Much of evolutionary psychology’s work on gender has rested on a simple paradigm: females are choosy in mate selection, while males will just promiscuously stick it anywhere. I’ve written before on how evolutionary psychology has a tendency towards producing retroactive explanations for modern gender roles and saying we somehow evolved that way.
The mate selection paradigm in particular holds a singular intuitive appeal–if you happen to be a sexist. This is why vast swathes of pseudoscientific theory rest upon it, which trickles down into sexists arguing that they’re not being sexist, this is just how things are and it’s a scientific fact.
But what if that paradigm turned out to be wrong? It rests, largely, on a single iconic study of fruit fly mating behaviour. Now, if we pretend that human and fly mating behaviour is in any way comparable in the first place, it turns out that the study was fatally flawed and impossible to replicate.
The original study was carried out in 1948. Geneticist Angus Bateman put some mixed fruit fly populations in jars, let them mate, and then had a look at whose offspring survived into adulthood. Being 1948, he couldn’t do this by analysing the offspring’s DNA, so he went for the next best thing: he used fruit flies with really distinctive mutations and only bothered examining the offspring who had freakish hideousness identifiable from both parents.
These mutant fruit flies, as it happened, had a nasty habit of dropping dead before adulthood if they ended up with a mutation from both parents: having curly wings and thick bristles has a fairly poor effect on aerodynamics. This effect completely skewed the sample and fucked everything up statistically. While Bateman concluded that males have more offspring when they’re promiscuous and this doesn’t work for females, the findings of the replication were incredibly conclusive.
Also, applying the mating habits of ugly fruit flies with human mating behaviour is probably a little bit silly, evolutionary psychology.
The lead author of the replication study, Patricia Gowarty interprets the results positively: it’s time to build some new paradigms. I wholeheartedly agree with this, but the cynical part of me wonders if this will happen. There are many vested interests tied up in the mate selection paradigm: vast areas of theory are built upon this one study, which will require revision and–shock, horror–examination of the social implications of this.
I would welcome this. I am not sure if the institutions are ready.