Man, Woman, and Biology

By You-Sheng Li 11/2/2000, and edited 23/10/2010

Click Here to the Website: Taoist Philosophy for the 21st Century


A few months ago I attended a discussion at the central library of the city I live in. The topic was, “Live Alone, and Enjoy it.” About 10 people participated, and men and women were about equal in number. As you can imagine, all participants were middle-aged, and had lived alone for quite a while. What struck me was that all women talked about the hardship and loneliness of their spinster life even with tears and sobs, and their eyes fixed on the ground as if they were preparing to go to hell while all men described their life as enjoyable with an even tone, and their eyes were gloating at the ceiling as if their souls were already in heaven.


But the reality is just the opposite. Women do much better than men when they live alone. Some years ago a survey of more than forty thousand people in the United States was published, using the frequencies of certain disorders, namely stroke, heart attack, cancer, and psychosis to determine if the life under this study was a happy one. The results suggested that women were happier when they were single and men were happier when they were married. Women managed single life much better than men. But on such an occasion as the discussion at the central library, women were expressive while men were reserved.


When I was a child, the science at that time told me that the difference in behaviour between men and women was entirely caused by culture, since our society treats boys and girls differently with different expectation since the day they are born. Now we have realized hormones influence the development of our brains.


Some years ago I read a novel in Chinese titled The Siege of a City. The novel’s title suggests that marriage is like a besieged city: Those inside want to get out and those outside want to get in. The author thinks the relationship of a man and a woman can divide into three levels and it is impossible to combine the three into one. The three levels are: psychological - sharing the same spiritual experience; social - forming a functioning family, and biological - sex and have children. Therefore the hero of this novel finds a girl friend to share spiritual interest, a wife to form a family, and a sex partner to have sex. It illustrates well the stress our modern civilization has put on marriage is so much that it is about to tear it into pieces.


The first two levels, psychological and social levels are subjected to cultural and social influence, like trees bending over wind and attracting sunlight. But the roots, the biological level, though covered by earth, is the basis the first two levels are built on.


We receive equal amount of genetic material from our both parents, which warrants the roughly equal numbers of men and women in our society. But a man can produce much more children than a woman. From a biological view, men are abundant and subjected to the selection by women in primitive society to ensure human evolution. Our society has most developed and civilized but we still see its trace in our behaviour today.


In today’s patriarchal society, men still dominated in many areas. But when it comes to the nuptial ceremony, the woman, not the man, is the central figure. Most people are right-handed, and the right was considered to superior to the left in Chinese culture. On occasions such as wedding, funeral, and other family rituals, Chinese women always take the right side seats. I heard that ancient Greek had the same tradition: women on the right and men on the left. Those traditions are inherited from thousands of years ago when all people were equal.


Infant girls remember human faces better than infant boys. If you let girls and boys of three to five years old to sit in a room for five minutes, and ask them what they have seen in the room. The girls describe the people in the room and boys describe the environment, the furniture, the walls, and the ceiling, and so on. Up to today, our ritual of marriage still remains that men propose to a woman who selects and makes the final decision.


Does a woman see all the men the same or she divides them into different ranks? In a primitive society, a woman divided men into different ranks and then exercised her selection. As a result, in a primitive society, men at low ranks were to be wasted because no women would choose them.

A recent study by some British scientists indicates that we can still see some evidence to suggest what happened millions of years ago.


They found if husbands are older than wives, they tend to give birth to more boys; if wives are older than husbands, they tend to have more baby girls.