The Evolutionary Psychology FAQ

Edward H. Hagen, Institute for Theoretical Biology, Berlin

Is evolutionary psychology sexist?

As noted elsewhere in this FAQ, there are no fundamental differences between physiological adaptations and psychological adaptations. Male and female bodies are identical in most ways, but profoundly different in some. Male and female hearts are (I presume) essentially identical, but testicles are very different from ovaries. The same pattern is likely to be true of the brain. Male and female cognitive abilities are likely to be identical in most respects, but to differ fundamentally in certain domains, especially mating. Evolutionary theory predicts, therefore, that there will be some innate differences between males and females, that these differences very probably include cognitive differences, and, perhaps, that little can be done to erase these differences.

If you consider these implications to be sexist, then evolutionary psychology is sexist. Nothing in evolutionary theory privileges males over females, however, nor does evolutionary theory prescribe social 'roles' for either sex. Are ovaries superior to testicles? The question is meaningless. Are male mate preferences superior to female mate preferences? The question is equally meaningless. Evolutionary psychology focuses on the properties of individuals. Because social roles are properties of particular groups at particular points in time, evolutionary psychology has little to say about them. Stated another way, evolutionary psychologists can formulate hypotheses about individual preferences, but cannot predict much regarding the social arrangements that will result when individuals with different preferences negotiate a social contract. It is also important to remember that most social roles (e.g., jobs) in the modern world draw upon a vast array of physical and cognitive abilities. Though it is conceivable that superior female physical and cognitive abilities in certain domains may (very speculatively) enhance their performance for particular aspects of a given job, whereas superior male physical and cognitive abilities may enhance their performance in other aspects of the same job, in the end, overall performance is likely to be quite similar, with the distribution of female and male abilities broadly overlapping.

Copyright 1999-2002 Edward H. Hagen