Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Women's Work

In my recent post, Marxism & EvoPsych, I took issue with Louis Proyect's comments about evolutionary psychology (EvoPsych). In particular, I dinged him for this:
Though academics are trained to explain away practically anything, I was shocked to see this article described by Chagnon supporters as having nothing to do with the racist theories so in vogue in early 20thcentury America and Nazi Germany.
I argued that the facile association of EvoPsych with Social Darwinism is wildly off the mark
--to the point of slander. Still, it was unfair to discount Mr. Proyect's comments out of hand. He represents an opinion shared by Marxists of all denominations (including Trotskyists), by many mainstream social scientists, and of course by feminists. So let's inquire further.

Imagine the kindly country doctor of a century ago. This good man, if asked about a role for women in medicine, might have said "women simply don't have the constitution to be doctors. They are too emotional and too frail.They lack the intelligence of men." He certainly would not have meant any ill by his comments--they reflected mainstream thinking. It is unfair of feminists to accuse him of male chauvinism--that wasn't his intention at all.

Still, one hundred years on we can say categorically that he was wrong. Not only are there many women doctors, perhaps even the majority of current medical students are women.

Now let's put our doctor of yore on steroids and equip him with the language of EvoPsych. "Women lack the instinct to be doctors. They have different goals and aspirations, and so probably don't want to be doctors anyway. There may be a few women who will want to do it, but most simply won't. The male brain and the female brain have evolved for different purposes."

It is still all wrong. Unfortunately it is wrong in a way that is the real slander against EvoPsych--namely taking the terminology and spitting it out as pseudo-scientific garbage. So Mr. Proyect's paranoia is not unjustified. The language of EvoPsych is frequently misused, with people making all kinds of completely specious claims.

EvoPsych does maintain that male and female brains have evolved for different purposes, and therefore differ significantly. Further, a Norwegian man differs genetically more from his sister than he does from his Zimbabwean comrade. Accordingly, evolutionists regard sexual differences as more likely to be evolved than racial differences, for the latter are very small.

Another premise of EvoPsych is that evolution takes a long time, and that most human behaviors date from our stone age existence. The period is occasionally referred to as the Era of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA), denoting the time period when the modern human mind was formed. There were no neurosurgeons in stone age times, or for that matter even during most of civilization. So on it's face it seems unlikely that there is any significant evolutionary advantage for men becoming neurosurgeons. Now some argue that men have evolved superior mathematical and spatial abilities because they were hunters during the EEA, but this is speculation. It is also at best a second or third order effect.

So most modern professions are probably equally available to men and women, at least as far as evolution is concerned. But there are some significant exceptions. The most obvious is warrior. A male warrior who survives has many more chances at copulation than a non-warrior or a dead warrior. At significant risk, he greatly enhances his chances at reproduction. A woman warrior takes the same risk but gets none of the benefit--her reproductive advantages are unchanged. Predictably enough, almost all the world's warriors are men, and very few are women. (The modern military is a bit different. EvoPsych can't really predict a gender difference in an ability to push a button firing a cruise missile, or to fly a drone. Thus allowing women into "combat" roles may not be that much of a stretch. On the other hand, house to house combat in Fallujah remains a man's job.)

Another example is rich man. After all, how much money do you need, any way? If you're a woman you need enough to support yourself and your children--$75,000 annually will serve quite well in today's America. The incentive for women to earn more than that diminishes rapidly--why bother? For a man, on the other hand, wealth is a great aphrodisiac. How much does a trophy wife cost? There is no such thing as too much money for a man--every dollar enhances his status just that much more. Accordingly, self-made billionaires are almost entirely male (female billionaires are usually heiresses).

These fairly obvious facts about human nature are the sorts of things that EvoPsych can explain very well. Our good doctor, on the other hand, is extending EvoPsych to where it doesn't belong, or at least to where it has no evidence. It is indeed human nature (dare I say instinct) to conflate what one wants to be true with what is true. That's what our imaginary doctor is doing, and frankly, I think that's what most critics of EvoPsych are doing. They're wedded to a cultural cause for everything, and that impedes their vision.

So now I'll do a bit of speculation myself. As stated, I don't believe there is much to differentiate men from women regards most career choices. But there is this: in almost all human societies there is a gender division of labor. The very words hunter-gatherer illustrate that this goes way back to the EEA. Men were hunters, and women were gatherers--at least mostly. No man wants to do woman's work, and conversely (latter day feminists notwithstanding) most women don't want to be perceived as masculine. I suggest this is instinct, i.e., part of human nature.

Thus professions will automatically segregate themselves into women's jobs or men's jobs, with few being gender neutral. Which job is which is historical and cultural accident, but the division will always be there. I see this every day as a college professor. I teach a general education science class to art students, and 80% are female. Indeed, at liberal arts colleges such as where I teach, about 2/3rds of the entire student body is female. Sixty years ago the ratio was reversed. There is nothing about college that is intrinsically male or female. But when it was a man's world, men went to college. Now that it's become a woman's world, men increasingly won't go near the place.

The feminist/Trotskyist/academic dream of a 50% gender distribution in all professions is just that--a dream. It is a dream that violates human nature and will never happen.

Blogging has been a bit light lately. It's midterms and I've been busy. Sorry.

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