourself watch 300, Larry? That is self torture tantamount to stapling your hand repeatedly while sitting on a chair covered in thumbtacks. I would rather watch all the Star Wars prequels than 300– and trust me, that is saying a lot.

    On the sentient aliens- when and if we do encounter intelligent extraterrestrials, we’ll probably find that it is very hard to communicate with a being that does not share the same basic concepts and experiences humans do. Aliens almost certainly utilize different senses than we do, interpret the data their senses provide differently, and have completely different ideas and ways of understanding the world than humans. Humans already have trouble understanding other human cultures- imagine the difficulties we might have while trying to understand alien societies!

  38. heteromeles says:

    Good article, but I have two gentle nits to pick.

    One is about Lynn Margulis. I never met her, but her writing strongly influenced what I did for my PhD. Nonetheless, she didn’t deserve a Nobel prize. AFAIK, she wasn’t the originator of serial endosymbiosis, because the first rumblings of it started back in the 1930s. Rather, she was the person who demonstrated that it was correct. That doesn’t denigrate the problematic treatment she received most of her professional life. Rather, it says a lot about how the Nobel prize is set up. It also says a lot about competition theory vs. symbiosis theory. She fell afoul of American preoccupation with competition as the driver, not because she was a woman, but because there’s a persistent in American biology that that symbiosis is a communist plot. This wasn’t helped by Soviet attempts to use symbiosis and mutualisms to demonstrate the ultimate validity of communism back in the day, and it’s muddied the study of both competition and cooperation to this day.

    Second, more general issue: why aren’t there more women professors? Let me put it this way: you enter an apprenticeship program on starvation wages in your middle twenties, and it takes you a minimum of five (if not ten) years to complete it. You then take a series of jobs that paysub-average wages, have limited contracts, and give you little or no choice of where you live. Oh, and I forgot to mention that there ~100 people competing for each job. Finally, in your late 30s, you get the chance at a secure job (for two-thirds of what your friends are making, and competing with ~100 other people). If you land that job, you work 50-60 hours per week for five years, much of that writing for grants that have a <5% chance of getting funded (for every 20 you write, one might get some money, and generally you have to build or join a coalition for each one). Assuming you get that job security, you're now in your early 40s, you are probably living in a place that you would not have chosen to live in, and you can now start your social life, find a partner, and have kids, if you didn't manage to do that during the chaos of the last 15 years.

    As a guy, the above sounds appalling. The question isn't why aren't there more women in science, it really is why are there any science professors at all, especially in the current educational environment. It's a career path that favors obsessive (if not compulsive) behavior, extreme endurance, and an extensive social support net, no matter what your gender is. While I applaud my four female friends who threaded the needle and landed professorial jobs, I don't blame my female (or male) friends who decided to get out and do something else with their lives.

  39. Athena says:

    Not really. The “rumblings” were based on observations of interaction dynamics (bees and flowers, etc). Margulis proposed something very specific: namely, that mitochondria and chloroplasts were once independent organisms that became endosymbionts. This is quite different from the general handwaving that preceded it. So yes, she proved a paradigm shift and hence deserved a Nobel — people have got it for much less. The part about symbiosis being “communist” is accurate (not that science-based biology fared substantially better in the USSR).

    Regarding your second point: if you choose research science and you are a woman, you almost certainly won’t be able to have children. So if it sounds appalling for guys, who routinely expect to have sandwiches and slippers fetched (and kids miraculously raised by others), imagine how it must be for working mothers who are never allowed a moment “off” and who are still the default go-to parent for every problem of the child.

  40. Walden2 says:

    More evidence why it is so important for boys to have their moms:

  41. Athena says:

    The mama’s boy/necessary separation myth is the first tool in the systematic dehumanizing of boys as a prerequisite for “masculinity”. I wrote about this in connection with the idiotic idealization of the Jedi methods in Star Wars. Their “teachings” result in janissaries and/or murderous, murdering psychopaths.

  42. Walden2 says:

    Athena, have you seen John Carter yet? It is better than I feared and I hope it will be better appreciated down the road. I am placing my comments here because the Thark culture (those big green four-armed Martian warriors with tusks protruding from their mouths) is highly based on survival of the fittest, where compassion is seen as a weakness to be weeded out. Their newborns come from eggs and are raised by the tribe rather than a specific mother and/or father, but even before birth they have to constantly prove they are strong enough to make it in their society (eggs that do not hatch soon enough are shot!).

    The clincher here (SPOILER ALERT) is that the Thark leader/chief (called a Jeddak) Tars Tarkas has hidden compassion for Sola, who is his strong and even more compassionate daughter, which he does not even realize until later. The guy who takes over from Tars and who sees him as no longer fit for leadership due to this caring for others (Tars is also the reason why Carter wasn’t killed right away by a band of Tharks who found him wandering the Martian desert) ends up not having the job (or his head) for very long in part because of this traditional emotional inflexibility. Tars Tarkas regains his place as Jeddak and you get the feeling that while the Tharks won’t exactly start having peace-ins, they are now more open to other ways of being.

    Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, also fares well in the film version. Yes, she is still a beautiful royal, but here she is also a scientist and can handle herself in battle as well as any man. The damsel-in-distress bit in the novels has been downplayed a lot. In fact, at least twice John Carter gets behind her for protection during battle! The actress playing Dejah has taken martial arts lessons since she was young and it shows.

    I liked the tribute to Percival Lowell in the film, as he was the man who had a big influence on the whole John Carter series and plenty of other early science fiction focused on Mars. John Carters tomb – which we see at the beginning of the film – looks very much like the one Lowell is placed in on the grounds of his famous observatory in Arizona. It makes me wish someone would do a story on the fascinating history of the Canals of Mars.

  43. Athena says:

    I haven’t seen it yet, Larry, and I don’t know if I will — I’ve had more than enough of the “White Messiah” clones. The peripherals sound good, but they are peripheral to the various holes in the center.

  44. Walden2 says:

    Having now watched a fair number of episodes of The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) thanks to syndication, I can safely conclude that while the series is entertaining on a certain level, it is also quite appaling on the sociology, psychology, and science levels.

    All of the main male characters are very messed up individuals, most of them due to their mothers’ domineering influence. In a twist on Disney, it is their fathers who are either absent or so weak as to be irrelevant. Raj is the only one of the four with stable parents, but he still cannot talk to women without alcohol in his system or experimental medications.

    Their psychological problems are played for laughs here, this being a mainstream network sitcom, but there are more than a few times when I find their issues to be anything but funny. Leonard’s mother is a cold, domineer therapist who I think should be accused of psychological child abuse. Sheldon is so out of touch with the basic social skills that I am amazed he can function at all. Howard finally got married so he isn’t quite the clueless letch he has been all the previous seasons, but he still has major mother issues played for laughs of course, plus the ethnic stereotypes if done to other groups would have CBS HQ surrounded by protestors.

    And as for the female cast, Penny remains the group’s mother/relief as it were. She is also the representative of how the rest of society perceives the nerds, which means anything “sciency” is weird and certainly boring. Penny has made a few token attempts to understand science due to Leonard, but they are always merely token efforts. She remains a wanna be actress waitress.

    The science on the series, as it were, while at least being accurate thanks to the producers consulting a real, actual professor of physics, is of course also token and scattered through each episode mainly for laughs. And the gents’ comic book knowledge is SO pedestrian, but to the unwashed masses seems positively supergeek. I have been able to read some of the titles of the books on their shelves in the background: For the most part they are what Hollywood and the general viewer assumes are on the reading lists of most scientists.

    It might be nice to have a version of this series that really delves into the lives of the so-called nerd culture, which with modern communications technology is becoming blurred with the mainstream society, but as Oscar Wilde once said, you have to make the audience laugh first to accept new ideas or they will kill you.

    I know this won’t happen here, but if anyone says I should relax because it’s just a TV show, they truly do not get how much television and films influences our thinking because that is where most people get their main education and insights to the world, even the so-called light comedies.

  45. Athena says:

    I agree, Larry. What you describe for TBBT became obvious when I watched an episode marathon late last year. I also agree that anyone who bleats “It’s only TV/film, why so serious?” (while fanbois shriek if anyone insults lightsabers) hasn’t thought this through.

  46. Walden2 says:

    And to add: The few times we meet female scientists on TBBT, they are either colder than Sheldon or end up invariably sleeping with our “heroes”. Well, Bernadette is not cold but they are literally turning her into a version of Howard’s mother, again for laughs.

    And as you like to point out, Athena, most of the women scientists are in the biological fields, cause physics and rockets are for boys of course. You are going to make me totally unsuitable for my surrounding culture yet! :^)

  47. Athena says:

    Hehehe! As said of someone very different, I’m “mad, bad and dangerous to know!”

  48. Walden2 says:

    One more point on TBBT, if you will indulge me: Harvard physicist Lisa Randall should sue the series for their thinly-veiled portrayal of her in one episode.

    The plot focused on her being a literal sex maniac who sleeps with every male scientist she encounters and wanted to have a group thing with our main characters! And this was on a prime time comedy! Of course the boys utterly failed at this but that is not the point.

    There are times when I really do miss the days when TV programs didn’t allude to sex every ten seconds and focused on silly things like characters and plots and social commentary.

  49. Athena says:

    And of course it’s ok for the boys to have sex on the brain and try to get it in all ways possible, but not the girls. The former are studs, the latter are sluts.