Book Reviews


A Mind of Her Own: Evolutionary Psychology of Women,
by Ann Campbell

Book Review by William A. Spriggs, July 22, 2004

During the Spring and Summer of 2004, despite the many roadblocks placed in my path that kept me from writing (see my notebook section elsewhere on this website), I have been attempting to establish several principles of, what I am calling, evolutionary feminism; I am proud to reveal that at least two of these principles have been derived from A Mind of Her Own prior to writing this book review. Despite my humble attempts to expand the understanding of the human evolutionary perspective, one does not have to know any of my meager attempts without coming away from reading Anne Campbell's work and not feeling this book will become of the more important ones to be cited concerning feminism in the 21st Century. If the evolutionary viewpoint is expanding to into more and more disciplines, so too then, must the concept of an evolutionary view enter into the realm of feminism; this book seems to fill every crevice.

Ironically, the reasoning behind my statement concerning the book's possible impact on the 21st Century is found on the very last page of the book (Note the shift to 1st person usage).

"Women have been parodied as the gentle sex in convenient opposition to the belligerent male. Men compete, women do not. Men must compete for sex but what is there for women to compete for?.. women must compete for all those requirements that ensure their reproductive success. Competitive reproductive success. When push comes to shove and there is not enough to go around, I am afraid that it must be my progeny, not yours in the next generation. But I will avoid outright violence if I can. Why? Because without me, the chances of my children surviving drop disastrously and offspring survival is the prize that is at stake. Female competition may look different from that of males, but that does not mean that it does not exist. We are competitors - and good ones." P. 310.

It is a matter of recorded history that the science pioneers and the cultural beliefs that followed in Western Civilization throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th Century, have emphatically sold a consensus view that the female is the weaker sex. But, how did science and cultural beliefs be poles apart from Ms. Campbell's argument? How did this consensus determine that the female is non-competitive, weak, coy, non-stoic, and easily frightened at the slightest sign of danger to life and limb? The answer is simple: because the cultural consensus of both genders wanted it that way throughout history because there is a strong basis of biological truth to those beliefs. Those biological pressures then transform into cultural norms that influence groups within local environments. With her biological approach, Ms. Campbell has put the horse in front of the cart where it belongs, but we still need to understand more about the overall pressures behind social norms.

There also are no doubts, that with these social norms dictating behavior, the majority of females throughout history have chosen what they believe to be the best direction to take for passing their genes into the next generation. Relying on the male for resources to aid in child rearing has become the bedrock of conservative and religious fundamentalism. Under male control, males form coalitions to enhance each other's struggle for existence, which consciously or not, they know helps them to accumulate resources that assist them in their individual hierarchical quests. The reason is, once again, simple: the higher the ranking within the hierarchy, the higher the quality and quantity of females that they will be able to attract. And one of the maneuvers that males employ in their coalitions is to restrict resources from females to further increase dependence on males.

But what is happening at this moment in time, (say the beginning of the 21 Century) is that the female, now armed with solid evolutionary basics behind them, are redefining their passage along a new, (and to them) exciting path. You are witnessing evolutionary pressures in motion; and the participants in that voyage are telling you of a new direction that they have found. Some will resist taking the new path, as conservative's always do, as past history has revealed safety in the old ways and advantages to the old behaviors. But the new generation, that seeks the new path, is telling the modern female that their way is much better - and many are now beginning to listen.

But getting back to Ms. Campbell's book, here is why her final paragraph is so important: What Ms. Campbell is suggesting is that yes, the female is more attuned to avoiding risk evoking behavior that leads to violence because of its possible destructive threat to future progeny, but from these evolved pressures, the female has developed more complex, subtle forms of mechanisms to achieve those reproductive successes - and these are highly competitive. Thus, from this scientifically ignored observation, (up till now) emerges the 3rd principle of evolutionary feminism: [The 1st teaches us that females do not form coalitions to attack their own species; the 2nd is that in the nature vs. nurture debate, nurture has greater influence on behavior then genes). That the female is equally competitive in the reproductive process alongside the human male. Some radical feminists may declare at this point that since the female is capable of more complex behavioral mechanisms, shouldn't women be considered superior? Well, at each end of the gender spectrum will you find advocates cheering for their side, and neither side quite gets to the truth. So, why don't we meet in the middle? How about, equal but different? I insist that the mental abilities of both genders be treated equally because of the equal amount of genes passed by both parents to the progeny - it's just that one gender, because of the cost of childbirth and rearing, had to go through a different "school" to learn maneuvers that males were not required to be subtle about.

In the preceding paragraph, I used the phrase scientifically ignored observation as the polite way of stating the truth of why science has never uncovered this obvious fact. Science, along with the rest of the planet has, until just recently, been dominated by the "wisdom" of males, and thus, highly biased toward their own group-identity social norms of reality. In the non-scientific world, women, for most of history until the 20th Century, were denied the vote because of "established norms" dictating that females were overwhelmed with emotions that they could not control, and thus, were, non-rationale creatures. The most curious (to me) is the myth of the biological female menstrual cycle putting emotional strain on the female, thus making her incapable of reasonable thought. I predict that studies on the menstrual cycle and women's rights may be the "in" subject for female (and males with the courage) graduate students in the 21st Century. But, once again, let me caution you: these cultural ideas have taken root because the female and male populations that control the consensus view have chosen this path.

In this same final paragraph, we also find, what I declare to be, the fourth principle of evolutionary feminism: Female competitiveness is highly sensitive to available resources that assist the female in her reproductive selection process. "When push comes to shove and there is not enough to go around..,."p. 310. Ms. Campbell's phrase sums it up beautifully; when resources are limited, the female's competitiveness amongst themselves increases within the cultural, historical, social, and biological frameworks of behavioral reproductive mechanisms found at that particular longitudinal and latitudinal environment varying with specific timelines, i.e., 100,000 years ago, 500 years ago, 1935 -- or present day, 2004. All of these constraints - time, location, social norms, biology - all combine to create evolutionary pressures (when push comes to shove) for both the male and female to solve the problem how to pass their genes into the next generation.

But enough of staying on the last page; we must now turn to the beginning of this monumental book. And like the brilliance found on the final page, Ms. Campbell sets the tone on the first page that guides the entire book:

"In the past twenty years over 110,000 studies of women, gender and sex differences have appeared in academic journals. The questions that the researchers have posed, the methods they have used and the recommendations they have made have been profoundly guided by the zeitgeist of the post-war years." p. 1.

Basically, here is what she is saying: That the social and cultural ideas that have guided the scientific world in the past have overwhelmingly been influenced by the ideas of "what was normal" in the culture. The biological or scientific close examination of nature at work in female and gender issues have been put in the closet and considered irreverent or too dangerous. The title of her chapter gives us another clue: "The Essential Woman: Biophobia and the Study of Sex Differences". Biophobia of course, refers to the fear of the biological approach, and Ms. Campbell makes the proclamation that some social constructionists have kept a self-imposed restraint on biological origins because they may not like what they would find because:

"In short, better not to ask the question if you think you may not like the answer." P. 2.

She continues the chapter with summations of all the previous studies that have guided female and gender studies: Socialization; parenting; child development; self-recognition; social role theories; and the environmental theories, with their emphasis on reinforcement, imitation, cognitive schema, and conformity. Ms. Campbell teaches us that all of these theories explain the transmission of the status quo - but without asking where it came from. It is at this point that the author dips into the explanation of evolutionary psychology as the best answer to this approach. She then gives four features that distinguish the science:
1. It is ultimately concerned with mechanisms of mind and not simply behaviour.
2. It conceives of the mind as modular.
3. It does not conceive of the mind as a fitness-maximizing device (it focuses on mechanisms not behavior).
4. It is chiefly concerned with species-typical adaptations. (It seeks to explain the emotions, algorithms and strategies that are common and central to all human experience) pp. 8 - 11.

She ends this section of the chapter with a call for consilience of all the sciences in order to provide the 'Why?' questions.

In the next section of the chapter, Ms. Campbell addresses what she considers to be the controversial aspects of evolutionary psychology. She breaks them down into nine charges and gives her rebuttals: If you are a critic of the evolutionary approach to human behavior, then this chapter would be of high interest to your position.
1. Evolutionary theory is biological determinism
2. Evolutionary theory is simplistic and reductionistic.
3. There are no human universals and hence no such thing as human nature.
4. Evolutionary psychology is used to naturalize and legitimize the status quo.
5. Culture and technology have so changed the environment that we are freed from natural selection.
6. Evolutionary theory, as part of traditional science, fails to recognize that there can be no objective truth.
7. Evolutionary theory does not resonate with women's experience.
8. Evolutionary theory is tautological.
9. Evolutionary theory is riddled with disagreements. pp. 13-29.

At this juncture, Ms. Campbell discusses Gowaty's 'unity of feminist theory' where she lists that author's nine variations of feminism. [Gowaty, P. A. (1992), "Evolutionary biology and feminism." Human Nature, 3, 217- 49]. Can you name all nine? I have listed this list on my web site, and you can link to them from here. One special note: I have taken the liberty to add evolutionary feminism as the tenth variation. The author finishes the first chapter by asking us three questions about the "battle of the sexes."
1. Are there inequities between women and men in society?
2. Where did they come from?
3. How shall we change them?

Overall, this is a very important chapter in terms of historical, political, social, and scientific background arguments, rebuttals, and theorizing about feminism and gender. Ms. Campbell's rebuttals to the charges against evolutionary psychology are excellent; the chapter is well-laid out, well-planned, and well-researched. I am in awe.

In the second chapter titled, "Mothers matter most: Women and parental investment", the author glides us through the big question: Why does sex exists? The answer of course, is that instead of self-reproduction as the easiest path, natural selection has given us the wisdom of diversity in declaring that it is safer in breeding with others because each individual has disease-fighting abilities that are unique to that individual. Those nasty parasites that infect our bodies are in constant battle with us for survival as well, and when we pass our genes, we inherit those unique parasite-fighting abilities of our mates. It is at this juncture, that we as a species prefer partners that appear healthy and look for clues to those fitness adaptations that battle those nasty pathogens.

The second chapter gives us a look at the following: Sexual, not natural, selection; inclusive fitness; anisogamy; sperm competition and investment time of males and females in reproduction; parental investment; men and the attraction of polygyny; male investment in reproduction; female investment in reproduction. It is at this point in the book where Ms. Campbell is set loose and does a tour de force explanation why women are such heavy investors in the reproductive process and must choose wisely.

Campbell continues in the following chapters covering the following subjects: Women and aggression; Women and status; Women and friendship; Women and competition; Women and crime; Women and marriage, and concludes with her interpretation of the unique woman. But the reason I opened the book review emphasizing Ms. Campbell's views on female competitiveness, is because I feel this subject will become of the most important subjects to be mined for both male and female scientists in the future. Not just women and aggression in general, but in particular her stance on the female's restraint from aggression - the emotion of fear.

"To explain restraint from aggression, we need to find an emotion that would have the effect of giving a high weighing to the costs of physical combat. That emotion is fear. Fear acts as a signal that we are in above our heads and that our best bet is to back-off. The prospect of a dangerous encounter generates tendencies to both fight and flee but the latter wins out more often in women than in men because the fear response kicks in at a lower level of objective danger. The decision to withdraw is made when fear is the predominant emotion. A systematic bias could be introduced between men and women in their willingness to act aggressively if women's fear rises to threshold faster than men's. This weighting would mean that aggression was avoided by women unless there was a spectacularly high pay-off capable of counter-balancing the elevated costs. In the normal run of things, the same situation that would cause a man to hesitate would make a woman back away." pp. 74-75.

Ms. Campbell wrote this section correctly identifying the emotion of fear as a motivating factor in female reproductive strategy. It is my argument that this weighted difference in the fear vs. courage differential between males and females did not go unnoticed by the male-bonded groups that dominated society's early emergence that continue up to our present day. It is possible that males, not under the same biological restraints of reproduction, have viewed the female's "fear" as lack of courage and not as a reproductive strategy? Did the female monthly menstrual cycle contribute to a cultural consensus amongst males and females that the female was not capable of warrior duties and therefore subject to exclusion from male-bonded hunting groups because they could not contribute to the emerging concept of "the public good?"

We know from studying modern hunter-gatherer tribes that initiation rites still exist to prove a young male's courage before entering the world of tribal manhood with their responsibilities and benefits. These manhood acceptance rituals are the entry points to the male-bonded coalitions that I mentioned above that assisted males in accumulating resources, and thus ultimately, attracting the female. If the male failed to achieve acceptance into the courageous male world, he, like the female, found that he was excluded The excluded male faced certain death in our ancestral past because science knows that hunter-gatherers are primarily cooperative in their nature, and despite the Hollywood myth of the Conan the Barbarian or John Wayne stereotypes -- the lone warrior conquering all in their path -- the truth is that excluded males most likely died a slow death due to infrequent hunting successes; not to mention that a man without resources would not be attractive to a potential female and have little success in passing on his genetic legacy. One possible path for survival for the "weak": male could have been his assignment to "female" duties as was the case with early American Indian tribes. Was the concept of someone's inability to contribute to the masculine concept of defensive warrior and contributor of the public good -- the defenders of the tribe, clan, village, state, or nation -- and his assignment to feminine tasks - the starting point for the origin of masculine concepts of homophobia and misogyny? Is there a link with the obvious difference shown by the reproductive female showing fear because of a reproductive strategy and the concept of a "sissy," "feminine-acting" male not capable of being equal to a warrior male? [Please see the p.s. note below] Perhaps; it does seem to fit; however future studies of male-bonding, coalition-building, the exclusion of males to those groups and the connection to creating "weak male" stereotypes await future scientists.

It is in the final chapter titled, Counting the Ways: The Unique Woman is where Ms. Campbell makes our lives a bit difficult; This is in her sub-section titled: Variable Genes Meet Variable Memes. It is not that she has made any errors in this section; it is just my belief that in her careful attempt at accuracy, she has laid out an explanation that would be very difficult for the common person to understand, (I had a difficult time, and I consider myself somewhat educated on the subject). But in her defense, the subject of explaining human behavior with its complex mix of genes and culture in still in its infancy.

Campbell introduces her readers with an emphatic statement: "It is time to consider head-on the fact that people live in social groups that share a common culture - a culture that exerts a powerful impact upon their experience". P. 298. Campbell starts by reminding readers that the concept concerning the mixture of genes and culture combine and effect human behavior was first suggested by Lumsden and Wilson in 1981. From giving Lumsden and Wilson their due credit, Campbell then links their theory to Dawkins' concept of the meme from his famous 1989 book, The Selfish Gene, and links Dawkin's theories to William Durham's 1991 book, Coevolutionary Theory. Campbell then attempts to synthesize the basic ideas that emerge from all these different proposals with her own explanation. On page 305, she presents a chart with her interpretation of the interactions between genes, mind, experience and culture. As mentioned above, I am not quite sure she succeeds as well as I had wished for, but she leaves this section with a gallant hope for the future: "It is not an easy model, and to test it we have to overcome disciplinary boundaries. For many years, the social sciences have been concerned principally with culture and experience. Behaviour genetics has focused on genes and individual differences in temperament. Evolutionary thinkers have sought the origins of universal evolved modules. But one by one the boxes are being joined together." p. 307.

And I believe that is an excellent place to end the review because you already know what she said on the last page of the book. But I leave you with one final and important message from the author: "If there is one message in this book that really matters, it is that all women have not been equal in their reproductive success. True, females show less variance than males but that is immaterial because females are not in competition with them. Each female attempts to leave behind a greater share of her genes than are left by other females." p. 309. Burn that statement into your memory. When science truly begins to wake up concerning gender studies, they will suddenly be confronted by an unmistakable reality: That the vast records of science and culture laid out before us have neglected half the human population and tended to focus on the male side of history as the only gender worth studying; while in fact, in my humble opinion, the female gender has been running the show beneath the radar screen. It is this competitiveness between females that we truly need to focus on and what has been sorely missing from studies. The popular American movie from early 2004 titled, Mean Girls declares to us: Competitive females have always existed and female memories of early high school years (peak reproductive years of hunter-gatherers) make an indelible mark on all females who went through the process. But, science has not paid attention and we are only left with the cultural explanations to muse upon.

Overall, I have to rate this book as one of the monumental works of the early 21st Century concerning feminism. Its evolutionary perspective is precise, well planned, and, and as far as I know, does not miss anything. The book is well researched and flows well from one subject to the next flawlessly, and Ms. Campbell has given science much to digest for many years to come; I will not hesitate to place the book in my Recommended Reading section, but because of its complex style, I will have to place it in the third level. (Generally, for upper college level and beyond; recommended for all members of the Human Behavior & Evolution Society, and professional types. Books located there are written in an academic, formal style).

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[update] Do you think that the "sissy male," "feminine acting" concept that "strong" males would label a weak male as being too far-fetched? Here's an up-to-the minute news flash for you folks: The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger (the former movie actor who played "Conan the Barbarian," mentioned above) was quoted as saying that the politicians blocking his $103 billion proposal for the fiscal year that began July 1 2004 were too weak to stand up to special interests and were "girlie men." The New York Times, July 19, 2004, "Calif. Governor: Budget foes are "girlie men."' By John M. Broder.

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