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Contention Between Evolution And Feminism

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Specific interpretations in Darwin’s theories of evolution pose challenges to modes of proceeding within feminist critique. Since the conception of his theories of natural and sexual selection in the mid to late 19th century, it has been ‘easier to imagine Darwinism and feminism as adversaries rather than allies’. Women authors in the 19th and early 20th centuries did lots of critical groundwork in revising Darwin’s theories to uncover and challenge the stereotypes that subordinated women, which gained validation under the category of science. In this essay, I propose to introduce the theories of Darwinian evolution and outline how certain aspects of their conception worked to maintain the inferior position held by females in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Theories of evolution have consistently posed challenges to modes of proceeding in feminist critique (predominantly in the West), however, the challenges that women were facing in the 19th and early 20th centuries differ to the challenges that have been prevalent since the 1960s. The predominant obstacles that prevailed in the Victorian era are demonstrated in the omission of female choice in Darwin’s theories of sexual selection among the human species. To demonstrate the resulting effects resulting from these challenges, I will discuss the feministic revisions to Darwin’s theories of evolution that were offered by the progressive writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Conversely, in the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st century, the subordinate status of women within society has greatly ameliorated in comparison to the Victorian era and, as a result, challenges posed by evolutionary theories to feminist critique have changed regarding theories of evolution.

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Within the realm of literary criticism and interpretation, academics and scholars have been applying different models of evolution theories to interpret patterns in human nature. Predominant theories of adaptation, in the realm of evolutionary psychology and gene-centric theories in evolutionary critique, pose potential challenges to feminist critique in the form of gender essentialism. There is a debate occurring between adaptationists who champion gene-centric processes of evolution and others who believe that human psychology and behaviour are motivated by changing cultural and environmental factors; I will look at both sides of this debate to argue that the latter theory more closely aligns with the overall motives of feminist critique.

Furthermore, I propose to discuss how theories of evolution have been intersecting with feminist critique with positive outcomes toward a Darwinian feminism, where ‘we are witnessing the beginnings of reconciliation between evolutionary theory and feminism––two fields with vastly different intellectual approaches, and both with a contentious past and a mysterious future’. Finally, I introduce the theory of phenotypic plasticity as a potential tool to be used by feminists in the realm of evolutionary literary theory and look at analyses of Gilman’s The Yellow Wall Paper (1892) to demonstrate how this can occur. With a discussion of the works of 19th century feminist and activist author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I aim to demonstrate how Darwin’s omission of female choice set the tone for contention between evolution and feminism.

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Contention Between Evolution And Feminism. (2022, February 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Contention Between Evolution And Feminism.” Edubirdie, 27 Feb. 2022,
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Contention Between Evolution And Feminism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 27 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from:
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