Undead sexist cliche: It’s only natural (for women to submit and men to rule)

Echidne looks at a recent article claiming scientific proof that men are biologically hardwired to target vulnerable women. Why? Because the more women they can rape or seduce, the more they spread their seed, so evolution naturally favors those tactics.
Echidne and her commenters point out several flaws with this reasoning; I’ve touched on the evolutionary psychology explanation of rape and womanizing myself. But for this post I’ll tackle the topic of evolutionary psychology more generally.
Evo-psych is the belief that our psychology has been shaped by evolutionary pressure: What kind of thinking and mental skills help us survive? As EP researcher David Buller argues in his book Adapting Minds, science writing and punditry tend to conflate EP as equivalent to specific theories about male/female relationships. Men sleep around because it’s to their biological advantage. Rape is just a more effective biological impulse. Women are naturally monogamous because bonding with one man is the best way to support their children and perpetuate their own genes. All this developed back when we were hunter/gatherers and even if it’s horribly sexist, evolution doesn’t change fast enough to cope with social change, so women will just have to suck it up.
Oh, and any feminists who question this are just too PC to admit women want to stay home and pop out babies. Several conservatives have asserted that if liberals won’t accept these indisputable scientific truths, they have no grounds for mocking conservative Christians who reject evolution (Echidne cites one example of this).
Which is bullshit. The fact somepeople refuse to believe in evolution despite its truth does not mean evolutionists are obligated to believe any other scientific theory, or that refusing to believe one makes them as wrong as creationists. After 150 years, the evidence for evolution is solid (even though it might be overturned some day); the evidence for gender-based evo-psych (as Buller points out at length) is not. We don’t know about how our ancestors related and mated, and we don’t know that our minds are still locked in those stone age relationships (Buller makes a persuasive case we aren’t). And, of course, claiming a trait is widespread doesn’t prove it’s genetic. As science writer Daniel Dennett once observed, humans have lived in caves wherever that’s an option: Nobody suggests we have a cave-dwelling gene.
On gender issues, the idea women are hard-wired for something resembling a 1950s family structure plays into the general conviction that women are just naturally That Way while men are The Other Way. And so there’s no reason to question the fact women do most of the child-care and housework and are underrepresented in college science or math departments. It’s just … nature.
The most obvious flaw in this is that nature isn’t that overwhelming. Any trait, any quality in human beings varies: Men are taller than women, but at 5’2″ I’m shorter than all but a couple of women I’ve dated (TYG and I are almost the exact same height). I’ve known women who are stronger than me, more aggressive than me and way more sexually active than me. Whatever genetic influence lies within us, some women and men will be outliers, not fitting the mode. That’s perfectly natural—but the invariable response from outraged gender-difference conservatives is “That’s unnatural! Assume your genetically predetermined subordinate role, at once!” (with the exception of women such as Ann Coulter or Charlotte Allen who spout antifeminist rhetoric, of course).
And if women (or men) are violating their genetic programming, who cares? George Will has grumbled about “unnatural” women who stay single and childless into their thirties, but I don’t see him giving up his glasses to rely on his natural eyesight, or dropping his unnatural job writing columns for the natural life of a hunter/gatherer. Much of human history and morality consists of going against nature.
“Natural” in this context has nothing to do with what’s natural or even whether we should be natural. It’s the secular equivalent of complementarianism, the belief that when women act in any way the speaker disapproves of, it’s just plain WRONG. And it’s unnatural, so logical arguments are completely irrelevant!
And that’s about all there is to it.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

15 responses to “Undead sexist cliche: It’s only natural (for women to submit and men to rule)

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