Monkey Romance

Quick Hit: Darwin Was Wrong About Dating

This weekend the New York Times published a strong piece dismantling some widely accepted Darwinist explanations for gendered mating behavior. Dan Slater doesn’t actually prove, as his title suggests, that Darwin and his followers were definitely incorrect, but does challenge the “teleological status” of evolutionary psychology, particularly worrisome in light of its historical use for terrible political ends.

…The fact that some gender differences can be manipulated, if not eliminated, by controlling for cultural norms suggests that the explanatory power of evolution can’t sustain itself when applied to mating behavior. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve pushed these theories too far. How many stereotypical racial and ethnic differences, once declared evolutionarily determined under the banner of science, have been revealed instead as vestiges of power dynamics from earlier societies?

You can read the full article here.

Monkey Romance

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

Read more about Alexandra

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/uclabodyimage/ uclabodyimage

    My response to the NY Times Article on Evolutionary Psychology:

    Darwin may or may not have been wrong about dating. That New York Times article, however, does a very poor job of representing what the evolutionary psychologists think, and also a poor job at representing the extent to which men and women differ on average in terms of attitudes towards casual sex.

    Evolutionary psychologists think that behavior and attitudes are determined by complex interactions of genes, hormones, brain structures, experiences during development, how others view you, the local ecology and social structure, and cultural norms and traditions. Many of these evolved psychological systems and hormonal are specifically designed to respond environmental input.

    For example, I am an evolutionary psychologist. I study how patriarchal systems generate language norms that help reinforce male dominance, such as family surnames being organized around the husband’s identity and ancestry. I study how social constructions related to attitudes about fat have biased medical research on obesity and health risks. I also study how shifts in women’s hormone levels around the time of ovulation predict changes in women’s sexual behavior. I study how and why hunger and associated physiological changes impact behavior and decision making in both human and nonhuman animals. Being an evolutionary psychologist means that you take all potential sources of variation in behavior seriously, including biological ones, to explain both observed sex differences but also variations within each sex.

    Being a feminist is not incompatible with being sensitive to the fact that behaviors and preferences are multidetermined. I understand that some people worry about the dangers of biological explanations. Many people with a poor understanding of biology assume that “biological” means “fixed, universal, unchangeable” and use biological explanations to justify sexism and discrimination. Growing up in a society with certain beliefs and expectations about gender can bias the theories generated by scientists. These are legitimate concerns.

    I am also concerned with another danger: Allowing political ideology to justify the misrepresentation of scientific studies and views, and to dismiss biological explanations because the current constructions of what is needed to achieve gender equality are expedited if people believe that there are no average differences between men and women rooted in biology. Whatever the differences between men and women are on average, these group averages never apply to an individual. Feminism to me is about making sure that everyone regardless of gender has the opportunity to reach their full potential as a writer, scientist, thinker, athlete, etc, and to understand the factors that limit and enhance those opportunities.

  • http://feministing.com/members/nick/ Nick

    Developmental Biologist/Professor PZ Myers recently did a pretty excellent dismantling of Evolutionary Psychology in a two part post on his blog Pharyngula…

    Part 1: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/12/10/ep-the-fundamental-failure-of-the-evolutionary-psychology-premise/

    Part 2: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/12/11/ep-complexity-is-not-usually-the-product-of-selection/

  • http://feministing.com/members/lkl11/ L.K. Lowe

    ‘Evolutionary psychology’ is a quasi field within Evolutionary biology that is widely ridiculed by most evolutionary biologists. The research is often laughably shoddy in methods and the conclusions often do not fit the data and/or are filled with meaningless, unsupported speculation about how our ancestors ‘must’ have lived. Much of Evopsych is ‘common wisdom’ bullshit dressed up in sciency language.
    Please don’t use the words ‘Darwinist’ or ‘Darwin’ or ‘evolution’ to describe this claptrap.

    • http://feministing.com/members/lkl11/ L.K. Lowe

      Too late to edit, but I should not have said, basically, that all evopsych research is trash. My fervent apologies to actual researchers who are trying to raise that field out of the dark ages; I was over-hasty and inaccurate.