How Girls Evolved to Shop

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Rebecca Watson gave the following talk at Skeptcon. It is funny, well done, and critiques a Pop-Evol-Psy concept or two, which I have also addressed (Why Do Men Hunt and Women Shop?, Understanding Sex Differences in Humans: What do we learn from nature?, Falsehoods: Human Universals, A Tutorial in Human Behavioral Biology, Driving The Patriarchy: Demonic Males, Feminism, and Genetic Determinism, Race, Gender, IQ and Nature, What is the most important human adaptation?, How Do You Get Sexual Orientation and Gender in Humans?, Men = Testosterone Damaged Women!, Sex and Gender in An Odd Primate), as Rebecca notes, thank you Rebecca! I don’t agree with everything Rebecca said about the role of men and women in forager societies, but that isn’t too important to her talk.

The original video is HERE. Please be so kind as to go and “like” it, as there will be many haters who will bother to go and “unlike” it because they are haters.

CLICK HERE for my followup post on this. And, HERE is another, related post.

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23 thoughts on “How Girls Evolved to Shop

  1. How did you feel about her stating that we don’t know much about what hominids were doing during the Pleistocene?

  2. I took that statement to mean that our level of resolution of hominid behavior in the Pleistocene is at an entirely different level than needed to make certain direct inferences.

    Having said that, there are a few things that Rebecca has said in this talk that I would disagree with. The thing is, the conversation about evolutionary psychology is not entirely an academic or intellectual one.

    It’s like dealing with Huxley, who just turned 3. One can reason with him, have a frank conversation about complex topics apply logic, and all that. But he is only 3, so he often picks out only a few phrases and words from these high level conversations and runs with them, and often misses the point.

    Rebecca is a friend and a colleague and she did a great job with many aspects of that talk. I disagree with her on a few points, mainly points that were not central to her overall arguments (of which there were two or three strands) and that she and I will, I hope, get a chance to talk about at some time.

    BUT, if I were to launch into a critique of those points now, and in a casual way, the 3 year olds will hear occasional words and phrases, not understand that this is a big complex conversation with subtleties and nuances and important details and even areas where we nee to know more. They will pick out selected words and phrases, make twitter accounts based on them, and harass everyone involved in the larger conversation with their silly, immature self serving misogynistic and often racist misunderstandings.

    (You all know who I am talking about.)

    What I would normally do in a situation like this is to pick out the two or three areas where I would disagree and taking Rebecca’s comments as a framework (though not necessarily explicitly) write a blog post covering the key points and addressing some of those subtleties and details. I’m not promising to do that, but that could be what happens.

    Rebecca makes a number of key points in her presentation about the research being done. For instance, she points out the panglossian features of some of this work. She talks about how oversimplification of the paleolithic and oversimplification of modern human behavior don’t add up. She makes other points as well, and she gives great and engaging examples.

    The bottom line: The average person running into this research as reported in the popular press can be easily misled by it. The average person who saw Rebecca’s talk first, won’t be so easily misled and will take a more critical and analytical view of it.

    Meanwhile, we see the haters line up to start taking shots at Rebecca and me. Take note of who they are. They are not your friends.

  3. Damn man. I just wanted to know what a bio-anthropologist thought about Watson’s premise that evo-psy has a basic flaw in that we don’t know what was going on in the Pleistocene. Yes, ElevatorGate is a colossal douche but I don’t know what that has to do with this essay from Ed Clint. Clint is not targeting Rebecca Watson for any reason other than the fact that she made sweeping generalizations about a topic that he is studying in an Anthropology department.

  4. I’ve not read an essay by Ed Clint. I doubt I will have time to, but I wish him well in his studies.

    I did address your question, and I understand why it is not satisfying. You asked me how I felt about something you saw as a possible flaw in Rebecca’s talk, and I told you that it made me feel like having a conversation with my friend and also writing a blog post about the topic!

    Here’s the thing. I take issues like gender roles and activity budgets among foragers very seriously and know a lot about them. I take studies of the paleolithic very seriously. I don’t want to address a question that requires 3000 words in a brief comment anyway, though under some conditions I might. But, when there so much idiotic sniping going on, it would simply be a waste of time.

    I have written extensively about all of these issues. I actually have a list of things I plan to write about related to this and I think what you want to know about is on there. Between now and the time I get to that you should have time to read all the links I provided above!

  5. Alright, fair enough. I look forward to the blog post because you are probably right that it would be odd to answer a very complex issue in a comment thread. I just wanted to know if you had taken any affront to what was posited from Watson because I did and I only have a Bachelor’s in Anthropology. But you did answer that and it’s well taken. I guess I just missed that as it was wedged next to a diatribe against the anonymous assholes plaguing the skeptic world.

  6. We don’t get to do controlled experiments to determine the exact series of events in human evolution, but men do like hunting more than women and women like shopping more than men. Is there some controvery about that? I know guys who go out hunting wild pigs. They track down the pigs and then kill them with knives. To a first approximation, no women do that. Perhaps Watson has something to say but I’m not going to listen to a 48 minute video which begins with Watson calling the audience “jerks” to find out.


    p.s. I hate shopping. I mean I really hate it, the minute I step into Macy’s I want to run out screaming.

  7. bks, have you ever considered that perhaps that has something to do with our culture and not with our biology?

    Also, have you ever considered that that’s anecdotal evidence?

  8. Birdterrifier, I’ve never once taken affront at anything anyone has ever said in my field where that person was sincere, even if they were wrong or if I disagreed. I take affront at insincerity, which is what the haters are all about. I’m not even going to take affront at what bks says in the comment below yours even though he has got quite a bit wrong.

    By the way, I am the only person on this thread who has actually killed a wild pig with a small sharp object. I just thought everyone should know that before we go any father with this discussion of hunting…

    Miriam, I’m glad to see you’ve been commenting here lately, I hope you stick around! I’ve studied sexual division of labor in foragers intensively. Clearly, enculturation is critically important. Yet, it is also true that men hunt and women gather.

    Having said that, men also gather a LOT. Women hunt now and then (I’m talking cross culturally here). And, shopping … that is neither hunting nor gathering . As far a I can tell, in my own culture, men and women both like to shop very much for some things and not for others, that being very individualized but probably very much shaped by cultural expectations.

  9. Miriam, cuture is not separate from biology. Phenotypes are always *both* nature and nurture. There are some women who like hunting and there are some men who like shopping, but I’m not making an absolute statement, I’m just saying that a wild-type man is more likely to choose hunting than a wild-type woman and the gender is reversed with regard to shopping. I believe that this is both a cross-cultural phenomenon and a historical/evolutionary truth. That is not to say that there are not, nor have not, been societies where the roles were reversed.

    Testosterone gives men more muscle mass then women (i.e. starting at puberty). Women bear and nurture infants. That’s biology. Why struggle with reality?


  10. Phenotypes are always *both* nature and nurture.

    More or less, but that doesn’t imply that everything is a phenotype. Your comment is irrelevant to Miriam’s point.

  11. That’s your rebuttal to Clint’s dispassionate essay? I think you might check your own glass for traces of kool-aid. I have no objection to Watson the entertainer, but this is a Science blog.


  12. First I get lame criticism about “phenotype” and then about “dispassionate.” I know what the words mean and I used them both correctly.

    I see that Greg has put up an item critiquing Watson’s talk. I’ll read that now and if anyone wants to question my lexical choices, you can move it up there.


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