evolutionary psychology is sexist pseudoscience

I hate my psychology class.

I find learning about psychology interesting. But I hate the teacher. I don’t want to call him a professor because I feel that implies a certain respect for his teaching abilities, which are nonexistent.

He is focusing now on using evolutionary psychology as an excuse to disseminate his sexist opinions on the roles of men and women. He literally said in class that women stay inside to cook and clean, and men do more outdoor activities and chores, like taking out the trash and shoveling snow.

I walked out in the middle of class shortly after hearing these disgusting stereotypes. I am furious that someone who is supposed to be a college professor is “teaching” these things in class.

I would write a letter of complaint but I already did that about another teacher last semester, and I don’t want to be known as the student who complains about every teacher she has. There’s no use in trying to bring up a debate in class. Honestly I think an intellectual discussion of the issues would go over most of the students’ heads—not to mention probably the teacher’s as well. I’m so disgusted and frustrated.

Putting aside my issues with the educational system I find myself trapped in—I have done some reading about evo psych previously and did some more after this incident. I fail to understand how evo psych is considered a science when it comprised of unfalsifiable just-so stories constructed to justify tired old stereotypes about gender.

Here are some juicy quotes I found:

“‘Most human drives have ancient Darwinian rationales,’ [Steven Pinker] wrote. ‘A prehistoric man who slept with 50 women could have sired 50 children, and would have been more likely to have descendants who inherited his tastes. A woman who slept with fifty men would have no more descendants than a woman who slept with one. Thus, men should seek quantity in sexual partners; women, quality.’ And isn’t it so, he says, everywhere and always so? ‘In our society,’ he continues, ‘most young men tell researchers that they would like eight sexual partners in the next two years; most women say that they would like one.’ Yet would a man find the prospect of a string of partners so appealing if the following rules were applied: that no matter how much he may like a particular woman and be pleased by her performance and want to sleep with her again, he will have no say in the matter and will be dependent on her mood and good graces for all future contact; that each act of casual sex will cheapen his status and make him increasingly less attractive to other women; and that society will not wink at his randiness but rather sneer at him and think him pathetic, sullied, smaller than life? Until men are subjected to the same severe standards and threat of censure as women are, and until they are given the lower hand in a so-called casual encounter from the start, it is hard to insist with such self-satisfaction that, hey, it’s natural, men like a lot of sex with a lot of people and women don’t.” Men, Women, Sex And Darwin by Natalie Angier, published: February 21, 1999

“…many of the most prominent voices in the field are less scientists than political philosophers. They choose some aspect of modern life and construct elaborate justifications located in an inaccessible ancient environment. Often, the fact that their story seems to make sense is the only evidence they offer. For them, it may be enough, but it isn’t enough if you’re aspiring to be taken seriously as a science.” Sex at Dawn: Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality by Christopher Ryan

And supposedly in defense of evo psych:

“Male and female cognitive abilities are likely to be identical in most respects, but to differ fundamentally in certain domains, especially mating. Evolutionary theory predicts, therefore, that there will be some innate differences between males and females, that these differences very probably include cognitive differences, and, perhaps, that little can be done to erase these differences.

If you consider these implications to be sexist, then evolutionary psychology is sexist.” Edward H. Hagen, Institute for Theoretical Biology, Berlin

“Implications”? What I find sexist about those statements is the assumption, based on no evidence or research of any kind, that men and women “differ fundamentally in certain domains, especially mating.” Differ how? Says who?

How can evo psych objectively prove or provide any sort of evidence that any differences between men and women are the result of evolution and not society? It can’t. It is nothing more than speculation.

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10 Comments

  1. Aftercancer said,

    March 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    My degree is in psychology and I am thrilled to death that I received it before the push in evo psych. Evolutionary psychology is completely and totally theoretical and I despise that “studies” are published by these bozos. It has always struck me as more of a cocktail party conversation that real science and I think it lessens the respect of genuine psychology and psychologists.

    BTW – I saw your link at Feministe, welcome to the bloggosphere.

    • dreamingiris said,

      March 8, 2010 at 4:23 pm

      Hi Aftercancer, thanks for your comment! Maybe in a few years, evo psych will be remember as just a fad in the scientific community, and looked back on with embarrassment. That’s what I hope, anyway =) It’s good to know that you, with your degree in psychology, feel the same way about it!

    • Sean said,

      October 31, 2010 at 8:43 pm

      Since when is psychology a branch of science? Philosophy, yes, but science? The field can’t even agree on a central body theory.

  2. Bruce said,

    May 2, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Differences between men and women have been proven time again. Women think more with the right side of the brain and men more with the left. This will lead to different cognitive abilities.

    http://aww.ninemsn.com.au/microsoft/810828/womens-and-mens-brains-really-are-different-and-science-can-prove-it

    Common sense and observation should show you that there a huge differences in men and women regarding mating. It is right through the animal world.

    Saying that what he is teaching is like calling someone who says ‘Men are bigger than women’ sexist. It sounds like you have been listening to your feminist sisters for far too long.

  3. alice said,

    October 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Bruce, don’t forget the feminist brothers. There are men who actually have will power and intelligence unlike you.

  4. Sean said,

    October 31, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    @Alice – I sympathize with liberals and feminists as much as any practical person can, but not recognizing the differences in males/females is akin to saying there is no sex at all (and I just took home a girl last night that I know for sure was a woman). Anyone who has taken an anatomy and physiology class can tell the overall physical differences are damn near negligible; on the other hand, the small differences do make all the difference.

    I know it’s fun to say we’re all equal and are capable of doing anything, but it’s just not true, exceptions are numerically notwithstanding.

    As for the original blog post…”OH!!! THE DRAMA!!” Walking out on the teacher and calling him sexist for comments that…really aren’t all that sexist, given the context of that branch of psychology, is honestly…pretty damn stupid.

  5. D said,

    December 29, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Sean is right on all accounts. Psychology was never a science and will likely never be one, and there are indeed differences between men and women, just as two individuals will always always different. If two individuals can be different, it isn’t far-fetched to say two groups are different. Of course, given the lax standards of psychology, no one can point out the innate intellectual differences of ANYONE without relying on pseudoscientific pap.

    What your professor said wasn’t really all that sexist, if you’re indeed quoting him directly. He said that women cook/clean, and men do physical stuff. He didn’t say they SHOULD be doing that or we can’t CHANGE it, he was just stating a fact. Now, if he said men and women are WIRED for those things, we might have a problem.

  6. alice said,

    January 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Thank you for articulating my concerns. I am now going through the same frustration as you did. However, I am a Media Studies major, where you would expect social and critical studies. Instead, all my classes are infested with this pseudo-science crap that calls itself EP. I am shocked that these (sexist) speculations (let’s face it, that’s all EP will ever consist of) are being taught in a supposedly stellar institution as UCLA, which I am currently attending. I am a woman and a feminist and I feel extremely offended like you. My “teacher” is trying to convince me that men naturally want to rape and kill, are only attracted to Hip-Waist Ratio, and other disgusting crude assumptions. I see EP as a form of invisible sexism, justifying the status quo, and dismissing feminist theory as irrelevant. The worst thing is that 80% of my class is female, but nonone ever speaks up. It is like Women’s Lib never happened. I hope so Ep is a fad that will pass soon, because I find it very scary, especially because it is so pervasive in Pop culture.

    • dreamingiris said,

      January 20, 2011 at 9:40 am

      Thanks for your comment =) I’m so sorry you have to go through a class like that. I know how frustrating it is. I had a psychology teacher who would always say sexist things, and whenever the class was talking and he needed to get their attention, he would say “Ladies! Ladies!” as if only women ever talk. He got me so angry I walked out in the middle of his class and never went back. I wish I had written a letter of complaint to the school, but it probably wouldn’t have done anything. I find EP scary, too, but I really think it will pass. Good luck on getting through your class.

  7. February 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I’ve linked to this in a satirical post I am writing about evolutionary psychology. I hope you don’t mind.

    I think as long as we challenge the science (i.e. methodologies and what the data actually says) we’re on the right track and this seems to be your attitude. We must avoid sounding like the objection is only political because the ‘scientists’ will only answer that you can’t argue with science. Of course you fight science with science. Incidentally the ‘brains are different’ idea is not the scientific consensus and the assumptions based on it rely on a fairly unsophisticated view of how brains actually work.


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