Reading in a public place gives peer pressure an entirely new meaning. Public transit is a place where I spend at least fifteen hours a week. Not having converted to Kindle, or even Nook, I still prefer the feel of paper in my hands. With the open book, however, comes exposure. On the bus you have no control over who climbs in next to you. You’ll be spending an hour, maybe two, side-by-side, and although s/he may never see you again, it could be that tomorrow they will find themselves once more at your side. I’m very conscious of the books I choose under such circumstances. I shouldn’t care what others think, but I do. Recently my choice was Martha McCaughey’s The Caveman Mystique: Pop-Darwinism and the Debates Over Sex, Violence, and Science. The issues here were multiple. McCaughey consciously chose her riff on The Feminine Mystique as a catchy, if very appropriate title. The person plopping down next to you with a bleary eyed glance over on an early morning bus will probably catch only one or two words in the title. One of them will be the only word with an x. Still, this important little book has big implications for the “s word,” and how men are socialized to think about sex.
Darwinism, and evolution, are concepts that are keyed to religion in the United States. There is no avoiding it. McCaughey, as a sociologist studying science, shows just how many assumptions scientists make about the universal applicability of their work. She suggests something that many of us have learned over the years: absolute objectivity is not possible for any human being. We are all socialized. We all bring biases to our work. We’re all human. McCaughey doesn’t question the results of scientific investigation, however. Her concern is that in a male-dominated field the results might be, well, screwed up. In a series of delightful thought experiments, she shows how very basic sexual biases get played out into larger scenarios that tend to excuse the inexcusable: violence against women. Men have to be taught to be cavemen. Science, improperly disseminated, gives men an excuse for blaming evolution for their lack of character. It seems to this man, at least, the McCaughey is certainly on target.
In a particularly insightful paragraph, McCaughey writes, “Invoking God’s will, or nature’s [i.e., science], hides the political context in which such a will was ‘revealed’ or ‘discovered.’” How easy it is for both scientists and religious believers to conclude that the way of their belief system is the only explanation for the world. Both camps forget they are profoundly political. As humans we can’t escape it. The world defies easy explanation—there are truths that we haven’t discovered yet. The main point of The Caveman Mystique, however, is clear. Just as men have been led to believe that the caveman is inevitable, they can be also taught that such a statement is a lie. Biologically there are gender differences, but socially—and this is the ability humans boast of—we can and must insist on equality.