Sexuality, Culture and Feminism: Is Free Will available to all independent of circumstance?

Both culture and biology exert such a great influence over who we become that I have to wonder whether free will, if it exists at all, can be said to make all men accountable for their actions. I’m not thinking about this so much in relation to religion as to science though I’m sure there is much which could be said from either side. Are men destined to be oppressors and violators without adequate cultural intervention? Must women always be on guard against the lust and domination of men? Is that our biological inheritance and do our cultural practices ameliorate or exaggerate those tendencies?

What has me thinking about it is having just finished reading John Irving’s The Cider House Rules and now finishing up The World According to Garp. Why do some people embrace the worst stereotypes or seemingly not see them as negotiable? Why do some see the harm they would do and stop themselves while others seem not to reflect at all?

This state of affairs seems typically messy in the way nature is seen to be in the lives of other organisms. I wonder how effective religion has been increasing the space between impulse and action in which free will can operate. Do we have free will enough and is it wide spread enough in the population to give us hope? I might need to read something more upbeat next, though I think both books are incredible.

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I guess I am currently a compatibilist (though I admit I have not given the free will subject much thought), I am certainly not a libertarian (I am in the other sense), since to some extent our actions are caused by arbitrary causes, there are for example major sex differences in behaviour, despite what many of the PC types want to believe. Yet I still like to believe that we have some level of freedom.

So in other words, is toxic masculinity inevitable? I’ve become so used to looking at things like this from a religious perspective that I don’t really even consider that there may be a scientific bent to things that involve morality. From a Christian point of view I would say we’re all sinners, and domination and oppression is one manifestation of sin in the world, but if God’s Spirit is here working among us, these things are not inevitable.

I guess from an evolutionary perspective, the idea is that male aggression has been “selected for” over a long period of time?

Either way, I think it is good to ask these kinds of questions.


I think science and Genesis 3:16 both agree that humans are naturally patriarchal. There are very few (if any) truly matriarchal cultures. This does not mean of course that humans should be patriarchal (that would be a naturalistic fallacy) although it does mean that feminists should stop blaming men whenever things don’t go their way.

However, I don’t think for a second that men really are more lustful than women. Such a view seems to be a novelty, not found amongst the Ancients or among other primates (as Daniel Bergner has shown). The Greek story of Tiresias the blind seer shows that the Greeks thought women gained much more sexual pleasure than men.

I will concede however that men are indeed much more visually stimulated than women. Hence Playgirl ended up becoming a magazine bought mostly by homosexual men.

The question abot free will led me into deep depression during my bad phase, in fact I guess it was really the starting point. Well what can I say know about the me at that time? I didn´t know anything. I took everything seriously what has been said by radical proponents of neuronal determinism (Harris for example). Why? Simple, I didn´t know any better. I was confronted by this task and first came in touch with the extremist position, certainly not a good place to start. The more I have been invested in this task, the more I saw how in fact there is space for free will especially after Gerhard Roth, a distinguished german neuroscientist, renounced his deterministic position after he has written many books against free will over a span of several decades. Of course, I don´t know why exactly he did that, but it was what set the stone within me in motion.
Is our free will completely independent? Of course not, enviromental influences can cause a pouring out of hormones which can influence our emotional state, but, as certainly everyone here has experienced a number of times, through our consciousness we´re able to reflect and eventually “work” against our emotional state. Sometimes it´s just very hard to resist it, especially in a state of burning anger, but our ability to ignore/work against it, is what sets humanity apart from an animal. But it requires discipline. In this sense I see everyone as accountable for their actions. I think it´s really good represented in a law, because this emotional state defines the difference of, for example, murder and manslaughter. Of course there are exceptions, like almost any time in biology, since a misworking recognization system can give falsy information about the current environment, be it through disease, drugs or whatever.
The same case can be made for the oppression of the woman. Evolution certainly made man the stronger gender in physical aspects, but through reflection we´re able to dismiss such advantages and not live in a survival-of-the-strongest-world. But again, you raise good points, why isn´t it everywhere like that? Certainly the society in which someone grows up has to be the most important factor, maybe with a we´re-better-than-them or an us-vs-them attitude, where it´s more likely fur such antisocial behaviour to flourish. And maybe because some people just want to release their “inner animal”, although I really have no idea what the appeal of this is.

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Mary VanLeeuwen is a Christian sociologist who has researched constructions of masculinity and femininity and gender roles in cultures around the world. One of the interesting things I remember from reading two of her books (I forget which one it was in) was that the cultures with the most gender equity and least strict gender roles tend to be fairly “primitive” hunter/gatherer cultures. These also tend to have very few slots available in any kind of social hierarchy (“governing” tends to be done by consensus of the elders). It seems that the more hierarchy and job differentiation there is in a society, the more men tend to dominate women and abuse their power. I wouldn’t say it is inherent in their biology, I think power corrupts. The more women are relegated to realms of the home and childcare and lose their voice and influence, the more men seek to advantage themselves in the power systems of the society.


I agree with @Christy. When I look at masculinity and femininity around the world, I see many different forms from many different cultures. I don’t see a universal form at all. One interesting example I remember is the Aka people group from the Central African Republic and the Republic of the Congo. Aka fathers are very close to their children and are even observed comfort nursing their babies. I think that behavior would be seen as very unusual in the Western World, but it shows that manhood and fatherhood are not always the same in other places.


I try to avoid discussions regarding free will vs determinism. But I think we can all think of occasions when our actions seemed more compelled or more deliberative. I think life circumstances can also provide for more or less opportunities for more contemplation regarding a wider range of options. If free will exists at all, I certainly don’t think it is a gift given equally to all. In fact I think there is a sense in which free will may be valued more or less highly by individuals for reasons which may arise owing to either a difference in disposition or as a result of the culture one is brought up in. Of course in any undergraduate philosophy class the discussion would immediately spin out to consider whether any seeming instance of free will might be somehow counterfeit. Personally I don’t find those any more tempting than conspiracy theories regarding immunizations, the deep state and so on.

That is the most perspicuous down side to what might be our evolutionary heritage, but I definitely don’t think it is inevitable since I do think free will is possible. Unfortunately it is far from inevitable and I’m questioning here whether everyone receives an equal opportunity to exercise choice in the matter. If not, however God may judge us, should we take individual circumstances into consideration when judging others? Of course I think we have to use the coercive power of the state to oppose egregious exploitation no matter whether a particular bad actor is seen as having had much behavioral leeway afforded by the circumstances of his birth and development. The victim of circumstances who victimizes someone else must still be held accountable whether we sympathize with the options afforded by their upbringing or not.

I appreciate everyone’s responses and hope to have more time to respond and to read other responses soon.

Exactly. To me the classic “no free will” reaction is akin to someone learning that the amount of stuff in an atom is minuscule compared to the amount of empty space. So we have “no free will!” the same way “the table isn’t really solid!” Oh no!! Solid continues to mean what it always has and free will likewise continues to mean what it has always meant. So when a court decides you entered into a contract of your own free will, all they’re interested in is whether any undo coercion was involved … not whether you might actually be a philosophical zombie.

I see holding people as accountable for their actions as a practical matter. Even if the general public does not always have the amount of free will we would hope for we still insist on a standard of restraint which we at least expect they should achieve if they are to maintain freedom in society. It serves as an incentive to achieve and maintain that level of accountability even if it isn’t something they’re naturally inclined toward. Of course, under certain conditions, the law does acknowledge that circumstances can overwhelm even someone whose normal restraint is adequate and some allowance is made for these excusing conditions. But is it fair to insist on what some people may not be capable of? Perhaps not but it has become a part of the social contract we impose on one another.

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This explains how our biology has favored patriarchy but it certainly doesn’t imply that to tamper with sexual politics is to risk reverting to a hunter/gatherer state. That is just absurd. Sometimes you have to go against the grain in order to progress. With what we know today it is inexcusable to cite tradition as a reason for perpetuating injustice and victimization.

Completely agree. Reminds me of a women in film class I took in junior college. I liked and respected the instructor very much but during a discussion about power corrupting she said something to the effect of “they should give the power to women instead of going down that same sorry road”. I appreciated the sentiment but felt compelled to point out that if power were the kind of thing we handed out rationally it could as easily be given to good man as a good woman. But of course that isn’t how power works. It goes first of all to those who want it bad enough to do what is required to win it, and that pretty much rules out a lot of people who might do quite well. It is kind of tragic really, not just a dumb mistake.

BTW, since you’re a mod, I keep getting the message that I could/should be combining these replies in one post but I’ve found that difficult to do. Hope it isn’t a hardship for the site if I do it this way.

Those are automatic messages generated by the software that runs the site. You can ignore them if they don’t make sense. I get them myself sometimes for “replying to the same person” too many times.

Right, like there have been no evil queens in history. Things work best when men and women recognize and appreciate the strengths others bring to the table and work in partnership. I’m reading Animal Farm with my daughter right now, and it is a sad but true commentary on human nature, not just the failures of communism. In the pursuit of power and privilege, idealism gives way to brute force and the honest, hard-working people at the bottom pay the price.


Is free will available to all independent of circumstances?


Free will is both highly variable and fragile. It can be affected by numerous medical conditions, drugs and other external influences including social conditions. Free will is particularly vulnerable to a large number of bad habits and it is highly dependent upon awareness. You cannot choose alternatives if you are not even aware them. Thus the significance of culture to this question is obvious to me. In fact, I think it likely that belief is particularly important. If you do not believe in free will then this may be a reason why you do not have any… and visa versa too.

I suppose the reference to sexuality is referring to the question of sexual preference. I certainly do not believe in any prenatal determination of sexual preference and I think a belief in this does a great deal of harm. The argument linking gay rights to prenatal determination is seriously flawed. Those rights are derived from one fact and one fact only, that there is no objective evidence that this does any harm to consenting adults – thus we simply have no right to impose any restrictions with regards to this. To be sure human sexuality is complex system where a great variety of factors including conditioning from experience, psychology, and biology play a role. But like any preferences whatever causes are involved are really nobody’s business but their own.

But… feminism??? what does this have to do with free will? The only thing I can think of is my choice to live in and fight for a free society in which misogyny will not be tolerated.

That’s the way it seems to me as well. But it does seem that many people, particularly believers, seem to take a fairly doctrinaire attitude about it.

In thinking about some of the ways women are essentially preyed upon sexually it got me thinking about the degree to which many predatory men may not even be in a position to change course. (The books I’ve been reading have put this very much in my mind.)

Since God undoubtedly can take all such complexities into account, I would suggest that they are thus defending their own right to judge people rather than God’s right to do so. In doing that, they don’t have a Biblical leg to stand on.

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