I think a lot - and therefore write a lot - about gender and sexuality, and ultimately feminism. I've also read a lot on these topics, because I find it very useful to see what other people think. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don't, and sometimes I go "AHA!" and learn something new. All these are good.
Because I'm in the process of writing a book on human behaviour, not only am I reviewing my studies on MOOCS in this area, I'm seeking out lots of related work, as current as possible, by a wide variety of writers, to try and get a solid academic background to my writing. It's not an academic book, and I am not an academic, but if I'm to be taken seriously at all I don't want to be talking out of my arse.
One of the areas I hadn't studied in any depth before is evolutionary psychology, so I've been putting that right. It's all very well observing humans as they are, but I need help from others who have done the research in how we were. The reason for that is that I see a value in "natural" human behaviour, and also in "refined" human behaviour. That is to say, we are who we are, and that is our comfort zone, but we can be more than that. We can in fact be better than that.
Over the centuries, civilization has sought that. Expected that. Without realising it we have been taught it. It's what morality is based on. Our higher nature. Avoiding our base instincts. All that. And it most definitely is what the non-supernatural aspects of religion is based on. Sadly it has led to some strange places, from lack of balance, but that was inevitable.
So, when we are looking at gender and sexuality, we are obliged really to accept that biology, DNA, and "instinct" is powerful, but we can also remember that it is within our control. That is to say, it is perfectly natural to feel lust, it is also perfectly possible to not act on it. And this applies to men and women.
It requires will and intelligence.
I believe, strongly, that in the modern world, most of the differences between men and women that we discuss are not natural at all, but taught. That is not to say they have nothing to do with nature. It's just that when we understand natural urges properly, we have choices. If we forget or pretend that we don't, then there is a risk of those urges being amplified or crushed, neither of which turns out well.
Of all the "AHA!" pieces I've read on this topic, this one was possibly the biggie. It simply had never occurred to me before.
If risk-taking has a huge evolutionary advantage for men, and not so for women, then it follows that this is one difference it's not going to be easy to shake off. In fact it goes right along with the size/strength difference, which is often claimed to be the only "real" difference, other than actual reproductive roles.
It explains a lot of other things too, but this is the part I'm interested in, because it leads to this:
To overcome this, you are fighting some of the most powerful instincts of all, not personal survival, but survival of the species. We don't even think about it, but that's what evolution is all about.
Going back briefly to Haselton, let's look at one detail:
One example of a false-positive bias is in men’s estimations of women’s sexual
interest. For an ancestral man, failing to detect sexual interest in a woman resulted in a
missed reproductive opportunity, which was highly costly to his reproductive success.
The opposite error (believing that a woman was interested when she was not) was
perhaps a bit embarrassing, but probably was less costly overall. Thus, error
management theory predicts that natural selection designed a bias in men toward slightly
overestimating a woman’s sexual interest in order to reduce the likelihood of a missed
sexual opportunity; this leads modern men to “overpercieve” women’s sexual interest.
I believe this is the basis behind the idea of women being provocative. Effectively men are projecting their own interests, and seeing it come the other way.
That's not to say women are never provocative. Some flirt almost subconsciously, and some are actually predatory. The fact that they don't actually need to is neither here nor there. Some of this is taught, some of it is personality.
Still. Perception is everything. In my experience men frequently "mis-read" simple friendliness for interest. One smile is often enough.
How are we ever going to get over this seemingly insurmountable problem?
I think I've done a good job with my sons. I have raised them to be gentlemen. The "gentleman" is a modern concept, it's all about awareness, good manners, ethics, and quite frankly, kindness. Some men fake it, but you know a true one when you see one. His values are solid. He doesn't need to be rich, and he certainly doesn't need a top hat. It's about attitude, not status.
There have been plenty of misunderstandings about gentlemen, and I am not just referring to the top hats. Like most concepts, people took advantage of it and then it became a perversion of what it is when it's at its best. You don't need me to tell you the kind of corruption, cronyism, and far from ethical behaviour considered acceptable in the old boy networks, under the guise of gentlemen.
Somehow, thankfully, the better, deeper meaning is still understood.
At the same time the very worst of the men who (wrongly) considered themselves gentlemen, by dint of their wealth or power, have made great efforts to skew the definition of lady to something that suits them.
The definition of a lady is no different to that of a gentleman. It's all about awareness, good manners, ethics, and quite frankly, kindness. That's why, in the fantasy age of chivalry, a knight was so ready to kneel before his lady, to be honourable on her behalf, and die for her if need be. He had risen far above his base instincts to be a gentleman, and was the counterpart to his lady, not her oppressor.
Fantasy. Idealism. Well, not altogether. It's a choice. When men and women are equal, when they respect one another as human beings, no matter what roles the times or place set out for them in culture, when they try to be the best they can be, it's not so old-fashioned and silly to think of them as "ideals", to use words like ladies and gentlemen. People behaving thoughtfully and with everyone's best interests in mind. Maybe we need new words. Doesn't matter. The idea behind it is doable.
Then there's this:
It suggests to me that we can use our intelligence to overcome our base instincts. If we choose to. It seems like a good choice to me, and I wonder...can it reach critical mass?