5th Place: "The Botany of Marriage"

Analiesa Leonhardt of Baraboo, Wisconsin

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall 2009)


1 Comment






                 Science affirms that we know more about the intricacies of biology than any preceding generation in recorded history. Ironically, with this ever-growing library of knowledge, society as a whole is distancing itself from the foundational realities of life. Increasingly, the basics of human life are being hidden from our view. Examples of this estrangement include: the average American meal travels 1,500 miles [1] before it reaches our plate; birth and death increasingly happen behind closed doors; in some major American cities Cesarean sections outnumber natural births [2],[3]; and few Americans—including physicians—have ever witnessed a human death [4]. This disconnection from the underpinnings of life is destructive on many levels, spanning from issues of physical and psychological health to issues of economics and governance. A key to reclaiming stability is the re-infusion of the simple principles of human existence back into daily life. One of these foundational concepts is the parity of the sexes inherent in reproduction.

                  Reproduction necessitates two separate individuals; as such, every human being on the planet is the biological result of the fusion of exactly one male sperm and exactly one female ovum [5]. In every act of reproduction the two halves of humanity merge. Indeed, every individual is a descendant of a perfect ratio of the sexes. This mixity [6] of humanity is biologically un-erasable; yet, heated debates ensue over the importance and even ethicality of promoting and privileging this mixity in the legal sphere.  Heterosexual monogamy reflects this biological fact of humanity. Any other parental formula deviates from the pattern. When this fact is blurred or hidden through the legislated equalization of other parental unions, society takes a step back from reality and the equality of gender itself is made unequal. The necessity of respecting the parity of the sexes—reflected in the state privileging of heterosexual monogamy—is fundamental to a stable society. This “law of nature” is taught on many levels throughout the biosphere, including the very landscapes that surround our homes. Ignoring gender in the landscapes—while admittedly on a very different plane than human marriage—similarly results in a weakened system, wrought with imbalance. Gender simply cannot be ignored. To paraphrase the French philosopher, Sylviane Agacinski, “…[living beings are] not single, divided and not one, and it is this division that must be contemplated. [7]

Gender in People versus Plants

                  The same definition of “gender” cannot be used to equally describe both humans and plants. Certainly, the definition of human gender is not as simple as that of plants, whose gender is determined wholly on the objective basis of anatomy and physiology. For Homo sapiens the definition of gender blends social and psychological dimensions with biology. What those psychological and social roles specifically entail is beyond the scope of this essay, and some would suggest even beyond human capacity to define [8]. What has been noted through all cultures, however, is that regardless of the specifics in gender roles, humans inevitably divide themselves into two parts [9]. Concerning this division of humanity, Agacinski eloquently stated, “More than the traits of one or the other, it is difference being emphasized, adorned, or embellished. There is an art of sexual difference, which takes a thousand forms and gives its characteristics to a society. [10]” She continues, “These models can certainly be transformed, but they attest to a certain distinction that culture cannot seem to do without. …[T]he human figure must be that of a couple, not a simple figure." [11] Thus, both people and plants must be spoken of in terms of a duality of gender, as the whole only exists and perpetuates because of both halves.

Gender Ratios

                 The “adornment and embellishment” of genetic variability is likewise evident in the world of flowering plants. Even within the unbounded creativity of flower formations, the “mixity” of plants follows predictable reproductive patterns. Some plants have flowers of only one gender (dioecious) and some plants house both male and female flowers (monecious). The male parts (stamen and anthers) produce pollen, and the female parts (pistil and stigma) receive the pollen and produce seed-bearing fruits.

                 When one individual flower contains both male and female parts, botanists call them “perfect.” In a “perfect” flower, balance is the only option. With single-gendered flowers however, the separation of genders can result in imbalance if the gender-ratio becomes skewed. Indeed, this is the case all across urban America. The botanist and author Thomas Leo Ogren explains modern landscaping’s current predicament of gender misrepresentation:

Unfortunately, since the 1950s, it has…become common practice to cut down seedling trees once it’s determined that they’re female—since they are deemed “messy.” Seedling male trees are generally left to grow old and large. This “unnatural selection” has taken a large toll on the females and had left us with ever more urban pollen. Between specifically planting large numbers of male clones and the systematic removal of female trees, we have created quite a situation.  As is so often the case, when we manipulate large ecosystems and don’t consider the consequences, we create a host of new problems [12].
                  Currently, four of the five top-selling street tree cultivars are male [13]. In exchange for the “mess” of fruiting female trees, society has inherited a mess of allergy-inducing pollen and a slew of ecological problems. Inherently, the skewing of gender ratios creates imbalance.

                  In the human realm of reproduction, males and females are, of course, always separated. A human cannot self-fertilize like a plant can self-pollinate. The “perfect” union found so often in botany is metaphorically only possible by the joining of two inherently separate individuals. Indeed, both genders are always brought together in the perpetuation of the human species. While all human life is initiated this way, long-term unions, or marriages, do not necessarily follow this same pattern. Human creativity has resulted in a wide range of parenting permutations. From her research on cross-cultural gender relations, V.H. Cassler outlines six possible marriage arrangements, including evolutionary marriage (ie. child marriage, bride prices, formal and informal polygyny, patrilocality, and male inheritance), strictly patriarchal or matriarchal unions, community parenting of nursery groups, parenting by “egg or womb rental,” and “companionate heterosexual monogamy” [14]. All but the latter, as she points out, lead inevitably to gender inequality including: gender hierarchy, a segregation of society into two halves, or an eventual female gender collapse as the default human gender is male [15]. Certainly this gender-mixing ideal does not result from simply joining one man and one woman. A brief review of past and present marriage unions reveals great potential for inequality even within heterosexual unions. Therefore, it is only companionate heterosexual monogamy which brings the two sexes into equal partnership, and which by-passes mankind’s tendency to adopt a gender hierarchy, namely the inferiority of women.

                  This widespread demotion of females as the “lesser sex” is perhaps most grotesquely seen in the comparison of over-all sex ratios in various countries and around the globe. A recent article published in International Security notes, “…the death toll of Indian women due to female infanticide and sex selective abortion from 1980 to the present dwarfs by almost fortyfold the death toll from all of India’s wars since and including its bloody independence. [16]” This article further considers these sex-selective deaths by juxtaposing the estimated death tolls for all the wars and conflicts over the last century with the estimated totals of female deaths due to “female infanticide, sex-selective abortion, egregious maternal mortality rates, disproportionate childhood mortality, and murder/suicide rates in the twentieth century. [17]” The authors conclude that because the civic and military death tolls include females along with males, “it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the ‘blood spilt and lives lost’ over the last century have been, in the first place, that of females. [18]” Human beings are imposing female genocide not only on plant populations, but on our own population as well.

The Unraveling of Stability

                  Gender imbalance is inherently unstable and leads to catastrophic problems. In the case of the de-feminizing of urban landscapes, the removal of female plants to eliminate the mess of fallen fruit has a considerable trade-off. Instead of fruit, society inherits pollen, and lots of it. The result has been a sky-rocketing of asthma, allergies, and other pollen-induced illnesses. Ogren points out that “[s]ince 1959 allergies have dramatically increased in the United States, from 2 to 5 percent of the population affected to a whopping 38 percent now [19].” A publication in the Lancet likewise noted an increase in death rates on peak pollen days [20]. In addition to its direct impact on human life, the reduction of female plants means less fruit and nectar sources for urban wildlife, resulting in fewer birds, butterflies, and honey bees [21]. The entire ecosystem unravels when gender is ignored.

                  On the human side of things, when gender equality is disregarded, society steps backward in terms of stability and security. In the same International Security article noted above, numerous studies are compiled which highlight this significant link between gender insecurity and national insecurity [22].  For example, male-dominated legal systems generally favor male reproductive success and interest including, “adultery as a crime for women but not for men; with female infanticide, male-on-female domestic violence, and marital rape not recognized as crimes; with polygamy legal but polyandry proscribed; with divorce easy for men and almost impossible for women. [23]” Just how male dominated are the world’s legal systems? As of 2008, the worldwide average for women in Parliament was just 17.8%, and there were just nine female presidents and five female prime ministers [24]. The lack of female voices in positions of leadership is just one manifestation of gender hierarchy that prevails throughout the world.

                 Nations would do well to empower their women. Multi-country studies show a negative correlation between social and economic rights for women and societal corruption [25].  One reason for this negative relationship between corruption and women’s rights could lie in the theory that “the oppression of females—one of the earliest social acts observed by all in the society—provides the template for other types of oppression. [26]” In both the plant story and the human story, the conclusions are almost intuitive: if one essential half of the population is devalued, the whole population will feel the repercussions.

Healing the Imbalance

                  Healing the gender imbalance in the plant world is relatively simple. The pollen over-abundance is almost immediately resolved by either introducing female plants or “perfect” plants to the landscapes, or alternatively grafting female plants onto the male plants. For the more complicated human side of things, the question is will an increase in females (or female power) result in improvements for society?  

                 Mounting evidence supports the claim that “neither a meaningful decrease in societal violence nor a sustainable peace among nations is possible in human society without a decrease in gender inequality. [27]” A review of the work of numerous social scientists reveals strong supportive evidence. One ground-breaking study concludes that “[t]o the extent that the security of women is a societal priority, the security and peacefulness of the state will be significantly enhanced. State security rests, in the first place, on the security of women. [28]” Some of the findings which contribute to this conclusion include: strong cross-national linkages between gender variables and economic variables (e.g. gross domestic product per capita, global competitiveness ranking, and  economic growth rates); [29]  “states with higher levels of social, economic, and political gender equality are less likely to rely on military force to settle disputes; [30]” “states exhibiting high levels of gender equality also exhibit lower levels of violence in international crises and disputes. [31]” One forty-year study found “…a statistically significant relationship between the level of violence in a crisis and the percentage of female leaders. [32]” Studies in both India and the United States reveal that men and women have different policy preferences and invest differently in societal issues [33]. Findings like these infer that our current disproportion of gender representation in government could mean that half our population’s policy preferences are being underrepresented [34]. Undoubtedly, the empowerment of women—or better stated, the equalizing of power between males and females—leads to a greater degree of stability for all of society.

What Does Marriage Have to Do With It?

                  In suggesting that human relations have something to learn from the plant world, it should not be extrapolated to the interpretation of evolution being the ultimate moral guide. Indeed, the higher cognitive power of humans places them in a position to reason and act, above animal instinct and evolutionary predisposition. Richard Dawkins clarifies “It is perfectly possible to hold that genes exert a statistical influence on human behavior while at the same time believing that this influence can be modified, overridden, or reversed by other influences.” [35] The phyto-analogy does, however, illustrate the importance of acknowledging sex, and the relative importance of equal representation of the sexes. That the two exist is irreducible, but how the two interact is subject to will and reason. Agacinski eloquently poses the argument: “Let’s just say that the will to share power between men and women can only be legitimate if we admit that sex is neither a social nor a cultural trait, not an ethnic one, that is it not the common characteristic of some ‘community’—like a language, a religion, or a territory—but, rather, that it is a universal, differential trait. That is, humankind does not exist outside this double form, masculine and feminine. [36]” If male and female are both “universal, differential trait[s],” can we ignore gender without hurting humanity? Can we call all marriage arrangements equal without losing touch with reality?

                  Given that human reproduction successfully occurs whether inside or outside of a marital union, what does reproduction have to do with the marriage argument? Of the five identified interconnected levels of governance (the household, community, local and national government, and global institutions) [37], the household is the most elementary. As has been illustrated above, a gender imbalance at any level is a societal concern. To reclaim and secure lasting stability, societies must sustain institutions which support parity of sexes.  For the most fundamental level of governance, this means state privileging of heterosexual monogamous marriage above all other possible gender arrangements or household partnerships. Cassler argues that marriage arrangements are indeed a state concern, given that there is only one marriage arrangement—that of “companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage”—which institutionally improves gender relations, promotes gender equality, and mitigates “evolutionary forces of male dominance” [38]. Researchers have long noted that “socially imposed monogamy, posited as leading to the depersonalization of power through democracy and capitalism, helped to open the way for improved status for women. [39]” In addition, numerous theorists claim that the very “rise of democracy is rooted in the amelioration of violent patriarchy. [40]” Societies should invest in supporting and sustaining heterosexual monogamy because these equalizing unions provide positive externalities which no other marital union can.

                  In the case of the single-sexed tree, the male plant alone is no more representative of the species than the female plant is alone. The definition of that species necessitates two trees. The same reasoning brings us to the conclusion that the humanity cannot be represented by a single human figure, but must be a represented by a couple [41]. Applying the lessons learned from the garden can bring greater peace to society. Perhaps the Persians understood this, for in their language “garden” and “heaven” are synonymous [42]. All marriage arrangements are not created equally. Just as a recommitment to a gender-balanced ecosystem will improve our quality of life, the privileging of gender-balanced, companionate monogamous unions will improve the quality of society.



[1] The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. “Issues in a Nutshell: How Far Does Your Food Travel to Get to Your Plate.” 2006. Available Online June 2009. http://www.cuesa.org/sustainable_ag/issues/foodtravel.php . [Back to manuscript]

[2] Dorschner, John. Miami Herald. “Births On Cue: C-Sections Soar in S. Florida.” May 8, 2009. Available Online June 2009.  http://www.miamiherald.com/news/broward/story/1039515.html  . [Back to manuscript]

[3] National Vital Statistics Reports.  "Birth: Preliminary Data for 2007". 57: 12. Available Online 18 May 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr57/nvsr57_12.pdf . [Back to manuscript]

[4] Linda L. Emanuel; Charles F. von Gunten; Frank D. Ferris. "Gaps in End-of-Life Care." Arch Fam Med; 9: 1176 - 1180. Nov 2000. [Back to manuscript]

[5] My recognition of the profundity of this statement is owed to Dr. Valerie Hudson, who pointed out that even in the case of artificial insemination to homosexual parents the resulting offspring will have both a biologic father and mother. Furthermore, if science could devise a way to reproduce life from the fusion of two oocytes, this mixity of humanity could still not be eased, given that both of those mothers came from a line of evenly-split males and females. [Back to manuscript]

[6] Agacinski, Sylviane. Parity of the Sexes. Columbia University Press, 2001. In the section, "Clarifications": xi.(I borrow this word, mixity, from Agacinski, who uses the word in reference to a society in which males and females are mixed. She notes the every individual and every society is a blend of the male and the female).  [Back to manuscript] 

[7] Ibid. Preface: xxx. [Back to manuscript]

[8] Ibid. 16 [Back to manuscript]

[9] Ibid 5 [Back to manuscript]

[10] Ibid 18 [Back to manuscript]

[11] Ibid 15 [Back to manuscript]

[12] Ogen, Thomas Leo. Safe Sex in the Garden and Other Propositions for an Allergy-Free World. Ten Speed Press, Berkley/Toronto. 2003; 14. [Back to manuscript]

[13] Ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[14] Cassler, V.H." 'Some Things That Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost': The Pro-Feminist, Pro-Democracy, Pro-Peace Case for State Privileging of Companionate Heterosexual Monogamous Marriage" .In Section II. Secondary Assertions: Cultural Selection and Alternatives to Evolutionary Marriage.”  Square Two. Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring 2009). [Back to manuscript]

[15] Ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[16] Hudson, V.M.; Caprioli M.; Ballif-Spanvill, B.; McDermott, R.; Emmett, C. F. "The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of the States". International Security; 3:2, Winter 2008/2009. Available Online May 2009: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/IS3303_pp007-045.pdf . [Back to manuscript]

[17] Ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[18] Ibid. 3. [Back to manuscript]

[19] Ogen, Thomas Leo., op. cit., 2003: 157. [Back to manuscript]

[20] Brunekreef, Bert et al. "Relation Between Airborn Pollen Concentrations and Daily Cardiovascular and Respiratory-disease Mortality." The Lancet 2000: 355;9214. [Back to manuscript]

[21] Ogen, Thomas Leo., op. cit., 2003: 16. [Back to manuscript]

[22] Hudson, V.M.; Caprioli M.; Ballif-Spanvill, B.; McDermott, R.; Emmett, C. F., op. cit., (2008/2009). 9. [Back to manuscript]

[23] Ibid [Back to manuscript]

[24] Pande, Rohini and Cirone, Alexandra. “Women in Politics: Quotas, Voter Attitudes and Female Leadership.” Dubai School of Government Policy Brief: 10. February 2009. Available Online June 2009.  http://www.dsg.ae/LinkClick.aspx?link=Policy+Brief+10+English.pdf&tabid=308&mid=826&language=en-US . [Back to manuscript]

[25] Brody, Alyson. “Gender and Governance Overview Report.” Bridge. April 2009: 21,68. [Back to manuscript]

[26] Hudson, V.M.; Caprioli M.; Ballif-Spanvill, B.; McDermott, R.; Emmett, C. F., op. cit., (2008/2009) 24. [Back to manuscript]

[27] Ibid 48. [Back to manuscript]

[28]Ibid 20. [Back to manuscript]

[29] Ricardo Hausmann, Laura D. Tyson, and Saadia Zahidi, The Global Gender Gap Report,2007 (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2007), http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/report2007.pdf; Andrew D. Mason and Elizabeth M. King, “Engendering Development: Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources, and Voice,” World Bank Policy Research Report (Washington, D.C.: World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2001); and John Hoddinott and Lawrence Haddad, “Does Female Income Share Influence Household Expenditure Patterns?” Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 57, No. 1 (February 1995), pp. 77–97. [Back to manuscript]

[30] Mary Caprioli, “Gendered Conflict,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 1 (January 2000), pp. 51–68. [Back to manuscript]

[31] Mary Caprioli and Mark A. Boyer, “Gender, Violence, and International Crisis,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 45, No. 4 (August 2001), pp. 503–518. [Back to manuscript]

[32] Mary Caprioli, “Gender Equality and State Aggression: The Impact of Domestic Gender Equality on State First Use of Force,” International Interactions, Vol. 29, No. 3 (July/September 2003), pp. 195–214. These results were replicated by Erik Melander, “Gender Equality and Interstate Armed Conºict,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 4 (December 2005), pp. 695–714. See also Monty G. Marshall and Donna Ramsey, “Gender Empowerment and the Willingness of States to Use Force,” unpublished research paper, Center for Systemic Peace, 1999. [Back to manuscript]

[33] Pande, Rohini and Cirone, Alexandra, op. cit. 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[34] Ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[35] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 331. [Back to manuscript]

[36] Agacinski, Sylviane. Parity of the Sexes, op. cit., Preface xxxiii. [Back to manuscript]

[37] Brody, Alyson, op. cit., 2009: 9. [Back to manuscript]

[38] Cassler, V.H., op. cit., 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[39] Richard D. Alexander, “Evolution, Culture, and Human Behavior: Some General Considerations,” in Alexander and Donald W. Tinkle, eds., Natural Selection and Social Behavior: Recent Research and New Theory (New York: Chiron, 1981), pp. 509–520. [Back to manuscript]

[40] Hudson, V.M.; Caprioli M.; Ballif-Spanvill, B.; McDermott, R.; Emmett, C. F., op. cit., (2008/2009) 12. [Back to manuscript]

[41] Agacinski, Sylviane. Parity of the Sexes, op. cit.: 15. [Back to manuscript]

[42] 20,000 Names from Around the World: Paradise Names. 1999. Available Online June 2009. http://www.20000-names.com/paradise_names.htm . [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Leonhardt, Analiesa. (2009) "The Botany of Marriage," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLeonhardtMarriage.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

1) Raymond Takashi Swenson, environmental lawyer, Richland, Washington

I take the argument of this essay as both an actual biological argument related to the human species, as well as an analogy to the necessary preconditions for a healthy ecosystem.

I suggest that the analogy also has a corollary that I have not seen expressed anywhere in the public debate over the proposal to legally enshrine same-sex marriage. This corollary is that altering the millennia-long institution of marriage to include homosexual relationships is an innovation that could have unforeseen and potentially serious consequences for the most vital of human activities, the creation of families and the rearing of children. Such a significant alteration of human legal relationships should have serious analysis for its potential consequences before it is adopted wholesale.

This precautionary principle is one that is widely adopted in law in modern civilization to protect the natural environment. It should apply for the same reasons to avoid what could be irreparable harm to the human social environment.

In 1969, the US congress adopted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that, before any major Federal action is undertaken that may have a significant impact on the human environment, the proposing Federal agency must prepare a detailed analysis of the full scope of those potential impacts, including impacts that are “sociological”, affecting not only human health and the wellbeing associated with living in healthy natural surroundings, but also factors such as income and employment, education, housing, community, and traffic congestion. Impacts on special communities such as Indian tribes are particularly targeted for consideration, including impacts on their traditional spiritual relationship with places of religious significance.

Many States in the US have adopted similar laws, as have other nations, such as Canada. More recently, within the European Union it has been proposed that a similar “precautionary principle” should be applied to the industrial use of any new chemical compound.

NEPA and its state-level progeny have been enforced through appeal to the courts, which have been willing to issue injunctions preventing government programs going forward until they have been fully analyzed as to their effects on the human environment.

As environmental impact studies have been prepared for projects like nuclear power plants, residents of nearby communities have been anxious that their elected representatives not allow projects to go forward that would involve even a very small risk of harm to themselves or their children. Even though natural background radiation from natural sources such as uranium in the ground or cosmic radiation from space is substantial (an average of 300 millirem per year, with variations as high as 1200 millirem per year in Spokane, Washington, for example), those who are concerned about new sources of radiation maintain that, while natural radiation is unavoidable, there is no reason they should be forced to accept the risks caused by even small additional amounts of artificial radiation. It is common for parents to say that even one child acquiring cancer from a new power plant is too high a price to pay for the benefits of additional electricity.

Yet contrast this attitude of aversion to risk with the attitude of those who advocate for America to conduct a grand experiment in altering the nature of marriage in human society. They are devil-may-care, not concerned with any potential for harm to families or children from the alteration of a fundamental human relationship. They maintain that equality of rights regardless of sexual practices is so important that other considerations do not enter into the equation. No prior study of the impacts of such a massive change to the social order will be made, no search for potential harm to families or children, and thus to the structure of society.

The special irony is that many of the most ambitious spokespersons for both a strict, no-risk precautionary principle in environmental matters, are also subscribers to the “don’t count the cost” attitude of those who want immediate conversion of the law to engender same-sex marriage. These two attitudes, of severe ecosystem risk aversion and simultaneous recklessness about social risk, are strongly identified with the “liberal” or “progressive” political community in America.

One might suggest that a similar irony, tantamount to hypocrisy, exists among those who embrace unlimited abortion of human “fetuses” but oppose any human use, let alone killing, of animals, for food or medical research or clothing. Again, these are positions that are often found in the same “progressive” citizens.

Rational examination of public policy should, I propose, place a similar value on human society and the mental and emotional wellbeing of families and children, with respect to both the risks posed by nuclear power plants, and the risks posed by fundamental alterations in the legal basis of families and human societies. The most basic rule should be that the burden of proof is on anyone proposing a policy that has the potential for harm, to provide factual demonstration, at the very least, of what the actual quantity of harm may or may not be, before we make an irrevocable commitment of our limited resources (natural and social) to accept that risk of harm. We should not embrace risk blindly, and without even attempting to mitigate the harms that may come. Good intentions can pave the road to hell. Good intentions absolutely do not shield us or our children from the unintended consequences of poorly considered decisions.