The Launching of the Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society: FEPS

Kramare and Treichler (1996): “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

Geher (2009): “Evolutionary psychology is the radical notion that human behavior is part of the natural world.”

There is no reason on earth to believe that these two “radical” notions are irreconcilable.

I am glad to say that an important and growing intellectual movement is in the works. The Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society (FEPS) was borne of discussions at the most recent meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS) in Oswego, New York. Apparently, the NEEPS meetings are about more than intensive academic sessions, world-class keynote speakers, whiffle ball, and parties on the beach.

Believe it or not, most evolutionary psychologists I know are exceptionally “progressive” in their politics. I quote the word “progressive,” as I feel bad for folks who are not considered “progressive” by those who are self-proclaimed in their “progressivity” – seems like kind of a bad thing to be “non-progressive.” In fact, “non-progressive” almost sounds fully synonymous with “stupid.” But I digress.

“Progressive” means more than “secular democrat” or “liberal.” The moniker has a clear connotation regarding action. Those who consider themselves “progressive,” as far as I can tell, proactively work to uphold various important social values. Someone who is “progressive” not only is against racism, sexism, and unjust wars that kill thousands – he or she also has a sense of obligation to shape the world to be less racist, sexist, and unjust.

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. This portrait of evolutionary psychology is inherently “non-progressive.”

In fact, evolutionary psychology is, at its core, an approach to understanding human behavior using evolutionary theory – arguably the single-most influential theory that has existed in the history of science – as a guide. The idea of understanding human behavior in light of evolutionary forces is not inherently conservative, sexist, or evil – not even close. Trying to understand who we are by employing the most powerful theory that exists within the life sciences actually seems pretty smart when you think about it.

A recent examination of the political attitudes of psychologists who label themselves as “evolutionary psychologists” versus other psychologists tells an interesting story. 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 to have voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. While folks from the conservative right are likely not at all surprised by these data (after all, isn’t that whole theory of evolution an anti-religious New York liberal thing?), I bet “progressive” folks on the far left may well be.

As David Sloan Wilson (2009) tells us, evolutionary psychologists need to reclaim our field. The term “evolutionary psychology” has often been yoked with very specific approaches to human behavior – and has partly become embroiled in politics as a result. While I don’t think any of these approaches is inherently sexist, it will definitely serve future scholars well to take a more open approach to understanding how evolution underlies human behavior. According to David – with whom I agree strongly on this issue – evolutionary psychologists would benefit from being open to non-modularist approaches that take seriously the fact of cultural evolution.

When Rosemarie Chang, EvoS websmaster, came to me during the NEEPS conference to ask if I’d be up for joining a new organization called FEPS, I was immediately on board. So were many attendees at NEEPS 09. It turns out that evolutionary psychologists are not only typically liberal and feminist in their politics – they’re also “progressive” – and the birth of FEPS demonstrates this point strongly.

What will come of FEPS? I’m not sure. But given the intellectual strength of folks who are primarily responsible for forming this new society – including Alice Andrews, Rebecca Burch, Rosemarie Chang, Maryanne Fisher, Leslie Heywood, Dan Kruger, Kaja Perina, Sarah Strout, and many others – I have little doubt that great things are to follow.

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.

The first official meeting of FEPS will take place as something of a pre-conference to the 2010 meeting of NEEPS – slated to likely take place where NEEPS was born in 2007 – my home campus at SUNY New Paltz. Check the NEEPS website (neepsociety.com) for details. Hope to see you there.

Oh – and here’s the URL for the FEPS facebook group – tell your friends:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=122502515165*

References

Geher, G. (2006). Evolutionary psychology is not evil! … and here’s why … Psihologijske Teme (Psychological Topics); Special Issue on Evolutionary Psychology, 15, 181-202.

Kramare, C., & Treichler, P. A. (1996).  A Feminist Dictionary. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Tybur, J. M., Miller, G. F., & Gangestad, S. W. (2007). Testing the controversy: An empirical examination of adaptationists’ attitudes towards politics and science. Human Nature, 18, 313-328.

Wilson, D. (2009). Evolutionary psychology and the public media: Rekindling the romance. Huffington Post Blogs.

* must be approved by the group administrator, Rosemarie Chang, to join. Contact Rosemarie at: evostudies@gmail.com

Glenn Geher

About Glenn Geher

Glenn Geher is professor and chair of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. In addition to teaching courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and conducting research in various areas related to evolutionary psychology, Glenn directs the campus’ EvoS program, one of the most successful, noteworthy, and vibrant features of a campus that prides itself (rightfully) on academic vibrance. In Building Darwin’s Bridges, Glenn addresses the details of New Paltz’s EvoS program as well as issues tied to the future of evolutionary studies in the rocky and often unpredictable landscape of higher education.
This entry was posted in Evolution and Psychology, Glenn Geher. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Launching of the Feminist Evolutionary Psychology Society: FEPS

  1. Pingback: You know my hips don’t lie. And I’m starting to feel it’s right. BUT…let’s check your IIEF-5 score and our PVI frequency baby. Oh yeah~ | The Grand Narrative

  2. Pingback: Can Feminism + Evolutionary Psychology= <3 ? « alex discerns a way

  3. Glenn Geher says:

    Apparently my initial blog here was more interesting than I anticipated! Amy – thanks for your post – which, like all your writing, makes me smile. Without question, if FEPS is to survive, thrive, and facilitate productive science, the points you raise herein will need to be very seriously addressed. And I can’t wait for your book to come out! I expect it will be an instant classic.

    As I stated in my initial blog, the future of FEPS is not fully certain to me – but I bet this discussion will help shape it in a productive manner – and I have nothing but full confidence in the folks who have inspired this idea.

  4. Feminism had a difficult history – in trying to achieve equal rights for women, sex and gender differences were simply negated. But recently a new insight gains importance in feminism – interestingly it is rooted in sustainability research.

    By dropping the assumption that men and women are the same, and accepting the possibility that men’s and women’s values and goals may differ, and their verbal and nonverbal language might vary as well. Conversely, awareness of societal preconceptions and stereotypes, which portray the other sex as “different” or “opposite” is the pretext for avoiding such stereotypes.

    On the other hand, gender research must not over-focus on differences – otherwise we might end up perceiving men and women belonging to two different species. For example – men and women are actually quite of one mind when it comes to mate choice (nice, agreeable…) but everybody seems to talk only about the differences. Even though the differences seem to be more exciting to talk about, I think it is our responsibility to give the similarities the same importance.

    I think that evolutionary psychologists are the group of scientists who can do so – if our research is well based in theory and our methods are objective and reliable. Good luck to us all!

    Lisa

  5. Glenn–your post wasn’t there when I posted mine! I think I would have refrained from adding mine had I seen it. Great stuff…
    And Amy and Mike, though I agree with you on some things, I don’t on others…I don’t think I’ll be able to convince you why it’s not a dirty word–the F-word–because it’s something that you come to through your experience or not. Same thing for the epistemic problem…
    The people in FEPS, however, are excited to get to work on work and research and I heartily support them. And, Amy, not one of these EPs (or rather, FEPs)is looking to “kowtow to some political position,” nor will they turn away from ‘truth’ “for some ‘greater good’.” If you believe that, then you misunderstand their program. I wish I could continue to contribute to this discussion, but I’m on deadline for my journal “The Evolutionary Review” and must get back to it…
    All my best,
    Alice

  6. I am pretty much in agreement with Amy’s post above.

    I’m all for airing grievances, whether feminist or maculinist. But I would rather hear someone say: “I am an evolutionary psychologist (my interest in discovering “what is”) and a feminist (my interests in what I think “should be”). But even that gives me some pause — are you only interested in women’s issues? A great disappointment for many males involved in the early feminist movement was that it was initially promoted as creating more justice for both sexes. As Amy pointed out above, it didn’t pay much heed to discrimination against men or mens’ perceptions of grievance or powerlessness. This has been noted in many of Warren Farrell’s books.

    Glenn bring up the issue of the spiraling arms races of courtship displays. I think the “culprit” here is the media, where we see only the top 5% of the population in terms of good looks, strange “handicap displays” (piercings, tattoos, etc.), extreme wealth and status. And, our poor primitive tribal minds cannot distinguish the media virtual realty from our real peer group “real reality” of less attractive and wealthy friends. The media create “psychological illusions” via virtual reality.

    I’m not sure a film like Pretty Woman is such a good date movie. When the college couple leaves the theater the guy is thinking “why isn’t my girlfriend as hot Julia Roberts…?” The gal is thinking “why isn’t my boyfriend as hot, high status, and as wealthy as Richard Gere… ?” They leave the theater less satisfied with their partner than before!

    But the ability of the media to create virtual realities might be an interesting way to help to solve social problems.
    I have argued this with respect to solving problems of ecological overshoot. This is a bit beyond the topic here, but if you are interested in my thoughts on this, and don’t mind having your day thoroughly ruined by a discussion of our impending ecological overshoot, see:

    http://drmillslmu.com/peakoil.htm

    Cheers, Mike

  7. Amy Alkon says:

    Alice Andrews writes: “I’ve realized that I am an evolutionary feminist—and that feminism need not be a dirty word. We’re not yet at the point in our culture when and where sexism, racism, etc. is non-existent. When such a time comes, I’ll go back to calling myself a humanist.”

    Is there a culture in the world that lacks racism or sexism? It isn’t just against women in this culture. I blog frequently about paternity fraud – where men are actually sometimes jailed for not paying child support…for children DNA tests show are not theirs! I always wonder, where are the feminists, purportedly for equal rights for all, when paternity fraud cases come up? Where are they on the issue of domestic violence against men? And so on and so on.

    I do not call myself a feminist because feminists, these days, are too often for special treatment under the guise of equal treatment. I truly am a humanist — for fair treatment for all. And let’s dispense with the fiction: we are not equal or the same. And I have that emphasized to me weekly from the research people in NEEPS and HBES do. One example that comes to mind (because it’s sitting on the shelf across from me): There’s a terrific book by HBES member Kingsley Browne, “Coed Combat,” in which he lays out why women should not be in combat. Why, for example, it actually makes combat more dangerous for the men. I believed that if men had to go into combat, women should — until I read the data-based reasons this is actually damaging.

    In short, I’m dismayed by this attempt to politicize science. Can’t we just have science, not feminist or masculinist or Democratic or Republican science? Won’t you all reconsider? I’m all for what David is trying to do with EvoS — and I have a (“popular”…I hope!) book coming out in November (or maybe October) in which I do my best to make ev. psych accessible and even exciting to a wide audience.

    P.S. In writing about the work of members of NEEPS and HBES in my syndicated column, I’m besieged by hate mail from feminists at least once a month. The creation of some special section for women — the panties and tampons wing of ev. psych — will not make them or the SSSM types like you better. And why would you want them to? To me, the creation of this group is pretty much saying that science — seeking the truth, unencumbered by a need to kowtow to some political position — should be silenced for some “greater good.” I find that depressing and rather dangerous.

  8. Hi again, Mike…I think Sarah did great job of explaining the rationale behind the program of FEPS. I just want to address what seems to be your main concern.
    Why call oneself a Darwinian feminist or evolutionary feminist, as for example, Geoffrey Miller does?
    About 6 or 7 years ago, when asked by my Psych of Women students if I considered myself a feminist, I responded that I considered myself a “humanist” (playing on the other meaning, but making a point I think similar to how you feel). Since teaching that course (I’ve taught it thrice now), I’ve realized that I am an evolutionary feminist—and that feminism need not be a dirty word. We’re not yet at the point in our culture when and where sexism, racism, etc. is non-existent. When such a time comes, I’ll go back to calling myself a humanist.

    Like Sarah, I believe that it is impossible to do science without ideology and subjectivity shaping our epistemological framework; ideology and subjectivity color our assumptions and premises, our research methodology, and the way we interpret evidence and data.

    I like Karl Popper on this issue. He writes:
    “Here then is the similarity between my own view (the ‘third view’) and essentialism; although I do not think we can ever describe, by our universal laws, an ultimate essence of the world, I do not doubt that we may seek to probe deeper and deeper into the structure of the world or, as we might say, into properties of the world that are more and more essential, or of greater and greater depth.”

    Historically, Psychology in general did pretty well for itself when women psychologists started questioning some of the male assumptions and lenses that were used. I imagine EP will do well for itself, too, if more women researchers/scientists/psychologists (and men with similar program) start looking at some of the basic arguments in EP with fresh eyes. This is different than a science of ‘ought’. For me, it is about being more balanced—about being Popperian in probing “deeper and deeper into the structure of the world…into properties of the world that are more essential, or of greater and greater and depth.” Far from committing the naturalistic fallacy, this FEPS program seems to be quite positivistic in that (it appears to me) it wants to peer more deeply into the nature of things and ask questions from a different perspective. The social sciences need this kind of movement, as do the hard sciences, if we are to get any closer to Truth…

  9. Glenn Geher Glenn Geher says:

    Mike et al – holy smokes – awesome discussion here all in less than 24 hours; hard to keep up!

    Mike – your concern about conflating a value-laden political perspective (feminism) and a non-value-driven scientific approach to understanding human behavior (evolutionary psychology) is very well-articulated – and is, without question, THE BIG issue that FEPS and other initiatives must effectively deal with.

    A few more specific points:

    I generally agree with Sarah, Rose, and Alice here – there are ways of connecting feminism and EP that allows the EP part to remain open-ended and scientific. As I see it, feminism is largely all about making sure that females are provided a world that affords them the same opportunities provided by males. That’s a political goal (ought), and one that I’m all for (thus my support of FEPS). EP framed in this manner may be seen as that subset of EP work which bears on sex differences and has implications for how things should be structured.

    For instance, women spend too much money on make-up in my opinion. Buss and others talk about the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry. From the perspective of EP, makeup and plastic surgery comprise false courtship signals. Do women really need to send false courtship signals? Should we teach our daughters to spend great effort emitting false courtship signals? Should my daughter’s bedroom floor be littered with Barbies and makeup kits?

    As Miller and others argue, there are many behavioral traits that comprise more genuine courtship signals – kindness, group-oriented altruistic behavior, humor, musical ability. Maybe my daughter’s floor should be littered with books that tell stories of the human condition (Harry Potter?) and a keyboard – which is a more accurate picture – just throw in some clothes, teddy bears, and a bunch of other random stuff!

    This is just one example of feminist evolutionary psychology from my perspective – but I think it puts a face to it. A political goal (thus the feminist part) is to not make females in our society work to be perceived (by self and others) as objects. The EP part comes in by looking at the science of human mating and see how this important disctinction between, in this case, honest and dishonest courtship signals can be useful in moving toward a political goal of non-objectification for women.

    But Michael – your posting is very provocative and makes me think of perhaps other situations where a feminist goal may actually be irreconciliable with findings from evolutionary psychology – so your points are, in fact, well-taken. I think that articulating such scenarios and thinking of scientifically valid stances on them would be an important goal of FEPS.

    And, btw, the idea of “masculinist evolutionary psychology” does make just as much sense to me as “feminist EP” – and I’d be glad to join such a movement as well! The more I read the work of evolutionary psychologists such as Dan Kruger and Jim Sidanius, the more I see that males are, in so many ways, the underbenefitted folks – who get bloodied up, insulted, kicked, punched, and pushed more than females and who reach death in higher numbers than females across the lifespan. And they’re gettting into college in way lower numbers – which is going to make things worse for their future as a whole. Oh yeah – and look at the sex ratio in jail. And I’m concerned about sending my boy, Andrew (5) into THAT future!

  10. Interesting. Partner sexual cheating for males could lead to cuckoldry (ultimate consequence). Partner emotional cheating for women could lead to loss of resources for the woman’s child(ren) (ultimate consequence). Both ultimate consequences reduce reproductive success. Would asking the ultimate questions give better data (guys: would you be upset by discovering that you have been made a cuckold by your wife? gals: would you be upset if your husband abandoned investment in you and your offspring? And, then ask the same questions again, sexes reversed).

    Rather than “feminist evolutionary psychology,” which carries the baggage of “what does feminism mean?”, and “does it embrace the SSSM or not”, why not jettison the old baggage?

    Rather than pitting feminists and masculinists (each with their own claims to grievance), why not be more inclusive, and call it somthing like:

    Darwinian Gender Studies Society
    for which there is already a Facebook interest group:
    http://www.facebook.com/memills#/group.php?gid=2454842234

    or, my favorite,

    Society for the Study of Sexually Dimorphic Psychological Adaptations — the SSSDPA — nice ring to it.

    ;-)

  11. Sarah Strout says:

    Wow! Great discussion everyone. I would like to comment on Mike’s comments briefly. The main reason we came reason we came up with the idea of FEPS is that traditionally EP has been researched by male researchers (obviously with notable exceptions). Being an EPist, I understand that men and women are quite different, and this includes cognitive differences. This means that men and women are likely to explain research and come up with theories differently. I know in science we like to pretend that we are partial, but by nature our theories are biased by our gender, race, culture, upbringing etc. So, in my mind, the nature of FEPS is too take another look at evolutionary psychology and see if there are any holes that a female brain may find and/or research a female brain may explain differently. Classic example: Buss jealousy-men are afraid of partner cheating, women afraid of losing resources, but the forced choice question is not whether sexual infidelity or resources lost is more upsetting, but whether sexual or emotional infidelity is more upsetting….Why is the male option direct but the female option indirect?

  12. Alice,

    Very nice replies to the misinformation about EP held by so many. It can get so tiresome countering these misconceptions over and over…

    But, let me go on, and ask more questions re feminist evolutionary psychology.

    What would it mean to be:

    …a masculinist evolutionary psychologist?
    …a Marxist / libertarian / capitalist / etc… evolutionary psychologist?
    …an Islamic / Buddhist / Atheist evolutionary psychologist?

    We sometimes hear terms like “Marxist Economist” or a “Keynesian Economist.” I find the former more disconcerting than the latter. Here’s why.

    Here is the distinction that I think is important.

    — if the prefix is a scientific theory (about “what is”) that is taken seriously in a field, I really have no problem with it — for example, a “string theory physicist” or a “Keynesian economist.” Either it is true or no, and you can decide what implications, if any, following about “what ought” to be.

    — if the prefix is a political theory with preformed notions about what “ought,” then I am less comfortable with it — for example, a “Marxist economist,” a “socialist political scientist,” or a “masculinist evolutionary psychologist.”

    The reason I am less comfortable with with the political prefixes is my concern that the “ought” prefixes imply they are coming from an initial conception of the way things “ought” to be, and may be less inclined to be open to new empirical discoveries if they contradict whatever the “ought” is. This is why EP has been initially so distasteful to many feminists, and why so many simply haven’t done their homework to actually learn about EP.

  13. Post #2:
    I’m thinking it might be useful to try to separate some of the ways one can be an evolutionary feminist.
    Here are some; there are likely others, but it’s 7:50 and I’m hungry and waiting to go out to dinner!

    One can adopt all of these or just one, in my mind.

    1. An evolutionary feminist (EF) can conduct EP research while maintaining a feminist position;
    2. an EF can conduct EP research while maintaining a feminist position and using that view to shape methodology and research questions, research, and conclusions;
    3. an EF can critique the SSSM-feminists and defend EP research when warranted.

  14. Hi Mike and Rose,

    Here’s an excerpt from a ‘popular’ essay of mine in “The Global Spiral” (2005). I think it addresses some of your concerns/thoughts. I even mention the naturalistic fallacy, Mike.

    Here’s link to the essay “An Evolutionary Mind”:
    http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/9209/Default.aspx

    And here’s the excerpt:

    Choosey Minds, Whorish Modules, and the Politics of Darwin

    We can empirically prove that hydrogen has one proton with one electron orbiting it. But wait, apparently, we shouldn’t say “orbiting” anymore, because that would be seeing things from the outdated and discredited Rutherford model, and we would be closer to the “truth” if we said “more or less hovering around it in a fuzzy sort of way.” But still, we can feel wonderful epistemic certainty (see below about “epistemic anxiety”) that Hydrogen has one proton and one electron more or less hovering around it in a fuzzy sort of way. Quantity and numbers we can have certainty about, description and movement is another thing.

    We cannot empirically prove that men tend to have an evolved psychological mechanism that prefers youth and beauty because youth and beauty conferred particular reproductive payoffs over millions of years of natural and sexual selection; and that those characteristics (youth and beauty) were (and still are) a signal of fecundity, reproductive value, developmental stability, health, etc. But EP’s theoretical and scientific explanation is pretty close to empirical—as empirical as you’re likely to get studying the human mind and behavior.

    The EP-model explains this particular male propensity deeply and more scientifically, going back further in time and using many more disciplines than the SSSM (standard social science model)—which in this case would be the feminist view. Feminism argues that this male propensity has been learned and is the result of men’s historical and current domination over women; that the culture reflects that misogyny and that men react and learn from it. EP theory doesn’t necessarily argue against that view, but rather views such an assertion as limited in scope.

    Here’s an example of how an understanding of our human nature through an evolutionary lens, with an historical and environmental/cultural approach, can be the most powerful, and why I am, frankly, irked by knee-jerk feminists who know little about what EP is about, yet make claims against it. We can actually take an EP approach to the question of men and their evolved preferences for youth and beauty and admit feminist ideology. How so? First we must look at what it means when we say youth and beauty. What is generally considered beautiful and attractive in females tends toward the neotenous and gracile spectrum; that is, youthful and “feminine” features. Of course, what is thought of as feminine in this culture is, to some degree, in flux. But let us for a moment think of it in absolutist terms, more like yin, at least so there can be a discussion.

    One can imagine, from an EP view, that our male ancestors had (as males have today) a strong desire not to be cuckolded. There is a good deal of evidence in the literature to defend this assertion, having to do with “paternity uncertainty,” hidden ovulation, and the male desire to not invest resources to mother and offspring, if the offspring’s genes are someone else’s. From this position of epistemic anxiety (see beginning of essay about male/female dichotomy), which all men have (and women necessarily don’t have—we know when our kid is our kid), one could imagine that men might select as sexual partners women who were relatively submissive and docile. As it happens, there is probably a correlation between one’s disposition (aggressive/passive) and one’s endocrine system, as well as a connection between one’s hormones and one’s fitness indicators. That is, large eyes, full lips, small nose, small chin, low face and large forehead may indicate and signal various hormones (e.g., estrogen, oxytocin) which may signal high fecundity and high maternal behavior. These features may also signal low testosterone, which might signal a relatively lower sex drive which would be desirable in a female mate, as it could result in her not seeking out other sexual partners—and receptivity/passivity generally. The idea is, that these features would be selected for (unconsciously, of course, having to do with a female’s behavior and personality) so that men could dominate physically and perhaps even in some other domains.

    So it should be apparent how one could adopt an evolutionary lens to understand why men prefer young and beautiful women, while at the same time holding a feminist perspective. Unfortunately, the popular culture has generated some shallow and spurious EP sound bites which have had an influence even on social scientists. Here’s what a feminist academic psychologist just asked me the other day: “But isn’t it dangerous to teach that women’s sexual strategies are monogamous and men’s are not?” Ah! But this is not at all what I teach, nor is it what evolutionary psychologists teach. Evolutionary psychologists devote much theorizing as to why, in fact, women are often not monogamous. In David M. Buss’s Evolutionary Psychology (1999, p.176-7) textbook, under the heading: “Hypotheses about the Adaptive Benefits to Women of Short-term Mating,” he lists five classes of benefits which have been proposed, and goes on to describe them in detail: resources, genes, mate switching, mate skill acquisition, and mate manipulation. EP teaches that both men and women employ both long-term and short-term mating strategies, including non-monogamous strategies. Evolutionary psychologists, I don’t think, ever say that women are more monogamous than men, only that, from an adaptationist perspective of men’s biology (from a gene’s-eye view), it might have been more adaptive and fitness-maximizing (replicating more genes) for men to have evolved a strong propensity (a psychological mechanism) for wanting sex with lots of women, and women to have evolved a psychological mechanism for being choosier. This says nothing about what women in fact do, or what they ought to do. And evolutionary psychologists certainly never make the claim that it’s woman’s essential nature to be monogamous.

    Buss writes:
    The great initial parental investment of females makes them a valuable reproductive resource (Trivers, 1972). Gestating, bearing, lactating, nurturing, protecting, and feeding a child are exceptionally valuable reproductive resources that are not allocated indiscriminately. Economics 101 tells us that those who hold valuable resources do not give them away haphazardly. Because women in our evolutionary past risked investing enormously as a consequence of having sex, evolution favored women who were highly selective about their mates. Ancestral women suffered severe costs if they were indiscriminating—they experienced lower reproductive success, and fewer of their children survived to reproductive age.”

    But he also says this, which should be interesting to my feminist colleague: “When it comes to long-term mating or marriage, however, it is equally clear that both men and women invest heavily in children, and so the theory of parental investment predicts that both sexes should be very choosy and discriminating.” (p. 102-3)

    The bottom line is this: men and women both engage in short- and long-term mating strategies, but when it comes down to it, it is probably not just enculturation that makes a woman much less likely to say “yes” to a stranger’s sexual advances than a man’s to a strange woman’s. In fact one study had 50% of both men and women saying yes to a date with a stranger, but when asked for sex, 75% of males and 0% of females agreed (Clarke and Hatfield, 1989).

    The feminist academic psychologist also asked me if it was not dangerous to our students to teach that “motherhood is innate and that the only way to be happy is to be a mother.” My goodness! What does she think I’m teaching, Spencerian anti-feminist, fundamentalist essentialism? That most women are equipped to be mothers is a biological truth. That we have a particular evolved psychological mechanism for attachment and nurturing is also a truism I think anyone would be hard-pressed to deny. But so what? We have many “developmental programs” within us that don’t get activated by the environment and don’t “need” to be. A woman can be just as happy without children as she can be miserable with them! One thing evolutionary psychologists and EP supporters must continue to explain to people is that they’re not in the business of committing the naturalistic fallacy!

  15. Rosemarie Sokol Chang Rosemarie Sokol Chang says:

    Thanks Glenn for your introduction to FEPS, and Michael for your comments. You have raised some interesting points! Before I reply, I want to point out that FEPS is in the beginning stages, so you should take these comments as from my person, and not as from a FEPS representative ;)

    As you point out, feminism has a rich history. Part of this history includes many sects of the movement, some of which might take an “ought” perspective. As psychological scientists, I don’t believe any of us can ethically take an “ought” perspective – just look at what can go wrong if you do (i.e. eugenics). The point of FEPS, again my view, is to bring the female perspective into evolutionary theory when viewing things such as sex differences. One cannot adopt an EP approach and deny sex differences – and some of us even embrace them! Perhaps looking from a female perspective will contribute some new insights into sex differences.

    There is no justification in my mind for a single-sex approach field of EP. I am so glad there is a lot of research that is taking the male approach into account. But I also would like to see more about the female approach as well. So often women are portrayed as the passive recipients in human evolution – man the hunter is the basis for human language (I realize there are other theories too!), females require the resources of males to rear offspring (perhaps could resources from other places also do the trick, such as might be seen in matrilineal species?), etc. My interest in pursuing a feminist evolutionary psychology is to look at how females might also play an active role in human evolution. Perhaps my musings are incorrect, but as scientists, how can we evaluate that without looking into it first?

    Now that I have set out my views in black an white, I also want to point out that I don’t think they are new, fortunately! There are researchers looking at the issues I raise. FEPS is a way for us to unite, pool resources, and collaborate – much as HBES and NEEPS help united evolutionary scholars writ large.

    Thanks again for a lively discussion! I hope some other FEPSters will contribute their views, and let everyone else know if I am off base :)

  16. Feminism has a sad history of embracing the SSSM / cultural determinism / blank slate tabula rasa paradigm, which led to the erroneous presumption that male/female brain evolution and proximate structure/function was monomorphic, and that there are no significant sexually dimorphic psychological adaptations. Given what we know about sexual selection in mammals, and the empirical lit, these paradigms are erroneous. But their uncritical adoption led most feminist theory about the *causes* of sexual discrimination down a path that led to a dead end.

    I’m all for equal opportunities, and, I too have a young daughter.

    But, let me offer a couple of concerns as grist for the mill:

    — Feminism is historically a philosophy about what “ought.” Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach to discover what is — and it desperately tries to keep clear of the naturalistic fallacy. Combining politics and science comes can perilously close to committing the naturalistic fallacy (ought -> is) or the moralistic fallacy (is -> ought). How does “feminist evolutionary psychology” plan to avoid this conflation, or, does it plan to embrace it?

    — I can conceive of an equally valid “masculinist evolutionary psychology.” But the same is-ought issues arise. Just because males in general have more aggressive tendencies, does this justify a single sex draft? What are the rights of “reproductively disenfranchised men” — those at the left hand side of distribution of male reproductive variance with such low mate value that they cannot attract a mate? Far more men of reproductive age are on the left side of the distribution than are fertile women.

    Would it be better to leave the “what is” to EP, and let feminists and masculinists focus on what “should be” in terms of policy and politics? Of course, they could use whatever evidence they find from EP and elsewhere to bolster their arguments, but that would not be EP research in itself.

    Would it better be something like this: “Given that we desire this _______ outcome because we believe it to be politically just, evidence from EP, etc., supports some of the main tenets of our argument.”

    And, on another topic, let me take issue with this:

    ” …evolutionary psychologists would benefit from being open to non-modularist approaches that take seriously the fact of cultural evolution.”

    There is substantial evidence of brain modularity, although as pointed out by Geoffrey Miller, there is likely no one module for G-factor intelligence — it is more like beauty, the combination of various other traits/modules that happen to work synergistically to create an emergent property or trait.

    Most EPs do take cultural evolution seriously — but that may not be what primarily interests some of them. And that is ok. One can focus their study on one of the cells from Nikolaas Tinbergen’s four categories of questions, while still appreciating there is other information needed for a full explanation of behavior. Early physiologists were focused primarily on identifying human physiological nature. Research on variability between people in their physiological organs, and why these differences exist, was left to a later time after they had a good handle on the first set of questions. I don’t see a problem with EPs focusing on one box — trying to identify basic human psychological nature — as long as they appreciate that three more cells from Tinbergen’s questions need be explored at some point too…

    Cheers.

Comments are closed.