In his engaging and provocative Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy, Emory University anthropologist and neuroscientist Konner (The Tangled Wing) admits that his book contains something to offend everyone. The idea that important differences in gender identity and behavior are based in biology will not please feminists, and the idea that women are superior to men will offend a lot of men, he writes.
Nevertheless, in his characteristically elegant way, Konner marches on, using the tools of genetic biology, evolutionary psychology and anthropology to demonstrate that “women are not equal to men; they are superior in many ways, and in most ways that will count in the future.” Konner opens his book with a discussion of genetics as a means of determining both identity and behavior in men and women. In some cases, as he illustrates, genes do explain the gender differences we have attributed to cultural influences; thus, he observes, nurture and culture, while powerful forces, are often not the most powerful in determining gender behavior.
Konner focuses on evolution as the engine driving the ways that gender roles and behavior might change in the future. If women steadily take charge of their genes—which he points out is already occurring in various biomedical technologies such as in-vitro fertilization—they can slowly begin to increase their numbers relative to men. By relying on this genetic technology, coupled with a return to rules of life that ruled humans as hunter-gatherers for 90 percent on human history—“women and men working at their jobs, sharing, taking care of children, their main link to the future”—Konner argues that our culture might have a chance at seeing real equality.
At the very least, Konner’s virtuoso performance will challenge us to examine the cultural stereotypes we so often use to foster the gender inequality that diminishes both women and men.