Darwinian Gender Studies: Unpoisoning the well

If any man could draw up a comprehensive, infallible guide to navigating this treacherous territory, we would certainly erect a statue to his everlasting memory. There is a Twitter account dedicated to exploring and enumerating precisely the distinctions and differences between the acceptably erotic and the intolerably sexist. It’s called @SexyIsntSexist. It is, of course, under the control of a woman.” Neil Lyndon. Do men really understand what sexism is? The Telegraph 20/5/14

My area of research is cross-disciplinary and includes, but it isn’t limited to, evolutionary anthropology, palaeoanthropology, psychology, biology, ecology, primatology, human sexuality and gender studies. For brevity’s sake, I refer to this as Darwinian Gender Studies (DGS). This area represents to me, the consilience of the natural and social sciences, as envisioned by E.O.Wilson. DGS is evidence based and does not follow the orthodox feminist model of post modernism and social constructionist theory.

My PhD thesis will be developing an evolutionary, bio-cultural model of what orthodox feminists call “patriarchy”. I won’t post my whole thesis here – but I will  give a general précis of my research interests (including a paper I have co-authored here) and why I believe they are very important today, in a time where political correctness, social justice and toxic feminism  has taken us deep down the postmodern rabbit hole. I am a woman who wants to build bridges of understanding between the sexes not walls of fear and mistrust, which is what I find orthodox feminism does today. I’m passionate about humans and humanity; what we are, what we are not. Two things we are, which we cannot cease to be and also remain human, are a sexually reproducing, pair bonded species. These are basic facts of our biology and psychology, and cannot be erased by social engineering.

In my research, I interrogate orthodox feminist concepts, such as patriarchy, objectification, gender power differentials, mating systems and psychosexual differences using humour and evolutionary explanatory models such as sexual selection, parental investment theory, mutual mate choice, female choice, signalling theory and perhaps most importantly intrasexual competition. History shows us that whenever our species has ever attempted to take control of biology and bend it out of shape to ideological goals, human tragedy always follows. It’s a lesson we still don’t seem to have learned. Because in spite of overwhelming evidence, many people, and especially orthodox feminists, still hold fast to the idea of an endlessly flexible human nature, and indeed, human nature is flexible, but a blank slate it is not. Neither is it a crude caricature of immutable deterministic drives and instincts as often painted within the orthodox feminist doctrine of biological determinism. Human nature is very much mutable, but not infinitely or arbitrarily so, and here lies the nub: Within what may seem like infinite variations of human action and reaction to what life throws at us, our predispositions on a broad scale are actually predictable. There are enough constants within this calculus to recognise the existence of an unmistakably human nature. This nature will vary and recalibrate between individuals and ecologies, but these variations dance around a constant, evolutionary fire.

“Those who journey from political correctness to truth often risk public disapprobation, but it is notable that most never lose their tolerance or humanity. They may question the politics of race, but not that racism is bad; they may question campaigns about women’s pay, but not that women and men deserve equality of treatment.” Browne, A. (2006) The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of political debate in modern Britain. Civitas

I am following in the footsteps of female evolutionary anthropologists, ecologists, biologists, psychologists, philosophers; women such as Barbara Smuts, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Anne Campbell, Helena Cronin, Griet Vandermassen, Catherine Salmon, Maryanne Fisher, Bobby Low, Hanna Kokko, Helen Fisher, Rebecca Sear and many many more. Their work reveals that, far from orthodox feminist fears to the contrary, evolved psychosexual differences do not equate to inferiority. In evolution, we in fact see true equality expressed in discrete and fascinating ways. These women (and many men too) illuminated the role females play as potent agents of evolution via the phenomenon of female choice. These female scientists affected an unsung revolution – unsung by feminism, not evolutionists – by shattering the male perspective biases that once dominated Darwinism. They did this, not with declarations of war against patriarchy and angry rhetoric, but with rational thought.

Unlike orthodox feminists, I’m not angry. I’m passionate. Passionate about truth seeking. When it comes to the principles of natural selection – the struggle to survive – men and women differ very little. Rather, it is in the principles of sexual selection – the struggle not just to survive but thrive enough to have offspring and allow them to thrive also – it is here that the main differences start to become manifest  None of these differences equate to inferiority.

I’m passionate about logic and rationalism – something women have nothing to fear from! Yet feminists do fear it, as philosopher Janet Radciffe Richards notes in her book The Sceptical Feminist, 

“…in spite of girls doing better at school than boys, feminists are still woeful at rationality…feminism has some tendency to get stuck in the quagmire of unreason from time to time [but] it cannot be denied that adopting an anti-rational stance has its uses; it can be turned into an all purpose escape route from tricky corners”  

This is a very good description of the majority of feminisms today, be they radical, liberal, intersectional or any other tribe battling for dominance in the victim narrative. All eschew logic and reason and all are in thrall to the flying patriarchal spaghetti monster in the sky. Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges must be spinning in their graves. But then again, today they would also be dismissed as cis white privileged scum.

What I am most passionate about is having the opportunity to have a role, however small, in helping us better understand ourselves as a species. It’s an investigation that could save us. A cross-disciplinary advancement of a consolidated theory of all variables noted under the term “patriarchy” has huge policy implications. It not only pertains to the oppression of women but of men also. An analysis of the true dynamics of resource control is especially pertinent in a world in which resources are predicted to become scarce.

As a woman, I am interested in the unique selection pressures women face due directly to their sex. But as an evolutionist, this interest does not make me blind to the fact that men face their own unique selection pressures for the same reasons. Indeed, the evidence seems to point to males being subject to much more intense pressures than females, not least in the battle to actually be born male!

One sex cannot be understood except in light of the other. Men and women have co-evolved, each shaping the other both physically and psychologically via sexual selection. Men desire power and resources because women desire men who have power and resources. And female power, well that doesn’t look like male power, and so often goes unseen, especially by feminists. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it, or use it against each other. From an evolutionary perspective, feminism can be categorised as the study of the conflict between the sexes – intersexual conflict – with a particular interest in proximate mechanisms of how men oppress women and how this oppression can be countered. But this is only half the story. Evolutionists posit that to really understand intersexual conflict one must also analyse intrasexual conflict, and broaden the enquiry to include an analysis of ultimate mechanisms of not just how, but why, men pursue the goal of power and resource control (see above).  The focus on both intersexual competition (the battle between the sexes) and intrasexual competition (the battle within a sexes) is central to Darwinian Gender Studies. Feminism is itself a battleground fraught with female intrasexual competition.

Intrasexual competition has two strands, male-to-male competition and female-to-female competition. Much is known about male intrasexual competition (but is totally ignored by orthodox feminisms), but outside of evolutionary theory, less is known about conflict between women; female intrasexual competition. It is the pink elephant in the feminist room. Competition within a sex is always much more intense than between sexes. Using female intrasexual competition as a lens to look anew on hot feminist topics such as the beauty industry, the rise in cosmetic surgery, the size zero controversy, anorexia, the endless bitching and wars of attrition between the many tribes of feminisms; female intrasexual competition brings fascinating new insights, as these phenomena seem to be expressions of female competition not male oppression at all.

None-the-less, there is still a comfortable consensus within orthodox feminisms that the beauty ‘ideal’ is a tyranny perpetrated upon women by the male patriarchy. “Feminists down the ages have argued that the oppression of women is played out on their bodies, their clothes, their style of adornment. To politicise dress has been one of the enduring projects of the women’s movement.” (Walter,N. 1999) Naomi Wolf tackled this concept in her enormously successful book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. It suggests that this patriarchal strategy is one of ‘divide and rule’ as it “creates a climate of competitiveness among women that divides them from each other.” (Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001)

Competitiveness is the key word here… Perhaps the idea of sanctioning the idea, nay the fact, of female intrasexual competition seems frightening for orthodox feminists because on the surface of it, it threatens the very notion of a ‘sisterhood’. Yet we know that men are murderously competitive with one another, as homicide rates attest, and this does not seem to threaten their notion of ‘the patriarchy’. The evidence that the beauty myth may not be a tyranny perpetuated on women by men, but on each other (if it is a tyranny at all), reveals a much more complex and fascinating picture of female agency. It also goes far to liberate women from the doctrine of passive femininity.

The fact is, women are fiercely competitive, but as the existence of feminism attests, this does not stop women cooperating to face challenges. Although, as feminism also shows, its wilful ignorance of human nature means feminists cannot agree on anything for long. This explains the many tribes within feminism, and the fiercely defended hierarchies that exist within feminism itself.

I do not deny that these revelations are tricky for feminists to negotiate, but that is no reason for not taking them on. That female intrasexual competition exists is not in doubt. The degree of it however will vary from culture to culture. We know dominance hierarchies exist in many species and all apes. We know females have a large role in the construction and maintenance of such hierarchies. We also know that women are often not united in their interests, and compete with other women for resources and mates. An individuals environment is crucial to how they calibrate their own needs.

I also want to study sexual economics and the female control hypothesis. This is a fascinating idea which is laid out in the paper The Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality by cultural psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge. This suggests that in our environment in the West, it is women more than men who control the sexuality of females; their daughters, their peers and their rivals especially! Lets suppose for a moment, that Susan Brownmiller stumbled upon a truth when she said that fear of rape was an institutional tool to keep “all women in a state of fear.” Who is wielding that tool today via the meme of ‘rape culture’ on university campuses by use of false statistics? Orthodox feminists, that’s who.

If I could sum up my research goals, it is the following quote, attributed aptly to both a man and a woman – the functional, inspirational human dyad of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan: “If we do not know what we are capable of…then we do not know what to watch out for, which human propensities to encourage, and which to guard against.” Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. I believe that it is vitally important that we understand our biological heritage just as much as our cultural.

One thing I have learned in the current culture sex war is that those in denial of biology are the ones most enslaved by it

Thanks for reading.

Further reading Griet Vandermassen Sexual Selection: A Tale of Male Bias and Feminist Denial Griet Vandermassen: Who’s Afraid of Charles Darwin: Debating Feminism and Evolutionary Theory Anne Campbell: A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Mothernature Susan Pinker: The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap Christina Hoff Sommers: Who Stole Feminism? Cindy Metson & David Buss: Why Women Have Sex; Women reveal the truth about their sex lives, from adventure to revenge (and everything in between) E.O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Jerome H.Barklow (ed): Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists


40 thoughts on “Darwinian Gender Studies: Unpoisoning the well

  1. Pingback: Unpoisoning the well: Darwinian Gender Studies | Paula Wright

    • That’s for sure. Logical arguments have vantage point, whether individual or collective. The more comfortable a person is with violence, the more comfortable they are with substituting anger for rational discussion. Other emotions fall into a hierarchy of acceptance according to time and place, too. Much crime (such as child abuse, severe neglect and incest) is shielded by positive bias and the image of power and success. Actual achievement by out-groups, objects of common negative bias, and less powerful entities are less often rewarded. Merit is irrelevant to people blinded by emotion in all forms.

      • …and this is why Else Meitner is not better known for her leadership and essential role in the the discovery of splitting the atom and yield nulclear energy. She was an member of a group relentlessly targeted to render its members voiceless and unable to receive reward for hard work. That stage of ridicule and withholding of reward for achievement was followed by physical violence. It’s an interesting pattern.

      • Sorry, I mean Lise Meitner, although, she changed the spelling from Elise. She continued her work with her team at Max Plank from Sweden. She had to overcome sex discrimination there, too. She was successful in proving her worthiness to people who could see her work firsthand. Thise who did not, had no interest in awarding her a Nobel Prize. Ethnic, racial and gender discrimination were all facets of the obstacle that rendered her work unrewarded and her name less well known. Otto Han was able to use fear of Naxi retribution as a reason to take credit for her contribution in his communications with Meitner. Fear falls under awareness only when convenient in our species.

  2. Paula –

    It’s pretty amazing to see this coming from any academic, much less a female one. I’m accustomed to the rejection of reason and logic that you mentioned; you, on the other hand, address, either directly or indirectly, all of the core complaints I have about feminism and the patriarchy narrative that pervades every aspect of modern Western culture.

    To be honest, when I started reading this I expected to end up writing a long comment either with questions or pointing out whatever you had glossed over and which, in my mind, would indicate that your effort was half-hearted at best and pure window dressing at worst. But I honestly don’t have any.

    The only chance of salvaging feminism as a legitimate political movement rather than a giant wedge between the sexes is for women like you to recognize its failings, demonstrate them, and change it from within. You give me a lot of hope.


    • Thank you Mike. It’;s been a long journey. I began as an orthodox feminist believing feminism was a humanitarian movement, but the more I studied it the more it became clear sexual equality is way down the list of goals for orthodox feminism today. The term has become to atomised and degraded. It does not mean what many people think it means. You can test this easily by asking a feminist if they also identify as egalitarian.

  3. Thank you for your ability to think and your determination to research this crazy narcissism I call modern feminism. I have 2 wonderful daughters and a beautiful wife and fully understand that there are many genuine issues they still face as women however modern feminism is just plain nasty and discriminatory. I dont want my girls to imbibe the victim mentality of modern feminism and your research seems like it will help them avoid this but also be happier in life rather than be determined to be angry at the so called patriarchy.

    We need many more like you and thank you for trying to put some common sense back in this world.

    You are very much worthy of my modest donation. Please know you give hope to egalitarian men the world over (or Australia at least).

  4. Do you do much (or any) research in the area of sexual crypsis? Sexual crypsis is (in part) the human tendency to hide sexual coupling in private, as opposed to most mammals that couple openly. It is an area on inquiry largely underserved or even forbidden by feminist orthodoxy.

    For example, humans are not a pure pair-bonding species. Rather, I think humans exist somewhere in the middle of a continuum between pure pair-bonding and pure tournament.

    In PURE pair-bonding, sexual crypsis is unneeded and counterproductive – public coupling would establish a pair bond and alert others that an exclusive bond had formed.

    Likewise, in PURE tournament mating, sexual crypsis is also unneeded and counterproductive – the victor’s public coupling establishes his or her mating privilege.

    However, in a mixed system with a putative, shaky pair-bond/tournament factor, private out-of-sight mating, both licit and illicit, protects both the putative pair bond and the apparent availability of the faux members of the bond for outside mating encounters.

    Why are most people uncomfortable with public displays of affection?

    Why are publicly sexual women with multiple partners shamed as being unfit for pair-bonding, regardless of how physically attractive they might be?

    Why are feminists so resistant to the investigation of any rape allegation?

    Why is sex considered naughty or shameful in a general way?

    Why is public nudity still an issue?

    An instinct to respect and maintain sexual crypsis plays a part in all of these situations.

    I believe sexual crypsis plays a factor in, and even drives many of the internal contradictions of feminism, including their skittishness around logic and evidence-based proof.

    This area is vastly understudied.

    • Hi, Ive not heard it referred to by that name before. I know is this as “concealed ovulation” and yes there is a lot of study in this area.

      Humans are a pair bonded species (I don’t know if there is a “true” pair bonded species in the sense that extra-pair copulations never *ever* occur. What we aren’t is a true monogamous species – rather we are monogamish, which also translates as polygamish: I’ll defer to Professor Anne Campbell here, ” evidence suggests that humans have a prehistory of mild polygyny (i.e., men tended to seek mating opportunities with multiple females). This is apparent in our universal sexual dimorphism, earlier male senescence and death, earlier female sexual maturity, longer male reproductive career, relatively large male sexual organs, and a higher preferred rate of copulation by men (Daly & Wilson 1988a; Mitani et al. 1996; Oliver & Hyde 1993; Symons 1979) ”

      The evolution of the pair bond is also a hot topic. And levels of male intrasexual competition (or tournament as you say) are variable across cultures, we reported in a paper I co-authored last year (which is linked in the blog menu). Concealed ovulation is a problem for men as, while a woman can always be 100% sure of maternity, men cannot be so sure of paternity. This biological fact demonstrates some (not all) of the different selection pressures men and women face in reproductive fitness and why men and women can come into conflict. Because of paternity insecurity we see mate guarding, which, depending on the local ecology and the risk of being cuckolded (by a legitimate rival being chosen by your mate or your mate being raped) varies from being an attentive partner in low risk environments to claustration and female domestic confinement in high risk environments and everything in between. It should also be said that the most severe form of mate guarding isn’t just enforced by males, but the females on the paternal side – paternal grandmother/aunts, etc. We see this kind of preference even in low risk environments like the West, where maternal grandparents favour their grandchildren more than paternal ones. This is unconscious of course but is an atavistic evolutionary echo.

      It’s worth saying though, conflict between men and women is less intense than conflict between men and men and women and women (intrasexual conflict). Our biggest reproductive rivals are always those of the same sex.

      I did a quick search on google scholar re hidden copulation and got these results. It’s not my area I’m afraid though I do plan to study the pair bond in the future. https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&q=hidden+human+copulation&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C5&as_sdtp=

      I think many of your questions will be answered by a foray into the good literature around applied evolutionary theory (avoid goddess cults or males getting back to nature).

      I would recommend The Red Queen by Matt Ridley, The Evolution of Desire by David Buss and The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker to begin.

  5. Very interesting. You seem to have touched pretty-much all the bases.

    I’m not sure what problems are supposed to accompany Aspergers but it doesn’t seem to have affected your acuity, knowledge, reasoning or judgement so in the absence of any other evidence I’m inclined to regard it as some kind of talent rather than a disability. Perhaps as the metaphoric captain of the Starship Paula you have simply declared “make it so,” which tells a story all in itself.

    Like me, you seem to regard human beings as inherently benevolent, at least potentially, and recognise that an important part of realising that potentiality involves the cultivation of self-knowledge. There is a long tradition of this kind of thinking going back to “know thyself” as the path to human wisdom (e.g. culturally in Apollonian myth, and in the philosophy of Heraclitus, Plato, etc.) but overlapping with and extended into the domain of “know the world.” A reflex towards benevolence certainly has an evolutionary rationale because the opposite is likely to be destruction of one’s own type, and so ultimately of oneself. The imperative to gain understanding is similarly justified by the need to contend effectively with environmental pressures. Nature does not endow us with such an expensive resource as the human brain without a reason, and no one could deny that we are a successful species.

    It’s interesting that you mention Mary Wollstonecraft, who, of course, was very much a product of The Enlightenment. It seems to me that this tradition has been perverted and abandoned, but offers the only true path to human progress. However, this needs to be constantly reasserted. Ultimately matters of truth are matters of survival for human beings.

    I think you are also right that feminism needs to be examined anthropologically. Following the principle of “know thyself,” women must do a lot of this work. There is a hint in Plato and Wollstonecraft concerning the nature of a true form of female emancipation, which has something to do with an indifference as to whether they take their inspiration from women or men.

    • Thanks. I have grown into my aspergers and now do appreciate it as a positive not a negative. My only weakness is executive functioning. My brain is like a huge computer with little RAM. Takes a lot of effort to organise but I have strategies 🙂

      “Ultimately matters of truth are matters of survival for human beings.”

      I couldn’t agree more! Before we all get dashed on the rocks of post-modernism

  6. Nice piece. I’ve long suspected the evolutionary aspect of gender issues has been underplayed. I’ll watch this site with interest. (Rick).

      • Paula,
        I decided to comment here since I bowed out the conversation at AVFM.

        You mentioned “Red Pill Philosophy” there multiple times. If I may clarify..
        Lots of communities on the internet use the metaphor of “Red Pill” to represent that “conventional wisdom propagated by the overwhelming majority of society (and/or the mainstream media) is sometimes dead wrong”.
        Even Jonathan Haidt uses this metaphor in his TED talk “The moral foundations of liberals and conservatives”. He says (paraphrased) “Do you want to believe the widespread notion that the other camp is just stupid/evil/whatever or do you want to know the truth that the other camp has moral reasons to believe what they do?”
        I have seen Stephan Molyneux of YouTube fame use the metaphor. I have seen even some Glenn Greenwald’s fans use it once. Not to mention a wide range of fringe groups, such as AIDS Deniers, JOOZ-are-ruining-everythingers. So when it was announced that an upcoming documentary maker was making a movie about the MHRM and calling it http://www.theredpillmovie.com/ I argued that this is a bad idea. That it does not differentiate the MHRM adequately, and worse.. mixes us up with the “wrong crowd”.

        Now.. there is another group in the wider Manosphere .. PUAs/Gamers .. that have gone further and actively called their ideology “Red Pill Philosophy”. These guys exist on reddit on a forum separate from the mensrights guys. I would venture to say that roosh of website ReturnOfKings is their field-leader, and Rollo Tomassi of website RationalMale is their intellectual leader.

        I hope you are not mixing up the two groups.

        Granted that there are numerous people who “fly-in and mostly fly-out” of MHRM forums, and tend to blur the differences. And my own statement of “two groups” is a simplification. It is difficult to track who is who. Thats why several years ago Elam wrote a “Adios Manosphere” post. Thats why I often lookup Disqus history of unsavoury characters to inspect their “body of work”.

      • Hi, thanks for coming over!

        Seems like you guys are starting to face the same problem female advocacy groups or equity feminists have with the term “feminist”. It can get exhausting, and like you say, no one has actual ownership of a term so anyone can use it. I try to judge people by what they say and do rather than what they call themselves. I found a lot of thoughtful and open minded people over there, but also I guess, a lot of people in pain who want someone – or thing – to blame. Women are the same and very often feminist ideology scoops up these walking wounded, points them towards men and tells them they are responsible for their distress. There will always be people – of any sex or gender – which will exploit such vulnerable people for their own gains. That’s how wars are fought. They all need cannon fodder.

        I enjoyed the discussion. I learned a lot. There is a place and a need for male advocacy groups which recognise the unique struggles men face. Social justice, feminisms and MRA’s are all so divisive it can get quite depressing. But thank you – and others – for the debate. I’ll just keep judging people individually. Seems like the most fair way 🙂

  7. Ms. Wright, you and others of your most-admirable ilk, may understandably disagree but why couldn’t you have been around say, about 200 years ago? We would miss you now, but with the truth out then, we wouldn’t be in the near-irreversible mess now foisted upon us. Thank you for your work and for your unshakable love and passion of truth.

    • It’s not irreversible!

      Self identified feminists and social justice [whatever] are a vocal minority, don’t forget.

      It is fundamentally egalitarian to demand proportional representation in a democracy!

  8. I don’t know much about psychology or gender studies, and I know even less about the other fields you study, but I do have a Juris Doctorate from a state-run diploma mill law school. I can see how failure to acknowledge female agency can take a person from a nice place of wanting equality to a strange place of mindlessly attacking anyone who stops to think about any policy advocated by feminists, and even how it takes some of them to a very scary place of hating all males. What I can’t understand is where do the people writing the legislative proposals come from?

    Sure it’s a job, and it pays, and it’s considered respectable, but these people have to be true believers. They have to present psychotic ramblings as though they were uncontroversial facts, and they know they’re doing it.

    They say, “equal pay for equal work”, but really mean, “alter the procedure of equal pay cases in the U.S. to make it possible to sustain a meritless case long enough to bargain for a settlement, so that employers will rationally choose to discriminate in favor of underperforming groups as the only way to insulate themselves from media attention that will hurt them with consumers.” (an odd way to tackle discrimination, as only one demographic controls 80% of consumer spending; hint, it isn’t black people)

    They say “only yes means yes”, meaning, “sex offenses should be strict liability, such that no matter what facts are known or knowable to a defendant at the time of the criminal act (which consists of any sexual behavior whatsoever) the defendant should be found guilty if accused.” They follow this up with the reminder that, “there’s no such thing as a perfect victim”, which means, “any piece of exculpatory evidence that does not, on its own, conclusively prove beyond all doubt that the accuser has never been a victim of anything and that the accused has never done anything wrong must not be considered.”

    They want to build on the crime of harassment, which is otherwise non-criminal behavior which is repeatedly directed at a person to a point that is unreasonable, especially when the victim has asked that it stop, to create “street harassment”, which is otherwise non-criminal behavior, which need not be repeated, and which causes any woman to have any negative feelings.

    They effectively argue that women should be judges in their own cases. They argue this in court, to actual judges. Where do you think those people come from? All the idiots on tumblr are completely harmless if they don’t have somebody smart enough to create a policy agenda for them to get behind. To know what that agenda is, and to have a functioning human brain is to know that it is incompatible with any conception of right and wrong. And yet they have vast numbers of lawyers, politicians, academics, and so forth at their disposal.

  9. Interesting blog! Having been a child in the 1970s, I remember being taught in social studies how society always placed women on a pedestal. I mention this because I’m fascinated by how quickly the cultural narrative changed to one of oppression. George Orwell once said something like “those that control the present, control the past. Those that control the past, control the future”.

    I presonally can not think of a single law or institution in the developed world that favors men over women in any way. However, I can think of many laws and institutions that favor women over men. And yet, this men oppress women narrative is stronger than ever.

    We are horrified by the unjust suffering of any woman anywhere, but completely ignore the suffering of men. Of course, this is our biological herritage. It was men who were tasked with protecting the group. Those lucky enough to survive were rewarded by the group’s women. Like all animals, humans competed with each other, but we competed as a group (multi-level selection) as well as individually. On the Savanna where our ancesters completed their evolution as humans, it took about 4 years for a woman to have a child. It also took the cooperation of the entire group to provide resources for her. This resulted in our biological heritage of men being disposable, and women being valued.

    Of course marketers also understand this fact. They know that not only do we all have a biological impulse to protect and provide for young women, that we will do so even if presented only with a picture of a smiling young women. We see this in nearly all of our junk mail. This picture is so powerful that credit card companies know they would need to reduce the credit card rate by 3% to receive the same response rates if their mailings don’t include a picture of a smiling young woman.

    Humans seem to have a greater desire to rationalize emotional (instinct) driven decisions than to think rationally. We have created laws that protect women at the expense of men. These laws are breaking families. The consequences will likely be the continued decline of the developed world. Until recently, there seemed to be very little desire for anyone to understand our biological impulses. Once we understand them, we can control them. Keep up your work! It is much needed.

  10. I think the problem with feminist notions of “patriarchy” etc is that they like to keep their definitions as vague as possible – and liable to change at any time.

    Why? Because they are instinctively doing politics, NOT science or scholarship (politics fouls up science or scholarship when it gets mixed up in these endeavours). They intuitively know that if they state a clear definition – it will be possible to prove or disprove what they are saying.

    They don’t want that – what they actually want to do is anger and scare women into joining the “cause”, by whatever means necessary: the signature of an inflammatory style of politics.

    In their defence, many don’t realise this is the game they are playing – but playing it they are.

    So don’t expect a clear definition of “patriarchy”, “equality” (an impossible concept to pin down – how can men and women experience life equally if they are designed differently?) “power”, “objectification”. They won’t give one, and if you give one, they will claim they are using a different definition and then keep you running around trying to guess what they mean

  11. Hi Paula,
    Thanks for what you’ve written, I’m too a student of human evolution and have close ties with highly esteemed professors in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology, neuroscience and palaeoanthropology.

    I’m afraid however I passionately disagree. I will pick out a few bones of contention I have with you and then suggest some reading to you which might help us see eye to eye! I have read much of what you cite and indeed I too used to believe and agree with much of what is written here but as I have explored the history of science and delved deeper into many of the assumptions underlying EP (evolutionary psychology) I have come to reject much of what it argues.

    You indeed write the “men and women are in fact not that different”, and that human nature is “mutable.” Indeed the level of plasticity in the human brain is remarkable, take for example the fact that a man blind from has rewired the area of his brain usually associated with sight to echo location! It becomes in this way almost impossible to differentiate behaviours we see today as either “nurture” or “nature” – it is a useless dichotomy. We thus have to be incredibly careful before we label behaviours “evolved” because it is an illusive concept and the way in which socio-cultural factors change our brains and behaviour is important.

    Modern categories of “rational man” and “emotional women” are highly socially constructed ones. Indeed evidence abounds of very different gender roles in a whole range of different traditional societies. It seems to me that to take behaviours we see today e.g. patriarchal ones and impose them on human nature erases the historical explanations for them as well as cross cultural differences. In this sense much of EP is highly westernised and assumes sex and gender are the same thing, meaning explanations for transgender people, for homosexual relationships etc. are simply absent (because they do not fit but they exist(

    Thus I think you are guilty of observing behaviour we see today, and without real evidence placing an explanation on it when our knowledge of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) remains extremely limited.

    I agree with you that we need to consider biology within feminism but thisarticle seems to me to be you upholding patriachy and oppression. Indeed EP does not justify any oppression on women simply explains whereas you seem to be justifying the presence of the tyranny, Dawkins himself advocates that we need to free ourself from the tyranny of our genes.

    Things which changed my mind include 1) Anne Fausto Sterling “Sexing the Body” 2) Laland and Brown “Sense and Nonsense 3) Kimmel, Michael S. 2011. Ordained by nature: Biology constructs of the sexes 4) Lorber, Judith. 1993. Believing is seeing: Biology as ideology 5) Cordelia Fine “Delusions of Gender” or if you like some harder neuroscience Jordon-Young Brainstorm 6) Fausto Sterling “Myths of Gender”

  12. Pingback: The B&D blog watch for 2016 - Bombs and Dollars

  13. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on whether “patriarchy” is an emic or etic reading of gender relations. To be upfront, my take is that the view that men dominate politics is a near-universal but emic interpretation of a subtler adaptive cultural system in which innate superiority in social skills among women and the relative weakness of automatic in-group bias among men (as described by Rudman and Goodman, J Pers Soc Psychol. 2004 Oct;87(4):494-509.) is checked by express social rules about male political “dominance.”

    Communities proclaiming male dominance are so ubiquitous precisely because the emic proclamation of male dominance is the only thing that allows communities to fully express the political strengths of both genders. Far from patriarchal culture suppressing female potential, its absence suppresses male potential under the innate social strengths of female psychology.

    The only way men, whose limited psychological resources have been focused community-outward by selective pressures (i.e., against prey animals and external threats), can maintain political parity with women, whose psychological resources have been focused community-inward by those same selective pressures, is by balancing the instinctive social strengths of women with cultural mechanisms that empower men … not “over” women (although this is often the polite fiction) but to fully partner with them.

    Women’s political influence therefore, being innate, does not need to be spoken or written. Men’s does. The political influence of women, being both innate and often expressed through the proxy actions of men, is hidden from much of the anthropological and historical record. The Abigail Adamses (and Lady Macbeth’s) of human society may often get neither credit nor blame, but that shouldn’t render their political power invisible to an insightful eye.

      • I’m particularly intrigued by the linking of patriarchy with lek gatherings, but I have misgivings about reducing human social behavior to phenomena we see in non-speaking animals, simply because complex language creates a super-layer of behavioral coding (in addition to genetics), also subject to selective pressures but with quite different dynamics.

        Eagerly awaiting your post.

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