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Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.
More than a million people around the globe participated in marches to support women’s rights and gender equality. It took generations of activism for nations to recognize the rights that women enjoy today, and some are worried about women losing ground. The word for “husband” in ancient Hebrew is “בעל”, a word that also means “master”. Today, “בן זוג” is a more common translation for “husband”. Jews do not want to go back to the days of men owning women.
The ownership of mates occurs in many types of animals. These species will exhibit mate-guarding behavior to prevent competitors from accessing their mates. Researchers studied mate-guarding by male medaka fish to understand the behavior better. They found that a normal male will block a female from looking at a rival male so that she becomes most familiar with him and prefers to mate with him. Mutant males with defective arginine-vasotocin receptors failed to block females from looking at other males and consequently had less success becoming familiar to females and mating with them.
There is diversity within the animal kingdom, and mate-guarding doesn’t always involve males acting on genetic programming. Both male and female rats are promiscuous and uninterested in mate-guarding by nature, but Pavlovian conditioning can teach female rats to mate-guard. The researchers removed the ovaries from female rats and injected them with hormones to make them ready to mate. They had the test subject mate with a specific male every 4 days for 40 days without other rats in the area so that they could condition her to associate that male with sex.
After 40 days of private dates, the researchers put the female alone with her regular male and a new rival female who was also injected with hormones to make her ready to mate. The conditioned female mounted the new female every time she came near the male in order to prevent her from mating with him. Changes in the conditioned female rat’s brain may have caused her to develop this mate-guarding behavior.
There is an alternative to both jealous mate-guarding and promiscuous one-night stands. Some species develop close pair bonds through daily interactions and have no need for mate-guarding. A sea horse pair will dance together every day to maintain a close bond. Sea horse romances are a role model for gender equality. The female deposits the eggs into the male’s pouch where he keeps them until the young are ready for birth. Because the male is certain of his paternity, he invests much time into the relationship and is willing to dance with his mate every morning.
Humans can look at how potential mates behave and decide what type of relationships they want. A man may want a wife who is willing to wear a strap-on and mount any ladies he brings home. A woman might want a husband who sips coffee with her every morning. As the two of them engage in enlightened conversation about how misogynistic most men are, she can draw on her knowledge of biology to understand the evolutionary logic behind her husband’s words.