Let's look at the games that people have played since time immemorial and think about whether, across the globe, they've been more likely to be played by males or by females: hopscotch, jump rope, wrestle or play-fight, foot race, pat-a-cake, stone throwing or sling-shotting, mancala or other piece-moving games, baby dolls, dress-up dolls, army men or action figures, ring-around-the-rosy, goal games (team forces "ball" across a goal).
For each one of those, a reader can pretty quickly sort it into one of three piles: typically played by girls, typically boys, or mixed. We wouldn't all agree, but it would be close, and we'd be right more often than not. Humans evolved the ability to play in order to make better use of our super duper brains. We evolved play styles that gave us good exercise and practice for our adult lives. Tag is a very handy game to play if you're living on the savanna and you're probably going to have to run for your life at some point down the road. Tag's a good game to have an instinct for.
Now some games come with a gender bias. Males have evolved to play fight more than females. Males were going to wind up fighting more as adults, so play fighting was more valuable to boys. Males that evolved a tendency to play-fight got more fighting practice and beat out the non-fighters. Girls evolved for imaginative social play because they were going to take care of their relatives' kids and then their own. Humans evolved different play patterns to support their adult gender roles.
Men and woman, however, both evolved to be so flexible that they could step in and pinch-hit when they needed to. Human males and females are more alike than other apes, but we are still differentiated physically and psychologically. Look at how alike men and women are physically, and that's a fair approximation of how alike we are psychologically: mostly alike, and hurray for the difference.
I think part of the problem that Evolutionary Psychology faces and the reason that it rubs against some people the wrong way is that it uses "Evolution" in a manner which includes both social development and biological evolution. By conflating the two people can, perhaps incorrectly, think that it argues that some social divisions are the result of an unconscious natural process, when in reality they are not.
Further, and as a direct result, one also has to be very careful in distinguishing between causality evolution and social division, especially with regard to the above.
For example in the above post you comment: "Males have evolved to play fight more than females." Now, in a biological sense I hardly think this is true at all. Rather men fought because they have were biologically evolved to be most fit for such activity. They did not say "Oh let's become fighters" and then their physique changed to fit the activity. Rather the social group would have meet and said "OK, we have group X harassing us. Who among us is really good at war-related activities?"
All right, I think we're on the same page. The time is a million years ago, there's some skulls that need to be cracked, and, without language per se, our ancestors decide to send out the biggest and strongest. Mostly it's men, but there might be some big strong women among them, too. They go out and they fight.
That's where you see things a million years ago? No enforced gender roles, just a gender-neutral assessment of who's most ready to crack skulls?
I think that such a scenario is unlikely, but I would be willing to accept it for the sake of argument. Should I go ahead, or do you want to state your outlook more clearly?
Well, OK if we're dealing with one million years ago we're in the realm of homo habilis. We're not sure what sort of social organisation they had and even whether they're directly related to humans is still moot. Now even here are obviously some sex-roles in force; motherhood would in all probability be a role carried out by the female of the species, except with some rare exceptions.
What are they fighting? Well most likely a sabre-toothed cat which regularly preyed on communities of habilis. Who's going to be protecting the young? Well, mainly mothers. Who is going to be fighting the cat? Mainly fathers.
I suspect that the numbers wouldn't be too far from what we see in chimpanzees, of whom habilis has comparable intelligence - that is, war parties would be about five male, one female. (Joshua S. Goldstein, "War and Gender", Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp184)
Interesting that chimps include females in their war parties. My source (Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade, 2006) said they were male groups of about three. I totally agree with Goldstien that biological rationales for keeping women out of the modern military are bogus and that the historical exclusion of women from the military has been irrational. Do you know if Goldstien goes so far as to say that men don't have any more built-in tendencies toward violence than women have?
But back to the content: so we have a situation in which for a million years men (primarily) have been fighting. Is it your contention that men never evolved any psychological tendencies that would make them better fighters? They fought for a million years and didn't get better at it? It's my contention, by the way, that they (we) did evolve just such tendencies.
Would the same situation hold true for females? Would they tend to children for a million years and never evolve a tendency to nurture them? Wouldn't the mothers who had a built in tendency to respond emotionally to a baby's needs do a better job taking care of that baby?
In short, in a world with sex roles, doesn't evolution reinforce them? If not, why not? If evolution built us different physically, why not psychologically?
Looking more carefully in the book there are several examples of chimpanzee war parties, which are usually male-dominated but not sex-exclusive.
It would be my contention that if men have evolved psychological tendencies that make them better suited for fighting that these would be quite moderate especially given the modest time-frame for changes within the species (we're talking perhaps 50,000 years for homo sapiens sapiens). Rather I think that the tendencies were already present (and, of course, these themselves had an evolutionary basis).
Evolution has a significant effect of course in psychic dispositions; but since the development of language much of our motivations come from enculturation. If one really wants to see what is "pure" evolutionary psychic dispositions then the rare cases of "unsocialised" or feral, children serves as a study.
I agree that the male-fighting tendencies go way farther back than one million years.
"Evolution has a significant effect of course in psychic dispositions"
It looks like you and I agree all the way. Evolution laid down significant psychological dispositions in humans, some of which are more or less differentiated by gender. With the advent of language and technology, human psyches are more and more affected by culture.
Gould, on the other hand, scorned ev psych as preposterous because, he said, no one inherits any psychic disposition whatever and so evolution can have no such effects. Money reviled those who said gender differences had significant built-in components, showcasing as his proof a boy who'd been raised successfully as a girl (only the experiment was not the success Money said it was but rather a tragic failure, see David Reimer). Gould and Money have been discredited, and it sounds like you don't agree with them.
Evolution laid down significant psychological dispositions in humans, some of which are more or less differentiated by gender. With the advent of language and technology, human psyches are more and more affected by culture.
That is exactly right.
Gould, on the other hand, scorned ev psych as preposterous because, he said, no one inherits any psychic disposition whatever and so evolution can have no such effects.
Stephen J. Gould didn't say what you think he said (or rather wrote). Gould included both evolutionary and developmental approaches (if you like, biological and social) to the mind.
The dispositional side is highly influenced by biology however the higher brain functions, such as mental analysis, language and most gender-roles etc, are largely socially-derived.
The main criticism that Gould has of the socio-biological perspective is the implicit determinism (cf., his letter (with others) to the NYT in 1975).
We are not denying that there are genetic components to human behavior. But we suspect that human biological universals are to be discovered more in the generalities of eating, excreting and sleeping than in such specific and highly variable habits as warfare, sexual exploitation of women and the use of money as a medium of exchange.
Strange and lucky. That's the very quote I was going to find to back up my critique of Gould. Here's what's so funny about this quote. Ethologists identify animal behavior as comprising the so-called "four Fs": feeding, fleeing, fighting, and mating. Gould allows for genetic universals for feeding, but not for the other three. Why not? If our closest relatives have mating instincts, why don't we?
His comment that genes wouldn't influence specific and highly variable behaviors is old-fashioned genetic thinking. We now understand genes to be extremely clever in responding to the environment with variable, specific behaviors (such as getting a woman to cheat on her man if his immune system genes are too similar).
A year later, in 1976, Gould stated his point even more clearly. He favored:
"the concept of biological potentiality, with a brain capable of a full range of human behaviors and predisposed to none"
No predispositions? You seem to agree that evolution has laid down significant psychological predispositions. Gould admitted to none. For Gould, you were born with no predisposition to be attracted (or not attracted) to men or to women (or to animals?). Perhaps this viewpoint was tenable 30 years ago when Dr. Money was still purporting to have demonstrated that you can readily raise an XY infant as a girl. But we've had decades of twin studies, DNA analysis, and brain studies that have shown that people are indeed born with predispositions.
If the human brain comes into the world with no predispositions, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are bunk. But you seem to agree that evolution has given each human individual social and behavioral predispositions. Which means you disagree with Gould that the human brain has no such predispositions.
Gould allows for genetic universals for feeding, but not for the other three. Why not? If our closest relatives have mating instincts, why don't we?
Because for the reason you provided previously; our psychic motivations are more linguistically-mediated than anything else.
You seem to agree that evolution has laid down significant psychological predispositions. Gould admitted to none.
I think, to be fair to Gould we should also consider his remark ""The issue is not universal biology versus human uniqueness, but biological potentiality versus biological determinism". It seems that he was not being consistent.
Perhaps it was badly phrased by Gould. Certainly as written it is incorrect; a better way of describing it would be to express favour to "the concept of biological potentiality, with a brain capable of a full range of human behaviors and determined to none"
And now we agree that Gould was wrong when he wrote that the human brain has no predispositions. You said you aren't sold on ev psych, but we seem to agree with each other at every turn.
You say, "our psychic motivations are more linguistically-mediated than anything else." Let's accept that for now. It looks to me as though when a father's words and a teenage daughter's genes get in a fight over whether she's going to have sex with the guy on the motorcycle, the genes have the upper hand. But let's accept that our pair-bonding behavior is more word-conditioned than gene-guided. The question remains whether we indeed still have instincts for fighting, fleeing, and mating. I think we're agreeing that we still have those instincts, even if words and conditioning have a bigger effect.
You said you aren't sold on ev psych, but we seem to agree with each other at every turn.
I think the difference is a difference of emphasis.
If I could get Freudian on it, evolutionary psychology weighs too much in favour of the power of the id. By themselves these prerational, animalistic, bestial urges by themselves turn us into naught but rampaging monster of the id. This said they are useful as an interpretation for certain actions that we may not be immediately aware of (as per your example of the father, teenage daughter and rough trade on the motorcycle).
Of course on the other end the extreme social constructivists who argue that there is no predispositions argue to far from the superego, where modifying people's behaviour is a matter of enforcing new social roles.
Let's leave it at that, then, a difference of emphasis. Your characterization of instinct as related to the id strikes me as too Freudian. Ev psych, for example, says we seem to have a finely tuned capacity to catch social cheaters, a social behavior that's not particularly id-like. But again, I guess that's a difference of emphasis.
Have you looked at actual statistics for what games are more likely to be played by kids of what sexes? And have you looked at game-playing data for non-western cultures? The step you ask us to take -- to imagine which games are more likely to be played by boys or girls -- brings any cultural biases we might have into the data from which we're asked to draw conclusions.
Hey Avram. No, I don't have numbers, but I'd bet hard cash on how they'd turn out. And you're right about seeing the rest of the world through our biases lenses. As good children of the Enlightenment, we would no doubt look at boys and girls around the world in a strikingly liberal way, understanding that each individual has a right to express who they are, and that girls can do anything boys can, etc. Outside our culture, as a rule, the men are more sexist and the gender roles more strictly enforced.
Do you think that if we did a global review we'd find weak correlations between games and genders of the people playing them?
You say "me projecting my own biases" like it's a bad thing.
These biases are the judgments that your brain has made. You dismiss them as if they're distorting your vision, but in fact they are your vision. For you to consider whether playing with dolls is a boy thing or a girl thing, you're using a very sophisticated neural system evolved for identifying gender roles. If you have come to the conclusion that "dolls are for girls," that's a highly sophisticated social concept. Is it a bias? Sure. Does that mean it's likely false? It's probably partially false but still true enough to be useful. If you've gotten the impression that it's safer to leave a boy alone with his father's new girlfriend than it is to leave a girl alone with her mother's new boyfriend, is that a cultural bias or is that some very important information and congratulations for figuring that out?
If you've gotten the impression that it's safer to leave a boy alone with his father's new girlfriend than it is to leave a girl alone with her mother's new boyfriend, is that a cultural bias or is that some very important information and congratulations for figuring that out?
Doesn't that depend on whether it's true?
There are plenty of people who've gotten the impression that people with light skin make better employees than people with dark skin. Should they be congratulated for "figuring that out"?
And I use that example, not to accuse you of racism, but because I've noticed those sorts of racial biases floating around in my own head, and know that if I went around trusting my own biases all of the time, I'd become a terrible person.
You remind me of what I used to say. For over 10 years, I was firmly in the camp that our gender biases were nothing but biases, and I consciously used the example of race to back myself up. Our nation's shameful history of race should be enough to get anyone to question any story about innate differences between more powerful and less powerful people. If we had been wrong about race, my logic went, we could just as easily be wrong about gender. I could use this angle to reject all the anecdotal evidence that little boys are really different from little girls.
But gender, it turns out, is not the same sort of thing as race. It's useful to conflate these two issues for political purposes, but in terms of biology they're different. You can take a newborn boy from any culture and raise that boy in any other culture, and they'll have the basic capacity to do OK. A hunter-gatherer's son could be raised by a banker, and a banker's son could be raised by a hunter-gatherer. Now try the same thing, raising a boy as a girl or a girl as a boy? Does that work? It doesn't (see David Reimer).
Racial differences are matters of degree, variations on the common human theme. Mixed-race kids (I can tell you) are normal kids. Some ethnic groups have combo heritages, such as the Bedouin, who are mostly Indo-european but with significant African ancestry. Gender differences, on the other hand, represent different social and reproductive strategies that go back about 200 million years to when our first mammal ancestors started nursing their young. These differences are there for a reason, and a kid who's half male and half female is going to have issues.
Gender differences are a human universal. Race differences are matters of historical variation.
First, as David Reimer goes, it's dangerous to generalize from a single case. David's identical twin brother, Brian, had psychological problems of his own, and eventually fatally OD'd on drugs. It's not impossible that the twins had some other problem that interfered with Money's plan to raise Reimer as a girl.
Second, there are plenty of people in the world arguing that racial differences are just as innate as you're arguing sexual differences are. See Steve Sailer, or the work of Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein (authors of The Bell Curve).
It seems to me possible that sexual biology influences behavior, but it's so obvious to me that social conditioning so massively influences behavior that I think any claim that a particular difference (especially something so socially constructed as game-playing) can be traced to biology should only be made as a result of incredibly strong and specific evidence.
Reimer is by far not the only such case, just the most striking one. Plenty of studies coming from various angles demonstrate the powerful effects of biological differentiation on gender identity and roles.
If someone makes the mistake that race is comparable gender, that doesn't imply that gender is comparable to race.
If someone says that my conclusions are hasty or imprudent or lacking decisive evidence, OK. I've got plenty of arguing to do just with the opponents who say ev psych is bogus.
It seems to me possible that sexual biology influences behavior
It "seems... possible"? That's as far as you're willing to go. It seems possible to you that sexual biology influences behavior? In other words, it's also possible that, alone among mammals, human behavior is not influenced by sexual biology? What's the point of having sexual biology if it doesn't influence behavior? You seem to be implying that humans could be born with no predisposition to mate with males or with females. Is that really tenable?
What I mean is, for any given behavior, it's difficult to separate out the biological from the social influence. So if we look at a particular behavior -- cigar-smoking, say -- we can speculate that perhaps men smoke more cigars because they have a biological imperative to put penis-shaped things in their mouths, or maybe there's a more distant biological influence (cigars are a display of wealth, which is a status marker, and men are driven to display status; or cigars let you mark out territory with a foul odor, men are driven to mark out territory), or maybe it's pure social influence.
I've just read something else that makes it impossible for me to take this argument seriously. This poster here is making a very similar argument, but coming to entirely different conclusions. Specifically, while you assert that RPGs are male-dominated and invoke sex differences to explain this observation, he asserts that game-playing breaks down by sex differences, but goes on to cite RPGs as an example of a gaming genre that's relatively gender-mixed.
Which I think means I shouldn't devote any more time to this topic until someone can tell me what games are relatively male-dominated, female-dominated, mixed-gender, and where RPGs fall on that spectrum, and provide good statistical evidence to back it up.
Also, how does poker fit into your theory? It's competitive, but not a war-like competitiveness (meaning, players don't enact fighting behaviors in play). It's strongly social, in that being able to pick up on subtle social cues (while masking your own) is a major component of successful play. And it requires keeping track of money, which has traditionally been a female skill in western culture. Poker ought to be a primarily feminine game, disdained by men.
And yet, poker has traditionally been seen as a male game, to the extent that when Neil Simon made a sexes-reversed version of the play The Odd Couple back the '80s, he had them playing Trivial Pursuit instead of poker, poker being too masculine.
In fact, if you think about the stereotypical environment of a poker game, as portrayed in fiction, it's not only played by men, but played by men smoking cigars, drinking, and often telling dirty jokes -- behaviors that are commonly used to drive women off. It's as if men have a biological imperative to try to create women-free spaces, and will act in ways that offend women to keep those spaces male-only or male-dominated.
Well, the reason I bring up the boys-club thing is, one possible factor keeping women out of RPGing might be a similar boys-club thing going on there. Consider the cheesecake art, the booth babes at conventions, the funk of unwashed gamers, the players who use their games to explore their feelings of sexual aggression -- I'm sure you've heard about all this sort of stuff, and seen much of it with your own eyes.
When I talk to women gamers, they often complain about the sorts of things I just mentioned, far more often than they complain about games being too combat-heavy. (Though some of them do sometimes complain about that. Hey, I find some games too combat-heavy myself.)
Or, wait, let me put that in a different order: The women gamers I know generally aren't big fans of combat, and prefer the story-telling aspects of RPGs. But they've found ways to get their desired experience in the hobby -- the existence of combat-heavy games doesn't bother them. The existence of boorish and sexist male gamers, on the other hand, does still bother them. I suspect that's more of a problem than the nature of the games themselves.
If I were to write that notorious essay again, I would certainly bring up the boys-club factor, which I failed to do. I'd still tie it to evolution ("boys evolved to be weird"), but at least I'd be pointing to the same factor that so many woman point to.
I certainly wouldn't assert, without really strong evidence, that "boys evolved to be weird". If anything, the opposite is true -- women display more genetic variability than men. (My use of "biological imperative" above was tongue-in-cheek.)
This sounds much like your claim that girls are genetically programmed to prefer figure skating to basketball. Yet you have not responded to the comments on that post that looked at the actual information on how girls and women participated in the activities.
Your logic for these conclusions is shaky. For males fighting, I think there is ample evidence both in long evolutionary chains (i.e. male-only competition and fighting is obvious in many primates and other mammals) and in the biological mechanism (i.e. testosterone and aggression). However, you give no basis for your claim that girls evolved separately for imaginative social play. The connection between this and nursing seems tenuous, and I'm not aware of any animal parallels.
This post is my answer to your women's-basketball challenge on the other thread. You hold up the early popularity of women's basketball as evidence against an ev psych analysis of sports preference. In return, I offer the games that have been popular across the globe for a long time.
As for imaginative social play, surely female humans have a built-in propensity to play with dolls (imaginative social play)? Female monkeys have this instinct. Did evolution weed it out of us for some reason?
You're not adding any information here -- you're just trying to spread the problem. Your specific claim was that genetically girls are more drawn to figure skating than basketball. You were given evidence that both in the 19th century and in modern day, more girls participated in basketball.
Figure skating and basketball are both relatively modern sports. Still, you're implying that although you were unable to support that claim, these might be the exception, and that the principle is more true of other places and/or ages. I'll consult E. Norman Gardiner's Athletics in the Ancient World. Here's what I find that sounds like basketball:
"These Egyptian acrobats also exhibited their skill in ball play, sometimes singly, throwing up several balls at the same time and catching them sometimes with crossed hands (Fig. I e), or again throwing balls to one another. These ball-playing scene recur with strange persistance in Greek and Roman art. For example, at Beni-Hassan we see girls mounted pick-a-back on one another, in one case seated side-saddle, and tossing balls to each other to catch (Fig I d)."
"These ball games as depicted at Beni Hassan were confined almost entirely to women and, as their dress shows, they are mostly professional performers. Yet we can hardly suppose that the games thus represented were not popular also among the young of both sexes. Boys certainly had games of their own. They played with hoops as did the young Greeks and Romans. In one scene two boys are seated on the ground back to back with arms linked trying to get up off the ground."
As for the monkeys, I presume you're talking about the 2002 Alexander/Hines paper on vervet monkeys playing with six toys at UCLA? I see a couple news articles on the subject, but they all seem to be referencing the same paper. There is an enormous leap from "certain vervet monkeys tended to prefer pots and dolls" to "all females favor imaginative social play in general more than males."
As a general note, you seem to dismiss any time that I note data that disagrees with your preconceptions, yet you extrapolate very broadly from a single study of 50 college students or 44 monkeys.
Incidentally, I note some misreporting of this study. There were 44 vervet monkeys of each gender playing with 6 toys: 2 'masculine' (a ball and a car), 2 'feminine' (a doll and a pot), and 2 'neutral' (a book and a dog). The study notes "although female vervets preferred ‘feminine’ toys over ‘masculine’ toys, male vervets did not appear to prefer ‘masculine’ toys over ‘feminine’ toys." That is, the females preferred the doll and pot to the ball and car, but other preferences weren't noted.
You want the issue to be women in gymnastics v women in basketball, but that's not the issue. The issue is in any particular activity (gymnastics, basketball) who predominates, males or females? More women drive pickups than are the queen of England. That doesn't make driving a pickup more feminine than being a queen. Of people driving pickups, how many are female? What about people who are the queen of England? That's how to look at the data. I say head-to-head team sports are predominately male because they play to aggressive male instincts.
As for gymnastics, it was invented in the mid-1800s as military training for men only, but by 1928 it was a women's sport in the Olympics, and now it's predominately female. Sounds like an activity that was invented for men but actually fit better with women.
By the way, your account of ancient basketball sounds a lot more like a gymnastics floor routine: graceful women athletes in pretty outfits performing for an appreciative audience. There's nothing in your quote that suggests these women are competing on teams, and in fact they sometimes perform alone.