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The Titanic – Children and whom first?

March 9, 2010 6 comments

The Titanic is a tale of amazing power which has continued to carry great strength almost a century after the mighty ship sank. To be honest, the only film version I have seen is the 1953 edition (Yeah, yeah. Don’t ask.), but what I want to talk about is one of the things which is at the core of any and all re-tellings of the story of the Titanic:

Male sacrifice.

The men of the Titanic are famous for their willingness to forfeit their own lives so that the women and children aboard might live. It is one of the most noble displays of chivalry in recorded history, proving absolute selflessness on the part of most of the men, and it is this general concept of male sacrifice for women which I want to talk about.

The idea that the lives of men are somehow less valuable than women is pervasive through American (and probably western if not global) media. In almost any instance, if escape is limited, the women go before the men. Sometimes the character discuss the correctness of this, but most of the time no one complains (not that I can blame them).

Most people accept the idea that men should put themselves in harms way to save women because, (a) it is an ancient tradition, and (b) it seems to make some intuitive sense. Women are the ones who bear children, so, as feminists like to say when you ask them about male sacrifice, it is only natural for women to be ensured safety at any cost.

However, as is the case with so many concepts of modern gender politics, the math on that theory just doesn’t quite work.

The problem with the idea of women being more important to the species arises when you realize that western society is quite thoroughly monogamous. That is to say that any given person only has a single spouse at a time, and our society is usually pretty strict about this. For that reason, each and every woman needs a male all to herself in order to breed. That’s where the math stops working for the ‘women are more valuable’ theory.

Let’s look at an imaginary sample population of humans (this is all hypothetical). We have 20 people, 10 male and 10 female. This is the adult population, all of child bearing and rearing age.

Now, assuming everyone gets along well, each adult is part of a happy mating couple. 20 adults, 10 couples each of 2 adults. That’s how a monogamous society works.

Now, let’s say someone dies. If a woman dies, she can no longer bear any children, so the community loses that production.

However, since they are monogamous, if a man dies the same thing happens. A dead man leaves a woman with no breeding partner, so society loses that production.

This same idea applies to our own society at large. Adults form mating couples, one female to one male. If we were polygamous, then few men could mate with more women, so a decrease in male population wouldn’t be such a problem, but in our society a loss of an adult of either gender reduces the number of maximum possible mating couples by 1.

Of course, in a real society not everyone is coupled up. There are always unmarried women and men. However, the goal of the species, from a Darwinian view, is to breed as much as possible. Since the speed of reproduction is limited primarily by the speed at which women can bear children, our goal would be to make sure they were all breeding as much as possible.

Now, in a polygamous society, that would be done by ensuring that literally every woman was married, often many to the same man. But in a monogamous society, each woman needs her own man. And since humans are naturally picky, it can be hard to get every woman matched up with a man she likes. Therefore, the more men we have, the more likely each and every woman will find an acceptable mate.

Therefore, a surplus of males can actually help breeding, while surplus females go to waste in a world of monogamy. A scarcity of females would actually increase the likelihood of the remaining women breeding, since they would have plenty of men to choose from.

Not to mention the fact that widowers are more likely to remarry (and therefore keep breeding) than widows.

But that’s just a counterargument. Naturally, or at least I think naturally, we should all work to have all humans valued equally, regardless of chromosome configuration.

Nonetheless, the sacrifices men make are truly noble and deserve a heart felt salute, but the concept which drives such behavior is obsolete in the modern world and should be done away with for the betterment of all. The math just doesn’t work, so retaining such traditions is, if I might be allowed to say so, like hanging onto a sinking ship.

Of course, there is some logic to men being quicker to die since there are more boys born than there are girls (105 to 100, global average). Or maybe that isn’t to account for war, but for women’s tastes.

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