What is male disposability and what is behind it? Short answer: 1) Male disposability is the belief that males are disposable for the good of their families and societies, and for women, in a way that females are not and 2) it makes a culture more successful in war and at grabbing resources.
Male disposability is a cultural value that says that men and only men should sacrifice thier lives and health and emotional well-being for the good of the family or community, and should be happy doing this, and should be ridiculed, condemned and even jailed if they refuse in some way. Male disposability is part of the male gender role in some but not all cultures, and I have yet to see and adequate explanation for that.
So that’s male disposability. What gives rise to it? Why does it exist and what good if any comes of it?
The standard explanation is the rare egg theory. Girl Writes What describes male disposability as a cultural response to the biological fact that eggs are scarce while sperm are not, that males are disposable because there is an infinite supply of sperm but a finite supply of eggs, which have to be husbanded carefully. There are two problems with this explanation.
First – egg scarcity is a matter of biology, so male disposability should be standard across all cultures, and it’s not. People recognize this in the form of rather unflattering stereotypes. “Hey, want to buy some Italian Army rifles – only been dropped once.” This variation has to be explained, and a biological reality common to all human societies won’t do it.
Second – the egg scarcity explanation relies on the fast that a woman has a finite supply of eggs, but ignores that there is an almost infinite supply of women. The fact is that throughout history men of one group have gone out and killed men of another group, to take their land perhaps or whatever other reason, and the women of that second group have been taken into the first group as secondary wives or some other kind of dependent. Because men are the primary victims of war, war has always meant an over-abundance of women among the survivors. Look at this chart for the population structure in Germany. Note that at the very upper end of the chart, 80 years and older, there is a conspicuous imbalance between the percentages of men and women. That’s the generation that came through WWII. I am sure the same chart for Afghanistan, if it were possible to anything like complete data, would look pretty similar for the male cohort 15-30 years old. So perhaps eggs are not quite so scarce, relative to the population of available men, as we assume they are,
The scarce egg explanation presupposes lifelong monogamy. Lifelong monogamy, for time out of mind, was not really an option even when it was desired – women died young, and all the time, and they had to be replaced, because until very recently, a woman’s labor was irreplaceable unless you had servants. There’s a reason for the Wicked Stepmother trope in folktales – everyone had a stepmother sooner or later.
Of course there were always more women, since daughters either married and moved out or stayed home unmarried for their brothers to support along with their wives, while unmarried brothers either stayed and added their labor to running the farm or moved on down the road for lives as day laborers.
Back to male disposability and how some cultures manifest it so much more than others. What’s going on, why the variety across cultures? Does male disposability have some adaptive value that applies for some cultures and not so much in others? It’s hard to see what benefit it would offer in stable farming cultures, but it has it has obvious adaptive value where the males have to be disposable, as in economies based on long-rage fishing or trade or on raiding and other firms of warfare. And there’s the real engine of male disposability – it is not just adaptive to certain specific challenges certain cultures face, but it is quite advantageous to any culture in conflict with another over resources or territory.
The real payoff with male disposability is success in war – and in the colonialism and imperialism that war enables. Anyone who promotes any aspect of the psychological edifice that is male disposability is enabling warfare, colonial domination and imperialism. Any aspect.
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