Evolutionary Feminism

Further Notes on Marriage, Monogamy and Sexual Modesty
Jennifer Goehring

Just a few thoughts and rants on this ever-so controversial subject of female sexuality...

Seeing as though I'm a woman, of course.

I happened to come across an archived article titled "Paternal Provisioning versus Mate Seeking in Human Populations."  by Edward Miller, from the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 17, Aug. 1994, No. 2, p. 227- 255.  The study offered a rather fascinating addition to this very discussion; exploring the difference between mating strategies of people in warm-climate versus cold-climate EEA's.  In cold climates, they argue, male provisioning through his ability to hunt large game would be quite necessary for the survival of his offspring, and hence would entice females to focus their mate search on males with superior provisioning ability, and secure him as a mate.   In warm climates, however, where gathering provided most of the food intake, the female could provide most of this with little male assistance, and would be therefore less inclined to be concerned about securing a mate that could provide this for her.

In his words, "Not surprisingly, with the parties not needing each other economically, the usual situation is one of fragile, often serial, unions, terminated quickly by the offended party when conflict arises... Taken together, these facts imply that a woman can feed her family with little male assistance.  This suggests that males would leave more descendants by focusing their efforts on mating rather than provisioning."  Likewise, in a cold climate, the opposite would be true.  A male's offspring would not likely survive without his help in provisioning, since a female pregnant or with children is in no position to hunt large game herself.

In the article, Miller designates cold-climate EEA peoples to have evolved into Caucasoids and Mongoloids, and warm-weather EEA peoples into Negroids.  I can just see now the raging controversy inspired by this one-- holy shit.  Now, I am never inclined to suggest "burying" scientific theory for the sake of protecting the ignorant masses from misinterpreting it, but I have to admit, I'm tempted to recommend that we might not be ready for this one.  It's got disaster written all over it. (I have since learned from Mr. Spriggs, that Mr. Miller is famous in the evolutionary community for his "scientific" studies into intelligence, race, gender, homosexualities, etc., but that he does present himself in a professional and ethnical manner and open to peer review).  Perhaps if it can be done by only mentioning the "climate" differentiation, and abstaning from bringing race into the equation at all, it could be done with little fallout. (Maybe, that is why Mr. Miller presents it in the reverse, more "provocative" manner).  But it would only take a brief time for someone to feel compelled to point out that the global distribution of people from different climates from our EEA translates directly into racial differentiation; however, then they could be the ones to open that can of worms.  The reactionary populous I predict would jump all over such a mention of "race" would not be deep-thinking enough to grasp that they shouldn't be shooting the messenger, and anyone with the insight to make this connection between climate and race will know this.

But hell.  This is just speculation.  These days, evoultionary psychology is being blamed for the world's evils in their entirety.  Might as well shoot the moon, go for broke, throw caution to the wind.  The masses don't have a very good track record of seeming very interested in scientific truth anyway; it's not like by dodging this we could avoid their ire.

But this, this-- this one has got me thinking.  Despite predicting loud objections voiced by my keep-it-on-an-even-keel mentaur, I'm beginning to feel the call to comment.  Fascinating, fascinating implications, this.  This could be the root of short-term and multiple mating strategies in human females.  I would imagine, that following from this paper's conclusions, we would predict to find warm-climate EEA females, and therefore women of that culture, to exhibit less likelihood to be preoccupied with securing a long-term mate.  Likewise, the males of this group would have been less preoccupied with resource acquisition, since it wouldn't have done them as much good.   In an age where we're not even allowed to acknowledge the observable trend of some groups (conveniently distinguished by race) to demonstrate these tendencies, there's only a slim possibility that we could get away with not only acknowledging it, but explaining it in sociobiological terms.  And that slim hope would rest on the likelihood that we could explain it nonoffensively in such a manner:  Females of this group, given their ability to use the climate to their benefit and gather their own food, did not find themselves dependent upon finding and securing a permanent mate who excelled in resource acquisition.  Likewise, the males of this group would not have benefited reproductively from making resource acquisition their focus in trying to attract a mate.  They must have, in turn, had to demonstrate alternative attributes that the females would have found appealing for whatever reason.  Since she required no aid in feeding her children, she most likely would have placed a high value on physical prowess, which would provide superior genetic material to pass on to her offspring.   Cold-climate females also valued physical prowess, but if she placed it at a higher premium than resource acquisition, surely she and her children would have starved.   She would obviously take it when she could get it, but only if the provider role had already been met.  This strengthens the independently-explored likelihood that, in order to obtain the value of this physical prowess (and not at the expense of resources) she was prone to engaging in extra-pair matings with other males, even while committed in another relationship.

Given the description of "relationships" in warm climates, in which they seem monogamous but are fragile and serial at best, we can clearly see the implications for a country such as ours, during a time such as ours.  Independent of climate, women in the U.S. are plainly able to acquire resources for themselves.   Resources in this age no longer entail big-game hunting, something a function of physical strength, but rather a measure of financial earning ability.  Although we have still not reached the point where women have equal earning potential to men, we have still gained enough ground to make the need for men to fill that function not entirely redundant, but it at least goes far to explain why we seem to have fallen into a general, societal practice of serial monogamy.  It naturally follows that, once we do achieve equal earning potential to men, men will be required to head in the direction of focusing on becoming appealing to women in other ways.  Holy shit!! This is it-- I can't believe I stumbled upon it in such a manner.  I've just been tinkering with my own theory that women must be demonstrating differential preferences depending on whether they are pursuing a short-term versus a long-term mate.  I began considering this idea upon gleaning more evidence that women, in fact, do explore sex for its own sake, and for sound reproductively-advantageous reasons, while I've been pondering the personal experience of a couple of men I know, who can't seem to find women interested in more than sex with them.  But this, this, ties it together beautifully.  It didn't make much sense, given that our general populace's evolutionary heritage did not entail a warm gathering climate, but when we look at modern social conditions, it works perfectly.   We don't need climate to determine for us on whom we must rely to be fed, and feed our children.

Although this changing system does not entail genetics, because we have not remained in this situation long enough for it to influence our biological "wiring," I believe it is still quite relevant to the discussion of evolutionary psychology.   Clearly, changing environmental circumstances force any species to adapt and perhaps even alter their mating strategies to compensate.  It is only after an immensely long period of time remaining locked into a certain set of behaviors that they becomes instinctive.  Perhaps the discussion of our evolved capacity for "flexibility" is more relevant than any of us had previously thought.   Perhaps our evolved tendencies are more a result of our inherent flexible nature; that is, to change our strategy according to our environment.   Perhaps both long-term and short-term mating strategies are "instinctive," but only insofar as our environment demonstrates that one would be more adaptive than the other.   Perhaps our environment, climate and other conditions have varied so greatly throughout our history, and required us to adapt so frequently by altering our mating strategies, that we have become quite adept at engaging in whichever pattern of mating behavior currently suits our situation.  It is arguable that most species retain this capacity to some extent, but it would be difficult to measure with the same depth as our own society.  Particularly because the arena in which our "resource acquisition" takes place is so greatly variable even within brief periods of time; it allows us to measure changes in strategies as our distribution of resources changes, especially now with the females of our species able to fend for themselves.

On this note, I feel compelled to comment that it seems we are in the midst of a revolution in our own evolution as a species.  I strongly believe that our advanced thinking capacity predisposed us to eventually allocate freedom and equality to our women, which in and of itself would lead us toward less dependency on a system of lifelong monogamy for the sake of raising families.  Paired with a monetary provisioning system, in which females can compete without relying on physical attributes like strength that would put them at a disadvantage, we are left with an even stronger argument for the likelihood that we, as a civilization, are approaching a general system of serial monogamy at best.  As noted by Miller, minimal dependency on men for provisioning logically translates into a female population less likely to tolerate even minimal conflict for the sake of retaining a permanent partner. (And gives us a hint as to why some men loathe feminists -- it's loss of control).  We may still pursue such romantic and idyllic systems such as lifelong marriage because we have both grown quite accustomed to them and because we have developed quite an emotional and abstract notion that they are the "right" thing to do, but this particular force, on its own, has never stood the test of time if it lacks the strong backing of an evolutionarily adaptive incentive.   Without this primary driving force, even a historical institution like marriage will not withstand the test of time.

Perhaps now is an appropriate time to discuss the implications that this could have, for men and for women.  After all, we do tend to concern ourselves with that-- do we not?  Will this be good for women?  Will this be good for men?  In the long run, I must say that it will all come out in the wash.  Each sex will adapt their attitudes, behaviors and strategies to accommodate, and we will simply settle into a new general system.  In the meantime, this transition period will certainly prove to be a chaotic one.  And I would argue that this is what we are currently experiencing-- a transition period.  We are already feeling the effect of women acquiring financial autonomy-- just take a look at our divorce rate. It is not, I don't think, that we are experiencing more marital conflict now than before, just that we can part ways as a result of such conflict with less devastation to either party. Well, the women, at least. They will not perish after divorce, as they would have during conditions in which she and her children must depend on a man to survive. Basically, we are seeing more divorce simply because circumstances have made it possible. And, it is pretty likely, given the evidence, that it is predominantly the females who will determine trends and changes in mating strategy. If you think about it, it is the women who would have had no choice but to ensure the continuation of a marriage (or equivalent), if she would be the one to suffer if it is terminated. If the situation changes, and she must no longer depend on a male for her reproductive success, it is she that has the freedom to pursue the possibility of ending a marriage. And, in the face of marital conflict, she has little to lose by terminating the arrangement. If the male is failing to provide her something she needs, or cannot do without, the only thing keeping her with him would be feelings of love and attachment; and if there is marital conflict in which she no longer experiences the acts of love and kindness that precluded her attraction to him in the first place, there is really no reason for her to stay. On the other hand, males in our society have demonstrated significantly higher devastation after the termination of marriage. I think that we have gone so long with men depending on their wives for such a wide variety of things; emotional, physical and psychological needs, and these things, unlike earning potential, are NOT things that our environment has endowed him with the capacity to provide for himself at the rate that women have entered the workforce. During the proliferation of the institution of marriage, he is not forced to learn these skills on his own. Females, on the other hand, have been acquiring their own earning potential for several decades now. Basically, in evolutionary terms he no longer has anything she inherently needs, but this is not the case for him. He still needs her. And he will continue to need her until enough men grow out of their dependency on women within marriage to fulfill these needs elsewhere.  (All right-- I can just sense the turmoil created by that one-- I can assure you, I am not failing to acknowledge that men vary in their strengths and weaknesses as much as women do; I am merely speaking in terms of averages.)

The other thing is, (and we may not like hearing this too much,) this means that, during this transition period, the females have more leverage in the realm of relationship politics. This was not the case during our EEA, in climates in which the female must rely on the big-game hunting of the male for survival. Back then, they both had leverage. She must be committed to remaining in the relationship, conflict or no conflict. It would be his sincerest wishes that she remain monogamous, as this would be best for him and his reproductive success, so she must be committed to only him. He was in the position to be able to cheat on her and she would have to accept this, whether she liked it or not. She needed this arrangement, so she had no choice. And what she demanded in return was a long and steadfast courtship period, in which he must demonstrate his loyalty to her as well. They each needed something, and they each had to give something in return.

For better or worse, this is no longer the case. She no longer has a critical stake in the prevalence of permanent relationships such as marriage. (Of course, I am speaking purely in terms of evolutionary adaptiveness.)

I believe this brings us to an ideal point to address the issue of modesty, which has been so eloquently pursued by our friendly neighborhood new-kid-on-the-block, author Wendy Shalit. It is Ms. Shalit's contention that, as women, we would be better suited to return to the days in which we held out for marriage before we were willing to share ourselves sexually with another man. These were the glorious days in which men were forced to pour immense energy, consideration and thoughtfulness into the process of courtship, because there would be no easy route to sex. I can't help but think this prescription on Ms. Shalit's part is something she believes would serve the purpose of helping women to regain what little control and power we once had.

Now, this seems, on the surface, to make some sense. But upon closer inspection, we see that precluded by this theory are several assumptions that I do not believe we can rationally make. To begin with, Shalit seems to be assuming that men have become more laxidazical in their demonstrations of loyalty and self-control in this day and age simply because we women no longer make them work so hard for sex, and that worse, it is inherently a bad thing. If this was the case, it would make sense to recommend to women that they keep their legs crossed long enough to make sure he's first giving her what she wants. However, this explanation fails to accommodate for or recognize the myriad other cultural factors that might also have led us down this sinful and indulgent path of wanton premarital sex and one-night-stands. I would argue that this trend does have to do with women not being as demanding of rigorous courtship, but not because she is making some kind of mistake, or that she is behaving this way to her own detriment. She, in reality, no longer has such a pressing need to secure a permanent mate on her own terms. She was likely much more "naturally" inclined to enjoy short-term sexual flings for their own sake, but the need for a permanent mate forced her to make do with modest sexual behavior and a commitment to monogamy. Since this need no longer exists, in reality she has become "free" to pursue whichever mating strategy she so chooses, instead of being locked into the need for just a single acceptable arrangement. If she no longer needs permanent marriage to ensure the survival of her family, she no longer must behave to coerce a long and demanding courtship out of a potential mate; a courtship that, I must remind you, initially existed for the sake of getting a male "committed" and loyal to only her. These courtship demands only existed to show him that, in order to benefit from the reproductive potential of a woman, he must first become loyal and committed to her. He needed her to reproduce and sire offspring, so he must jump through some hoops first.

Now, let us back up for a moment to what I had been discussing earlier-- the newfound leverage that women have now that they have secured their own earning potential. This has created an imbalance in the whole leverage-game. She no longer needs his marriage enough to be willing to play the whole prude thing the way she used to. She no longer feels compelled to remain in an unhappy marriage. Basically, she is free to have sex when she wants, and end a relationship when she wants. And, as a result, he has begun to accommodate by relaxing his rigorous courtship attempts. Shalit is observing this period of relaxed behavior and jumping to the conclusion that we women would be better off without it, so therefore we should jump-start the trend again by opting for sexual modesty. The problem is, she is failing to realize that it was out of our own changing needs that this period of relaxed self-control occurred in the first place. This is occurring because we were finally endowed with the freedom to let it occur. In addition to this, it would be grossly unfair to construct any more additional pieces of leverage with which we could successfully manipulate men. They are already at the whim of what we want. If we want marriage and devotion, they must give it to us to have access to our reproductive capacity. If we want to leave them, there is nothing we need from him that would prevent us from doing so. He is in the process of rediscovering the other ways in which to appeal to women, now that we no longer rely on his earning potential. He is confused. We might seem to still want his earning potential, but in the past, providing it for us would have guaranteed him our permanent loyalty to only him. It no longer does this. Shalit is now recommending that, in addition to these factors, we ALSO continue to force him to go through the rigmarole of continually wining-and-dining us, and generally kissing our asses, to prove his undying loyalty to us first. Although now, he cannot expect it in return.

Rules are rules. If we want to enjoy the freedom of not having to behave like prudes, of being able to exit an unhappy marriage if we so choose, we must recognize that we can only expect men to react accordingly. Under EEA conditions of this nature, the rules of the game would prescribe him to a life of playboy behavior. We would not have the option of reaping all the benefits of one kind of arrangement without incurring any of the costs. It's a give-and-take thing. After all, he is only responding to systems for which we were responsible in creating in the first place. If we want to change the rules of the game, we gotta play fair.

Origin: June 8, 1999

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