I had to rattle this off quickly as a counter-point to the media frenzy today about this report. Apologies for typos – there will be many!
Toxic masculinity or female intrasexual competition?
Sexual harassment and abuse of girls are too often accepted as part of daily life, according to a Commons Women and Equalities Committee report.”
Key findings are:
The committee chair, Conservative MP Maria Miller, is popping up on my radio every hour on the news bulletins and is explicitly pointing the blame at boys and pornography. She repeats the most shocking and salacious findings as if they were the most prominent findings in the report.
The report had already piqued my interest so I have been looking at it today. Here are some pertinent points from the list of conclusions and recommendations from the report itself
“1.Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a significant issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls, across the country. Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls. However it is essential that the negative impact on both boys and girls is recognised and addressed.”
“2.There is insufficient data to conclusively demonstrate that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a growing problem. It is true that such behaviour has occurred in schools for many years, as in wider society. However, significant qualitative evidence suggests that increasing access to pornography and technological advances, including online platforms, can facilitate harassment and violence and thus exacerbate the problem.”
(Yet somehow, in light of this lack of evidence, the government should non-the-less…)
“15…create a statutory obligation in the forthcoming Education Bill for all schools, primary and secondary, to develop a whole school approach to preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence. We also recommend that the Department for Education remind all school Governors of their legal obligations to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. Guidance and support on how to achieve this most effectively should be provided to Governing Bodies.”
(Echos of Title IX, anyone?)
“24.By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age appropriate way starting in primary school.”
(In other words, an entrenched political and ideological organisation wants government funding to go into schools to teach young and impressionable boys and girls how to interact)
“30.Too often, SRE ignores the position of boys and young men. It must be broadened to challenge harmful notions of masculinity and reflect boys’ experiences. It should also support boys to challenge and reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
“31.We welcome the Government’s interest in supporting boys and young men to be part of the solution to the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We recommend that the Government fund research to establish the most effective ways to achieve this.”
You get the implicit picture; girls are victims, boys perpetrators of sexual harassment. In case this wasn’t clear enough, they included a visual signpost.
Of course the feminist Twittersphere is going nuts. If there was a flag representing “the patriarchy”, they’d be in the streets gleefully burning it.
So lets review: the report itself states there is no evidence to support the problem is a growing problem, yet the rhetoric I’m hearing on the radio makes it appear out of control and endemic. Which is nothing new:
Firstly, I was particularly interested in the following claim, number 1 on their page of findings and recommendations:
Further down this page it states:
Note the reference. I followed it. It took me here:
Lets just be clear. The cited reference is to support the claim that “Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls.”
It took me a while to find a break down of the sex of the harassers – in all graphs they are referred to in sex and gender neutral terms – but when I did, it revealed something very interesting:
Spending more money on teaching kids about consent, as is in the recommendations, will not help victims. Demonising boys, toxic masculinity or “laddism” – all deemed problematic in the report – will not help anyone. The claim they want to help boys is hollow. The claim they want to help girls even more so. Who commissioned this report? How much were they paid and was it from the public purse?
Note above boys appear to “harass” other boys more than girls. This is a finding because in their definition of sexual harassment they include name calling and banter as harassment. “Calling someone “gay” or “lesbian”…was the most frequently mentioned type of sexual harassment”
The numbers on female abusers here appear to be in line with the findings of a 2014 Demos report on internet misogyny which found that 50% of online abuse came from females.
Lets revisit this comment in Crossing the Line…
“Because girls reported higher rates of sexual harassment than boys did, this finding raises questions. Why didn’t boys or girls admit to sexually harassing girls when more girls than boys said they had been sexually harassed? Why does it seem to be more acceptable to sexually harass boys? These questions are critical to developing new strategies”
Now read this again in light of this new information:
I research female intrasexual competition, something I frequently call the pink elephant in the feminist room. Female competition and rivalry exists but takes a very different form from male competition, which is more open. What these reports are uncovering is not the tip of the iceberg of endemic male chauvinism but of endemic female passive aggressive bullying of their female rivals.
The main strategies of female competition are well documented; targets are socially ostracized, she is the subject of pernicious gossip, her character attacked, her sexual history discussed, her reputation ruined and crucially, boys are recruited by the female bullies to join in the attack. This is the well documented anatomy of how females compete – by stealth. The effects on the target are utterly devastating. It is this phenomena that feminists should be looking into if they genuinely wish to help young girls thrive at school. It is this research that needs more government funding not feminist sex education.
Logic dictates that if there actually is such a thing as toxic masculinity, there must also be a female analogue. And there is. There is also evidence that it is feminists, not “the patriarchy”, who seek to suppress and control female sexuality, especially in the West. (See Baumeister & Twenge, 2002).
The recommendations in this report do NOT support the papers findings. Feminists want access to young women in schools, to police their sexuality via fear – when the main negative effect on their self esteem is their female peers. These are all questions I am working on as a researcher, but many people have come before me. Female intrasexual competition is not new. It’s just taboo.
In spite of the feminist insistence that toxic masculinity is the problem, as a society, we need to widen the debate to include discussion about toxic femininity. If you want to see everyday evidence of female enmity in action, just look online at the bitter rivalries between feminist sects.
How can a movement with so little insight into itself or female competition be of any help to us?
If feminism is a humanitarian movement before a political one, it will face up to its own shortcomings.
The question needs to be asked: does feminism exist to help women and girls, or do women and girls now exist to help feminism?
Shoddy reports like this make me suspect the latter.
I am an egalitarian because I believe in the equality of the sexes. I am not a feminist because I do not support feminisms central aim which is to dismantle a fictional Western patriarchy, not, as many people believe, to promote sexual equality. For more in depth analysis on this issue see When is a Feminist Not a Feminist?
More reading on female intrasexual competition:
The development of human female competition: allies and adversaries
Joyce F. Benenson
A Mind Of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women
Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes
Joyce F Benenson
A few articles and op.eds on other sites not suitable for DGS
If any man could draw up a comprehensive, infallible guide to navigating this treacherous territory, we would certainly erect a statue to his everlasting memory. There is a Twitter account dedicated to exploring and enumerating precisely the distinctions and differences between the acceptably erotic and the intolerably sexist. It’s called @SexyIsntSexist. It is, of course, under the control of a woman.” Neil Lyndon. Do men really understand what sexism is? The Telegraph 20/5/14
My area of research is cross-disciplinary and includes, but it isn’t limited to, evolutionary anthropology, palaeoanthropology, psychology, biology, ecology, primatology, human sexuality and gender studies. For brevity’s sake, I refer to this as Darwinian Gender Studies (DGS). This area represents to me, the consilience of the natural and social sciences, as envisioned by E.O.Wilson. DGS is evidence based and does not follow the orthodox feminist model of post modernism and social constructionist theory.
My PhD thesis will be developing an evolutionary, bio-cultural model of what orthodox feminists call “patriarchy”. I won’t post my whole thesis here – but I will give a general précis of my research interests (including a paper I have co-authored here) and why I believe they are very important today, in a time where political correctness, social justice and toxic feminism has taken us deep down the postmodern rabbit hole. I am an egalitarian, and equity feminist. I am a woman who wants to build bridges of understanding between the sexes not walls of fear and mistrust, which is what I find orthodox feminism does today. I’m passionate about humans and humanity; what we are, what we are not. Two things we are, which we cannot cease to be and also remain human, are a sexually reproducing, pair bonded species. These are basic facts of our biology and psychology, and cannot be erased by social engineering.
In my research, I interrogate orthodox feminist concepts, such as patriarchy, objectification, gender power differentials, mating systems and psychosexual differences using humour and evolutionary explanatory models such as sexual selection, parental investment theory, mutual mate choice, female choice, signalling theory and perhaps most importantly intrasexual competition. History shows us that whenever our species has ever attempted to take control of biology and bend it out of shape to ideological goals, human tragedy always follows. It’s a lesson we still don’t seem to have learned. Because in spite of overwhelming evidence, many people, and especially orthodox feminists, still hold fast to the idea of an endlessly flexible human nature, and indeed, human nature is flexible, but a blank slate it is not. Neither is it a crude caricature of immutable deterministic drives and instincts as often painted within the orthodox feminist doctrine of biological determinism. Human nature is very much mutable, but not infinitely or arbitrarily so, and here lies the nub: Within what may seem like infinite variations of human action and reaction to what life throws at us, our predispositions on a broad scale are actually predictable. There are enough constants within this calculus to recognise the existence of an unmistakably human nature. This nature will vary and recalibrate between individuals and ecologies, but these variations dance around a constant, evolutionary fire.
“Those who journey from political correctness to truth often risk public disapprobation, but it is notable that most never lose their tolerance or humanity. They may question the politics of race, but not that racism is bad; they may question campaigns about women’s pay, but not that women and men deserve equality of treatment.” Browne, A. (2006) The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of political debate in modern Britain. Civitas
I am following in the footsteps of female evolutionary anthropologists, ecologists, biologists, psychologists, philosophers; women such as Barbara Smuts, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Anne Campbell, Helena Cronin, Griet Vandermassen, Catherine Salmon, Maryanne Fisher, Bobby Low, Hanna Kokko, Helen Fisher, Rebecca Sear and many many more. Their work reveals that, far from orthodox feminist fears to the contrary, evolved psychosexual differences do not equate to inferiority. In evolution, we in fact see true equality expressed in discrete and fascinating ways. These women (and many men too) illuminated the role females play as potent agents of evolution via the phenomenon of female choice. These female scientists affected an unsung revolution – unsung by feminism, not evolutionists – by shattering the male perspective biases that once dominated Darwinism. They did this, not with declarations of war against patriarchy and angry rhetoric, but with rational thought.
Unlike orthodox feminists, I’m not angry. I’m passionate. Passionate about truth seeking. When it comes to the principles of natural selection – the struggle to survive – men and women differ very little. Rather, it is in the principles of sexual selection – the struggle not just to survive but thrive enough to have offspring and allow them to thrive also – it is here that the main differences start to become manifest None of these differences equate to inferiority.
I’m passionate about logic and rationalism – something women have nothing to fear from! Yet feminists do fear it, as philosopher Janet Radciffe Richards notes in her book The Sceptical Feminist,
“…in spite of girls doing better at school than boys, feminists are still woeful at rationality…feminism has some tendency to get stuck in the quagmire of unreason from time to time [but] it cannot be denied that adopting an anti-rational stance has its uses; it can be turned into an all purpose escape route from tricky corners”
This is a very good description of the majority of feminisms today, be they radical, liberal, intersectional or any other tribe battling for dominance in the victim narrative. All eschew logic and reason and all are in thrall to the flying patriarchal spaghetti monster in the sky. Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges must be spinning in their graves. But then again, today they would also be dismissed as cis white privileged scum.
What I am most passionate about is having the opportunity to have a role, however small, in helping us better understand ourselves as a species. It’s an investigation that could save us. A cross-disciplinary advancement of a consolidated theory of all variables noted under the term “patriarchy” has huge policy implications. It not only pertains to the oppression of women but of men also. An analysis of the true dynamics of resource control is especially pertinent in a world in which resources are predicted to become scarce.
As a woman, I am interested in the unique selection pressures women face due directly to their sex. But as an evolutionist, this interest does not make me blind to the fact that men face their own unique selection pressures for the same reasons. Indeed, the evidence seems to point to males being subject to much more intense pressures than females, not least in the battle to actually be born male!
One sex cannot be understood except in light of the other. Men and women have co-evolved, each shaping the other both physically and psychologically via sexual selection. Men desire power and resources because women desire men who have power and resources. And female power, well that doesn’t look like male power, and so often goes unseen, especially by feminists. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it, or use it against each other. From an evolutionary perspective, feminism can be categorised as the study of the conflict between the sexes – intersexual conflict – with a particular interest in proximate mechanisms of how men oppress women and how this oppression can be countered. But this is only half the story. Evolutionists posit that to really understand intersexual conflict one must also analyse intrasexual conflict, and broaden the enquiry to include an analysis of ultimate mechanisms of not just how, but why, men pursue the goal of power and resource control (see above). The focus on both intersexual competition (the battle between the sexes) and intrasexual competition (the battle within a sexes) is central to Darwinian Gender Studies. Feminism is itself a battleground fraught with female intrasexual competition.
Intrasexual competition has two strands, male-to-male competition and female-to-female competition. Much is known about male intrasexual competition (but is totally ignored by orthodox feminisms), but outside of evolutionary theory, less is known about conflict between women; female intrasexual competition. It is the pink elephant in the feminist room. Competition within a sex is always much more intense than between sexes. Using female intrasexual competition as a lens to look anew on hot feminist topics such as the beauty industry, the rise in cosmetic surgery, the size zero controversy, anorexia, the endless bitching and wars of attrition between the many tribes of feminisms; female intrasexual competition brings fascinating new insights, as these phenomena seem to be expressions of female competition not male oppression at all.
None-the-less, there is still a comfortable consensus within orthodox feminisms that the beauty ‘ideal’ is a tyranny perpetrated upon women by the male patriarchy. “Feminists down the ages have argued that the oppression of women is played out on their bodies, their clothes, their style of adornment. To politicise dress has been one of the enduring projects of the women’s movement.” (Walter,N. 1999) Naomi Wolf tackled this concept in her enormously successful book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. It suggests that this patriarchal strategy is one of ‘divide and rule’ as it “creates a climate of competitiveness among women that divides them from each other.” (Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001)
Competitiveness is the key word here… Perhaps the idea of sanctioning the idea, nay the fact, of female intrasexual competition seems frightening for orthodox feminists because on the surface of it, it threatens the very notion of a ‘sisterhood’. Yet we know that men are murderously competitive with one another, as homicide rates attest, and this does not seem to threaten their notion of ‘the patriarchy’. The evidence that the beauty myth may not be a tyranny perpetuated on women by men, but on each other (if it is a tyranny at all), reveals a much more complex and fascinating picture of female agency. It also goes far to liberate women from the doctrine of passive femininity.
The fact is, women are fiercely competitive, but as the existence of feminism attests, this does not stop women cooperating to face challenges. Although, as feminism also shows, its wilful ignorance of human nature means feminists cannot agree on anything for long. This explains the many tribes within feminism, and the fiercely defended hierarchies that exist within feminism itself.
I do not deny that these revelations are tricky for feminists to negotiate, but that is no reason for not taking them on. That female intrasexual competition exists is not in doubt. The degree of it however will vary from culture to culture. We know dominance hierarchies exist in many species and all apes. We know females have a large role in the construction and maintenance of such hierarchies. We also know that women are often not united in their interests, and compete with other women for resources and mates. An individuals environment is crucial to how they calibrate their own needs.
I also want to study sexual economics and the female control hypothesis. This is a fascinating idea which is laid out in the paper The Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality by cultural psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge. This suggests that in our environment in the West, it is women more than men who control the sexuality of females; their daughters, their peers and their rivals especially! Lets suppose for a moment, that Susan Brownmiller stumbled upon a truth when she said that fear of rape was an institutional tool to keep all women in a state of fear. Who is wielding that tool today via the meme of ‘rape culture’ on university campuses by use of false statistics? Orthodox feminists, that’s who.
If I could sum up my research goals, it is the following quote, attributed aptly to both a man and a woman – the functional, inspirational human dyad of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan: “If we do not know what we are capable of…then we do not know what to watch out for, which human propensities to encourage, and which to guard against.” Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. I believe that it is vitally important that we understand our biological heritage just as much as our cultural.
One thing I have learned in the current culture sex war is that those in denial of our biology seem the most enslaved by it, especially their tribal instincts. So, where to now for Darwinian Gender Studies? I have been studying and developing Darwinian Gender Studies for 10 years with the help of some truly wonderful mentors such as Professor Daniel Nettle (Ncl) , Dr Helena Cronin (Darwin@LSE), Dr Griet Vandermassen (Ghent) and Dr Robert King (UCC). At the moment I’m an independent researcher – I’m independent because I am an unorthodox candidate for academia having left school at 16 with zero qualifications. The careers advisor at the time recommended I work on the cheese counter at the local supermarket. It’s a long story, and along the way I was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum as an adult (something I experience as an overload of empathy not a deficit). Since then – and not without a huge amount of effort I may add – I have found my way to a place today where I have been privileged to be offered an unconditional place on a postgraduate programme in Evolutionary Anthropology at one of the UK’s best red brick universities. I reveal the fact of my aspergers not to play the pity card, but in the hope that it can help – maybe even inspire – those who also have a diagnosis on the spectrum. To show that seeming weaknesses can actually be strengths. Help me make this happen. Donate here http://www.gofundme.com/paulawright or boost this blog.
Thanks for reading.
Further reading Griet Vandermassen Sexual Selection: A Tale of Male Bias and Feminist Denial Griet Vandermassen: Who’s Afraid of Charles Darwin: Debating Feminism and Evolutionary Theory Anne Campbell: A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Mothernature Susan Pinker: The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap Christina Hoff Sommers: Who Stole Feminism? Cindy Metson & David Buss: Why Women Have Sex; Women reveal the truth about their sex lives, from adventure to revenge (and everything in between) E.O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Jerome H.Barklow (ed): Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists