Why Y?

Male Biology is Most Dangerous at the Top

At the risk of oversimplifying, there may not be much wrong with this world that can’t be cured by a massive increase in the number of X chromosomes at the top–a doubling in fact, but without increasing the number of leaders. Fortunately this can easily be done, by replacing men with women.

I was reminded of this while gazing at a rogue’s gallery of male faces accompanying an article in The New York Times, extreme close-ups of shifty eyes, beetle-brows, and facial hair. It was an equal opportunity gallery—two whites, two blacks, and an Iranian. What they had in common, aside from X-chromosome deficiency, was that they couldn’t keep their pants zipped, even when the careers they had lived their lives for were at stake. So two mayors, a prosecutor, a governor, and a chief of police were felled by an organ that stood up. As an old Yiddish saying has it (not quite so politely), when that organ stands up, the brains lie down.

Former Gov. Elliot Spitzer

The prize for stupidity has to go to Governor Eliot Spitzer, who obsessively prosecuted prostitution rings while deeply involved with one; he also convinced himself that a 22-year-old former drug addict from New Jersey was worth five thousand dollars an hour.

Tehran police chief Reza ZareiThe prize for randiness, though, goes to the Tehran Chief of Police , who turned in his badge after being caught with six nude prostitutes in a local brothel. He had enforced a strict Islamic dress code for women and had been persecuting coffee shops, those well-known breeding grounds of “social and ethical crimes.”

These two were the gold and silver medalists, but the runner-ups had plenty to resign for, all in the same general field of endeavor–and that’s without mentioning our clean-shaven, boys-will-be-boys former president, currently yearning to be the first First Man. Now I ask you: does anyone for a moment think that any woman in a leadership position would be caught with six nude men, or be paying thousands to a boy from New Jersey for services that he couldn’t be very good at?

In a word, no. Why? Because women have something that men don’t: a second X-chromosome instead of an X and a Y. To be precise, it’s more the Y-affliction than the X-deficiency that causes the problem: testosterone poisoning. This ailment affects some forty-nine percent of our species and is thus our most widespread disorder after the common cold.

The pathology is two-fold: first, high levels of testosterone in boys in the womb poison their brains permanently–something scientists call the “masculinization of the hypothalamus.” (This is also known as an “organizational” effect, clearly an oxymoron when combined with “masculinization.”) Second, after puberty, truly gigantic surges of the same hormone bathe the whole brain unexpectedly, adding a whole new layer of toxicity.

Now, testosterone doesn’t immediately cause brainless male sex, it just enables it–especially given a brain already whacked by the stuff in utero, and in the right environmental context. But the chances supplied by power seem to interact with this biology to produce sexual crimes, misdemeanors, and peccadilloes.

If only it stopped there. Much more tragically, studies show that Toxic T enables brainless aggression much as it enables brainless sex: put two male mice on a grid and shock them, and they will be far more likely to attack each other pointlessly if they’ve had a testosterone cocktail than if they haven’t.

Now, it’s not as if having women in power will automatically bring about peace on earth and good will toward people. Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and Indira Gandhi proved the folly of that simple-minded syllogism. But those women sat atop vast pyramids of X-deficient, T-drenched individuals, whom they had to clamber over to get there. This involved no small degree of ersatz maleness—but, blessedly, only in the aggressive, not the sexual realm.

But imagine a world in which the pyramid itself had far fewer Y’s throughout. Imagine the testosterone slowly draining away, replaced by calmer hormones bathing far less distractible brains. Surely we would be at lower risk for Iraq-like debacles and nuclear missile “chicken”-games, not to mention the colossal disruption, corruption, and potential blackmail associated with male sexual drive.

This is not about one particular current election, it’s about a more distant future. But it’s a future in which I for one will sleep a lot better if the power pyramids above me have had Y’s replaced with X’s on a truly massive scale. Ten millennia of testosterone are enough.

For further information relevant to this entry, please see Dr. Konner’s articles “The Aggressors” and “Human Nature, Ethnic Violence, and War”


  1. Jack Davis says:

    Wow, six nude prostitutes! You think one or two might be enough. Seriously, fascinating article. Perhaps we could give these guys an anti-testosterone pill, if one exists.

  2. Actually, they do. Cyproterone acetate is an anti-androgen, and there are others. In some European countries they are used to treat sex offenders, a form of temporary chemical castration in essence. It reduces repeat offenses substantially.

  3. Stephanie Henry says:

    You should talk to E. O. Wilson! Ants had it figured out long before we did. I’m from New Zealand- first country to elect a woman leader (Prime Minister Helen Clark), also the first country to give women the vote. Kiwi’s and ants, that’s who your politicians should look to.

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