In my previous post about the super-norm, I identified three main strands of thinking which have arisen in response to the constellation of varying ideas about the super-norm: the “feminine imperative”, the “moral warp”, and “biology vs. culture or the feminist imperative vs. the feminine imperative”. As I noted in that post, I would like to address each of these perspectives in turn in greater detail. Although there is certainly overlap between them, as we will explore in this post, nevertheless I do think that teasing out the different strands of thought and examining them separately has considerable analytical value. In this post, I will treat the last of these three, largely in response to comments on that earlier post, before addressing in a subsequent post or posts the other two strands I identified in that earlier post.
As I noted in that post, one strand of thought regarding the super-norm is that the social tilt we see in favor of women in our culture needs to be divided into two types or two varieties: the first is the “natural” tilt towards women that occurs in all human societies as a result of reproductive realities, while the second is an “exaggerated” or “socially engineered” tilt towards women that is the result of the contemporary social movement known as “feminism”. A related thought which is seen to follow from this is that the former is therefore generally a social “good” that stems from basic human socialization, while the latter is not necessarily one, and is tied to specific cultural developments.
Let’s take a closer look at the composite parts of this idea.
It does seem true that the successful human societies (i.e., the ones who survived competition with other human societies) have preferred to protect women and, on the margins, expend men. This can be traced to the common evolutionary psychology trope about eggs (or, more accurately space-time in female wombs) being much rarer than sperm, about women being the biological bottleneck for sustained reproduction and population growth, and so on, with the recurring theme being that these factors have led human societies to prefer to protect females from circumstances which would tend to limit the availability of space-time in their wombs, particularly during their fertile years. These concepts seem plausible enough, even likely, but are they the same kind of thing as what the super-norm is trying to describe?
As I wrote in my earlier post, a core concept of the super-norm idea is that the entirety of social conventions, norms, “operative social conventions used to maintain cognitive dominance” (per Rollo), laws and so on are designed to preserve the female mating interest — not merely to protect women from being removed from the reproductive pool. Of course, it goes without saying that removing women from said pool does not serve the female mating and reproductive interest — but the essence of the super-norm concept seems to go well beyond that minimal protective idea, and instead suggests that an entirety of social convention, norms, laws, customs and the like have grown up to support the female mating and reproductive preference of hypergamy specifically. That is rather different from a more generic social tilt in favor of protecting women from harm so as to prevent them from being removed from the reproductive pool.
It seems to me, however, that this as well may be too narrow a definition of the super-norm. I would think, for example, that various other measures taken to protect women (and children, to the extent these are seen as an extension of women’s interests, as they often are) are also capable of being seen as a part of the super-norm, particularly to the extent that the male interest in such areas is either overlooked, or deliberately marginalized and ignored. Male concerns about paternity are one such area, and perhaps the most visceral one, but there are others as well. In general, I would identify the (female-variant of the) super-norm as the social rules, norms, conventions, laws and mores around the relationships between men and women which further the female interest at the expense of the male interest, and thereby subordinate that interest to the female interest. Undoubtedly the core of these is the specific mating interest of each sex (in the case of women, hypergamy), but the super-norm relates not only to this, but to the panoply of other social conventions, norms and rules that deal with interaction between the sexes, all of which proceed from that core reproductive relationship (even in its potentiality) between them. This would include concepts such as chivalry, for example, which emphasizes male sacrifice to benefit females, irrespective of whether this better preserves them in reproductive terms, but chivalry is only one aspect of this. The laws around marriage in the ancien regime reflected this in part, as did the laws of coverture and so on.
Some (such as Rollo, I think) would perhaps describe patriarchal hard monogamy as another example of the male interest being subordinated to that of the female, but personally I think that the example of patriarchal monogamy is more complex, and represents more a set of at least two compromises: the first between the female interest in hypergamy and the male interest in polygyny (by sacrificing both while giving each some of what it wants in terms reproductive access and support), and the second between the few men who could monopolize sexual access to women and the larger number of men whom said few men wanted as allies against other tribes, rather than as sexuality-based enemies due to their monopolization of the women (note that this need for male sexual cooperation is greatly lessened in situations where there is a relatively high degree of security from other “tribes” and things like professional armies exist — more on that in a later post). Viewed that way, hard monogamy isn’t really an expression of Devlin’s “female sexual utopia”, and therefore not something which is a part of the super-norm, but is rather a unique compromise of the male and female interests, on the one hand, and the competing male interests, on the other. (In fact, it’s possible to collapse this down even further to being essentially a compromise among the males, due to the fact that in the historical time we are speaking about it’s almost certainly true that all sanctioned mate selecting (leaving aside opportunistic yet socially shunned mating opportunities) was done on behalf of women by their fathers and brothers and not by the women themselves, so the compromise between the female and male interests was more likely a compromise between the interests of fathers vis-a-vis their daughters and their sons — as well as other men in respect of their daughters and sons).
In much the same way, when we look at things historically (and I am planning a separate post to do that in more detail, because it is a more involved topic that requires a fuller discussion), it seems that the sweep of history viewed through this specific lens looks like a cultural red queen race. That is, in terms of whether norms and mores and so on should be organized to serve the female interest or the male interest, there is something of a competition, such that the cultural result is, at any one time, a composite picture of the competing interests and the resulting cultural ordering and priorities. Thus, for example, the system of patriarchy, which is generally described as, and in our times accepted to have been, a system characterized by male dominance over women in all areas, was in itself actually a complex set of norms, some of which favored men and some of which favored women. As long as hard monogamy reigned, the maximalist reproductive interests of each sex were subordinated to the norm of hard monogamy, which satisficed each, and was a social good that produced relatively stable families and productive citizens. At any one time, however, the social sensibility of the typical person in these systems would encompass some things that favored men, particularly in the public and property spheres, and other things that favored women, particularly in the familial sphere and the criminal legal regime. Part of these reflected what we can describe as the female variant of the super-norm, and part reflected what we can describe as the male variant of the super-norm.
When seen in this way, I think it is difficult to sustain the proposition that the female variant of the super-norm is, in and of itself, a social good if not tampered down by forced compromise with the male super-norm. That is, even if the social order resulting from that compromise is one which tilts somewhat towards the female interest, this is not because the female interest, in isolation, is a social good if it is expressed in a way that is not moderated by an enforced compromise with the male interest. To take the most pressing, and perhaps the most currently relevant example, hard monogamy would almost certainly never have taken hold if the female interest had not been compromised with the male interest.
How can we suspect this? The current environment is quite telling in this area. It seems evident that the mating and reproductive interests of one sex will be more fully expressed if the restraints on the expression and realization of that interest are progressively removed. Historically, the constraints on the maximal expression of the female interest in reproductive terms were (1) the subjection of women — first to fathers/brothers and then to husbands, (2) pregnancy and (3) female dependence on specific, individual men economically. All of these have been removed (yes, I will address the means by which two of these occurred — feminism — shortly below) in the past century, and as a result we currently are witnessing the most uninhibited expression of the female sexual/reproductive interest in human history. And, as we can see, this expression is not at all consonant with the prior norms of hard, enforceable monogamy. (It’s important to note that at the same time, we are also seeing the most unrestricted expression of the male sexual/reproductive imperative — polygyny — that we have seen in human history — even more when actual legal polygyny was permitted, because of the ability of the polygyny-capable set of men to maintain polygynous sexual access without any corresponding obligation to provide support in the context of legal polygamous marriages — what we have is the virtual polygynist, with women at their beck and call and with no support obligation, or even any monogamy expectation, at all). By contrast, the new norm that is emerging is that of serial monogamy coupled with opportunistic extra-pair sex and all facilitated by easy divorce — in other words some sexual relationships without obligation with serial polygynists and other serial monogamous unions with non-polygamy-capable (or desiring) males coupled with easy divorce on conditions which provide for trailing, or ongoing, male obligation following the severing of relations.
This seemingly raises the immediate objection that this development is the direct result of feminism and its related social, cultural, philosophical and political movements, and therefore cannot be used to “read” the underlying male and female reproductive interests, but instead must be seen as a product and expression of feminism more than of anything else. This is a tempting perspective, particularly because it was feminism and its related movements that did engineer the loosening of the mores (parts (1) and (3) in the prior paragraph) which helped “free up” the female (and indirectly the male) sexual interest from their prior compromise restraint of hard monogamy, but I think there are reasons why this perspective is subject to serious doubt.
The main one is that a distinction can, and in my view must, be drawn between (1) the mechanism by which these restraints were removed and (2) the underlying forces that were unleashed and freed as a result. That is, it is one thing to propose that feminism was the social and political force that ended the subjection of women and the dependence of women on specific men — this seems beyond dispute. It is quite another to propose that it is feminism (when understood in the same sense as the same social and political movement which undid the subjection and dependence of women) which generates and sustains the growing emphasis on hypergamy-driven serial monogamy (based on hedonic factors) as the new sine qua non norm of human mating interactions — this seems clearly untrue, particularly since so many feminists who were/are active in feminism abjured any real relations between men and women as a part of their emancipatory programme. The idea of freeing up women to have a series of hedonic monogamous relationships with the most attractive men, and rejiggering the rules of marriage and divorce to permit this to happen (in theory at least) after marriage to a less attractive man, was certainly no part of any articulated feminist doctrine or idea. At the most, if this had been articulated at all it would have been in the sense of it being one option among many, with the emphasis being on options for women, and typically coupled with a rather wearied and somewhat depressed and resigned recognition that most women did, in fact, still wish to pursue relationships with men, alas. Some feminists even attributed this to brainwashing, or to the looming patriarchal bug-bear which conditioned women to think of sex with men as normative from the time they were pre-pubescent — something which, according to this theory, could be removed if the conditioning were removed. In any case, there are numerous examples of how many of the leading lights of the feminist movement, as the political and social movement which emancipated women, were rather dubious about women entering relationships with men of any kind, never mind monogamous ones. The position that the rise of serial monogamy as our overarching norm of male-female mating relations is something that was on the agenda of feminism seems rather hard to support.
What of feminism, then? How does it fit in with the super-norm, or at least its female variant? Feminism, which clearly developed as a social, cultural and political force, has been effectively a tool of the female-variant of the super-norm which has been used precisely as described above: to free up the expression of the female-variant of the super-norm by removing the subjection and dependence of women. Of course, feminism, as a movement, didn’t seek this (as described above), but the interesting point is that the things that feminism did seek that were not consonant with the female-variant of the super-norm (i.e., that involved radical lesbian separatism, the avoidance of having children, the avoidance of monogamous relationships with men, the avoidance of marriage, and so on) were precisely those aspects of feminism that did not “stick”, that got very little cultural traction, and were quite unceremoniously dropped as what had been a radical social movement was eventually co-opted into becoming the social, cultural and political face of the rising feminine super-norm, and which itself became the new face of the mainstream.
Viewed in this way, feminism is both (1) a political movement which grew out of the ideas of the Enlightenment, as dribbled down to Marxism and critical theory in the 20th Century and (2) a force which ultimately served the rise of the female-variant of the super-norm in an unprecedented lopsided fashion, and which was forced to sacrifice its more radical ideas on the altar of the female-variant of the super-norm, precisely because the latter does not abjure heterosexuality, child-bearing and relationships with men — it simply seeks to have all of these on as favorable terms for women as possible. Viewed in this way, feminism is by far the most powerful tool ever “wielded” (more on this usage below) by the female-variant of the super-norm, and in part precisely because it is ensconced in a broader social and political movement that gives it greater viability and credibility in intellectual and philosophical terms (as misguided as many of us may take these to be). Feminism is something that truly is in some ways separate and distinct from the female variant of the super-norm, but which has nevertheless also been something that has furthered the advantage of the female variant of the super-norm to a huge degree. And the resulting situation that we experience today is clearly the result of the meeting of the two.
In closing, I feel the need to address at least one objection that seems to arise quickly from this analysis, and it is this: how exactly does something like the “female variant of the super-norm”, which is understood as the collection of norms, customs, mores and laws relating to relations between the sexes, with mating at its core, “use” or “wield” a concrete social movement like feminism in the way I suggest above? It sounds as if I have either anthropomorphized the super-norm, or that I am suggesting a conspiracy. Neither of these is my intention. The reason I have spoken of it this way is that the super-norms are pre-existing bodies of norms, customs, mores and laws — they exist in everyone’s heads. They are present in the minds of all of us through our cultural and social inheritance. A radical social movement such as feminism encountered these norms and was interacting with them — the new interacting with the old. When feminism succeeded in freeing up constraints on women (something that was desired by men and women alike, we must remember — more on that shortly), it nevertheless had to face and confront this pre-existing social and cultural programming — a programming which, at that time, was already skewing rather heavily towards the female-variant of the super-norm in the places where feminism grew strongest thanks to Victorian norms which were, ironically, patriarchal in nature yet women-leaning (yet another illustration of how the actual composite social structure was a compromise which leaned one way or the other at different times in history). Feminism didn’t “win” this confrontation, as we know from the history of second-wave feminism, much of which was initially rather anti-heterosexuality, anti-marriage and children and so on. The older, underlying female-variant of the super-norm prevailed in this collision (a collision with the male-variant also occurred, and this was one which feminism mostly won), with the result that, in effect, when viewed as an older set of norms colliding with a new, radical one, we can see that the older set of norms “won”, but emerged in a way that was substantially altered from the collision — namely, the restraints on the fuller expression of the older set of norms (or, rather, the female variant of the ideal set of norms) were removed by this collision, while the rest of that norm remained roughly intact, and was able to express itself more fully and freely than ever before. In a sense this is “thanks to feminism”, but not because feminism as a movement wanted this (at least not before it was co-opted by the super-norm it didn’t), or because this is an expression of feminism per se, but rather because the older, more inherited, stronger and more biologically consonant set of norms — the super-norm — prevailed in the conflict and instead effectively “used” feminism to express itself more freely, even if in the end these expressions had nothing in common with what most of the more convicted movement feminists themselves intended. In this respect I will agree that the use of the phrases “use” or “wield” may be confusing, yet at the same time I do think they express a large part of the truth of what happened when feminism collided with the underlying female utopian super-norm. This is also why, for example, we see such phenomena as “conservative women” who basically embrace all of the the aspects of feminism that do not conflict with the super-norm (apart from abortion, and even in that context, there is a significant portion which prefers to leave the option open while condemning its exercise), while retaining the rest of the super-norm intact. This is what we would precisely expect from this kind of collision of norms, and the freeing up of restraints that was afforded by it.
One final note — as I mentioned in my longer comment about this at Dalrock last month, it needs to be remembered that the “female variant of the super-norm” is not, of necessity, something that is only supported by women. This is not the case at all. By describing it as the “female variant”, I do not mean to suggest that this is something that is “pushed by women” — in reality, a combination of women and men have supported this throughout history (especially in the person of the father figure). The delineation “female variant” simply refers to the variant of the super-norm that favors the female interest — not that it is the case that all of its supporters are women, or that all women do support it. It is rather a collection of norms which favors the female and which is supported by a mixture of men and women (as is the case with the male variant as well).
That was a long post. I am planning to detail in a future post a bit more about the other two perspectives I identified in my earlier post on this, as well as a more detailed post on the historical perspective at some, likely later, stage.