Debunking the Blank Slate

blank slate debunked

Gender is innate and evolved; it is not the result of ‘socialisation’, as the blank slate ideology contests. No serious scientist believes the blank slate hypothesis now, other than a few contrarians who allow their political beliefs to overshadow their rigour. The notion that gender — along with a raft of human behaviours — is ‘socialised’ has been completely, comprehensively and utterly debunked, for over 60 years.

Anyone who has experience of dealing with animals knows that male and female animals are very different, not just in the way that they look, but the way that they behave. In other words, they display innate gendered behavioural traits. Males tend to be more aggressive, females more nurturing.

This applies no less to humans.

We are not born equal.

In a 2012 article in Psychology Today entitled ‘Sex-Specific Toy Preferences: Learned or Innate?’ Psychologist Dr Gad Saad wrote ‘an unassailable conclusion: the sex-specificity of toy preferences is shaped by sex-specific biological forces.’ ( https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201212/sex-specific-toy-preferences-learned-or-innate) While Saad’s eloquent piece was published six years ago now, it has lost none of its relevance and indeed, more evidence to support the innate nature of gender appears every year. Typical of this is a paper by D P Schmitt et al, published in the International Journal of Psychology in 2017, which ‘demonstrated that gender differences in personality traits are even more pervasive (than previously thought)’ across the ‘Big Five’ personality traits. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ijop.12265

These are but drops in an ocean of evidence utterly refuting the blank slate ideology and, given the weight of evidence confirming the innate nature of gender differences, it is surprising that the debate persists at all. It does so for political reasons rather than logical or scientific ones.

In fact, it would be hugely illogical to assume, when we consider the significant morphological differences between men and women, always controlling for ethnicity, that there would be anything other than significant differences both in neurology and in behavioural traits. The only reason this has been confused is the influence of socialism, in its various forms. This in turn impacted on anthropology and sociology which were, for much of the 20th century the ‘big sciences’ as regards humanity.

The blank slate: a debunked political ideology

The blank slate was promoted, in particular, by Franz Boas (1858–1942), a German Jew who fled the Nazis. Unsurprisingly, having been vilified because he was a Jew, Boas was keen to establish that there were no innate differences between races. His chief follower was Margaret Mead (1901–1978), who took this even further and eventually became a dominant figure in anthropology herself.

We now know that Boas and Mead were wrong, from statistical evidence from other fields. But this has not stopped the Blank Slate bandwagon. Amongst the principal enemies of the blank slate ideology today is Evolutionary Psychology, which posits — an backs up with hard data — that human behaviour has evolved as a part of our overall evolution.

The principal human behavioural traits are not ‘conditioned’ or ‘socialised’ but innate and evolved. They are a part of being human; we might even call them ‘human nature’.

Clearly, these traits display variation — so there are some very disagreeable women and nurturing men — but on average, the difference holds up. These essential trait differences between men and women — which are observable in all cultures, everywhere and even in other species — form the foundation of gender. But gender itself is a far more subtle and complex interaction of many trait characteristics and behaviours.

So, on top of the basic gender dichotomy is a set of socialised gendered behaviours — things like the side you part your hair or button your shirt — and indeed, whether you call it a shirt or a blouse. But these behaviours are relatively minor and the result of fashion. They do not impact on the vast, profound array of innate behaviours that constitute gender.

Some uncertainty

We remain uncertain, although the picture becomes increasingly clear year by year, and not to the blank slate’s favour, of exactly which behaviours are innate and which are conditioned. But the intelligent debate today is about where the boundary between innate and socialised lies, not whether or not gender is innate per se. In basis it is and there is no reasonable argument about that.

The function of this gender division is reproduction. In it, men are expendable and women protected. This is a function of a basic biological rule: the success of any population is dependent on the number of fertile females, not males. This leads to a gynocentric social model with protected Home groups centred on women and children and an Away group of hunters and defenders based around men. This is what gives us the tribal or clan structure.

Other species

The separation of tasks and roles by sex is a massively successful evolutionary technique. We know from injuries to skeletons, for example, that Neanderthals did not separate between the genders in the way that Homo sapiens does and this is at least partly why H. sapiens is still here. This separation of tasks and roles is intrinsic to our understanding of gender, as something separate from sex. Gender is indeed, in large part, a social phenomenon; but it is not learned. It is innate; it is the basic social structure of society, which we, H. sapiens, evolved over millions of years.

H. sapiens is certainly not the only animal to display evolved gender differences in behaviours. Lions, gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and many others do as well. We should not, therefore, be at all surprised that humans have evolved similar structures. . We find gendered differences across a huge range of human behaviours, even where these cannot directly be equated to sexual dimorphism.

Often misunderstood is the innate nature of gendered attractors. The business of attracting mates is also subject to evolutionary selection. For example, it is possible, with enormous accuracy, to tell, just from a facial picture, which of samples of any given ethnicity are male and which are female. Obviously, this has to be done with faces that are not made up and, granted, it will be more difficult in groups we’re unfamiliar with, but even a little familiarity will produce uncanny accuracy.

To suggest that women’s faces are measurably different from men’s, on average, is the result of ‘socialisation’ is plainly ridiculous. Yet why would there be sex differences in facial structures at all, unless it had some evolutionary cause? An innate cause must therefore be at work. And what could that cause possibly be, other than mate attraction? So not only is the way we behave in general social terms innate, so is the way we attract our partners. Women are ‘beautiful’ to attract male partners, and further, they enhance that beauty by using make-up, hairstyles and through dress and comportment, in similar ways in every human population, across the globe. That tells us that not only are there physical gender differences between the sexes, which must obviously be innate, but there are innate behaviours too.

Everything is about sex

In other words, everything is about gender, gender is all about sexuality, sexuality is about reproduction and it is all an innate system of mate selection and child care that has evolved to ensure the success of our genes.


Originally published at Rod Fleming’s World.