Friday, March 1, 2013

Men....Who Needs Them ?

Mammals are named after their defining characteristic, the glands capable of sustaining a life for years after birth -- glands that are functional only in the female. And yet while the term ''mammal'' is based on an objective analysis of shard traits, the genus name for human beings, HOMO, reflects an 18th Century masculine bias in science. That bias, however, is becoming harder to sustain, as men become less relevant to both reproduction and parenting. Women aren't just becoming men's equals. It's increasingly clear that ''mankind'' itself is a gross misnomer: an uninterrupted, intimate and essential maternal connection defines our species.

The central behaviors of mammals revolve around how we bear and raise our young, and humans are the parenting champions of the class. In most parts of the world, for nearly 20% of our life span we are considered the legal responsibility of our parents. With expanding reproductive choices, we can expect to see more women choose to reproduce without men entirely. Fortunately, the data for children raided by only females is encouraging. As the Princeton sociologist Sara S. McLanahan has shown, ''poverty is what hurts children, not the number or gender of the parents.''

That's good, since women are both necessary and sufficient for reproduction and men are neither. From the production of the first cell (egg) to the development of the fetus and the birth and breast-feeding of the child , fathers can be absent. They can be at work, at home, in prison or at war, living or dead. And while birth seems like a separation, for us mammals it's just a new form of attachment to our female parent. If your mother breast-fed you, as our species has done for nearly our entire existence, then you suckled from her all your water, protein, sugar, fats and even immune protection. She sampled your diseases by holding you close and kissing you, just as your father might have done; but unlike your father, she responded to your infections by making antibodies that she passed to you in her breast milk.

Just think about your own history. Your life as an egg actually started in your mother's developing ovary, before she was born; you were wrapped in your mother's fetal body as it developed within your grandmother. After the two of you left Grandma's womb, you enjoyed the protection of your mother's prepubescent ovary. Then, sometime between 15 to 50 years after the two of you left your grandmother, you burst forth and were sucked by her fimbriae into the fallopian tube. You glided along the oviduct, surviving happily on the stored nutrients and genetic messages that Mom packed for you. some point, your father spent came close to cuddle and kiss your mom to get her ''juices'' flowing to allow the gift of his ''seed'' to reach you. A little while later, you encountered some very odd tiny cells that he contributed surrounding you. They did not at first merge with you, or give you nutrients, but suddenly one cell sneaked in under your gel coating and stuck fast. The deposited an infinitesimally small packet of DNA, less a one-millionth of your mass. Bingo.....your egg started dividing!  First 2 cells, then 4, then 16, then 32 and on and on as you swelled with reproduction.

Over the next nine months, you stole minerals from your mother's bones, fat from her nervous system and oxygen from her blood as well as receiving all your nutrition, energy and immune protection from her. By the time you were born....your mother contributed six to eight pounds of your weight while being protected by the shock-absorbing quality of the fluid-filled sac of ameonic fluid. Then as a parting gift, she swathed you in billions of bacteria from her birth canal and groin that continue to protect your skin, digestive system and general health. In contrast, your father's 3.3 picograms of DNA comes out to less than one pound (half a kilogram) of male contribution since the beginning of Homo Sapiens 107 billion babies ago!

The Way I See It....I don' dismiss the years I put in as a doting father. Fathers are of great benefit, but that is a far cry from ''necessary and sufficient'' for reproduction. If a woman wants to have a baby without a man, there is no more social stigma to it, she just needs to secure sperm (fresh or frozen) from a donor (living or dead). The only technology the self-impregnating woman needs is a straw of turkey baster, and the basic technique hasn't changed much since Talmudic scholars debated the religious implications of insemination without sex in the fifth century. If all the men on earth died tonight, the species could continue on frozen sperm. If the women's Extinction!

recently, the geneticist J. Craig Venter showed that the entire genetic material of an organism can be synthesized by a machine and then put into what he called an ''artificial cell.'' This was actually a bit of press-releae hyperbole: Mr Venter started with a fully functional cell, then swapped out its DNA. In doing so, he unwittingly demonstrated that the female component of sexual reproduction, the egg cell, cannot be manufactured, but the male can. When I explained this to a female staff member and asked her if he thought that there was yet anything irreplaceable about men, she answered; They're entertaining.''  Gentlemen, let's hope that's enough.

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