Re: Evolution of Sexism

Robert Snower (
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 00:18:17 GMT (Bryant) wrote:

>Mr. Firl requested that I post a brief review of University of Michigan
>psychologist Barbara Smuts' writing on the evolution of patriarchy in
>humans and other primates. I'll open with the abstract of her recent
>paper, "The Evolutionary Origins of Patriarchy," [_Human Nature_, 6(1):
>1-32] and follow up with some of my thoughts and a review of Clara Jones'
>(an animal behavioralist at Rutgers') recent reply to Smuts' paper ["The
>Selective Advantage of Patriarchal Restraint," _Human Nature_, 7(1):97-102].


>Abstract (Smuts 1995):

>This article argues that feminist analyses of patriarchy should be
>expanded to address the evolutionary basis of male motivation to control
>female sexuality. Evidence from other primates of male sexual coercion
>and female resistance to it indicates that the sexual conflicts of
>interest that underlie patriarchy predate the emergence of the human
>species. Humans, however, exhibit more extensive male dominance and male
>control of female sexuality than is shown by most other primates. Six
>hypotheses are proposed to explain how, over the course of human
>evolution, this unusual degree of gender inequality came about. This
>approach emphasizes behavioral flexibility, cross-cultural variability in
>the degree of patriarchy, and possibilities for future change.


>In point of fact, Smuts didn't deal much with that last bit, "the
>possibilities for future change." This is why Clara Jones (ref above)
>followed up with a paper exploring how evolved male psychology can be
>restrained to better effect gender equity.


>Smuts opens her paper with an introduction to the evolutionary view of
>inter-sexual conflict, which boils down to the sex with investing the
>most in reproduction being a limited resource to the other sex, which
>tends toward competition for sexual access to that limited resource.
>Hence, men (who invest less in reproduction) tend to compete for women,
>and have a much higher variance in reproductive success than do women.
>She argues that the instincts and emotions (like male sexual jealousy)
>that encourage men to behave in oppressive ways toward women are evolved
>psychological adaptations which assured ancestral males differential
>reproductive success.

>Female resistance to male coercion is compromised by male social networks
>and, in humans (Smuts argues) a tendency toward patrilocal settlement
>after marriage, forcing women into social situations in which would-be
>female social allies are either kin to a wife's oppressors or a
>competitor for the oppressors' resources (in polygynous cultures).


>Smuts reviews the evidence for male coercion in 'higher' primates and
>concludes that those species in which females have the most elaborate
>social networks are the species in which male coercion is rarest
>(Bonobos) and those in which females are usually isolated are the species
>in which rape is most common (Orangs). She touches on gang rape by
>dolphins and common chimps as examples of male networks designed to
>subjugate female reproductive interests to males', and alludes to a
>homologous origin of male social dominance.


> These seem somewhat redundant to me, but here they are:

> 1. Ancestral proto-human females' resistance of male
> aggression was reduced by social networks disfavoring female
> alliances. (This of course assumes that the human tendency
> toward patrilocality was also prevailing in ancestral human
> populations).

> 2. Male/male alliances [and psychological adaptations
> enhancing participation in them] became more sophisticated
> through evolutionary time. [This smacks of group selectionism,
> which Smuts embraces, unlike most evolutionists.]

> 3. Males gained control over resources females need to survive,
> increasing the ability of males to coerce and control women.
> Only in the human species do females depend upon males to
> any appreciable degree for food supply.
> 4. Male sociopolitical arrangements increased the variance in
> male wealth and power and perpetuated family differentials
> across generations. Women became increasingly vulnerable to
> the whims of the resource-dominating males, and were forced
> to provide guarantees of fidelity and paternity reliability
> (i.e., to subjugate their freedom of sexuality) in return for these
> men's resources.

> 5. Women's self-interested pursuit of their reproductive
> interests, they will promote males' collective control over
> (other) women. Thus, women as well as men contribute to
> male domination by subjugating the greater (female) good to
> their own immediate desires and needs.

> 6. The evolution of human language allowed males to
> consolidate and increase their control over females via gender
> ideologies.


>Clara Jones' response to Smuts' paper sought to understand how we might
>minimize male tendencies toward coercion of women. She, in my opinion,
>fails because she boils it down to a question of making it reproductively
>costly (reducing men's Darwinian fitness) to coerce. Just because
>coercion was selected for in the past does not mean that men are
>consciously fitness-seeking creatures. A man doesn't often realize that
>jealousy is an evolved strategy for forcing mate fidelity, for instance.
>He just knows that he's unhappy when he suspects his mate is being
>unfaithful, and proceeds to brutalize her or to intimidate her (many
>men fail to realize that shouting is often perceived as a threat of
>violence). In the short term, then, Jones' proposal seems to be one of
>artificial selection for nice guys--an experiment which would not benefit
>women for a long, long time.

>(Castrating meanies might reduce domestic violence, though, if testosterone
>levels are positively associated with aggressiveness.)

>5. MY 2 CENTS

>Domestic violence researchers should begin looking for the cues abusive
>males are reacting to when they get violent. Violence is not likely
>happening in a vacuum--although men who are excessively
>insecure may "see" cues of infidelity where there are none. It is
>irresponsible to, out of fear of "blaming the victim," ignore the role of
>women's behavior in abusive relationships. Men should be punished for
>physical violence and sexual harassment, but this has clearly proven
>"necessary but not sufficient" in reducing male coercion and achieving
>gender equity.

Why do you say not sufficient? Rapes are far less frequent than
murder, robbery, or white collar crime. The protection society
affords is quite effective, and cultural reinforcement via reasonable
precaution on the part of potential victims so that rape in an
individual can become extremely unlikey.
>In my opinion, we might profitably take an behavioral ecological
>perspective, which involves not just viewing abusers in a social vacuum, but
>also the environmental and inter-personal cues which trigger aggressive
>instincts. I repeat: Men in no way should be relieved of the burden of
>curbing their baser instincts; "I really wanted to" is no defense for
>rape!!! (Or cuckoldry.)

The last 2 sentences are OK. The first one sounds like garbage

>Those who insist on historical etiologies for male dominance, based often
>on myths of egalitarian cultures past (or even matriarchies!) are
>underestimating the level of devotion to change men will have to be
>inspired to achieve if we are to reach something approximating gender
>equity. We will also likely have to reveal the illogic of
>powerfully held religious justifications for male dominance--no easy
>task, since these beliefs afford many poor men the only power (short of
>physical violence) they feel they possess.

Now you are talking about something else entirely, namely domestic
abuse. It has nothing really to do with rape. Another problem.

>Assurances that women's assaults on men's well being (like cuckoldry)
>will be also be punished may make many men more willing to accept
>punitive dissuasion of male assaults on women.

Assurances? What nonsense. Who is the big brother who is supposed to
do all this planning out of things?

>[Cuckoldry is the flip side of rape. Although clearly less brutal physically,
>it is a subversion of a man's reproductive freedom, wrapping his resources up
>in another man's offspring. Women who do not appreciate the special mental
>anguish of a cuckolded man might well consider how much more emotionally
>painful rape is than mere physical injury--and why. Emotional pain tends
>to reflect the severity of a fitness impact, and little impacted
>ancestral women's fitness so much as being forced to risk pregnancy by an
>unchosen, uninvesting mate.]


Judging by your interesting resume of Smuts" hypothesis, I would guess
it is not at all well supported by anthropological or sociobiological
data. This is not true of Mark Shapiro's theories, in his THE
SOCIOBIOLOGY OF HOMO SAPIENS (1978). Except for the first part about
the greater investment of the female than the male in each offspring,
and the consequent competition for a limited resource, Shapiro's
theories of male dominance, matricarchy and patriarchy, are very
different, and he supports them very well. He accepts the biological
fact of male competition and aggressiveness throughout the mammals,
including humans, up to the origination of cultural devices, whose
sole point was to change this situation, allowing for the development
of society. The initial stage was accomplished via matriarchy. The
dominance of the female characterized early pre-historic culture, but
later this changed to patriarchy, which still prevails.

Best wishes R. Snower