On Tuesday’s class, we moved into another effect of Darwin’s principles—and that involves our understanding of gender construction and sexuality. During Darwin’s time, gender roles were very much set in stone. The woman’s role centered around the home and raising children and the man’s role centered around the land and generating income.
But as Darwin illustrated with example and example, variation is the one consistency in the natural world and animal kingdom. So, if variation is the one constant variable, what does that mean about gender? And about sexuality?
Darwin’s theories opened the doors to the idea that gender is not simply a binary between male and female but a spectrum of everything in between. We have just begun delving into this topic, but to help us see examples along the spectrum, I gave the class a few poems that presented speakers with a variety of sexual preferences and proclivities. We read contemporary poets Bradford Tice, Sharon Olds, Gary Soto, and Keetje Kuipers. The only consistent thread to all of the poems, and to Darwin’s theories, is that everything and everyone is always in a state of flux.
From a biological perspective, humans are a single species, but we (as a species) exhibit a variety of sexual identities, preferences, and sexual characteristics–not just two, male and female. So, this notion of an idealized man or woman is biologically a falsity as nothing, not even natural selection, moves toward a sense of “progress” or “perfection.” That would be called teleological evolution—this belief that we are always progressing. Darwin was very firm this was not the case. Instead, plants and animals respond to what suits their particular needs and their particular environment based on their own strengths and inclinations, which varies from individual to individual. The only thing we know for sure is that we are always changing.