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Tue Apr 8, 2014, 02:04 AM

Evolutionary psychology: an affront to feminism?


If feminism is the belief that nobody should be denied opportunities because of their sex, then feminism belongs to all of us — and that includes evolutionary psychologists. Based on a profound, even wilful, misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, we have been the target of hostility from ‘gender studies’ feminists who have accused us of trying to keep women in their place. Evolutionary theory, they argue, implies an ‘essential’ (read biological) difference between the sexes. Although they cannot deny differences in reproductive organs, they refuse to accept that there are any differences above the pelvis. They maintain this convenient view despite surely realising that testosterone crosses the blood brain barrier, that female foetuses exposed to overdose of this hormone in utero develop male-typical interest, and that neuroimaging studies confirm structural and functional differences in brain organisation in men and women.

Those psychological differences between men and women that have a genetic basis arise from the process of sexual selection: differential reproduction within a sex that means that some genes are copied into more bodies (bodies that survive and go on to reproduce) than others. In ancestral times, any quality that made a woman better at this than other women would have been selected.

Recent years have seen a considerable interest in mate competition. A male’s reproductive success (in polygynous sexually reproducing species) depends on how many females he can inseminate. Females tend to be thin on the ground because for a substantial portion of their lives they are pregnant or lactating and therefore unavailable for procreative sex. This ratchets up the level of male competition resulting in some big winners who father dozens (even hundreds) of offspring and losers who are squeezed out completely. Males can become winners by intimidating other males (leading to a wealth of research on male-male aggression) or by charming females. In humans, this had led to a lot of interest in female choice. Why are some men so successful and so desirable to women? We have come a long way since Darwin’s contemporaries refused to take the role of female choice seriously. But we are in the main a monogamous (or serially monogamous) species and this adds a further wrinkle. It creates two-way sexual selection. Women as well as men have to compete for a long-term mate. The rather low criteria that men impose for a casual sexual partner become more demanding when they are making a lifelong commitment. Men (more than women) favour beauty, health, youth, and fidelity and in response women compete to develop and advertise these qualities.

Work is not new to women. In our evolutionary past and for most of our more recent history, women (unless they were royals or aristocrats) have worked. And women like men have been selected for their intelligence. Feminism has opened opportunities for women to enjoy and use that intelligence in a public forum. Gender equality liberates women’s abilities and makes them visible to society. What reasonable person would object to that? Certainly not evolutionary psychologists. Encouraging women to achieve their potential does not entail making them the exception to the most powerful theory in the life sciences — the theory of evolution.

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Reply Evolutionary psychology: an affront to feminism? (Original post)
Bonobo Apr 2014 OP
rrneck Apr 2014 #1
RainDog Apr 2014 #2
Warren DeMontague Apr 2014 #4
opiate69 Apr 2014 #5
rrneck Apr 2014 #7
libodem Apr 2014 #11
RainDog Apr 2014 #6
Major Nikon Apr 2014 #3
RainDog Apr 2014 #8
RainDog Apr 2014 #9
Warren DeMontague Apr 2014 #10

Response to Bonobo (Original post)

Tue Apr 8, 2014, 10:03 AM

1. The danger to some feminist theory

and some feminists is that evolutionary psychology reattaches human behavior to empirical research. Feminism, like any other ideology, is subject to the danger of becoming an end in itself rather than a means to an end in the real world.

When people fixate on ideological dogma the fundamentalism that results can be very divisive and counterproductive. Fundamentalists, regardless of the belief, seem to exhibit the same behavior. Accusations of heresy, arbitrary litmus tests, retreats to dogma when challenged, and rampart authoritarianism seem to be the norm. And it's difficult to spot them consistently among all the One True Scotsmen.

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Response to Bonobo (Original post)

Tue Apr 8, 2014, 07:47 PM

2. weird

I just posted something about these things the other day in the anthro forum b/c I had been thinking about population bottlenecks, b/c, hey, who doesn't sit around thinking about that, right? right? lol.

...and now I've actually posted in the men's forum. ermergerd!

I don't think evo psychology necessarily provides the answer to these issues - psychology itself is such a speculative social science and it has to rely on hard sciences and disciplines that actually have records of field work. Most primatologists, for instance, that I know of, those surely not all, develop their hypotheses from their study of things like teeth, or the way bones fit together (if you walk upright, your spinal cord opening is positioned differently than if you walk on all fours, etc...) They look at other primates, of course, to compare - but human anatomy can only say so much - and then you're into the realm of certain speculation about various things.

It's important for people of other genders, etc. to check for bias within science - b/c it goes on there too.

but, yes, I had to go through my own process regarding feminist critique, and readings about work on early and proto humans, to get to the point at which I could acknowledge that nature and nurture play roles - but their roles, even so, are not always "ever so" because we have so much plasticity in so many behaviors.

And people really skewed Dawkins' "selfish gene" work with his writing about the "abandonment hypothesis" for males as a reproductive strategy - and has made efforts, recently to emphasis his work illustrating affiliative behavior's major role in human development.

Because, more and more, a lot of findings emphasize the importance of cooperation in early human development as part of our higher brain function - those things we see (whether they are or not) as unique. The all competition, all the time model is passe, but it keeps reproducing itself...

Anyway, that looks interesting - but I would be more inclined to read work on this subject from someone who was educated in the field - i.e. the nuts and bolts work of anthropology, bones, teeth, strands of fabric... but maybe she has these qualifications too.

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Response to RainDog (Reply #2)

Thu Apr 17, 2014, 03:05 AM

4. I think it's silly to disregard the role evolution/biology have played in getting where we are, but

at the same time it is way too easy to grossly oversimplify evolution and biology as they translate into current cultural or other behaviors.

We are extremely complex animals, and on top of the 4 billion years of biological natural selection which determined the outlines of our physiological and genetic realities we have overlaid things like acquired, passed down knowledge and belief systems (both correct and incorrect, helpful and hindering), then language, then culture, and the rest.

Obviously we're primates, but we're also vastly different in some rather striking ways from any other primate (indeed, any other life-form) on this planet. We're really in uncharted territory-- in so many regards.

I reject most sorts of absolutist assertions on this topic, no matter where they originate- I think it's silly-as-fuck to suggest that girls are "hard wired to like pink and to shop", just as it is also silly-as-fuck to suggest that the penetrative sex act is an artificial, "unnatural" act invented by some spooky oppression planetary penis conspiracy.

I think it's silly to assert that under no circumstances are there any physiological or evolutionary drivers for some of the things we do, including the things we collectively have created in our cultures, yet likewise it seems pretty clear that a great deal of our behavioral expectations are culturally programmed or reprogrammed.

This is why I think the goal of real positive enlightenment or change; wherever this stuff actually comes from- always ought to be helping people find the tools and means to program or reprogram their own brains, break out of the cultural or semantic webs through which they see reality, and basically as much as feasible make their own damn decisions about shit.

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Response to Warren DeMontague (Reply #4)

Thu Apr 17, 2014, 02:15 PM

5. Know who else doesn't like evo-psych??


RW Christian Apologeticists. Shocking, I know...

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Response to opiate69 (Reply #5)

Thu Apr 17, 2014, 03:42 PM

7. LOL

I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!

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Response to opiate69 (Reply #5)

Tue Apr 22, 2014, 05:35 PM

11. Interesting

Very interesting.

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Response to Warren DeMontague (Reply #4)

Thu Apr 17, 2014, 03:08 PM

6. We evolved in communities

Last edited Thu Apr 17, 2014, 04:33 PM - Edit history (2)

So we are social animals - not singular reproductive units of harem or nuclear family, etc. Tho, as an essential feature, we have genes with their own self-preserving ends - but those genes don't have to belong to the person who carries them - they can also belong to someone related to them. Beyond that, whoever, within that genetic soup, who has those genes has to survive long enough to reproduce them.

In order to succeed in a community, cooperative behaviors would be selected - since we know that ostracism is the most important way communities deal with those who try to take advantage for their own selfish ends - and ostracism would mean near-certain death. On the other hand, selfishness has its purposes, too - because it also exists and allows some to benefit at the expense of others. We see both behaviors. Both behaviors can exist in the same person - and they will be demonstrated depending upon a circumstance. So, yes, examining our own cultures to see how we behave is a better approach than saying "my genes, or x or y chromosome made me do it." We have symbolic thought - so some people will sacrifice themselves for the good of the community (large-scale war) - but they generally have relatives within that community - so this "selflessness" derives from that initial reproductive impulse.

Homosexuality is understood as an adaptation in this way - it's often good for a group to have some who are not interested in reproduction because they are aunts or uncles who contribute to the well being of nieces or nephews.

Difficult environments do not benefit from males producing large amts of offspring - it's wasted female energy to conceive and not survive - the female or the offspring. If homosexuality was not a positive adaptation, it would not have survived. This is within the realm of extremes - either completely one or the other sexual attraction - while, as Kinsey noted - we all exist on a continuum of sexuality - and have the capacity to express behaviors based upon our circumstances/environment. But there is a genetic component to homosexuality according to our understanding of "the selfish gene" as the unit of reproduction - not the organism.

Men with more older male siblings make up 15% of the homosexual population - whether the siblings were raised together or independently. Males, rather than females, put a greater ecological burden on a community, because they can create more offspring within shorter time frames. A significant proportion of women with more than one homosexual son have one x chromosome that is active while the other is not...so, again, this could be viewed as a sort of cooperation at the genetic level - totally not conscious - that contributes to community/family survival - and demonstrates homosexuality is not choice (as religious believers state). Instead, it is a positive communal adaptation - with genetic origins. Of course, other cultures have recognized this in two spirits and India's "third sex" gender. Women who conceive in stressful circumstances are more likely to miscarry if they have a male fetus. Again, an overabundance of males in an environment where basic survival is questioned would put further stress on an entire community because of carrying capacity for a particular environment.

I was thinking, too, about the way people (mostly men) had speculated about human societies of the past - and it's apparent that so many of those speculations simply reproduced the conditions in which the scientists lived, not necessarily any ancestor. I'm thinking about Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape. Later, Owen Lovejoy had a "provisioning theory" that claimed men went out and brought home the bacon for women - both are reproductions in their speculations of 1950s and 60s (mostly white) U.S. culture. So anytime you read about this subject, you have to take into account the blinders of culture.

We understand, now, that divisions of labor based upon gender/sex are not set in stone in our closest primate relatives, nor in the remaining hunter/gather societies in existence that are looked at as shadows of the past - hunter/gathers have entire groups, including lactating females, going on hunts together, some have more division of labor - and their physical environments/prey are different.

Chimpanzee troops have females that hunt with males - tho males do do the majority of hunting (that occurs in groups).

People think canine teeth are about meat eating - but, in humans and the two chimpanzee species all hunt - and, interestingly hunts now are for smaller prey, like those that occurred in proto-human environments, in both chimps and human communities. Small prey, not the big game that has often been the historical stereotype - is the focus of the hunts (and they take out juveniles, overwhelmingly... which means they don't destroy their source of meat b/c the adult females of the prey will become fertile immediately after - but the current argument is that after homo sapiens came into open areas with more advanced tools - they did create extinctions... changes.)

Canine teeth in common chimps are used to control females for reproduction. In human and proto-human - (millions of y/a, shortly after the split from pan), and in bonobos - who evolved separately from common chimps after the three split, teeth do not demonstrate this controlling behavior. So, in two of the three most closest genetically related, two have female "choice." So, you have to wonder if common chimps evolved this trait independently of their more peaceful (within their communities), egalitarian bonobo and human cousins. We share some traits with bonobos, genetically, that they do not share with common chimps, and we share some traits with common chimps, genetically, that we don't share with bonbos - but in terms of sexual selection - we're more like bonobos than common chimps.

Our canine teeth are most like bonobo canine teeth - not common chimpanzees. Bonobos, as we know, use cooperative and soothing behaviors, rather than aggression, to maintain cohesion - and have females with power within the community - and sex is not controlled by males - it's used for community soothing. But they're far more promiscuous than humans, based upon the size of male testes. Our canine teeth, tho, would lend strength to the idea of matrilineal structures, not just patrilineal ones, as important markers of our past, and our long history of cooperation within a community, rather than the simplistic "all competition, all the time" view.

...which gets to that thought I had about social structures via forms of marriage in present day societies, and older ones. It's about social power, not gender, b/c both genders have power in social set ups that are predicated upon control of wealth. Polygamous societies, whether it's males or females with multiple spouses, are about protection of wealth - and the group that marries is most likely a set of brothers or sisters - so that, too, is about protection of wealth - iow - two families cooperate to provide for their children's well being by having all offspring related to the other spouses in varying degrees - this is the most common version of polygamy.

Wealth, not gender, is the issue for such arrangements.

I mention this, too, because the sometimes popular fantasy of human males as gorillas with harems, or males as humans with harems, isn't about unrelated females, for the most part. It's not about male choice or variety, but family cooperation. That's not the common conception of the idea of harems. This family cooperation is played out later with concubines - who did not have the status of the marriage based upon power maintenance and the children of such arrangements were not accorded the benefits their half-siblings received. But the reality, too, is that the majority of males in such communities don't get any benefit from such arrangements - most males would have to sneak to try to impregnate a female - most would not have their own harems - they would be the worker bees for males, rather than a "queen bee."

Genetically - you could argue that wealth-sharing, instead of hoarding by a few, leads to more robust communities - and maybe that's one reason revolutions occur - if those with power/wealth horde the same - it's to the benefit of most males and females to overthrow that power and share the wealth among themselves. And the studies that indicate democracies with more economic equality are more stable - because they offer more upward mobility seems to reinforce this - while societies with educated people who are denied autonomy and kept in second-class status are the ones most likely to have revolutions - currently and in the past.

Which gets back to your remark about looking at ourselves within our cultures. It was pretty amazing, imo, in its time, for Engels to think outside of the dominant paradigm of Victorian culture to imagine societies in which females exhibited power-holding apart from a male - or to theorize about the rise of capitalism as a form of hoarding that was centered around control of females to the exclusion of other males. Of course the west had had hundreds of years of exposure to other cultures - but they were, for the most part, deemed "inferior" rather than simply expressions of a continuum of possible human social structures.

What gained currency at the time was a misapplied, misunderstood "natural selection" turned into social darwinism - which was, not coincidentally, put forth by those who already had power within western societies and distorted and abused science for its own selfish purpose - to justify its horrid treatment of the mass immigration of poor people from rural to urban areas to work in factories, etc.

Just like we see now in statements from wealthy (Republican) members of this society who justify their treatment of others without the social clout to demand a more economically equitable society. This is why I see social upheaval/conflict as inevitable if our nation continues on its current economic course - people will not stand for this indefinitely - the issue is if they understand who and what is causing them harm - and it's not those below them or at their level of economic status in society.

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Response to Bonobo (Original post)

Wed Apr 16, 2014, 03:53 PM

3. Here's an interesting article on the nature of trans-hate in the radfem community

Julie Bindel, another prominent radical feminist, promotes misconceptions by stating that “transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is ‘natural’ for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dol…the idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism.” She blames transgender people for promoting sexual stereotypes because male-to-female transgenders are supposedly driven to achieve an ultra-feminine ideal. She overlooks the fact that being transgender is about self-identification and that what someone actually does to transition is up to them and doesn’t necessarily include hormones or surgery.


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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #3)

Thu Apr 17, 2014, 04:23 PM

8. Sometimes

it's hard to distinguish between the two ends of thought in one thing or another. This is why I suppose I have so often mistaken terf-ish views with right wing xtians - they share more in common than liberal feminism or radical feminism that isn't wedded to the view that "biology is destiny."

Such a view is the very opposite of the ideas that have informed the idea of democracy, in fact... b/c "biology is destiny" is the argument for royalty, racism, class oppression, religious views of women as second-class citizens - it's the same shit, different yard.

Transphobia comes from a minority of women in the feminist community but unfortunately it’s a rather noisy minority. Their hatred does not have any place in our struggle. Feminism is supposed to be an ideology of transcending gender oppression and eliminating the strict binary definition of gender, not reinforcing it. Feminists should be against hatred and bigotry in all forms and respect everyone’s right to biological autonomy.

This sort of meeting of the ends of one ideological conflict or another is also seen in politics. If someone says there are no differences between the two parties - that ignores all the actual policy differences that exist. While people who support either party in the US can find common ground in the idea that govt. has too much corruption, or that x has too much power - that explanation of x may vary.

Understanding the source of power and how it is used goes a long way toward understanding what the majority has in common - and in creating opposition to elite power.

Politics has a theory of power that looks at elitism as power structure. We see this in action in our society when you look at who has the best chance of winning the presidency or many federal political offices - esp. the CIA... the schools they attended, the positions they held prior to a presidential run - part of that, of course, is training within disciplines - lawyers go on to making laws - part of that is maintaining the status quo within certain parameters.

A feature of elite theory is the idea of allowing a small percentage of those outside of the dominant power a little representation or symbolic use of power - a letting off of steam to dissipate social upheaval - so, a woman, or an African-American, or a homosexual male may obtain offices where power is expressed - but within the confines of parameters that don't alter the power among the wealthy (white, male) oligarchy that exists.

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Response to Bonobo (Original post)

Thu Apr 17, 2014, 07:04 PM

9. here's another interesting idea related to evo psyche

I don't know if it's part of the evo psyche arguments - but it demonstrates the way that viewing proto-human psychology through the lens of modern humans may be too much of a stretch - esp. since Freud has had such an impact on psychological thought.

As I've noted before, Freud's greatest contribution was to create a "trinty" that could offer an alternative to religious views of humans as sinners - he reframed the idea and put the gods in our heads - but it wasn't all that different from prevailing views of gender/sex - and has outlived its usefulness. when I was studying many of these issues, back in the misty mists of time - 20 years ago - I was told then Freudian theory was passé in many respects.



one view of bonobos is that they domesticated themselves b/c they live where there is abundant fruit and no competition from gorillas for access to this food. Common chimps have to compete with gorillas in their habitat - which is marked from bonobos by a river. None of them swim - so that was a mostly impenetrable barrier.

Bonobos appear more juvenile in their features than common chimps, and the person who wrote about this hypothesis wonders if bonobos didn't benefit from slower maturation, which allowed time to develop better social skills within their communities. fwiw, bonobos "ask for consent" for sex from females by showing themselves or, sometimes, offering food. females can turn them down - but, for them, sex is more like a handshake - so really the point is not a human/bonobo comparison, beyond noting that's a cooperative trait, not an domineering one.

Frans de Waal, one of the leading researchers for bonobos, questions the hypothesis, however, and wonders if it didn't work the other way around - the competition from gorillas made common chimps more aggressive and faster maturing. bonobos appear to be more peaceful and more sexually open than humans - bonobos have no incest taboo for sex - and such happens - but for reproduction, at maturity, females seek out a new group to avoid incest. they make friends with the females in the group - that's important for their survival.

The interesting thing about this for humans is that we are the slowest of the primates, in terms of maturation. We're so slow, in fact, that our offspring require another nine months of development, on avg., and many more years of learning skills required for our environments...and these requirements kept increasing. The reason for the additional "gestation" is because we give birth to offspring with heads that just can make it out of the birth canal - and our heads continue to grow larger in that gestational period.

Females could very well have selected for more "domesticated" males - ones who showed less aggression and more group/community cooperation - because this sort of male would improve the chances for survival of an offspring. Males would display themselves by their skills, rather than their dominance traits.

What's also interesting, to me, is that the reason we seem to have become bipedal is to diversify our skill set - with hands. bipedalism came before bigger brains and before we evolved into homo sapiens.

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Response to Bonobo (Original post)

Mon Apr 21, 2014, 07:15 PM

10. I'm not affronted, and I'm a sex-positive Feminist.

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