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Have Only Men Evolved?

  • Ruth Hubbard
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 161)

Abstract

Science is made by people who live at a specific time in a specific place and whose thought patterns reflect the truths that are accepted by the wider society. Because scientific explanations have repeatedly run counter to the beliefs held dear by some powerful segments of the society (organized religion, for example, has its own explanations of how nature works), scientists are sometimes portrayed as lone heroes swimming against the social stream. Charles Darwin (1809–82) and his theories of evolution and human descent are frequently used to illustrate this point. But Darwinism, on the contrary, has wide areas of congruence with the social and political ideology of nineteenth-century Britain and with Victorian precepts of morality, particularly as regards the relationships between the sexes. And the same Victorian notions still dominate contemporary biological thinking about sex differences and sex roles.

Keywords

Sexual Selection Energetic Investment Mountain Sheep Group Marriage Social Doctrine 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    For a discussion of this process, see Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Berger and Luckmann have characterized this process as “trying to push a bus in which one is riding.” [Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1966), p. 12.]. I would say that, worse yet, it is like trying to look out of the rear window to watch oneself push the bus in which one rides.Google Scholar
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    Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Century (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Anchor Books Edition, 1961), p. 24.Google Scholar
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    William Irvine, Apes, Angels, and Victorians (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), p. 98.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Marshall Sahlins, The Use and Abuse of Biology (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1976), pp. 101–102.Google Scholar
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    Francis Darwin, ed., The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (New York: Dover Publications, 1958), pp. 42–43.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 200–201.Google Scholar
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    Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), p. 45.Google Scholar
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    Though not himself a publicist for social Darwinism like Spencer, there can be no doubt that Darwin accepted its ideology. For example, near the end of The Descent of Man he writes: “There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring.” Marvin Harris has argued that Darwinism, in fact, should be known as biological Spencerism, rather than Spencerism as social Darwinism. For a discussion of the issue, pro and con, see Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1968), Ch. 5: Spencerism; and responses by Derek Freeman and others in Current Anthropology 15 (1974), 211-237.Google Scholar
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    Antoinette Brown Blackwell, The Sexes Throughout Nature (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975; reprinted Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1978). Excerpts in which Blackwell argues against Darwin and Spencer have been reprinted in Alice S. Rossi, ed., The Feminist Papers (New York: Bantam Books, 1974), pp. 356-377.Google Scholar
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    Eliza Burt Gamble, The Evolution of Woman: An Inquiry into the Dogma of her Inferiority to Man (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894).Google Scholar
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    Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man (New York: Modern Library Edition), p. 69.Google Scholar
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    Elaine Morgan, The Descent of Woman (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
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    Darwin, Origin of Species ..., p. 567.Google Scholar
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    Ibib., p. 580.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 582.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 867.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 873.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 873-874.Google Scholar
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    Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, E. B. Leacock, ed. (New York: International Publishers, 1972), p. 138.Google Scholar
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    One of the most explicit contemporary examples of this literature is E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975); see especially chapters 1, 14–16 and 27.Google Scholar
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    Wolfgang Wickler, The Sexual Code: The Social Behavior of Animals and Men (Garden City: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1973), p. 23.Google Scholar
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    Valerius Geist, Mountain Sheep (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 190.Google Scholar
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    George C. Williams, Sex and Evolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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    Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1975), pp. 316–317. Wilson and others claim that the growth of a mammalian fetus inside its mother’s womb represents an energetic “investment” on her part, but it is not clear to me why they believe that. Presumably the mother eats and metabolizes, and some of the food she eats goes into building the growing embryo. Why does that represent an investment of her energies? I can see that the embryo of an undernourished woman perhaps requires such an investment — in which case what one would have to do is see that the mother gets enough to eat. But what “energy” does a properly nourished woman “invest” in her embryo (or, indeed, in her egg)? It would seem that the notion of pregnancy as “investment” derives from the interpretation of pregnancy as a debilitating disease.Google Scholar
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    Ruth Herschberger, Adam’s Rib (1948; reprinted ed., New York: Harper and Row, 1970).Google Scholar
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    Furthermore, a woman’s eggs are laid down while she is an embryo, hence at the expense of her mother’s “metabolic investment.” This raises the question whether grandmothers devote more time to grandchildren they have by their daughters than to those they have by their sons. I hope sociobiologists will look into this.Google Scholar
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    Nineteenth-century feminism is often dated from the publication in 1792 of Mary Wollstonecraft’s (1759-1797) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; it continued right through Darwin’s century. Darwin was well into his work at the time of the Seneca Falls Declaration (1848), which begins with the interesting words: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them...” (my italics). And John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) published his essay on The Subjection of Women in 1869, ten years after Darwin’s Origin of Species and two years before the Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Google Scholar
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    William Howells, Evolution of the Genus Homo (Reading: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1973), p. 88.Google Scholar
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    Kenneth P. Oakley, Man the Toolmaker (London: British Museum, 1972), p. 81.Google Scholar
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    Howells, p. 133.Google Scholar
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    Evelyn Reed, Woman’s Evolution (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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    Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1945; reprinted ed., Penguin Books, 1970), p. 6.Google Scholar
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    M. Kay Martin and Barbara Voorhis, Female of the Species (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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    Rayna R. Reiter, ed., Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  37. 39.
    _This is what Sarah Blaffer Hardy and Nancy Tanner have done. See Sarah Blaffer Hardy, The Woman That Never Evolved (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981); and Nancy Makepeace Tanner, On Becoming Human (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  38. 40.
    Darwin, Origin of Species ..., p. 909.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Hubbard
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityUSA

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