The End of Men?
I tried to think of a better title, but couldn't, so I just swiped the original one from the story. Anyway, this NPR segment on genetic science and the incredible shrinking Y chromosome is well worth listening to. When I heard the lead-in to the story, I flinched. For selfish reasons, I am very much of the opinion that men are a good thing that we should keep around. Of course, it's not up to me.
The basic premise of the story is accurate enough--the Y chromosome, compared to other chromosomes, is shrunken and shriveled. As this story points out, the Y chromosome has merely 80 genes on it, compared to the 1000 that the X chromosome has. As anyone with a passing knowledge of genetics knows, the difference in size between the X and Y chromosome is the reason that there are a number of recessive genes that pass through women but only express themselves in men.
The compelling thing is that dry science like this cannot really be discussed by laymen without getting all our emotions ramped up. It's hard not to see all this as a topsy-turvy version of Genesis, a world where women are the standard and men the deviation. But that's a shallow reading, not at all the truth. The real truth is even more disturbing, that we are all just here talking about all this because of a fluke of nature.
But what draws people to the story is not the philosophical questions that are raised when considering how we're just one genetic accident from having never existed at all. No, we are interested in the idea in a world without men, that is, a world where gender doesn't exist at all. (On the whole, I don't like the idea, by the way.) It's shallow to think that people are interested in such an intellectual exercise out of some loathing for men. It's more that we want to know--what would people be like if there weren't two genders? Would we all suddenly lapse into a "true" version of ourselves once the idea of "man" or "woman" was stripped completely away?
Why is it that in most versions of this intellectual exercise-cum-fantasy that men are the sex that suddenly disappears? I doubt it has much to do with the genetics of the X and Y chromosomes. My guess is that since the great bulk of the day-to-day work of exaggerrating the differences between the sexes falls on the shoulders of women, then it's just natural. Men are the standard that we strive to differ from. Men are hairy, so women attempt to be unhairy. The one place men have less hair is on their heads, so women diligently work to make our hair look thicker, i.e., not mannish. Since we do the work of being a Gender, we are the ones who have a vested interest in the idea of a world without gender, which means that the standard we strive not to be like would be what disappears.
I understand the urge, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. These exercises are ultimately futile. Without two sexes, there would be no humanity; it's like asking what we would be like without language or opposable thumbs or something else that makes us human. You can't extract a part and expect the whole to still make sense. I fully support scientists doing everything they can to make lay people understand that sex is a matter of accident, not a decree from god. And that men and women are not opposites, but merely slight degrees of difference, less that a chromosome different from each other, and that while most people can be classified easily as one or the other, gender isn't set in stone. But.....
We have to work with what we got. The inequality between the sexes isn't the natural consequence of the male/female binary, so intellectual exercises getting rid of it are limited in value. Oppression is what it is, and needs to be dealt with as is, and not as the consequence of the accident that "it takes two".