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An open letter to the evo-devos - Tactical Ninja

Jan. 12th, 2010

09:05 am - An open letter to the evo-devos

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Things I have been told in the last few weeks (in three different contexts by three different people):

1. Women have a greater need to be attractive than men. It's EVOLUTION!
2. Men are naturally polygamous, women are naturally hypergamous. It's EVOLUTION!
3. Mate-poaching happens because men are stable providers for women and their children. It's EVOLUTION!


BOLLOCKSBOLLOCKSOMGBOLLOCKS! And also this:



OK, now we have the intellectual argument out of the way, let's get down to business.

1. Women have a greater need to be attractive than men. It's EVOLUTION!
This argument seems to be based in the idea that in Ancient TimesTM, and I quote: "A woman needed to not only attract a mate to impregnate her, but also to keep him around to protect her and her young until the young became independent. Being attractive increased the likelihood of this happening, so being attractive was an evolutionary advantage."

*cough*

Which might be true if humans were not a social animal, or if in Ancient TimesTM the construct of the nuclear family actually existed. It's much more likely that the protection and support involved in rearing young came from within a tribe rather than any individual, and that the hunter/provider role of males was shared, with the product of their efforts also being shared. My understanding of tribal society is that offspring were looked after regardless of the mated or unmated status of their mother, because it was in the best interests of the tribe for this to happen. In which case the attractiveness of the mother would not be a factor in survival of the offspring.

I think it's much more likely that male-as-provider for one female-as-recipient-of-provision (which renders females helpless and thus makes the retention of a mate more important and gives attractiveness some value) is a societal construct that came about in far more recent times and thus cannot be linked to evolution - of course we're still evolving, but the construct of the nuclear family has been around for at least 2,000 years, and yet, not to put too fine a point on it, attractiveness does not seem to have been selected for - most people have no difficulty finding a mate and the majority of children survive to breeding age, again regardless of the attractiveness of the mother.

2. Men are naturally polygamous, women are naturally hypergamous. It's EVOLUTION!
This argument, on face value, seems to make a lot more sense. If one were to observe mammals, one would see that the males will spread their seed wherever they can and that the females select the male that demonstrates (by whatever means that species uses) that he's the fittest set of genes to reproduce with her. And in terms of selection of who to have sex with and thus reproduce, a woman exercising free will, will generally choose the one she likes best - be it because he's hot, because he's charming, or because she's horny and he's there.

However, it seems that the meaning of the word has changed over the years. It doesn't mean 'the selection of the most appropriate set of genes' any more. It means 'the selection of the best provider as a mate' - or, colloquially, 'marrying up'. The construct of man-as-provider bites again! And it seems that hypergamy is more common and more obvious in societies that also exhibit the greatest gender inequalities - so I would argue that hypergamy in the context it's used today (often to denigrate women) is not 'natural' but again, a product of the nuclear family in which man is constructed as provider and woman as helpless and in need of provision. Polygamy is probably more 'natural' for women as well as men, since reproducing with a wide variety of partners would be more beneficial to the gene pool than always with the same partner, and that what constitutes the 'fittest set of genes' will vary widely for a woman within her lifetime depending on her own situation and taste. And since women are capable of making conscious decisions about sex, and of having sex for fun, there is not that genetic drive to select only the man who has demonstrated his superior genes through some pre-determined ritual.

3. Mate-poaching happens because men are stable providers for women and their children. It's EVOLUTION!
Loop back to my response to statement 1. I believe mate-poaching exists, and probably existed in Ancient TimesTM as well, in that both males and females would reproduce with multiple partners even if they lived within a defined group. However, there is a difference between reproduction and mating, in that reproduction requires one instance of sex (or maybe a few), whereas mating is a social construct in which people partner off more-or-less exclusively. So when we talk about mate-poaching, are we talking about having sex with people who are in a partnership or are we talking about breaking up that partnership and taking the chosen partner for oneself as a mate? Because I can see evolutionary value in the first, but not in the second, because men as providers for individual women (exclusive mating) is a societal construct that came long after homo sapiens came into existence, and it's one that has no evolutionary value.

I am kind of wondering why the evo-devos are popping out of the woodwork at the moment. What am I doing to attract them? Is there a repellent on the market anywhere?


I believe that evolutionary biology/psychology has a place. Determination of gender roles is not that place.

Thank you and goodnight.

Comments:

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From:tatjna
Date:January 11th, 2010 08:51 pm (UTC)
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I'm aware of this. I actually believe that nature and nurture work together quitenicelythanksverymuch.

However, I see evolutionary psychology used by laypeople as justification of constructed gender roles that are generally disadvantageous to women (read: ME!) quite regularly, often with little to no basis in fact.

And if those people want to claim evolutionary psychology as the science that backs their argument, perhaps real evolutionary psychologists might want to step up and start busting some of the myths that are perpetuating in their names.

I read an article this morning here that made a start. Unfortunately it was pulling apart someone who was actually trying to address the myths (albeit badly).
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From:anna_en_route
Date:January 11th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC)
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Not to mention the fact that everyone seems to ignore who tended to play the part of "gatherer" in the whole hunter/gatherer system.

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From:wildilocks
Date:January 13th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
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This. I think proportion of diet-wise, gathering actually accounted for a far *greater* proportion on average, than the protein from hunting (approx 70% according to this article for !Kung, as a random Googling without going too deep, - thus women are actually not only birthers but ALSO primary providers.

What do we keep those males around for anyways? </tongue in cheek>

Edited at 2010-01-13 11:39 am (UTC)
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From:lifeofreilly
Date:January 11th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)

*cough*

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As I remember it (spotty at worst, spot on at best), a nubile, youthful female mate was the preference in biology as there was less of a chance that the female animal had mated with another male and was already pregnant or raising the young from another male. Youth (but sexually mature) was a desirable characteristic. Youth equated with beauty (in the eyes of a male human for a female human).

Females of the various species look for powerful older males who have proven their genetic ability to survive (and procreate). This means that the offspring will also be more likely to survive and procreate. Age and power are the attractors here (in the eyes of female humans for male humans).



"It doesn't mean 'the selection of the most appropriate set of genes' any more. It means 'the selection of the best provider as a mate' - or, colloquially, 'marrying up'"

This could be nature *or* nurture. Genes dictate total potential for an individual (how smart *can* you be?) and upbringing teaches one to utilize it. I'm going to have to disagree with your statement here.


That being said, applying Darwinism as Social Darwinism is an awful business. I avoid it. It helps me understand certain basic drives (why do more men find Jessica Alba or Emma Watson attractive than the present day Meg Ryan or Judy Dench? Why was Sean Connery one of the worlds sexiest men (as voted by women) well in to his 60's? The population of men that are found as attractive and desirable by women tends to be MUCH MUCH older than the population of women that are found desirable and attractive by men). Genetics. Reproductive biology and sexual selection strategy.

It helps me understand the why. But I try to be more than a walking, talking embodiment of my lizard brain instincts and desires.
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From:lifeofreilly
Date:January 11th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)

Re: *cough*

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Please note I said "Try".

;)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_selection
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From:anna_en_route
Date:January 11th, 2010 09:47 pm (UTC)

Re: *cough*

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Females of various species tend to look for the males with the brightest display or best or loudest song which explains why human males wear so much makeup and invest in exspensive stockings, jewelery and ribbons...


/sarcasm
All of the statements of fact above have been true in the past and in other cultures but are not currently true in this part of world in this part of the culture. Using the first fact as an explanation for the second is stretching the utility of "just-so stories" to the breaking point and beyond.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 11th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)

Re: *cough*

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Your argument makes much more sense than the ones I've been given. As I said in a previous comment, it's not evolutionary psychology I have an issue with, it's the way people who don't understand it then use it to justify an allocation of gender roles.

For example, your comments about beauty equating to youth and health and being desirable for men is sensible, as is beauty equating to proven success as a producer of healthy young and being desirable for women also makes sense.* However, when someone takes that argument and then tries to say that this means attractiveness is more important for women than for men, I stop listening - because that's trying to frame attractiveness in a way that discounts the idea that women choose mates based on what is attractive to them, and stretching the argument beyond the capacity of evolutionary psychology to explain.

* Although I do wonder why proven ability to produce healthy young is not seen as genetically advantageous in women and therefore attractive to men, and likewise youth and health in men as genetically attractive to women.

I'm not sure exactly how what you're saying with this statement: "Genes dictate total potential for an individual (how smart *can* you be?) and upbringing teaches one to utilize it." causes you to disagree with my statement that the meaning of hypergamy has changed. Can you explain please?

Edited at 2010-01-11 09:55 pm (UTC)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 11th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)

Clarifactions (from East German Guy)

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"1. Women have a greater need to be attractive than men. It's EVOLUTION!"

Misconception. Both sexes select for good looks, most importantly symmetry. Body symmetry serves as a proxy for good genes (genes that are robust against bodily deforming diseases and defects). Men prefer (in all cultures) women with waist-hip ratio around .7 (though weight preference may vary) and youthfulness because those are good predictors of fertility. Women like muscles and height, because those make good hunters. Nevertheless, women place a relatively lower value on looks because they care for provider qualities.
(men as well: see madonna/whore complex, but to a lesser degree, since sperm-shooters have the upper hand against egg bearers here).

You see, most species don't care for their offspring. Among those who do care is usually left to the mother. In humans both sexes are involved in parental care (this is probably due to humans large brains which take time to fully develop and cannot do so inside the womb since hips who give birth to large brained babies are hard to build in a bipedal species). By the way: yes there is some altruism in raising other peoples kids. But only to some degree. It's easy to see why genes who are unconditionally altruistic towards their (non-related) fellow tribesmen (and women) would soon die out. It is also easy to see why men's preferred strategy would develop into the direction "impregnate as many women as possible and leave soon after" had not women developed a counter strategy.
Bottom line: human pair bonds are real and have been for several million years. But they usually lasted only for the time it needed to raise the offspring, not until it had finished college, and certainly not necessarily "as long as both shall be alive". But for those few years women were looking for men with resources (and status, and good looks) who were willing to stay and raise the kids with them.

And men were looking to score "on the side" since it has less consequences for them. And women were looking (during their fertile days) for the males that carried those good genes they could pass off to their children. Since these "cads" usually are not so much of the provider type the strategy was to cuckold the "dad" types. Since raising another men's child is not very fitness enhancing jealousy developed.

These extra-pair mating strategies in the previous paragraph are not the norm. But we carry them in our genes. This can be shown empirically. For example: women during their fertile days prefer more dominant male traits, personality as well as look wise. Men are relatively (to women) more prone to be jealous of a "physically" cheating mate (cuckolding defense mechanism) while a woman is relatively more jeaulous if her man gets psychologically involved with other women (resource-sharing avoidance mechanism). (I can dig out some references if you are interested.). And of course all the above statements are statistically in nature. For a random male and a random female they relative comparisons can point in the other direction (random-select-female could place more importance on men's looks, random-select-male on "provider" qualities in a woman), but it would be (much) less likely.

By the way II: all the theories above are pretty mainstream Ev. Psych.

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From:tatjna
Date:January 11th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Clarifactions (from East German Guy)

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"Nevertheless, women place a relatively lower value on looks
because they care for provider qualities."


I stopped reading here. Mostly because it was obvious that you had ignored what I wrote in my post, and also what I wrote in the post that you found your way here from. So I'll repeat it for you:

One male as provider and protector for one female and her children is a societal construct that makes no evolutionary sense, given that we are and always have been a social animal that lives in packs.

Please.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:January 12th, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)

Re: Clarifactions (from East German Guy)

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When you say all cultures, which ones do you mean? Which were studied and which were excluded, what was the methodology and what was done to cut out the cultural mores of the observers?

When you say something is "easy to see" I become really suspicious of your statements
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