Evolutionary biologists put the ‘manosphere’ on notice

6 minute read

Evolutionary scholars want you to stop mis-using their concepts. Those theories don’t mean what you think they mean.

There are perfectly legitimate reasons for taking a deep interest in the evolutionary psychology of human female mating strategies. Perhaps you’re an anthropology student, a historical novelist, a psychologist, or a reality TV producer. 

But some have nefarious intentions, according to research published in the journal of Evolutionary Human Sciences

“[E]volutionary hypotheses on female mating strategies are routinely invoked among the antifeminist online communities, collectively known as ‘the manosphere’,” the authors from Kent, UK, and Lille, France, warn.  

And frankly, they’re sick of it. 

“Evolutionary scholars might be surprised to see sexist worldviews reinforced by the ‘dual mating strategy’ and ‘sexy son’ hypotheses, or by the latest research on the ovulatory cycle,” they write. 

“The manosphere has its own version of evolutionary psychology, mingling cutting-edge scientific theories and hypotheses with personal narratives, sexual double standards and misogynistic beliefs. After analysing this phenomenon, this article suggests ways to mitigate it.” 

Of course, internet misogynists are not the first to manipulate evolutionary approaches to human behaviour for their own ends. 

Everyone likes to claim Darwin for their own – 19th century feminists used sexual selection through female choice to bolster the campaign for women’s autonomy, and survival of the fittest is an unshakeable ideological pillar for fiscal libertarians, the authors point out, so the “manosphere” can’t be accused of originality. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. 

“These (mis)understandings of evolutionary psychology (EP) should be extremely concerning to those working in the field because legitimate scientific hypotheses are routinely used to justify disdain towards women,” they say. 

And they’re looking at you, incels (“involuntary celibates”), the Red Pill (TRP), Pickup-Artists (PUAs), Men’s Rights’ Activists (MRAs), and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW).  

The Back Page will refrain from providing links, for obvious reasons. Muck up your own search history and leave us out of it thank you very much. 

You really don’t have to go there though, because the authors bravely delved into three decades of manosphere online discourse (from 1993-2022). And they found that, yep, evolutionary psychology was pretty popular on those pages, mainly because of the obsession with sex. 

Because evolutionary psychology is, well, huge, the authors had to narrow it down, concentrating specifically on references to female mating strategies (just as quite a lot of the manosphere does too).  

Theories on female mating strategies have grown in number since the 1970s. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of ideas. Macaques and bonobos have really shown us the way when it comes to realising that not all women are “coy” or lacking in eagerness to mate, nor necessarily very selective and sometimes monogamous but sometimes not. Females can, you know, have varied behaviours according to circumstances. This is all very good for biological sciences and for feminism, say the authors.  

“Given this legacy, evolutionary scholars might be quite surprised to see evolutionary research on female mating strategies appropriated in misogynistic ways,” the authors say. 

The dual mating hypothesis is particularly popular, they found, and the basis of a lot of Ah-ha moments like this one from an MGTOW thread on the social media platform Reddit: 

“‘It’s 2019, we all know the secret females have been hiding for over a million years now. DUAL MATING STRATEGY. F&*k the alphas [alpha males], suck resources and attention from all others’.” 

And another on the same platform from a Red Pill thread:  

“There is an observed dualistic mating strategy observed in primates and anecdotally in humans. Women have two motives for using sex. Primal: in an intimate reproductive urge to obtain genes from a partner. Passion and horniness. Transactional: in a survivalist exchange to obtain resources from a partner. Female Bonobos will trade sex for food, and women will marry rich men they are not sexually attracted to.” 

In this world, there is no grey area of hypotheses, just the hard world of facts, along with citations that don’t in fact back up the argument, the researchers found. And, oh yes, it’s deliberate.  

“People do not consciously act in their genes’ best interests. Yet, the use of the term ‘strategy’ in the evolutionary literature misleadingly reinforces that impression,” the authors say.  

Hence the conclusion that feminism is, you guessed it, a sexual strategy. 

Other theories-as-facts are around extra pair mating, used to assert that all women are cheaters because it’s a biological drive (and your girlfriend definitely will, especially if you’re not an alpha male). 

“Our analysis revealed a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle shifts occur between EP and its manosphere version,” the authors write. 

“Mostly gone are the marks of hypothesising. So are the precautions about using the ‘gene’s eye view’ shortcut, or about the conditional nature of instincts. The timeline also changes: while academic hypotheses dwell on the aggregate behaviour of our ancestors over millennia, their manosphere versions are more unclear on that aspect.” 

Of course, “this is coupled with a total absence of discussion on male sexuality and its evolutionary underpinnings”. 

Evolutionary biology scholars can’t do much to stop their work being misinterpreted in hateful ways, the authors admit.  

But they can make it harder to do, starting with ditching the morally loaded terms “cuckold” and “infidelity” and “promiscuity”. Language matters, the authors stress. 

Secondly, you might think you don’t need to state the obvious in a scientific paper, because your readers are colleagues who know all about the ultimate/proximate distinction and that behaviours from the distant past are not necessarily still with us. 

“What our analysis reveals however, is that these articles are also routinely read, shared and discussed by online communities. Moreover, in abstracts, titles and conclusions, academic publishing also encourages the communication of results in very definite terms,” the authors point out. 

Finally, go on, engage, call it out. Write a paper like this one, they say.  

“Ultimately, this might not contribute to mitigating the prevalence of EP in manosphere communities – after all, EP is a rich and blossoming discipline. 

“However, it would at least make it harder for serious scholarship to get assimilated by the general public to reactionary and misogynistic discourse.”  

Evolutionary Human Sciences (2023), online 30 August 

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