Gender equality and evolutionary psychology can co-exist

29 May

I was perplexed by this post in Slate: “Sorry, Evo Psych Fans. Our Caveman Ancestors Probably Practiced Gender Equality.” The first Paragraph reads:

“It’s a sad week for evolutionary psychology buffs. A new paper out in Science, by a group of scientists led by University College London anthropologist Mark Dyble, suggests that despite widespread claims to the contrary, early hunter-gatherer societies likely practiced equality between the sexes.”

Why does author Amanda Marcotte assume that evolutionary psychologists would be upset by these findings?

Evolutionary psychology is based on the assertion that human cognition is shaped by the same forces of natural selection that shapes our anatomy and physiology. This seems so obviously true to me.  A lot of attention is paid to the work of evolutionary psychologists on how human sexual behavior is shaped by selection, but this hardly exhausts the field. For example, as a developmental and educational psychologist I am very interested in why speaking a language comes easy to children, while learning to read is much more difficult. Or take the question of obesity, isn’t it plausible that there is a mismatch between our evolutionary propensity to seek high calorie foods and the food abundant environment that we now inhabit?

Moreover, there seems to be an epistemic-values confusion here. Gender equality is worthwhile goal and it should not be tied to any particular scientific finding. Suppose the findings Marcotte cites were overturned by later investigations? Would we then be required to abandon the struggle for gender equality? Of course not. We should strongly resist the is – ought fallacy.

 

 

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