A well-known tension exists between evolutionary psychology theorists and feminist theorists. Feminists reasonably complain that evolutionary psychologists are simply reinforcing sexist paradigms—particularly the sexism that still pervades scientific inquiry—while evolutionary psychologists reasonably argue that their findings simply derive from examining our species’ mental adaptations necessary to ensure survival.
I’m not here to argue about which viewpoint is right. Truth probably lies in both modes of inquiry.
However, I’ve been thinking about “toxic masculinity”, a concept that wouldn’t exist without the feminists having identified it.
Let’s assume that “toxic masculinity” exists as the feminists define it.
Let’s also assume that toxic masculinity is a phenomenon we want to rid society of, that it is a bad thing.
Is it enough to simply think our way out of this mess? My experience suggests no. We need to examine the deep psychological pull of toxic masculinity, particularly in woman’s lives. (I’m assuming here without rigor that women are complacent in its social realization—part of the problem).
I propose that evolutionary psychology might explain some of this.
Assume that the patriarchy has dominated human relationships and individual humans’ self-realization since at least the time we settled down to start growing our food (about 10k years ago). Assume further that toxic masculinity evolved in men’s psyche as a way to maneuver within this patriarchy—that men who exhibited toxic masculinity prospered while men who didn’t exhibit it did not. Then it follows that natural selection favored the men who carried toxic behavior.
Women relied on men’s successes, and therefore it is possible that women who found toxic masculinity initially attractive (in terms of sexual/emotional arousal) would have more success finding a mate. Over millennia, natural selection might have favored this behavior.
Thus we may have a deep attraction to toxic masculinity written deep into our DNA.
Okay, so how does this help? If this hypothesis holds water, we know what we are up against and can adjust our cognitive reframing work and cultural change efforts accordingly.