Extreme misogyny at the American Psychological Association convention

Monday, September 17th, 2007 · 39 Comments »

This is from an invited address at the APA conference in August, delivered by Roy F. Baumeister, in which he explains that men rule the world because they are naturally more creative, adventurous, and intelligent than women:

Hence religion, literature, art, science, technology, military action, trade and economic marketplaces, political organization, medicine — these all mainly emerged from the men’s sphere. The women’s sphere did not produce such things, though it did other valuable things, like take care of the next generation so the species would continue to exist.

Actually, taking care of the next generation seems to be the only “valuable thing” Baumeister thinks women have done, and they’ve barely managed that:

Giving birth is a revealing example. What could be more feminine than giving birth? Throughout most of history and prehistory, giving birth was at the center of the women’s sphere, and men were totally excluded. Men were rarely or never present at childbirth, nor was the knowledge about birthing even shared with them. But not very long ago, men were finally allowed to get involved, and the men were able to figure out ways to make childbirth safer for both mother and baby. Think of it: the most quintessentially female activity, and yet the men were able to improve on it in ways the women had not discovered for thousands and thousands of years.

It is astounding that in the year 2007, hate speech like this should be delivered in the context of an invited address at a prestigious medical/scientific conference. I went to the conference page of the APA to see if they’d issued some kind of apology for this thing, but no. They actually refer to it as “a provocative look at the motivational differences between men and women.”

How did this happen? How is it possible?

I’ll tell you how: Ev-psych. Baumeister, whose Ph.D. is in Social Psychology, is allowed to extrude this crud in public because he wraps his misogyny in the pseudo-scientific cloak of EP. His one precious factoid is the same one all the other ev-psych sexists cling to: that some cognitive test results show a wider distribution of scores among men than among women, with males occupying the extremes at both ends. (To an ev-psycho, of course, the statistical distribution of these particular results is a perfect mirror of innate human capacity. There is no possibility of test bias or performance differences based on gendered expectations or socialization or anything else, nor any question about just what external reality the test might be testing. It’s a funny thing, but evolutionary psychologists don’t actually seem to know much about psychology.)

But Baumeister’s statistics will only take him so far, because there’s the pesky fact that overall women’s scores are pretty much the same as men’s. So he adds his own fantastically cockamamie twist: that women are inherently “unmotivated” to use their brains. True, they do have the grey matter, and if someone plops a woman down in an office (invented by a man, of course) she’ll fire up the neurons and eventually figure out what to do, but otherwise females are content to function at about the level of lizards sunning themselves on a rock. Then Baumeister straps on his seven-league boots and leaps over a couple of mountains of logical absurdity to reach his promised land: men naturally rule the world because a) the smartest people in the world are always men, and b) women are lizards. And not only that, but (hang on if you’re an anthropologist because you’re about to vomit) men created all human culture.

Missing from this thesis is any knowledge of history, culture, sociology, anthropology, ethnography, genetics, biology, human origins, or pretty much anything else that you would think might come in handy in terms of understanding the history of our species, much less a social structure like patriarchy.

Oh, but wait — “patriarchy,” according to this thesis, doesn’t exist. The very notion that women have ever been systematically oppressed is a feminist conspiracy theory. According to Baumeister, women have never been discriminated against or oppressed or excluded from anything. They’re just naturally at the bottom of the social order because they’re so fucking dumb unmotivated. At one point in the speech he actually wonders aloud why women didn’t become composers in the 19th century, even though they had pianos at home and plenty of time to practice, and argues that the fact that they didn’t is clear evidence of women’s innate lack of creativity. That’s the level we’re dealing with here, folks.

Yet the faddish popularity of ev-psych makes it possible for this ignorant misogynist to expel his toe-curling fumes in public — at the goddamn APA convention! — without being shouted off the stage by an outraged audience.

You know, just the other night I was re-reading the excellent chapter on human origins research in Sarah Milledge Nelson’s Gender in Archaeology. I was chuckling along with Nelson at the ludicrousness of the field in the 60s and early 70s, the era of “Man the Hunter,” when male anthropologists argued that men had driven all of human evolution, that humanity itself was defined by the exclusively (so they thought) male occupations of hunting and flint knapping, and that all women did was sit around in the caves waiting for their pelvises to evolve so they could give birth to big-brained sons who would bring them meat.

Thirty-five years of feminist anthropology has beaten that shit to shreds*, but now ev-psych has come along to replace it. And that’s really all ev-psych is: another patriarchal just-so story explaining why modern male dominance is universal and natural and inevitable. Patriarchy always tells these stories. They’re justification myths — like the Greek legend about how the women of Athens lost power as a sop to Poseidon, or the Bible story that has women eternally paying for the apple thing. The modern version just talks about genes instead of gods and “gender motivational patterns” instead of apples. Same shit, different century.

*****

*From my own comment in the thread below: “And as for the creation of culture, the notion that this was somehow a male-only venture is unsupportable on any grounds. From our primate predecessors to Paleolithic tool makers to the Fiber Revolution to the invention of agriculture, all the evidence is that females have been as much culture-creators as males (if not more, actually, given the way research is going).”

I’m realizing that public perception is lagging a few decades behind the field, so I’m going to start posting on this work here and there to help get the word out.

As for the historical restrictions on women (such as, to take the example of “women composers,” the fact that until recently women were actually barred from higher education and musician unions and orchestras, and were ostracized and denied support and publication when they did compose), I feel sure my readers know all about that. Far better than this Baumeister clown.

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39 Responses to “Extreme misogyny at the American Psychological Association convention”

  1. apostate says:

    What I want to know is, did anyone — anyone at all — walk out? I’m guessing women were present in the audience. No one walked out? Nothing?

    To me, that’s somehow worse than what the guy said.

  2. Infidel says:

    Biological evolution which took millions of years to put flaggella on a single celled animal in one thousand years has managed to change man biologically- no.
    Psychology, three hundred years old, trying to make a place for itself, to explain psychology, uses a simple time where survival was eat, stay warm, don’t overheat, don’t get eaten, and have sex.
    Humans haven’t evolved as much as they ate, stayed warm, kept cool, not gotten eaten and had sex.
    If Humans ever were to evolve out of Patriarchy they would still have to contend with Brainiarchy, especially the not so smart.

  3. j0lt says:

    Didn’t ‘male doctors’ actually initially harm women giving birth? IIRC, upper class women of a certain era were frequently made incontinent by the use of inappropriate ‘medical instruments’ used by male doctors and thus socially invalided for the rest of their lives as opposed to their poorer cohorts who were still doing ok with midwives.

    And geez, what an ass. I can’t believe the APA is just letting this sit out there with no response.

  4. Timothy Shortell says:

    It’s a funny thing, but evolutionary psychologists don’t actually seem to know much about psychology.

    Sadly, they don’t know much about evolution either. It is a biological process, not a metaphor.

    I am personally embarrassed that this bozo has a degree in social psychology. He couldn’t pass introductory sociology.

  5. bright says:

    oh great!! i’m so glad to see you writing about this… i’m dismayed not to see it rebutted more prominently, as it was in the nyt in august. i’ve written my own response here. the thing that truly boggles my mind, is that he describes how men kept women at home and protect them as a resource, yet he says the oppressive patriarchy is a myth. wtf???

  6. therealuk says:

    And not only that, but (hang on if you’re an anthropologist because you’re about to vomit) men created all human culture.

    There’s an awful series running on the beeb at the moment called “Tribe” where some bloke goes off into the jungle and gets all initiated and pukes a lot and generally plays at being at one with the primitives.

    There are various cringy things about the programme , but one thing that leaps out is that the “culture” that he engages with it is almost entirely male culture, male ritual, male dick waving of one sort or another.

    Women’s activities, despite the fact they do have real social value, are not cast as heroic, adventurous, exciting, spiritual, in contrast to the games men play, what women do seemingly has no value and so becomes virtually invisible.

  7. The Ghost of Violet says:

    I am personally embarrassed that this bozo has a degree in social psychology.

    I think he’s an embarrassment to academia, period. It’s mind-boggling the number of things he needs to be ignorant of in order to have come up with this tripe. Is it even possible to be that unaware of the massive legal and social restrictions on women in our civilization until very recently? And as for the creation of culture, the notion that this was somehow a male-only venture is unsupportable on any grounds. From our primate predecessors to Palelolithic tool makers to the Fiber Revolution to the invention of agriculture, all the evidence is that females have been as much culture-creators as males (if not more, actually, given the way research is going).

    But Baumeister is clearly trying to jump on the EvPsych bandwagon; he’s got a book coming out, he says, about “how culture exploits men.” I looked at his CV and it appears he keeps trying to hit the pop psychology jackpot, though in the past he’s focused more on self-esteem type crap. But he sees that the money is in misogyny, and no doubt that dovetails with his own MRA sentiments (if you go over to Echidne’s you’ll see the letter to the editor he wrote about how hard men work, and in his speech to the APA he actually said that women commit more domestic violence than men, etc.).

  8. NancyP says:

    What everyone else said. Lame-ass here is going for the talk-show circuit, which he surely wouldn’t reach otherwise.

    BTW, the APA still considers that psychologists who provide data and suggestions to be used by torturers – are within their professional code of ethics.

  9. nina says:

    Oh, this chaps my hide (as Twisty would say). My BA is in psychology, and I remember back in my dewy younger days when I was sure that feminism (which was still called Women’s Lib) was really going to change everything. I was reading Psychology Today one evening, and I don’t even remember the article or quote, but it was some sexist bullshit that the APA was spouting off, and it was seriously depressing to think that even in this field that I had loved and studied and thought of as my home, there was no respite from the misogyny. Looks like not much has changed.

    Same shit, different century indeed.

  10. dr.sue says:

    Violet, thanks for this.

    Apostate, I haven’t read that anyone walked out. I think the reason is that the APA is such an entrenched patriarchy that not a lot of feminists go to the conferences. The women’s division is marginalized, and often women’s voices simply aren’t heard.

    Nina, I had assumed that the curriculum and attitudes would be more enlightened in graduate school, but not so.

  11. Liz says:

    jOlt makes a good point about doctors and childbirth. The male-dominated medical field interfered for years with a natural process that women used to handle, causing immediate and long-term complications, didn’t they? Aren’t we still trying to get away from that medicalized view of childbirth?

  12. Ann Bartow says:

    Same old same old. Guess he didn’t read this:
    http://feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu/?p=2321
    Or if he did, his tiny brain didn’t grasp the thesis.

  13. keshmeshi says:

    Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann were excellent composers in their own right. Of course, their work surviving to the present day is entirely due to their more famous husbands. They also weren’t as remotely prolific as their male counterparts (despite having innate musical talent, a relatively comfortable lifestyle, and supportive husbands) perhaps because they were a little too busy with “women’s” work.

  14. Infidel says:

    Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive.
    One reason might be the XX nature of the genes, or the hypersensitivity of testosterone, or the differences in levels of testosterone, or the adaptive plasticity to sociocultural pressures inherenet biologically because of gender
    Arguably one might argue, but what is the point- there is no double standard, or if there is it only applies to old data since it is an old assumption, what is important is that we have the discussion and give an ear to the thought and an eye to the evidence and think of a better way or a more correct vision so we might agree on truth. If we discover causality we might be better able to affect change where change is desireable.
    Me, I drive a taxi cab…..-Jaques Brell-

  15. K.A. says:

    Doesn’t he even know about the history of IQ testing, which is the bedrock of his Stone Age bullshit? The initial format of IQ tests had women outscoring men, so they adjusted it until it went the other way–y’know, just as nature intended.

  16. The Ghost of Violet says:

    (cross-posted from the comment thread at Pandagon):

    I just want to point out that from an anthropological perspective, what Baumeister is really saying is that women aren’t human.

    Culture is the key marker of humanness: we create, we adapt, and we pass that knowledge on. Baumeister attributes this behavior wholly to men, claiming that women are unmotivated to invent anything. His idea is that because women don’t have to do anything to get laid, they don’t do anything. They just function at a pre-cultural level.

    Of course this makes absolutely no sense on any grounds. Female primates are in the business of getting food and negotiating their environment, just as males are, and in fact tool use among primates usually seems to be initiated and passed on by females. There is no reason — no logical reason, no primatological reason, no biological reason — to suppose that early female humans sat around like dull-eyed lumps waiting to be fucked and fed.

    And from the anthropological perspective, the evidence is very much the other way, that female humans were at least equal with males in creating human culture, and possibly even ahead of them. Social structures, stone tools, rock art, the Fiber Revolution, pottery, the domestication of plants — women were either co-creators or leaders or even sole inventors of all these tremendous innovations.

  17. foo says:

    The guy is an asshole, but you greatly overreach by calling it hate speech and do a great injustice to victims of actual hate speech, women included.

  18. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Perhaps we disagree on what constitutes hate speech. Baumeister is basically saying that women aren’t human.

    If he had delivered an address arguing that black people are less intelligent than white people, and that black people are fundamentally unmotivated to create or innovate or think (the way, you know, humans do) or even to work hard, I don’t think anyone would have trouble labeling it hate speech.

  19. Mary Tracy9 says:

    The little respect I still have for “PhD owners” is vanishing with each passing day.

    Anyone knows of a PhD in revolutionary thinking I could take?

  20. bright says:

    actually, i agree with foo. the phrase hate speech has already gained such a divisive and weird connotation, that i don’t think it works well to use it any longer.

    just my opinion, but i think it’s more meaningful to confront it, and demonstrate just how stupid it actually is. hate gives him too much credit; this man is claiming to be a scholar.

    on a personal note, the papers all reported a quote from nancy hopkins when covering that summers’ speech, “”I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.”
    link

    i remember this, because it seemed like they were trying to highlight an animal nature here, exploiting justifiable emotional responses to this kind of propaganda. it’s truly sad.

  21. The Ghost of Violet says:

    I see the point and you may be right. My own feeling is that it is hate speech — just the newest kind. It’s covert hate speech. The old rabble-rousing is so passe now; the new-and-improved bigot instead hides behind science and just shakes his head sadly at the unavoidable truth that women and blacks have different cognitive profiles (test scores don’t lie!), though of course he’s not a sexist or a racist or anything.

    Old style hate speech: Stormfront.

    New style hate speech: GNXP.

    I think if we only label it hate speech when they’re wearing the swastika armband, then we make the same mistake as those who say it’s not fascism if it’s got Mom and apple pie all over it and a nice President who goes on TV and everything.

  22. bright says:

    it is hate speech. and it deeply offends me. it, in a sense, is exactly the same as what the nazis did, because their bigotry too, was sometimes shrouded in science. it is the most terrifying way to insert those ideas into the mass psyche.

    but here is how i think of such science…

    it assaults the accomplishments of all people, to distill us to our biology. to make assumptions about my capabilities and interests based on such qualities is counter to every idea about freedom and democracy we claim to value. i am truly frightened that it is not shouted down more often and more forcefully when spotted. it is apparently very compelling for lazy minds, who have not thought through its implications.

  23. Infidel says:

    And the kicker is that the application and spouting of such nonsense has a following. Historically has a following. Propoganda appeals to humans because of their inate confusion and humans need to follow others, great for social constructs. Are there biological leaders? “A” personalities by virtue of genetics? Maybe? Some people aren’t cut out to be…. What a fool I’d look debating Violet, and yet she isn’t biologically smarter, she’s smarter because she just is. I don’t debate that, and I’m certainly not condesending- I can’t even spell condescending. So in real psychology where there are physiologically manifested anomallies- but you can’t apply Electroshock Therapy to them, and maybe psyco analytic therapy in a language the patient can understand might help the coping method that is needed to ameliorate experienced painful memories, coping methods learned is way to individual and has nothing to do with the big picture: society and individuals comparatively to each other versus individual physiological differences between individual human beings statistically significant presence of more or less numbers associated with behavior, observations of trends or spikes in graphs, data gathered and data gathering methods developed. Dude where’s my car? Jackass makes multi million dollars, pet rocks, and sadly Pokemon cards- gotta catch them all. Okay patriachy was hidden and now I see, amazing grace how sweet the sound.

  24. The Ghost of Violet says:

    What a fool I’d look debating Violet, and yet she isn’t biologically smarter, she’s smarter because she just is.

    The hell I’m not biologically smarter than you!

    I kid.

    Of course there are huge variations between individuals — in talents, aptitudes, all kinds of things. Where pseudo-scientists go off the rails is in claiming that these variations exist between classes of people, such as between blacks and whites, or between women and men. There is very little evidence for that, because observed behavioral differences between groups of people are readily explained by socialization. Given that human culture is plastic and our behavior is known to be incredibly sensitive to culture influences, socialization continues to be the prudent explanation.

    There may actually be average cognitive differences between males and females, but good luck figuring out what they are through the 400 decibel noise of culture.

    Pretending that the status of women and blacks is because of innate inferiority is a way of making the social operators disappear. Discrimination? What discrimination? It is a political move.

  25. Femmy says:

    This is what the dumbass looks like
    http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/baumeist.dp.html

    This is where hatemail should be sent
    baumeister@psy.fsu.edu

    This is where he did his research
    http://www.menarebetterthanwomen.com

    Jackasses, the lot of them.

  26. Kiuku says:

    Thanks Femmy! I’m gonna get my hate on.

  27. Kiuku says:

    Dear Roy Baumeister, PhD,

    First let me introduce myself. I am ———–. I ——— here at ——–. I recently came across a speech you gave to the APA Conference in August. I found it deeply disturbing.

    You said:

    “Hence religion, literature, art, science, technology, military action, trade and economic marketplaces, political organization, medicine — these all mainly emerged from the men’s sphere.”

    Meanwhile you dismissed the lack of women’s participation as due to lack of female motivation. I just want to know if you honestly believe this? Are you oblivious to violence, coercion, and rulership or do you think these were negligible factors in religion, literature, art, science, technology, military action, etc? Do you also believe in white supremacy? Just curious.

    ———–

  28. Kiuku says:

    I’ve been enlightened by Baumeister. Those muslim women don’t participate in religion because they just lack the motivation to be tortured and killed.

  29. Kiuku says:

    and how the F(((( is it that in Baumeister’s world the men had to be “finally allowed” to participate in childbirth..cuz you know those women sure had all the power to control their reproduction..and all women needed under the rulership of men was motivation? wwWttFFFF SERIOUSLY

  30. The Ghost of Violet says:

    Kiuku, did you actually send him an email?

  31. Kiuku says:

    Yes I did! That’s what I sent him.

  32. Kiuku says:

    The more I read from Baumeister, the worse it gets.

  33. Kiuku says:

    I read a review for one of Baumeister’s books on criminality, where he alleges to explain how “ordinary people find themselves beating their wives.” In Baumeister’s speech he mentioned a couple pro-female books that appear to be his motivation for that speech:

    ““The Female Brain” introduces itself by saying, “Men, get ready to experience brain envy.” Imagine a book advertising itself by saying that women will soon be envying the superior male brain! ”

    As if that hasn’t been the case over the past 300 years. As if that isn’t the case in “The Essential Difference.” and countless others.

    This is what happens when MRA’s get degrees. This is nothing but a resentful MRA on crack.

  34. Mu'Min says:

    Hi y’all.
    I’ve read the original paper the good doctor in question presented to the APA, and I think the point he was making was that until men got involved, childbirth was a very risky and often deadly thing for most women. The stats in the past century or so bears this out: whereas for every live birth/healthy mom there was 100 fatalities/complications, today that number is one in *ten thousand*. And this is becoming more and more the case around the world, as well. If there was ever any doubt about whether medical science has helped or hurt women and childbirth, the jury’s in on that score.

    It seems to me that the best way to address the doc’s comments is to present evidence where he’s wrong and why, rather than merely using lots of cursing and saying “women were kept down by the man” and so on. This doesn’t make the counter argument look good, especially when its coming from folks who are obstensibly as educated as the doc is.

    Holla back

    Salaam
    Mu

  35. The Ghost of Violet says:

    I’ve read the original paper the good doctor in question presented to the APA, and I think the point he was making was that until men got involved, childbirth was a very risky and often deadly thing for most women.

    And he was wrong. When male doctors became involved in childbirth their main accomplishment was to serve as disease vectors, leading to a higher incidence of purpureal fever and other deadly infections. Also note comment #3 above (jolt) about medical injuries caused by doctors using instruments.

    The stats in the past century or so bears this out: whereas for every live birth/healthy mom there was 100 fatalities/complications, today that number is one in ten thousand.

    Improvements over the past century are owing to the understanding of germ theory and antibiotics, not the presence of men.

    Of course men dominated medicine until recently, but that’s because women weren’t allowed to go to medical school or practice medicine.

    It seems to me that the best way to address the doc’s comments is to present evidence where he’s wrong and why, rather than merely using lots of cursing and saying “women were kept down by the man” and so on. This doesn’t make the counter argument look good, especially when its coming from folks who are obstensibly as educated as the doc is.

    Most readers of this blog are well-educated enough to know that Baumeister’s paper is fantastically ludicrous. They don’t need to hear “counter arguments,” anymore than they need to hear a detailed refutation of the assertion that the closing living relative of whales is the monarch butterfly.

  36. Kiuku says:

    I’ve read the original paper the good doctor in question presented to the APA, and I think the point he was making was that until men got involved, childbirth was a very risky and often deadly thing for most women. The stats in the past century or so bears this out: whereas for every live birth/healthy mom there was 100 fatalities/complications, today that number is one in ten thousand. And this is becoming more and more the case around the world, as well. If there was ever any doubt about whether medical science has helped or hurt women and childbirth, the jury’s in on that score.

    Medical Science has helped -people-. Medical science has helped PEOPLE, men AND women. Next thing you know men will claim that you know what they really enjoyed the bubonic plague. Men just wanted to believe a uterus wondered around a woman’s body. They simply had to be “allowed” to get involved in childbirth. And women were never oppressed and could get an education anytime. But I’m really glad that men finally decided to give actual science and medicine a go after years of religious delusion, EVEN THOUGH, women proclaimed some of science’s basics 100′s of years before your great men. Hundreds of years.

    It seems to me that the best way to address the doc’s comments is to present evidence where he’s wrong and why, rather than merely using lots of cursing and saying “women were kept down by the man” and so on. This doesn’t make the counter argument look good, especially when its coming from folks who are obstensibly as educated as the doc is.

    No, It’s my woman brain. I’m not capable of that kind of logical refudiation. And I lack the necessary appendage to culminate the experience by jerking off to delusions of my rationality while my penile counterparts rape and murder people around the clock.

  37. Mama Bear says:

    I just read this post today… OMG, you had me ROLLING with laughter at the “(2) women are lizards.” Oh wait, wait, wait, also: “…all women did was sit around in the caves waiting for their pelvises to evolve so they could give birth to big-brained sons who would bring them meat.” I’m still trying to catch my breath from laughing so hard. Thank you for writing this!!

    Does this Baumeister guy even think before he comes to these “infallible” conclusions?! Wonder how he feels about his mother… Not from a Freudian perspective (male), but from a “Dude, do you not realize the sacrifice she made for you when she gestated you, birthed you, and was the primary provider for your EVERYTHING in your most formative years???” one…

  38. simply wondered says:

    so is mu’min a troll?
    bad joke for all you finns reading out there

  39. simply wondered says:

    oh no i’m just proving gov’s assertion about my attention span – the bad joke was for our swedish friends; sorry.