A few articles and op.eds on other sites not suitable for DGS
This essay was first published as “When is a Feminist Not a Feminist” as a guest blog on Lee Jussim’s Psychology Today Rabble Rowser blog here. Updated 13/9/17.
“Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.”
“Egalitarianism: The doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”
The two quotes above are sourced from the Oxford Dictionary. On the face of it, feminism and egalitarianism appear to converge. Indeed, it is not unusual to hear feminists appeal to this dictionary definition whenever they asked to describe feminism. I will call this the “reasonable person” defence, e.g., What reasonable person could possibly disagree? The point being, they can’t. Not if they want to remain reasonable in the eyes of others.
But similarly, what reasonable person could disagree with egalitarianism? Both premises are highly reasonable. But as numerous studies and surveys have demonstrated, a majority of people support egalitarian values but do not identify as feminist.    What’s going on? Are these people confused, ignorant, or both?!
It seems the non-feminist (not anti-feminist) egalitarian majority either know or intuitively suspect a crucial difference between the goals of egalitarianism and feminism. Unfortunately, looking to dictionary definitions does not help us articulate what these differences are.
A visit to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us a more detailed description of both concepts. The opening preamble to the egalitarian chapter dovetails nicely with the dictionary definition above. The feminist chapter, however, quickly diverges from the dictionary definition, running off into various strands where the key theme is internal disagreement within feminism about what feminism is. It takes just over 3,000 words before the term patriarchy first appears but when it does, it is neither problematic nor contested.
“Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice. (hooks 1989, 22)”
Here is the first hint of what differentiates feminism from egalitarianism. You will note there is no mention of equality by hooks; the goal is “liberation” from “patriarchal domination.”
Ask an orthodox (social constructionist) feminist what feminism means and you are likely to get one of two responses. The “reasonable person” defence is one, while the other, is what I will call the “atomistic dodge”. This entails the feminist stating that feminism is not a monolithic movement, that its aims are too complex to pin down. This position personifies intersectional feminism. Note how the descriptions contradict one another. It is easy to get lost in this equivocal maze.
So, rather than trying to discern the differences between warring feminist factions, I instead asked myself what they had in common. The results help us see the difference between egalitarianism and all feminisms.
In 1963, the liberal feminist Betty Friedan published a book about a “problem with no name.” Seven years later, radical feminists named it “patriarchy.”
Patriarchy was conceived of as the underlying structure which facilitated men’s oppression of women; “a system characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy and competition, a system that [could not] be reformed but only ripped out root and branch.” (my emphasis)
This moment marked a fundamental change in strategy as feminists shifted from a liberal policy of achieving equality through reform, to a radical strategy of trying to dismantle the panchreston known as patriarchy. Around that time, Friedan was unceremoniously kicked out of the organisation she had founded because she wasn’t radical enough. Since that time, patriarchy has remained central to all subsequent waves of feminism. While it is true that the different factions of feminisms have slightly different conceptions of patriarchy, they all agree on the following three premises: [9a]
- Patriarchy is a socially constructed phenomenon which enforces notions of sex and gender that equate to male supremacy and female inferiority .
- Patriarchy is the mechanism by which all men institutionally oppress all women.
- All feminisms are united in the fight against patriarchy (if little else).
Add in postmodern gender theory and you have the four pillars of all feminisms. Even the ones at each other’s throats.
The fact that these founding premises are false is never addressed. They are axiomatic feminist natural laws. Both the existence and origin of patriarchy are assumed by orthodox feminists rather than explored, yet the flawed, circular logic of the these premises represent the ideological bedrock of all orthodox feminisms — from radical to intersectional — and social ‘justice’ activism today.
The orthodox feminist concept of patriarchy is embellished from the anthropological observation that in many cultures men appear to hold more social, economic and political ‘power’ compared to females. Orthodox feminists assume men grasp for power and resources to dominate women because they hate them (misogyny). My research suggests patriarchy is vastly more complex than orthodox feminists have ever imagined and that women have just as much influence in its structure and maintenance as men. As Mary Wollstonecraft noted;
“Ladies are not afraid to drive in their own carriages to the doors of cunning men.”
It is my assertion that patriarchies exist on a wide continuum from malign to benign. I call these two sides ‘reformed’ and ‘unreformed’ patriarchy. Reformed (Western democratic) patriarchy appears to facilitate female choice; unreformed (of the type which appears in theocracies) appears to suppress it. More crucially, reformed patriarchy also appears to protect against unreformed patriarchy. Were orthodox feminists ever successful in their goal of “smashing” patriarchy in the West, the unintended consequences could be catastrophic for civilisation as we know it.
Patriarchy is a large adaptive system which can both oppress and liberate, both male and female. It is largely determined by local ecological pressures, which is why we see so many different versions of it. At its centre is the fact that humans are a sexually reproducing species. Men and women have shaped one another, both physically and psychologically, over millions of years, via the process of sexual selection and mutual mate choice. In turn, we create culture, aka ‘patriarchy’, as our fitness landscape. So feminists want to smash culture. That’s a lot easier to understand.
And here lies the rub for orthodox feminisms enamoured with patriarchy and gender theory today. Heterosexual men and women are attracted to one another precisely because of their stereotypical sexual traits. In fact, they are not stereotypical, they are archetypical. There is a simple dynamic to this: Men want power and resources because women want men who have power and resources.
This isn’t because (as many MRA’s insist) women are selfish gold diggers or men (as many feminists assert) are shallow aesthetes. Sexual dimorphism and the sexual division of labour are not patriarchally imposed tyrannies. They are an elegant and pragmatic solution for a species who give birth to altricial offspring with unprecedentedly long childhoods. This dynamic between the sexes, of teamwork and strong pair bonds, is one of the foundations of our success as a species. The survival of offspring is central to this — whether we choose to have children or not.
The sexes simply cannot be understood except in light of one another and the reason we evolved to cooperate: offspring. It will continue to be so for as long as we remain human.
The orthodox feminisms legacy is one of taking the capricious, delightful and, yes, sometimes cruel battle of the sexes and turned it into a war of attrition. The circular logic also has feminism devouring itself from within.
Last year, one of the the most iconic women of the 20th century, the radical feminist and intellectual, Germaine Greer, was denied a platform to speak at a UK university. Her crime? Greer is what intersectional feminists call a TERF, meaning does not reject biology wholesale and, while she respects the egalitarian rights of men who want to identify, live and love as a woman, she insists this doesn’t actually make them biologically women; they remain trans-women. For this she was stripped of the right to speak, verbally abused and labelled a bigot. The champagne socialist feminist Laurie Penny went so far as to cast Greer in the same light as people who want to murder homosexuals.
Why should women — or men for that matter — mind? In 2014 a trans-woman in the US was awarded “working mother of the year” despite neither giving birth or being primary carer to her children. Recently, Caitlyn Jenner, who has been living as a woman for a few months, was awarded “woman of the year” ahead of countless women of substance who have made extraordinary accomplishments while facing actual selection pressures unique to their biological sex. Men too have their own just as intense, yet unique, selection pressures. Trans-people have their own unique ones too.
Trans-activists are lobbying for a change of language by midwives to refer to people giving birth as “pregnant persons” not women. At a time when people debate whether a woman drinking the odd glass of wine in pregnancyischild abuse, a trans-woman took powerful (but funnily enough not socially constructed) hormones to stimulate lactation. A discussion of the nutritional value of the milk extends to the trans-mother reporting the milk is thick and creamy, which seems to identify it as something other than human breast milk, which is highly dilute and low in fat.
Orthodox feminists frequently claim that we live in a rape culture, even though rape and all violent crime in the West is in steady decline and rape prosecution statistics are on a par with other crimes at over 50%.  In the US there is a ‘progressive’ movement on college campuses to lower the threshold of proof in rape prosecution trials. It is staggering to think these educated people have forgotten terrible lessons within living memory; the bitter crop of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
To balk at this is not hatred or phobia but healthy scepticism. We are all equal before the law under classical liberalism and egalitarianism. This is not the case with orthodox feminism. It places ideology and tenuous group identities before individual people. Individual rights and choices are “problematic”. Women like myself who point out the logical inconsistencies and totalitarian mission creep of feminism are labelled anti-feminist and anti-woman; as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren’t. Feminists are identified by their politics, not their sex or gender. They do not speak for women or the majority of egalitarians in society; they speak only for themselves. The dictionary definition of feminism is in serious need of a rewrite.
For more reading on reformed and unreformed ‘patriarchy’ see this short essay
 Tong, R. (1989). Feminist thought: A more comprehensive introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
[9a] Kruger, Daniel J.; Fisher, Maryanne L.; Wright, Paula Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Vol 8(1), Jan 2014, 3–11 Patriarchy, male competition, and excess male mortality http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2014-01458-002
 de Beauvoir, S. (1949/1986). The second sex. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Cudd, A., & Holstrom, N. (2011). Capitalism, for against: A feminist debate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
 Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001
Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001
 Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792.
Originally published at porlawright.com on December 18, 2015.
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