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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Evolutionary Psychology Bullshit Bingo

I was very amused to find this chart on the internet today, which highlights some of the issues I'm dealing with at the moment. My current reading list contains a lot of gender theory and I often feel as if I'm slamming my head against the wall over wrong-headed Darwinism. There are a couple of books that manage to debunk a lot of dreadful gender myths masquerading as Science - Walters Living Dolls is a very good example - however there are many, many others that continue perpetrating the illusion that because certain patterns of behaviour have been observed in particular studies, we must have evolved "naturally" that way. Rather than, say, been immersed in a culture that teaches us to conform to certain tropes.

A great example is colour preference. Girls prefer pink, we often hear. Because they have evolved that way in order to forage for berries. It takes a little while to unpick that sentence and see it for quite as ridiculous as it really is, because we hear it so often it has become a truism. Women "naturally" like pink. Our genes tell us to like the colour pink. Really? Even though this desire for pink is a relatively recent thing - until a hundred years or so ago pink was a "masculine" colour, because it was watered down red, and blue was really the better colour for little girls. Even though a great array of forest fruit is not, in fact red. Could it be that women show a preference for pink because we surround them with pink from birth and it is the foremost colour used to demonstrate femininity which is a behaviour pattern positively reinforced in females?

Even assuming that the science behind the studies is good and correct (not often the case, given tiny sample sizes and badly planned experiments which can give awfully skewed results) It's one thing to report the results of a study, it's quite another to draw the conclusion that because it exists in the population it must be inherent in our genes.

There's a terrible fixation with expressing everything to do with gender as inherent, built-in and pre-programmed. Which then leads on to the idea that gender is something fixed and immutable that we are born with, rather than a set of values that we have been taught from birth. The problem with the former, aside from the fact that it is wrong, is that it puts us all into boxes from which there is no escape. Worse still, all of our identity and behaviour is already a given, we cannot be anything but what we are programmed to be. Little pink and blue robots living little pink and blue lives. If we are born male, we can only behave in a masculine manner. We wear trousers because our genes tell us to, and cut our hair short, and never wear high heels (or if we do, we are effeminate and probably have some sort of genetic or psychological disorder to account for this "unnaturalness").

There comes a time when we need to accept that whilst our biology might have gifted us with particular sorts of bodies we are greater than the sum of our hormones, our muscle mass, our body fat ratio. Now would be good.

1 comment:

zoecb said...

I systematically detest pink.
I hated it as a tomboy in primary school because there was something weak and flimsy about it.

I went through a pink phase about age 12 when I was thrown into a single sex environment and felt a strong urge to conform to survive, because 12 year old private school girls dress girly.

I grew out of that.

Now I hate pink again. It's just so bleugh.

Don't know how one psyschoanalyses that...

Incidentally in Belgium those colours are still the original way around - baby girls get blue and baby boys get pink.