Now, about those cases that seem to stray from this logic. Experimental psychological science is a discipline based on statistically significant, aggregate differences between comparison groups. In the present case, there are observed differences in the preferred aggressive-retaliatory styles between the sexes—ones that continue to appear even after controlling for social norms. I’ll reiterate what I said in my earlier post that there are certainly male “bitches”—I’ve known my share and such tendencies aren’t altogether foreign to me, as you’ve probably already noticed—as well as physically violent females out there. And of course everybody has a bit of androgyny in his or her psychological makeup. But we’re talking about general leanings here—exceptions to the general pattern don’t threaten the theoretical integrity of an evolutionary model one iota. As a homosexual evolutionary psychologist, believe me, I appreciate the fact of individual variation more than most. It’s the fodder of natural selection. Yet I also understand that today’s heritable individual differences in personality, physiology and sexuality are largely irrelevant to the more general evolved biological adaptations that took root in our species’ brains over hundreds of thousands of years of selective pressures.
In the ancestral past, it may very well be that teenage girls and young women who weren’t particularly catty were disadvantaged in evolutionary terms, similar to men who were physically weak. Being a “good” thing in a sociopolitical sense and a “good” thing in an adaptive sense aren’t one and the same, and I suspect many of the reactions to my previous post were the result of conflating these two categories.
But if you still want to believe, as de Beauvoir did, that “one isn’t born a woman, but becomes one” through unfair societal ascriptions and expectations, go on and do so. Just don’t appeal to science in support of such nonsense; you’ll find very little evidence in favor of these types of abiological, postmodernist ideas.
In this column presented by Scientific American Mind magazine, research psychologist Jesse Bering of Queen's University Belfast ponders some of the more obscure aspects of everyday human behavior. Ever wonder why yawning is contagious, why we point with our index fingers instead of our thumbs or whether being breastfed as an infant influences your sexual preferences as an adult? Get a closer look at the latest data as “Bering in Mind” tackles these and other quirky questions about human nature. Sign up for the RSS feed or friend Dr. Bering on Facebook and never miss an installment again.