Aug 1, 2008

Fun - Gender Bender

In the animal world there are no gender issues. Female seahorses, for instance, routinely make males pregnant by inserting their extendable egg depositing organs into the males' “brood pouch”. If that's not dominatrix enough, consider the angler fish. When a mature male locates a female it bites into her and releases an enzyme that digests his mouth and her skin — thus fusing them together. Most of him thereafter dissolves away except for the testes which remain stuck on as part of her body. This ensures that any time she's ready to reproduce, the most important remains of her once and horny mate are available on demand. Ironically, human beings were also much more animal-like at one point of time and they, too, didn't have any gender problems in that primeval world. Evolution had made sure males were more physically robust and the females less so. This meant the former were obviously more capable of, say, spearing down prey and, therefore, it made perfect sense they did so instead of the other way around. Females, on the other hand, were fashioned with bodies capable of bringing babies to term and nurturing them. So, again, it made complete sense because it was a level-headed division of labour. But somewhere around this time our rapidly developing brains switched to warp drive. In quick succession we discovered or invented fire, agriculture, the wheel, writing, mathematics, medicine, printing, commerce, industry, head offices, hiring, CEOs and Indra Nooyi who it now turns out can not only look after her cave with the aplomb of a Stone Age squaw but can kick male ass — if she needs to, that is — better than a female seahorse in its prime. Unfortunately, though, for most of her sisters around the world, the story's not so rosy. But this was something that should have been anticipated by everybody ever since the hunter-gatherers and primary-caregivers became “civilised” into societies and those ancient divisions of labour began blurring via nascent concepts of equality. The irony here is that the blurring's happened only on the outside. Inside the brain the old hardwiring hasn't changed much. This not only explains why in countries like Saudi Arabia women aren't allowed to drive but why a “modern” democracy like Switzerland let its female citizens vote for the first time only in 1971. But no one's really to blame here. If, for instance, a bunch of cavemen had decided that, beginning one sudden century, they were going to personally look after their grottos and take care of the children from then on, they would probably have had their eyes raked out in reverse. Nevertheless, having said that, it's also way past due date when men should be telling themselves that the biological model no longer holds. That secretly blaming it on the genes is not going to work for much longer. In any case, in the future, the workplace isn't going to remain the jungle it's been so far. Two technologies in particular are going to make sure that the functional equivalence between men and women will rise to significantly higher levels than they are today. One is the bandwidth explosion; the other robotics. Once everyone has cheap and easy access to huge amounts of high-speed connectivity enabling voice, video and text, the need for a separate workplace will diminish and offices will become increasingly redundant, till they vanish. Home robots, on the other hand, will revolutionise the way we operate in our nuclear units to such an extent that about 50 years from now their presence will become nothing short of fundamental. When you have intelligent machines with apron strings looking after household work, domestic chores no longer remain the major responsibility of just one party. We're in a transition phase at the moment — still part brutes of the wild — but it's interesting to speculate how we're going to react when whole paradigms shift and mindsets melt, thanks largely to the impact of technology on our genetic make-up. So will that bring equality? Who knows. After all, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

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