What we learn about women from research vs. what we learn from evolutionary psychology speculation


Maybe it was just the article itself, but that study seemed to be all over the place. It’s one thing to study the ways women are aggressive to each other, it’s another to posit that all slut shaming and generally misogynistic attitudes by women are the product of competition for men in some grand evolutionary sense.


I was pleased to see that they did make use of diverse populations (with different cultural norms) but they also referenced a lot of research from over 50 years ago, which might as well be eons ago.


It’s worth noting that the problem was not with evolutionary psychology speculation so much as with bad evolutionary psych speculation.

In this case the speculation was mired in the casually misogynistic view that all the work in forming mating pairs was being done by men (probably because the framers of that perspective were men and were therefore more familiar with the work they were doing while women were just idly turning them down or not according to merit).

The new thinking that promoted the study, if I read it correctly, also came from evolutionary psych speculation, just of a more insightful variety. The wrinkle the female investigator added was that women also compete to attract the attention of the men. I think the takeaway, as perhaps you’re hinting, is that evolutionary psychology speculation (which gets a well-deserved terrible reputation when used uncritically) is a good framework for generating hypotheses, but only if critical research follows.

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News Flash: Passive aggression is found to be aggression. Film at 11.


Some of us males continue to be single because I guess we just suck :’(

Anytime I read or hear someone start an explanation for behavior with evolutionary psychology I discard them as a valid source. The good science I’ve seen out of that branch is so outweighed by the bad “just so” stories that get made up to explain current cultural conventions is staggering. Plus, I get tired of the same groups trying to maintain the status quo with “science”.


I can’t help finding that the choice of attire in the study was very heavy-handed and was fishing for a predictable response (evolutionary psych fishing for stuff?? You don’t say!!). I can almost picture them chuckling: “Hey, we’re going to send in a girl dressed like a college-grad version of Jessica Rabbit; they’re going to hate it! LOL”

I bet the aggressive comments wouldn’t have been nearly as open and vicious were the subjects have been at a party or club. If anything, the negativity may have been turned against the ‘frumpy’ one in that context. I think the reactions are saying much about social expectations regarding attire, but I’m not so sure it demonstrates all that much about female aggression specifically. A room full of males would have probably had a strong reaction and negative stereotypes towards the ‘sexy’ girl (despite the inevitable “I’d tap that”) as well. There’s a shitload of baggage in there.


This is a problem that I see in a number of fields. Sometimes an entire approach can become ideological, often without setting out to be.

You find that a certain approach, a certain way of interpreting facts proves itself to be very useful- conclusions are reached, and it seems to have a great deal of explanatory power.

Then it gets over-extended. People use that approach on data it doesn’t fit, skate over inconsistencies in the results or plain ignore counter-examples because they’re so attached to the main “Theory of everything”. In extreme cases this can be because when viewed through the prism of a flawed enough theory, everything fits by definition.

Outsiders who have not been convinced of the premises of the main theory, or point out flaws in certain conclusions can be dismissed because they haven’t read all the papers by all the insiders. I’ve even seen the fact that outsiders are disagreeing with some conclusions of a theory being used as evidence of the theory’s correctness.

In the end, people are human, and are prone to falling afoul of cognitive biases, especially when it relates to something they feel heavily invested in. Which is why the scientific method is so useful. Always try to falsify your own theories, try to be brutal with your own conclusions, because the alternative is getting lead down a dead end…

Evo-psych is a notable offender, but this phenomenon is by no means limited to there.


Just use evo psych rantings to play Bingo.


I’m sorry, are you really claiming competition is not a natural phenomenon? It is one of the fundamental forces driving evolution for goodness sakes.

I wonder what the overlap is between pickup artist creepozoids and evo psych devotees…

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Freakonomics had an interesting study as a part of their… whatever you want to call it. Basically, in misogynistic cultures women are simply raised not to take risks while men are encouraged to.

I think it makes sense, and I remember a really nice statement from Meg Whitman about the way she’s seen women position themselves in business showing a lack of confidence in their position by subtle touches; more specifically I remember her sharing a story about women in a lunch meeting lining the outside of the conference room and not eating as every man in the room ate at the table during the meeting, and how that segregation speaks to attitudes that need to (and are) changing.

The problem of course is that it’s catch-22. Women who are in a culture that conditions them to be less assertive, to be more passive, to play down their talents, etc can’t win either way: be less assertive, get run over roughshod, be more assertive, be viewed as a selfish bitch. It’s kind of like the mom/jobs thing: women are discriminated against for the possibility of having children/families but if they don’t, if they stick to their jobs and try to build careers they’re viewed as cold and selfish. There’s literally no way to win. (you could do this with a lot of women’s issues: the virgin-slut/prude-skank thing, on being sexually attractive, on conforming to femininity, on and on).


It’s not a catch-22, because slut-shaming is not a logical argument. Women do what they want to do and if people attack them based on their gender those people are assholes. My wife has been told everything from “you only want to make money because your evil” to “you can’t understand how a real woman feels because a real woman only needs motherhood” from her mother, let alone anyone else in her field.

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Im going to go out on a limb and say the overlap is very very large.

Hey, no fair mocking people for their weight.


Agreed, If that was so, then women would not treat one another that way when there are zero men present/available. But many do.

Likewise, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts would never treat the younger females in their own families this way. But many do.

Cats and other mammals which typically have many females and only 1 or 2 breeding males around would likewise not treat one another competitively, since all are breeding with that male regardless - but, many do.

Think I’d have been happier if it had just been more honest and the title was, “Bitches! Why?” Then, you could probably actually sell an ironically misogynistic answer and cast all females in a single mold. Because (insert answer here)" response. Because hormones. Because tribe. Because bitches be. Or the present, because d***. (Who, but a guy, would even…?)

Now, please excuse me. I need to go suffer over my appearance, lest my single desire in life be unsuccessful and I earn criticism by others of my gender…8P

“Why would evolutionary theory over-ride cultural theory?”

Perhaps for the same reason physics tends to override chemistry which tends to override biology? People have sex, people produce children, and people drop dead, and culture can’t do anything about it or its evolutionary consequences.

Evolutionary theory and cultural theory may be explaining different things in differing ways, but you can’t get around the fundamental law of heredity: if your parents didn’t have any children, you aren’t going to have any children.

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You can’t dismiss an entire field. There are things that evolutionary psychology can probably help explain. Our psychology IS influenced by evolution. There are hard limits in there. The most blandly obvious example is the limit on how many people we can individually recognize. The upper limit to how many individual people we can toss into our “in” group is pretty damn important in shaping how our societies are built. Culture and individual aptitude might shift that number around from person to person, but there are functional upper limits, and they matter a lot.

That said, evolutionary psychology needs to walk on egg shells. Culture is such a dominate force and the cultural labs we have to pick apart nature and culture are extremely homogeneous. Just because you find a trait across all human cultures doesn’t mean it isn’t culture. It could just mean it is an extremely virulent piece of culture. There is nothing wrong with postulating that some piece of psychology has evolutionary roots, you just need to set the burden of proof very high before you accept the hypothesis.

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