The Gospel Coalition Goes Full Evo-Psych

The Gospel Coalition Goes Full Evo-Psych January 10, 2017

What even is this? The Gospel Coalition posted an article titled, How Should We Think about Watching Women Fight Women? by Justin Taylor. The article is about the rise of female boxing. What’s strange is how far it veers into typical evo-psych jargon before paying lip service to creation in the end. Yep—it’s weird.

Pugilistic sport has long been viewed as a largely male preserve. This isn’t an accident. The physical differences between men and women in strength and muscularity are exceedingly large. Even the most powerful women seldom exceed average male strength on criteria such as grip strength. As David Puts observes:

Men have about 90% greater upper-body strength, a difference of approximately three standard deviations (Abe et al., 2003; Lassek & Gaulin, 2009).

The average man is stronger than 99.9% of women (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009).

Men also have about 65% greater lower body strength (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009; Mayhew & Salm, 1990), over 45% higher vertical leap, and over 22% faster sprint times (Mayhew & Salm, 1990) . . .

Beyond these huge differences, however, men have always had a much greater propensity toward, aptitude for, and interest in both violence and agonism [=struggle]. Across human societies, the sex differences in this area are displayed in everything from gender ratios in the committing of violent crime, to participation and interest in agonistic sport and competitive activities, to fighting in militaries.

All of this is irrelevant to the female boxing Taylor is ostensibly discussing, which is woman-on-woman and is entered voluntarily. Weirder still, the article Taylor quotes is about evolutionary psychology, in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior. But Taylor is an evangelical. He’s a young-earth creationist. Why is he quoting evolutionary psychology? The answer is simple, I suppose—because he found an article that agrees with what he wants to believe.

Oh and by the way, the numbers Puts includes are off. His sprint comparison is off, likely because it’s old—the top women’s time for a 200 meter dash is 21.34 seconds while the top men’s time is 19.19 seconds. I’ve always been good at arithmetic—I used to practice mental math when I was bored as a teen—and there is literally no way to get “22% faster sprint times” out of that. You can’t get 22% out of the 400 meter times either—the women’s time is 47.60 seconds and the men’s time is 43.03 seconds.

They physical strength measures are off too. There’s no way the “average” man is stronger than all but 1 in 1000 women, but that is the claim. And actually, there’s no reason you should listen to any of these stats—Taylor quotes Puts, who cites Lassek & Gaulin, who cite other, older studies—citing studies that cite studies rather than citing the original studies themselves is highly slopping and hardly suggestive of good scholarship. I am not an expert in the field, but a quick google of other articles written the same time as Mayhew & Salm (one of the articles cited by Puts) have results that differ dramatically from Puts’ claims here.

What I don’t understand is why this matters to Taylor. Differences in physical strength matter very much to non-religious sexist men who use evo-psych to justify a patriarchal social order. But why should they matter to Taylor, who ostensibly believes in gender roles laid down by God, not shaped by millions of years of evolution?

Taylor next begins citing evo-psych explanations of homosexuality, which frankly makes even less sense. In fact, he quotes from an article that argues in favor of gay rights on the grounds of a thorough literature review, doing so to argue that gay men “exhibit many commonalities with women” while lesbian women “perform much more like men.” Taylor then states that female boxing is “on a front line of the wider cultural war against gender difference” despite the fact that the article he states asserts in no uncertain terms that gay and lesbian subcultures both exist around the world and have existed across historical periods. What this adds to his argument is unclear. That it tickles his evo-psych leanings is, in contrast, quite clear.

In examining why people like to watch women fight, Taylor writes:

Young and attractive kicka*s women hold a great appeal for many men too. Not only are they nice to look at, they can also relieve men of some of the burdensome sense of duty to treat women differently from men, to be gentler towards them, to protect them, to accord them particular honor, to be mindful of the advantages they generally enjoy naturally over women in power and agency, and to recognize the fact that women and men have many deeper differences in personality, behavior, and interests.

Full disclosure—a link to this article was sent to me by a female friend who is getting her Ph.D. in a STEM field and frequently feels alienated by exactly this rhetoric. Newsflash: People are individuals. Some women like managing relationships. Others don’t. Some women like nurturing and caregiving. Others don’t. And so on and so forth. And even if there are overall differences in terms of comparing the average—differences which can’t be easily separated from social conditioning, if at all—there is still so much variety that this stereotyping is going to leave a whole lot of people out.

Also, can we talk about the “particular honor” Taylor states men have traditionally given women? Women, at one point, were property. And by “at one point” I mean in the U.S. 200 years ago. Among other places and times, of course. Some honor, that. So much fun, being shut out of careers and fired from our teaching jobs when we got pregnant. What an honor, being prevented from voting. How nice it was, when our husbands and/or fathers were allowed to beat us—and when we legally did not exist.

Also, I call absolute bullshit on the idea that the “power and angry” men “enjoy” over women are “natural.” If they were, why would men need to put such work into preventing women from, say, boxing? Claims that gender roles are “natural” are essentially always coupled with efforts to force women to abide by them.

Such representations of women can play into a pornographic mindset, which celebrates sex purged of the deeper reality of sexual difference, ridding sexual relations of any genuine reckoning with the particular subjective and objective otherness of the other sex, an otherness that should excite wonder, love, responsibility, and care.

What does this even mean?! Maybe it’s just me, but when I have sex I’m not constantly thinking about the fact that I’m a woman and my partner is a man. I’m interacting him with him person to person, not gender to gender. I’m reminded of Douglas Wilson’s highly uncomfortable (to say the least) discussion of gendered dominance and submission in the marriage bed. Can we not, please?

In a manner similar to pornography, in celebrating women fighting, a taboo is being broken, something that may add to the frisson of the female sport for many audiences. However, this taboo is an important one, one that upholds the dignity of the sexes in their differences. As women fight and are exposed to violence for our entertainment, the male fantasy that men could justifiably treat women with the greater roughness with which they treat men is being indulged. We are dulled to our responsibilities towards women, to our need to hold back our strength for their sake, and to our duty to employ it for their well-being and in their service.

Wait. Wait. WTF is this normalization of inter-personal violence? There’s a whole lot of difference between fighting in the boxing ring, where both parties have entered willingly, and domestic violence, which is very clearly what is being referenced here. It’s things like this that make me scared of men. Does violence really come so naturally to them? Is it really the first thing they think of, the de facto way they solve problems? But no, it isn’t. I know it isn’t because what Taylor is talking about here is against the law, because I am married to a wonderful man who doesn’t have to fight some twisted temptation to hit me, and because of all of the kind, nonviolent men I have known over the course of my life. It’s men like Taylor who are scary, not all men.

And this, remember, is not an evo-psych piece on some MRA blog. No. It’s on the Gospel Coalition website, an online platform for conservative evangelical content.

In Scripture, natural differences between men and women are related to more fundamental realities. In Genesis 2 and elsewhere, we see that men and women were created for different yet inescapably intertwined purposes. The physical differences in strength and the psychological differences in relation to agonism between men and women aren’t accidental and unimportant contrasts, but relate to the more basic differences between the purposes for which men and women were created. The differences between male and female strengths, tendencies, interests, and aptitudes testify, to greater and lesser degrees, to these differences in creational purpose. That, from Genesis 2, the duty of guarding and, by implication, fighting falls to the man is a reality borne out through the rest of the Scriptures.

The many moral questions raised by pugilistic sports in the case of men are very considerably heightened in the case of women when we appreciate the manner in which such an activity cuts against the grain of the ends for which they were created.

Oh look—Taylor just remembered that he’s writing for the Gospel Coalition.

Guess what? The Bible doesn’t say anything about women boxing. It also doesn’t say anything about men boxing. Taylor himself suggests that there are “moral questions” to discuss regarding even male boxing—why not just say that boxing, as a sport, seems to go against the Christian emphasis on kindness and gentleness and leave it at that? Why go on and on about how women are weaker and men might get carried away watching two women boxing and think they can hit their wives? Why go on and on about how men are strong and violent if there’s some question of whether men themselves should be boxing?

In bringing evo-psych into his conversation, Justin rather left the Bible out. It’s not that I care so much—I’m not a Christian and don’t live my life according to the Bible—but there’s something galling about combining the worst of secular sexism with the worst of evangelical sexism. Can we take them one at a time, please?

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