Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

Susan (
3 Sep 1996 19:03:00 GMT (Bryant) wrote:

(bits snipped)

>>Well, there's Myths of Gender, by Anne Fausto-Sterling. She'e done a lot
>>of work in the area of the biological basis of gender, particularly the
>>more nasty abuses of sociobiology.
>Thanks. I wonder, though, about the characterization of sociobiological
>analyses as "nasty abuses." Just because I haven't read any that I found
>fairly described that way doesn't mean that they're not out there, of
>course, but I've seen such a huge backlash against evolutionary
>psychologists' treatment of grief and rape, for example, that I suspect
>many such "abuses" are really little more than readers'

One article I was thinking of was by Fausto-Sterling, in a book called
Culture and Human Sexuality (edited by David Suggs and Andrew Miracle).
I'd be interested in hearing if you think she characterized the various
people she cites fairly. Certainly from what she quotes her comments are
valid (most are about generalizing to humans from non-human animals,
without any evidence suggesting this is valid, and also assuming things
are genetically based rather than deomnstrating it first). Part of the
problem is, for something like rape, giving it some sort of validity in
terms of biological fitness. The implication, whether intended or not,
is that it is a viable strategy, a point which I suppose is arguable
(personally I don't buy that argument), but which ignores that idea I
keep hammering about, that how you present something is very important.
For women, whose fear and/or experience of being raped can be
overwhelming, ANY implication that it is a perfectly reasonable
evolutionary strategy is insensitive, to say the least. IMO, to pretend
like such a topic can and should be treated like any other evolutionary
behavior, without acknowledging the special nature of it in its cultural
context, is either hopelessly naive or determinedly blind.

But actually, I was thinking more about the Desmond Morrises and Helen
Fishers of the world, who seem to come to grand sociobiological
conclusions on the thinnest of evidence poorly collected, of they even
bother to pretend to collect evidence (Morris is particularly bad-- he
often comes off as though his primary source of evidence is the bar he
was in last night!).

>Ah, Earth First! meets the sufferagettes?

Hmm. Thinly veiled reference to the eco-feminists of Rush Limbaugh's

>The problem with this tactic is that the radicals get all the air time >because they're "controversial" (a prereq for a journalist'=
s attention, >these days), leaving more cautiously reasoning individuals in the >shadows.

So the thoery goes, this can be useful to convince people that the
radicals are about to take over everything. So the reasonable people get
to work their changes behind the scenes, and the radicals become
increasingly irrelevant in that particular context. Makes it tough if
you listen to the radicals for too long, though!

>But putting qualifications and cautions in a
>paper and emphasizing what findings do *not* mean is a much different
>game than attacking folks for daring to address a topic scientifically at
>all (as has been done to sociobiologists, for instance).

Well, see what I said, above. I suspect that the attacks come from two
things. One is the common idea that scientists mistrust emotion, and if
they present a topic as emotionally loaded as something like rape, then
it is difficult for people to see that unemotionally. It is worse when
they get chided for being unable to strip their emotional content from
their experience. I would imagine there are few things more devastating
than rape. And since women have enough trouble getting serious attention
(in at least some ways) for their experience, I would imagine it would be
hard to hear someone get up and say that, in essence, rape makes perfect
sense from the point of view of the rapist. It's a big leap to ask some
people to be "objective" about something like that (even if we wanted
them to be).

Plus, there's what we've discussed before, about how people interpret
science from the outside. Hearing that a scientist has validated rape as
a reasonable evolutionary strategy has all kinds of implications. For
many people, it makes it an acceptable thing to do.

Having said that, a lot of the critiques I've read have mostly been on
genetic grounds, so maybe we're talking about entirely different kinds of

>I've sometimes learned the most from folks who really pissed me off at
>first, but forced me to articulate my objections precisely.

This can indeed be useful. But it isn't always the most healthy way to
encourage learning! John MacEnroe always played better tennis (sorry,
I've been watching the U.S. Open all week!) after getting angry and
screaming abuse at the umpire. But is that really the best way to play




"Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."
-- Emo Phillips