Feminism and Inverse Evolution

To anyone who didn’t grow up in a comically-traditional household (did your Italian parents spank you w/ a wooden spoon?), word on the street is that men want a chase, while women need possession.  Also, ladies?  No one will buy the cow if you give away milk for free.

In some ways gender roles are set deeper than culture.  It’s not of habit that men hunt while women gather; men are physically more capable of throwing a spear and chasing game.  Women, with our vision more attuned to detail, with our ability to scatter focus, should spend our time collecting foods that don’t fight back or flee.

Feminism turns that instinct on its head.  As a community evolves we tend to lose our single-minded drive for efficiency, and begin delving into innovation.  It doesn’t matter that males traditionally hunt mastodons better; perhaps if some women join the hunt we’ll revolutionize the method.

Indeed, as a community evolves its members demand ever-higher needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.  Where 200 years ago it was enough to feel protected from the elements, now we want equal pay for equal work.

This par-raising instinct — like the drive to venture into art, to divide into social castes, etc. — represents a sort of cultural apex.  Here individuals have the best opportunity to experiment as individuals.  But abandoning efficiency as primary social drive arguably becomes a sort of harbinger for a community’s first move towards decline.

Three blog posts this week explored the sort of boundaries to this “inverse evolution” theory:

Remember that “go ahead and settle” article The Atlantic published last year?  Julia Baird rails back in Newsweek:

“I know this is an unpopular thing to say,” [Gottlieb, author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough“] writes, “but feminism has completely f–ked up my love life.” Um, I know why it’s unpopular: because it’s completely unfair. Feminism is a centuries-old social movement, not a self-help book—we can’t blame it for bad decisions we make about men. The problem, as Gottlieb sees it, is that women were told they could have it all, which meant not compromising in any aspect of life, including dating (which is odd because people who can’t compromise aren’t feminists, they are just generally unpleasant people). Then women got so fussy that they “empowered themselves out of a mate.”

Baird does not go so far as to argue that feminism has helped daters (not like Christine Whelan’s “Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women”).  But she defends feminism from accusations that deviating from traditional mores make traditional relationship models impossible.  Our parents’ generation taught us how to date, after all, and when we start rejecting some of their values it’s hard to know where to stop.

So feminism, while unnatural, doesn’t hurt potential partnerships.  From that defensive baseline, today’s blogosphere offers perspective on how beauty differentials affect an established relationship:

[I]n contrast to the importance of matched attractiveness to new relationships, similarity in attractiveness was unrelated to spouses’ satisfaction and behavior. Instead, the relative difference between partners’ levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives.

Doesn’t this remind you of that advice from my Italian father, that men prefer the chase?  When wives are more attractive — more desirable to their spouse as well as to other people — everyone is happier.  On its face this suggests that men are in fact happier when there remains an element of competition in their established relationship.

On the flip side, perhaps women simply need more physical reassurance than men.  Three years in a sorority house taught me a lot about feminine insecurity.  More attractive women need perhaps more active reassurance re their sustained beauty than the average gal.

Remember that classic Craigslist ad comparing the declining and appreciating aspects of men and women’s respective assets?  Women know men are visual, competitive creatures.  The “traditional” — as opposed to feminist, or “inverse” — urge suggests that wanna-be-wives focus on the parts that mates appreciate, while abandoning what might evoke more competition than warmth.

Another “inverse evolution” parallel might suggest that even banal urges may not come from potential mates at all.  Future breeders have to look wayyyy down the line to where they will be ready to settle down.  Today’s competition has less to do with landing a mate right now and more to do with fitting in with a girlie clique, avoiding the mean girls, etc.

Finally, Newsweek also published a “nature v. nurture” approach to Elizabeth Edwards’s plight:

If Elizabeth Edwards were behaving as evolutionary psychology says she should, she would not be separating from her philandering husband, former senator John Edwards. He, after all, merely slept with the help; he never pulled a Mark Sanford, who called his mistress his “soulmate.” Women are supposed to find only emotional betrayal upsetting; they’re not supposed to care if their mate shtups anything in a skirt (Elin Woods is therefore conforming to the stereotype of women being forgiving of sexual but not emotional infidelity if she, as reported, stays with Tiger; the very fact that his mistresses numbered in double digits suggests there wasn’t exactly a deep emotional commitment there).
Of all the ways men are from Mars and women from Venus, this supposed sex difference in jealousy is one of the most amusing. But an intriguing new study suggests that the gender gap in jealousy may be the result of something that is not at all hard-wired: the different ways boys and girls are raised.

Genetically it makes sense that respective genders react the way we do:

[I]f a woman sleeps around, then her partner might (unknowingly) be deprived of her reproductive services for at least nine months, and could wind up raising another man’s child—both of which hurt his own chances of reproducing, which is the currency of evolutionary success.  A man should therefore become much more upset by his partner’s sexual infidelity than by her emotional infidelity (developing a crush, for instance, but not acting on it).

In contrast, if a man falls in love with another woman, he might abandon his wife and children, putting them at risk, but meaningless extramarital sex is unlikely to lead to such a drastic outcome. A woman should therefore care more about her partner’s emotional infidelity than his casual hookups.

So approaching this from the “nature” (genetic hardwiring) point of view — the traditional perspective — politicians’ wives are doing what’s best to protect their investments.  Jenny Sanford should be more angry than Hillary Clinton.  Does a deviation from nature to nurture change anything?

Well, there’s pride.  Helpless women of yore would have found better incentives to forgive and forget, bc the alternative would have been devastating.  Today women crowd tomorrow’s trophy husbands out of graduate school.  Our rejection of traditional roles provides indignant leverage to reject old caveats attached to outdated mores.

Which begs the question: Has marriage followed mores down this inverse path?

Perhaps it’s because gender roles have evolved in a more inverse — or merely quicker — way than community’s relationship formulation (i.e., marriage, domestic partnerships, but certainly formalized) that so many couples diverge again from tradition.  Or perhaps one rship-member’s helplessness was a critical element after all in the formulation traditionalists know and love.

Formalization helps everyone though.  Formalizing forever-ship protects against the perils of balding and late-onset unattractiveness.  It ensures childrearing help.  And, if nothing else in this modern world, it tamps the spread of disease.

As usual everything comes down to pragmatism.  If you would like to participate in traditional roles — including parenthood — then traditional models work.

They may well be “caveman” instincts.  But it’s pointless to deny the community benefits that accompany the traditional model.  Instead, postpone the social apex and accompanying inevitable decline.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re moving forward or backwards; why reject nature for nurture at the expense of comfort?

It may prove satisfying to intellectualize the whole enterprise, but when it comes down to it everyone benefits from the same perks that benefited our grandparents.

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5 responses to “Feminism and Inverse Evolution

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