With social trends, automation, and sex robots, are men even necessary?

Since hunter-gatherer societies, many civilizations in human history have had patriarchal systems of power. There are numerous theories as to why patriarchies – rather than matriarchal or more egalitarian alternatives – emerged, but one commonly held belief is that, with the advent of agriculture, men’s physical strength took on additional perceived social value. Men’s ability to handle large animals such as oxen and horses, the theory goes, made them productive farmers – and thus most able to provide sustenance, and eventually, financial support to their families. Women increasingly took on roles in the home and with the children that were never monetized – and thus not understood to be as valuable. Furthermore, as agricultural civilizations sprung up, and wars broke out, men’s strength and ability to fight further compounded their heightened social standing. Warrior-heroes gained respect in their communities; women, more often than not, stayed at home.

Times have changed. Technological development has meant that modern societies rely less and less on physical strength; modern economies, and even wars, for example, depend evermore on an ability to think and use tools. With a surge of educated women taking jobs and social leadership positions, and with the development of new Artificial Intelligence technologies that further reduce the value of human strength, there will be no distinct role that men play in the economy that cannot be done at least equally as well by women. Furthermore, the success of children raised by lesbian couples – as well as the emergence of sex robots, and the increasing potential of artificial sperm – suggest that men may ultimately be replaceable by women in every aspect of society in the future.

Women have always found a way to join the traditionally-conceived “workforce,” but have been mostly restricted to low-paying work associated with feminine skills, such as domestic work, and jobs in textile and clothing industries. Until the Women’s Rights Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, the percentage of women in the workforce remained low. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the last 100 years have seen a dramatic trend: while in 1950 there were 18.4 million women in the labor force, accounting for 33 percent of the total labor of the United States, by 2000 the number had exploded to 66.3 million – 46.5 percent. These numbers are projected to continue to increase, with a predicted 77.2 million, and 47.2 percent, by 2024.

Although women are still frequently employed in “feminine,” or caregiver-type roles – women currently make up 91 percent of all registered nurses, 82 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, and 81 percent of all social workers – studies show that there is “no evidence” that men are better than women in science and technology roles. And despite historic exclusion from STEM fields, women’s representation is on the rise: whereas women made up 23 percent of all workers in science and technology fields in 1993, by 2010 the number increased to 28 percent, and in the same time-frame women’s representation in mathematics and computer science roles doubled.

Even if women’s emergence in jobs typically held by men does not even out across the board, it is likely that it will not matter much in the future. If we look at the jobs most dominated by women, we see that they tend to involve people and social interaction (i.e. teacher, social worker), whereas jobs dominated by men frequently entail manual labor or operating machinery (i.e. construction worker, truck driver) – jobs that modern Artificial Intelligence technologies such as self driving cars, trucks, autonomous construction equipment and robots threaten to replace. It requires much more advanced Artificial Intelligence to replicate social interaction than to automate machinery. Moreover, men have been shown to be reluctant to take positions typically held by women, while women’s burgeoning presence in STEM suggests that they don’t tend to share the same biases.

In our world today, despite the recent ascendancy of women in the United States political system, men still dominate positions of power. But there is also compelling evidence that women do just as well, if not better, in leadership positions than men. A paper written by researchers from Northwestern University and Wellesley College concluded that, although women have both advantages and disadvantages in typical leadership style, most, if not all, disadvantages come when women are in a highly masculine organizational context. The paper goes on to show that women tend to have a more democratic (or participative), and a less autocratic (or directive) style of leadership than do men. Although the effectiveness of a leader’s behavior depends on contextual variables such as the nature of the task and the characteristics of their followers, contemporary views of good leadership “encourage teamwork and collaboration and emphasize the ability to empower, support, and engage workers” – all traits that are typically exemplified by women in leadership positions.

Finally, men of the past were lauded for their ability to fight and their bravery in combat. However, modern war has changed this dynamic significantly; as history has progressed, combat has become less a measure of physical strength and more an ability to use tools and enact strategy. Although the use of drones has been highly controversial, it is possible that emerging drone technologies, including autonomous drones, will separate humans from combat even further. More importantly, it is possible that a future led by women may involve less military conflict in general. Whereas men’s leadership is frequently labeled as “command and control, involving assertion of authority and the accumulation of power,” women’s leadership is often described as “interactive, involving collaboration and empowerment of employees.” If collaboration rather than accumulation of power is emphasized on a global scale, disruptions in global peace may become less frequent, reducing the role and prevalence of war in society.

All of these trends bode well for a more equitable future of gender relations, because it is apparent that soon there will be nothing that gives men more value in society than women. However, women will still retain the ability to bear our society’s children, and will still be able to raise them well. Although it would be possible to argue that men could raise children just as well as women, it would be difficult to argue that men would do a better job. So what value then do men bring to the table of our society in the future that women can’t? Would it be possible for men to be, in fact, completely replaceable?

The first and most obvious answer to this question is that men are still irreplaceable because of their ability to create sperm, and that without men humanity would not be able to continue. However, significant research is currently being done to create sperm cells from male and female stem cells. This research aims to give infertile couples, whether heterosexual or queer, the ability to have children without using another person’s DNA, and provide insights as to why infertility occurs. Therefore, there is significant reason to continue this research. Although artificial human sperm has not been created yet, scientists in China were able to create sperm from stem cells in mice and then fertilize several mice eggs with those cells, successfully creating a handful of healthy mice. Significant research must be done before artificial sperm is used in humans, and further research must be done before we can confirm that two women could reproduce this way, but let us say for the sake of argument that this research does prove fruitful.

Although less vital than sperm creation, when some argue against the legality of gay marriage or the ability of gay couples to parent, they argue that all children must have both a mother and a father in order for them to be raised successfully. This assertion has been widely disputed and consistently found to be false. For example, a comprehensive study published in the Medical Journal of Australia took results from over 119 separate studies including those done by the 2017 public policy research portal at Columbia Law School, a 2014 American Sociological Association review, and a 2013 review done by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, and concluded that children raised in same sex households consistently did as well emotionally, socially, and academically as their peers. If same sex couples raise children just as well as heterosexual couples do, one can conclude that two women can raise a child just as well as a man and a woman, or two men. It appears, then, that men are not necessary for raising children, either.

Some might argue that a heterosexual woman with a child would want a male lover with whom to raise her child. Is there some sort of bond that two people in love have that influences the rearing of a child that could not be replicated by multiple women in a community? Consider children raised in the communal living situations of a Kibbutz in Israel, wherein the general community has a larger role in raising a child than the parents. In a paper titled Family and Communally Raised (Kibbutz) Children 20 Years Later: Biographical Data, scholars looked at the education, work history, place of residence, marital status, response to personal loss, and level of psychological problems in 92 children raised in a communal living situation, and 72 children raised by their parents. They conclude that children raised in Kibbutz communal living situations “show a great deal of similarity in their overall functioning” as compared to children raised by their parents. They also conclude that any differences that were found from research can be attributed to “differences in institutional policies and norms in the two communities which socialized the two groups.” The study’s findings, then, counter the idea that two people in a romantic relationship are necessary to raise a child.

However, in a hypothetical world where men are not necessary, there will still be many heterosexual women who do not want to engage in lesbian relationships, but still want to have children, or a romantic partner who is male. Being attracted to men, heterosexual women may still desire men to be around as their companions, and so, for this reason men may still be necessary in society. But will that indeed be the case? Consider the theories of Abraham Maslow, a psychologist whose theories on human needs are still popular in the field of sociology. In A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow theorized a hierarchy of human needs; from the most basic, such as food and shelter, to what he calls “self-actualization” – the ability for one to realize their full potential. Maslow’s findings never specifically mention the need for a lover or life companion. Rather, in the third level of Maslow’s pyramid of needs, called the “love needs,” he states that one will “feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children,” implying that the human need of love does not necessarily have to be fulfilled by all four.

If we think about what humans look for in romantic partners, several things come to mind, such as emotional companionship, sex, child-rearing abilities, and love. Emotional companionship can be understood as the ability for one to share deeply with another, feel vulnerable, give and receive emotional support. There are many similarities between intimate friendships and intimate sexual relationships – emotional companionship being one of them. As Maslow remarks, “love is not synonymous with sex,” e.g. intimate relationships do not have to be sexual. It is possible then, that women in the future could derive the same emotional companionship from intimate friendships as they currently do through romantic relationships.

However, sex is a well-documented need for most humans, and it cannot be replaced by friendship, especially the friendship of women if one is heterosexual. Modern sexual technology is limited to sex toys such as dildos and vibrators, and it would be hard to argue that these adequately replace men sexually (at least men can hope), but this is, again, where future Artificial Intelligence comes in. Although modern sex robots and virtual reality are not, at present, sufficiently advanced to fully capture a completely human sexual experience, if human movement and feel is replicated well enough by a robot or virtual human in the future, there is no reason to say that sexbots or VR could not replicate a human sexual encounter, and replace the need for sex with human men in general. In Robot Sex, authors Neil McArthur and John Danaher take it “as a premise” that sex robots of the future will “offer people a realistic and intensely satisfying sexual experience, one that approximates at least in many ways sex with a human partner.” Although we cannot know for certain what the future of sex technology will hold, it is fair to assume that future sex technology will reach this level, and that we can take this notion as a premise as well.

Heightened criticism of the gender binary – and the social roles it has historically delimited in patriarchal society – undermines the credibility of any effort to ascribe an essential quality to one gender over another. But the trends detailed above illustrate the possible obsolescence of not just the male, but rather masculinity itself, which should adapt to reflect these new social and technological developments or risk perishing for good. In the job market, many of the positions where women remain at a disadvantage are being threatened by artificial intelligence. This is all happening while men are reluctant to adapt to a changing society and take roles stereotypically held by women. We are also seeing a surge in women either running for leadership positions or already performing successfully in them, another trend that is expected to continue. It seems that women are quickly taking traditionally male roles, while continuing to lock down their own, and that developing technologies around sperm creation and sex robots could eliminate even the primal necessity of the male: in short, it seems that man, or at least manhood as we know it, could eventually become completely unnecessary. The future very well may be female. ▩

Max Ogryzko is a New York-based computer scientist who specializes in computer vision.

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