All posts filed under: Sex

Why I’m Uneasy With the #MeToo Movement

For many women, the breaking of the Weinstein scandal has been a moment of catharsis and deferred justice. In the wake of the appalling revelations of rape and abuse, women were invited to detail their own experiences of sexual assault on social media under the #MeToo hashtag, and the subsequent outpouring of testimony was held up by some campaigners as proof that America is indeed a culture in which women are routinely victimised, and men are routinely complicit. Celebrity journalists and Hollywood stars have been named and shamed; denunciations have proliferated and shamefaced apologies have been offered; unsubstantiated spreadsheets listing alleged offenders have been circulated and leaked; and glittering careers and reputations are being reduced to powder overnight. But as someone who has experienced what many would perceive to be a sexual assault, the momentum of the #MeToo movement makes me uneasy. Before I explain why, I should tell my story and the lessons I learned along the way. Those lessons were painful and the price I paid was steep, but I emerged from the …

Why Feminists Must Understand Evolution

I am a feminist but I am not here to offer opinions, nor to enter into an intra-feminist debate. For all their various ideological differences, all feminists basically advocate the same things: for women and men to have the same rights and duties as citizens, and for women and men to enjoy the same freedom to decide what to do or not to do with their lives. I am here to present empirical evidence which ought to interest feminists, and which can help to explain human behaviour. It is my goal to explain why the causes of male and female difference are not merely cultural or the product of patriarchal indoctrination. Separate athletic competitions and distinct medical disciplines of gynaecology and urology testify to the most obvious biological differences between men and women. But the scientific method − a co-operative, critical, and self-correcting process which has midwifed huge technological and medical advances − can also help us to understand more subtle differences between the sexes in interests and aspirations. And it is understanding what we …

Sex and the Seductions of Social Explanation

A review of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, by Angela Saini. Beacon Press (May 30 2017) 224 pages. I saw a funny cartoon: a man lies hopelessly drunk in a gutter while, slumped next door, his bulbous-nosed friend utters the punchline: “He’s been celebrating not having the alcoholism gene again.” This was a long time ago, when I was a researcher in a university psychology department, and the cartoon was pinned to the door of a senior colleague working on the social psychology of alcoholism. He was a man, it’s safe to say, who didn’t like genetic explanations for human behaviour. Over the years I’d largely forgotten about the cartoon, as well as most of what I once knew about psychology. The memory came back to me in recent months, however, as the long-simmering question of what kind of explanations we should give when we turn our attention to ourselves, to questions of human behaviour, has boiled over. Once again there is a partisanship for certain types …

Misunderstanding a New Kind of Gender Dysphoria

A year ago, as a result of a blog post I wrote, I began offering consultations to parents of teens who had announced “out of the blue” that they were transgender. Each week, several new families made contact with me, and their stories are remarkably similar to one another. Most have 14 or 15-year-old daughters who are smart, quirky, and struggling socially. Many of these kids are on the autism spectrum. And they are often asking for medical interventions – hormones and surgery – that may render them sterile, affect their liver, or lead to high blood pressure, among other possible side effects. The parents are bewildered and terrified, careful to let me know that they love their child and would support any interventions that were truly necessary. They speak to me of dealing with their fear for their child in terrible isolation, as friends and family blithely celebrate their child’s “bravery.” I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of parents who call me. I find it difficult to listen to their stories – each …

Is Sex a Dirty Word?

In Birka, Sweden, Viking bones from grave B581 until recently were categorized as “anomalous” where “…the gender of the skeleton appeared at odds with the martial objects buried with it.” (emphasis added).5,12 Contemporaneously, in Lewes, East Sussex, England, the Priory school has ordered girls to don trousers in order to make the school uniform gender neutral. Piers Morgan, prominent UK TV figure, and Priory school sixth form “Old Boy,” has said, “Let boys be boys and girls be girls, and stop confusing them in this ridiculous way.”30 Commenting upon gendered language, Arwa Mahdawi stated, “We are more aware of the problems of gendered language than ever and, as the use of the singular they demonstrates, we are taking steps to fix it. At the same time, however, we seem to be creating a gendering of language as the popularity of words such as mansplain and girlboss demonstrate.”19 The term “gender” is misapplied, gender neutrality questioned, and “gendered language” on the rise. So what does all of this have to do with sex? This paper will …

Reviving “Essentialism” and Other Scientific Straw Men

Cordelia Fine’s latest attempt at human exceptionalism and biology denial Testosterone Rex has drawn rave reviews from (almost) everyone, from the popular press to Nature. Happy to go against this grain, I would like to suggest that these much-circulated rumours of the death of human nature have been somewhat exaggerated. Most of Fine’s targets are probably quite well deserved chunks of popular science, male chauvinism, and journalistic overreach. However, when she turns her sights on serious science she makes some rather egregious blunders. This is a pity—because there is much in the public understanding of sex differences that could really use some popular explication and myth busting. Let’s start with what is positive about the book. Many will find her anecdotal approach to be engaging and charming. I didn’t, but I’m a miserable old curmudgeon who wants to get to grips with the facts, not be reassured via an anecdote about kangaroo testicles that that the writer “doesn’t hate men really”. On this point: I’m always a little unsettled by people who feel the need …

What Sadomasochism Can Teach Us About Human Sexuality

Like all good husbands, I took my wife to see the latest instalment of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie series—Fifty Shades Darker­­—on Valentine’s Day weekend. Admittedly, this romantic gesture was not entirely altruistic. As it happens, I am currently doing research on the role of dominance and submission in human sexuality. Although neither of us is in the “scene,” we are nonetheless swept up in the current cultural fascination with consensual sadomasochism, albeit for different reasons. My fascination stems from my general interest in human sexuality and its evolution. My field, evolutionary psychology, has been at the forefront of exploring human behavior through the evolutionary lens for more than two decades, and has made immense advances over the years. Although its greatest accomplishments are in the realm of sex differences and mating behavior, it is not confined to the sexual realm, as is evidenced by the increasing output of research on the evolution of morality,1 religion,2 and politics.3 Indeed, E. O. Wilson’s dream of a consilience of knowledge across the biological sciences and humanities is …