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In the name of the father: the links between religion and paternity

Religious leaders and holy texts share deep preoccupations with sex and reproduction. From Islamic purdah to Jewish menstrual purity laws, to Vatican neuroses about everything from contraception to masturbating…

Questions of cuckoldry and fidelity have always existed – and comfort has come from religious customs. More Good Foundation

Religious leaders and holy texts share deep preoccupations with sex and reproduction. From Islamic purdah to Jewish menstrual purity laws, to Vatican neuroses about everything from contraception to masturbating nuns, it isn’t difficult to see in all major religions a masculine obsession with reproductive control.

Religion and sex have had a complicated relationship since the very beginning. Adam & Eve, 1504. Albrecht Dürer.

But how did religion and reproduction become so entangled? Perhaps it’s just a hangover from a simpler time, near the genesis of religious beliefs, when sex and reproduction were more straitened. Or maybe societies do better with strong – apparently divine - rules and laws about marriage, fidelity and paternity.

Or perhaps religions arose as a way for the powerful and the anointed to control the reproductive lives of others – particularly for men to control women’s sexual behaviour and reproduction.

We may never get to the bottom of all these questions, but new research suggests religious practices can very effectively assure paternity – the aspect of reproduction that undoubtedly causes men most anxiety (especially in the post-Viagra era).

Sexual conflict

I’ve already violated the first rule of polite conversation by mentioning sex and religion. What about politics? One need only look at the polarised sexual politics of election-year America and the so-called Republican War on Women to see evidence that politics seldom segregates neatly from the intoxicating sex-religion cocktail.

One reason these issues so deeply divide otherwise civilised people is that this is one area where it might be impossible for most women and men to see entirely eye-to-eye with each other.

I have written several times before about evolutionary sexual conflict theory. Basically, men and women cannot have identical evolutionary interests. In matters reproductive, what’s best for the goose almost always turns out sub-optimal for the gander.

  • When should a couple start having sex?
  • How often should they do it?
  • How many babies?
  • How close together should those babies be?
  • Should we use birth control?
  • Should an accidental conception that endangers the mother be aborted?
  • What if that danger includes domestic violence?
  • Or poverty?
  • What should a couple do if one partner loses their libido?
  • Or falls in love with someone else?
  • What should a partner do if they suspect their lover is sleeping with somebody else?
  • Who gets custody of the kids in case of divorce?

Even a couple of happily married octogenarians – the kind occasionally wheeled out to advertise superannuation products – will have experienced some friction over these questions during their relationship.

Bo47
In an ideal world they would have resolved these issues equitably, in a mature understanding that there may be no solution that meets both of their needs perfectly.

But for most normal couples these questions cause almost all the pain and heartbreak endemic to adult life.

They also happen to be questions about which holy books and holy men have plenty to say. Not everything they have to say benefits men at the expense of women. For example, Christianity helped institutionalise monogamous marriage - a change that yielded society-wide benefits.

According to Cardinal George Pell:

St Augustine claimed that the sacrament of marriage was developed to constrain men to take an interest in their children.

Yet in the details of how religions preside over marriage, and the ways they chime in about affairs in the home and in society, they almost always tip the scales in the masculine direction. The Pell quote, in fact, comes from a breathtakingly convoluted op-ed marking the 50 year anniversary of the contraceptive pill. Pell argued that the decoupling of sex and procreation has left women and society substantially worse off. It’s a complaint regularly heard from men.

Fidelity and investment

In general, families – and the societies where they live - do better when fathers take an interest in their children and invest, alongside the mother, in feeding and caring for the family. Both parties in this kind of relationship make compromises, foregoing better opportunities that may arise elsewhere in order to benefit from one another’s contribution to family life.

Great Beyond

The details of these deals vary massively among cultures and between couples, but they share this essence: each partner buys the investment of the other with a degree of fidelity. Sexual jealousy exerts such a potent emotional force over us because it regulates two of the biggest evolutionary losses our ancestors ever risked: losing a partner’s investment, or rearing the genetic progeny of somebody else.

Women tend to notice when they have a baby: labour pains and vaginal delivery will do that. For most of human history, as the old saying goes, maternity has been a matter of fact, whereas paternity has been a matter of opinion.

Women have also evolved a most remarkable capacity to conceal from men when they are ovulating. This keeps men guessing, and ensures they stay interested - and working hard - throughout the monthly cycle.

But it also means men have evolved a hair-trigger sensitivity to the chance of being cuckolded. Which is why new dads seldom find jokes about cuckoldry or paternity testing all that funny.

That need no longer be the case, of course. Cheap and reliable paternity testing can now erase paternal uncertainty. Paternity tests have become a weapon in sexual conflict. A double-edged sword.

Paternity tests give mothers the tool they need to pin down former partners and make them meet their child support obligations. Instead of a lengthy and humiliating interrogation of a mother’s sexual past, DNA tests return the spotlight to the putative dad.

And men can resolve, one way or the other, if the children they are raising or supporting are really theirs. For many men – including those who have been cuckolded - no greater injustice can exist than a father raising or paying child support for a child who is not his genetic offspring.

As a result, some fathers’ rights groups advocate compulsory genetic paternity testing at birth. There are no simple answers in terms of how we should wield the newly-acquired paternity tools, and this is an area where the law will need to adapt very quickly.

DominusVobiscum

Is that you, Daddy?

How many children really are sired by somebody other than the guy they call Dad? Among men concerned enough to get paternity test, one men’s rights groups claims the number is as high as 25%. A sensationalist mid-90s pop-science offering called Sperm Wars popularised the idea that up to 10% of children are the product of “extra-pair paternity”.

In reality, the unbiased number is below 5% in most circumstances. But it isn’t fixed. The proportion of babies conceived in cuckoldry varies in places and time because cultures differ in how tightly they regulate extra-marital activity, and especially in the power men (and their families) have to monitor and control women’s behaviour.

Which is where religions come in.

My colleague Jaco Greeff at the University of Pretoria sent me a paper this week in which he shows that fewer than 0.73% of Afrikaner children are sired by someone other than the guy who thinks he’s the dad.

Greeff and his collaborators suggest that the strict religious norms and dominance of the Dutch Reformed Church in Afrikaner society might have reduced the frequency of extra-marital sex. Being a religious leader is an even surer way of ensuring paternity than being merely a devout member of the flock. The only study to reveal an even lower rate of extra-pair paternity estimated a rate of 0.4% among the offspring of Sephardic Jewish priests (Koanhim).

It needn’t be the doctrine of the religion, and the threat of divine punishment, that regulate paternity. The customs that build up around the religion are just as important. This is neatly illustrated by a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA on paternity and religious customs among the Dogon people of Mali in West Africa.

Like many other religions, the traditional monotheistic faith of the Dogon includes menstrual taboos. Men fear they will lose their virility if they come into contact with a menstruating woman. And so their wives usually exile themselves to special huts when menstruating.

A Dogon menstrual hut, from Kani Bonzon, Mali Erwin Bolwidt on Flickr

This conspicuous action allows a man and his relatives to keep regular tabs on where each woman is in her fertility cycle, making it substantially more difficult for a woman to conceive by another man when she subsequently ovulates. It also makes it hard for her to deceive her husband about a child’s paternity.

According to the paper by Beverly Strassman and her colleagues, this custom keeps cuckoldry in check. Genetic tests indicate that children of women who used the huts conceived only 1.3% of their children by men other than the father. This is one of the lowest estimates on record, and significantly lower than the 2.9% among women who did not visit menstrual huts.

Alexbip

Intriguingly, Islam and Christianity have started to spread among the Dogon. Although these world religions include many features designed to assure men of their paternity, five times more children (about 4%) of Christian mothers were conceived in cuckoldry than among traditional-religion Dogon mothers who used the menstrual huts.

The recent transition to Christianity appears, in this case, to raise the level of extra-pair paternity, probably due to a release from the traditional ways in which men monitored women’s fertility. This is not to say Christianity elsewhere isn’t as effective in this role. Dogon Christians retain many other Dogon customs, including polygyny.

But Christian women neither attend menstrual huts, nor are they compelled to report the onset of their menstruation to their husbands. These women, freed from the old paternity-assurance customs, but not yet fully immersed in the traditional Catholic or Protestant customs appear freer to conceive by men other than their husbands.

Menstruating Muslim women also do not attend menstrual huts, but they are required to notify their husbands and they are not allowed to pray. Thus, Muslim husbands can track the fertility cycles of their wives and take closer interest in their behaviour. Interestingly, the level of extra-marital paternity in Muslim families was about twice that in the traditional religion but less than half of what it was in Christian families.

The wound

Questions of paternity, cuckoldry and fidelity are just part of the perennially open wound inflicted by sexual conflict. That wound reveals our evolved insecurities and fears. A low rate of cuckoldry is neither “good” nor “bad” per se. For fathers, security of paternity is undoubtedly comforting, and it seems as if many religious customs are designed to provide that comfort.

But that comfort can come at a considerable cost to women. Marginalisation, seclusion and harassment don’t even begin to scratch the surface. The reasons women seek extra sexual partners might be beyond the imagination of some men, but that is a story for another time (you might start here).

And when religions, laws and other institutions favour men’s interests at the expense of women, the cost can (and often does) leave society worse off over all.

Join the conversation

96 Comments sorted by

    1. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Thanks Rob,

      It'll be interesting to see how this discussion develops. I might have a slightly different take on issues of gender roles to most Westerners, as I was raised in a traditional society (you'll never guess where). In fact I was told by a family member that sending me to university would be a waste of money because my place was to get married and run a household. My mother WAS prevented from going to university. So I have a fair idea of how intelligent women cope when they're confined to the domestic sphere.

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    2. Susan Hemruth

      Luftmensch

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Technically Rob, it would need to be hubby who is 'shooting blanks'..hard to become daddy if that's the case ;)

      I understand the difficulty of your position Lorna, my father was also contemptuous of my attending university. Ironically - I am now a single parent and the responsibility of raising my children falls on me to a greater extent as a woman. So I'm back at university to allow me to earn a better living.

      I understand the fundamental unfairness of paying to support a child which you did…

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      The agricultural system had nothing to do with it.

      There have been a number of Inuit families of the father, mother and children who were unfortunately snowed in and perished, and their bodies preserved for over a thousand years before being found. Those families carried out hunting and food gathering.

      Native tribes in Africa and also Australian Aborigines had family structures and blood relatives.

      The nuclear family of the father, mother and children is the norm, and not the exception.

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    1. Troy Barry

      Mechanical Engineer

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      I don't want to put words in Prof Brook's mouth, but I think the evolutionary biologist's view is that the thing to be inherited through the male line, regardless of culture, is the father's genes.

      I enjoyed the article. It would be interesting to know how a cuture's understanding of connections between menstruation, fertility and pregnancy
      are reflected or not in their practices around menstruation. Is there an opinion on whether the cultural and religious practices are a response to understanding fertility, or whether randomly generated cultural practices persist because cultures which provide additional paternity assurances are more succesful and stable? No doubt it's a little bit chicken and egg.

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    2. Alice Gorman

      Lecturer at Flinders University

      In reply to Troy Barry

      I was thinking more of land and other assets etc .... there is some really interesting anthropology/archaeology around this topic, including Chris Knight's Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1995. Archaeologists have much to say of course about the collapse of cultures, but how to define a successful or stable one is another matter. I don't think we think in those terms. It was successful until it all changed .....

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    3. Troy Barry

      Mechanical Engineer

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      Thanks for the reference. The whole zone of overlap between archaeology and evolutionary ecology is fascinating.

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    4. Byron Smith
      Byron Smith is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Ministry assistant, ecologcal ethicist and PhD candidate at University of Edinburgh

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      This is an interesting article and I found I had the same question about fostering/adoption, as well as all other forms of community relations that involve unpaid care for non-genetically related children such as god-parenting or orphanages.

      "Paternity becomes most important when there is something to be inherited through the male line, and this certainly applies to the whole Judaeo-Christian thing."

      I am a little confused as to what is inherited through the male line in the whole Judaeo-Christian thing. Adoption and fostering of unwanted children (who would otherwise have been killed), as well as care for orphans, were all distinctive features of the early Christian church, attested in many sources (including many texts written by outsiders).

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    5. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      Alice, one of the most disturbing situations I have personally come across, is when a good father believing he was welcoming a new addition to his family only to discover the Catholic clergyman treated as one of the family for years, was sharing the marital bed.
      As a convert, I found it incomprehensible and unforgivable.

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  1. Roxane Paczensky

    Registered Nurse

    Religion may have played a role by helping ensure correct paternity. However now we know that the personal gods of the Abrahamic faiths don't exist what use is there in discussing the merits of maintaining these religions when it comes to this issue.
    We now, as the author states, have the technology to address this issue with paternity tests. Even the mere introduction of them (I would even agree to mandatory testing) would act as the disincentive to women who are inclined to lie about who the…

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    1. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Roxane Paczensky

      Hi Roxane,
      I certainly don't wish to promote the ongoing persecution of women or religion. I'm simply arguing that one of the ways in which religion is man-made is the way it concocts ways co controlling and coercing women to men's reproductive benefits. And there are lots of shades of gray in there. This is about what DOES happen, and by no means what SHOULD happen. - Rob

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    2. Roxane Paczensky

      Registered Nurse

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      That is certainly a theory one could come up with. My attitude, were I to be suddenly plunged into this world from the relatively equal one I currently live in, would be exactly that - ah, peace at last. But it hasn't turned out that way has it. To suggest that was the attitude then (as opposed to those women being controlled) when the experience of women living in such controlled societies today are so horrendous is to belittle the experience of those women today and to ignore the cultural evolution that got them there.

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    3. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Rob,

      Is it my imagination, or is there a bit of an elephant in the room? Here's what I'm thinking:

      There's been discussion about the issues around a man helping to raise kids that aren't his because his partner's been sleeping with another man. But on average, that means that HE'S slept with another woman, whose partner is helping to raise his child. In other words, those low-level cuckoldry doesn't really disadvantage men in terms of genetics.

      That point seems to have been missing from…

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    4. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Hi Lorna,
      You're 100% right that it takes two to tango, and that this discussion has been very quiet about men playing "away games". This is the essence of the double standard. I would predict that the men who are keenest on controlling their wives' opportunity to stray (and isn't there a long list of ways in which men do this) are, themselves, most likely to stray and think nothing of it.

      It is usually better for each partner to have the full devotion of their partner, knowing that their will…

      Read more
  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    There is a propaganda techniques, where exceptions are made to appear as though they are the norm. Exceptions such as Dugon menstrual huts are not the norm in the vast majority of societies.

    Various systems of organisation have been trialled in societies over time. The nuclear family seems the best system for raising children. Polygamous families have many problems. The feminist method of discarding the father, and the child being raised by the mother and the state has not only proven the most expensive way of raising children, but generally produces the worst outcomes for men, women and children.

    So perhaps certain religions simply reflect the best way of raising children.

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    1. Roxane Paczensky

      Registered Nurse

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Feminists don't want to discard fathers, they just want equality.
      The nuclear family is a modern invention, some argue brought about to support the move from agrarian societies into the industrial age. I would argue the best exmple seemed to be "The Village" idea, which seemed to work fairly well for thousands of years before populations became more centralized. There's a lot we can learn from our indigenous people who we incorrectly assumed had it all wrong when we showed up.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Roxane Paczensky

      Roxane Paczensky
      There is no evidence of feminists ever creating equality for men and women. They only want more equal than equal for women.

      There is also minimal evidence of children being raised in “The Village” without a mother and father.

      As far back as recorded history, the person knew their mother and father, and were raised in a nuclear family.

      Examples are the earliest historians,

      Titus Flavius Josephus, son of Matthias
      Confucius, son of Kong He
      Plutarch, son of Nikarchus

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    3. Roxane Paczensky

      Registered Nurse

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      How do you know feminists want "more equal than equal"? We haven't even acheived equal yet. I've an idea, why don't we try letting women be in charge for the next 2,000 and we'll see if we create as much human suffering that men have caused over the last 2,000 (sarcasm for all you enlightened men reading this).
      Have you actually ever read a real history book by real historians other than those written by theologians? Because your statement is just wrong and arguing about it won't make you any "right-er"

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Roxane Paczensky

      Roxane Paczensky
      Women achieved equality with the nuclear family.

      If men wanted, women could have been left in huts by themselves, or left on the outskirts of the village, fed some scraps and used as human incubators. Instead men formed marriages with women, and developed family structures.

      All that is being broken down, and now we have so many families of the mother with children, and the father considered irrelevant (except for paying money of course)

      As for “theologians”, even early Polynesians revered their families, and many to this day still place “Family before business”

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    5. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Moderators,
      Can we have a button for Peter and Roxane to click when they're done with Dale, to notify me to pay attention again?

      Dale-baiting may be fun for some, but it's not half as interesting a read as when the grownups are talking.

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    6. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Roxane Paczensky

      "Women achieved equality with the nuclear family."

      So there you go Roxane... you lot never had it so good. And what did we blokes get? - not a word of thanks or gratitude. And dinner late again!

      Both equally miserable ...

      Really, all this equality business - I just don't know why you set the bar so low.

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    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Roxane Paczensky

      Roxane Paczensky
      Most women could not fight their way out of a wet paper bag, and “if men wanted”, they could force women to be nothing more than human incubators.

      Instead men formed marriages with women and formed families and extended families.

      It is ironic that by discarding marriage, discarding the father and destroying the nuclear family, feminists have now made women into little more than human incubators.

      They are inseminated by some man or other, have their babies and then leave them in day care centers.

      The children have no family, and the women are now nothing more than human incubators.

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna Jarrett
      You reference nothing, continually carry out personalised insults, take an objective view of nothing, and mindlessly repeat feminist doctrine, yet you call yourself a teacher.

      No other time in history have children been taken from their fathers and then the fathers made to pay money to the mothers. The result has been destruction of marriage and families, women as nothing more than human incubators to carry the baby while they are pregnant, and large numbers of children left behind in day care centres.

      It has now reached the absurd situation where a woman has to work nearly all day, simply to pay for the cost of leaving “her” children in a day care center, and then feminists complain about the quality of the day care centers.

      http://theconversation.edu.au/childcares-market-model-in-dire-need-of-reform-7428

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    9. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Yep. and the feminist model of raising children doesn’t even suit grandparents.

      “University of New South Wales psychologist Dr Bill von Hippel showed this was because grandparents were more likely to favour relatives they were certain were genetically related to them.”

      http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2004/06/03/1121585.htm

      So the feminist model doesn’t suit children, fathers, mothers or grandparents, and is too expensive for society to operate.

      But we are told to believe it is the best system, if only the taxpayer would pay more to run those day care centers.

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    10. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Roxane Paczensky

      I saw him first thank-you very much Roxane!

      But thanks for demonstrating something important that Dale seems to have missed out on: that what gets women into bed with men is not generally the threat or the perpetration of rape - it's because we're actually attracted to men (well, straight women anyway), and intellectual attraction plays a big part in that.

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    11. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      Do you actually do any serious reading to uncover these truths of yours - or do they just come through personal experience?

      Your knowledge of the family through recorded - and apparently pre-recorded - history seems a bit well, light on facts. Seems that you just pick up random stuff that gets shoehorned into your preconceived ideas.

      Can I suggest a nice starter - the Origin of Private Property, the Family and the State by Friedrich Engels (Marx's offsider)... very readable and just gives one an idea of how things change through time. Long time since I read it but I remember it fondly.

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    12. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      In a bigoted world, it would be believed that men do not want to raise children, and instead, men should pay money to a woman so she can raise children.

      That would be the feminist view, and perhaps it is also the feminist view that a woman should get into bed with every man she feels attracted to.

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    13. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Marx was of course significant. It has been estimated that Marxist political systems were responsible for more deaths last century than any other political system in history (estimates of 100 million killed by Marxists last century).

      However Marxists didn't carry out much discrimination. They often cut off food supplies to an area and let every man, woman and child in the area die of starvation.

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    14. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale I am not asking you for a dissertation on your obviously profound knowledge of marxist thinking. I am suggesting that you read something. Have a crack at it - you might learn something - or you might be stimulated enough - annoyed enough even - to read something else that contradicts him ... but these opinionated rants of yours are really a bit tedious mate - there's nothing there to discuss... not a conversation at all... you don't listen. Have you heard that before? Probably not.

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    15. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter Ormonde
      I have read Marxist theory. Marxists believed families created ownership of property, which then lead to inequalities. So they went out and murdered 100 million people last century.

      Texts such as The Communist Manifesto use the same words as many feminists currently use, and quite a few feminists also have the idea that children don’t need a nuclear family, but should be raised by “community” or the “village”.

      Although it has never worked in any society in the past.

      The nuclear family has been the center of human existence for thousands of years, and transcends any current religion.

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    16. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      You just make stuff up Dale. You don't discuss you declare and denounce but you do not listen. Or read. Or consider anyone's ideas as equal to your own inspirations.

      And you still blame feminists, the law, modern society ... the whole world - for your situation and circumstances. I'm with your Mrs.

      80% chance.

      End of discussion.

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    17. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Oh I see the statistics of 30% of children no longer living with both natural parents, and that represents the dismantling of the nuclear family, a very serious issue considering no other society in the past lived that way.

      I also see the impossibility of operating a society where women are just incubators, and then have their children raised in institutions such as day care centers, often badly staffed and underfunded, because the taxpayer and no one else can afford to run them.

      And I see the impossibility of running stable families, where infidelity is highly likely.

      So in essence, the impossibility of maintaining a feminist society.

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    18. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Why do you think so many women decide to take off Dale ... just a flight of fancy - a wanderlust - just a spur of the moment thing ... or would a lot of rather tear their own heads off than spend another night under the same roof with the man they once loved and married?

      See you blame feminists - the law - everything ... for what - for giving a woman a choice about staying or leaving. Isn't that dreadful? A choice! There should be no choice at all. Not for any of us. We should be forced to live together forever. And make each other ,more and more miserable. That's great for the kids that is growing up in that.

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    19. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      That's a great study, Dale, glad you raised it.

      Seeing you read it so closely, you might want to tell us all what it is about. The fact that the tiny uncertainties over paternity and grandpaternity altered in small but measurable ways, the closeness that grandchildren felt toward their grandmothers and grandfathers.

      Are the grandkiddies feminists then?

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    20. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I rather suspect, Peter, that Dale is a closet feminist. All he seems to want is for dads to take equal responsibility for their children. Seems pretty keen on men taking equal responsibility for contraception too.

      His theory of the family suggests a profound grasp of Marxist alienation, too.

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    21. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Rob Brooks
      It has been established in a number of studies that grandmothers prefer maternal grandchildren, rather than paternal grandchildren. One study also showed grandmothers favored paternal granddaughters over paternal grandsons.

      “The presence of a paternal grandmother in all seven of the populations had a harmful effect on grandsons because her presence was linked with an increase in mortality.

      “Meanwhile, in six out of seven populations, the paternal grandmother’s presence in her granddaughter’s…

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    22. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      My goodness me ... the evil grandmother through history!

      It's a bit unfair to kick the living daylights out a study based on the potted version available on that website but this sentence beggars belief:

      “The presence of a paternal grandmother in all seven of the populations had a harmful effect on grandsons because her presence was linked with an increase in mortality."

      Now why would that happen? Poison? Lack of cuddles? Leaving them out in the cold?

      Or is the correlation (not necessarily…

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    23. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter Ormonde
      “The major prediction the group found was that grandmothers (and to a lesser degree, grandfathers) will evolve grandson-harming phenotypes that effectively reduce the competition between siblings, and favor their more closely related granddaughters, especially daughters of their sons (who have definitely inherited the grandmother’s X chromosome).”

      http://phys.org/news191745419.html

      So the feminist theory doesn’t match scientific scrutiny. Little wonder feminists favour social…

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    24. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      That's a wonderful study Dale ... I taught a course a few years back on lies and statistics and this would have been so useful.

      Now you're a trained scientist apparently...what sort of "grandson-harming phenotypes" would we looking at here Dale? Poison, wanton neglect, suffocation ... what are these mathematical modellers of the human condition actually suggesting do you think?

      Where do you find this rubbish?

      Let's get a theory and shoehorn some data into it.

      Or is the very sad plight of the grandparents in separated families competing for the attention and sympathy you so richly and exclusively deserve?

      Now as for my favourite political systems Dale - I'll leave that to your greater understanding of history and world events. But I should point out that your entire basis for that sneering dismissal is that I suggested Fred Engels for a read. You only read people you agree with obviously. Burned any good books lately Dale?

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    25. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter Ormonde
      You remind me of another poster who has the same characteristics. “You reference nothing, continually carry out personalised insults, take an objective view of nothing, and mindlessly repeat feminist doctrine”

      I am wondering what university taught you to do all that?

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    26. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, I think you should read the Broque Cycle. Not specifically for the feminist theory, just because it's a damn good book or 8.

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    27. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      A description of phenotype is here

      “The phenotype of an organism is the class to which that organism belongs as determined by the description of the physical and behavioral characteristics of the organism, for example its size and shape, its metabolic activities and its pattern of movement”

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/genotype-phenotype/

      There have been various descriptions of feminism by many people. For example:- Misandry, lies, double standards, hypocrisy, denigration of males, advocacy research, misinformation, brainwashing etc.

      I have never heard of a past society where the nuclear family was disbanded, fathers were routinely removed from their children, then told to pay money to the mother, and then they raised someone else’s children, while only being able to see their own children every second weekend.

      Seems completely absurd and totally unlikely to work in the medium to longer term, but that is now a central part of our current feminist society.

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    28. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Thanks Dale - but I know what a phenotype is ... I just have trouble identifying this particular "phenotypical behaviour" these studies are inventing? I want you to list some of them.

      What are these evil grandmothers actually doing to their less genetically linked offspring? Why are our newpapers, our courts and our prisons not bursting at the seams with pathological grannies hell bent on exterminating their son's kids?

      How many grandparents realise that their grandsons are less "theirs…

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    29. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      You still don't reference anything, but just make statements. Part of your feminist training perhaps.

      It is terrible about the state of science. Thankfully, we have feminist theory to tell everyone what to believe.

      Although feminist theory that men developed religion to oppress women and make them have babies, might have difficulty explaining why even Neanderthals had a nuclear family structure.

      Their religion (if any) must have oppressed women also.

      http://www.livescience.com/9191-neanderthal-family-possibly-victim-cannibal-attack.html

      But even though no human society has ever survived without the nuclear family structure, and even though early prehistoric relatives of humans such as the Neanderthals seem to have a nuclear family structure, doesn’t make feminists wrong.

      Its simply that everyone else throughout history has been wrong.

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    30. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Oh, I understand. Perhaps your feminist indoctrination doesn’t allow you to understand the benefits of grandparents, and now you can only think of men’s oppression of women, men’s oppression of women, men’s oppression of women…etc.

      There are a number of articles here on grandparents and genetics here.

      http://www.lifesciencelog.com/cluster188353260/

      There is an interesting article on grandparents and human evolution.

      “Recent analysis by Rachel Caspari and Sang-Hee Lee of human teeth from…

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    31. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      You might try to answer the questions I posited rather than polevaulting across to the other side of the argument ...

      Specifically, you quoted two rather strange studies that found firstly:
      “The presence of a paternal grandmother in all seven of the populations had a harmful effect on grandsons because her presence was linked with an increase in mortality."

      while the second made a "prediction":
      “... that grandmothers (and to a lesser degree, grandfathers) will evolve grandson-harming…

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    32. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      It is routine practice to say that someone has a problem with women if they question the myths, misinformation, misandry, prejudice and bigotry of feminism.

      And it is the greatest joke to say that universities teach people to have an open mind, when universities are so heavily feminist influenced.

      The benefits of grandparents include :” In most societies of the past, grandparents performed the valuable function of taking care of and educating grandchildren, thereby allowing their own adult…

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    33. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Ah Dale has had enough and would like to move on now.... I know let's say something awful about feminism and women in general.

      Move on all you like Dale - but the fact remains that you have been unable to suggest any means by which this selfish gene notion is actually translated into reality by psychopathic grandparents inflicting harm on their grandsons.

      Rather than relying on popular science sites, the Daily Mail and London Telegraph, to provide evidence for your bigotry, perhaps you might like to read this:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20427341

      Now this one shows where this theoretical notion comes from ... singular lack of any evidence whatsoever. But that shouldn't get in the way of a half decent theory should it?

      Actually Rob if you're still wading through this rubbish, I'd be interested in your learned comments on this study by Rice et al. Looks highly dodgy from where I live.

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    34. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Hi Peter,
      I've been travelling, which has fortunately kept me out of Dale's alternate universe and your attempts to have something resembling a conversation with him. As always I'm sorry I replied to his earlier comment about the von Hippel study because he then started frothing in another random-yet-predictable direction. So, again I am reminded that there's a reason we don't feed the trolls.

      Since you asked about Rice et al, the paper is good although I don't pretend to understand the quality…

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    35. Ian Enting

      Honorary Senior Associate, Faculty of Science at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      "Dale is to feminism what Christopher Monckton is to climate science."

      that seemed a bit harsh on Dale (until I got to read the rest of his comments here)

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    36. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Thanks very much for that Rob... I thought I knew that name Rice - bloody fruit flies....

      I must admit I'm still trying to get my head around the sort of "harm" these sociopathic phenotype grannies get up to - particularly given the preference for males in most of the cultures of Africa and Asia. I'd want to be having a good look under the bonnet of the maths in their study I'd reckon to see how these social/cultural and economic factors were handled.

      Big leap from fruit flies to folks I reckon. This sort of study should come with some sort of credulity warning for chaps like Dale, lest they start keeping the kids away from Grandma unless under armed supervision.

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    37. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Well they would (keep the kids away from grandma) it it were maternal grandmas involved. But it is paternal grandmas, and you can't displease "mother" (but that's another post for another day).

      Just to clarify, the Rice paper (hah!) is a theory paper and not a drosophila study.

      I don't think the grannies are sociopathic. It's probably just that by funnelling food and care to granddaughters, and by consuming food and oxygen themselves, these grannies have a marginal negative effect on their grandsons. But those studies are huge aggregate outcomes of thousands of families - not likely to detect big effects on any given individual.

      Unless the granny was an original 2nd wave feminist, however, in which case who knows the harm she might have done to her poor sons and grandsons ...:(

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    38. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Rob,

      Nah I knew he wasn't talking about flies Rob. But I reckon he should stick wth them to be honest.

      I mentioned above that boys have a few survival issues as infants, favoring the survival of girls. I didn't realise that the differential put it at a 30% difference an increase from 10% in 1751 to >30% in 1970 in industrialised countries but since 1970 the differential has fallen to 20% due to high quality post natal care. There's an interesting study on this here: http://www.pnas.org/content/105/13/5016.abstract?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Crimmins&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

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    39. In reply to Ian Enting

      Comment removed by moderator.

    40. Lyn Gain

      Publisher at Valentine Press

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      Re feeding the trolls Rob - yes you should have known better. And you too Peter. And Lorna succumbed even after she had warned everybody and asked for a magic button. I came to this discussion late and was pleasantly surprised not to discover a troll for quite a while, and then, when head troll arrived, to see that everyone was ignoring him. I need not tell you how irritating it is when you're checking out interesting, relevant and intelligent comments to have to wade through so much crap - even though some of the responses can be quite amusing, it's not worth the pain. So, in the absence of a magic button, would everyone please try to exert super human self control in the future. Once one person succumbs, the dominoes start to fall. And another golden rule is never mention the perpetrator's name - this is the ultimate nectar of life for an addicted troll.

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    41. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Rob Brooks

      "Almost always, mums are the single most important contributor to successful childrearing"

      Where has this been established as fact, and not just feminist theory.

      Unless propped up by the taxpayer, single parent families show no signs of being equitable to dual parent families, and the best dual parent families generally have the natural mother and father as the parents.

      We now see the system of single parent families being artificially catered for by men, because men pay the majority of income tax.

      So in our artificial feminist system, the father is secondary and irrelevant, except for paying money.

      Feminists have obviously not asked fathers about that, but made up stories about fathers instead.

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    42. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Jacky Bailey

      Jacky Bailey
      I am quite aware of the work of Michael Flood and his research. Highly selective, biased, prejudiced, feminist, using tiny sample numbers and then saying the results represent all of Australia etc.

      There is no evidence of feminists wanting equality for men and women. Men and women achieved equality with marriage, but since modern feminism appeared on the scene some decades ago, marriage has been in decline, huge numbers of children have lost their fathers and at least one set of grandparents, and various feminists now seem determined to remove mothers from children also, and have the children raised in day care centers funded by the taxpayer.

      That is the story of feminism.

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  3. Lynne Newington

    Researcher

    There is definately no security in paternity if the father is a cleryman, unable to sustain the life of lonliness.
    In fact they're forced to sign them away in leu of financial support with confidentialities attached with top Catholic litigators on hand ready to make sure it's 'nipped in the bud'.
    In reference to Cardinal Pell, he has the audacity to publicly state" children gain so much from loving fathers, the sense of security that the world is a safe place".
    That is of course, the fathers are not clergy, where scandal and inheritance rights are an issue.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to John Graves

      Hans Rosling couldn't find any connection between religion and baby production either.

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    2. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to John Graves

      That's a very entertaining talk, John. I wanted to post on it before going away, but that will have to wait. It is related to some of the ideas I have been discussing about the interface between evolutionary biology and feminism, and the sexual conflict between women and men over reproduction.

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    3. Jacky Bailey

      Consultant

      In reply to John Graves

      The TED talk is both interesting and informative, however it does seem to 'gloss over' some of the wider implications of patriarchal religions. It identifies four factors which contribute to women having fewer babies, but fails to address the way religion affects those factors. Specifically, the denial of education and contraception to women, in the name of religion.

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  4. Alison George

    Tutor

    Someone earlier mentioned grandparents. I find it remarkable that people think that fathers and other relatives always find it hard to deal with other men's children. Not very long ago, widowhood was common for both men and women with infant children. Modern divorce and remarriage merely recreates the circumstances of 3 or 4 generations ago when death took young parents quite frequently.

    My great-great-grandfather raised about a dozen children altogether. But they weren't all directly…

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Alison George

      Alison,

      I suspect that a certain type of "man" will seize on any pretext not to actually care for children - any children - all children - including their "own".

      Men who actually like kids - who enjoy their company and see their potential gradually emerging - don't really notice much "whose" kids they are ... they just take responsibility and are glad for this privilege.

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    2. Lorna Jarrett

      PhD, science educator and science advocate

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Thanks Alison - great story. I think it's important to remember that the way people parented 30, 40 years ago is NOT the way they've always parented!

      Peter, I know some men who've taken on readymade families and are nurturing kids who're not genetically their own. They have my admiration.

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    3. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Alison George

      Alison, what a wonderful legacy: as previously mentioned, these days so many children don't even know who their fathers let alone their great-great-grandfathers.
      The big lie is, it doesn't matter, on all accounts.

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    4. Rob Brooks
      Rob Brooks is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Alison George

      Fabulous story Alison. What often gets overlooked (but has been mentioned by a few commentators here) is that we have this amazing human capacity to look after one another, and to raise children who are not genetically ours. And children have an amazing ability to flourish in a variety of circumstances.

      My grandfather was orphaned at two years old, and raised by an older cousin. This hardly rated a mention from him, because it was not unusual - and it was the only life he ever knew.

      Your post captured a lot of the chaotic nuance involved in real, complex families.

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  5. Alice Gorman

    Lecturer at Flinders University

    I wish I could remember who did this study but one of the recent analyses of the Palaeolithic "Venus" figurines is that some may represent grandmothers - rather than the traditional fertility symbol of the popular imagination, the figurines acknowledge the important social role of post-menopausal women in maintaining human society through the cold times of the ice ages.

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  6. Michael Leonard Furtado

    Doctor at University of Queensland

    I am concerned about some of the juxtapositioning employed in the lead article. Cardinal Pell's views of Augustine and the extent to which men are tamed by marriage (a position proximate to that of the Christian apostle, Paul) are as obscure as his Q & A propositions about the irreconcilability of science and religion. (Indeed, many of his own co-religionists distanced themselves from his rigidly Thomist views and responded positively to the more restrained, polite and intelligent remarks of Richard…

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    1. Alice Gorman

      Lecturer at Flinders University

      In reply to Michael Leonard Furtado

      Dale's assertion about the ubiquity of the nuclear family is incorrect, as even a cursory study of the very extensive anthropological literature on kinship systems will show. I'm not aware of Barbara Fiand's research - I gather she is a theologian - but I hope she is using the archaeological evidence to advantage. It is generally accepted these days that there is no archaeological or anthropological evidence for matriarchies in the sense of being the reverse of patriarchies, although there are of course matrilineal and matrilocal societies. See my comment above about recent interpretations of Venus figurines as evidence of the social role of grandmothers in the Palaeolithic.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      Alice Gorman,
      I would like to know the society where children were born, and then raised by the “village”, and no child had any idea who their natural mother and father were.

      I have never heard of such a society.

      But we are now approaching such a society, with almost 30% of children rarely in contact with their natural father or the father’s grandparents, and increasing numbers of children being raised in day care centers.

      It could be the first time in human history where large numbers of children are being raised away from their natural parents and blood relatives.

      The chances of such a society being functional in the medium to longer term are zero.

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Leonard Furtado

      Michael Leonard Furtado

      No one has yet been able to state exactly why Venus figurines were made, but I have not known anyone to investigate Venus figurines from the starting point of “Who made them, men or women?”

      I would think men made them, but I would find it impossible to believe that men made them in a feminist type society, where fathers were regarded as inconsequential or irrelevant.

      Why would men go to all the trouble of making those figurines in a society that considered men and fathers inconsequential or irrelevant?

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    4. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      I don't think irrelevant and inconsequential fathers have been a long-standing feature of human society... it's only recent ... seems to have started when some men started whining and bleating about women and how awful the world was to them and got themselves all twitter and bisted.

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The Venus figurines were obviously not made in a society where so many fathers had their children taken from them, and then the fathers were told to believe in feminist style "equality" (cough, splutter), and then the children were raised in a day care center funded by the taxpayer.

      If they were made by feminists, men would have obviously thrown the figurines in the river.

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    6. account deleted

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter Ormonde:" seems to have started when some men started whining and bleating about women and how awful the world was to them and got themselves all twitter and bisted."

      You seem to have your genders transposed...

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