Sex Differences: Evolved, Constructed, and Designed

Article excerpt

Evolutionary psychology (EP) is reviewed as one currently popular theoretical framework to explain and predict psychological and behavioral differences between women and men. This approach has considerable promise, but there are numerous logical, theoretical, and methodological problems yet to be resolved. Social constructionism (SC) is briefly reviewed as an alternative approach that more adequately accounts for gender and sexual diversity; however it minimizes human embodiment. Both approaches deny a supernatural or spiritual dimension in creation; EP often explicitly assumes philosophical naturalism-a belief in a material universe in which evolutionary processes are random and purposeless. This assumption limits its ability to account for several aspects of the experience and the expression of human sexuality. The intelligent design (ID) approach is considered here as a possible complement to EP and SC. The key difference is foundational: ID assumes and infers the necessity of a supernatural, purposeful el ement. This assumption provides a broader interpretive framework and some potentially novel predictions about human sexuality. All three approaches have something to contribute to our understanding of human sexuality, and I conclude that a cautious, critical mutual engagement may enable us to transcend the dichotomies and limitations of each theoretical framework.

Few topics generate more fascination and controversy than the question of what it means to be sexual: female and male. North American popular media uses images and information to suggest that women and men are virtually different species, while promising to explain the mysteries of one sex to the other. Since the late 1980's, the technology-based surge in the neurosciences and genetics has revealed sex differences in physiological systems, brain structure and function, and cognitive abilities by linking them to genetically driven hormonal effects, which has fueled the popular belief in a deep and immutable gender dichotomy. More recently, a new player has entered the "gender wars," weighing in heavily in support of innate, genetic origins of an astonishingly wide range of sex differences. Evolutionary psychology (EP) claims that universal differences between females and males reflect the fact that each sex plays different reproductive roles, and therefore has faced different adaptive "problems" during evoluti onary history. This has resulted in naturally selected, genetically based differences in everything from physical and physiological characteristics, mate selection strategies, parenting styles, communication and interpersonal skills, to cognitive abilities.

Does this EP theory have merit? Its proponents certainly declare its scientific and philosophical merits; indeed, many evolutionary psychologists claim that EP provides a powerful and virtually complete account of human nature, including ontological and teleological questions-a meta-narrative of breathtaking proportions (Buss, 1995a; Dawkins, 1986; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992). Its detractors criticize EP for its scientific, political, and philosophical inadequacies (see Rose & Rose, 2000). One objective of this paper is to review and evaluate the merit of EP as an account of human sexuality. Because sexuality includes a broad range of topics, I will restrict my focus primarily to an area that has garnered considerable EP attention: mate selection and marriage.

However, it is one thing to critically evaluate a theory and another thing to propose constructive adjustments or viable alternatives. Thus, another objective of this paper is to explore such alternatives, such as social constructionism (SC). SC scholars argue that sex differences are almost entirely a result of differential socialization of females and males in particular historical and cultural contexts (Hawkesworth, 1997; Kessler & McKenna, 1978; Lorber, 1993). However, while EP has been criticized for not taking the processes of socialization and enculturation sufficiently seriously (Caporael & Brewer, 1991), SC has been criticized for inappropriately minimizing our embodied and evolved natures (Archer, 1996). …


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