Dagens kvinnekonge: Griet Vandermassen

Charles DarwinWho’s Afraid of Charles Darwin? Debating Feminism and Evolutionary Theory

Dette er tittelen på boken Griet Vandermassen ga ut i 2005.

  • Hva slags konsekvenser har/har ikke evolusjonsteori for feminisme?
  • Kan feminismen tilføre evolusjonsteorien noe?
  • Har kanskje  mannlig bias tilslørt viktige perspektiver ved evolusjonsteori som feministisk teori bør ta et grundigere oppgjør med?

Hva er forholdet mellom essensialismen vi har forsøkt å unslippe i noen tiår nå, evolusjonsteori og feminisme? Kvinnekongene har funnet en kilde som inspirerer oss til å tenke to ganger. Griet Vandermassen, filosof ved Ghent Universitet fikk derfor en e-post fra Kvinnekongene 13. mars, 2010. Vandermassen er dagens kvinnekonge!

On the importance of evolutionary theory for feminism by Griet Vandermassen

As a feminist, I think women are sometimes (or often, depending on where you live) faced with specific conditions created by men that are detrimental to women. Denying women equal rights is one of the most obvious; a man-made world that subtly gives women fewer chances than men (e.g., machismo in politics or an absence of well-organized day-care centres), and sexual violence are other examples. If I want to remedy these situations, I want the most reliable knowledge about their causes that I can get. Which means that I will want to look at the most up-to-date scientific research into human nature/human motivation, and how it might or might not be gendered, that is at my disposal. It seems so obvious to me: you have to know the material you’re working with in order to be able to act upon it as efficiently as possible, given your political aims. False assumptions about male and female nature, based on ideology and wishful thinking, won’t get us anywhere and can even cause harm. Feminist thinking as it is now is often male-standardized, in my opinion, precisely because it assumes that women are, to some extent, repressed men, and that truly liberated women will want the same things men want, and will act the way men do. This easily leads to normative thinking: feminism becomes not so much an ideology and political program aimed at letting women express themselves the way they really want to, but a program aimed at having women live their lives in a way delineated by others.

Another reason why evolutionary theory is important to feminism, is that this position offers many scientific benefits to feminism. Feminism as it is now does not have a sound theory of human nature. What it has is a series of badly supported and often internally contradictory theories. Hence it sees itself confronted with many puzzles that are no puzzles at all when looked at from an evolutionary perspective. The latter offers so many answers to questions feminism has been grappling with for so long: Why do men want to control women? Why is patriarchy universal? Why is sexual violence perpetrated almost exclusively by men? Why is female beauty important to men worldwide? How to create a theory that allows for differences between women while at the same time justifying universal claims about them (the problem of ‘essentialism’, that feminists have never been able to solve)? And because evolutionary theory is a scientific theory, not an ideology, it does not tell us where to go from here. It offers us insights into typically male and female motivation, but we decide for ourselves what we want to do with this knowledge. We decide what our goals and values are. Hence an evolutionary perspective cannot threaten the feminist ideal of a society in which women feel as free as men to pursue the kind of life they want to live. It does, however, threaten traditionally feminist methods to create such a world (it also threatens the specific outcome feminists typically envision: a world in which gender has become a more or less meaningless world). Denying gender difference, by raising girls and boys in strictly gender neutral ways, and by dismissing typically feminine interests and inclinations as a sign of indoctrination or weakness, will not do. We will have to take gender differences seriously, which may sometimes mean treating people unequally in the name of equality. Girls, for instance, typically score worse than boys on mathematical problem solving and geometry (but better than boys on mathematical calculation). A special focus on girls in class with regard to mathematical problem solving and geometry might get more girls to enjoy doing math, which might lead them to choose a more technical profession later in life. Moves like these, of course, imply a willingness to acknowledge some statistical differences between the sexes in the distribution of cognitive skills. Only by acknowledging difference can we start to remedy it, if we deem its consequences undesirable.

And as an extra: If gender runs near the core of human identity, as seems to be the case, not acknowledging it might shortchange people and cause confusion and stress in children and young adults. It should be possible to go beyond gender-based stereotypes without trying to make boys and girls into something they are not, by trying to feminize and masculinize them respectively.


We are proud to announce Griet Vandermassen as an honourable Kingwoman; for exploring this perspective of evolutionary theory and feminism and for sharing her insight!