The other day, I was reading the Google manifesto that former employee James Something-or-Other (his name is not worth repeating) wrote arguing that Google is creating a discriminatory environment against men by practicing gender inclusivity. Essentially, his main argument is that the reason there are disparities in leadership is because men are strong and women are weak. While his pathetic plea — based on long-disproven gender stereotypes and unfounded information — pained me, there was one reference that moved me from passive contempt to action: “From an evolutionary perspective this makes sense.”
“Oh of course!” I exclaimed in the midst of reading. From an evolutionary perspective women aren’t meant to be leaders — I finally understand! Well, from an evolutionary perspective women aren’t meant to be anything other than mothers, so I guess I’ll just pack up and go home now.
Seriously, what is this “science” that I always hear people espousing just to sound smart? According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Psychology, evolutionary psychology is a theory that proposes that most of our cognitive processes are “adaptations — products of natural selection — that helped our ancestors get around the world, survive and reproduce.” In other words, our brains still use the same basic reasoning that our ancestors did six million years ago.
Why does that sound crazy? Is it just me? Women like men who are are industrious, financially stable, and strong and assertive because they want protective insurance for themselves and their children, these people posit as explanations for gender. And, they say, men like women who have wide-hips, big boobs, big lips, who are good nurturers — basically any traits that convey she will bare children and take care of them. So basically, man likes fuckable woman. Woman likes strong man. End of story, right?
This theory is similar to the how we say “literally” — an immediate qualifier of whatever you’re about to say. For example, if I start my sentence with, “well, evolutionarily speaking,” and then continue to say something like, “I should be less forthcoming and then boys will like me,” everyone around me will nod and say, “Mhm, good point.” But really that’s the worst point I could have made.
Literally, I actually remember one night I was sitting in a bar with friends and my psychology-major friend said to me, “Women probably dress so scandalously because it’s evolutionarily engrained in them to attract mates that way.”
“Oh yeah, bet that’s why,” I probably responded.
Or, I could’ve said — “How about the rampant objectification of female bodies in our society that we’re socialized into since birth?”
Thank God for anthropology and the book “Neoliberal Genetics: The Myths and Moral Tales of Evolutionary Psychology” by Susan McKinnon or I would probably still be agreeing with people like the Google employee, who thinks women and men are just inherently different — but different in all the ways that make men powerful and women good little supporters. McKinnon’s book made me realize that this is a science of cultural imagination constructed by the people who benefit from naturalizing gender differences. Think about it — how can you can practice science (that inherently relies on observation and experiment) when your subject matter existed almost six million years ago? On what scientific basis can you explain “all cultural and social phenomena” when you don’t have empirical data, written records, skeletal structures, or even drawings on a wall? Yet, they still try. The Stanford Encyclopedia cites studies where they survey men and women for their mate preferences. For example, “male subjects are presented with drawings of women with varying waist hip ratios and ask to give their preference rankings.” How can evolutionary psychologists draw the line here between what people have been socialized to like and what is inherent to their nature? Perhaps they can draw from inferences, but how would one know those inferences aren’t completely based in your preexisting biases for the long established gender binary? Seriously, how would one know? Aren’t these the questions that science should be answering?
Moreover, by relying on a theory of behavior that only serves heterosexuality, psychology continues to present every LGBTQAI+ person as an aberration (to which psychologists make no comment). But this brings me to my point: Evolutionary psychology is part and parcel of the longstanding political institution of heterosexuality that, in anthropologists Don Kulick and Deborah Cameron’s words, “requires men and women to be ‘opposites’ and that is why they are socialized to be as they are different in very particular ways.” But these “particular ways” are not equal or else I would not be writing this. The theories of behavior that evolutionary psychology posits grounds agency within the man (strong, assertive, industrious) and passivity within the woman (physically endowed and nurturing). This perpetuates the ubiquitous gender logic — man equals actor and women equals receiver — our society is governed by.
Whenever we defer to evolutionary psychology for behavioral explanation it is akin to saying, “Well that’s just the way it is, it’s simple human nature,” and thus we blind ourselves to structural violence. Women’s bodies are not objectified and abused on the daily because men are trying to ensure they have a fertile mate. Women are not submissive to men in power because they’re hoping they will protect their children. Women are not hesitant to take leadership positions because — evolutionarily speaking — we’re supposed to be nurturing and passive while our mates handle the “real stuff.” No, we are either hesitant because society infiltrated us with a belief in our own passivity or we’re aware of the bias people will hold against us as women in leadership.
There is a reason James Something-or-Other, as a white male under attack by notions of equality, decided to write this manifesto in the name of evolutionary psychology. James, unable to cope with positional volatility after a life of safety, saw a faltering in the binary gender system that he had relied on for professional, sexual, and emotional superiority his entire life. But unsurprisingly, he full-heartedly believes that it’s simply the natural order of things rather than constructed superiority — women have their role and I have mine, what’s wrong with that? The problem is, dear James, these socially constructed categories are the reason why women all over the world confuse their nature — intelligence, confidence, ambition — for oppression — passivity, submissiveness, and apologeticness. It is the reason why ignoramuses like you continue to rule our country. Yes, it’s a meager request in the grand scheme of systemic oppression, but I simply hope we can send evolutionary psychology into the growing collection of dead-white-guy science that failed reality, and release gender from its supremacist grip.