News item: The Y chromosome is disappearing.
What a great metaphor.
Now, the shrinkage of this very symbol of masculinity isn’t new. Geneticists and biologists have been talking about it for a while. But the headline a few days ago was a grabber for those of us who haven’t been paying attention.
It topped an article written by two British scientists who noted that the Y chromosome has been degenerating rapidly and eventually will disappear. The X chromosome, meanwhile, is doing just fine.
Biology refresher: Women are XX, men are XY, and the good doctors from Britain say the Y, which carries the gene that decides whether an embryo will be male or female, is now “shrivelled.”
Granted, they also note that at the present rate of degeneration, it will take 4.6 million years for the male chromosome to vanish (a blink in the 3.5 billion years life has existed on Earth), but the image of women ascendant and men on the wane is compelling.
And if the good ol’ Y does disappear, that’s fine by me.
We men have pretty much made a mess of things. Most of the mischief and virtually all of the death and destruction in the world derive from men. Who else would exchange blustering schoolyard taunts and tweets about nuclear war? Angela Merkel and Theresa May? Every day we provide anecdotal evidence to support the famous genetics study that suggested that 1 in every 200 men is descended from Genghis Khan.
When we’re not sputtering caldrons of rage, we’re obstinate bulls unwilling to change even when we know we’re wrong. Do you really think Washington would be a cesspool of dysfunction if the gender roles were reversed? If Congress were 80.2 percent women and 19.8 percent men? If its leadership (Nancy Pelosi being the exception that proves the rule) were similarly structured?
Does anything more powerfully connote the rise-and-fall fulcrum than the #MeToo movement? Or hit home harder than the scores of strong women who strode into a Michigan courtroom last week to make searing victims’ statements against Dr. Larry Nassar, convicted of molesting girls and young women as a doctor at Michigan State University and for the U.S. women’s gymnastic team?
What’s happening this weekend is more than metaphor. Women again are out in force all over the country. Their marches echo those that followed the inauguration last year of President Donald Trump, but the focus now is more on activism than protest. Women are organizing, registering other women to vote, and running for office.
At least 79 women are considering running for governor this year; a record 34 ran in 1994. Since the 2016 election, more than 26,000 women have contacted Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice female Democrats, about running for office; about 900 called in 2016. The impact of women already has been seen in the 2017 elections, in state-level victories in Virginia and elsewhere.
And they’re ready, with different stories to tell, surfeits of experience and passion, and solid bona fides like education — women get more bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates than men.
As the Brit scientists noted, the Y is the only chromosome not needed for life — sort of a duh conclusion when you realize that women have been doing OK without one. And there’s this: A decade ago, researchers proved that eggs of the bearded dragon lizard raised at higher temperatures develop into females no matter what their chromosomes say. So if predominantly male climate-change deniers succeed in blocking steps to slow down global warming . . .
Male Japanese spiny rats have lost their Y chromosomes, but are hanging on. And Wonder Woman saved the celluloid world last year.
Speaking of metaphors.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.