you're reading...
human nature, philosophy

Objectification and Sexy Atheists

I was trying to avoid it, but several of my readers have asked me to comment on the ongoing internet shitstorm over at Common Sense Atheism.  In preface, I have to say that I will probably upset some of my readers.  I apologize in advance for that, but I will not apologize for what I will say because I believe it to be the truth, and my version of morality does not include a clause for sugar coating the truth when it offends certain people.  At least not in any kind of categorically imperative way.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened.  Right around the time I was posting my own article on sexy atheists, Luke at Common Sense Atheism was posting his own, which you can see has been taken down due in large part to this change of heart by the author.  Since then, there has been an ongoing discussion of hyper-sexualization of women, objectification, and “The Patriarchy.”  Rather than weigh in on Luke’s article, I have decided to simply lay out my views on these three subjects.

The Patriarchy

Last night, I had a discussion with a social scientist about these topics.  To be honest, I left more frustrated than when I had begun, since it seemed like we were talking past each other the whole time.  The problem from my point of view comes from the following claim:

It is wrong to make lists of sexy atheist women because that objectifies women and harms all women by contributing to the power of The Patriarchy.

I have a lot of problems with this statement as read.  For one thing, I can’t even begin to agree or disagree because it’s so vague as to be meaningless.  What is this awful Patriarchy?  How does looking at sexy atheist women contribute to it?  Why is objectification wrong?

By the end of the discussion, we had come to a tentative agreement on a beginning definition:  The Patriarchy is the cultural norm in which men have significantly more money, workplace power, and thus a disproportionately large influence on women’s ability to choose their own course in life. It’s hard to argue against this as a description of American culture.  But I do have a problem with automatically labeling The Patriarchy as an inherently bad model which must be eradicated.

Before you start throwing burning bras in my direction, I’m not suggesting that I prefer women to remain barefoot, pregnant, and silent.  Far from it.  I consider myself a “personist,” by which I mean that I am in favor of elevating both men and women to new levels of self-actualization and happiness.  However, I see several rather daunting facts of history and biology that seem to argue against The Patriarchy as an inherent evil.

  1. I’m unaware of a single example of a significant post-agricultural matriarchal society.  That is, a society in which females held consistent economic, social, and political advantage over men.  When we examine other aspects of human nature and find them to be ubiquitous, we label them as innate.  Yet we are extremely reticent to do so with The Patriarchy.
  2. Biology.  Plain and simple.  Men and women think and feel differently, and no amount of wishing and hoping can change that.  Because we came through the gauntlet of female selection, men are significantly better adapted to and desirous of cut-throat competition and other behaviors which are well suited to gaining and maintaining cultural dominance.
  3. The realities of “equality.”  As I said, men and women aren’t equal.  However, when we begin thinking in terms of egalitarianism and plurality, we have to come up with ways to make as many playing fields as level as possible.  Unfortunately, there are (I believe) real limits to the concessions that can be made by either sex, regardless of how much they might want to make more.  In other words, women’s ability to join in the workforce in exactly equal capacity as men is limited by their desire to have and raise children.  As much as many feminists might want to see a society in which men and women shared childrearing equally, I do not believe it’s possible, since far more women than men are emotionally driven to care for their children.  That’s strongly hard-wired, and I think it can only be modified to a certain degree.

To put it simply, I don’t believe it’s possible for humans to create a stable and psychologically functional society in which there is not some socio-economic advantage to being male.

Again, let me return to my big disclaimer:  I do not believe this means we ought to accept male dominance as an automatic good thing, nor do I believe that we shouldn’t strive to create a society in which women who want to can achieve many or most of their individual socioeconomic goals. What I am saying is that regardless of how nice it might sound, human society is biologically determined not to be exactly equal.  There will always be discrepancies.  But I do believe there are ways to keep these discrepancies from turning into full-fledged repression, suppression, and absolute power.


There can be little doubt that in some ways, America is hyper-sexualized.  Makeup, cosmetic surgery, digital enhancement, and unrealistic casting of “normal people” in TV and movies definitely contributes to distorted evaluations of beauty.  The ubiquity of porn gives men lots of false impressions about what constitutes good sex.   Some people argue that our focus on sexuality has given us a distorted sense of what constitutes a mating relationship.  (I’m not so sure I agree with that notion.)

There’s a problem with this observation, though.  You see, humans are part of the system of competition which has cursed all of evolution — the ever-escalating arms race.   Humans aren’t designed for efficiency.  They’re designed for beating their rivals at any cost.  Makeup, cosmetic surgery, and other “artificial” enhancements are part of an arms race — being escalated by women — for the affection of men.

So we have a problem with drawing a line.  We cannot expect women to stop competing for men.  If you’re a woman, prove it to yourself sometime.  Volunteer to completely avoid any enhancements.  Don’t wear any makeup.  No jewelry.  No heels.  No form fitting outfits or low cut shirts.  No pantie hose.  You can keep your hair clean, but no special styling.  Just brush it and let it lie.  Go to work, out to the bar, to parties, to your friend’s house.  Everywhere.

Absurd, right?  But where is the line?  Should you wear makeup, jewelry, and nice clothes but draw the line at high heels?  Or push-up bras?  Or teeth-whitening toothpaste?

The problem is that all of these beauty aids are part of the normal, natural system in which women compete for the attention of men.  Unless everybody stops using any enhancement, then the women who enhance will always win.  Completely suppressing competition doesn’t work.

However, there’s a good parallel between economics and beauty.  The objectively best model for an economy may be somewhat elusive, but we know roughly where it lives.  It is somewhere between socialism and capitalism, where human competition can be expressed and society is allowed to stratify, but where the power of exponential growth is limited to prevent disproportionately large income gaps and corporate monopolies.

So it is with sexualization.  Women need to be sexualized by men for society to work.  Women need to attract men so they can have babies so that there’s another generation, and like it or not, men always have and always will choose their mates largely because of beauty.  If you’re a man, you can prove it to yourself.  Decide to completely ignore physical beauty in women and search for a partner based entirely on “inner beauty.”  Convince your penis to get equally aroused for both of these women:


Of course, individual men can make the conscious decision to marry an ugly woman with bad breath, and follow through with it, but what are the chances of convincing every man to do so, and counting on all of them to follow through without “cheating?”

Zero, of course.  Because culture is the manifestation of intraspecies cooperation and competition, and it’s unworkable to try to take one of these out of the equation.  Can you honestly imagine a society in which people’s mates were arbitrarily attractive or unattractive?  It’s patently absurd.

Sexualization must occur.  It is part of who we are.  However, like economies, there are certainly ways to control runaway sexualization.  We could, for instance, put legal limits on the styles of clothing available for adolescents and teenagers.  No Paris Hilton Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playsets for girls under 18.  We could pass regulations regarding the content of ads.  Hell, if we wanted to, we could have affirmative action for casting actors.  For every woman with a .7 hip to waist ratio, you have to cast two with .8 or above in major roles.

The question becomes how much of our own competitive advantage we are willing to give up to reduce the negative impact of sexualization on women.  Go too far towards non-sexualization and uniformity, and very bad things happen:

Go too far in the other direction, and bad things happen:

 The visual of the contestants in the swimsuits serves as a signifier here. What is signified by Olive (center)? She's a child: no make up, toothy grin, pulled-back hair. What's signified with other girls with the practiced grins, teased hair, etc.? Model culture, wealth and adult beauty.

So to summarize, I think it’s obvious that men must view women sexually, and women must try to make themselves sexually attractive.  So by itself, an accusation of sexualization is not equivalent to a value of morally bad.  In fact, I think the only way to go is to assume that it can be good, bad, or neutral, and demand further cause-effect correlation before making any judgment of an individual case of sexualization.


Finally, the crux of the matter.  Lists of sexy atheists are wrong because they objectify women.  Let me put it as plainly as possible.  WRONG. Lists of sexy atheists may be wrong, but they are not wrong because of objectification.

Unfortunately, some words have become catch-alls for societal ills when they are in fact scientifically and morally neutral.  Objectification is simply the process of treating a concept as if it is a thing.   Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has broken it down into seven categories:

  • Instrumentality – if the thing is treated as a tool for one’s own purposes;



  • Denial of autonomy – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency or self-determination;



  • Inertness – if the thing is treated as if lacking in agency;



  • Ownership – if the thing is treated as if owned by another;



  • Fungibility – if the thing is treated as if interchangeable;



  • Violability – if the thing is treated as if permissible to smash;



  • denial of subjectivity – if the thing is treated as if there is no need to show concern for the ‘object’s’ feelings and experiences.



The thing is, each of these types of objectification is both necessary and healthy in human society.  If we did not objectify other people, we would have to treat everybody as if they were intimately connected to us.  Objectification is one of the principle methods for creating appropriate social boundaries.  Imagine having to walk through Walmart and individually hug and greet every single employee, ask them how their day was going, and offer to help them with their work if they were a little behind!  Absurd!

It is entirely appropriate to objectify celebrities, actors, waiters, mailmen, and Victoria’s Secret models.  We honestly don’t care a thing about Shiraz Tal.

Shiraz Tal does not exist to us.  What exists is an attractive dark skinned, dark haired woman in lingerie.  She is a representation of what we would like to look like if we were wearing the same clothes.  She is interchangeable with any other underwear model of similar appearance.

But similarly, these people don’t matter to us, either:

They are a generic Grandfather and Granddaughter, eating breakfast together and staying healthy.  They are objects.  And they can’t possibly be anything more to us unless we interact with them in a more meaningful way.

So a claim of objectification is not sufficient for a moral value judgment.  End of story.

Putting it All Together

So here’s the problem.  We are biologically different, men and women.  We have different goals, emotions, and patterns of thought.  We are better at some tasks and worse at others.  There will always be differences in society that reflect these differences.  The goal of progressives should be to find a middle ground where these differences are not allowed to run amok and lead to legal repression, but where the basic biological drives are respected and channeled into psychologically healthy outlets as often as possible.

To those who claim that any list of sexy women is harmful, you have a challenge in front of you.  (And I’m not saying you’re wrong.  I’m saying the burden of proof applies, even when we feel very emotionally confident in our position.  Especially when we feel very emotionally confident!)

  • You must connect some dots.  You cannot simply label it as objectification or sexualization and declare victory.  Both of these are societally and biologically functional, and do not necessarily constitute a societal ill.
  • You must not fall victim to all or nothing thinking.  Neither sexualization nor objectification can be removed from human nature or society.  You must find a way to quantify these phenomena and demonstrate them as some sort of scale, in which “oversexualization” is a matter of degree in relation to appropriate and functional sexualization.
  • You must realize that in sexual competition, nothing happens in a vacuum.  It may not feel good as a woman to be a “victim” of sexual preference and “beauty discrimination,” but the consequence of removing female sexuality from society is de-masculinizing men, which is no healthier than hyper-sexualizing women.

I’m sorry that this has gotten very long-winded, but I find that in very sensitive topics like this, it’s important to cover as many bases as possible.  Let me wrap things up with one of my favorite sayings:  “In life, we can often get anything we want, but we can never get everything we want.” In order to get something, we must give something up.  Choosing involves closing off options.  Sexualization and objectification are part of “The Patriarchy,” which is how humans form societies.  We can limit the power of The Patriarchy in many ways, and move towards effective (if not equal) egalitarianism.  But the farther we move towards enforcing strict gender equality, the more we move away from human sexuality, which — let’s face it — we all like.  As long as men enjoy beautiful women (and they always will), women will always want to be beautiful for men (and they always will.)  Finding the line between hypersexualization and normal sexualization is very difficult, and I don’t claim to know where it is.  But I refuse to jump on the bandwagon and condemn anything that depicts women as sexual objects.



19 thoughts on “Objectification and Sexy Atheists

  1. I’m sure you were anticipating my response to this in my same prudish way. I held my tongue for the original article in question, my response would have been pretty much what you are trying to refute here.

    But you are wrong on several levels.

    First off I think the objectification goes too far when the media imposes unrealistic standards.

    She is a representation of what we would like to look like if we were wearing the same clothes.

    Really? So you would look like that in the lingerie? Would I? Most likely not, considering that I’m willing to bet that the photo is airbrushed and that’s not all, I bet she hires an $100 an hour trainer to work out and come up with a nutrition plan.

    Do you think I could afford a $100/hr trainer or a $50,000 boob job?

    Also, do you realize how much makeup say Rihanna wears, in her videos? She probably has a small army of make up and hair stylists that takes hours to apply, not to mention I doubt I will find the make up she uses at Walmart.

    Well gee golly, no wonder some women have adequecy issues and develop eating disorders.

    Secondly, even if the photos were unaltered or that she followed a affordable work out regime, or bought her makeup from walmart, Rihanna isn’t making videos to have sex with you. She is making them to sell her music. You may think “well duh! What’s wrong with using sex to sell??”

    The problem with that, and with any other women who uses sexuality to get what she wants, is that while she may use the sexuality to intially attract, the convo won’t move to other things, it will remain on her sexuality, and will inevitably lead to the “pump it and dump it” attitude that I see from horny adolecents on the internet.

    I mean go to myspace or facebook and see how many have make whores of themselves at such a young age.

    To be completely honest, I don’t know where the line should be either, but I can say with good confidence that we are way past it. We’re selling ourselves and it comes at too high a price.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 24, 2010, 2:59 am
  2. I was expecting this, and I was fully expecting to say exactly what I’m going to say.

    You’re not making an argument, just an objection from personal preference. Which is my point.

    Posted by hambydammit | July 24, 2010, 4:04 pm
  3. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that America is rampent with these sexual images and has the highest rape rates and a high rate of domestic violence. Not to mention the rate of eating disorders and depression among young women.

    But then again if preventing the physical, mental or sexual abuse of women is “personal preference” according to your version of morality than I don’t want anything to do with it.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 24, 2010, 8:54 pm
  4. “”he Patriarchy is the cultural norm in which men have significantly more money, workplace power, and thus a disproportionately large influence on women’s ability to choose their own course in life.””

    – Actually women own most of the wealth right now
    – most of the votes
    – Most tax money goes to funding women-centric causes
    – Live 8 years longer
    – Can command workplace power through manipulation, shaming, guilting, threats of tears and tantrums
    – Men commit 500% more suicide
    – 95% of on-the-job violence and injuries are sustained by men
    – Women still have the “women first” advantage in accidents, catastrophy etc…

    (and about 500 more points of female privilege)


    When women say “patriarchy”, they mean “men having any power”. To defeat patriarchy is to make men powerless and weak”.

    Its not acceptable to say it, but its been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. There’s more men in higher positions, because men work more, sacrifice more and are more stubborn to achieve more.

    Experiments with testosterone injections show people achieve more when they have more testosterone on everything from financial to intellectual tasks by sheer stubborness.

    the onhe Patriarchy is the cultural norm in which men have significantly more money, workplace power, and thus a disproportionately large influence on women’s ability to choose their own course in life.

    The only way to “kill” the “patriarchy” is to handicap men. HOW DARE YOU BE MORE PERSISTENT!!! If jane can’t run at the same speed, then jake, we will tie a bowling ball around your leg!!

    Resources for you to check out:

    – manwomanmyth(dotcom)
    – any of Christina Hoff Sommer’s books
    – Camile Paglia’s Books
    – Warren Farell’s Books.

    Posted by CoryWinn | July 24, 2010, 9:01 pm
  5. Hamby, sorry for the outburst, I have had time to sleep on this and I am relativly calm now.

    If I read it right your arguments are this:

    -Men and women are different
    -Women need to compete for men
    -We objectify in other areas.
    -Women must be sexualized to some degree
    -If we remove sexualization from society, we go the other direction and de-masculate men

    Men and women are different

    So what? South Korean culture is different than American culture, but that doesn’t mean American culture decides what South Korean culture should do. Nor does it say that American culture should benefit at South Korean culture’s expense.

    Now I agree that some feminists will make the fatal mistake of not acknowledging any differences.

    Women need to compete for men

    Once again so what? The naturalistic fallacy then? Men usually compete for mates with physical violence, but now doing so is discouraged. I think competition can go too far. The opposite of this, [with men overcompeting for women] would be an MMA match for a girl!

    Why can’t we find other ways to compete?

    We objectify in other areas.

    So? The problem isn’t that they are objectifying people they don’t know [such as celeberties or waitresses] they are objectifying girls they do know!

    I don’t like it when women manipulate and control men, so why would I like the opposite? Men are controlling and manipulating women to do these things and objectify themselves. The men are controlling the women, not the women controlling themselves.

    Women should be the ones controlling themselves, regardless of the differences.

    Women must be sexualized to some degree

    Yeah so? Does everything have to be about sex? What about other qualities?

    If we remove sexualization from society, we go the other direction and de-masculate men

    Not necessarily. Sure we reduce the amount of eye candy, but seriously, how hard is it to find porn? How hard is it to get aroused in other areas?

    We didn’t have all this sexed up media before and men still somehow managed to get with mates.

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 25, 2010, 3:44 pm
  6. So what? South Korean culture is different than American culture, but that doesn’t mean American culture decides what South Korean culture should do. Nor does it say that American culture should benefit at South Korean culture’s expense.

    What’s your point? I don’t see a valid analogy here.

    Once again so what? The naturalistic fallacy then? Men usually compete for mates with physical violence, but now doing so is discouraged. I think competition can go too far. The opposite of this, [with men overcompeting for women] would be an MMA match for a girl!

    I’ts not a naturalistic fallacy, because I didn’t say, “Women must compete for men, and therefore competing for men is good.” I am trying very hard to remove these concepts from automatic value judgments. That’s the whole point. (How do you so consistently argue against me using the very point I’m trying to make?)

    So? The problem isn’t that they are objectifying people they don’t know [such as celeberties or waitresses] they are objectifying girls they do know!

    I don’t like it when women manipulate and control men, so why would I like the opposite? Men are controlling and manipulating women to do these things and objectify themselves. The men are controlling the women, not the women controlling themselves.

    Women should be the ones controlling themselves, regardless of the differences.

    Alison, I’m really sorry that you’re upset about objectification being a functional and normal part of human culture. I can’t change that for you. I honestly don’t know how to respond to all of this, since… well… you have obviously missed my entire point. And I don’t know how else to say it. You’re making objections that don’t really apply to anything I’ve said. And as before, you haven’t made an argument. You’re just objecting.

    So… um… objection noted.

    Posted by hambydammit | July 25, 2010, 6:23 pm
  7. You’re right Hamby I am upset about objectification being a normal part of society.


    Because of things like this:

    That’s child abuse plain and simple. It’s what happens when we take objectification too far. What people will do to get on [or their children on] the “sexy” list.

    I forget where exactly, but I saw one about what models do to stay “sexy”. They do real physiological harm, throwing up, severly limiting their nutrition intake just to look sexy. Just to make it on somebody’s “sexy’ list. See where I’m going with this?

    Do I really have to explain that women starving themselves, and abusing their children is a social ill?

    Is that enough dots connect for ya?

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 26, 2010, 1:13 am
  8. LOL… Seriously, Alison. Just… LOL.

    If you can’t see that you’re making exactly the same point as me, then there’s no hope for you.

    Posted by hambydammit | July 26, 2010, 1:52 am
  9. Ok hamby, I’m going to try to calm down for a bit.

    What happens is that when stuff like this comes up I get a bit too emotional towards it, combined with the fact that YOU wrote it, maybe it has to do with the argument from the erotic imagery topic a while back. Plus the fact this topic has sprung up again on the RRS boards.

    I know that you’re saying that taking objectification too far is a bad thing, and we shouldn’t overreact to sexualization, as it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too far, but I don’t like your line of what is too far. You’ll say that what I posted is taking it too far, however what you defend [the sexy list] pretty much indirectly supports the things that are “too far”

    Isn’t that what you wanted? A connection of dots from sexy women list to social ills?

    Posted by cptpineapple | July 26, 2010, 11:36 am
  10. Ironic, isn’t it, Alison?

    The high horse is easy when you spot a cognitive bias in someone else. But when your own emotions are boiling over, it’s damn near impossible to see it in yourself.

    Re-read my post. (I just did to make sure.) Find the line I drew. I’ll give you a hint. You can’t, because I didn’t draw a line. I didn’t say what was too far and what wasn’t. Seriously. Read every word and take them for what they mean, not what you infer while you’re emotional. My piece is neutral on where the line of over-objectification lies. I say that twice, explicitly.

    Pay special attention to the part where I say: To those who claim that any list of sexy women is harmful, you have a challenge in front of you. (And I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying the burden of proof applies, even when we feel very emotionally confident in our position. Especially when we feel very emotionally confident!).

    Hmmm… You: overly emotional, and confident that you just “know” what constitutes over-objectification. It’s obvious, right? Like selling hot dogs in ballparks. You don’t need to put an argument with it.

    Except… you do. My point is that I will not accept the claim of either objectification, sexualization, or “The Patriarchy” as equivalent to undue or unreasonable harm. I require an argument linking the two, preferably with… what’s that thing you keep demanding? Evidence?

    Posted by hambydammit | July 26, 2010, 12:45 pm
  11. You create an either/or dichotomy that doesn’t exist. It’s not as though we have only 2 choices: to objectify OR greet complete strangers at Wal-mart with open arms as if they were our long lost loves.

    There is always a THIRD way.

    And this: “So we have a problem with drawing a line. We cannot expect women to stop competing for men. If you’re a woman, prove it to yourself sometime. Volunteer to completely avoid any enhancements. Don’t wear any makeup. No jewelry. No heels. No form fitting outfits or low cut shirts. No pantie hose. You can keep your hair clean, but no special styling. Just brush it and let it lie. Go to work, out to the bar, to parties, to your friend’s house. Everywhere.”

    I ALREADY do that. I don’t wear makeup or jewelry and the invention of high heels is something I never “got”. Pantie hose? Whatever for?

    I brush my teeth, shower and brush my hair into a pony tail, and I’m good to go!

    Nonetheless men are attracted to me regularly.

    MOST women look better without a bunch of chemical gunk smeared on their face anyway.

    Posted by Jew-el in da Lotus | July 26, 2010, 10:32 pm
  12. “but the consequence of removing sexuality from society is de-masculinizing men, which is no healthier than hyper-sexualizing women. ”

    Any real life examples?

    Posted by Jew-el in da Lotus | July 26, 2010, 10:44 pm
  13. I enjoy seeing beautiful women. I especially enjoy seeing beautiful women who are intelligent and successful.

    If those intelligent and successful women choose to pose in photos that may be objectifying, then that is their choice and not any business of those that have a problem with it.

    If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.

    Posted by Zaxle | July 28, 2010, 11:02 am
  14. As usual, I don’t think your analysis is entirely wrong – but, again as is often the case, I have objections. People in general – human beings, irrespective of whether they have male or female or complicated intersex biology, and ditto for all gender and sexual identities – do view at least some other people as objects at least some of the time. Fine. Sure. That’s true, and it’s not inherently a moral or social problem. But that doesn’t have much to do with the very specific act of objectification Common Sense Atheism engaged in. At the very least, when one of the running conversations going on in the atheist community has to do with the way women’s voices are undervalued and excluded within the community – when one atheism/secularism conference after another after another after another fails to even consider prominent women atheists as invited speakers and panelists unless the entire focus of the conference is on women – CSA’s post was a rude and stupid specific act of objectification that belittled people who in context ought to have been treated as people and not objects.

    Which leads me leads me to my more substantial objection: What makes “the patriarchy” a real, insidious, and effective means of social control despite you poo-pooing it as a useful concept is that it encourages people to elide and ignore such differences in context. The patriarchy is all of the things you noted in your definition, but above all it is a set of beliefs and attitudes and norms – which find their expression in all media and every social environment – that encourage us to ignore context, to extend objectification from those contexts where it is reasonable and even desirable to other contexts where it ignores or even undermines the fundamental humanity of women, the fact that they are autonomous beings with their own interests and welfare that ought not be subordinated to the interests and welfare of others.

    In other words, it’s one thing to objectify – view as an object and admire aesthetically and, yes, sexually – a woman who has put herself on display, by choosing a career as a paid model or by dressing provocatively. It is another thing to objectify one’s friends and co-workers and intimates in exactly the same way, at least without also acknowledging and responding to them as individual people with interests and needs and so on. It is yet another thing to act as if one has some personal right to touch or use a woman’s body without her express consent, regardless of whether and how she has put herself on display. Encouraging men to ignore those differences in context – even encouraging WOMEN to ignore those differences in context, as when women victim-blame another woman who has been raped or assaulted for “putting herself in that situation” or “encouraging him” – is how the patriarchy most effectively serves as a tool of social control of women.

    That leads me to the key idea that I think you consistently miss or misunderstand whenever you discuss biologically-driven human sexual behaviors. Evolution does not just shape men and women differently in response to their own reproductive interests, it often shapes us in ways that put us directly at odds with each other. In most if not all sexually reproducing species, males evolve ways to manipulate, coerce, and control females to their own reproductive advantage and to females’ reproductive disadvantage – and in response, females evolve ways to resist such controls. And vice versa. (Here is my example for today.) In such battles between the sexes, I think it’s safe to say that in some species at some points in their evolutionary arc, one sex is in a decisively winning position over the other. But, evolution being evolution, that situation is not merely subject to change over time – change is almost inevitable. I think the same applies to human cultural/social evolution – which brings me back to patriarchy.

    Patriarchy, ultimately, is such a tool of control – a socio-cultural group means of control rather than a strictly biological/behavioral individual means of control, but a means of control nonetheless. More specifically, patriarchal sociocultural norms are a collective means by which women’s collective interests (reproductive and otherwise, because you can’t really separate them) are subordinated to men’s collective interests. Some women successfully resist with greater and lesser success – either as individuals or collectively in some cultures in some places and times – and others don’t manage to have any success whatsoever in resisting. Either way, it is the defining characteristic of patriarchy that it is a means of controlling women to mens’ collective and often individual advantage, and to women’s collective and often individual disadvantage.

    Your discussion of how women behave within and react to pervasive patriarchal controls doesn’t seem to recognize or acknowledge the difference between [1] women doing the best they can under the circumstances to resist external controls of their behavior – controls which, remember, are against their interests – and [2] women doing what genuinely and positively advances their own interests and well-being (rather than mere negative “advancement” of their interests in the sense of resisting that which is against their interests). I think many of the things you cite women as doing to advance their own reproductive interests are simply the means women use to resist total patriarchal control over their reproduction; in the absence of patriarchal controls, those are not necessarily the means women would use to advance their own interests. How women are forced to think and act to preserve and advance their own interests as best they can in an environment stacked against their interests is not simply “how women think and act.”

    How this is all connected to my comment on your newer post about population is left as an exercise for the reader. 😉

    Posted by G Felis | July 29, 2010, 4:35 pm
  15. Heh… I’ll confess that I’m rather perplexed. I can’t really think of anything to say other than… yes… I agree with you on more or less all counts, though I think some of your statements could be subject to the bias of your own perspective, which doesn’t make them wrong — just biased.

    The way I understand it, the line between resisting control and exerting control is very blurry indeed. (I’m sure you and I both know who I’m talking about. After we both chuckle momentarily, please read on.) So I think if anything, it’s a little dangerous to speak of evolutionary strategies as purely one or the other. (Here’s my Twaddle of the Day link to illustrate the point.)

    Having made that disclaimer, I think I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. Which is curious, because you seem to be disagreeing with me. Which probably points to my inability to clearly articulate my ideas.

    Posted by hambydammit | July 29, 2010, 7:15 pm
  16. I know we agree more than we disagree on this stuff, which does make it hard to see why I find some of your posts so disagreeable. I think this example of us talking at somewhat cross purposes revolves around my frequent refrain that the vast bulk of what’s spouted by people who call themselves evolutionary psychologists is bad science – and some of your discussions of human sexuality read like you buy into ev-psych bullshit a bit too uncritically. That said, I suspect, at least on most days, that your views are much more nuanced than you’re letting on because part of your overall agenda is trying to simplify complex matters for a more general audience. I’m a professional philosopher: We’re bound to differ on where we draw the line between useful and necessary simplification and misleading oversimplification.

    Anyway, I haven’t read the whole paper being referred to (yet), but this brief summary points to one of the interesting reasons why ev psych – and a lot of psychological theory and research that has little to do with evolution – is crap: the spectacular failure to even consider, yet alone gather evidence to test and eliminate, alternate hypotheses. I hope I find time to read the complete paper soon, because this is cool, paradigm-shifting stuff.

    Posted by G Felis | July 30, 2010, 2:28 pm
  17. Heh… don’t go pulling back the curtain, George. It’s just a man with levers…

    Yes, it’s true that in a lot of cases, I find myself leaning over the precipice that marks the line between healthy simplification and dangerous oversimplification. But it’s because the divide between Joe Plumber and Sam Scientist is widening, and that’s very, very dangerous. I think there’s one very good thing about evo psych, and that’s the attempt to explain complex emotions and behaviors as evolutionary adaptations. Whether the answers are right or wrong, I think it’s critically important to change the public paradigm from the belief that humanity is unique, special, and “above” other animals to the more correct belief that we are as subject to evolutionary forces as every other animal, and more importantly, that whatever we are, we can be nothing more or less than the sum of all of the evolutionary forces that have made us.

    So… I write about what concerns people the most. Sex. And for what it’s worth, I may be wrong about objectification of women and societal harm. I don’t want to be. I like my porn and my afternoon gin and tonic sorostitute parade downtown. And I think that while I am emotionally attached to my perception of The Patriarchy as an inherent limitation of biology, I am also not dogmatic about it. There are people out there who are equally attached to the position opposite mine, and hopefully they’re doing the research to try to prove themselves correct. If they do, I’ll grudgingly turn in my Al Bundy Badge and start living the PC lifestyle because it’s the right thing to do. But I’m going to let them do the research, not me. In the meantime, I’ll remain skeptical and somewhat emotionally opposed to the idea.

    I feel like that’s the best any of us can do, really. Some things just don’t have concrete answers, and we have to come down on one side or the other. And we can’t very well suspend all action related to the question until science proves it one way or another. We have to act as if our belief is true. So with any luck, we act as if our beliefs are true while making the intellectual decision to read the studies that disagree with us. Hopefully, I’ll continue to have the courage to do that, even when it threatens my libido.

    Posted by hambydammit | July 31, 2010, 1:44 pm


  1. Pingback: Morality: Time for Redefinition « Life Without a Net - July 26, 2010

  2. Pingback: Sexy Atheist Women « Life Without a Net - November 2, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Follow Me On Twitter!

%d bloggers like this: