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Uncle's Day
June 21, 2009 12:54 AM   Subscribe

An alternative look at Fatherhood: a study with bees shows that females mating with random males actually have more genes in common with their sisters than they do with their own daughters. And that makes them more likely to put the good of their colony sisters over their own reproductive legacy. Would that work with humans? Well, there's a society in China where kids don't have Fathers.
posted by eye of newt (36 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a great idea. I think this is quite possibly a successful template for future families in the West as well.
posted by nickyskye at 1:42 AM on June 21, 2009


Diploid/Haploid

Can Human girls without fathers exist, anyway?
posted by evil_esto at 1:45 AM on June 21, 2009


The last article asks can the family exist without fathers, but I think what the article really recognizes is that the family can existed with very different roles and expectations for both genders. The children are raised by family groups of mix genders, so they have both male and female role models. It seems that any individual child is ultimately cared for by the mother, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, etc.

While the society is obviously matrilineal and the women clearly have a much more powerful role than in patrilineal societies, but neither men nor women appear to have the same culturally prescribed gender roles that they have in traditional western society.

Saying "no fathers" ignores the fact that they have a number of uncles fulfilling the "father" role and an extended number of aunts enhancing the mother's role.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:53 AM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fascinating learning about them. Another YouTube vid about the Mosuo, who are on the China-Tibet border and I can hear by their language and faces they are more Tibetan than Chinese. Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association. Wikipedia entry about the Mosuo.
posted by nickyskye at 2:00 AM on June 21, 2009


Well, in the Mosuo society, clearly the children do have fathers, and the mothers do connect strongly with their descendents. I wonder how different this is to the culture where the father is referred to as the "baby-daddy". In these cultural groups, these women are often responsible for the raising of their children, and often maintain ongoing relationships with their lovers and FWB who do not move in to their homes. Fascinating. Having been both a single parent, with lovers, and a married one, I can say there are advantages and disadvantages in both situations.
posted by b33j at 2:09 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the Michael Palin travel series Himalaya, he visits the Mosuo people and talks with some of them about this. He also witnesses the growing effects of internal tourism, facilitated by new roads and rail lines and suggests fears that their unique culture may be in danger.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:15 AM on June 21, 2009


Saying "no fathers" ignores the fact that they have a number of uncles fulfilling the "father" role and an extended number of aunts enhancing the mother's role.

Yeah, I suspect the magic feature here is extended family rather than a limited role for the biological father.... and that this model is unlikely to work in cultures where personal mobility is prized above living in the same community as extended family.

Palin...suggests fears that their unique culture may be in danger.

What are his candidates for threats to the culture? (My own suspicion is, again, the lure of personal mobility...)
posted by weston at 2:26 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"If you [father] a child with another woman, you can never be absolutely sure that the child really shares your genes," he said. "But if your sister has a child, you can be 100 percent sure that the kid shares some of your genes."

Assuming you are 100 percent sure that she's your sister.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:34 AM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


Thread started by the founder of the Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association at the Randi Foundation forums; gives more information (and fields several dumb questions).
posted by Abiezer at 2:43 AM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can't find the comment right now, but this Der Spiegel article on the Mosuo was linked once on MeFi too.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 2:50 AM on June 21, 2009


Wait. Guys get to have sex without having to permanently latch on to the woman and any resultant kids? And, far from being offended, the woman actually encourages the man to get up and leave before breakfast? And there is never any risk of having a brother-in-law around the house? The guy just continues to live at home?

What's the catch? No Nintendo? Yes, I know he's supposed to help raise the children around the house, but is he actually changing nappies or is he just going to work and bringing home the collective proverbial (or actual) bacon?
posted by pracowity at 3:03 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are other variations upon the one man married to one woman setup that have existed in the past and perhaps even now. Perhaps the model presently used in western socieities, despite its shortcomings, is the one that seems the best of the lot, if only because so manyh contemporary societies that are technologially advanced do use that model. Yep. serial divorce and re-marriage an issue, but if the non-marriage model so outstanding, why is it so limited geographically and historically?
posted by Postroad at 4:04 AM on June 21, 2009


Palin's thesis, if I remember correctly, is that different forces of assimilation (from within and without), driven by the desire to "succeed" in various ways, are creating threats to the continuation of the Mosuo culture.
posted by kalessin at 4:22 AM on June 21, 2009


The model presently used in Western societies is more or less serial, monogonous, equal partnerships. This is historically very new. Western culture likes to think that this is the same marriage that has existed for hundreds or thousands of years. However, when you add in things like dowries and arranged marriages, it looks less like marriage today and a little more like commerce.
posted by cotterpin at 4:24 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait. Guys get to have sex without having to permanently latch on to the woman and any resultant kids?

If you exclude the fact that they more or less permanently latch on to their extended matriarchal clan, then yes.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:28 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It must be great to be a nerd in the Mosuo society. You never get invited to a walking marriage, and then you have to help raise all the popular guys' kids that your sisters had.
posted by digsrus at 5:32 AM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


and then you have to help raise all the popular guys' kids that your sisters had.

Here we call that property taxes. </republican>
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:08 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"If you [father] a child with another woman, you can never be absolutely sure that the child really shares your genes," he said. "But if your sister has a child, you can be 100 percent sure that the kid shares some of your genes."

Assuming you are 100 percent sure that she's your sister.


Yeah, if you share the same mother, then you can be 100% sure she's your sister. You wouldn't know your half sisters who share a father because they'd be living with some other family.
posted by lexicakes at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2009


You wouldn't know your half sisters who share a father because they'd be living with some other family.

This does raise the odds of inbreeding somewhat, and that's a major downside to this (otherwise rather idyllic) kind of arrangement.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:33 AM on June 21, 2009


What are his candidates for threats to the culture? (My own suspicion is, again, the lure of personal mobility...)

Paternity testing?

But no, seriously, personal mobility seems like a good candidate. Though I wonder if that couldn't be counterweighted by adaptive customs, the way that Han husbands and children leave the countryside for a job in Shenzen or something and send all of their money home and return home once a year for the New Year. Especially if helped out by a little Internet Age constant contact.
posted by XMLicious at 6:40 AM on June 21, 2009


"If you [father] a child with another woman, you can never be absolutely sure that the child really shares your genes," he said. "But if your sister has a child, you can be 100 percent sure that the kid shares some of your genes."

This makes it sound like these arrangements were founded on paranoia of whether the male was raising his actual kid.

It makes me wonder if paternity tests would change things.

Also, it's not as heavenly as you might think, according to Wikipedia:
It has been theorized that the matriarchal system of the lower classes may have been enforced by the higher classes as a way of preventing threats to their own power.[citation needed] Since leadership was hereditary, and determined through the male family line, it virtually eliminated potential threats to leadership by having the peasant class trace their lineage through the female line. Therefore, attempts to depict the Mosuo culture as some sort of idealized “matriarchal” culture in which women have all the rights, and where everyone has much more freedom, are based on faulty evidence; the truth is that for much of their history, the Mosuo peasant class were subjugated and sometimes treated as little better than slaves.[citation needed]
There is a viable argument to be made that the “matriarchal” system of the Mosuo was actually enforced to keep them in servitude to the ruling Mosuo class. Yet, practically speaking, this system has led to a number of unusual traits within Mosuo society. Mosuo families have an incredible internal cohesiveness and stability.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:53 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


[citation needed]
posted by PugAchev at 7:12 AM on June 21, 2009


I've always thought matrilineal societies would make a lot of sense when DNA testing wasn't an option. It would really be the only way to be sure of relationships (though as mentioned previously, you'd never know who your relatives were on your father's side). Seriously, has anyone else ever wondered how many famous people in history weren't fathered by who we think they were? Kind of makes you wonder about your own ancestry too (but way back, I mean, not in an immediate "why is mom so nice to the mailman" kind of thing).
posted by Go Banana at 7:34 AM on June 21, 2009


Would that work with humans?

Perhaps in a society that values family bonds above all else. Otherwise, no.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:42 AM on June 21, 2009


This does raise the odds of inbreeding somewhat, and that's a major downside to this (otherwise rather idyllic) kind of arrangement.

I'm not totally convinced that it would — at least not in the way that matters. My understanding is that one-off inbreeding isn't a serious problem, but that consistent, reapeated inbreeding within the same region or extended family is. If I'm not totally wrong there, then rather than a simple ban on any sibling or cousin marriage, what you need is a consistent, steady source of population churn that keeps new genes moving into an area. And "Hey, guy, go find someone to marry who isn't connected to this enormous, close-knit matrilocal clan" seems like a pretty good source of population churn to me.

I'm not saying it's idyllic either — I mean, I'm sure there's some problems — but I wouldn't necessarily expect these guys to have the genetic problems that you get from a serious population bottleneck.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Assuming you are 100 percent sure that she's your sister.

You're at least 100% sure she's your half sister, whereas you can never be sure your wife's kids are related to you at all. As pointed out, DNA testing, or turkey baster pregnancies, would change all that, but in the old-fashioned version, if it came out of mama, it's part of the family. It's a pretty direct way to trace lineage...
posted by mdn at 8:24 AM on June 21, 2009


Guys get to have sex without having to permanently latch on to the woman and any resultant kids? . . . What's the catch? No Nintendo?

LOLmenamirite. I wonder if an agnatic society, all things being equal, wouldn't actually encourage long-term romantic relationships. No stresses from childrearing or home maintenance between the couple, no daily grinding irritations. The father gets to fill what we see as an uncle's role, offering the kids a finger to pull but not too much more. Meanwhile, he's teaching his sister's sons how to be adults, and his sister doesn't have to worry about keeping the father of her kids placated and sexually fulfilled lest the family be abandoned. It could be sweet in a very Ursula K. LeGuin way, if it weren't for the setup's vulnerability to ugly pressure from societies with the dominant paradigm.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


He also witnesses the growing effects of internal tourism, facilitated by new roads and rail lines and suggests fears that their unique culture may be in danger.

So China shouldn't build infrastructure and these people should remain isolated from the outside world so their curious cultural practices can be preserved for Western tourists like Michael Palin (who apparently infringe on local culture less than Han Chinese tourists)?
posted by pravit at 8:44 AM on June 21, 2009


"In the unique Mosuo tradition called the walking marriage, women invite men to visit their rooms at night—and to leave in the morning. "

The author has never been to a college bar.
posted by klangklangston at 9:45 AM on June 21, 2009


That seems like it would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

But someone oughta be able to say, "Hey, looks like there's some dirty bathwater here" without being accused of infanticide, no?

I didn't watch that particular TV show. Dude might have been advocating infanticide for all I know. Just seems silly to get all horrified off of a one-sentence summary like that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:48 AM on June 21, 2009


Er, talking to pravit there and not klang. I have no handy infanticide-themed metaphor for college.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:49 AM on June 21, 2009


"So China shouldn't build infrastructure and these people should remain isolated from the outside world so their curious cultural practices can be preserved for Western tourists like Michael Palin (who apparently infringe on local culture less than Han Chinese tourists)?"

I remember a Politics of Development class I had, where we read an essay from an Indian doctor/statesman whose name escapes me, who was decrying the UN Declaration of Human Rights. He was arguing that things like insisting on gender equality represented mortal threats to a lot of cultures with long histories, just as recognizing private property was antithetical to some folks.

In the end, I had to confront the fact that I'm at least somewhat a liberal cultural imperialist—I tend to believe that people are happier with my Western conception of rights, even if I can't ever really prove that empirically, and even if it means the destruction of indigenous cultures, I tend to fall on the side of openness and contact. It's a bias, I recognize it, but I suppose I'm more willing to embrace the fallacy of argument from novelty than the fallacy of argument from tradition.
posted by klangklangston at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"So China shouldn't build infrastructure and these people should remain isolated from the outside world so their curious cultural practices can be preserved for Western tourists like Michael Palin (who apparently infringe on local culture less than Han Chinese tourists)?"

Your words, not Palin's (or mine). The effect of cultural homogeneity is all around us and he appears to be pretty reasonably anticipating it there as well. On watching it the tourism angle seems to be the pointy end of that wedge; the numbers are very large in proportion to the local populations and (from memory) at least one person interviewed comments on how oppressive it is. In particular one woman talks about a wannabe sex-tourist angle, where she's importuned on a regular basis about the non-commital sex and the frequency with which she gets propositioned on those terms. When your home becomes a fishbowl and your way of life a curiosity it's hard to imagine things staying the same, even if experience didn''t show that a variety of other socioeconomic forces for loss of cultural diversity are on their way.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:15 AM on June 21, 2009


Huh. Well, now I have to go and re-watch The Spirit of the Beehive.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:47 PM on June 21, 2009


Yeah, I suspect the magic feature here is extended family rather than a limited role for the biological father.... and that this model is unlikely to work in cultures where personal mobility is prized above living in the same community as extended family.

The other magic feature is that you would never have to deal with in-laws. None of this "losing a daughter, gaining a son" business. You stay with the family you are born into.


If you exclude the fact that they more or less permanently latch on to their extended matriarchal clan, then yes.

I would think most people in the world live in an extended family situation. It's only a few cultures where continuing to live with your parents into adulthood is considered strange.
posted by emeiji at 1:13 PM on June 21, 2009


Happy Fathers Day all.

Can Human girls without fathers exist, anyway?
posted by evil_esto at 3:45 AM on June 21 [+] [!]


On Metafilter, yes.

sad
posted by vapidave at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2009


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