Saturday, December 4, 2010

Darwin and Sexual Selection

Darwin's theories of sexual selection were primarily covered in his book The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex but was briefly discussed in class. The idea that males within species are stronger in order to compete with one and other and have distinct characteristics of their sex to display to females is a perfectly sound theory in and of itself, but where the problem lies is in the interpretation that because of these characteristics males are somehow superior. Yes it is absolutely true that males (including human males) are on average physically stronger and bigger than females but this fact is where this theory must stop. Darwin suggests that females are inferior because of their lack of need to develop characteristics such as strength, cunning, and courage. This interpretation is extremely problematic for humans as there are so many biological and societal factors that affect males and females differently such as age, education, marital status and cultural norms. As a feminist it is obvious that I would take offense to the idea that males are superior to females, but I do see the extent to which Darwin was a product of his time. The gender roles in Victorian England are vastly different from those of today and it is easy to see how Darwin would draw from that in considering females inferior. My problem is with how this sexist interpretation of sexual selection in humans can be taken out of context and used to bolster arguments against equality between the sexes. So as I do think Darwin's basic theory has some merit, I do not think enough factors are taken into account when concerning the complexities of human society.

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