Anyone with any understanding of feminism and of evolutionary psychology is probably having a laughing fit at the title of my entry. “Feminist evolutionary psychology” makes about as much sense as “atheist church,” “anarchist political party” or “antinatalist fertility clinic.”
And yet this is exactly what evolutionary psychologist dudebro Glenn Geher desperately tries to support in his entry Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology: Complementary, which is about a new organization called the Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society (“FEPS,” which bears an unfortunate similarity to “faps”).
My friend Aprelle has already written about this sordid entry. She has eloquently pointed out the deceitful nature of his definition of feminism (although to be fair she did use a quote from me as well). Their definition of evolutionary psychology is equally deceitful.
What I do want to address, however, is Geher’s pathetic attempt at justifying a merger of evolutionary psychology, which is an ultra-conservative form of political rhetoric, and feminism, which is radical in nature.
Geber does state something that is true:
Evolutionary psychology has proven to be extremely controversial – often, as I’ve stated in prior work (Geher, 2006), perceived as some sort of conservative conspiracy designed to keep the gender-based status quo.
Of course, Geber doesn’t believe this is actually true, but it’s actually a pretty good description. The word “conspiracy” is probably meant to throw us off the scent, since conspiracy theories are usually portrayed as absurd.
Anyway, Geber’s argument for integrating feminism and evolutionary psychology is… wait for it… that evolutionary psychologists are actually liberals!
Believe it or not, most evolutionary psychologists I know are exceptionally “progressive” in their politics…
In an article published in Human Nature in 2007, Josh Tybur, Geoffrey Miller, and Steve Gangestad reported that evolutionary psychologists are every bit as left-leaning and “progressive” as non-evolutionary psychologists – being just as likely to affiliate with the democratic party – and being no more likely than others to have voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.
The first problem with this argument is that it is completely irrelevant to the point. Even if every evolutionary psychologist on the planet was a red communist, that wouldn’t change that fact that evolutionary psychology as a discipline is structured and practiced so that ultra-conservative positions will come out of it. Geber claims:
The idea of understanding human behavior in light of evolutionary forces is not inherently conservative, sexist, or evil – not even close.
But this precisely proves the argument I’m making. First of all, trying to understand human behavior by using evolution is nonsensical, like trying to explain how a television works by using the laws of optics. Light is involved in both cases but a television cannot be explained solely by the laws of optics any more than human behavior can be explained by the evolutionary process.
But most importantly, it is inherently conservative to take human behavior as a given and try to explain it by making up evolutionary “just so” stories. Evopsychs and their predecessors, sociobiologists, take the behavior of women under the Patriarchy as a given and try to explain why women act that way with evolutionary stories. In doing so, they assume that women’s behavior under the Patriarchy is “chosen” and natural, and therefore their conclusion also entails that the behavior is “chosen” and natural. It’s a circular argument.
For example, evolutionary psychology pioneered the “alpha male” explanation of sexual hierarchy, which the MRAs then adopted wholesale to blame women for them not getting any. To take a more concrete example, evopsych journals published an explanation of why women like pink (it has to do with picking berries or some bullshit like that), even though this is obviously a gender issue, and therefore constructed by society (in the 1800s, girls were associated with blue, as you probably know).
The circular argument should be obvious here: the fact that women like pink is socially constructed, but the evopsych assumes that it can be explained by evolution, and then makes up an evolutionary story that somehow ends at “and that’s why women like pink.”
The fundamental premise of feminism is that women have operated and are operating under a system of male domination which we call the Patriarchy. This is wholly incompatible with the notion that whatever women do is the sole result of evolution.
I think Geber had to provide inane, inadequate and pithy definitions of feminism and evopsych so he could obfuscate the fact that evopsych is anti-feminist at its core. When examining any person’s behavior, the first question should not be “what in evolution caused this?” but rather “what in society caused this?”
I have never made a secret that I am, like most radicals, a social constructionist. To the evopsych, social constructionists are part of a cabal of evil socialist who are trying to overthrow the American way of life. One commentator replied to my vigorous rebuking of the Psychology Today article as such:
To the contrary, the only chance feminism has left to be taken seriously by anyone is for it to be rescued by evolutionary psychology from postmodernism / social constructionism.
The concept that feminism needs to be “rescued” (like women need to be rescued?) from social constructionism is ridiculous; a hierarchy that has no effect whatsoever on the actions of its subjects is not a hierarchy at all. To eschew social constructionism means to deny the existence of the Patriarchy, and at that point we are no longer talking about feminism. As I’ve said before, having the “notion that women are people” (which is not “radical” in any way, shape or form) makes you a basically decent human being, but it does not make you a feminist any more than believing that workers are people makes you a socialist or believing that black people are people proves you are not racist.
Can insights from evolutionary psychology help reduce unfair sexist policies and actions? Can insights from evolutionary psychology help lead to a world that empowers people regardless of gender? Can my field of evolutionary psychology make my daughter Megan’s world a better and brighter place? You know what I think.
I find that last question particularly odious and offensive given evopsych’s rationalization of rape (as did sociobiology in the past), although the Evopsych FAQ handles the issue somewhat more gingerly. Either way, evopsychs would merely ignore feminism and instead provide some rationalization for rape being “natural”; this surely cannot make the world a better place, no matter how much one blathers about trying to understand human behavior.
Frankly, I want nothing more than research that can reduce sexism, empower people, and make the world a better and brighter place. But that would require factual analysis, not evopsych, which is little more than rhetoric mixed in with guesswork.
The fact is that evopsychs have no idea how to understand human behavior, and they actively reject and vilify any ideology which can. The sum total of understanding that evopsych as a discipline has brought to the world is negative, insofar as it has introduced massive amounts of bigotry (which by definition is contrary to the goal of understanding others) and no new knowledge.
There is one fundamental question, I think, which trumps all others: should gender be eradicated? If various aspects of gender are the product of the evolutionary process (a nonsensical concept in itself since gender is a social construct, but for the sake of discussion, let’s assume we can make sense of this), then there seems to be little point in trying to eradicate it, and we just have to accept it. That’s why feminists berate evopsychs as being handmaidens (butlers?) of the Patriarchy and the status quo; because they keep repeating the same stereotypes against women and trying to rationalize them using pseudo-scientific explanations. There is nothing “progressive” about that.