Sunday, May 8, 2011

The One-Sex Solution, Or, What If Men Could Get Pregnant?

This statue is called Sleeping Hermaphroditus, it's a Roman copy of a Greek original.  Pretty, isn't it?
I've always thought that human life would be substantially improved if there was only one sex instead of two.  I don't mean doing away with the whole sex concept.  Au contraire.  I mean every person would have the full sexual equipment of both women and men.  As for pregnancy, you could mix and match it however you wanted:  in a partnership of A and B, A could be the pregnant one or B could.

Think of the advantages.  No gender inequality.  No books like that "Men are from Mars" book.  Shared magazine racks.  Total non-mystery about how the genitals of other people work.  With a full set of your own, you'd know just what was going on with everyone else.

One of the huge advantages, I think, would be the way things would change if everyone could get pregnant.  Because even just being in a state of being possible to impregnate -- a state most women live in for most of their lives -- gives you a particular way of relating to the world. 

For one thing, think for a second of the enormous trust women place in the social contract and in men.  Forget bars and late evenings:  every time we go out of the house we trust men not to rape us and get us pregnant against our wishes.  And sure, you might say, if you're raped you could have an abortion.  Sure, but obviously:  not everyone can, not everyone wants to, and jeez, that is not something that is a walk in the park under any circumstances.  And yes, there are laws against rape.  But not every guy is going to get caught, and not every guy is even going to care. 

To some extent, of course, there are parallels with men.  A man does trust other people not to assault and kill him.  But I think these only go so far.  A person has to be pretty dead set on mayhem to kill another -- it's always astonishing to me, actually, how often men who are brawling and fighting will defer to norms of "fair play" and fail to just annihilate each other.  Rape is so much less risky.  A guy can always say it was consensual.  And let's face it, it's way easier to rape someone than to kill them.  Unlike assault that doesn't end in death or dismemberment, rape can cause your entire life to change unalterably.  You may now be carrying, inside you, a small dependent proto-person who is actually related to your rapist. 

So right off the bat, I feel this colors how I relate to the world.  For my life to make sense I have to live in a community that is based on mutual trust and reciprocal respect.  Mutual threat containment isn't really going to be enough.  The actual social relations between people matter a huge amount. 

Then, too, in the case where you want to get pregnant, think of how immediately and closely you have to depend on other people in the early infant stages of the process.  Imagine trying to feed yourself, all alone, while taking care of a small infant.  I don't mean going to the ATM -- I mean if you were truly alone and not in a society.  Virtually impossible.  You're going to have to depend on people to help you out.

What these things have in common is a kind of vulnerability and interdependence.  They make me feel like being somewhat vulnerable to others and interdependent on them is a natural state of things, and not some pathological state that has to be negotiated and escaped from.  And I think this is true in a basic way of people -- it's just that being a woman it's more obvious.

By the way, of course this vulnerability colors how women approach having casual sex.  I'm always amazed at the way people assume that because women are more leery of casual sex, they must not want it as much as men.  Maybe they do and maybe they don't -- but you're not going to read that off from their behavior at bars.  Because for every act of casual sex women have, they go home with the possibility of a new proto-person growing inside them.  It's a substantial risk to take with a person you hardly know. 

Actually, I've always been a little surprised at how little the possibility of a proto-person seems to concern the average guy.  Because sure, the woman carries it, but assuming she carries it to term, you too could be parent to a new infant.  A lof of guys seem never to think about this or don't care.  Given the laws on child support this is really puzzling.

Anyway, the one-sex solution would solve all these difficulties, too, and make it all equalized.  Everyone would be a possible pregnant person, and everyone would be a possible mom.  It's a win-win situation.  Just think how we'd all get along!


Daniel said...

In my experience counseling people about sex, many men who have sex with women aren't even aware of what the law says their responsibility is if they get a woman pregnant. And to be honest, I didn't know the law (the law in the U.S. at least, I don't know about Canada) until like 2 years ago, and I'm 40. I always try to tell men who seem very casual about birth control, or who tell me that they presume that the woman took care of it, what the deal is. They are usually surprised.

LaLuella said...

This is nuance, but I disagree with "Total non-mystery about how the genitals of other people work. With a full set of your own, you'd know just what was going on with everyone else."

Homologous genitalia doesn't necessarily entail sexual aptitude.

Nor does it necessarily entail a total lack of gender inequality. The standard might just change to "I'm more androgynous than you!"

And I think it's rare that a woman actually considers "hmm...maybe I could get pregnant" when they're hooking up. The desire for sex seems to overwhelm rational long-term thinking, because there are significantly more risks to promiscuity than getting knocked up. You could also get the clap.

Patricia said...

Hi Daniel, Yeah, interesting. Of course I don't know the exact laws either .. and I certainly wouldn't have at a young age! Glad you are out there informing people!

Patricia said...

Hi LaLuella,
Yeah, mostly I'm totally with you -- perhaps "significantly less mysterious" would have been better. And it's interesting to think about the ways gender inequality could continue to manifest itself.

But it doesn't seem to me that promiscuity has to represent the triumph of immediate desire over long term rational thinking. It depends on the person and the circumstances... and there, I'd think there are at least some people for whom the pregnancy fear is a big factor -- more than the disease fear. But I'm just guessing.