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photos by Lara Shipley

Stepford Genes II

January 12th, 2005 · No Comments

Will has penned a response in rather muted tones to the post below. Now, I’d avoided visiting Will’s intentions there, but in the response we get a short account of what was behind the original “men need women to be women” post:

[T]he blank slate view…fails to help us understand ourselves by assuming that sexual preference and sexual identity is entirely cultural, and at worst causes a lot of grief by causing people to bang their heads pointlessly against an unbending reality. I find that I have been, quite perversely, made to feel guilty by blank slate ideology for having preferences for women who are, in many ways, traditionally feminine, and for preferring certain traditional gender roles….I had been made to assume that they were cultural, elective, and possibly wrong.

Now, I’d thought it might be something like that, and that’s actually, in a sense, my beef with the line of argument. See, I don’t think this applies to Will, but I do think evolutionary psych arguments have a potential to be abused in much the same way “political correctness” has been. At first, identifying “political correctness” was a necessary way of counterbalancing an ideological hypersensitivity that itself constituted an overcorrection for past unfairness. But it rather quickly became a kind of talisman for the rude or racist to dismiss any criticism.

My worry is that, especially now that the dreaded blank slate/Standard Social Science Model has been pretty well slain, the (correct) idea that there’s some evolved or genetic component to the way gender roles are, on average, expressed becomes a way to dodge self-scrutiny.

Will’s own post evinces a fairly acute awareness of this potential problem. So I mention it less as a response to him than to the form of argument generally. First, even what’s hardwired—an instinct to revenge, or a tendency to not be concerned with the welfare of people outside one’s immediate social group—might be worth trying to suppress or partially mitigate and, indeed, quite subject to at least some degree of cultural modification. And, as I mentioned in the previous post, given the blurry line between what’s hardwired and culturally inculcated, I sometimes worry whether the price of correcting the erroneous “blank slate” model might be to give too free a pass on (for instance) men’s failing to interrogate or reflect on their attitudes about women. “Oh, it’s all in the genes; I can’t help it anyway.”

If you like to play it a little dom in bed, and you can find a willing sub, far be it from me to object. Certainly nobody should be made to feel guilty about having that kind of preference. The worrisome thought is that we reach the point where we don’t even think it’s a good idea to ask: “Is there something deeper behind this that might merit thinking about? Am I threatened by women who aren’t properly submissive, in some way that might limit my relationships to the playing out of these gender role kabuki scripts?” And maybe the honest answer will be: “No.” I’d just hate to think that some mix of sociobiology and a complacent sense that we’ve all assimilated and moved past the insights of feminism prevent our asking the question.

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