Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sex, evolution, and the suicide of modern feminism

(Originally posted by Pat on 5/14/10)

I am feeling stressed at the moment because today I dared enter the lion's den of a Facebook discussion about rape, feminism, and evolutionary psychology.
In retrospect, I realize that many of the things I said were insensitive; it was an inappropriate time to bring up these issues, and I didn't state my points in the most tactful way I might have. Mea culpa, and I apologize for this. I should never have raised the issue in the first place, not in such a circumstance.
But I was initially angered by how readily it came to these people to heap insults upon men and masculinity, and how easily dismissed were any thoughts of agency or responsibility that women might have in these circumstances. I took it upon myself to respond to this, and because evolutionary psychology is one of my fields, that response took the form of considering the implications of evolutionary psychology on these matters.
What I came to realize is that modern feminism is destroying itself by making itself the enemy of science. A new feminism is needed, and needed stat, before the coding patient dies forever.
The issue was sexual harassment, and how a large number of men don't seem able to take a hint when they are rejected by women.  They continue to assert themselves sexually, often to the point of causing great discomfort. A particular incident one of my acquaintances went through raised the issue; this was shortly met by affirmations and further anecdotes from others. Part of what set me off was that there was general agreement with the sentiment "FUCK MEN"---namely, the suggestion that men are inherently evil and aggressive and this is why there is sexual harassment.
That's what most upset me and motivated me to action; I shouldn't have let it. I should have just let the feminists commiserate in their irrational hatred of Y chromosomes; sooner or later the effects would wear off. But it made me very angry precisely because this kind of reverse sexism is so tolerated by feminists. If you really care about gender equality, you should be as offended by "FUCK MEN" as you would be by "FUCK WOMEN". You should be as offended by "men are pigs" as you would be by "women are whores". There is a lot of sexism in this world, and most of it is indeed directed at women; but when it is directed at men, you should be equally prepared to resist it. Clearly most feminists are not; instead they think in the same  "men vs. women" terms and treat reverse sexism as if it were a just revenge.
So I dove in; I explained why sexual harassment is a complicated issue and that women are partly responsible for its existence. If women were not so coy, so willing to "play hard to get"; if they were more willing to accept submissive males and less willing to accept aggressive males---then there would be a lot less sexual harassment. It would be a failed mating strategy, and natural selection would destroy it as surely as it destroyed the whale's feet and the ape's tail. In fact it might even go away faster than that, because human beings have highly flexible phenotypes and are rational; what man would approach women aggressively if he knew submissiveness was the way to get laid?
I explicitly stated that I was not trying to justify sexual harassment, nor was I saying that this particular instance of harassment was in any way the victim's fault. I think I made it very clear that I was looking for causes, not excuses. In the process of making this argument I (probably mistakenly) mentioned that harassment and rape rest on a continuum of aggressive mating strategies, and pointed out that none of them would exist if they didn't sometimes work. My point was of course that if we want to get rid of them, we will need to understand their causes and deal with those causes.
The response? Vitriolic anger. Not the "vitriolic anger" that Richard Dawkins gets accused of when he says "There almost certainly is no God" or "anyone who denies evolution is ignorant"; no, real vitriolic anger. Name-calling, insults to my character and my masculinity, accusations that I am a "rape apologist". When asked for evidence, I deluged with evidence (admittedly just what I found off the top of my head and Google Scholar; but it's a web forum, what do you want?); and then I was told that I have a "narrow worldview" and, less kindly, that I have my "head up [my] ass".
This is because I mentioned sexual violence and didn't simply repeat the canard that sexual violence is committed by bad men who are bad and that's all there is to it. I actually searched for evolutionary causes of sexual violence, and came to realize that sexual selection forces, and hence female mate choice, have played an important role in the evolutionary causes of such violence. These are, as far as I can tell, scientific facts. I could be mistaken about them; but they are not obviously absurd, and they don't lead automatically to any terrifying moral inferences.
Steven Pinker often writes about how people treat him this way when he talks about evolutionary psychology; I had always thought he was exaggerating until I actually experienced it firsthand. People hate evolutionary psychology. It inspires indignation and outrage. It definitely did for these staunch feminists.
And while right now feminists can get away with this because evolution is unpopular and evolutionary psychology even more so, I do not think they will be able to get away with it forever. The science will advance, and it will become ever more certain and ever more predictive. In fact at some point we may  be able to explain in terms of evolutionary psychology why evolutionary psychology angers people.
When that happens, feminism will either need to adapt to the very scientific facts it has been attacking for decades, or else feminism will die. I suspect in fact a result somewhere in between; feminism will begrudgingly accept the facts but only by sacrificing large portions of its platform and its credibility.
What's more, I am sad about this. If I really were the woman-hating rape apologist they say I am, I wouldn't be; I'd be overjoyed. I am sad because they are wrong about me; I know feminism has done many good things and can still do many more. I don't want feminism to destroy itself.
Feminism can be reconciled with science; honestly it's not that difficult. Humans are sexually-dimorphic, but we aren't very sexually-dimorphic; we aren't honeybees or blanket octopus. Indeed, we can justify certain sex differences based on our real level of dimorphism: It makes sense that the majority of soldiers and police officers are male, and we would be perverse to try to change that. (Women should be allowed to serve of course; but it would be absurd to demand an exact 50/50 ratio.) What doesn't make sense is the way that women are treated in business, in science, in politics; in all of these fields there is virtually no difference in innate ability between men and women. What doesn't make sense is the way women have to dress and behave in Muslim countries, or worse the way that women who are raped or abused are often murdered in so-called "honor killings". What doesn't make sense is the way many African societies mutilate the genitals of their young girls. These are real issues that feminism should be dealing with; feminists need not oppose science to do that.
And to be fair, there are pro-science feminists, like Jen McCreight. Indeed, I'd like to think of myself as a feminist, because I really do believe in equality of opportunity regardless of gender. But when I'm told that men can't really be feminists, or I see feminists who don't care about sexism against men, or I hear arguments that true feminists believe in abortion-on-demand, or I get called names when I try to make a nuanced argument based on evolutionary psychology---well, it becomes difficult for me to continue to associated myself with that F-word. I doubt I'm alone in this; and that's why I think feminism is destroying itself.
Can feminism be saved? What must we do to make this happen?

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