Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

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Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Bumble on Wed Sep 09, 2015 12:02 am

I was just reading a Quora discussion on evo psych and I thought it was pretty interesting. I've always felt there was a real tendency in feminist spaces to downplay any (general, as opposed to absolute) differences between men and women. From the Quora thread I'm gathering that there's kind of been a longstanding conflict between feminism and evo psych but what's interesting is that feminists' main objection to evo psych is how it's used to defend the mistreatment of women.

As a guy posting on this forum, however, I'm only interested in how evo psych can inform normal function in society. To me, feminism and evo psych can easily be reconciled.

What do you guys think?

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by reboundstudent on Wed Sep 09, 2015 12:15 am

I have longstanding issues with evo psych, as someone who trained in college as both a historian and an anthropologist. Humans are biocultural... yes, we're informed by our biology, so biology informs how cultures form, but culture can also influence biology (see the wide variety of mating rituals in human societies: there's one man one woman, one man many women, many men many women, one woman many men, one woman two men, and so on.) It's impossible to try to draw a stark dividing line and say this is biology and this is learned, and frankly, a lot of the time it's tried, the "adaptive biology" being favored (why this biological/behavioral trait is adaptive!) just so happens to reflect the dominant culture at the time (usually Western, usually white.)

It's especially difficult given that we don't have a lot of primary data on ancient cultures. We can make some inferences about hunter-gatherer societies, but only some. Even the best anthropologist will be biased, and will read into another society their own cultural cues; that's true even when studying a modern, breathing society whose members can actually speak and correct wrong assumptions. So trying to read into the behavior of long-dead societies to determine "base" biology (what behavior/cognition would have been evolutionary adaptions to the social environment) is stepping into a minefield before you've even begun making assertions.

What has always bothered me about evolutionary psychology is its very definition, that it's an attempt to find the "root" of humanity. But as far back as we have written record (which as close as we can come to letting societies speak for themselves about their social environment), humankind has had wide variety. There doesn't seem to be a root, at least none as clear and concise as a lot of evolutionary psychologists I've read believe. Evolutionary psychology, to my mind, seeks to wipe out the historic and social array of human kind that I find so fascinating, in place of easy "adaptive" explanations.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Werel on Wed Sep 09, 2015 12:26 am

Evo psych has always earned a big fat Side-eye from me because of:

1) Its tendency to homogenize the human past (and incorrectly relegate non-agricultural societies to the past, but that's another rant altogether). The degree of reductivism it takes to make general statements about "tribal people" or "our stone-age forebears," who were many many many distinct populations starting from almost the second we could be considered humans, is almost enough to disqualify the whole affair as a legit science in my eyes.

2) Like you said, the primary current applications and spokespeople for evo psych are somewhere between not so good and abhorrent. The whole field of geography sort of went on hiatus for a while after WWII because their fairly innocuous scientific idea of mapping correlations between environment and culture got picked up by some eugenicist shitheads, turned into the concept of environmental determinism, and (not to Godwin, but) used by the Nazis as a justification for genocide. Was it the field of geography's fault? Nah, not really. But people viewed geography as a radioactive discipline for a while, cause YIKES, look what you can do with it. Same with evo psych. I don't know that I've ever run across evo psych being applied in a way that didn't perpetuate the shitty treatment of a group who are already treated shittily, aside from maybe the Sex at Dawn buzz (which gets its own innocent for other reasons).

3) The attempt to trace all human behaviors to the behaviors of evolutionary predecessor(s) seems fundamentally tied to designating some behaviors "natural" and others "unnatural," which is a real old tactic from every social-control playbook ever and I'm bored of it. Razz

I am curious about what you mean by "how it can inform normal function in society," though. You mean "what lessons can proto-hominids teach us about how to succeed as a species," or "how do we design social systems which are least at odds with 'fundamental human nature'" (the thing we been trying to figure out since codified social systems arose), or "how to be most attractive to some base mammalian component of others' brains," or...?

edit: And a standing ovation to RBS' clearer and less ranty phrasing of this Razz
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Bumble on Wed Sep 09, 2015 1:20 am

Werel wrote:"how to be most attractive to some base mammalian component of others' brains,"

Basically this. The criticisms you both bring up seem valid. I'm certainly not equipped to refute them. I guess what I'm looking for is a deeper understanding of how I fail at my interactions with women in my own society, today, which is something that evo psych seems to address. I know all about confidence and treating-women-like-people but there seems to be so much more going on.

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Werel on Wed Sep 09, 2015 1:32 am

In that case, lemme warn you, friend: looking to evo psych for ideas on how to interact with women leads only to the dark side. Wink

Vigorous introspection, discussion with others, observation of your own behavior, practice practice practice, and consuming lots of primary sources produced by the people you're having trouble interacting with: usually a whole heck of a lot more productive. Luckily, numbers 2 and 5 are pretty much what this forum is for!
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by reboundstudent on Wed Sep 09, 2015 1:37 am

Bumble wrote:
Werel wrote:"how to be most attractive to some base mammalian component of others' brains,"

Basically this. The criticisms you both bring up seem valid. I'm certainly not equipped to refute them. I guess what I'm looking for is a deeper understanding of how I fail at my interactions with women in my own society, today, which is something that evo psych seems to address. I know all about confidence and treating-women-like-people but there seems to be so much more going on.

*Side-eye*

Except evo psych.... doesn't. At the very best, what it can tell you is that this behavior/biological trait was, at some point in history, adaptive and thus carried on. But that doesn't mean it's adaptive now. That's what baffles me about people using evo psych to explain current, modern behaviors and cultures. I can almost buy it when explaining how a trait might have been beneficial hundreds of thousands of years ago. But again, cultures are varied and evolved.

My anthropology professor once joked that most anthropologists you'll meet are incredibly awkward, introspective folks. The reason he (and I) were drawn to anthropology was that desire to understand society, because we inherently didn't understand it. We lived in cultures where we still had our noses pressed to the glass. We studied what we didn't fundamentally understand.

So if you're looking for a field of study that explains social norms now, try anthro, instead of evo psych.

PS: This article is a perfect representation of how evo psych can be interesting, but also somewhat useless if you're looking to explain modern societies. Hell, even the article itself trips over the whole "we assume what's normal for us is how things have always been"; the article references "special paired relationships" when that isn't actually a given over the course of human history/societies.

http://throb.gizmodo.com/menopause-may-be-why-you-want-a-romantic-relationship-1729384829
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Werel on Wed Sep 09, 2015 1:44 am

Oh god that article Science fail!
Their simulated ratios roughly matched the sex ratios of chimpanzees (which do not grandmother) and human hunter-gatherer societies (which do).
"Yup. All of 'em. We checked. Exact same grandmothering stuff going on everywhere. S'a monolith."
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Caffeinated on Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:11 am

Studying evo psych is a good way to get closer to the kind of dudes that want a sciency sounding explanation for why women aren't really truly their equals because sciency science science. It is not such a good way of learning to be more attractive to women.

There are so many things you could learn that would have a better chance of making you more attractive to women. For example:
-take up marathon running
-learn to sew and do cosplay
-foster kittens or other animals in need
-learn to play guitar and be that guy at the party that always plays that one song
-take up a capella singing
-draw chalk murals on public sidewalks
If you must study something, try studying:
-body language
-dance (partnered or solo)
-sales
-juggling, stilt-walking, fire-eating, and other assorted circus things

Seriously, evo psych is not a magic wand that will make you more attractive.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by BasedBuzzed on Wed Sep 09, 2015 4:38 am

I was trying to find that paper from ages ago when that evopsych-shilling writer for the Spearhead popped up in the comments on Prime. It talked about how the main beef of feminism with evopsych came down to post-hoc conclusions and problems with terminology(like that Gen X thingy Judith Butler talked about in Gender Trouble). Didn't find it, did find this, which gives a neat overview of research should one want to pick a specific substrand apart: http://www.bradley.edu/dotAsset/196924.pdf

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by reboot on Wed Sep 09, 2015 9:08 am

In addition to Werel's and RBS's fabulous points, what bugs the living crap out of me is that most evo psych researchers very much cherry pick the cultures they study to confirm current social norms as biologically driven. For example, they tend to ignore readily accessible matriarichal cultures (e.g. Hopi, Tewa, Navajo, Hualapai, Havasupai in the southwest) because they contradict the researcher's theories. You cannot call something "biologically driven" when at least upwards of a million people led a completely different lifestyle until colonized and about 300,000 still live, a portion of whom still practice precolonial culture to the extent that they can.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Dan_Brodribb on Wed Sep 09, 2015 3:11 pm

One of the interesting common threads between evo psych and feminism is for me both raise similar types of questions. For example: Because something is frequently badly/unscientifically done or I don't personally agree with the conclusions or even agree that the evidence it presents is actually evidence of anything, does that invalidate it as a field of study? Is it possible for me to learn from or find value in something I also find something personally or politically troubling or embraced by people I have strong disagreements with?

It sounds like, Bumble, you had something more specific in mind:

Bumble wrote:I guess what I'm looking for is a deeper understanding of how I fail at my interactions with women in my own society, today, which is something that evo psych seems to address. I know all about confidence and treating-women-like-people but there seems to be so much more going on.

I think one thing evo pscyh has in common with feminism is that while both of them deal with sexuality, neither of them have as a primary focus getting people--especially one specific person--laid/in a relationship.

Lots of people write dating advice from the perspective of feminism, evo psych or both, and I think there's value in trying out ideas and seeing what kind of results you get, but neither of them can tell you what will a) work best for your personal situation or b) make you happiest in the long run.

You talked about 'failing in your interactions with women'. If you haven't already, maybe you'd like to tell us more about those interactions in the relationships or meeting people subforums, and we can throw around some ideas.

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Hirundo Bos on Wed Sep 09, 2015 6:49 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:One of the interesting common threads between evo psych and feminism is for me both raise similar types of questions. For example: Because something  is frequently badly/unscientifically done or I don't personally agree with the conclusions or even agree that the evidence it presents is actually evidence of anything, does that invalidate it as a field of study? Is it possible for me to learn from or find value in something I also find something personally or politically troubling or embraced by people I have strong disagreements with?

Don't know if this answers any of those questions, but for me, it's been useful to classify "unscientifically done" and "politically troubling" as two very separate problems. One's a question of what's true or false, the other of what's good or bad, and the former doesn't say much about the latter. Something can, for example, be true, but undesirable... the preferred course of action will then be to change it

Scientific evidence that it's currently true won't in itself make it less amenable to change. And there's a fair chance that science about the issue can help find better ways to change it.

Now, when it comes to evo-psych, it's not well suited to search for answers to either question: neither what's true/false nor what's right/wrong. This thread is full of good reasons for that (and I understand those reasons better than before, so thanks). Where an evolutionary perspective on behavior might have some use is in generating new questions... suggest possible explanations for some curious observation, or give us hints about currently unobserved things to look for.

In practice, though, while I'm not deeply familiar with the field, my impression is it hasn't done a good job so far.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by kath on Wed Sep 09, 2015 11:29 pm

I also think like ... what you want is to understand your actual interactions better. You actually have control over those, they are real, you can observe them, and you can impact them. So it seems like making your interactions with people into an "experiment" - more on yourself than on the other people - would be a project in which the results might be better tuned to helping you than looking to evo psych to give you those insights.

Sometimes I think it can be easier to make sort of radical behavior change if you're doing an experiment / know it's only for X amount of time. The concrete "I told myself I would pay attention to this for this time, here's my log like I'm going to be in the science fair" type practice can help you reach the tipping point to trying things you might not really want to. Also, when you're experimenting, you don't have to "own" those things as "you" - you can try putting on X or Y behavior, see how you like it (and how other people do) and if you decide to discard it ... it wasn't a core piece of your identity anyway.

Not exactly a rigorously scientific approach ... but the results are pretty sure to be directly applicable to you
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Bumble on Thu Sep 10, 2015 12:51 am

After reading everyone's comments..

I think I kind of looked to "evo psych" as the main discipline that seeks to explain the mysterious world of human interaction (non-verbal, mate selection). I actually hadn't really thought about the methodology at all. I guess there are alternate disciplines that might have better methodology? And there's also the possibility of going straight for results without bothering to ask why certain behaviors work. Although normal guys who have normal relationships are frequently so obsessed with adhering to masculine ideals (status, dominance) that I don't think we benefit by ignoring these concepts.

Even this DNL article I just found is kind of new ground for me. Although honestly I feel like he was wearing his PUA hat when he wrote that. Maybe my sensibilities are way off.

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by reboot on Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:06 am

Dude, there is no methodology to 1:1 human interactions. No science or rule book is going to help you with that. And certainly none that hark back to chimps, bonobos, or any culture that is different than your own. Some research can help understand loose population trends and tendencies, but none of it will help an individual in all interactions with other individuals. Population statistics just do not work that way
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by JP McBride on Thu Sep 10, 2015 1:07 am

Werel wrote:2) Like you said, the primary current applications and spokespeople for evo psych are somewhere between not so good and abhorrent. The whole field of geography sort of went on hiatus for a while after WWII because their fairly innocuous scientific idea of mapping correlations between environment and culture got picked up by some eugenicist shitheads, turned into the concept of environmental determinism, and (not to Godwin, but) used by the Nazis as a justification for genocide. Was it the field of geography's fault? Nah, not really. But people viewed geography as a radioactive discipline for a while, cause YIKES, look what you can do with it. Same with evo psych. I don't know that I've ever run across evo psych being applied in a way that didn't perpetuate the shitty treatment of a group who are already treated shittily, aside from maybe the Sex at Dawn buzz (which gets its own innocent for other reasons).

You would think that examining this human tendency to systematically extermine everyone who doesn't look like them would be an important topic in evopsych circles, but no, it's all about the pair bonding.

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by celette482 on Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:58 am

JP McBride wrote:You would think that examining this human tendency to systematically extermine everyone who doesn't look like them would be an important topic in evopsych circles, but no, it's all about the pair bonding.

Hell yes to this. In-group bias is probably one of our most evolutionarily derived cognitive biases (it helps to underscore the importance of family/clan connections, which are crucial for the survival of a species whose young take so long to mature), but never mind that! Let's go with pair bonding.

Anyway, Bumble you're falling into a standard geek/scientifically minded trap of looking for The Formula. And there isn't one.

Do cultures have unspoken rules about communication? YES. Personal space varies from place to place, how you are expected to respond to gifts or compliments varies, body language varies, the rules about eye contact, etc. Actually, if that's the sort of thing you're wondering about, look for books geared towards international business travelers. There's a whole subgenre of those books that describe the various cultural norms of just about every country on the planet, but even those will say that within a country (particularly large ones like the US or India) there are regional variations too.

Let's make an analogy between interactions and language. Let's say give cultural rules the status of grammar. It's how all interactions are in theory organized, but it leaves open a lot of room for variation. Specific context is like the vocabulary. You're starting to get more specific, closer to what's being said. The actual interaction is a sentence. This is the message that is being conveyed. I can study french grammar (I have a very good handle on it) and I can learn french vocabulary (I probably have reached proficient level, but my slang is woefully lacking) but I still have to approach each sentence as a new piece of information, and sometimes there will be vocab I don't know.

You do need to know the grammar. The more vocabulary you learn, the easier it will be. But knowing grammar and some vocab alone won't necessarily help you in a specific conversation. You do need to know the unspoken rules of communication and the way those rules get applied in various interactions (some factors: location, relationship of the parties, you might be more casual with your friends and more formal with your boss, louder at a baseball game and more circumspect in an art museum). But that alone won't guarantee that you have successful interactions, because those are only tools of communication. Each person uses those tools to convey what they want individually. And sometimes what they're saying "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."

That got kinda esoteric. And Chomskyian. My point is that it's a good idea to try to find the grammar of social interactions and learn it. Everyone had to, some people did it younger than others but no one is born with social grammar already programmed in (people do seem to be born with the CONCEPT of grammar, social and actual, which is a fascinating subgenre, but you still have to learn English grammar or Mandarin grammar or French cultural norms). But grammar only gives you an idea of the toolbox the other person is using. It doesn't *tell* you what the other person is trying to say.

Anthropology and sociology (anthro for people who hate latrines, as they used to say in my university) try to learn the grammar. If you feel like you're missing that aspect of social interactions, it would definitely be worth the time to work it out. But remember what it is, grammar not meaning.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by Bumble on Fri Sep 11, 2015 1:59 am

I'll look into the body language thing. I think I'm somehow giving the impression that I'm looking for some kind of fail-safe set of actions that will work with every person or something but really I'm just trying to understand what's going on around me. I want to understand why I need to change in this and that manner, even though I like myself enough the way I am. I want to know why I don't really care if a potential date juggles or does magic tricks but I agree that learning something like that could make me more attractive.

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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by BiSian on Fri Sep 11, 2015 3:17 am

Check out Captain Awkward and read some more of the DNL archives. Really it seems like you're looking for a detailed breakdown of "Why do people Human?" and both DNL and Captain Awkward are pretty good at explaining some of that as well as offering scripts and suggestions for how you can practice social behavior and teach yourself to better demonstrate what you want to convey to others.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by celette482 on Fri Sep 11, 2015 7:44 am

Seconding Captain Awkward.

The best way to learn why people do what they do is seek out... well places like this. I'm assuming you're USian or something similar. If not, sticking to something from your own culture would be better (since social behavior is super specific!)

Social behavior is less theoretical and more practical. So advice forums, where you see people from your culture applying social behavior rules to problems presented by someone else from your culture is the best way to see it in action. Plus, the written format of the internet requires a bit more explanation and is more likely to give you an insight into the advice-giver's *reasons* for the advice.

Questions to ask yourself while you read:
1. Why is the advice seeker upset? (feeling imposed upon? feeling creeped on? feeling scared?)
2. What behavior did the "bad actor" do in this situation?
3. What social norm did that break or abuse (remember, people are as likely to abuse as to ignore social norms, think older men being creepy on young women who are too socially trained to be deferential to say anything)
4. What would have been the appropriate behavior for the bad actor?
5. WHY does this norm exist???? (at this point, the answer should be fairly clear, and you can probably get deeper than "because it otherwise upsets people." look for things like "so that everyone understands what the expectations are" or "so that people can go about their business in peace" or "so that people feel safe in these situations"

Patterns will emerge. Read comments, because people will go on tangents that will also be quite helpful. Human interactions are about more than how much space to leave between two people when you're talking. They are about empathy. About looking at the other person and realizing that he/she is a full human, just like you, complete with the same sorts of insecurities and everything else that you have. They might be *different* than yours, in fact no one is going to have the exact same constellation. But, it's important to remember that they have just as much as you do. That they are just as fully realized as you are. That their behavior and feelings make as much sense to THEM as yours do to you (and yes, that means sometimes their behavior and feelings make precisely no sense to them either)

Each time you interact with someone, remind yourself "This is a person who will continue to have a day and a life when I walk away." that's as good a place as any to start learning how we human.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

Post by reboot on Fri Sep 11, 2015 8:55 am

celette482 wrote:Seconding Captain Awkward.

.......

Each time you interact with someone, remind yourself "This is a person who will continue to have a day and a life when I walk away." that's as good a place as any to start learning how we human.

In addition to the above, also remember that this person had a day and a life prior to interacting with you and has their own challenges, hopes, fears, etc., all of which will color their behavior in the same way your experiences influence yours.
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Re: Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism

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