Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Darwin on Women

I received this exceptionally potent engagement with the question of Darwin's scientific misogyny from classfellow Alice Knowlden. It is significant for me on several levels, but I wanted very much to hear your positions, responses or analyses.

I was thinking (and discussing with a classmate) about the passage you read of Darwin's theories on sexual selection and women. At the time I found it difficult to understand just why I didn't have a more violent reaction to such statements that, introduced today, would be quite inflammatory. Considering that I am of the ilk who generally reveres Darwin's theories as truth and that they represent a solid explanation of how nature, and in general, humanity works on a whole. Therefore I should, as you say, accept the truth in Darwin's words regarding women. However, I obviously do not. Which lead me to wonder just why this was.

The closing remarks made on this topic, by the student I cannot recall the name of, touched on part of why I think I don't take Darwin's views regarding women so seriously. That is, Evolutionary theory today, although based on Darwin's theories, do not necessarily take everything Darwin hypothesized into account. One of the main components about scientific theory, if I learned anything from my Psychology classes, is that theories are not fact. They can have a huge amount of evidence or supporting materials regarding the theory, but in order to prove that a theory is truth it needs proof. Although they are the closest we have to the truth regarding the progression of our existence, Darwin's theories are still theories. As such, we are still able to work with these theories, fine-tuning them closer to the truth as we gather more evidence and information.

Clearly (or at least hopefully), the notion that men are superior to women is an obsolete one. But a rejection of feminine inferiority, does not necessarily mean a rejection of Darwin's sexual selection. Perhaps it needs just an adjustment of how the theory of sexual selection is viewed or used. Simply stating that women are supposed to choose their partners, and thus have a passive role in their sexuality, while their suitors compete for their attentions and the opportunity to procreate. This fails to take into account the sheer variety of people out there. If Darwin feared the degeneracy of the human race while admitting there are elite people who value morality and progression. Then he is admitting that there are different calibers of people out there all located at varying points on the physical and moral spectrum. Let's provide an example of a wealthy business man who enjoys a variety of benefits of his age and monetary value. He's attractive, is able to work out often to improve his physique, he is easily able to support himself and is quite intelligent. What will he look for in a partner? Is he going to compete for just any girl out there? No, he's likely to compete for an attractive, perhaps also wealthy, physically fit and if he's really smart he'll also look for intelligence in his future partner. He's improved himself to such a point, that he's not looking to share his genes with someone who might provide inferior genes to their offspring. Thus, the kind of women he is looking for is one who has also improved herself to the best of her ability. Women these days and even in history) use many different tactics to improve themselves to better attract a sexual partner or mate, just as much as men do. A successful man or woman is probably not going to settle down with someone with a severe drug addiction or someone who is clearly not as intelligent. Both women and men will select and compete for a proper mate who will only add to their already superior genes. So is it not feasible that although Darwin's theories regarding sexual selection may be true regarding peacocks, but in the complex world of the human race it needs a certain amount of adjustment? It does not necessarily mean that Darwin was wrong, just means that his theories need to conform to how a specific social structure works.

And this is perhaps why I did not jump up and down with outrage in class and perhaps why no one else did either. We can accept that Darwin's theories are the best explanation, but we can also take his theories and understand them with regard to the complex nature of our social structures and realities.

And these realities do not leave much room at all for the notion that men are superior to women.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe that there is another reason why I and my fellow class members are able to dismiss the offensive and antiquated perspective expressed in Darwin's theories of sexual selection: Charles Darwin CAN be refuted, and quite easily (albeit carefully). While this seems to fly in the face of Dr. Ogden's emphatic assertions to the contrary, I believe that both of our assertions can be true. When I say that refuting Charles Darwin is easy (at the risk of being accosted by the academic police), I am making a deliberate distinction between his writings and opinions, and "Darwinism". Darwin's theories have taken on far more meaning than purely scientific speculation, and this is why the distinction between Charles Darwin and "DARWIN" ("little fish with legs eating the Jesus fish" bumper-sticker DARWIN)
must be made. For the vast majority of humanity's existance we have used religion, or systems of belief resembling religion, as a social/moral guideline as well as to explain what we do not or cannot understand. With the coming of the enlightenment era science and impericism alleviated part of the "what we do not know" burden from religion and a tension was created between the two. This tension increased steadily until Darwin and The Origin of Species. Here, at last, was WIDELY accepted and popular scientific proof that disproves portions of the bible's explanations of "things we do not understand". This created the distinct sever between science and religion, bringing it into the public arena in an unprecidented way. Since this event science and impericism have handily won the battle for "explaining what we do not know" over religion (at least in the Western world). Though it should be mentioned that it has contributed nothing in terms of moral guidance etc. It is now to the point that science has reached religious status for many in terms of ideology concerning knowledge. Darwin has been caught up in all of this. He is a posterchild for the science half of the debate. This is why refuting Darwin will get you labelled a religious fanatic (particularly in a place of secular education). This could be because we live in a society in which communication is adversarial in nature (I have an awsome article to support this claim if anyone is interested). The writings of Charles Darwin cannot be seperated from "DARWIN". If you can manage this, as I believe we have in this class, then it is possible to refute aspects of Darwin's assertions. Therefore, refuting Darwin's apparently biggoted opinions is as easy as doing so with any other out dated perspective.

~It should be noted that this whole tirade is not supported by any sort of direct research and certainly not mediated by any sort of spell-check. So be forgiving please :)