If any man could draw up a comprehensive, infallible guide to navigating this treacherous territory, we would certainly erect a statute [sic] to his everlasting memory. There is a Twitter account dedicated to exploring and enumerating precisely the distinctions and differences between the acceptably erotic and the intolerably sexist. It’s called @SexyIsntSexist. It is, of course, under the control of a woman.” Neil Lyndon. Do men really understand what sexism is? The Telegraph 20/5/14
My area of research is cross-disciplinary and includes, but it isn’t limited to, evolutionary anthropology, palaeoanthropology, psychology, biology, ecology, primatology and gender studies. For brevity’s sake, I refer to this as Darwinian Gender Studies (DGS). This area represents to me, the consilience of the natural and social sciences, as envisioned by E.O.Wilson. DGS is informed by a rationalist perspective not the more traditional orthodox feminist model of post modernism and social constructionist theory. My PhD thesis will be developing an evolutionary, bio-cultural model of what orthodox feminists call “patriarchy“. I won’t post my whole thesis here – but I will give a general précis of my research interests (including a paper I have co-authored here) and why I believe they are very important today, in a time where political correctness, social justice and toxic feminism has taken us deep down the post-modern rabbit hole.
I am an egalitarian, and equity feminist. I am a woman who wants to build bridges of understanding between the sexes not walls of fear and mistrust, which is what I find orthodox feminism does today.
I’m passionate about humans and humanity. What we are, what we are not. Two things we are, which we cannot cease to be and also remain human, are a sexually reproducing, pair bonded species. These basic facts of our biology and psychology, and cannot be erased by social engineering.
In my research, I interrogate orthodox feminist concepts, such as patriarchy, objectification, gender power differentials, mating systems and psychosexual differences using humour and evolutionary explanatory models such as sexual selection, parental investment theory, mutual mate choice, female choice, signalling theory and perhaps most importantly intrasexual competition.
History shows us that whenever our species has ever attempted to take control of biology and bend it out of shape to ideological goals, human tragedy always follows. It’s a lesson we still don’t seem to have learned. Because in spite of overwhelming evidence, many people, and especially orthodox feminists, still hold fast to the idea of an endlessly flexible human nature, and indeed, human nature is flexible, but a blank slate it is not. Neither is it a crude caricature of immutable deterministic drives and instincts as often painted within the orthodox feminist doctrine of biological determinism. Human nature is very much mutable, but not infinitely or arbitrarily so, and here lies the nub:
Within what may seem like infinite variations of human action and reaction to what life throws at us, our predispositions on a broad scale are actually predictable. There are enough constants within this calculus to recognise the existence of an unmistakably human nature. This nature will vary and recalibrate between individuals and ecologies, but these variations dance around a constant fire.
“Those who journey from political correctness to truth often risk public disapprobation, but it is notable that most never lose their tolerance or humanity. They may question the politics of race, but not that racism is bad; they may question campaigns about women’s pay, but not that women and men deserve equality of treatment.”
Browne, A. (2006) The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of political debate in modern Britain. Civitas
I am following in the footsteps of female evolutionary anthropologists, ecologists, biologists, psychologists, philosophers; women such as Barbara Smuts, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Anne Campbell, Helena Cronin, Griet Vandermassen, Catherine Salmon, Maryanne Fisher, Bobby Low, Hanna Kokko, Helen Fisher, Rebecca Sear and many many more. Their work reveals that, far from orthodox feminist fears to the contrary, evolved psychosexual differences do not equate to inferiority. In evolution, we in fact see true equality expressed in discrete and fascinating ways. These women (and many men too) illuminated the role females play as potent agents of evolution via the phenomenon of female choice.
These female scientists effected an unsung revolution – unsung by feminism, not evolutionists – by shattering the male perspective biases that once dominated Darwinism. They did this, not with declarations of war against patriarchy and angry rhetoric, but with dedicated objective thought. I’m not angry. I’m passionate. Passionate about truth-seeking. When it comes to the principles of natural selection – the struggle to survive – men and women differ very little. Rather, it is in the principles of sexual selection – the struggle not just to survive but thrive enough to have offspring and allow them to thrive also – it is here that the main differences start to become manifest None of these differences equate to inferiority.
I’m passionate about logic and rationalism – something women have nothing to fear from! Yet feminists do fear it, as philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards notes in her book The Sceptical Feminist,
“…in spite of girls doing better at school than boys, feminists are still woeful at rationality…feminism has some tendency to get stuck in the quagmire of unreason from time to time [but] it cannot be denied that adopting an anti-rational stance has its uses; it can be turned into an all-purpose escape route from tricky corners”
This is a very good description of the majority of feminisms today, be they radical, TERF (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist), intersectional or any other tribe battling for dominance in the victim narrative. I am not anti-feminism but I am anti-bad feminism.And today there is much of it about. All eschew logic and reason and all are masters to the flying patriarchal spaghetti monster in the sky. Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges must be spinning in their graves. But then again, today they would also be dismissed as cis white privileged scum.
What I am most passionate about is having the opportunity to have a role, however small, in helping us better understanding ourselves as a species. It’s an investigation that could save us.
A cross-disciplinary advancement of a consolidated theory of all variables noted under the term “patriarchy” has huge policy implications. It not only pertains to the oppression of women but of men also. An analysis of the true dynamics of resource control is especially pertinent in a world in which resources are predicted to become scarce.
As a woman, I am interested in the unique selection pressures women face due directly to their sex. But as an evolutionist, this interest does not make me blind to the fact that men face their own unique selection pressures for the same reasons. Indeed, the evidence seems to point to males being subject to much more intense pressures than females, not least in the battle to actually be born male!
Of one thing I am convinced: one sex cannot be understood except in light of the other. Men and women have co-evolved together, each shaping the other both physically and psychologically via sexual selection. Men desire power and resources because women desire men who have them. And female power, well that doesn’t look like male power, and so often goes unseen. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it or use it against each other.
From the perspective of evolutionary theory, feminism can be categorised as the study of the conflict between the sexes – intersexual conflict – with a particular interest in proximate mechanisms of how men oppress women and how this oppression can be countered. But this is only half the story!
Evolutionists posit that to really understand intersexual conflict one must also analyse intrasexual conflict and broaden enquiry to include an analysis of ultimate mechanisms of not just how, but why, men pursue the goal of power and resource control (see above). The focus on both intersexual competition (the battle between the sexes) and intrasexual competition (the battle within the sexes) is central to Darwinian Gender Studies. Intrasexual competition has two strands, male-to-male competition and female-to-female competition. Much is known about male intrasexual competition (but is totally ignored by orthodox feminisms), but outside of evolutionary theory, less is known about conflict between women; female intrasexual competition. It is the pink elephant in the feminist room. Competition within a sex is always much more intense than between sexes.
Using female intrasexual competition as a lens to look anew on hot feminist topics such as the beauty industry, the rise in cosmetic surgery, the size zero controversy, anorexia, the endless bitching and wars of attrition between the many tribes of feminisms; female intrasexual competition brings fascinating new insights, as these phenomena seem to be expressions of female competition not male oppression at all.
Nonetheless, there is still a comfortable consensus within orthodox feminisms that the beauty ‘ideal’ is a tyranny perpetrated upon women by the male patriarchy. “Feminists down the ages have argued that the oppression of women is played out on their bodies, their clothes, their style of adornment. To politicise dress has been one of the enduring projects of the women’s movement.” (Walter,N. 1999)
Naomi Wolf tackled this concept in her enormously successful book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. It suggests that this patriarchal strategy is one of ‘divide and rule’ as it “creates a climate of competitiveness among women that divides them from each other.”(Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001)
Competitiveness is the key word here…
Perhaps the idea of sanctioning the idea, nay the fact, of female intrasexual competition seems frightening for orthodox feminists because on the surface of it, it threatens the very notion of a ‘sisterhood’. Yet we know that men are murderously competitive with one another, as homicide rates attest, and this does not seem to threaten their notion of ‘the patriarchy’. The evidence that the beauty myth may not be a tyranny perpetuated on women by men, but on each other (if it is a tyranny at all), reveals a much more complex and fascinating picture of female agency. It also goes far to liberate women from the doctrine of passive femininity.
The fact is, women are fiercely competitive, but as the existence of feminism attests, this does not stop women cooperating to face challenges. Although, as feminism also shows, its wilful ignorance of human nature means feminists cannot agree on anything for long. This explains the many tribes within feminism, and the fiercely defended hierarchies that exist within it. I do not deny that these revelations are tricky for feminists to negotiate, but that is no reason for not taking them on.
That female intrasexual competition exists is not in doubt. The degree of it however will vary from culture to culture. We know dominance hierarchies exist in many species and all apes. We know females have a large role in the construction and maintenance of such hierarchies. We also know that women are often not united in their interests, and compete with other women for resources and mates.
An individuals environment is crucial to how they calibrate their own needs. What I also want to study is sexual economics and the female control hypothesis. This is a fascinating idea which is laid out in the paper The Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality by cultural psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge. This suggests that in our environment in the West, it is women more than men who control the sexuality of females - their daughters, their peers and their rivals especially! Let’s suppose for a moment that Susan Brownmiller stumbled upon a truth when she said that fear of rape was an institutional tool to keep all women in a state of fear. Who is wielding that tool today via the meme of ‘rape culture’ on university campuses by use of false statistics? Orthodox (not equity) feminists.
If I could sum up my research goals, it is the following quote, attributed aptly to both a man and a woman – the functional, inspirational human dyad of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan:
“If we do not know what we are capable of…then we do not know what to watch out for, which human propensities to encourage, and which to guard against.” – from Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.
I believe that it is vitally important that we understand our biological heritage just as much as our cultural. One thing I have learned in the current cultural sex war is that those in denial of our biology seem the most enslaved by it, especially their tribal instincts.
So, where to now for Darwinian Gender Studies? I have been studying and developing Darwinian Gender Studies for 10 years with the help of some truly wonderful mentors such as Professor Daniel Nettle (Ncl) , Dr Helena Cronin (Darwin@LSE), Dr Griet Vandermassen (Ghent) and Dr Robert King (UCC). At the moment I’m an independent researcher – I’m independent because I am an unorthodox candidate for academia having left school at 16 with zero qualifications! It’s a long story, and along the way I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as an adult (something I experience as an overload of empathy not a deficit). But somehow since then – and not without a huge amount of effort I may add – I have found my way to a place today where I have been privileged to be offered an unconditional place on a postgraduate programme in Evolutionary Anthropology at one of the UK’s best red brick universities. I reveal the fact of my Asperger’s not to play the pity card, but in the hope that it can help – maybe even inspire – those who also have a diagnosis on the spectrum. To show that seeming weaknesses can actually be strengths.
Help me make this happen. Donate here http://www.gofundme.com/paulawright . And thank you.
[Ed note: this post originally appeared here and is reprinted with permission.]