Biology, Meaning of Words

One of the many misconceptions of biology is the passivity in maternal mothers


The ideal of the maternal mother

One of the many characteristics of the ‘ideal maternal mother’ is her passivity. When we look at art depicting maternal mothers this quality is often shown. This state of maternal calmness has been taken for passivity. It is with certainty one of the many myths about maternal motherhood.

The french evolutionist, Paul Topinard, student of Paul Broca, taught that males have

all of the responsibility and the cares of tomorrow [and are] . . . constantly active in combating the environment and human rivals, and thus need] . . . more brains than the woman whom he must protect and nourish . . . the sedentary women, lacking any interior occupations, whose role is to raise children, love, and be passive (quoted in Gould, 1981:104).

Passivity means insouciance, calmness and peacefulness. Although it is clear that those characteristics are quite beneficial for newborns, babies and maternal women, it is wrong to think this is natural beyond the lactation period. And often comparisons with the animal kingdom are given to illustrate . There are indeed the male hormones and males might be more aggressive because of them. This does not imply that maternal females are more passive.

Passivity and primal choice

There is also cultural belief that males in the animal world males are really the more active sex and more interested in sex. More so that males will decide when and who and how, make the primal choice. The male doings are far more visible. And it is all about how males are rivaling for the possession of certain female. But  Charles Darwin himself actually agreed to the contrary. But our society was not ready to hear this at the time and so he was far less known for this discovery than for his others.

It is true that the male is often showier both in behavior and in looks. But it is really female animals that are often the active sexual pursuer. In certain species they are insatiable ones. They very often make the choice or the primal choice. They will decide who they prefer as father of the offspring. They will device their own selection criteria and that can be the looks of the male, but with other species the choice will be made after the inspection of nests or territories, or after a chase to check out the vigor and healthy perseverance of a male. It can also be the quality of the food the male provide during courtship or she will simply go for the more aggressive or powerful male of the group.

The research and studies are overwhelming in this area. Their subjects are all over and vary from chimpanzees, African wild dogs, Uganda kobs,  bongo fireflies, baboons, weaver birds, pigeons, marmots, chac-mas, rhesus monkeys, porcupines, roadrunners, jumping spiders, mountain goats, bower birds, squirrels, guppies, those most popular of aquarium fish to the most aggressive of all apes, the gorillas and many more.

In all these cases the female is the more active and in many cases males apparently have no choice but to play subordinate and even take on infantile behavior to have a share of the sexual satisfaction. One could say, males are an enormous but wonderful breeding experiment run by the females. The female choice was long dismissed as minor, even nonexistent however it seems that females are running the show and decide in most cases in what direction evolution takes off and which offspring will form the next generation. They do have the primal choice.

Passivity is also a lack of initiative. It is resignation or some kind of submission to people around them and outside influences; it is also unresisting capitulation. However babies and young children have many demands that come in a constant flow and to react to theirs can be a handful. Can we now say that any form of passivity might even endanger our species.

Poor mother and children during the Great Depression. Oklahoma, 1936, by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress
Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply