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King: There's more to being human than gender

POSTED: July 9, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Could the first Man be a woman?

I’m not referring to Mitochondrial Eve, a female who lived approximately 200,000 years ago and was so named because mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from the mother to her offspring without the normal genetic recombination that occurs at fertilization.

This makes Mitochondrial Eve a direct-line ancestor of every woman living today, but not the first fully human woman. Similarly Y-chromosomal Adam, a male who lived as much as 400,000 years earlier, was not the first man.

I speak here from the standpoint of a writer, one with certain philosophical leanings. As a writer, I struggle with gender usage. As an intellectually curious individual I ask, what does one call Homo sapiens if not Man? Yet when I seek a pronoun for Man, I am reduced to the awkward constructions: him/her or his/hers.

Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. Humans have gender — male and female — and now apparently all points in-between. Same problem: him/her or his/hers, and sometimes you can’t be sure, so when I write about the human race in its totality, I use the term “Man” with a capital M; and if my feminists friends chose to give me grief, so be it.

Why do I suggest the first “Man” might be a woman? Because as a writer, I’m a humanist, someone devoted to the promotion of human welfare and the advancement of social reform. The first individual designated truly human and thus establish our species as “Man” should not be the earliest Homo Sapien, but the first human animal with a fully developed conscience.

Of course, we don’t know what a fully developed conscience looks like. We can only speculate. For me it’s a conscience that cares about the whole of the human race and is deeply concerned about a sustainable environment here on Earth.

Five days ago, Fourth of July, we celebrated what it means to be an American. We set off fireworks and ate barbecue with friends. When and how do we celebrate what it means to be human? What qualities and characteristics mark us not merely human, but humane, and how do we pay homage to them?

Man is a killer. Man also nurtures and heals, not only his own kind, but other species as well. Consider the Endangered Species Act, but would this legislation be needed if Man didn’t have a voracious appetite for more of everything no matter who or what is pushed aside?

I believe Man will someday go to the stars, but would we need to leave earth tomorrow if we weren’t trashing it today?

Historically, women’s role has been to bear children and nurture the family. Men have provided for and protected the family, but today the roles are blurred. Women have become solders and corporate CEOs. Men have become nannies and nurses. Some see this as unnatural and unbiblical. Others see it as evolutionary and another step toward freedom and equality for all.

No matter what happens gender will always be with us, but it need no longer constrain us. Gays and lesbians will marry. Some may even start families. There is no innate reason why these families should not be happy and productive. Certainly, some same-sex marriages will go astray. Some same-sex couples will divorce, but no more so than straight couples.

According to the blogger Daven Hiskey the word “man” was originally gender neutral. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that it was used almost exclusively to refer to males. Words change. Customs change. People change.

Let’s just hope that change makes us more humane so that the human animal, who ever we find him, is fit to take us though the troubled times ahead with grace and kindness.

Let’s hope the first Man is a truly universal creature who pays homage to nature’s God and honors the Earth that nurtures us all.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays.


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