Monday, April 17, 2017

A Useful Summary Of Evolved Sex Differences In Animals

It's pretty rare to hear the words "feminist" and "evolutionary biologist" in the same sentence, let alone about the same person, but Suzanne Sadedin apparently wears both labels. She recently contributed a very good bibliography and summary of evolutionist thought on sex roles as they appear in nature at Quora. Excerpt (edited to add hyperlinks for footnotes):
  • Men and women are very similar neurologically, and the distributions of gender-correlated traits fall on a continuum; hardly anyone has a purely male-like or purely female-like brain [2]. Some brain areas are a bit larger in men, some in women. Overall brain size is larger in men, but in similar proportion to body size [3].
  • There are no consistent gender differences in average IQ, though male variance is higher [4]. Sex-specific differences in certain abilities tend to show up in studies [5], but can often be eliminated by avoiding certain biasing cues [6].

  • The term patriarchy, as used by contemporary feminists, often seems kind of meaningless. I think when we talk about patriarchy, what we’re really getting at is the re-emergence of social hierarchies that resulted from sedentary farming starting around 10K years ago. Individuals in sedentary communities were better able to control and monopolize resources, including women. This led to greater specialization, technological innovation, and social inequality [15].
 The comments range from interesting to hilarious to predictable; the many people claiming that looking to nature, and especially, to our near relatives among the great apes is an example of "the naturalistic fallacy" amounts to a hand wave. (Look, guys, if you're going to bring up outliers like bonobos, or animals far removed even from mammals like the angler fish and passerine birds, maybe your argument isn't that strong.) I disagree — in some cases, strongly — with her conclusions, especially depending on what her definition of sexual equality would look like. One that doesn't take into account evolved preferences (e.g. the perverse results in Sweden where strong child-care and time off guarantees have resulted in the most sex-segregated labor pool in the OECD) and abilities ("male variance is higher" in measured intelligence is a Clue) will produce an unachievable definition of equality, as witness the chimerical wage gap. Overall, the title piece is a good survey, and something I'll be coming back to again.

1 comment:


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