Upset on Planet Earth

An Alien Meme About Sex Boggles the Mind

In Salvo 45, I imagined how human behavior on planet Earth might look to an extraterrestrial observer ("Sex from Outer Space"). Another hypothetical extraterrestrial observer recently has visited Earth, this time in the pages of a new book by Steve Stewart-Williams, associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus. Published by Cambridge University Press, The Ape That Understood the Universe: How the Mind and Culture Evolve begins with a report from a hyper-intelligent alien who is "a stranger to many elements of human life that . . . we simply take for granted."

The alien observes in his written report that humanoids "come in two main varieties: male and female." Not only do males and females "look somewhat different, they behave somewhat differently too." He suspects that "human sex differences are not purely products of cultural programming," although the differences are "more modest than those seen in most other species." He then warns, "Incidentally, should you ever have the misfortune of meeting a human being, don't mention any of these sex differences. Many humans find them strangely upsetting."

Why upsetting? Our alien doesn't say, but it becomes clear later on. Stewart-Williams is an evolutionary psychologist (and so no friend of intelligent design), whose candor on the current issue of sexual differences is arresting. He begins his chapter on sex by quoting a "wisecrack": "Everyone knows that men and women are different . . . except social scientists." He notes the physical differences in reproductive "equipment," body size, strength, and longevity between the sexes, as well as some non-physical differences, such as that men watch more sports and porn than women do; that men are more interested in things and machines, and less interested in people, than women are; and that men and women gravitate toward different professions.

There are always exceptions—tall women and female engineers—but "the idea that there are average differences between the sexes seems blindingly obvious to most people. Perhaps equally obvious is the idea that these differences are not merely cultural conventions." They're built in.

But "to voice such thoughts on a university campus has been to wander into a political minefield. What was common sense to most people throughout most of human history transforms into heresy the moment one crosses the threshold of the ivory tower." The three typical responses to assertions of differences between the sexes are, he says, to deny the differences, to blame them on discrimination or a "patriarchal" society, and to chalk them up to socialization.

Some parents have swallowed the socialization theory whole hog, even going so far as to conceal the sex of their infant children—whom they call "theybies"—from others, ostensibly so their children will be treated without "sexual prejudice" and will be able to determine for themselves at a later date what "gender" they are. (Perhaps "maybies" is a better term than "theybies"?) What is the first question that comes to mind when someone tells you, "I just had a baby!"? Most people want to know, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Parents of theybies oppose this response as purely a product of socialization.

But even preschool children know that boys and girls are different, and not because of social construction. They can see and sense the differences. However, today more and more children are being "educated" to change their minds, to believe that socialization is what makes boys and girls. Ironically, they must be socially reconstructed to believe this—by their schoolteachers or parents.

Many young students realize they will face social censure if they dare to disagree, so they are conforming to the confusion. They don't want to upset their teachers or parents. Salvo begs to differ. Falsehood itself is upsetting and needs to be overturned. Pushback is required.

is the executive editor of Salvo and the  Director of Publications for the Fellowship of St. James.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #46, Fall 2018 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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