This ev-psych bullshit must stop

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007 · 47 Comments »

“Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?”

This bespeaks a problem with that brand of feminism rather than with anything else. There is something essential biological about the way boys and girls behave. This has been proven over and over and over again in a wide variety of scientific studies. This is not even debatable anymore.

Some moron

There is nothing quite so dispiriting as the enthusiasm with which the morons of today embrace the myth that feminine and masculine stereotypes are biologically determined. Note the confidence in the statement quoted above. It’s “not even debatable anymore,” says the moron.

It’s a strange situation, because this twerp’s perception (and he’s not alone) of the current state of knowledge about gender is almost the exact opposite of reality. If anthropology has taught us anything, it’s that gender roles are socially constructed. The notion of what is appropriately feminine or masculine varies across cultures and time. Even the notion of how many genders there are varies across cultures. In fact, just about everything that people do, from the language they speak to the way they cook their food to what they think constitutes a “good” woman or man, is culturally mediated. Actual innate differences between male and female behavior are virtually impossible to determine with humans past the age of a few months, since gender norms and expectations are imposed from birth. And when psychologists try to get behind that curtain by studying the behavior of infants, they find only miniscule differences between males and females — differences which pale beside the enormous cultural baggage that accrues around notions of maleness and femaleness. As for the neuroscience angle, there appear to be some very slight average differences between male and female brains in terms of things like cerebral blood flow at rest, but nobody actually knows how or even if those differences map to behavior.

But that’s not what you hear in the media. Instead journalists endlessly report the bullshit cooked up by professional bullshit chefs (otherwise known as “evolutionary psychologists”) as if it’s fact: the differences between men and women in the modern world are biologically based; there’s no culture, no socialization; women evolved to like pink Hello Kitty phones, it was an advantage in the Pleistocene because the pink color helped them find the phone in the bush, and the reason men make more money and get the promotions is not because of discrimination, no, it’s because men evolved to like sailing and and rotating three-dimensional objects in their minds while women evolved to like staying at home and eating oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins.

And the moron public apparently eats it up.

I’m writing about this because the ev-psych bullshit came up on me today like a snake in the grass. The fifth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up, and one of the articles included is this piece by Julie Bindel on trans issues. I went over to read it because I was curious about her perspective on the trans thing, but found myself completely distracted by the ev-psych bullshit snake slithering around in the comments. The EPBS, I think I’ll call it.

For the record, I don’t share Bindel’s belief that “‘transsexuality’ as a diagnosis…arises from the strong stereotyping of girls and boys into strict gender roles.” That may be part of it in some cases, but trans identity is a complex issue, and I don’t think anybody really knows what causes it — or even what it is exactly. And that includes the transpeople themselves. Bindel’s reading of the issue seems simplistic and off-kilter to me.

But this post isn’t about trans issues; it’s about the Ev-Psych Bullshit Snake. Bindel’s opinion on transpeople may be controversial, but what shouldn’t be controversial is her statement that “feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations.” That’s right, we do. That’s because we recognize that gender is, indeed, a social construct. Biological sex is real, of course; but gender roles, rules about how men and women are supposed to behave, notions about how they’re supposed to be — those are just shibboleths. And for chrissake, this isn’t merely a conceit of feminist theory. It’s a well-demonstrated anthropological finding. It ought to be part of every literate person’s mental furniture.

Yet look at these comments, all singing the same EPBS song:

MsBindel you say “how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?”

Perhaps by accepting that there is something essential and biological about the way most boys and girls behav. It is indisputable that there are significant gender (in the biological sense) differences in behaviour that are obvious at an early age. You cannot ignore facts that don’t fit your ideology. In fact it is dangerous that you would let your “feminist belief that it[behavioural differences] arises from the strong stereotyping of girls and boys into strict gender roles” override reality.

Julie Dear ~

It’s not even a debate anymore.

The biological factors, all point to a variable distribution of hormones to the brain, while the fetus is still in utero.

Hence, the amount of a Female/Male ratio of the hormonal wash over the brain, in effect, “Hard Wires” the human brain as either “Male,” “Female,” or Gender Variant.

No matter how much you may wish to ignore it there is overwhelming and increasing evidence of the biological differences in brain formation between men and women. Although social experiences will affect the way people behave during their lives we are born with instincts which emanate directly from our individual biological make up. To deny the influence of biology is quite simply ignoring the facts and deluding yourself.

The basic problem is that she sees Gender as purely a social construct, despite insurmountable evidence that it isn’t, evidence she’s aware of but chooses to ignore because she sees it as undermining her whole life’s work. Now that’s a very human thing to do, and perhaps I’d do the same. It’s still wrong.

As for Bindel, I think she should go and do a biology degree. Her idea of gender as an entirely social construct is ludicrous. She really needs to educate herself before her opinions do real harm.

I think re Delphinidae’s point the key thing is that to support the idea that there are biological differences between men and women which can lead to behavioural differences we can point to large amount of research in psychology and neuroscience.

“Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?”

I have 3 young children, two boys, the middle one a girl who likes pink, shoes, dresses and prams. Purely her choice!

Boys differ from girls in every area of human make up, physicaly, psycologicaly, biologicaly and every other
–ology
.

I think that last one is from Larry Summers, but I could be wrong.

Why do so many people embrace this stuff so eagerly? What is the appeal?

Of course it’s not surprising that people believe what they’re told; that’s what people do. Huitzilopochtli requires human sacrifice, flies come from rotting meat, women evolved to be bad at math. People will believe anything if it gets hammered home enough.

But it seems to me that the enthusiasm for this current edition of bullshit is alarmingly intense. It’s not enough for people to merely assert their beliefs; instead they feel compelled to argue that the evidence is so insurmountable, the proof so indisputable, that it’s not even worth talking about any more. And I’ve seen that same kind of spectacularly misplaced confidence every time the subject comes up. Gender differences are a fact, get used to it, people insist, and you can almost hear the white knuckled scream. The earth revolves around the sun, E=mc2, and women evolved to be bad at math. It’s indisputable.

I’ll surprise no one here when I say that from a big-picture sociological perspective, I think this is a reaction to feminism. For men, it’s a reaction to the relative success of feminism, which has succeeded in threatening (though not dislodging) male privilege and in demanding (but not achieving) equal opportunity for women. The EPBS frees men from the guilt induced by feminism; it reassures them that that they’re at the top of the heap because of their innate qualities rather than because of male privilege; it lets them know that they don’t have to make any further concessions to women’s demands.

For women, it’s a reaction to the relative failure of feminism. Feminism teaches us that we have the right to live as full, free human beings, but our still-sexist society makes this impossible. That hurts. It’s painful as hell. And for those women who aren’t fully up on feminist analysis of how patriarchy works, the EPBS sings a soothing song: feminism was wrong, it was a lie, and the reason men won’t do the laundry or take care of the children or listen to you when you talk or give you a job or be faithful to you or treat you like a human being instead of a sex toy is because of evolution. That’s just how things are. You can’t change it, so there’s no point in worrying about it. Just give in. Get a labiaplasty, pick up the dirty socks yourself, look on the bright side. And smile more.

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47 Responses to “This ev-psych bullshit must stop”

  1. Timothy Shortell says:

    What I find most irritating about evo-psych is that it is such bad science. All those yahoos commenting about how you can’t ignore biology don’t realize how far from actual biological science these evo-psych just-so stories are. The biologists laugh at the bullshit.

    It is too bad, because there ought to be a evolutionary psychology. We know that genes affect brain anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. That doesn’t mean that we can explain gender differences (or race differences either — another social construct) but there are probably many mental characteristics that are the result of natural selection.

    The evo-psych bullshit artists don’t understand genetics, and that is why they so easily fall into such banal just-so stories as explanations. There has to be a genetic mechanism for evolution to be an explanation. To suggest that females prefer pink because it had some survival advantage is ridiculous without some genetic mechanism to explain what was selected for. And even then there has to be some meaningful environmental pressure and we don’t know enough about prehistorical physical and social environments to hazard a reliable guess about that. Finally, the explanation would have to demonstrate that the effect could not more easily be explained by social or cultural factors. As you note, there is simply too much cultural variation to jump directly to a genetic explanation in most cases.

    Every time I hear someone say we have an “instinct” for this or that, I just want to slap them. Read a fucking introductory biology textbook.

    Now, I am a sociologist (but trained in social psychology) so I am inclined to think social factors can explain a lot. I am willing to entertain the possibility of mental modules that are the result of evolution, but I insist that psychologist who goes there be literate in basic biology and anthropology first.

    I guess I’ve ranted enough for one post. This isn’t my blog, after all.

  2. Jamie says:

    As a transgirl, I will say my dysphoria was never about the social constructs of gender. My family was conservative, yes, but still was not all that big on gender stereotypes (Lots of feminists in my family, most of them politically active).

    For me, it was very much physical. From as early an age as I can remember, I dreamed as a girl, fantasized as a girl, and wanted desperately to physically /be/ a girl.

    It was a lot like I’ve heard phantom limb syndrome talked about – I had feelings and sensations that came from body parts I didn’t have. Now I have them, and am a thousandfold happier.

  3. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Timothy: You’re always welcome to rant here, and this topic is right up your alley.

    Yes, evo-psych is spectacularly bad science, in a number of respects. If evolutionary psychologists are going to make sweeping generalizations about the nature of human beings, they ought to have at least a glancing acquaintance with anthropology, which is the study of human beings. Actually they ought to have a deep and thorough grounding in anthropology, but even a glance would be better than what they’ve got now. Which is zero. They are anthropologically, culturally, and historically illiterate.

    But beyond that, there’s the not-insignificant fact that the fundamental hypothesis of current evolutionary psychology is not really a hypothesis at all, but an assumption that gets reported as a finding. In fact, the hypothesis never even gets tested, much less proven.

    You can see that most clearly in the junk studies that are so popular with the media. They always follow the same pattern:

    1. EP researcher hypothesizes that, say, men like the Sharper Image catalog more than women do because men evolved to like gadgets in the Pleistocene.
    2. EP researcher tests a couple of dozen volunteers at the grad student center and finds that, sure enough, men like the Sharper Image catalog more than women do.
    3. EP researcher reports his findings and in his paper says “we hypothesize that this is because men evolved to like gadgets in the Pleistocene.”
    4. Media reports: Men like the Sharper Image catalog more than women do because they evolved that way! It’s in our genes!

    But the central hypothesis hasn’t even been tested. The only thing these EP researchers ever find is that some group of volunteers does indeed conform to some extant Western stereotype. But as to why they conform — this EP doesn’t examine.

    With more serious EP researchers the errors aren’t so readily obvious, but the same fundamental weaknesses are there. There is a distinct lack of falsifiability, combined with an almost astonishing dismissal of all the data from the social sciences. More than one anthropologist has commented that EP functions more like a religion than anything else.

  4. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Jamie, the phantom limb analogy is very interesting. I’ve read other transpeople cite that as well.

    But there also seem to be a lot of transpeople who don’t see their situation in those terms, who describe very different histories. So my impression (and I’m by no means an expert) is that there are a variety of trans experiences. That’s one reason it’s so complicated.

    Frankly I think the single biggest obstacle to greater clarity about trans issues — for transpeople themselves as well as others — is our inability as a culture to adequately conceptualize the issues. Human beings always want to classify and label things, but if they don’t have the right tools they make messes. Sometimes terrible messes. It reminds me of how gays and lesbians used to be forced to define themselves in terms of those hopelessly limited binary constructs — normal/abnormal, overt/invert, pseudo-woman/pseudo-man, who’s the wife/who’s the husband, etc., etc., etc.

  5. Infidel says:

    Preference plays such a big part in the development of gender roles, and in no way can be construed as devoid of societal influence, after all if a being prefers another based on that other’s behaviour, and that other values itself to be preferred, that will definately influence the others behaviour. One’s own image of oneself, I believe, is at least similar if not identical to anyone elses physical mechanism of having an image of oneself- albeit honed over years of development within societal structures that must differ by virtue of identity.

  6. Kali Tal says:

    Your last two paragraphs really sum up the phenomenon wonderfully. I wrote an article underlining pretty much the same point couple of weeks ago called ” New Adventures in Sexist Pseudoscience: Women “Naturally” Prefer Pink” (posted on the Consuming Consciousness blog: http://yay-food.com/?p=51. EBPS is like phrenology — just another crap pseudoscience designed to keep folks in their place.

  7. Kate says:

    Evo psych drives me up a wall — not all of it or all of those who practice it, but the majority of it that gets picked up by the AP, NYTimes, and alumni magazines. It’s such a tired idea, and so sadly wrong. While there are things that determine SEX differences, even those are PLASTIC. You just need to read Elizabeth Spelke, Ben Barres, or a number of other authors who will be able to demonstrate this. It’s also rather obvious from any reading of empirical literature on education that GENDER differences are set in at home and school — people should be reading articles by Fennema and Alessandri and Lewis and others. Of course, I’m speaking to the choir here, but it does always amaze me that those who want to claim biological gender differences (because they can’t tell the difference between sex and gender, or don’t care if there is a difference) can’t cite any good study that demonstrates what they want to believe in a way that escapes strong critique.

    Yuuuuck.

  8. Infidel says:

    There was an Encyclopedia Brown episode where Encyclopedia Brown broke the case wide open because of the fact that dogs are color blind and so the dog did not attack the kid because of his red scarf but must have attacked because of some other command or cue. Same thing. Pink not because of a gender specific physiological affinity to pink wavelengths of light but due to some other command or que or societal influence.

  9. Professor Zero says:

    Brilliant post. Brilliant.

  10. Branjor says:

    Well, I do have a biology degree and I think evo psych is ridiculous. Nothing I studied in biology “proves” any of its premises about “gender” as a biologically determined entity. A gene codes for a protein – no more and no less. It is a huge leap from that level to the gross behavioral and preference level. Nobody has yet delineated any mechanism as to how one gets from proteins to behaviors and I pretty sure they never will.

  11. Cero says:

    Now I am on a more than 5 minute break from work so I can speak. Pseudoscience like phrenology, designed to keep people in their places, yes. More like a religion than a field of study, yes. And I suppose I do not have to go on about how many people nowadays believe in these things, and get them from sources including their clinical psychologists, or from “alternative” gurus, men’s seminars and such. It is really pernicious. And, of course, I notice that if I go into professor mode and ask people where is their evidence for these things, they tell me I am “fighting evolution” by not being in the gender role that has, after all, been evolving for me since the Pleistocene. Good-by, scientific method. Hello, logical fallacies.

  12. The Ghost of Violet says:

    they tell me I am “fighting evolution”

    Because that’s how all the popular books are framed: that “nurture” is simply a fantasy of political correctness, but now the hard-nosed realistic scientists have discovered the hard-nosed realistic scientific truth that we’re all genetically hard-wired, it’s evolution, etc., etc..

    The irony, of course, is that their whole shtick is the exact opposite of hard-nosed realistic science. It’s actually a kind of religion, just dressed up to sound all science-y. Non-falsifiable assumptions based on zero evidence, theories which are never tested, just-so stories that just so happen to endorse some kind of 1950s ideal of human life, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world, etc.

  13. Infidel says:

    Somehow some birds do elaborate dances to attract a mate(male birds), female birds do not. Somehow behaviour in wildlife seems very much instinct and not learned. Somehow physical attributes like peacocks tails evolved just because of female birds preference, maybe, and only with the male tail, and only with the female preference. Somehow the locking of antelope horns or the struggles of male gila monsters or the behavior of queen bees transcends mere cellular respiration, metabolism, and krebs citric acid cycles and yet still does not depend on social pressures, psychology, natural selection, and/or concious decision. There is a physical world and there are mental constructs, both contribute to a reality, who is to say patriarchy isn’t a point in the evolution of the human race that had to be passed through, time goes forward to future pleistocenes, please let’s get through this and on to a more equitable gender relationship, one planet, one people, aren’t there examples out there of progress? If us men can’t have our JuJu and we need it, why do we need it? It is because women are women, aren’t they?

  14. cicely says:

    Apparently pink for girls and blue for boys is a reversal that took place last century. Girls were previously held to prefer blue because of something like it being a weaker, more washed out colour than the stronger and brighter pink, which was said to be preferred by boys. Or *should have* been preferred by boys? Or boys were made to prefer?

    I may have to google that, but I’ve definitely seen it somewhere recently. Anyone else seen it?

    Yes, it’s the system, stupid(s) – the rules pertaining to sex and gender we want to dismantle and no, persons on any side of the debate who claim to absolutely know what they can’t know aren’t really helping. We’re left to ponder only why they wish to believe what they claim to believe and take it from there. I think this applies particularly when the speaker hasn’t personally had the experience they’re pontificating on.

    I think this no doubt because I am a lesbian and thus someone in a minority who’s been pontificated on throughout my life by all and sundry, from the right, the middle and from some feminists; someone who happens to feel strongly that my sexual orientation is innate; someone who won’t die if that eventually proves to be wrong, but won’t *agree* that it’s wrong without proof just to fit in with any political ideology or religious or cultural standard or whatever since it can’t be altered by external means in any case. The same is true of transexuality. A person lives it, one way or another. Incidentally, though this thread isn’t on the subject I have to say that Bindel’s views on transexuality actually make me feel ill. It’s the thought of what would actually happen to transexuals if people with her views had real power. That’s why so many of us have to keep arguing with the tossers who share that view – which can otherwise seem like a gigantic waste of time.

    Wouldn’t we all be that much closer to liberation if peoples brains were hard-wired to make us admit out loud when the true answer to a question is ‘I don’t know’!??? (But I like you.)

  15. The Ghost of Violet says:

    From the Ladies Home Journal in 1918:

    “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

    From the Sunday Sentinel in 1914:

    “If you like the color note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.”

    Good blog post about it here.

  16. Infidel says:

    “Religions Evolve”
    So does science, though bad science can’t really be called science. “Evolutionary psychology” in the evolution of psychology can be thought of as a weak branch that as psychology diversifies and environments change will not survive because it is weak, or perhaps will fluourish because the environment in which it exists happens to favour its intellectual weakness. There is no Lamarkian spontaneous generation, flies don’t come from rotted cheese(the imperceptable eggs that become maggots, that turn into flies, are laid by procreative flies), when the cheese is allowed to rot in a covered dish, where flies can’t get at it there will be no maggots.
    Behaviours evolve as individuals behaviour nurtured by influence, punishments, rewards, changes in environment, physical attributes, personality developments, karma, god, parenting, and probably a little itty bitty bit teeny weenie eeensie weensie micro milli angstromoulous the ability of an eye to discern the color of a berry in the pliestocene

  17. Kali Tal says:

    I just wrote another piece on this topic (http://yay-food.com/?p=80). I read the research report about human “mating behaviors”… based on a survey of 46 people who speed dated! Gotta love that pseudoscience….

  18. Infidel says:

    It is with an eye sensitive to the color of a berry in the pliestocene that I now have the opportunity to speak with you today, if it hadn’t been for that one berry, green and vile, that had been overlooked and ignored, that very berry that hairy Larry, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather didn’t eat because Sherry my great, great…. grandmother didn’t pick it, uh where was I? But seriously my existence could actually have something to do with some ameoba during the Llandovery epoch of the Silurian.

  19. Bill says:

    Violet et.al:

    Wow. You guys have really worked yourselves up over this. Gross generalization usually leads down a slippery slope – like this one.

    I don’t think the aim of EP is to explain male and female stereotypes, color preferences, etc. There may be a genetic component involved (such as S.J. Gould’s “spandrels” – a non-adaptive trait that is carried along and later expressed), but it’s crazy to claim (as one commentor did) that genes (or proteins) cannot lead to behaviors. What about schizophrenia? It’s known to have a genetic, psychological, and a social component. It’s also crazy to suggest (as another commentor did) that race is entirely a social concept. Race is a genetic concept – only later in human evolution has culture crept into the mix. There is considerable circumstantial evidence that there are indeed genetic components to some human behaviors, such as sexual (not gender) behavior, aggression, and fears and phobias. EP is an evolving science, and one that most evolutionary biologists recognize as an emerging tool in the quest to understand us. Of course, like anything else, it can be misunderstood and misused, but shoot the messenger in that case. No offense, but it’s almost like I’m hearing a bunch of creationists discussing evolution. And I know that’s not true…

  20. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Bill, you can save the condescending dick routine for another blog.

    It is not impossible that genes contribute to behavior; the empirical problem is that it is extremely difficult to distinguish cultural influences from innate impulses in human behavior. EP isn’t in the business of positing genetic explanations for diseases but for everyday human behavior, which is well-known to be culturally shaped to a massive extent. No EP experiment has yet been devised that gets beyond the cultural effect. In fact, EP researchers as a rule don’t even look for cultural explanations; they simply posit that almost everything modern Westernized people do is because of some module that evolved in the human brain during the Pleistocene. If they had even the barest acquaintaince with anthropology they would know that the behaviors they think are innate are actually specific to particular cultures, not universal. If they had even the barest acquaintance with sociology or traditional psychology or history, they would know that the behaviors they think reveal some Pleistocene strategy in fact have far more mundane loci.

  21. Bill says:

    Violet:

    Where did the “condescending dick” comment come from? Is this how you treat everyone that disagrees with you? I was just trying to contribute to the conversation. It’s obvious that you know a lot more about this than I do. Sorry to bother you.

  22. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Yes, it is obvious that I (and Tim Shortell and Professor Zero and everybody else here) do indeed know a lot more about this than you do. But that didn’t stop you from sailing in here and telling us that we’ve worked ourselves up and simply don’t understand the science.

    Bub, I’ve spent most of my existence as a human being right here on earth, and I know condescension when I hear it. I’m surprised you didn’t suggest we take some Midol and lie down for awhile with a heating pad.

  23. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Furthermore, Bill, I do not object to your contributing to the conversation; not at all. You are welcome to discuss the issue. What I object to is your patronizing tone.

  24. Bill says:

    Violet:

    I’m really surprised at your responses. I’ve read your blog for a couple of years, and I’ve really enjoyed your perspectives on feminism and liberal causes. My intent was not to be condescending – just to offer an alternate viewpoint (which I am familiar with). I’m sorry that I offended you. I won’t engage in a name-calling contest just because we disagree. And I’m sorry you’re so angry. I didn’t really expect this response. Sorry again – I won’t come back.

    Bill

  25. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Oh for chrissake.

    Every internet dude in the world: The problem, little lady, is that you just don’t know how to tie your shoes. Try to calm down a minute and I’ll explain it to you.
    Female blogger: Knock it off.
    Dude: Why are you so angry? I’m just trying to have a conversation. Is this how you talk to everyone who disagrees with you? Fine, then, if you’re not interested in intellectual debate, I’m leaving.

    This has been played out approximately 78 zillion times now, and I and just about every other woman I know is sick of it.

  26. Infidel says:

    Isn’t it kind of neat the way there is a Llandovery epoch of the Silurian and a landover baptist too?

  27. therealuk says:

    Greetings ghostly one, an excellent post on one of my favourite pet peeves – the bullshit that is evopsych, and the attendent levels of delusion that so called “intelligent” “scientists” wrap themselves in to justify their weak-egoed boys rule girls drool approach to life.

  28. kristi says:

    Another pissed-off biologist checking in. It’s infuriating to hear this bullshit passed off as science, especially since it keeps getting approvingly repeated over and over by the various news outlets. It’s no wonder the public at large doesn’t really understand what science is anymore.

  29. orlando says:

    The average ev-psych’s lack of comprehension of basic scientific method has always brought me out in hives, but it seems to have reached a point of popular frenzy lately not seen since Desmond Morris was an ignorant little pustule of a household name.

    Your comment back up at #3 was particularly sparkling and useful for pinpointing the problem.

    The sad thing is that ev-psych as a concept has some really fascinating and even useful applications, if only it hadn’t been hijacked. For the jaded: Konrad Lorenz wrote a wonderful book called “The Waning of Humaneness” that considers behaviours that may have developed to serve a function when humans were living in small social groups, but which have become distorted and damaging now the scale of our communities has grown so vastly. This dude is a whole different species of ev-psych: rigorously scientific, scrupulously distinguishes between speculation and deductive reasoning from evidence. You can spot the charlatans miles away by making a comparison.

  30. Mary Tracy9 says:

    Great post. I am so glad I found your blog!

    I do like oatmeal, by the way, but without cinammon or raisins.

    And of course the pink colour helped women find the phone in the bush! You didn’t specify which type of “bush” you were talking about.

    Seriously now, there are a couple of things I want to say:

    1) I do believe that transexuality and the strict geneder roles in our society are connected somehow. From what I can see, transexuals seem to have a very traditional concept of genders. They are never people like Twisty, or Andrea Dworkin, that is, people who cross the line all the time, back and forth.

    2) On top of the reasons you gave for people embracing EPBS (very well spotted, by the way), I would add that if men weren’t MEN and women weren’t WOMEN, ie, if there weren’t just two possible options, people would HAVE to accept homosexuals, transgenders, transexuals, and weirdos like me, who don’t fit neatly into one or other category.

    3) The best way I found to shut up male EVO-PSY-BONKERS is this little argument:
    “If women are evolutionary designed to raise children and men are evolutionary designed to hunt, then don’t complain when the custody of your children goes to the mother after a divorce, and your presence in your children’s lives is reduced to a pay check”. HA-HA!

  31. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Thank you, MaryTracy9. I mean about the blog.

    I like oatmeal too. With sugar and cinnamon. No raisins.

  32. Ralph says:

    I’m a male who supports the aims of equity feminism, and to a more limited extent those of gender feminism.

    But.

    The response of some feminists to ev-psych reminds me, a great deal, of the Catholic church’s response to Galileo. “It’s flat, I tell you! Flat!” Science that appears to conflict with ideology (real ev-psych does not: though it does suggest that there are differences — who knew? — between men and wimmyn, there are none that determine societal roles) must be denied, repressed, shouted down, and ultimately burned at the stake.

    Is that really where you want to be?

  33. The Ghost of Violet says:

    First of all, Ralph –

    “equity feminism”? “gender feminism?”? “wimmyn”? You’re on the wrong blog. Trust me.

    But secondly –

    Your impression that ev-psych is hard science and that the more prudent model of allowing for sociological factors is some kind of Inquisition-like ideology? Wrong. That’s the kind of impression a person could easily get from reading pop ev-psych books, because that’s how pop ev-psychos present themselves. But it’s mistaken.

    Ev-psych is junk. Biologists laugh at it, geneticists laugh at it, anthropologists laugh at it, and certainly reputable sociologists (like the lovely Tim Shortell) do.

    Ev-psych is the fact-free ideology here.

  34. Kali says:

    Ralph: “Gender feminism?” “Equity feminism?” The use of those labels (invented by conservatives who wanted to create a false dichotomy within feminism) is a problem. If you look at where that terminology originates, it’s in antifeminist critiques, promoted by feminist bashers like Christina Hoff-Summers and picked up eagerly by men not at all concerned with feminism, but very concerned with preserving their own privileges. It doesn’t give your claim to be a supporter of feminism much credibility.

    And what’s with comparing “some feminists” to Flat Earthers? I haven’t heard any of that here. I’ve heard lots of feminists challenge the ideological bases of evolutionary psych (not at all the same thing as burning anyone at a stake), and I’ve heard scientists critique bad evolutionary psych on scientific terms. But you’re inventing straw women here to bash.

    And that last question: “Is that really where you want to be?” Do you have half a clue about how patronizing that sounds? Wag your fingers at us silly girls, now will you? Helluva way to show ANY feminist credentials.

    Seriously, you might want to rethink your position and your rhetoric if you want to claim any alliance with feminism at all.

  35. Kiuku says:

    Violet I thought you might find this article interesting. There is some Patriarchal B.S wording in it such as “outsourced to grandmother’s and aunts”. It is from “The Psychology of Fatherhood” in Time magazine and it’s not Evo Psych!! Amazing.

    “Worldwide, 10% to 40% of children grow up in households with no father at all. In the U.S., more than half of divorced fathers lose contact with their kids within a few years. By the end of 10 years, as many as two-thirds of them have drifted out of their children’s lives. According to a 1994 study by the Children’s Defense Fund, men are more likely to default on a child-support payment (49%) than a used-car payment (3%). Even fathers in intact families spend a lot less time focused on their kids than they think: in the U.S. fathers average less than an hour a day (up from 20 minutes a few decades ago), usually squeezed in after the workday.

    Anthropologists are trying to figure out why. Homo sapiens produces the most slowly maturing young of all mammals. Among foraging humans, children need 19 years–and consume 13 million calories–before producing more food for their community than they take from it, according to research by anthropologist Hillard Kaplan. You’d think fathers would be hardwired to provide for such needy offspring, and yet there is more variation in fathering styles across human cultures than among all other species of primates combined. Many of our primate kin are far better fathers than we are (investigators at the California primate center discovered that baby titi monkeys are in the arms of their fathers for as much as 90% of daylight hours); many are far worse. But all are at least consistent within their species. Why does paternal care in our species vary so much?

    One thing that draws a human male to a child of his is that, hormonally speaking, men are a lot more similar to women than many of us realize, particularly during the critical survival period approaching a child’s birth and its infancy. As in some other mammalian species, human males are known to have high levels of prolactin (a hormone usually associated with lactating mothers) toward the end of a partner’s pregnancy.

    Canadian biologist Katherine Wynne-Edwards and psychologist Anne Storey have shown that the similarities don’t stop there. New or expectant fathers holding either their baby or a doll wrapped in a blanket that recently held–and still smells of–a newborn experienced a rise in prolactin and cortisol (a well-known stress hormone associated with mothering) and a drop in testosterone. When the men listened to a tape of a crying newborn and were shown a videotape of a newborn struggling to nurse, the ones who reported the greatest urge to comfort the baby were the ones whose hormone levels had changed the most.

    But dads have to spend time close to babies for hormones to kick in, and this hasn’t always been possible. Today we take child survival for granted, but in traditional societies, 40% of offspring might die before age 5. To keep infants safe, it made sense for them to be held at all times. With Mom often caring for more than one offspring and Dad busy rustling up food, the job sometimes had to be outsourced to grandmothers, aunts and others.

    Among some West African Mandinka, the help of a maternal grandmother has been linked with a halving of the under-5 mortality rate. Similar benefits were shown in Finnish farming communities in the 18th century. African parents still counsel a marriageable son, “First find yourself a good mother.” They are talking about his future mother-in-law, not his future wife.

    It was this cooperative system that allowed mothers to have more babies than they could support and fathers to vary in how they cared for them. The politicized notion of the nuclear family aside, a mother and father raising children alone was typically a temporary and often less than optimal phase for our ancestors.

    None of this gives modern fathers who neglect their kids an evolutionary pass. Indeed, some studies suggest that even having one full-time dad might not be enough. Among many traditional societies across South America, people subscribe to the folk wisdom that any man with whom a woman has had sex in the 10 months before giving birth makes some biological contribution to the fetus growing inside her. Even the woman’s official husband accepts this, and any possible father is welcome to assist–discreetly–in providing care for the child. Research by anthropologist Steve Beckerman and his team suggests that the optimal number of fathers is two, with 80% of children in the Bari tribe of Venezuela who have two male providers surviving to 15, compared with 64% among those with only one. Few modern fathers would like such an arrangement, but they hardly need to. Given the right combination of chemistry and culture, good fathering is a varied and highly sustainable resource–one that’s just waiting to be tapped.

    Hrdy is professor emerita of anthropology at UC Davis and author of Mother Nature”

  36. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Actually that’s good stuff. Hrdy is a leading anthropologist. Did she actually write the article? The sentence at the bottom sounds like an author blurb.

    I’m surprised she doesn’t explicitly mention the Grandmother Hypothesis, which as a matter of fact I’m about to post on. That’s one of the central pieces in the new theory that’s emerging on the evolution of human families.

  37. therealUK says:

    I’m surprised she doesn’t explicitly mention the Grandmother Hypothesis, which as a matter of fact I’m about to post on. That’s one of the central pieces in the new theory that’s emerging on the evolution of human families.

    This sounds interesting, the nuclear family being another load of male control-freakery invented cobblers that needs doing away with

  38. Kiuku says:

    ” a mother and father raising children alone was typically a temporary and often less than optimal phase for our ancestors.”

    therealUK,

    I know it’s great. It flies right in the face of all that Evo-Psych crap.

    Violet,

    It’s written by Hrdy and Mary Batten. Here is the actual address:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1630551,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner

  39. Leah says:

    Okay I’m really new to feminism so please don’t pummel me. Like an earlier poster I am a transwoman and my experience is similar to hers. What I mean is gender is much, much more complex than most people know. I agree that EPBS is just that BS, but gender is not strictly a social construct either. If it was trans people wouldn’t exist. There has to be a physical component and research in the last 15 years seem to be indicating just that. But as I said it’s just one component.

    What I’m getting at is I believe that there are many factors at play. There’s genes that help shape the brain and it’s organization early in development BEFORE hormones (Recent study at UCLA). Then the hormones. Then socialization and life experience and who knows what else.

    I see women and men being equal, but different. And that’s why many of us transition because we know we’re not that (the sex we were assigned at birth). It’s hard to explain other than to say: ignoring your body how do you know you’re female? You just know. And I think the existence of trans people proves it’s not all social constructs. After all we trans people buck all the social constructs that society has tried to enforce on us. My experience is the social contruct that society tried to enforce on me was all wrong, it constantly chaffed my soul. Whereas now, after transition, my soul is at peace, I finally feel like I belong.

    Gender is a complex phenomenon.

  40. The Ghost of Violet says:

    I agree with you, Leah; it is very complex. Trans identity is complex.

    I tried not to get into trans issues here because it’s such a big topic, and I’m no expert. But one thing I think is that there need to be more terms. Sex is biological, and gender (in the anthropological, social-science sense) is social. Do we need a third term for “sex identity”? To describe the sense of being (or not being) the biological sex you were assigned? I often think so.

    That would still leave the mechanism of the thing unexplained, but at least it would give us a distinct concept. Which could avoid a bunch of the arguments that seem to sprout up.

  41. Kiuku says:

    social constructed gender is a biological impossibility..honestly.

    I am a female. I CONSTANTLY feel “chaffed” by social constructs imposed on me. But I do not want to be a man, nor do I indentify as a man, at all. I am a WOMAN, through and through.

    There is no way, socially constructed gender female, is caused by female biology. I’m sorry. We give birth. We bleed. Physically, we don’t need to attract men. No way we are biologically prone to wear frilly crap and be weak.

    I think that Psychology is using trans identified people, unfortunately, as pawns, when it attempts to establish a biological cause for socially constructed gender.

  42. Leah says:

    Kiuku, nice of you to invalidate not just me, but all trans people. I think Julia Serano would call that exercising cisgendered privilege. Your experience is real and mine is not? I don’t think so. And for the record transsexualism is a largely self diagnosed condition. In other words psychs had NOTHING to do with who I am. I’ve only used them to fix my physical situation.

    Second, trans people go both ways. I don’t see men objecting to FtM’s this way. I think you’re guilty of falling for the patriarchy BS here. Specifically :gasp: why would any man give up his privilege in this society. Let’s punish him. Only one problem I don’t, and never have, identified as male.

    Many countries around the world now see, and treat, transsexualism as a form of intersex. I am not a man with a psychological condition, as you seem to believe, but a woman with a physical condition.

    I think you need to re-examine your own biases on this matter. I suggest you read “Whipping Girl” by Julia Serano.

    Oh and not that it matters, but I’m pretty much a plain Jane. I’m not into frilly stuff and make-up either. I blend in as just another woman out there. And that’s my last point here: I’m not TRANS, I’m female. To address me in that manner is another attempt to marginalize me.

    We are on the same side here.

  43. Kiuku says:

    “I don’t see men objecting to FtM’s this way.”

    I’m not objecting to you. It’s a feminist objection to what you’re saying: socialized gender as having a biological component. Unfortunately, you are using yourself and your experience to support what you’re saying: “My existence is proof of this”. So I don’t see how I can argue what you’re saying without “invalidating” your experience as you see it.

    The only way I can do so, and not be a complete asshole, is to speak from MY own experience, which is not more or less valid than yours.

    Gender is a very big issue for Feminism. There are probably several points where we agree, and where we are, in fact, on the same side.

  44. Kiuku says:

    I don’t like to see Feminists divided on this issue either. Regardless of whether or not there are differences, and regardless of whether or not these differences have biological root, is not society’s obsession with finding them and validating them indicitive of the oppression we face? Like Black oppression I don’t believe in separate but equal. As a Feminist I can’t believe in different but equal. I believe we are fundamentally similiar. As human beings, I believe we are similar in the ways that matter.

    Gender essentialism remains a large part of anti-feminism and so-called feminist “critique”.

    I understand you are relatively new to Feminism so it can be confusing. Not all women are feminists. Some are very misogynist and anti-Feminist. I’m not saying you are, but I AM saying that I accept you as a woman, whether or not you agree with me or with some Feminist arguments. Not all feminists agree on everything either. But as Feminists, we do all agree that oppression exists, that it is wrong, and that it must be stopped. Ideally as women we should all be on the same side. It’s a matter of waking people up.

  45. Leah says:

    Kiuku,

    I wanted to apologize if I came across as being defensive. When one comes out as being born transsexual you get a lot of people trying to invalidate who you are and your experience. Thank you for understanding. I do think we agree on a lot of things: Oppression, misogyny and that a lot of women aren’t feminists. Now that I’m finally done transition (it takes a lot of time and focus), it’s time to become educated. Thank you for your patience.

  46. Kiuku says:

    “When one comes out as being born transsexual you get a lot of people trying to invalidate who you are and your experience.”

    I am sure. People have varying notions on what makes a woman a woman and a man a man that are deeply embedded in our (Patriarchal) culture. I couldn’t begin to imagine what you face.

    I do understand oppression as a woman. I understand part of the dynamic of oppression is the “othering” of the oppressed group/class. Feminism is very strong on breaking cultural notions of gender binarism, and I’m constantly looking for ways to include women who have your condition in the ongoing fight for women’s liberation. You might find your stances argued by other feminists but I really hope that all feminists can work together for true equality. At the very least we shouldn’t marginalize you further, as women, because the only reason you are marginalized now is because of our cultural hangups. Good luck, from me atleast.

  47. Kiuku says:

    I like Violet’s idea of needing new terms, like “Sex identity”