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Many questions on Worldbuilding have posited different reproductive strategies that often result in the virtual enslavement of females (when there are females involved). On Earth, normal human biology lends itself to patriarchal societies and almost always, the oppression and marginalization of women.

What's the smallest change that can applied now to the human reproduction strategy that will result in the most equality, freedom and flexibility for women? Since human cultural norms are an emergent property of human biology, answers that only address changes to human culture won't work since any cultural changes will be constantly fighting against biology. Only biological changes or technological innovations that improve the equality and freedom of women are in scope for this question. Changes to how sex operates will have huge cultural implications to every single aspect of society. Those cultural changes are out of scope too ('cause they're gonna be huge!).

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    $\begingroup$ Or those incubation jars from Brave New World. Mechanical wombs or whatever they called them. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Aug 25 '15 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ Impossible if you limit it this way. The root of the disrespect we show each other (across gender, race, etc) is deeper even than reproductive biological differences. $\endgroup$ – user11864 Aug 25 '15 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @GiliusMaximus, if I don't limit the question somehow, it will be closed as too-broad. But I grant your point. There are significantly more motivators for discrimination and oppression than just how humans reproduce. $\endgroup$ – Green Aug 25 '15 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Solution: make humans strictly monogamous paranoics without sex dimorphism. Worked for gibons. $\endgroup$ – Ginden Aug 25 '15 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Green "The equality cited in the question is intended to remove any reproductive reasons for that kind of "ownership". " Great plan! So with no reproductive value... instead of being owned women will be... worthless? Destroyed? $\endgroup$ – NPSF3000 Aug 27 '15 at 8:27
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The obvious biological solution to gender inequality is to take gender out of the equation entirely. Genetically altered humans to possess both male and female equipment. Both would be capable of caring Young. And both will be capable of providing seed.

But each person would biologically have a dominant gender. They may have the equipment for both but their body would only produce the hormones needed to operate one set at a time.

These humans would go through Cycles, every decade or so their dominant gender would switch as the body begins produce hormones that trigger the physical traits of the gender opposite their current dominant gender. Another decade and it switches back again.

This gender switch cycle may sound strange but there are actually certain kinds of fish that do this.

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your tags already answered your question. Artificial wombs pretty much remove all the limitations for women and allow proper equality. However, to get real equality assume a world as such:

  1. artificial wombs exist and are used common place. Most likely the prevalence of them are because they remove the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and health risks for the mother, perhaps genetic screening prior to the implanting of embryos occurs as well.

  2. Healthy equivalent of breast milk have been created, such that breastfeeding is not required for an infant to develop to full health. Yes were most of the way there, but breast feeding still provides some extra health benefits currently. Of course this brings in the question of rather the act of breast feeding, as a bonding activity, may help an infant even if formula were as healthy, but I'm sure we could work around that.

  3. An easy way to withdraw eggs from a women (the current ways are painful and expensive) for implanting in an artificial womb. This process would have to be pretty simple, since guys have no problem producing their half of the genetic equivalent. Perhaps eggs aren't used at all, maybe it's found easier to combine DNA in 'artificial eggs', such that the mother only needs a swab of her mouth for DNA rather then actual eggs.

With this approach you have removed almost all the physical differences for reproduction in the modern era (at least for first world countries that have access to artificial wombs). Now both mother and father are mere DNA providers, child is otherwise birthed in exactly the same manner. This is also one of the most believable to occur from our current society.

However, this isn't quite a full answer. Females have certain biological instincts, as do men, based off of how reproduction has always occurred. Even in presence of a new and simpler method of reproduction our biological imperatives will still be ground in reproduction of the past, evolution won't 'catch up' for many thousands of years. As such there will be differences between the sexes, which would likely work against women favor, which are legacy of how reproduction has worked for countless thousands of years.

...before I continue let me just say now everything below is my taking in large statistical averages based off of evolutionary principles. I am not claiming that all, or even most, of either sex follows the below generalities. These are small small statistical difference that only become relevant when summed across many thousands of people; and it would be foolish and literally the definition of prejudice to presume that any of these below averages apply to any single individual, or even a small group, of each sex.

Most noticeably women would still be smaller, and with less testosterone then men, which would lead to them being less aggressive. This would lead women to both being less capable of fighting physically (which admittedly means little in an age of firearms and technology rendering physical might mostly moot), and less inclined to fight; from a biological level. Thus on average they would be less inclined to fight back against attempts by more aggressive men trying to dominate or restrict them.

They would also have a higher maternal instinct then the paternal instinct, making them feel more obligated to the child. Which makes them less likely to be willing to walk away from a child they had. This would mean that in situations of divorce or breakup the mother would be more likely to end up taking on the primary responsibility of the child. Since added responsibility and financial costs lower one's freedom and ability to fight for moral and social issues these added responsibilities could lead to making it easier for men with lower responsibilities to use their excess resources to try to dominate women.

Artificial wombs would go a very long way towards fixing gender differences, but not be a 100% fix. Of course society has gone a long way towards fixing itself already, throw in artificial wombs and a little more time for society to continue going down the path towards equality it's already on and these differences would be so minor to be effectively equal.

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The biggest single change would be to switch the role of testosterone. In the primitive world larger strength ruled. Being physically stronger meant that you took what you wanted and ruled those who were weaker.

If instead testosterone inhibited muscle growth and decreased aggression while women were the stronger then it is likely that women would end up dominating a subservient male population.

Note that biologically speaking this is not the optimum solution as you would lose more time from your strongest members for pregnancy. Egg laying (where the men care for the eggs) or seahorse-style pouches on the men that the women transfer the young to would fix that problem though.

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  • $\begingroup$ @sumelic indeed, but once you have both sides you can look for something in the middle. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Feb 26 '16 at 16:28
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I think the major changes would involve males being more likely to stay back to care for the young, and females being more capable of and likely to go out and hunt or fight. Then the traditionally "female" roles would simply be provided by anyone of either sex who was weaker and/or more passive, while the traditionally "male" roles would be provided by the stronger, more aggressive members of a tribe or community.

Obviously, childbirth would temporarily weaken the females with no corresponding issue for males, but we're talking a few months per child, not anything life-altering.

Bear in mind, however, that racism is baked into our biology. One group or another will almost always be slightly stronger, and once racial oppression has started, there's very little that will bring it back. Over evolutionary time periods, there will be a natural culling of the enslaved/oppressed race. Anyone who opposes the oppression will be more likely to get murdered, and therefore less likely to pass on the aggressive genes.

So the only real way to get rid of racism is to get rid of the underlying mechanisms that cause it. And I don't think that's actually biologically viable. Racism plays a critical role in our survival in primitive conditions. It's not until society evolves that racism becomes a negative thing.

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Perfect the artificial womb and make transplanting a pregnancy from a woman to the artificial womb an outpatient procedure.

These two changes fix several problems. Both techniques/technologies avoid questions about abortion since they are not an abortion. It gives women the flexibility to decide how much pregnancy they want. The transplant procedure allows pregnancies to begin the way they've always begun but it doesn't require the woman to carry the fetus for nine months.

There are no changes to human psychology required, so no mass reprogramming required. No changes to child raising psychology. No changes to human biology or sexual interactions. Men and women go about doing what they have for millennia. If a pregnancy results, the woman make a quick trip to the clinic then some months later, goes to pick up her baby.

Just as the advent of birth control radically changed women's flexibility in regards to pregnancy, an artificial womb will make even greater changes.

In an informal poll I did with friends who are mothers, they indicated that despite all the discomfort of pregnancy, they valued the time they had with their unborn children. One woman indicated she knew her daughters' personality before they were born. Certainly, many women will still choose to carry their children but they have the choice to not carry the child if they don't want to.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer implies that the entire cause of inequality between the sexes is the lack of choice regarding carrying a fetus to term. I would argue that a human being is a complex web of interactions, not a machine which supports replacement of an isolated part of their life. Tug on one part, and the entire system bends and sways. The mere availability of choice to isolate one part of their reproductive life may not create the eartshattering effects desired. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Aug 27 '15 at 5:25

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