All posts filed under: Sex

Memes, Genes, and Sex Differences—An Interview with Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams

Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, researching the evolution of altruism and human sex differences. The philosophical implications of evolutionary theory was the focus of his first book, Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life. The following is an interview with Stewart-Williams about his new book, The Ape that Understood the Universe. Logan Chipkin: Your book begins with an alien’s perspective on modern humanity. This alien has apparently never encountered typical human behavior. How did you come up with this idea, and how did you subsequently decide which aspects of humanity to include in the alien’s report? Steve Stewart-Williams: Like you say, I kick off the book by looking at human beings through the eyes of an alien scientist: a hyper-intelligent alien scientist from a species that doesn’t have males and females, doesn’t fall in love, doesn’t have families, and doesn’t have music or art or reality TV or anything else like that. And I ask: What would such a being make of us? The short answer is …

Sex, Love, and Knowing the Difference

We all remember the first time we fell in love. No matter how strong or independent or free you thought you were, all at once, you became powerless in the face of feelings that, to others, seemed obsessive and irrational. When you’re in that state, everything reminds you of the one you love. They become the center of your world. Friends say your face lights up when you talk about them. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat. The thought of being without them feels like losing a part of yourself. There are biological reasons that explain why the experience of being in love feels so overwhelming. These emotions serve an evolutionary purpose. Specifically, they allow two people to bond in a way that increases the likelihood they’ll procreate and maintain an environment in which the resulting offspring survive. Neurobiologists know that love usually occurs in three phases: lust, attraction and attachment. In the first phase, lust, sex hormones create physiological arousal; in the second phase, attraction, dopamine creates intense feelings associated with the object of …

Sexualization in Gaming: Advocacy and Over-Correction

Even before its April 2019 release, the eleventh installment of the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat was generating waves for its presentation of female characters. But the grumblings are not what one might expect. After years of being criticized for sexualizing female characters, Mortal Kombat is now under fire from fans—including women—for not allowing the female characters to be sexy enough. Did Mortal Kombat’s developer overshoot the mark? Or are we beginning to see a reassessment of concerns that sexualized games are responsible for sexist attitudes toward women—an argument that increasingly became a mantra of progressive games criticism? Historically, games have catered to male audiences, even as increasing numbers of women and girls have joined the ranks of gamers. Given the rapidly changing gamer demographic, it was perhaps inevitable that games would eventually come in for criticism for under-representing playable female characters, and for presenting them as hyper-sexualized images when they were available. Much of this criticism was deserved, particularly the lack of alternative options featuring strong, less-sexualized playable characters. Indeed, I am on record …

Ignoring Differences Between Men and Women Is the Wrong Way to Address Gender Dysphoria

Among the many divisive topics animating people these days, sex and gender are perhaps the most incendiary. This is in large part because not one but two groups feel that their political identities are at stake. On one hand, many women feel blindsided by the argument that trans women should be considered literal women, and question the effect of the trans movement on female sex-based rights and protections, as they have come to define them. On the other, many trans people are aghast at what they feel are attempts to block their political advancement toward equal social and legal status. Whether the arenas of dispute are bathrooms, schools, sport, women’s organizations, or parades, the emotions are intense and the arguments apparently intractable. To understand what’s at stake, it’s helpful to delineate two argumentative positions at play: (1) sex eliminationism, which argues for the abolition of the recognition of biological sex as a meaningful category; and (2) gender eliminationism, which argues for the abolition of gender. As a feminist and philosopher who finds herself stuck between …

From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity: the Transformative Power of the Provider Role

Since the ‘60s the male provider role has been under assault. Associated with the strongly bi-furcated gendered division of labor which has come to prevail in the West, it is blamed for hegemonic masculinity—a term used to describe the problems that have followed from that. However, what I want to suggest here is that we should not hurry to label the provider role as a problem. As I argue in my chapter recently published in The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, male provisioning is actually closely associated with and an expression of responsive masculinity, that aspect of the male psyche that responds to the needs of partner and offspring. Not only is male providing an expression of male nurturing behavior, the providing actually generates the nurturing. The bad publicity has been undeserved. In 1981 Jessie Bernard wrote an influential paper on the provider role which set the terms of the debate. She explained that the provider role “delineated relationships within a marriage and family in a way that added to the legal, …

Gender’s Journey from Sex to Psychology: A Brief History

There’s no relief from our current cultural conversation on transgender rights. Its implications touch all of us, and the media coverage is relentless. Here at Quillette alone, you may read about the long-term consequences of transitioning for children, the political costs of deadnaming, Twitter’s policies on “hateful conduct” (including tweeting things like “men aren’t women”), the controversy surrounding trans women competing in female sports events, and the widening chasm between trans-inclusive feminists and trans-exclusive “radical” feminists. Surrounded by this whirlwind, I thought it would be useful to provide a historical meta-survey on the issue, tracing the debate back to its origins, so that we all might be better positioned to digest the next news cycle. Below, you’ll find a brief history of our culture’s “gender” talk: its origins, its philosophical evolution, and its current controversies. Gender as we’ve come to understand it, I will argue, is an idea so shot through with murky confusion. We will soon have to replace it with something more intellectually durable, or abandon it altogether. * * * Once upon …

Attraction Inequality and the Dating Economy

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Despite the best efforts of philanthropists and redistributionists over the last two millennia, he has been right so far. Every nation in the world has poor and rich, separated by birth and luck and choice. The inequality between rich and poor, and its causes and remedies, are discussed ad nauseam in public policy debates, campaign platforms, and social media screeds. However, the relentless focus on inequality among politicians is usually quite narrow: they tend to consider inequality only in monetary terms, and to treat “inequality” as basically synonymous with “income inequality.” There are so many other types of inequality that get air time less often or not at all: inequality of talent, height, number of friends, longevity, inner peace, health, charm, gumption, intelligence, and fortitude. And finally, there is a type of inequality that everyone thinks about occasionally and that young single people obsess over almost constantly: inequality of sexual attractiveness. The economist Robin Hanson has written some fascinating articles that use the cold and …

Science Denial Won’t End Sexism

Last week, Nature, one of the top scientific journals in the world, ran a review written by Lise Eliot of Gina Rippon’s new book, The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain. Both Eliot and Rippon, neuroscientists affiliated with Rosalind Franklin University and Aston University, respectively, are vocal supporters of the view that gender, and the corresponding differences we see between men and women, are socially constructed. Not a week goes by without yet another research study, popular science book, or mainstream news article promoting the idea that (a) any differences between men and women in the brain are purely socially constructed and (b) these differences have been exaggerated beyond any meaningful relevance. More recently, this argument has evolved to contend that (c) there are, in fact, no brain differences between the sexes at all. Eliot’s article appears to subscribe to a hodgepodge of all three perspectives, which not only contradict one another but are also factually incorrect. So begins the book review, titled, “Neurosexism: The myth that men …

Women Needed a Magazine that Doesn’t Lie to Them. So I Started One

 As founder and editor-in-chief of a new web site aimed at women, I often get asked: Why do we need yet another publication in this already crowded media niche? It’s simple: Until now, all of the major players have had one common characteristic. Can you guess what it is? When Bryan Goldberg announced in a blog post that he had raised $6.5 million to start Bustle.com, a site for women, many competitors weren’t happy. “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?” Goldberg wrote. A Jezebel writer, Hazel Cills, responded that such sites already exist. And she was right—perhaps more so than Cills knew: All the publications mentioned in her Jezebel article—The Hairpin, The Toast, Bust, Bitch, xoJane, Autostraddle, Refinery29, AfterEllen and Jezebel itself—push a liberal, feminist message. The same is true of older outlets such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour and Allure. Go ahead and find me a single successful, mainstream women’s lifestyle-and-culture publication that doesn’t regularly exhibit a bias against conservative points of view. There’s been …

Strange Bedfellows: The Peculiar Alliance Between Centrist Liberals and Radical Feminists

A peculiar new alliance appears to be emerging between trans-critical radical feminists and liberal centrists who are normally critical of radical feminism. Radical feminists’ insistence on the biological definition of “woman” seems to align them with the anxieties of those disturbed by activists’ redefinition of “female” and “male” from objective biological descriptors to self-reported perceptions, as well as with the concerns of non-radical feminists like Helen Joyce who has written cogently on the consequences of denying sex differences. However, radical feminists are beholden to a gender theory of their own, and it ought to be possible to reject the claims of trans extremists without entangling ourselves in another equally dubious ideology. Trans radicalism is not a war against feminism. It is a civil war within feminism, and it is not immediately obvious which side liberals should be rooting for. There is a risk of becoming trapped in radicals’ own mode of discourse. Trans activists advance dubious claims about gender behind a shield of the interests of trans people as a group. There is a temptation …