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Did Victorian sexism influence Darwin’s theory of sexual selection? Of course it did.


It proposes simple explanations that don’t hold up in the biological complexity of the natural world:

according to a new paper, published in Science, Charles Darwin’s patriarchal world view led him to dismiss female agency and mate choice in humans.

He also downplayed the role of female variation in other animal species, assuming they were rather uniform, and always made similar decisions. And he thought there was enormous variation among the males who battled for female attention by showing off stunning ranges of skills and beauty. This maintained the focus on the dynamics of male dominance hierarchies, sexual ornamentation and variation as drivers of sexual selection, even if females sometimes did the choosing.

But do Darwin’s ideas on sexual selection hold up today?

Matthew Wills, “Evolution: how Victorian sexism influenced Darwin’s theories – new research” at The Conversation (January 20, 2022)

Wills offers a number of thoughts as to why they don’t, adding,

Inevitably, Darwin’s world view was shaped by the culture of his time, and his personal writings make it difficult to mount a particularly robust defence. In a letter from 1882, he wrote “I certainly think that women, though generally superior to men to [sic] moral qualities are inferior intellectually; & there seems to me to be a great difficulty from the laws of inheritance … in their becoming the intellectual equals of man”.

He also deliberated over the relative merits of marriage, famously noting: “Home, & someone to take care of house — Charms of music & female chit-chat. — These things good for one’s health. — but terrible loss of time”.

Matthew Wills, “Evolution: how Victorian sexism influenced Darwin’s theories – new research” at The Conversation (January 20, 2022)

Eye candy: The male pipefish incubates the eggs:

By the way, how could the pipefish’s behavior possibly have evolved without some underlying intelligence in the universe?

We hope this sort of discussion won’t lead to efforts to “deplatform” Darwin because there are lots of discussions we need to have. The good news is that, after all these years, it looks like we are beginning to have some of them.

The paper is closed access.

You may also wish to read: Commentator Vox Day has some harsh words for E. O. Wilson’s detractors at Scientific American. The thing is, when Wilson was alive, Darwinians denied the racism or insisted it was irrelevant and that Darwin’s sacred cause was to oppose slavery, yada yada …

It is important to keep in mind any historical figure lived in their time, not ours. He was a man of his time and biased by those things he was taught to believe to be true. In some cases, such as racism, he went beyond the norms, but was still in line with the elites of his day. Darwin should be debated on evidence, rather than what he believed compared to what is known today. The evidence tells us that Darwin's beliefs were wrong on everything from speciation to race. Speciation has never been witnessed and, had he done his due diligence, would have realized humans are nothing like the rest of the animals. He should judged by the standard of his day, which was that of a lazy person who was determined to find what he wanted to find. BobRyan
from a Darwinian paper (2007)
Challenging Darwin’s theory of sexual selection May a biologist in these polarized times dare suggest that Darwin is a bit wrong about anything? Even worse, does a biologist risk insult, ridicule, anger, and intimidation to suggest that Darwin is incorrect on a big issue? We have a test case before us. Darwin appears completely mistaken in his theory of sex roles, a subject called the ‘theory of sexual selection.’1
https://www.amacad.org/publication/challenging-darwins-theory-sexual-selection martin_r
More precisely, the culture of his caste. Farm and artisan households in the 1850s didn't have "charms of music and female chit-chat". Everyone was expected to work as soon as they could hold a tool or pick up a bucket. polistra

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