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I'm trying to create an egalitarian society on an Earth-like planet, populated by simultaneous hermaphrodites. The hermaphrodites are similar to human women that have both male & female sex organs. Hermaphroditic ability to sire children is equal to human male fertility. On the other hand, hermaphrodite ability to bear children is equal to human female fertility.

In my society self-impregnation is outlawed taboo and hermaphrodites who want to have children must have a partner. Many of these partnerships are analogous to human marriages and tend to last.

Would hermaphrodites in partnership relations develop gender roles, where one is mostly breadwinner while the other is mostly homemaker?

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    $\begingroup$ You should check out the "Well World" series of science fiction books by Jack L. Chalker. They are 1970s science fiction and as such played around a lot with gender roles. There were so called "hive worlds" where humans had engineered themselves into hermaphroditic drones in ultra-collectivist societies. In some of these, the drones would switch between male and female roles depending on preference. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Dec 21 '16 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ There's plenty of fiction in this genre. LeGuin's, "The Left Hand of Darkness", is a great book about androgyny. You can Google many others. $\endgroup$ – WRX Dec 21 '16 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ Self impregnation will often produce deformity from inbreeding effects. It might be impossible if the "parts" are positioned correctly. From an evolutionary standpoint it takes less energy to sire children than to bear them. Expect those with superior social status or genetic material to be siring. Unless parts are positioned so bidirectional is a must. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Dec 21 '16 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ Whatever you're writing, I want to read it! $\endgroup$ – Antero Duarte Dec 22 '16 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ < PSA >just for people's information, hermaphrodite is a scientific term for an organism that has both functioning sets of reproductive parts, not to be confused with intersex people. Real life humans outside this story are not biologically hermaphroditic, and so referring to intersex people as hermaphrodites is regarded as misleading and stigmatzing< /PSA > (And for the record, I'm not accusing or attacking anyone, just making sure this information is available) $\endgroup$ – Alexis Andersen Dec 22 '16 at 15:09

13 Answers 13

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Edit: I rewrote this due to the comments

Let's say that at the beginning we are at an equilibrium state in which the couples are perfectly symmetrical, and there are no different behaviors that can be regarded as gender roles. Now, outside forces on the couples could push them toward a gender specialization such that one partner is like you said the breadwinner and the other the homemaker.

One major such force could be society. If it's the norm to have gender roles, it's highly likely that even small kids would adopt a gender identity or at least consider what they prefer and have it influence their process of finding a mate and their behavior in their relationships. But something has to be the first trigger.

Option 1. Biological constraints (i.e. pregnancy)

In the limit case in which bearing a child is extremely easy and takes only few days, it makes little difference which of the couple will bear the children, obviously the couple could alternate who bears the children and no difference in behavior is to be expected. This isn't the case, since pregnancy is 9 months long and taking care of small children is also a handful, so this is definitely a force that would push the couples to specialize, one in childcare (and from that to homemaking) and one in their career.

Option 2: Economical constraints

What if in this society one paycheck is more then enough, and people don't see a need to earn as much as possible? (This can be due e.g. to strong social networks, religion or lack of ways to spend a lot of money) What if at the same time a very well-maintained house was considered a big virtue? This could easily lead to a joint decision to split the work.

This can be combined with the first option to make it more difficult for someone to have a child (thus be out of the work force for a while) and then resume their career.

Option 3: Personal preference

Let's not forget that even in same-sex couples there may sometimes be something similar to gender roles, and in heterosexual couples the roles my switch. So a personal preference or natural talents could also play a role.

Summary

Since the existence or lack thereof of gender roles is something that perpetuates itself, I think it's a matter of equilibrium. A trend in either way will amplify and become the norm, until a trend in the opposite direction changes things. The fact that genders in your society are not based in biological differences makes change all the more easy and therefor plausible.

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  • $\begingroup$ If they are like human females in everything else, beside having male sex organs too, pregnancy should be about the same as us i.e. 9 months. $\endgroup$ – Druid Dec 21 '16 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ Pregnancy is same as ours, 9 months $\endgroup$ – Masamune Dec 21 '16 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ As a markdown tip, If you escape the asterisk (put a backslash before it) it'll not appear as a bullet point: \*. $\endgroup$ – TRiG Dec 22 '16 at 11:41
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If human physiology is of any guidance, then yes with a twist.

It is much healthier for both bearer and a child if the bearer is young. Besides, I'd expect the female functionality to cease at the certain age, while male functionality to continue for much longer.

So, it is reasonable to expect the young people to play a female role, and then switch to a male one. Which gives some interesting cues about family pattern.

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  • $\begingroup$ If they're monogamous switching roles could be tricky. Also, I think there's an assumption that a gender role is something you hang on to for life, mostly. $\endgroup$ – Dotan Dec 22 '16 at 18:21
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No.

I do not doubt that a visiting human would apply a gender role to anyone from this planet they met based on their aggressiveness or beauty (or whatever gender role baggage they brought with them).

But the idea that specific gender roles would develop in a world effectively without genders is a bit too human-centric to my mind. They would most likely just have the variety of personality types that all humans have.

If they're anything like people though, they make divide their members into groups based on other physically identifiable characteristics. Like the thinking that redheads are more aggressive or blondes have more fun. Since they don't have groups with different sex hormones that might influence one or more behaviors, the groups will likely have less agreed upon differences though.

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    $\begingroup$ now if pregnancy is still as incapacitating as it is in humans you might see a sort of mild gender role that swaps back and forth depending on who is pregnant. You would likely also see a taboo against both being pregnant at the same time, possibly even a biological mechanism to prevent it. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 21 '16 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @John Yes, perhaps. Protective behavior would be evolutionarily advantageous. But, since it's based on a state of pregnancy that can happen to either member, it's not a gender behavior. In the same way protecting an injured partner wouldn't be considered a gender behavior. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 21 '16 at 21:16
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Yes (Well sort of, from a human-centric point of view)

Since hermaphrodites have a single gender you can't have gender roles like humans. But on the other hand, if there is a "marriage" between two hermaphrodites, I expect that one of them will specialize as breadwinner and the other one as homemaker.

Specialization is an advantage, if one hermaphrodite is much better at making money the family would be better off financially if that one takes the "male" role of only siring children and not having career breaks.

Since fertility rate by age is equal to human fertility rate, there would be more hermaphrodites that could only sire children but can't bear them. If you are rich older hermaphrodite your role is similar to "male" in the human society.

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    $\begingroup$ "I expect that one of them will specialize as breadwinner and the other one as homemaker." Why? When my husband and I both worked, we did all the household chores together. We took turns making dinner or washing the dishes. I prefered to do the laundry and he preferred to mow -- but not for gender reasons. I like doing laundry 'my way'. He did one bath, I did the other. We took turns with washing floors and vacuuming. If a society (in Canada both parents are eligible for child/maternity/paternity leave) understands, then careers and so on will work out. $\endgroup$ – WRX Dec 21 '16 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ @WillowRex question is could there be not would there be or would they're only be. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Dec 21 '16 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ @WillowRex no one is unbiased especially when it comes to gender issues. You comment is fine, I am just saying that the question doesn't say that you must show hermaphrodites have to marrage only to show how they could have them. Personality probably depend a lot on the hermaphroditism themselves what culture they come from what their economic status is their personality and so on. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Dec 21 '16 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Druid -- What?!!! Horrors! No daycare? Sorry, could not resist. If you have a 200000 earner and a 20000 earner, I would assume that the only reason the lower earner is employed at all is because they like or want their work. I have a friend who works harder than his wife. She earns much more than he does, but he is a writer and is driven to write. When it was an issue, they paid for daycare. $\endgroup$ – WRX Dec 21 '16 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ Homosexual human couples certainly can develop gender roles. Many don't, but many do. I personally know both kinds. That's not the same thing as a hermaphrodite couple, but it is an example of artificial gender roles developing in a relationship where no "natural" gender roles exist. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Dec 22 '16 at 12:32
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To answer your own question, you have to ask yourself another one: How strong is their innate biological drive to reproduce?

Your hermaphrodites have both male and female methods of reproducing. So they (or their prehistoric ancestors) will have a biological drive to father offspring and a biological drive to bear offspring.

Therefore you need to decide how strong their instinct to perform both roles is. Are there times of year, or times of life when the urge to get pregnant outweighs the urge to father a kid? Or vice versa? Is there a ticking 'menopausal' clock which makes them likely to want to get pregnant when young and save fatherhood for their middle aged years? If you've fathered a kid, does your body demand you are the mother of the next one?

Civilisation, culture and intelligence can overwrite some biological drives - just think of all the people you know who have decided not to have kids, or to adopt other people's kids. So if you want gender roles, turn down the instinct to be a mother to human level or below, and take up some of the suggestions from other answers on breadwinners, etc.

If you want to avoid gender roles, dial the instinct up to 11 and have the desire to be both a mother and a father as higher than humans' interest in sex, but a bit lower than humans' interest in food.

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It's possible that these roles ( with one partner has a full-time job, one partner stays behind and is exclusively responsible for raising the kids) could develop but they would not be on restricted gender lines and partners could switch roles when necessary without the stigma of being a failure.

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  • $\begingroup$ The "stigma of being a failure" for switching gender roles? Are you suggesting that exists in this culture or is that coming from somewhere else? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 21 '16 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel not anymore I don't mean switching gender roles I'm talking about switching roles in marriage that were traditionally tied to gender up until recently where the male was the provider, and the female raise the kids. This system still might develop ( with one partner staying behind while the other has a full-time job) but it wouldn't be tied to gender. Up until last half a century or so man who's lost his job who had to depend on his wife getting the job well he stayed behind with the kids was considered a failure. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Dec 21 '16 at 21:42
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You might get the one earning the greater wage choosing to continue their career and the other taking a career break to have children because it brings in more money. ...just like we often do now.

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Children need to be cared for. Stable families offer great survival benefits and pair-bonds leads to stable families.

Since their premodern times, one member of the pair would stay home to care for the child while the other provided. Thus, these roles would be replicated in the society. It would be my expectation that the role would be traded between them. For example, the one acting as the provider while the nurturer tends to young children. Once the provider becomes pregnant, it now becomes the nurturer, while the other nurturer becomes the provider.

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In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, all reproduction is done through cloning test-tube embryos, developed in artificial wombs, with childrearing and educational psychological conditioning handled centrally by the state.

Separate gene pools allowed for a stratified and caste based society, with Alphas and Betas prepared for leadership, political and scientific roles, with Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon classes being trained and equipped to fulfill the social requirement for more menial work assignments.

In this society, physical sex was purely a recreational activity, rather than a practical one.

https://web.archive.org/web/20081121233046/http://www.123helpme.com/assets/18219.html

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    $\begingroup$ What does this have to do with simultaneous hermaphrodites? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 22 '16 at 13:54
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So they do have marriages? And look for their children themselves?

You know, our model of society is not "only possible". E.g. they can have families, but raise their children in some kind of kindergartens.

Or they can have special "works". Like "milk-giver" (which is assigned to persons who has best "milk-producing" mamaries), "nanny", "hunter" and so on.

You know, that nature prefers specialisation over "Jacks-of-all-trades", so, I'm pretty shure that during their "stone ages" they could develop something like this. (E.G. Danni produces more milk, Jaiden is best hunter and Perrin is best berry-finder).

I'm not shure about gender roles. In our society it came from burdens of pregnancy (it's hard to hunt with big belly) and from reason that "men are more expendable" (So they shoul do more dangerous activities), because it's easier to repopulate with 100 women and 10 men, than with 100 men and 10 women.

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As each adult can do both parts of reproduction, then any variant is possible. One parent may have a preference or they may take turns being pregnant. Age, health and income would likely factor into the decision as to which would be pregnant to varying degrees, but are not sure ways to decide.

If its possible AND likely for everyone to be pregnant at some point during their lives, then a well developed maternity leave is almost a certainty. This would let even people working intense jobs have the option of being pregnant without a significant loss of income.

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It might not be so different from our society.

Look at same sex married couples.

They are rarely completely symetrical because no one is the same. People have different personalities/skills.

The child bearer can't be the breadwinner because childbearing is hard. So naturally there would be a "daddy" and a "mommy".

Your "societal gender" would not defined by your X or Y chromsome but by your personality/skills/fitness/age/position in society.

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I have thought of a similar society, but with my interpretation there would be sort of a spectrum of masculine and feminine. Most people would be somewhere in the middle(average) while some people seem to be highly specialized(extreems) this would be based on a stable yet versatile genome with average people being able to maybe switch gender roles based on preference and necessity.

Those in the middle of the spectrum may do this more easily, while those at the masculine end may be more massive and protective. The feminine might be more nurturing and petite.

As for self insemination it should not be outlawed or taboo but is something that will kill the host, and is the only ethical means for immortality as one clones themself but has to redevelop their memory. It usually happens in a pre late life ritual inducing the self rebirth. Or sometimes when one dies of natural causes though the body will induce self hurt on its own well before you die as it senses your body failing. These usually result in miscarriage and is the end of one's life cycle.

The life cycle also ends when injury or illness causes death. Only the more feminine can physically handle reproduction about 3 or 4 times. The average usually have two, the third is the self reproduction. Some of the extreme cases of masculine can only self reproduce for their body cannot take the punishment of birth.

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