Think Jordan Peterson represents rational thought? Think again!

If his flop in his debate with Slavoj Žižek hadn’t proved it already, let’s say it loud and clear: Jordan B. Peterson is an intellectually dishonest charlatan. Let me dismantle his arguments on sexual selection to prove why.

Peterson, a self-help guru and psychology lecturer, claims in his best-selling 12 Rules for Life: ‘most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85 per cent of men as below average in attractiveness.’ He goes on: ‘Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force has shaped our [biological] evolution into the creative, industrious, upright … creatures that we are.’ Somehow, to Peterson, female sexual selection has been a transhistorical phenomenon since we were primates. Men must learn to accept this.

Superficially, we might give this story credit. Men’s Tinder profiles often habitually mention height. Furthermore, studies have confirmed that women are far more likely to emphasise height than men with regard to dating.

Why does Peterson ignore decades of social science?

However, George Yancey, an author on one such study from the University of Texas, says ‘the masculine ability to offer physical protection is clearly connected to the gender stereotype of men as protectors’. Critically, Yancey emphasises how this is not a natural condition: ‘in a society that encourages men to be dominant and women to be submissive, having the image of tall men hovering over short women reinforces this value.’ The norms that surround us give birth to our dating expectations.

Some men blame women for dismissing men who don’t work out, or who’re of short stature. But don’t forget that women are constantly subjected to masculine visualisations too. Consider Twilight, if you’re not convinced. There, two buff men play to women’s imagined preferences; Edward and Jacob. Both display supernatural strength and are intensely protective of the female part of the films’ love triangle.

Did we love it? Emphatically yes. We applauded Jacob’s abs in theatres. Meanwhile, the films cast the female lead, Bella, as weak and without agency. If this fiction reflects our society, not only do women yearn to feel safe, but men want something defenceless to look after too. Norms work both ways.

Logical fallacies 

Peterson’s argument about human evolution is dishonest in not acknowledging basic social scientific observations. Undoubtedly, our pre-human ancestors followed instinctual criteria when choosing their sexual partners. However, since Tinder users don’t live in caves, we can’t theorise about modern dating using paleolithic examples. Furthermore, not all singles looking for love are of reproductive age, and not all women have reproductive capabilities. What’s more, not everyone is straight.

The notion of women’s authority to say ‘no’ always denied men of opportunities to impregnate them is also fiction. Women have often said no. In many cases this hasn’t stopped men from getting what they want anyway. Peterson hasn’t considered consent in his idealised evolution narrative. Our ancestors only recognised rape and heteronormative traditions of marriage and family as they evolved social morality and culture.

In the animal kingdom, non-consensual intercourse is frequent in procreation. Why does Peterson maintain that humans are slaves to animal instincts, if we are indeed evolved, ‘creative, industrious’ creatures? Surely he can’t have it both ways

Women and present society

Moreover, other modern social factors explain why women may feel a stronger need for protection. Given that street harassment enters women’s life before puberty, many women unsurprisingly, actively or subconsciously, seek protective partners. This could explain why some women seek tall, athletic blokes. 

Consider another classic masculine trope: the trophy wife. Beautiful, young women alongside older men supposedly signal success and power. If the patriarchy ever manifest itself to convince us of its existence, it’d be in the bloated, cantaloupe form of Donald Trump. What an example of a man validating his masculinity and entitlement by marrying a model, twenty-four years his junior! We could list countless other examples. Meanwhile, Demi Moore’s relationship with Aston Kutcher had a sizeable age-gap too. But the derision towards older women dating younger men isn’t faced by males. ‘Successful’ men encounter huge expectations to enshrine their egos in slim, young women’s bodies. Similarly, women feel compelled to pick guys who’re wealthy and powerful; another patriarchal norm that entrenches the tradition of male providers.

Dangerously, Peterson’s disingenuous stories of male victimhood inspire real tragedies. Members of the incel movement – characterized by angry, white men who blame women for their stagnant sex lives –  expect that women should immediately and freely meet their demand for sex. This inspired violent and fatal results for women, like the Toronto van attack last year.

Is this what we’ve become? Is this the evolved, ‘industrious and creative’ state that we’ve aspired to? If you still think Peterson is a beacon of rationality, think again.

Sukhmani Sethi studies law at University of London and blogs at sukhmanisethi.com.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0), with modifications.

Want to write a reply? Email the opinion editor at david.dahlborn.13 [at] ucl.ac.uk.



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