On “Equity Feminism” and “Gender Feminism”

You may or may not have been following all the hoopla over feminism in the online atheist community in the last two years. While I have never addressed it directly on my blog, I’ve definitely kept up with it. Blogger vjack of Atheist Revolution has written about it quite a bit, and recently put up a post in which he suggests that the conflict stems from competing definitions of feminism: “equity feminism” and “gender feminism.” Here is how he describes them:

In a nutshell, equity feminism refers to a focus on the goal of social and legal equality. That is, equity feminists believe that women and men should have the same rights, be paid the same for the same work, have access to the same opportunities, etc. They are advocates of equality, and I wholeheartedly embrace this form of feminism. Women deserve equality, and none of us should settle for anything less.

Gender feminism is very different. It looks far less egalitarian, involves sharp criticism of gender roles, and seems to emphasize victimhood. There are aspects of gender feminism with which I agree (e.g., the manner in which patriarchy can be harmful to both women and men, the critique of traditional gender roles), but I do not support the entirety of gender feminism.

I’m going to overlook some of the problems with the way vjack frames these two categories – such as the assertion that “gender feminism” “looks far less egalitarian” – and instead take a moment to explore further what is meant by “equity feminism” and “gender feminism.” Though I had never heard of them before, Vjack did not make these terms up. In order to gain more insight into what is meant by these terms, I followed some of the links vjack provided in his post. Here is an excerpt from one of them, by a professor named Barry X. Kuhle:

What is feminism other than the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes? Regrettably to feminists like myself, far too many other feminists believe that being one means believing in far more than equality for women. These “gender feminists” cling to an ideologically driven, theoretically unsound, and empirically unsupported perspective on the origin and development of sex differences (Kuhle, 2012). To paraphrase New Jersey philosopher J. B. Jovi, they give feminism a bad name. In so doing, they have discouraged women and men who support sexual equality from self-identifying as feminists. … The reluctance most women and men have to embrace the feminist label in the absence of a definitional nudge is due in no small part to gender feminists’ untenable position on sex differences.

As an evolutionary psychologist, I believe that much light can be shed on psychology by considering how the information-processing mechanisms underlying our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affected our ancestors’ abilities to survive and reproduce. As an “equity feminist” (Sommers, 1994), I believe that women should have the full civil and social equalities that are afforded men. Equity feminism has no a priori stance on the origin or existence of differences between the sexes; it is solely a sociopolitical desire for men’s and women’s legal and social equality. Defined in these ways, there is no rational reason why one cannot be both an evolutionary psychologist and a feminist.

Gender feminism is an alternative version of feminism and is the dominant feminist voice in academia (Sommers, 1994) and online (e.g., Jezebel.com). And boy (er, I mean girl, er, I mean womyn) do they take issue with feminism being compatible with evolutionary psychology. They ardently argue that psychological differences between the sexes have little or nothing to do with evolution, but instead are largely or solely socially constructed (Pinker, 2002; Sommers, 1994). Whereas equity feminism “makes no commitment regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology… gender feminism is an empirical doctrine” committed to several unsubstantiated claims about human nature, especially that of the psychological blank slate where sex differences are concerned (Pinker, 2002, p. 341).

In other words, Kuhle argues that there are significant natural and inherent differences between men and women, so while we should support equality of opportunity, we shouldn’t wonder when men and women make different life choices, pursue different careers paths, act in different ways, or value different things. Thus Kuhle appears to be arguing that men and women can be equal even if they, as a result of their evolutionary background, carry out vastly different roles in life.

Defining Feminism

Now that we have a better understanding of the distinction between “equity feminism” and “gender feminism,” I think we need to take a step back and discuss what feminism is. First and foremost, feminism is “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.” Both vjack and Kuhle agree with me on that part of the definition and argue that women should have political, economic, and social equality. So far so good.

The thing is, while that simple formulation may work well as a shorthand definition, there’s a bit more to feminism than that. Feminism, quite simply, is also about dismantling patriarchy, and challenging gender roles is a key part of that. Feminism is about making sure that children grow up knowing that it’s okay for a boy to be nurturing and it’s okay for a girl to be entrepreneurial. It’s about allowing children to develop as individuals rather than pushing them into prescribed gender roles. It’s about enabling women to have careers alongside men without facing allegations that doing so means they are neglecting their children, and about encouraging men to be just as much a part of their children’s lives as women are. It’s about seeing people as people first, rather than first typing them by their genders.

Feminists are not in the practice of using labels like “equity feminism” and “gender feminism.” I honestly think that a large part of that is because the two really go hand in hand. What do I mean by that? Well, according to both vjack and Kuhle’s definitions, equity feminism includes social equality. According to Wikipedia, social equality is

a social state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in certain respects. At the very least, social equality includes equal rights under the law, such as security, voting rights, freedom of speech and assembly, property rights, and equal access to social goods and services. However, it also includes concepts of economic equity, i.e. access to education, health care and other social securities. It also includes equal opportunities and obligations, and so involves the whole of society.

I think that last sentence is key – equal opportunities and equal obligations. Last summer a post on Feministe asked readers to define equality, and I found this comment especially insightful:

Well, in an equal world, the expectations that society has for me as a female person named Kara would be exactly the same as for a male person named Karl who is otherwise completely identical.

Equal opportunities, equal obligations, and equal expectations – that is social equality. And guess what? You can’t achieve that without challenging gender roles. In fact, there is essentially no way to achieve any sort of equality between men and women, be it political, legal, economic, or social, without challenging gender roles, and that’s exactly what feminism has been doing at least since the 1960s. This divide between “equity feminism” and “gender feminism” is trumped up. Social, political, and economic equality is the goal, and challenging gender roles and dismantling patriarchy is the method to achieve that goal. We really don’t use words like “equity feminist” or “gender feminist.” We’re just, well, feminists.

Men and Women Are Just Different

I’ve noticed something as I’ve watched the conflict over feminism play out in the atheist blogosphere. Rather than “equity feminism” I would call it “difference feminism” or maybe “libertarian feminism.” I don’t really have a good label for exactly what’s going on, but vjack is right that there are some people in the skeptic community who reject the feminist focus on questioning and challenging gender roles. Here is an example from prominent skeptic Harriet Hall:

I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.

Kuhle made this same argument in his article when he argued that there are natural differences between men and women and derided the idea that gender roles are socially constructed. Kuhle’s line of reasoning is why some people argue that it’s only natural that the vast majority of engineers are men and that the the fast majority of stay at home parents are women. Men are just better at spacial reasoning, after all, and women are perfectly evolved to care for children! Based on this same sort of argument, Michael Shermer responded to a question last summer about why speakers at atheist conferences generally tilt male by saying that

it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.

It’s hard to tell when going of fairly short statements made in blog posts or comments, but the idea seems to be that if you ensure that there is equality before the law, it shouldn’t matter that men dominate in STEM fields and in leadership positions, or that that women find themselves doing the majority of the childcare. We shouldn’t bat an eye or ask why – instead, we should just accept this situation as natural and inevitable because men and women are different. And I’ve seen this same idea elsewhere, too, in arguments that feminists need to just stop “whining” and get “off their asses” and just work their way to the top, or arguments that we’ve already achieved equality, and that feminism is no longer needed and has resorted to creating victimhood complexes to keep its followers, made up of a band of whiny, bitchy, selfish women who don’t want to have to work for what they get.

In other words, it appears that there are some within the skeptic community who believe that in order to achieve full equality we must talk about the pervasive effects of patriarchy and work to break down gender roles, and there are some who believe that equality consists only of ensuring equality before the law and then letting “the chips fall where they may.” Thus some atheists are interested in talking about dismantling patriarchy and about the problems with the gendered messages men and women receive in our society, especially as children, while other atheists assert everything has already been more or less fixed and that any gendered differences today are simply innate and natural. It’s no wonder, then, that there have been disagreements across the blogosphere.

Some Words on Gender Roles and Social Construction

The trouble is, regardless of what Kuhle and others like him would have you think, we know that gender roles are socially constructed, whether in part or in total. Let me give you an example. The idea that girls are simply not as good at math as boys was accepted as settled fact for generations. Well guess what? Feminists challenged that idea and encouraged girls to go into the maths and sciences, and what do you know, we have learned that the idea that boys are just naturally better at math than girls are is a myth. What would have happened if someone hadn’t challenged the assumption that girls are just not as good at math as boys are? Why, then, should we just sit back and argue that it’s only “natural” that more women would want to be nurses or more men would want to be engineers?

Now let me talk from my own experience for a moment. I was raised in a conservative evangelical family and religious community, and was taught that men and women had roles that were “different” but “equal in value.” I was taught that this was just how God made people – men were designed to lead and their wives were designed to submit, girls were designed to be homemakers and boys were designed to have careers. I was sent to ballet glass because I wasn’t graceful enough. My brothers, in contrast, were enrolled in robotics club. I was encouraged to think about others’ feelings. My brothers were encouraged to roughhouse and be competitive. The focus of my home life was on raising me to fulfill a particular gender role. And you know what? I didn’t exactly fit that role. It was awkward. I was too competitive. I wasn’t good enough at following while someone else led. I was a tomboy. My mother fretted over all of this. Knowing what was expected of me, I worked to force myself to learn to be nurturing (something I was not good at), to be a good cook and house cleaner, and to learn proper female standards of dress and behavior.

At one point when I was a teen someone suggested to me that I could be an engineer. I had the mind, he told me. I laughed at the suggestion. Me, an engineer? That’s a guy thing! Why in the world would I ever even consider being an engineer? I wasn’t laughing at the suggestion because I was somehow naturally not engineer material. I was laughing at the suggestion because I had been taught that careers are for boys and homemaking is for girls, and even more than that, that engineering was a male career while careers like nursing or teaching were female careers. Of course, there was no legal barrier preventing me from being an engineer. According to “equity feminism,” there was nothing wrong with the fact that I had no desire at all to be an engineer, and indeed, found the idea silly. It was simply natural gender differences. Except that it wasn’t. It was the cultural and social construct of gender I had been painstakingly taught over years that led me to laugh at the idea of being an engineer. And there’s nothing natural about that.

So don’t tell me gender roles aren’t socially constructed. Don’t tell me that there’s nothing amiss with the fact that the vast majority of engineers are men. Don’t tell me that it’s only “natural” that many women should want to be homemakers. Don’t tell me all of that when those things have been been true for as long as they have because people have been socialized as children into filling particular gender roles. Don’t tell me that, because I’ve lived it. I know. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’m so through with it.

Now I know my experience was extreme. In many ways, my experience was the norm several generations ago, when middle class girls were expected to land a husband and raise children and middle class boys were expected to lead high powered careers. Times have changed, and the gender roles children are socialized into have softened – but not disappeared. I feel it every moment people emphasize how “pretty” my daughter is rather than how clever or dedicated or strong she is. I felt it last month when someone saw a bruise on my son’s head and said “that’s just how boys are, always getting into something” even though my daughter gets knocks and bruises just as frequently and no one has ever said the same about her. I feel it when I see advertisements that with taglines like “show them off” by the girls’ shoes and “keep them active” by the boys’ shoes. I feel it when I read articles like this one. I feel it when I walk through the girls’ aisle full of pink and purple packaging displaying makeup and barbie dolls and then walk down the boys’ aisle to find green and grey packaging displaying nerf guns and legos. Yes, we’re making progress, but we’re not done.

I think it’s also important to remember why gender roles are such a problem for equality. For one thing, if you want to see people as individuals, rather than first typing them by gender, you have to see gender roles as a problem. Gender roles are boxes that people are asked to fit themselves into, and anyone interested in equality should see the problem with that.

There’s something else, too. I grew up in a conservative evangelical home where I learned that men were meant to be the protectors and providers while women were meant to be the nurturers and homemakers – and yet, I was told that these two roles were equal, just different. That’s clearly absurd. In the same way, it’s nonsense to look at the gender gap in society today and insist that we have achieved “equality.” Women make less than men, advance more slowly in their careers than men, hold fewer leadership positions, and are drastically underrepresented in government. There’s a lot more to equality than just equality before the law.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Are there physical and hormonal differences between men and women? Sure. But then, there is also gender fluidity and the existence of genderqueer and transgender people to consider, so the picture is far from simple. And besides that, even the existence of completely clear cut physical or hormonal differences between men and women would not mean that modern gender roles were natural rather than socially constructed. [This section was edited for clarity.] And how would we even know what differences were natural and which were not if we are constantly sending boys and girls such gendered messages? And besides that, what about the fact that children’s brains are still developing, influenced by the gendered messages they are receiving? And more than all that, if there are these natural and universal gender differences, why do we work so hard to send children gendered messages? Why not just treat boys and girls both alike – as people, as individuals – and then let any differences that might develop develop naturally? And besides all of that, it seems to me that there is such variation within each gender as to almost dwarf the differences between the two genders.

I have one more thought, and this isn’t directed so much at any specific figure or group of people as it is simply a general observation. Namely, arguing that there are innate gender differences that make women want to stay at home or make men more interested in science and math allows current hierarchies to stay in place and privilege to go unchecked. It allows men to pat themselves on the backs and fend off accusations of sexism while doing nothing to address all of the little ways in which women are held back. If the disparity between men and women in leadership positions can be safely chalked up to innate differences between the sexes, there’s no need to fix anything or disturb the current hierarchy. It allows privilege to go unchecked, under the cloak of being “natural.”

In the end, vjack is right that we need to define our terms. And while I don’t think the two categories he offered for feminism are ultimately all that helpful – both because you can’t achieve social equality without challenging gender roles and because his description of “gender feminism” was part straw man – I think his post serves as a good discussion starter. After all, it’s critically important to find ways to communicate with those who may not fully agree with us, and listening to each other and trying to understand each other’s perspectives is crucial.

Furthermore, I do think we need to be careful when we accuse those who disagree with us of being sexists and misogynists. This is partly because we risk applying these labels unfairly (and in doing so watering them down) and partly because doing so risks closing down conversation rather than opening it up. I know it can be hard, but I’d like to think that we can have a discussion about ideas even on issues that are very personal without automatically resorting to escalation. I think we need to be smart about calling out misogynist and sexist attitudes, behavior, and ideas in ways that actually get people to listen rather than alienate them.

Finally, while I may disagree strongly with those who call themselves “equity feminists,” whom I might also call “difference feminists” or “libertarian feminists,” I would like to hope that a shared profession of belief in equality could have the potential to serve as a starting point for discussions about just what that equality should look like and how to achieve it. And even more particularly, I would like to hope that through discussion we might be able to bring those who think that we’ve already achieved equality to consider the part played by gendered messaging and the constraining effects of socially constructed gender roles, and that they might then be willing to take a more positive view of our desire to challenge gender norms and allow people to be individuals first.

Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
Steve Is a Man: On Minecraft and Gender
I Have Never Seen a Supernatural Entity Create a Universe
How We Disagree
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • luckyducky

    I think evolutionary psychology, as a discipline, is highly suspect. I am no expert in that or competing field but what surfaces in popular media always seems to be something that reinforces (Western) gender roles and is far too determinative of individual behavior than I am comfortable with.

    I also find any critique that denigrates a movement of a historically marginalized group as over-emphasizing “victimhood” as suspect, particularly if that critique is from someone outside of that group and even more so if that critique is from someone from the dominant group. This is particularly important when the critique is used to advance the idea that we only need to worry about “equality of opportunity” rather than or, more accurately, to the exclusion of other forms of equality. With any marginalized group, there can be no “equality of opportunity” without significantly altering the social and economic structures around those opportunities (equality of opportunity is a somewhat arbitrary distinction to make — what constitutes the playing field and what constitutes the opportunity?). A long history of marginalization means that the playing field has, for generations, been built up and is far from level and those who just want “equality of opportunity” tend to have some interest in keeping it that way.

    Ultimately, I agree with you. Equity feminism and gendered feminism are two sides of the same coin. In order to seek equality for the genders, we must seek to understand and redress some of the long-live, structural, and assumed inherent sources of inequality. As the social structure in which those inequalities are embedded has be built over generations and those inequalities have been continually reinforced and only relatively recently systematically challenged, it is unrealistic to argue that that work is done and the burden of proof should be on those making that argument.

    • E

      There is nothing redeemable in evopsych. I find it particularly laughable that all its presuppositions are based on “hunter-gatherer ancestors” when studies of the world’s remaining hunter-gatherer cultures show them to lack the stratified complentarianism that evopsych claims is “natural” for men and women. Anthropology, ur doing it rong.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        LOL, evolutionary pyschologists don’t know anything about anthropology, or any other discipline that routinely challenges what it has to say about human nature, which is nearly all of the disciplines that are at all concerned with human nature–anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, um evolutionary biology etc. It’s not just feminists that think it’s a pseudo-science.

        I mean, come on, it’s magical thinking–some how we’re able to know that men and women think the way we think (except all the people that don’t think that way, of course, LALALALALA) because of what our paleolithic ancestors did, even though we have both an incomplete (to say the least) archaeological record of what that actually was AND an incomplete (to say the least) understanding of how the human brain works. Lolwut? With all the critique directed at it, I honestly think the only reason it continues to thrive as a field is because, as Libby says, it tells a lot of people what they want to hear and reassures them that the status quo is “natural” and not anything they need to worry about challenging, and that all the people who ARE challenging it are just whiny bitches who can’t except that science isn’t “politically correct.”

        The great irony to me is that these “skeptics” swallow it whole, and for all the same reasons that so many others do. I don’t know what you are if you challenge religious dogma because it gives a simplistic account of the world that you don’t like but accept gender ideology (and grasp at any straw to legitimize it) because it gives a simplistic account of the world that you DO like. But you sure ain’t no skeptic.

      • Uly

        Which is a pity, because the core concept that we can understand ourselves better by understanding our evolution is interesting. It’s just that nobody is seriously trying to do that, they just want to prop up their preconceived notions.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Well, people ARE seriously doing that, it’s just that those people aren’t evolutionary psychologists. They’re evolutionary biologists (and paleoanthropologists etc.)

    • Mariana

      This. I am an evolutionary biologist, and we ignore evolutionary psychology the way that astronomers ignore astrology.

      The level of “science” they do is on par with early 20th century Social Darwinism and other evolutionary “just-so” stories.

  • Charlotte

    This guy’s description of “equity” and “gender” feminism reminded me of all the girls I’ve met who’ve said something along the lines of “I’m for equality but I’m not a feminist or anything” or “I’m for equality but I don’t hate guys”. He’s pretty much saying you can believe in gender equality but you can’t speak out or do anything about it or else you’re a misandrist/ playing the victim. These labels are just another way to write off things that feminists say.

    • Aighty

      I’ve heard plenty of that attitude myself, and I think it’s partially because of the term “feminism” itself. I think people are suspicious because the term feminism is gendered, which could imply that the focus is only on injustices done to women–that it never considers anything that is unfair to men. This is of course compounded by the negative views lots of people have about feminism, e.g. that feminists “hate men” and really just want MORE rights than men, not equality. Even those who know that what Libby Anne describes is what feminism is really about* shy away from the term just because they don’t want to be associated with that “man-hating” image.

      Personally, I agree with the ideas espoused by the brand of feminism described in this post, so I consider myself to be a feminist. Still, occasionally I do wonder if another term would better suit these ideas.

      *I know not everyone’s definition matches Libby Anne’s, so saying that that’s what feminism is “really about” isn’t entirely accurate, but I couldn’t think of a succinct and clear way to include that in that sentence.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, the whole “equity feminism” and “gender feminism” distinction basically amounts to “I want to pay lip service to the ideal of equality but I don’t want to actually challenge myself or be challenged by anyone else to look critically at anything in my life or my society that impedes the realization of that ideal. That’s not any kind of support for feminism, sorry. Anyone can say “I believe in equality.” That will not get you any cookies from me. If actually asking people to think and speak in a way that is consistent with the ideals they profess makes me one of those feminists that “ruins feminism” than so be it. I’m not willing to water down feminism to nothing just because it makes some whiny dudes more comfortable.

      Also, I love how this guy is basically instructing feminists on how to talk about feminism using terms that no feminist actually uses in order to accommodate his own ignorance. Next time I need to define the term “mansplain” to someone, I think I’ll just link them to his post.

  • veganatheist01

    “Are there differences between boys and girls, between men and women, that are innate and natural? Of course! I’m not denying that there are both physical and chemical differences between men and women.”
    Could you elaborate on that? I suppose you’re referring to genitals and hormones – if so, how/what do you think about trans people?

    • http://Patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Thanks for pointing out my erasure of trans people. I went back and edited that section. Sorry! Do you have recommended reading on this? On a simplistic level, it sometimes seems like we are both saying that gender is something almost wholly socialized into us and that with trans people there are biological differences in play. What should I read or look up to get a better grasp on how trans people fit into this picture? Sorry for my ignorance!

      • Matt

        I love the way someone called you on something and instead of arguing, you asked for books.
        +20 points.

      • Rachel

        Agreed with Matt that that’s a very positive way to respond to someone calling you out, even gently — I am amused that you had both a very academic response (“do you have any books?”) and a very typically socialized feminine response (“Sorry!” “Sorry for my ignorance!”).

        I’m not an expert, but there’s a way around this often used in queer circles: use “sex” to refer to the biological sex, and “gender” to refer to the socio-cultural aspects. They’re related, but maybe not as strongly as assumed.

      • veganatheist01

        Most of my own knowledge on that topic comes from reading blogs by Natalie Read (http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed) and Zinnia Jones (http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones), and I’m still learning myself. Didn’t mean to accuse you of anything – I was just curious, as I don’t remember you ever writing about trans people. :)

      • http://dynamicstasis.wordpress.com Naomi

        Anne Fausto-Sterling’s _Sexing the Body_ is an EXCELLENT resource on this issue, Libby Anne. Although I now see she has a more current book out, _Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World_. Hands down my favorite text from my Feminist Theory (grad) course!

  • Jason Dick

    The more I read, the more I think that evolutionary psychology, as a discipline, is rotten to the core right now. The premise of evolutionary psychology is imminently reasonable: we are products of evolution, and certainly our behavior has been shaped by evolution. The problem is that they seem to do a very poor job at investigating this, in outright ignoring the social factors and trying too hard to find an adaptationist biological cause for every aspect of human behavior.

    • Rosie

      Also, it seems to me that evo psych is utterly useless at *predicting* behavior in humans. Which leads me to doubt its assertions.

    • Rachel

      Definitely agree. Evolutionary psychology is that they’re so hidebound — everything must be a result of evolution, never culture or society as a whole. A more interdisciplinary look at it would be able to explain so much more of the variation — but they have no incentive to look outside of evo psych for answers, because that’s what fills journals and conferences.

    • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

      Not to mention that they often seem to suck at anthropology, suck at social science, and suck at biology. They’re completely certain of the social structures that existed in a time we have very little information on, make rather inspired leaps when analysing the current state of society, and don’t seem to understand how the biological process of evolution actually works to any great extent.
      The best summary of evopsych I’ve seen has been “start with the premise, then make up a story to fit it”.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yeah, that sentence sums up Noam Chomsky’s criticism pretty well. I’m not a Chomsky-worshiper but he’s spot-on there.

    • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

      evolutionary psychology is just glorified circular logic. they look at humans as they are now (which includes socialization) and think “how might evolution have caused them to behave this way?” and then they make up an answer and say “since humans evolved to behave this way it is the correct way for humans to behave!”

  • http://fliponymous.wordpress.com Patrick RichardsFink

    “it seems to me that there is such variation within each gender as to almost dwarf the differences between the two genders.”

    Meta-analysis bears this out. It’s not just a “seems to be”, it’s fact. And it was first noted by a female psychologist, and therefore kept out of the mainstream.

    • Charlotte

      The same goes for race, or so I heard.

    • tsara

      Do you have any links to good meta-analyses of evo-psych studies done into gender differences? I’ve noticed that studies into gender differences tend to draw very generalized conclusions from slight differences in results (along the lines of ‘we see this, therefore fewer women become engineers because Y-chromosomes and testosterone which evolved because hunter-gatherer societies’, completely ignoring plasticity in the brain and most other possible explanations for the results), but I’d love to see an analysis of how often this happens (do I just tend to read the really bad ones?) and to hone my good science/bad science differentiator.

      • AlanGNixon

        I’d like some sources for this too, I see a lot of claims being made about what Evolutionary Psychology is and isn’t and how bad it is, but these all seem like extreme caricatures of a field that is obviously getting some attention. I believe I have seen Evo-Psych stuff that included plasticity and a wide range of subtle interaction possibilities. However, I’m not an expert in the field and I may be mistaking people outside the field for those inside. I have also seen social theorists and anthropologists using what I thought was the work of Evolutionary Psychologists, to give fairly plausible explanations when combined with other socially based theories. I could be mistaken… it would be nice to see a summary that showed the negative trends discussed in these comments (which I unfortunately don’t have time to do myself at the moment.)

  • Chris Hallquist

    I’ve read the Kuhle article, and you seem to be reading a lot into it that isn’t there. In particular, I can be true that there are some innate psychological differences between men and women and at the same time think the male domination of many fields might be cultural.

    Ed Clint, for example, has defended evolutionary psychology (including claims of innate psychological differences between men and women) against its detractors, but has also argued for having 50% women among speakers at skeptic conferences, for the sake of breaking the (possibly? very likely?) self-perpetuating maleness of skepticism.

    • Chris Hallquist

      *it can be true.


  • Chris

    Thank you saying so eloquently what I thought when I read vjack’s post yesterday. It bothered me, but I couldn’t have laid it out so nicely why…

  • Sam

    I wonder how somebody like Kuhle would explain transgender men and women….. Or “tomboys” and “feminine” men? What about genderqueer people? Or people who are intersex, yet decide to “choose” which gender role to follow? Yes, in general, men may tend to be a certain way and women may tend to be another way….but let that happen naturally on each individual’s own terms rather than forcing it by shoving gender roles down our throats!

    • http://autistscorner.blogspot.com Lindsay

      I wonder how somebody like Kuhle would explain transgender men and women … Or “tomboys” and “feminine” men? What about genderqueer people? Or people who are intersex, yet decide to “choose which gender role to follow?

      I think I know exactly how he’d deal with them/us (very masculine cissexual queer woman here) — he’d acknowledge that we exist, and then go on with whatever it was he was going to say. Because we’re a tiny minority in his mind, a weird exception that can safely be ignored.

      I’ve actually experienced this a lot. In person, if the conversation turns to gender, it’ll go a bit like this:

      Male speaker: Why do women always [x]/ Why are all women[x]?

      Me: I never [x]/I’m not [x].

      Male speaker: Well, yeah, but you’re so different from most women you don’t count.

      In the past I have tended to believe this, because 1) I’m very different from most *people* of any gender due to being autistic, and 2) there are a few areas in which I know I am indeed an outlier.

      Now I’d probably think a little longer and come back with something like “My sister/mom/aunts/female friends don’t [x], either.”

  • Kodie

    I think the gender roles being “natural” is the same way as religious ideals (Christianity in the US mainly) are taken for granted. At some point in history it seems prudent to protect the vessel childbearer from danger, for the good of the offspring. But even that takes the natural order of things and comes up with a cultural solution to it. As we discussed in another thread, if a career seems attractive to women, men who used to be the primary or sole actors in that field fall away and find something more “masculine” to do. Is that natural? Could this also be why most religions do not want women to take roles as a pastor or minister, etc.? It seems culturally like something women would be good at, and perhaps better than men at. I’m not saying this because I agree with the “gender feminism”. I am making observations. It is actually the one area of life where women are legally disallowed from entering a profession. Instead of asking why women don’t want to do laundry and tend to childcare anymore, I would ask why men seem to be threatened by associating with careers that women are drawn to. When you say “teaching” in the old days was a respectable mostly-male profession and now it is mostly women and thankless – I picture the cultural assessment that teaching is now considered glorified babysitting rather than the passing knowledge from a professor to an eager student. Was it ever so, or was that just because men did it? Vice versa, how did it “change” just because women hold those positions primarily now.

    So I’m not a scholar about this. The first thing the article made me think of with regard to gender feminism and ignorance of cultural constructs was postpartum depression. Having some standard of what is “natural” is to have a shallow approach where culturally we know what is supposed to be. When one knows, “naturally” that women are nurturers who pop out babies and instantly bond and coo all over them, what does one do when they don’t have that experience? They suffer. They think they are a freak. In the same way our culture takes for granted that religion is not socially constructed but comes from god, and while people have to be trained to follow it because there are other options, people in it often feel like there is no place to speak up when they feel weird about it in any way. If you are gay and you’re not allowed to be gay, you feel like a freak. But being gay is one of the natural options and religion is constructed to disallow this and other particular options. I think option is a poor word since I don’t mean it’s “optional” on a person, nor does nature consciously look at its choices and choose one for you, but like being tall is a natural option – it’s one of the outcomes. If you don’t fit in with the supposed natural evolutionary psychology of a nurturing mother, but the social construct is there, you suffer because you think it is you who is being unnatural. You’re supposed to love your children, but brain chemistry like postpartum depression opposing that nature makes you feel like it’s something you have to straighten out and put back in the natural order, or at least cover up your true feelings so people don’t notice. It’s the same if you’re gay or trans or if your heavenly marriage is a disaster or probably one of the most conspicuous – you are a woman who is unable to bear children. Your whole natural role is destroyed and made to feel incomplete. It’s not just a natural outcome, it’s your whole life’s purpose that you culturally constructed to be, but you had to wait until you got married to find out.

    This may be way out there, but one of the ways I see anti-abortion efforts especially including crisis pregnancy centers is to “starve” the system of other options for young pregnant women in order to supply infertile Christian couples with white newborns to adopt so their family doesn’t even look adopted. They know people will have sex and they judge them for it, but why don’t they want to pay for other women to use birth control? Why don’t they want the state to pay welfare and healthcare? Or allow for rape exceptions? Why do people agonize over a small procedure to get rid of a clump of cells even if they are in favor of it? Propaganda to ultimately cover up for the misfortune of infertility among some Christian families.

    The thing is, if we’re trained culturally to fit into our roles, for the most part, we just do. Few feel like something is missing, and then turn to judge others who don’t fit the template. It is really difficult for most people to see how they behave is training and not actually natural. Like Libby Anne, well sort of unlike her – I could have been an engineer. Nobody ever suggested it to me though. It never occurred to me myself or my parents or anybody. Is the talent even natural? I took to math easily and excelled in it. I never felt like I wasn’t supposed to be good at it, and at least in my mind, I thought if someone didn’t get these easy concepts, they were not paying attention. I felt like that was “natural” for me – so I don’t know. I guess I can come up with a scenario where something is easy for everyone else, like socializing, which I have never really gotten the hang of. I could observe how little I cared that I was good at math even if I was a girl – putting those together also never occurred to me – is part of why I’m not well-socialized. I didn’t know I was supposed to be bad at it and nobody directly discouraged me from excelling at it. What they did not do was tell me what engineering was or any other options for a degree in mathematics. For being poorly socialized, I would not pick that up “naturally” or being a girl, I would not be in on the discussion where the teacher proposed some ideas what I could do with my talent. Even when I went to college, my mother thought I should be a teacher – because I work well with kids, not because I’m the smartest person she knows and the world would benefit from me as an educational leader to them; and because I’m a girl – I have heard her utter the suggestion that women should be happy if they had a career being a nurse, teacher or secretary, end of list. I thought math majors became math teachers so I never pursued it. I did not have a religious upbringing at all, but there were cultural expectations and limitations plotted out but never discussed directly with me – could also be poor communication in the family.

    Anyway, if you are rolling along your life and everything falls into the culturally “natural” order, it feels like you fit in and that feels natural, and people take that for granted. I definitely feel there is something to insisting it is this way – it keeps women out of the jobs they could have had, still for the most part, which keeps them subservient and not equally partnered if they get married and largely in charge of (gladly too) of childrearing. How is this not related to “equality feminism”? People who do not fit try to fit more than they feel free to be different than the norm. If something keeps people in place even if their attitude is different then it does not seem to follow that it is natural. If you are made to feel that your place is at home for a husband and kids, while you want to, say, not have kids, not get married, and endeavor in business or travel or something independent, the world makes you feel like you’re not loved. No man loves you or could love you. To say “no, I’m good” about spending your life following personal pursuits is “naturally” a state of denial. The culture makes it such an issue that you don’t believe yourself anymore. That’s how theists also insist that atheists secretly long for god and want to fill the empty space. That’s not true, and I know people love god and all, but that’s their own flaw – they would feel empty so cannot comprehend how someone is fine without it. They’re threatened that it can even be done, so use it to feel superior and lie to themselves and each other.

    And I meant to wrap it up, but the things that occur to me to tie it all together is this: why are people all up in other people’s business anyway? Isn’t that an indication that it’s cultural after all, that people are watching each other do it right or judge them for not? Amateur sociologists is everyone I hear – women/shoes, men/football; brides; how to make your kid not gay and also gender-conforming. It’s adorable when little Mary wants to play sports with the boys until she wants to join the up-until-now all boys team in high school. See how a little harmless play early on can “damage” her nature? We cannot risk that happening with boys at all. The fact that people are unable to cope when people do what naturally comes to them absolutely indicates that they are culturally constructing the acceptable path, which in turn, most people learn rather easily to stay on, and which people who do not easily stay on are known by our culture and to themselves as unnatural.

    • Leigha

      I just want to say, that was long but really well thought out and interesting. So if anyone caught themselves skimming (or skipping) it because of its length, go back and read it for real.

      And I think you raise a good point. It IS sort of interesting that most of today’s female-dominated jobs used to be predominantly male (with the exception, if I remember correctly, of secretaries, since that job cropped up just about the same time as women started entering the non-manual-labor workforce). It used to be all nurses and teachers were men, because all professional jobs were for men only, but now teaching is mostly female (though largely stigma free) and a male nurse will likely get mocked mercilessly. And you know what else is kind of funny (in a sad sort of way)? Men receive more promotions than women, even in predominantly female jobs.

      Sometimes I really do think, at this point, that gender inequity almost does more harm to men than women. At least being a tomboy is usually seen as neutral or even good (unless one comes from a very conservative background). I would hate to suffer through the childhood of a boy who liked playing with dolls and dressing up. At the same time, though, the message is ultimately: boy things are good for everyone, but boys are too good to do girl things. So that makes being a girl feel like something really great. Sigh.

  • Christine

    I agree that there are far more differences between individual women or individual men than between men and women as groups. I also agree that we have societal understandings of gender pushed on us. However, one thing that seems to get ignored is the fact that even if the differences between men and women are much smaller than the differences within a specific sex/gender (this works for either), there will still be cases where this can result in a significant gender split.

    For example: While it’s extremely obvious that women can be just as strong as men, and that a strong woman will be stronger than an average man, the fact remains that, on average, men are stronger than woman. (Even ignoring testosterone this will be obvious, as strength is correlated with size, and men tend to be larger than women). Normally this wouldn’t be an issue. Warehouse work, for example, could be done by either men or women (the split here is more due to societal expectations combined with worries about support for pregnancy). But when an unusually large amount of strength is required, say for the infantry or firefighters, there will be more men than women. (Images to help those who took their statistics courses too long ago at http://perrystreetpalace.com/2012/09/06/on-gender-essentialism-in-public-schools-bell-curves-and-cpd/ . This article would be an example of what I’m talking about, but it uses math well enough, and is clear enough about what point it is actually trying to make, that I forgive it.)

    • Rachel

      I mean, the difference most commonly cited by the “men are better than women at math” cycle is that, on average, the male bell curve for intelligence is more extreme than the female curve — at the 67th percentile, or even the 90th percentile, there may be more women than men, but at the 99.7% percentile (three standard deviations), there are more men there, and once you get out to the fourth standard deviation, so 1/10,000, it’s far more likely for a man to be _that_ good than a woman to be _that_ good. And hence this is why the rarefied circles of academia, especially in math and sciences, are entirely male. You can’t argue with that. It’s math.

      (The inverse applies as well — men are more likely to be at that fourth standard deviation on the lower end of the bell curve than women are.)

      This entirely misses the point that because intelligence is a product of both heredity and environment, the women who are in that fourth standard deviation of mathematical ability are incredibly unlikely to have been nurtured or challenged in the same way than men are. This is changing — hopefully enough to disprove the first theory.

      • Kodie

        For some reason when I was younger, quilting started to appeal to me. It’s not just because I like fabrics, or I saw an impressive quilt on Antiques Roadshow (or some equivalent show) where someone made a massive quilt out of scraps from a silk tie factory – although that was really impressive! The more I read about the history of it, the more and more I was impressed. This was an available avenue for women and primarily women and their daughters to both take economic factors in hand as well as create from little to no formal mathematics education, geometric masterpieces of warmth and design, and keeping within the economic limits of a family. How can you say women don’t know anything about math naturally? They did not have the luxury of planning out a quilt and then buying a pattern and all the fabrics they needed. Whatever was left over or too destroyed by use to even be a dish towel went into the quilt. Precise angles, not just 90-degree squares, but triangles or even circles, if not even more complicated shapes. There was and is no limit.

        I would say to accomplish anything of the sort takes some understanding of angles and measurements. The classic patterns we see in quilt .. catalogs? Books, history, craft magazines or pattern booklets, were created by women. They liked this one but they made it more elaborate. With precision. I can’t do that and I know how it’s done. I did not just look at this as a craft from pioneer days, I said, that’s women doing math all the time with nobody appreciating it as such.

      • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

        You could fit knitting and crochet in that category as well. I have a book on designing sweater patterns to knit and even the most basic boxy drop shoulder pattern needs some math to get things like the taper of the sleeve. The skill involved in any traditionally ‘female’ craft is vastly unappreciated.

      • CarolynTheRed

        Eh, I’ve heard the claim that the reason there’s more men in computer science or engineering is because of that difference in variance between men and women. And there’s the whole cultural aspect, for sure, which affects the spread.

        But for a lot of jobs and fields, well, I might buy that argument a bit more if I actually believed you needed more than 60th, 70th, something like that percentile math/analytic skills to be very successful in these fields. Even in the math-heavy areas of computer science at my university, the successful students are more hard workers with at least little aptitude and a lot of interest, rather than absolute outlier brilliant people. Even math researchers need to slog through papers, and slowly gain confidence with ideas.

        It’s nice for the ego to think that to do what you do, you need to be exceptional. But it’s often not true. And if you don’t help girls (poor students/minorities/whoever else fell behind) catch up, you stand out more.

        (Incidentally, my father taught me to “build pi” out of blocks when I was a toddler. I was doomed to develop my math talents to their fullest.)

      • Leigha

        I’m not actually certain if socializing girls to want to be good at math would change that, because men are found in higher numbers at BOTH extremes of the bell curve. I realize you mentioned that, but I’m not sure how to reconcile the idea that it’s a difference in socialization when it’s true for the low end as well.

        But regardless, what Carolyn said is true. You don’t need to be among the absolute upper echelons to have a career in that field, in academia or otherwise. There’s practically no one at those extremes anyway–99.73% of the population fall within three standard deviations. Just going on the high end, since that’s what we’re really talking about here, that’s 0.135%. There’s absolutely no way everyone in those fields is part of that tenth of a percent of the population. And unless I’m mistaken, the bell curve difference holds true for IQ scores as well (and 4 standard deviations is 160, or what we would call a genius, or on the low end, 40).

        Though I’m not really certain what you mean by “rarefied circles of academia.” Is that something above and beyond regular academia? Because I know the math and computer science department at my university had professors of both genders, and the head of the department was female. And over half of the math and science professors I’ve had were female, though that’s partially random chance. There’s certainly no shortage of women in academia, even in math and science (okay, well, there IS a shortage, but they certainly aren’t ENTIRELY male, like you claimed).

      • Kodie

        Well we do live in a different world now and I think most people in theory understand that women can do as well as men in some careers. Look how that is compared – “as well as men”. They are short-changed on the front end from considering themselves for those careers, systemically. The few who break through may be directly encouraged by progressive parents and teachers! And that’s great. Others who might do just as well are discouraged from it still.

        It’s just that I see a lot online women who were girls who played with building toys and were always fascinated by something or other and excelled in schools and either ignored or were not faced with discouragement systemically, and hold themselves up as proof that it can be done, or other anecdotal evidence such as yours. Sure, it can be done. You only need one woman to achieve something to see that it can be done.

        But how is it done? How does that happen, and why doesn’t it happen more often? Why aren’t girls and boys given the same credit for the same human brains to see where their personal talents and interests take them, always? Why when some girls or their parents see her achievements in an area, or for example “even a girl can be a doctor!” women go to biology and people are saying that’s becoming less attractive to men? Being a doctor is supposed to be prestigious and an indicator of intelligence, so I see that as a lot of parents actually and not just the daughters, saying they can achieve one of the ultimate careers. It’s a lot harder to be a girl who wants to be a doctor all on her own but have parents or teachers who think that’s not going to work out for her and keep her on some other track.

        Nobody is saying it’s not possible, or say it’s 10% possible so that accounts for a huge imbalance between men and women in engineering (I make up a 10% number). Does the number of women in certain male-dominated careers mean that is the percent of women cut out for it, even if it’s a small number, or does that mean some women forged through (so THAT is what can be done) but it is made more difficult than it has to be for everyone else?

        I remember something Neil Degrasse Tyson had said in an interview about his wanting to be an astrophysicist. He literally had to personally want it all along and not be deterred. Certainly, his intellectual capacity was put down, can you imagine. People thought he should be happy where he was stuck or dream about playing basketball (even though that’s unlikely) rather than be smart. He knew what he wanted and kept going ahead. How many are discouraged instead by some slight or something else. One can be determined 99% and try and try and try and that 1% eats at them if they have a weakness. Some people do not have to be 100% determined to be let in the door and shown the special elevator and given the keys. He talked about how many people must face similar circumstances and just not tough it out, and he doesn’t blame them or place himself heroically for doing it. It’s just long odds and how well built you are in the first place to determine your own dreams and goals for yourself once you know what they are, without listening to the naysayers. That’s really hard!

  • Elizabeth

    Maybe it’s just the definitions used here, but equity feminism sounds a bit too much like “separate but equal” to me, as if we shouldn’t question the stereotypes, just treat them as if they’re equally valuable. I don’t see how anyone can defend that on it’s own while at the same time criticizing attempts from within to question the stereotype, and then claim that they’re not sexist, racist, etc. To me, those two “types” of feminism are more like ends of a spectrum of feminism, both focusing on valuing equally, but with one extreme end supporting the idea that there is a fundamental difference between men and women that can not be questioned, and the other sometimes going so far as to say conforming at all to those expected differences must be purely social and is harmful. Somewhere in the middle seems to be the most effective, and I would imagine exactly where varies depending on each situation and context.
    Personally, though, I don’t care what evolutionary psychology has to say (or doesn’t) about inherent difference between men and women because we should be looking at individuals and treating everyone as such. And as an individual, I want to be respected and not treated as “unusual” or “an exception” no matter how much my life choices conform or don’t to what society deems “normal” for my perceived gender. As long as you try to define categories, people are going to attribute meaning and value to them, and people are always going to find “exceptions” and individuals who don’t “fit” those categories (whether because of gender identity or simply non-conforming interests or abilities). THAT is harmful, to be viewed as treated as “other,” “different” by society at large (even if on an individual-relationship-basis this is seen as fine).
    And what purpose do these gender categories even serve? If somehow women really are more nurturing and men more analytical, so what? Why should that shape our expectations of all men and women, boys and girls in general? Don’t we not only value both compassion and critical thinking but want to encourage BOTH in *everyone*? In fields like science or art, in entrepreneur and leadership positions, isn’t a diversity of perspectives and specific abilities valuable? Art can be analytical, science needs creative thinking to see things from “outside the box,” there are multiple ways in interact with, organize, and guide people. You can’t be for valuing equality while arguing in favor of pointlessly dividing up society based on sweeping, stereotyped abilities that most certainly do not apply to everyone and are in no way helpful.

    • Lassou

      I don’t have anything to add to this except, Exactly! Right on the money.

  • Malitia

    My mind works in weird ways. While I read this the “equity feminism” and “gender feminism” got translated as the people using this distinction obviously believe in gender roles being genetic … and I then I began to see an analogy with “micro evolution” and “macro evolution” people who believe in “creation by god”. /o\ Sorry, I’m weird sometimes.

  • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

    the reason feminism has a bad name with some people, has nothing to do with feminists opinions of obscure evolutionary biology theories. This guy gives himself and his field too much credit.
    The reason feminism has a bad name with some people is because of backlash artists who tend to characterize it by its most extreme proponents.
    Also he said nothing about why this opinion is any less egalitarian than the limited feminism he believes in.
    I also suspect he is a pseudofeminist because people who are proud feminists would mock it using snarky language (oh boy her girl ehr womyn)
    This being said, I personally have no problem with the idea that as a collective men and women may have different means and averages in certain areas, but that it does not translate to individual men and women.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “The reason feminism has a bad name with some people is because of backlash artists who tend to characterize it by its most extreme proponents.”

      Or they just characterize it by made-up straw-feminists or by things that actual feminists actually oppose. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to explain to somebody that Doofy Sitcom Husbands aren’t a feminist plot and that, in fact, feminists actually object to this kind of stereotyping. Personally, I consider it a good day when somebody states an objection to feminism that has anything at all to do with something an actual self-identified feminist actually said or did. Or at least something an actual self-identified feminist said or did more recently than the 70s and 80s.

      “Womyn” would be a case in point. I mean, seriously? As a young feminist who has studied with feminist scholars, worked at feminist organizations and associated with many, many feminists IRL and on line, do you know how many times I have run across that spelling? Zero.

      • Leigha

        I’ve seen pretty ridiculous things said by a self-identified feminist, though I think most at least were from a few decades ago (so not meeting your “more recently than the 70s and 80s” clause). When we studied feminist theory in literary criticism when I was in college, at least one of the essays we read was pretty…awful. Something about how any time a woman has sex with a man, even if it’s consensual, it’s rape because…penetration…something…and also men are evil and should die because…

        Yeah, I don’t know. I blocked it out. It hurt too much. I get that maybe it was somehow important in the early stages of (that wave of) feminism? Maybe? But I feel like it was such a horrible misrepresentation of what feminism is really about, and played so well into the perception many people have of what feminism is, that it wasn’t necessarily a good idea to include it in our anthology. Then again, there was another essay about how literally NO ONE who wasn’t a black lesbian women could even remotely BEGIN to understand ANYTHING the writer thought or felt, because their experiences would just be way too different. So much for that universal human experience stuff, right? (And no, she didn’t mean no one could understand perfectly. She flat out said they couldn’t understand anything at all.)

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        *sigh* I was going to say something about how many conversations I’ve had to have about Andrea Dworkin, despite the fact that she was primarily active BEFORE I WAS BORN (or when I was in diapers), but I didn’t have time. But of course, she came up anyway. Why did I think I would escape this conversation?

        So, here we go again: She is the author of the essay you read, actually most likely an excerpt from her book “Intercourse,” which is commonly interpreted as saying that all sex is rape. I don’t actually think that’s what she was saying, having actually read that part carefully. I think she was talking about how heterosexual intercourse is constructed as violent conquest, she’s talking about rape culture. And she’s pretty much right. I give her credit where it’s due, but there are plenty of other reasons to have major problems with Dworkin’s ideas and actions, which is why she was a controversial and highly divisive figure among other feminists even when she was current.

        Which she’s not by the way. Feminism has gone all sorts of places since then. Many feminists my age have never even read her or gained any familiarity with her ideas (although it’s a good thing to do.) A few years ago, weary after saying the previous paragraph to approximately 90 gajillion people over the course of my feminist life, I did an experiment. I live in a large city with a lot of colleges and a left-leaning, intellectual culture. We have a lot of independent bookstores and they sell a lot of feminist writing. I went to a few of my usual ones and asked for her books. Not one had them in stock. Most of the people I asked didn’t even know who she was. If you can’t buy Andrea Dworkin’s work where I live than, trust me, feminism has moved on. So please, world, please, please, PLEASE, I beg of you, stop making me talk about Andrea Dworkin.

        Maybe I should just get cards made up of everything I just said so the conversation can move on more quickly…

  • TheSeravy

    Everytime a minority/disadvantged group gains equity, it seems like the social structure that enforces it becomes even more rigid and insidious.

    “I do think we need to be careful when we accuse those who disagree with us of being sexists and misogynists.”
    I think this is a very crucial point. People who disagree with feminism probably have some underlying concern or their world view thus far simply hasn’t encountered such a conflict. It’s not longer clear cut where men have all the advantages and women have all the disadvantages so discourse has to adapt to this new grey area. For feminism to take the next step is to address the underlying reasons in a constructive and respectful manner. Giving respect, gains respect.

    I always remember the time I was in college when a male student pointed out that female submission is natural given how globally, it’s mostly men who are leaders and control women; there have been exceptions but they are exceptions. The entire class went silent and one female student indignantly said “I can’t believe you just said that in a class full of women”. Unfortunately, no one (including myself) bothered to challenged his views in a contructive manner. He left probably feeling shamed with his bias further reinforced. I wish I had spoken up, came to his defence then offered an alternate explanation:

    Perhaps men are in dominant positions because of the constant warfare in early human history where brute force was the law. Since physical strength was prized and necessary for survival, a hiearchy that values men over women has logically developed in most places. Just look at any colonized country; the colonized people are always portrayed as lesser and require guardianship by the colonizer. But our priorities have shifted to peace and equality and society is adapting to these goals. (and I hate when people say war is natural; if it’s so natural, refugees and veterans wouldn’t have PTSD)

    • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

      I think it’s natural for people to strive to dominate, period.
      historically men have been better able to dominate. that doesn’t mean it is natural or that it is a choice for the others to submit.
      people who can’t dominate look for other ways, like manipulation.
      thankfully we also have empathy to counteract the domination tendency.

    • Leigha

      My boyfriend and I had a discussion once about why it happened that men became socially dominant (inspired by a TV show that I’m thinking I’ll have to write a comment about after this). He reasoned that it only made sense that, since men were stronger, they did the hunting and the fighting and the protecting and whatnot. So far so good, I can get that. Further, women are the ones having babies, and they’re more vulnerable and less able to do strenuous physical things while pregnant. Okay. He also said it made sense that, since women have the kids, they would become the primary caretakers. Obviously that makes SENSE, because that’s what happened, but I don’t see how that’s necessarily the result. There have been lots of societies where children were raised collectively, mostly by women, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been by men or by everyone. Then you have the development of systems of government, and he argued it seems reasonable for men to have become the leaders since they were also the fighters. And once you have a male-dominated government, a few generations of reinforcement gives you our not-so-distant past.

      In turn, I came up with (in my opinion) a perfectly reasonable scenario in which, even with innate differences in size and reproduction, women could very easily have become socially dominant (or equal). If you allow that men did most of the hunting, that leaves men OUT of the village while women are IN the village. Naturally (just as naturally as the other way around, at least), the women could form some sort of primitive hierarchy and set of rules. Once towns start to crop up, men are more likely to be the ones laboring on farms and at trades (due to the strength required, though of course women can and did help or even do it themselves), so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the women to form the governing body to deal with civil matters while the men farmed. And should a war occur, if the men are the ones fighting, wouldn’t women be the ones left in charge at home? To be honest, I find it sort of baffling that men managed to dominate in both physical AND civil realms, because where the heck did they find the time to govern with all the fighting and whatnot (of course, it’s because the governing people weren’t the working people, but my point stands–if anything, had the men done the more physical stuff and the women dealt with political stuff, maybe social classes wouldn’t be as big of a deal, since a single family could have a senator wife and a farmer husband).

      It’s still “separate but equal,” and it still would’ve needed to evolve into a more egalitarian society, but I found it to be an interesting thought exercise as to how unnecessary it was to shove women aside and have men do everything, using the very things many use to explain why that happened.

      • Kodie

        I had said in this thread that I thought it made sense at one time to protect the childbearers, but that seems more like a cultural reaction rather than a biological imperative (or evolutionary “psychology”). To me, evolutionary psychology would have us determine automatically that men are expendable and women aren’t by biological factors, but I can definitely imagine that that made sense to the intelligent beings and was then determined and constructed to work that way. If a woman wanted to go on the hunt instead, they might tell her she’s not strong enough or that her children need her.

        It really would do the intelligent creature some good if everyone was considered human and were all trained in the fundamentals of survival. To me, that would be another construction. I don’t know what ancient humans were like at all, but I think brains are brains, and every human or proto-human would benefit from everyone have the same skill set even if they depended primarily on men for certain things or women for certain things. If something killed all the men away on the hunt, who would feed the women and children left behind if they did not also have that skill?

        Division of labor is something we’re still working out. Not a lot of people seem exceptionally satisfied with it yet. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is still one of the questions we ask kids and one of the stupidest – kids don’t know any jobs that don’t have a uniform or aren’t glamorous. We still want to hear a boy say “fireman” or “cowboy” or a girl say “ballerina” or “nurse”. Why do we still think it’s a great thing for women to fulfill their childhood dream of becoming a bride? I’m not knocking marriage, but that is such a thing we think is “natural” for little girls to want and dream about and plan from an early age. And we don’t for the most part get judgmental of grown women living out that fantasy. Basically, the culture revolves around a man’s schedule and a man’s prerogative, so the woman gets to decide what she’s going to wear when he comes for her, well before they’ve met.

        So where did that come from that this distraction satisfies all of us? When along the way did we evolutionarily psych ourselves to divide all the labor by sex, to keep dividing it when a woman does something, it’s no longer good enough for men? Like I said, brains are brains and we’re all human – to me, that means we’re all capable of using our brains and bodies. The only division left, really, seems to be that women and men don’t compete against each other in sports officially, and many religions believe women are the wrong people – the so-called, evolutionary-psychologically speaking communicators of the species – to preach or have any leadership function. The rest is dividing boys and girls early to imagine they are different species (cootie shots, toys they’re allowed to play with), so when they become adolescents and curious, they’re like foreign beings nobody understands the other. Yeah, have you heard the old trope where the men don’t understand women! And women don’t know why men can’t remember, talk, pick up after themselves, etc., or why they lie about calling, and take that personally. Any sentence that starts “women are….” or “men are….” seems to describe a majority of behaviors we can relate to but why?

        Seems to me if a man can do something, so can a woman, and if a woman can do something, it’s not too difficult for a man. How on earth, if “women’s work” is too easy, can a man screw up cleaning something – are his eyes functional? And a woman might say, well it’s just easier if I do it all, then it will get done right. Everyone should be able to everything. There is no plausible reason to divide labor according to “psychological” barriers between the sexes being capable of a job they can be trained to do. Boys just don’t help mommy, that’s why they can’t clean at the age of 30 (avg) and made to feel like a moron because it is easy. Why can’t a woman make a bridge? Because she’s expected to stay home with babies and her talents are not encouraged. What if all the men died on the hunt, what would the women and children do? Oh, maybe some of them are boys, so they wait until the boys grow up and do it for them?

    • Ray

      I came to the conclusion men become more powerful due to death rates of women from childbearing. Men didn’t have that risk so they lived longer and living long means more experience and wisdom (maybe) so people started to expect men to be leaders. It’s not a sound conclusion, but it makes sense to be.

      • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Humans and whales are the only species in which females go through menopause and have a post-reproductive lifespan. Why? Because grandmothers are beneficial to society. They help younger women give birth and they help take care of the children. They pass on essential knowledge that helps everyone survive and thrive (and Kodie, in answer to your question about hunting–in hunter-gatherer societies, women bring in most of the food through gathering anyway, and in some societies they participate in hunting as well). Many women did die in childbirth, but many men died young as well. Even in developing countries with high maternal mortality rates, elderly women still outnumber elderly men.

      • Kodie

        If they participate in hunting in some societies, obviously that means they are capable of it. I think my post addressed more the fact that in some societies, they are not considered for that type of work at all. Evolutionary psychology would say women are still natural gatherers (shopping) as if that is determined by our sex and not what they could be good at or beneficial to their tribe to do. Even so, shopping does have certain hunting aspects to it that are not recognized. “Men are better at bargaining” has more to do with women being taught (rather than naturally) to accept the advice of the authority (the salesperson in this case) and to be polite and to be embarrassed for making a scene. This seems to be true in my family, where my mother has this weird idea that the price tag is how much it costs, and no sense of being prepared to walk away with nothing if the offer doesn’t suit her. She teaches us who has control in the situation is the person with the good; in order to trade for that good, one must pay what they tell her, and lets their authority intimidate her.

        To me this is weird. Anyway, as a cultural construct, at least when it’s relevant, I agree with one solution is to have women stay behind from the hunt and not jeopardize the children. But that’s not natural, that’s just the solution they came up with. Evolutionary psychology to me does indicate that we come up with cultural solutions to a problem of jeopardizing the future of the community, i.e. not having child-bearing women actively participating in the most dangerous parts of survival. Young men may have already passed on their genes and are expendable. Mathematically, biologically, that’s true. Men can efficiently impregnate a few women and go ahead and die. Women have to wait until their child is born and then it’s only one, and then it might die. One solution to that obvious fact is to keep her out of danger, and if she wants to hunt anyway, to blow smoke up her ass about how she’s weak and can’t do it.

        How does that relate to the kinds of jobs men can do now that women “can’t” do, now that men aren’t facing all that much danger on the job nowadays? Relatively few jobs one can choose to have will put one in danger. They are just “mathy” or have longer hours or something. They don’t keep women out of dangerous jobs now anyway – if she wants to cede her so-called “limits” and risk her life, nobody tells her she can’t, but she does have to be strong enough to do the job that needs to be done, if strength and not just bravery is part of the job. There are no jobs that men can do that women cannot do, nor vice versa. What we’re doing now is not teaching equally to allow anyone to work at whatever job appeals to them. Children still need to be cared for, but they’re probably not as likely to die. Men can do all those things aside from breast-feeding from their actual boob. Men can clean up crumbs under the kitchen table. Women can fix a faucet. It’s not difficult to learn how to do it – it’s just that boys follow their daddies and girls help out their mommies and people think what they learn in those years is “natural”. Anyone can help anyone and observe the tasks and learn how to do them.

        Is it the more natural to recognize one’s own sex and model behavior off of the same sex model? I have said many times that the problem I think about gay marriage people have is not the method of intercourse but the gender roles. “Which one of you is the ‘man’ and which one of you is the ‘woman’? It seems inconceivable to a segment of the population that all the work can be done by two people with the same parts. What will your children think of you when they see you folding sheets, sir? Um. They will learn one of the basic, not-too-difficult household tasks that anyone can do and everyone should know how to do?

  • Custador

    One thing that Kuhl implies which I can agree with is, I seem to spend a lot of time pointing out (to both men and women) that misandry is not feminism; It bothers me that there are people who hate men and call thrmselves feminist, and it bothers me even more that a lot of people (particularly men) seem to genuinely think that misandry = feminism. I think that particular myth has done untold harm to the progress of feminism worldwide.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Who are these feminists you speak of? I find that, in general, women who identify as feminists tend to have healthier, more positive relationships with the men in their lives. When I think of the people I’ve known who I would actually describe as having misandrist attitudes, most of them are women who would NEVER want to be described as feminist. Or they are men themselves.

      It’s true that many people see feminism as being inherently anti-male but I don’t think that really has much to do with the behavior of actual feminists. If you start with the assumption that feminism=man-hate than that’s what you are going to see. Hence why so many anti-feminists characterize lots of misandrist things as “feminist” despite the fact that actual feminists object loudly to those same things. And hence why I’m told all the time that I can’t be a feminist or I’m not like those OTHER feminists because I clearly don’t hate men.

      • Custador

        That’s my point; I don’t need to tell a feminist what a feminist is. I hope I am one, and I’m definitely married to one. The one who sticks in my mind was a woman who commented for a few days on Unreasonable Faith; she went from zero to batshit in two posts. She self described as “Radical Feminist”, and yet all she wrote was a barrage of hatred toward men. That, to her, was feminism. Interestingly, the link she provided back to her own blog revealed that she had done a photoshoot in which she stripped from a “sexy schoolgirl” outfit down to nothing, through a variety of sexual poses. I did point out that tacit promotion of the darker half of pur culture’s bipolar attitude towards paedophila is not something I traditionally associate with feminism. I received a torrent of abuse in reply, and was told that I obviously didn’t understand feminism. The worst part of that episode, however, was that in subsiquent private discussions with some of our readers, it became obvious that some of the men really did just take her at her word and assume that feminists are all man hating psychos. Like I said, she’s the first example that springs to mind. I’ll try to find you a link to the conversation, when I’m not on my ‘phone.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Okay, but YOU didn’t come away from that conversation thinking that that’s what feminism is all about so, clearly, not all men are necessarily that freaking fragile. There are going to be some wackos in every single group you can possibly think of. I can’t account for the behavior of every single feminist-identified person that any man anywhere might encounter and, if that’s what I and and other feminists are being asked to do, there’s already a problem. Men who need all feminists to be utterly blameless in order to even consider what feminism has to offer are already beginning with an anti-feminist bias. I hear from anti-feminist men all the time about how they don’t like feminism because this one chick in their freshman sociology class 10 years ago was really crazy or some variation of that. You know what? Maybe she was. But if they’re going to characterize an entire movement based on that, that’s really their problem. If it takes that little to make them not want to listen to what every other feminist has to say, they never really wanted to listen to us to begin with.

      • Custador

        I’m not asking for that at all; I’m pointing out that the combination of a loud yet unrepresentative minority, plus an audience who are not motivated / too lazy to look past them, is damaging. It’s like us Euros sneering at Americans and thinking they’re all mentally challenged, gun obsessed xenophobes – That’s who gets the lion’s share of media attention and therefore sets the stereotype, and that’s what a lot of Euros believe – Because they have no reason to look deeper. Those of us who actually know a lot of Americans know that the cliche is nonsense, but we’re not the majority. Likewise, most men are blissfully unaware of their male privilege; they see the cliche’d feminist as the loud, man-hating woman in dungarees, because that’s what’s immediately obvious, and their privilege (which in most cases they’re not even aware of) means that it never even occurs to them to look deeper. They don’t have to; there is no personal motivation for them to do so. I stand by my conclusion that misandrists who falsely call their misandry feminism do untold damage to the work of real feminists. Of course, feminists are absolutely not accountable for the actions of misandrists, but I personally feel it’s right to challenge misandry just as much as it is to challenge misogyny.

  • Rod Fleming

    Speaking as as an atheist who is ‘ interested in talking about dismantling patriarchy and about the problems with the gendered messages men and women receive in our society,’ I want to say that the entire social construct of Abrahamic monotheism was specifically and deliberately designed to create and sustain the Patriarchy as we know it today. It makes no sense to argue that an atheist secular society should simply carry on this gender programming without a word. Being an atheist does NOT mean, ‘being in all cultural respects a christian/jew/muslim (or other religion) and accepting all of the social structures put in place by that formalised belief in god, while denying god exists’, it means challenging EVERYTHING about culture and society INCLUDING gender aspects but also ideas of governance, economics, education, everything.

    The anthropologists Kuhn and Stiner have argued that the division of social roles by sex which happened during the Lower Palaeolithic was a highly successful adaptation that made our ancestors more successful; it is this adaptation that has developed into the constructed and religiously-supported gender roles we see today. I broadly agree with K&S, while contending that it was a socio-cultural adaptation to prevailing conditions and NOT a matter of genetic evolution.

    If this is so, then we can as easily change this adaptation to something more suited to current conditions in a post-Renaissance, secular society, and investigating this possibility is part of what both ‘atheism’ and ‘feminism’ must imply.

    I therefore humbly suggest that the distinction drawn between ‘equity feminism’ and ‘gender feminism’ is completely spurious, at least in an atheist context. I furthermore think that atheists need to strip away the socio-cultural constructs that have been formulated by a religiously-imposed patriarchy and develop new ideas about gender, gender role and gender identity that may allow ALL humans to reach the maxima of their potential.

  • http://www.thegoodatheist.net The Good Atheist

    While I think this article has merit, the use of personal anecdotes by the author to prove that gender roles are almost total doesn’t really satisfy her conclusion. As for the rest of the folks talking about their own “distrust” of evolutionary psychology, I would say to these people that it’s very easy to dismiss something you do not understand. This, however, tends to be a tactic of religious people, not serious atheists.

    I think the reason that guys like Shermer want the chips to fall where they may is that they believe (not unreasonably) that change is already occurring, and that over time, human beings will naturally change gender roles without the need to be told by others how exactly this is done. I think gender roles help those who are already attracted to them, and puts up barriers for those who would defy them. However, and this is the most important point of all, no one is willing to make these questions scientific ones, and instead I continually hear speculation rather than serious analysis. Everyone seems to already have their minds made up of the role of society in establishing gender roles, despite our constant effort to try and identify the nature/nurture duality of humans. Are there genetic reasons for the choices we sometimes make?

    In nature, we always expect a certain range of behavior, and yet when confronted by similar evidence in evolutionary psychology, people prefer to dismiss this science offhand without a second thought.

    Let’s all stop talking out of our asses, shall we?

    • BradC

      There is good scholarly criticism of the basic assumptions underlying the entire field of evolutionary psychology:

      “I think the reason that guys like Shermer want the chips to fall where they may is that they believe (not unreasonably) that change is already occurring, and that over time, human beings will naturally change gender roles without the need to be told by others how exactly this is done.”

      The amount of pushback that is mounted against, frankly, rather minor and mostly obvious suggestions on ways we could improve sexual/racial equality is evidence against your point.

    • jose

      People don’t dismiss science offhand without a second thought. People read the papers, do the work, cross check the statistics, analyze the methods, compare them with the standard of closely related fields, and reach a conclusion.

    • Lauren

      “…the use of personal anecdotes by the author to prove that gender roles are almost total doesn’t really satisfy her conclusion.”

      She uses anecdotes to illustrate, not prove. A common tactic of those who resist social or cultural change is to dismiss even observations, let alone conclusions, based on insufficient data. Don’t have double blind studies? Too bad, the patriarchy stands. Change must start in the lab.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “Dismissing what you don’t understand” sounds like a pretty good way to sum up the field of evolutionary psychology to me…

  • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

    I really dislike the use of those terms, and I see in reading the wiki article on them that it’s for good reason, it having been concocted as a way to discredit further political action for feminist causes using weak essentialist arguments and believing in the old canard that equality under the law is all that matters, so well satirized by Anatole France:

    “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

    • Leigha

      That reminds me of the people who say “Gay people have the same right to marry as straight people do–they can’t marry someone of the same gender, and neither can I!” It’s fundamentally (and obstinately) missing the point.

  • sidewalks

    I think you all will get sucked into this documentary. This is part one of seven: The Gender Equality Paradox. Harald Eia is a famous norwegian comedian that has a background in sociology. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5LRdW8xw70

    • http://www.thegoodatheist.net The Good Atheist

      It was telling how the Norwegian scientists would quickly discount anything that contradicted their theories, even when shown how wrong their own were (if they were right and it was entirely culture driven, then it makes radically different predictions than what happens in reality). I see this same sort of behavior in the atheist community when someone tries to discuss gender differences and their respective influence. Sad.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I just finished reading Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies, which she wrote in 1405. It’s a defense of women against male authors who hurled disdainful invective against the entire female sex. And please understand: I really do mean utter disdain for their very existence. Christine wasn’t advocating for a change in the legal status of women (it was 1405, after all), she was simply telling these authors and others who held their attitudes that they were unreasonable, immoral, and unjust.

    So it’s fine to say that you support the legal equality of the sexes, but you have to understand how we arrived at that point. It took centuries of writers like Christine de Pizan telling people that women were not, in fact, the root of all evil–and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that. The very foundational myths of many societies involved women like Eve and Pandora mucking things up for humanity. It takes a lot of work to undo all the times people were told that because of Eve, all women were weak-willed, stupid, immoral, untrustworthy, lesser-than, and deserving of pain and death in childbirth for the alleged sins of their mother Eve. Without people challenging these beliefs, legal equality would never have been achieved, and still hasn’t been achieved everywhere, because there are people in the world who still believe these things. It doesn’t just happen.

  • crowepps

    If gender roles were ‘natural’ and a product of evolution, there wouldn’t be any necessity for society to divert resources to supporting the expensive institutions like religion which put so much effort into teaching those roles, enforcing them, and punishing the outliers.

  • H

    Evolutionary Psychology is not being attacked because of the answers it comes up with so much as the methods it uses to get there. In study after study, the methods are flawed, and the conclusions come before the data. The entire field has a lot in common with eugenics.

    • http://www.thegoodatheist.net The Good Atheist

      Sorry, I didn’t notice you citing a single example there. Comparing it to eugenics? Have you actually talked to an evolutionary psychologist or is your mind already made up?

      • Mariana

        Eugenics is going a bit too far for my taste, but evo psych has a lot in common with social darwinism – basically coming up with a “scientific” explanation for preserving the status quo.

        If you read the comments above, you’ll see the legitimate complaints against evo psych: mainly, that there’s very little actual information about the social environment of early hunter-gatherer societies (i.e., no data to accurately describe the past fitness landscape, so we can’t actually know how selection operated in the past), and that there’s no ethical way to separate nature from nuture (i.e., no way to run controlled experiments on modern subjects to determine what is “natural”).

        So you’re basically left with pure conjecture based on an imagined and likely inaccurate past, and even if it were accurate, there’s no way to scientifically evaluate what they’re trying to evaluate in modern populations. So yeah, the entire field is inherently flawed.

        An particularly egregious example of evo psych bullshit: http://www.salon.com/2011/05/17/psychology_today_racist_black_women_attractive/

      • Kate

        I wouldn’t go as far to compare it to eugenics, necessarily, but there is definitely a lot of confirmation bias involve in evo psych.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Well, not eugenics per se. That word is commonly misused. What eugenics actually is/was was a philosophy that advocated practices to promote the genetic “improvement” of a population by encouraging “desirable” people to reproduce and preventing “undesirable” people from doing so. What people are actually usually talking about when they say “eugenics” is what is usually just called scientific racism, which was what was frequently used to justify eugenics. And I think a comparison between scientific racism and a lot of evolutionary psychology is actually quite apt.

  • jose

    Who came up with these names?

    • jose

      Never mind. It was Hoff Sommers.

  • http://www.mymusingcorner.wordpress.com/ Lana

    Great post! I agree. This is true for me too where I was always a tomboy and left to believe there was some defect in me because I wasn’t not into beauty, hatred dresses,and didn’t have a quiet and submissive heart.
    Agree with the labels. One reason I never felt challenged with my homosexual stance in the past was that people were so quick to call me bigoted but never constructed an argument. It was not helpful, to say the least. In fairness, they couldn’t understand what its like to grow up in a homophobic family and never have even met homosexuals. However, if they had approached gay rights differently without the name calling, I would have listened to their case.

  • Besomyka

    It may well be that male and female have different preferences (in a scatter-plot sort of way), but I would be highly suspect of any conclusion that pointed to some current differentiation as evidence – or even as tolerable. The social-construct aspects of gender seem to have a much, much larger effect on these things, so I’d need quite a bit of convincing to conclude that biology has much to do with a specific example.

    Every time I look at something that had been explained as a difference of genders, it’s been a misconception.

    It’s like a Gender of the Gaps argument.

  • M

    How do evolutionary psychologists explain the well-documented pattern of jobs becoming less prestigious and compensated the more women enter into them? Elementary school teacher, nurse, and secretary used to be very prestigious jobs that paid very well. When women entered and then eventually dominated those fields, they became what we see today- underpaid, overworked, and disrespected as “serious” professions. Same in academia- the humanities were the highest and most prestigious fields when only men went to college. When women, perforce, flocked to literature and philosophy, those fields became “worthless” and “silly” and “not-really-professional”. Biology was a very serious science until over 50% of graduates became women- we can actually watch as it’s now
    being knocked into the “soft science” category with political science and sociology.

    If men and women are essentially different, how does evolutionary psychology explain why societal tasks are high-status when men do them but low-status when women do them, even though it’s the exact same task?

    • The_L

      Because sexist men turn around and devalue the jobs. After all, how hard can teaching be if women can do it? How hard can biology be if women can do it? Literature? Oh please, even women can read. And everybody knows a woman’s place is in the home. If she’s taking proper care of the kids, she won’t have time to read.

      …I need to go bleach my fingers now. I feel vile just typing that.

      • M

        Nicely done, The_L! I cringed and giggled at the same time.

        It did miss the point a teensy bit. I know why as jobs become feminized, they also lose prestige. I was wondering how evolutionary psychologists would explain it.

    • Leigha

      I can’t help but draw a connection between that observation and the fact that women are seriously underrepresented in politics. It’s not really POSSIBLE to take all of the prestige out of governing (I don’t think?), so naturally the solution is to keep women out instead.

      Not that I think people actually think about that before a field gets filled with women, but it was still my first thought.

      • Second Thought

        Around 20 years ago a woman friend of mine who was studying to become a vetrinarian told me that the male students expressed a lot of concern about how the field was lossing prestige because the influx of women into it. They were aware of it while it was happening, or at least worried about the possibility of it happening.

  • emjb

    “There are some people in the skeptic community who reject the feminist focus on questioning and challenging gender roles. ”

    So in other words, it’s ok to be a skeptic, SO LONG as you aren’t skeptical about broad-based assumptions regarding the abilities, desires, and potential of men and women. You can be skeptical about anything BUT patriarchy. Riiiight.

  • http://rippere.com Kim Rippere

    If the basis for understanding anything gender related is evolutionary psychology and the supposition is that it is a scientific discipline . . . there is a problem. It simply doesn’t rise to the level of science at this time – it is merely wish fulfillment for a segment of the population.

    Let’s be clear . . . women are on the rise, just like progressives won the election . . . women will win this war and in 30 years some people will be ashamed of their stances toward our equality. That includes some in the atheist and secular community – IRL and online. This attitude will be held by a few pariahs and be equivalent to the KKK.

    In the meantime, we must find a way to be equally vocal and not allow the “airwaves” to primarily promote the minority opinion and drive the conversation.

    Women have a place in atheism and secularism. Reproductive rights and other “women’s issues” has a place in the atheist and secular movements. These are issues that are driven by others religiosity being forced upon others via government and society. As long as my body is of interest to legislatures and the basis for that interest is religion . . . secularism and feminism are intimately intertwined for many. Especially many women.

  • Rilian

    Libertarian feminists? Wha?

  • The_L

    The story from HuffPo reminds me of a story from my own childhood. When my brother and I were toddlers, my parents saw him hitting me and said, “Stop that! Boys don’t hit girls.”

    To me, this meant that I was allowed to hit him all I wanted, and he couldn’t hit me back. After all, I wasn’t a boy, and he wasn’t a girl, so it wouldn’t be breaking the rule that I had heard from my own parents’ mouths.

    It took the better part of a year for them to realize that that’s what was going on in my head and set things straight–long enough for me to remember it to this day! I’m just glad I wasn’t strong enough or cruel enough to leave bruises or cause any lasting damage.

  • Sarah-Sophia

    I’m sure not all Evolutionary Psychologists believe that gender differences are innate.

  • RMM

    When I was teaching intro to sociology at a community college, we studied the social construction of gender roles by the idea that there are societies in which women have been warriors because they were believed to be fiercer fighters, and there is evidence (don’t ask me to cite it, I can later if I find my book and you are willing to wait) that the earliest societies were egalitarian. It was just accepted that while there might be differences pysiologically, it would be difficult to know how those things affect gender differences in a society due to all the gender indoctrination.

  • Leigha

    In a response to an earlier comment, I mentioned that a TV show I watched inspired a discussion about how society could have become male-dominated in the first place. Now I’d really like to vent about said show (which I was planning on doing before that comment, but really have to now).

    I don’t remember what show it was, but it was an episode of a series from the early ’90s (I think) where a group of people jump to alternate realities. (A harder-than-you’d-expect Google search suggested it might be Quantum Leap, but I don’t feel like trying to find this particular episode to be sure.) In this episode, they went to a reality where gender roles were swapped. It took a pretty interesting look at some things. I’m sure you’ve heard things like, if men had periods, they’d be celebrating how super awesome and manly they were and how they made them so much better than women. Well, it was sort of like that; the same things were seen as typically feminine or typically masculine, but the feminine attributes were deemed “better.” Now, that’s a bit problematic because it requires seeing these characteristics as innate, but it’s kind of a lose-lose scenario because the only other option would be to have the women have stereotypically masculine traits, which would just reinforce the idea that those are better (or, of course, they could get rid of the dichotomy entirely, but that wouldn’t work for making people think about things, which I assume was the point). So I could live with that, but then they did something completely, horribly unforgivable that made me really really mad.

    They explained to the jumpers why the society was female-dominated. Guess why, just guess. It turns out that, in the past, society was male-dominated, but then the women got mad at how they were running it so they took over. So, in conclusion, OF COURSE a society couldn’t just FORM and be female-dominated. Oh no no no, the women have to pry the society away from the men who single-handedly built it, and then emasculate them so they can have their turn.

    I’m still really mad about that. I could totally have lived with the way they handled the gender stereotypes, simply because it was kind of interesting to see stereotypically feminine ones being deemed good and masculine ones bad (which, since we view them the other way, CLEARLY shows that all of them can be good if you look at it the right way), even if it was a bit problematic. But OH that backstory…

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      Quantum Leap was about a single man who jumped into different points in time (or more accurately, into different people in different points in time)–the only consistent characters were him and a friend who could project himself holographically from their origin time. I suspect you’re thinking of Sliders, though I can’t be sure.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, that sounds like Quantum Leap to me.

      And what’s even more maddening about the scenario to me is that it implies that the only way women would ever respond to male-dominated society is by wanting women to dominate instead. When are people going to understand that something besides some people oppressing other people is an option? Some people can’t even grasp the CONCEPT of equality and egalitarianism. Depressing.

    • Jessica

      That was Sliders and the episode was even called “The Weaker Sex” because you know one sex always has to be weaker and we can apparently never achieve equality ever even in another dimension. :P

      • Jenora Feuer

        You sure it was Sliders? There was another (and much more briefly-lived) TV show in the mid-80s called ‘Otherworld’ in which a family got zapped into another parallel history via the Great Pyramid at Giza, and it had an episode “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” that had a similar background.

        Then again, that one was also a pretty fascistic society with male slave auctions, so probably not by the original comment.

    • Uly

      That was definitely Sliders. The professor wins the election because he’s an idiot, right?

  • Christine

    Thinking about this a little bit more, I don’t actually see any way that you can be an “equity feminist” without also being a “gender feminist”. Using my favourite example of engineering. I think I can say without needing a lot of support that there are two main reasons that there aren’t a lot of women in engineering 1) there aren’t a lot of women and 2) engineering jobs are generally structured in a way that isn’t conducive to meeting the cultural expectations that women have (primary caregiver, doing the cooking, etc). If it was because women weren’t as good at engineering there would be a lot more – the proportions would match that of engineering schools (in which the girls are assumed to be doing at least as well or better than the guys, which also hurts the assumption of ability).

    Now to give women an equal chance in engineering we need to address one of three things: the culture of the job that makes it difficult to be a mom at the same time, the prevailing culture that dictates what being a mom is, the positive feedback loop which makes it difficult to be the only woman on the jobsite. All of these fall under gender feminism.

    Similar arguments can be made for male midwives, although that one is a little easier to argue that gender actually makes a difference (less to the midwife and more to the mothers), so it’s not as good an example.

  • Sophie

    I grew up in UK, born in the mid-eighties and I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. I played with dolls and I climbed trees, one of my favourites toys as a little girl was my Scalextric which my dad bought me second hand. I grew up about as poor as you can in the UK so I certainly don’t have a privileged background, but I was always told I could be whatever I wanted as an adult. Some of the other commenters’ accounts just sound alien to me.

  • Thomas

    I want to point out that part of the reason why it’s hard to challenge gender roles is because it’s terrifying. I want my son and my nephews to become kind, healthy, responsible men however they see fit. I don’t mind buying dollies or toy kitchens for them. But I worry about boys who play with dolls (not action figures) or wear pink and purple. I don’t want the boys coming home crying because someone made fun of their toys or their hair or their clothes because it wasn’t “manly”.

    I know they’re going to be ridiculed when they cry. People made fun of me when I cried. I cried because it hurt, goddamn it. It’s not because I was a wimp, or girly. Many of the kids who made fun of my crying were girls.

    Worse yet will be the days someone makes fun of them and they hide it from me. What will I do then?

    If gender is a social construct, then it’s our job to construct it better.

  • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

    I realize that I am EXTREMELY late to the party here, but I had a lot to say in response to this post, and rather than type out the world’s most endless comment, I took it over to my blog. So if you happen to be interested in my thoughts on “equity feminism” vs. “gender feminism”. You can check it out here – http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/bad-feminists-and-straw-feminists/ – it’s really just building on a lot of the points that Libby Ann has already made.

  • ecolt

    Oh man, I was loving the fact that you had an atheist blog with a feminist slant and hadn’t addressed the whole “Atheism+” nonsense.

    Here’s the thing, I am a feminist. I use that term proudly. I attended a women’s college where I studied a lot of feminist theory, I’ve been politically active in women’s rights causes, I’m passionate about raising kids in a more gender-neutral way. But there is a fundamental problem with Rebecca Watson and her pals, and they do “give feminism a bad name.”

    “Elevatorgate” was not about equity, it was not about dismantling the patriarchy or any other noble cause. It is the very definition of the kind of victimhood mentality that, in my opinion, hurts the idea of progressive feminism. And now there is an atmosphere in which anyone who disagrees with anything Watson, PZ Meyers, and others in their clique say is vilified, labelled as a misogynist, a rape-apologist, or worse. They aren’t working for equality, they’re looking for special treatment. I don’t recall any of Rebecca Watson’s speeches that focus on the need for gender equality, the need to support girls who want to study STEM fields, or for that matter the need to support boys who want to go into traditionally female-dominated fields (like the arts and humanities). Everything she says is about her, about how horribly she’s treated, about how everyone else is against her and, by extension, all women. That’s not feminism, it’s the worst kind of self-centeredness.

    Because of these women, and the men who follow them, when people hear that I am a feminist they think I share this mentality. They think I believe all men are potential rapists, that I interpret every interaction as a threat, and that I am openly hostile to anyone who disagrees with even one thing I say. It’s divisive and damaging to the causes of both feminism and atheism.

    There is already a great term for atheists who support human rights issues, equality and the advancement of our society. It’s called Humanism. Atheism+ is just a term made up by a group of self-centered perpetual victims looking for attention and privilege.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

      I disagree, though I think it’s in degree instead of in kind. How the whole thing exploded was bad- how Rebecca Watson handled (oh hell, I forget her name) her challenger was beyond awful. The fact that the blogosphere supported that is beyond the pale. So I agree with that part of it.

      But the original thing, the pass in the elevator. There’s a lot of barriers facing women, and one of those is societally acceptable mistreatment of women. Is this a major example? No, not at all. Nothing bad happened. It says too much, though, that a simple question is a terrifying experience when presented in a small room with no escape and that the man in question was entirely oblivious to the situation. Bringing that to light is supporting women and is feminist.

      So are all those other things valuable? Of course! Supporting both boys and girls going into any fields of study they want, pay equity, sports equity, subsidized child care, family-friendly workplaces, paid parental leave, and a bazillion other things also deserve and require fighting for. I’m still going to support educating people about privilege and pointing out societal behavioral expectations and rape culture as being important too.

      • Anat

        As well as the fact that situations like that are common, and are part of the reason women feel unwelcome in many spaces – well, unwelcome as persons in their own right. They are welcome as sex objects all the time!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I do have two other posts on this topic, here and here.