on the robustness of evolutionary explanations

I just finished reading Rosemary Hopcroft’s interesting article, Gender Inequality in Interaction – an Evolutionary Account (Social forces 87:4, June 2009). If I understand the article correctly, it argues essentially that frequent female deference to men is (a) well demonstrated; (b) subconscious; and (c) the result of evolutionary pressures. There’s an interesting spin, which is that because these preferences or behaviors are subconscious, feminist approaches like consciousness raising might work to change them. But otherwise the article strikes me as open to several important alternative hypotheses.

The principal alternative hypothesis results from the time problematic. Like other studies based on evolutionary psychology, the article is premised on behaviors having emerged during the Evironment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA), a period of historical development in which human genetic characteristics are said to have become relatively fixed. But there are important differences in gendered behavior, including sex deference, sexual preferences, and male “control” of female mates, across the historical time period that comes after the EEA. Thus the constant the article seeks to explain really isn’t a constant at all!

This is true synchronically as well as diacronically. The studies cited, as is common in psychology, are based overwhelmingly on US college students from the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This may be less of a problem in standard psychological studies (though of even that I’m not convinced) but it’s a huge problem when what you want to demonstrate is that something is a human constant!

If, in fact, male sexual domination is essentially a variable instead of a constant, it follows that whether it is conscious or subconscious, it can’t be explained by a constant (fitness during the EEA).

It seems to me that the only way an article like this can be said to demonstrate its claim is if we take that claim to be a valid premise–that is, if we begin with the assumption that humans are essentially evolved actors, their behavior a more-or-less clear reflection of adaptation during the EEA, then we can arrive at that conclusion as well. But if we allow even the possibility that culture is an independent force of its own, distinct from the individual predispositions inherited from the EEA, I don’t see how we can arrive at the point of understanding evolution during the EEA as the essential cause of human behavioral patterns.

getting there

We put the tree up on Sunday, like a real family: holiday music, fireplace on, lights and ornaments everywhere, dog meandering through everything constantly. It was great. Kid put all his ornaments in one section of the tree, which is even merrier than the rest of the tree. Awesome cupcakes baked for the bakesale, for our dinner party, and some saved for Husband, who had just arrived home from a business trip. Lovely.

Yesterday was my shopping day. I hit the toy stores during the day, when they were crowded, but not insanely so. I had a list, but I was still overwhelmed by all the products. It’s weird how they can simultaneously have so many choices, but then still not have the things I am looking for, like a giant bucket of regular-old Legos, as opposed to a specific Star Wars Starfighter Jet ™ or a Lego City Helicopter(tm), each of which runs for over $50. Ebay was no help, so I ordered online. No big whoop. And I had an epiphany about teacher gifts: a charity donation in their name will be just the thing. Done. Husband and I are going to shop for a dining table together in lieu of gifts–that may sound lame, but from my perspective, it is perfect.

So, no holiday cards out (but maybe in the new year), classes in fairly good shape. Books ordered for next semester. Still to do: wrapping, one more bit of writing to get that paper out today, one letter of recommendation, finish the syllabus for next semester’s class, read grad student papers and provide feedback, and packing for my pre-holiday trip that starts tomorrow. I have a meeting this afternoon and a great party tonight with the frisbee team.

Hmmm, I was feeling ahead of the game until I wrote that down. Gotta run.

the busy times

December is the season of failure for academic women. Writing deadlines succumb to deadlines to order next semester’s books, write the final exams, and alas, grade. Students whom you have encouraged to meet with you all semester suddenly take you up on it. Coffee dates “before the semester ends” emerge out of nowhere. And holiday get-togethers pepper the month when babysitters are so scarce they become just an abstraction. Continue reading “the busy times”

if you wear lipstick, who knows what will happen to you?

Government officials in Kota Bharu, a northern Malaysian city, have issued guidelines to women on how to dress in order to preserve their dignity and avoid rape:

Azman Mohamad Daham, a spokesman for Kota Bharu municipality, said the latest suggestion contained in leaflets was part of a two-year old campaign.

“We just distribute pamphlets,” he said. “Our minimum guideline is [women] must wear headscarves. The rest is up to them. If they want to follow the 100% Islamic way, it’s up to them.”

The goal of the modesty drive was to prevent rape and safeguard the women’s dignity, he said.

Why is it that whenever men issue advice on how to avoid rape, it comes out sounding like a threat? Weird.

adventures in new york

So this morning I’m calling to set up an appointment to get my hair cut.

Shamus: I need a hair cut.
Salon: Great! [Details…] Oh! And we’re having a special right now. With a hair cut you get a free make-up consult.
Shamus: Um… I’m single. [Meaning: there’s no one in my life who could use that]
Salon: PERFECT! This could be that extra thing to give you a boost in your dating life.
Shamus: Um… something tells me… [Interrupted]
Salon: You know, a lot of men are using make up to enhance their natural features. How old are you?
Shamus: Um…29
Salon: PERFECT! I mean, you’re much too young for a little nip/tuck! But you’ll find that eye liner and a little foundation can do wonders, and even hold off that knife for a few years.
Shamus: Um… something tells me you’re not the salon for me…
Salon: WHAT? We could be just what you need.
Shamus: If you met me, you’d realize how surreal this conversation is.

Continue reading “adventures in new york”