My Hidden Lives // Prose

about online discussions, gender roles and evolution (a rant)

„Western men are model-chasing, money-grabbing, emotionally dysfunctional, sexist, Neandarthals with Peter Pan complexes. The women of the West, on the other hand, are frigid (or promiscuous) career-chasing (money-grabbing), calculated, selfish, Cosmopolitan-reading monsters with daddy issues. Either that, or they’re conservative and stupid.“

Blessed stereotypes in Internet discussions.

23 12 2011 standing on the shoulders of giants

Standing on the shoulders of giants.

Today I am going to digress from my usual post format to rant about something I randomly came across while browsing the web yesterday, which has also (not coincidentally) caused my current state of insomnia and righteous feminist/social-scientist rage. Hence this groggily typed up mess, for which I apologize in advance.

The seemingly innocent butterfly that started this hurricane was a youtube video (as seen here) “We’ve Got To Break Up”, a song showing a guy and his girlfriend announcing they’ve broken up after a five year relationship to their friends, in what I thought was a cute, catchy and touchingly honest way. The reason for the break-up, or at least as far as you can make out from the song, is that he wants kids, she doesn’t, but they still love each other. And so on. If it had been only for this, I would’ve pressed „like“ and carried on with my assignments. I was smiling, thinking how genuinely nice and reasonable people can be, if they only put in some effort. But then I looked at the comments.

For a while now, I’ve known internet discussions, or at least the majority of 99% of them, are futile. The people who seem to regularly comment on magazine and newspaper sites have managed to, even in these virtual and artificual environments, form clans and the subject at hand notwithstanding, always end up having the same discussion in the end. Over, and over, and then over again. It’s like Godwin’s law, often cited by me and my friends when we observe the behaviour of these users on our national news portals – they inevitably lead back to the communism-fascism debate (which also stemms from World War Two, hey there Hitler, don’t think we’ve forgotten you either!) This in itself is frustrating because of the way some people hang on to the past, but since I have very little interest in political debates on this level, I let it slide.

What irked me about this particular video and the comments that followed is something I have yet to develop mechanisms to ignore.  The male vs. female gender roles debate and the glorious attitudes which would shame even the most un-evolved of cavemen (figure of speech here, I’ve nothing against our ancestors), so freely expressed for the whole world (literally) to see. I wonder if maybe some people never got the gist of that „don’t air your dirty laundry in public“ saying. Not that it would particularly help the matter of an egalitarian society, but I for one would certainly sleep better knowing those who hold the kind of beliefs I’m talking about have the good sense and enough information to know they should be ashamed of them.

The crux of the problem that puzzled the virtual spectators oh-so-much was: why doesn’t she want to have children? This resulted in the usual name-calling and sexist stereotypes made with little more than half a brain (some of which I’ve mentioned at the start), but also in a few very popular „argument-based“ assertions I simply had to address. Being in love with evolutionary  psychology, I can’t let my life-partner-of-choice be used and miscontrued in such a blantantly false, insidious way.

Discovering my origin at the Pergamon museum in Berlin.

Discovering my origin at the Pergamon museum in Berlin. So I am the first human after all!

Every time the gender role question in modern society comes up, there’s always that guy – yes, that guy – who will pull out the „People are hardwired to behave in such-and-such a way, and so it’s the natural order of things / how they should remain“ card. After all, „It’s evolution!“

No. It’s not.

Understanding our evolved psychological mechanisms, explaining them: why they were formed, how they contributed to our ancestors’ well-being and fitness, how they work; is not the same as justifying their existence and perpetuation in today’s society. Taken completely out of environmental and historical context, they serve for nothing but propagating passiveness, ignorance and inequality. That, and they’re miles off the mark. Saying „men were hardwired to provide for their families and women to raise babies, so that’s why they should be doing the same today“ is similar to claiming that „humans were hardwired to prefer fat and sugar, so that’s why they should gorge on hamburgers and candy nowadays“.

No. They shouldn’t. The latter does not necessarily follow from the former.

Without a basic understanding of how evolution works, we can’t even begin to comprehend what it means for the way we live today, and even more importantly – what it certainly doesn’t. There was a great quote by Dawkins in one of his documentaries (I forget which one), where  he said that knowing how we evolved and what’s „hardwired“ is not supposed to be used to justify our behaviour, but rather enable us to change it – to create a better, more equal society (I paraphrase, but the spirit of the quote was in that vein). Not to sound naive and youthfully idealistic, but this is what I’ve always thought evolutionary psychology could bring to the table. A deeper understanding of our nature, which would allow us to go beyond it and fulfill a much greater potential on the larger scale. What I thought it should never, ever be is a scientific kind of „we can’t help it, it’s evolution“ trope, taken completely out of context, and used to divide people by gender, race, or any other dimension while shouting victoriously – „It’s a fact.“

Because no. It’s simply not.

Darwin centre in the NHM, London. Now, *that's* science! : )

Darwin centre in the NHM, London. Now, *that’s* science! : )

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