Is ‘female’ the most ‘basic’ human state?
Tyler R. from the United States writes:
I wasn’t sure if I was going to send this question, because I saw that you get a lot of male vs female questions. But I figured I should send it here anyway because you guys are the only ones to answer the questions without bias (politically correct bias).
Why does it seem like the only thing that makes a man is a simple(?) hormone? For example, if you castrate a man, he almost completely demasculinizes. It seems like maleness, male behavior, and even male patterns of thinking are all a result of a single hormone. Whereas, for females, you can remove their ovaries but they don’t defeminize. It seems like what makes a woman a woman is less variable than what makes a man a man. Females seem to maintain tight control of being, well, female. Men go through drastic changes of genetic expression if you removed their primary source of testosterone (the testes).
Women have some changes and can even die if you remove the ovaries, but the woman doesn’t seem to suffer from drastic changes in gene expression. I understand that ‘female’ is not the “default” embryonic stage, but why does it seem like if men lose their source of testosterone, they almost seem to “revert back” to female (I put it in quotation marks to show that I’m not saying they DO revert back, but only that they SEEM to)? I read where a study was done on castrated mice, and castrated male mice had certain genes become down-regulated, where they were up-regulated in intact males. And a few genes even became feminized. Removing the ovaries in female mice did not wield the same results between castrated female vs intact female. It almost seems like if you strip down all of the human complexities, the human ‘female’ is what we would all essentially be, even though we wouldn’t be ‘female’ in the sense that we define it.
I am not arguing that “female” is our default state before males branch off in the womb. I’m arguing that ‘female’ seems to be our most basic human state, whereas males seem to be the deviance or the more “complicated” state. Ironically enough considering Adam and Eve, male seems to be the “added on” state. I understand that this seems more like a philosophical question instead of a scientific one, but I can’t help but wonder about it. Maybe I’ve seen enough of the women’s lib movement that, even though I disagree, I almost can’t help but think they could be right about certain things (to a degree) pertaining to the female. I am not saying that women are superior to men, but they seem to be the most “basic” of what it means to be human, whereas males add all of these extra things and characteristics. I think, spiritually, I can’t find any logical conclusion to this (if there is one). It seems like males are more capable of “reverting” back to a state that is more ‘female’ than ‘male’.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thanks for writing in.
Let’s accept for argument’s sake your premise that castration shows that women represent what is most ‘fundamental’ about what it means to be a human, and maleness results from ‘extra add-ons’ to this fundamental model. Does this change or challenge anything in what the Bible teaches about the sexes? No. Adam was still made first, and Eve from Adam (Genesis 2:7, 21–22). Both were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Marriage is still a heterosexual union (Genesis 2:24), and remains the only appropriate context for sexual expression (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9, 36). Christians of both sexes are equal heirs of the grace of life (Galatians 3:28, 1 Peter 3:7). The commands and prohibitions that apply to either sex remain the same. Jesus is still a resurrected man (Will the New Heavens and Earth be physical?). Nothing in the biblical framework changes if this premise is true. So, why does this matter for your faith? It doesn’t.
But why does it seem to matter for your faith? Certain anti-Bible feminists use this premise to promote their own anti-biblical agendas. But if this premise in itself doesn’t conflict with anything from Scripture, then the anti-biblical implications such feminists draw from it clearly don’t logically follow. In fact, it seems to me that the idea that women representing the ‘template’ for what it means to be human could actually be used to argue for the superiority of men. How? Well, are women the archetype, or merely the prototype? If men have all these ‘add-ons’, might we not see them as the upgrade? Of course, this is just as ridiculous as the idea that women are better because they’re the ‘archetype’. But that’s precisely the point—both are ridiculous extrapolations that Bible believers don’t need to accept.
Still, why accept your premise? You conceded the point that castration doesn’t actually ‘revert back’ a male to a female state. Castration does not remove the Y chromosomes, which are present in every cell of the male body. Thus castration cannot undo ‘maleness’, although the change in hormones modifies it to some extent. As such, whatever the situation might seem to produce, a castrated male is still a male. This to me seems to fundamentally undercut your premise. Whatever we might say about ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits, castrated males don’t cease to be male even if they become ‘feminized’ in some traits. They don’t lose their Y-chromosome, or grow female reproductive parts. Castration can’t do this. So, there is clearly more to being a man than having intact testes, or having a certain level of testosterone (which is not simply the ‘male’ hormone;1 see also Estrogen in men?). Indeed, since neither sex is the original ‘default’ state, but both female and male states are actively generated and maintained (Did God make Adam ‘half-female’?), there doesn’t seem to be a scientific argument for either sex being the ‘base template’.
And what do we mean by ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’? Outside of reproductive biology, we’re merely talking about average differences between men and women by many physiological and personality measures. There are real differences, but they are statistical generalizations for which there are many exceptions. For instance, one of the most obvious physiological differences is that men are stronger on average than women. But of course some women are stronger than a majority of men (relatively few, perhaps, but they do exist). When it comes to personality traits, the average differences tend to be smaller than the physiological differences. Of course, at the extremes of all these measures, one sex dominates. But that’s simply the logical result of two bell curve distributions with slightly different means.2 What all this shows is that, while there are real differences, men and women are not fundamentally different creatures. We are both human, after all.
And what happens when we put castrated men into those measures? In some measures, yes, they seem to become feminized. But the degree to which this happens is variable, and in some traits they actually seem to ‘masculinize’ (e.g. men castrated as boys have historically found to be on average taller than ‘intact’ men).3 Regarding personality traits, the data is unclear (largely because castration has thankfully died out before the last few decades, when personality testing became more meaningful and prominent). And the timing of the castration matters, as well. For instance, castration affects a prepubescent boy much more than a fully grown man.
One sundry point that should be addressed is that women do undergo changes in gene expression after an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries).4 There is a change in post-menopausal women as well, but it’s generally not as drastic as premenopausal women. Indeed, one of the major side effects of an oophorectomy is what might be termed ‘hyper-menopause’ (it’s even more severe than standard menopause because even after menopause the ovaries still produce small amounts of hormones, especially testosterone). Does this mean the ‘basic’ state of women is a post-menopausal one? This reasoning would seem to parallel your propositions about castration and ‘feminization’ of men, but it’s clearly specious.
All of this leads me to think that it’s not particularly meaningful to talk about either sex as more ‘basic’ to what it means to be human. We’re all human, but we’re sexually distinct from conception. Changes that occur because of surgical interventions like castration don’t tell us anything about what it means to be male, much less what it means to be human.
Creation Ministries International
References and notes
- A generally helpful article for dispelling this myth is: Godwin, R., Is Testosterone a True Measure of Manliness? Men’s Health, menshealth.com/uk/health/a30699455/testosterone-myths-misconceptions, 13 September 2021. Return to text.
- See figure 1 in: LeVay, S. and Baldwin, J., Web Topic 7.1: Measuring Sex Differences, Companion Website for Human Sexuality, 4th edition, levay4e.sinauer.com/webtopic07.01.html, 2012. Return to text.
- Wilson, J.D. and Roehrborn, C., Long-Term Consequences of Castration in Men: Lessons from the Skoptzy and the Eunuchs of the Chinese and Ottoman Courts, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 84(12):4324–4331, 1999 | doi.org/10.1210/jcem.84.12.6206. Return to text.
- Haynes, B.P. et al., Molecular changes in premenopausal oestrogen receptor-positive primary breast cancer in Vietnamese women after oophorectomy, npj Breast Cancer 3:47, 2017; nature.com/articles/s41523-017-0049-z. Return to text.