Homo Consumericus

The nature and nurture of consumption

Don’t Know Much About History, Don’t Know Much Biology Part I

I hate sex differences…they hurt my feelings.

Lynn Phillips wrote a rather hostile post castigating me for having had the apparent audacity of discussing studies that reported that women were less receptive than men to sexual advances from random strangers. One assumes that she finds it distasteful that I would partake in the "promulgation of the same old tired sexist stereotypes about men and women." Clearly, I must be part of the patriarchal conspiracy that seeks "to maintain the sexist status quo." To use her words, "many scientists have bent over backwards to prove that women and men's desires are as different as their biology." Most scientists bend over backwards to pursue the truth even if such realities might "offend and irk" Ms. Phillips. Readers might recall an earlier post wherein I listed the large number of leading evolutionary psychologists who happen to be women (see here), all of whom seem perfectly accepting of the banal scientific fact that men and women do possess numerous biological-based differences (especially as relating to mating behavior). Clearly, these female scientists must have been "brainwashed" by the patriarchy into their "sexist" positions. Incidentally, Ms. Phillips feels that she can offer critiques of evolutionary psychology in particular, and evolutionary biology more generally, without having to inform herself about the thousands of studies that might have procured her with some much-needed knowledge. Her disdain for biological explanations and her worldview of folk psychology (informed by her feminism) is apparently sufficient weaponry to shatter the "house of cards" of "sexist" evolutionary psychology/evolutionary biology. She would not be presumptuous enough to offer critiques of geological theories (say about tectonic plates) or about the distribution of prime numbers. Such theories require expertise. However, evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology are "sexist" disciplines void of actual scientific content, and as such there are no knowledge barriers to entry. Come on in, Ms. Phillips. School is in.

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It would take me numerous posts to correct the innumerable errors found in Ms. Phillips's diatribe so I'll address only a few choice ones here and will follow up with a few others in a subsequent post (part II) (perhaps some of my EP colleagues can pick up the baton on some of her other canards):

(1) I'll begin with Ms. Phillips's "it's fun" theory (whilst she is caricaturing evolutionary principles as related to human mating). She states: "Men by nature want lots of sex; women, by nature, want closeness (the heart) more, so that their offspring will have providers and protectors (expensive gifts). Women will sleep with men to get these things, (the voluptuous rose) but not just for fun (the thorns)."

My rebuttal: Both men and women desire and enjoy having sex, and both sexes desire closeness and intimacy. No one contests these facts. The operative issue is the extent to which members of the two sexes desire and seek these objectives (on average) and under which contexts. Incidentally, to propose that an individual does something for fun is hardly a scientific explanation. Why do people bungee jump? It's fun. Why do people shoot up heroin? It's fun. Why do people eat fatty burgers? It's fun. Why do men and women have sex? It's fun. What a "fun" theory! Ms. Phillips should spend a few moments pondering the evolutionary reason as to why sex might be pleasurable for both men and women alike. This is where an understanding of the difference between ultimate and proximate explanations would prove helpful to Ms. Phillips. She could start by reading my post on the topic here, or my two books wherein I discuss this issue at length (The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature). The dogged and assiduous pursuit of unrestrained sexual "fun" is different across the two sexes for reasons that are rooted in evolutionary forces. This does not mean that women don't engage in casual sex for fun. By definition, each time that a man engages in a casual heterosexual encounter, he is doing so with a woman. Hence, it is trivially banal to demonstrate that women enjoy and desire casual sex. The point of the studies in question was to show that when it comes to random sexual encounters with strangers (as happens say in sauna houses among homosexual men), women are MUCH less interested in such sexual pursuits. That your aunt Jenny is more promiscuous than your friend Gino does not invalidate the general biological fact regarding sex differences in sexual restraint, which holds true at the population level.

(2) Ms. Phillips's questions the authenticity of the studies that I discussed because they were conducted on "white, Caucasian young people"... "in a modern, Western, Christianized, post-industrial urban culture." Nice!

My rebuttal: Are women any less sexually restrained than men in Islamic societies? Hasidic communities? Punjabi villages? Pre-industrial rural China? Notwithstanding cultural relativists' desperate attempt to uncover societies where women engage in unrestrained sexuality more so than men, no such culture has ever been found. If Ms. Phillips could provide us with a culture where women are more desirous of unrestrained sexuality than men, she should advise us ASAP. Fame awaits you Ms. Phillips. I know, I know. No such culture exists because the patriarchy is omnipotent. It predates the Big Bang. Might it be possible that a universal biological theory explains why on average women are more judicious than men in their mating choices? Robert Trivers's parental investment theory explains sexual dimorphisms across a bewildering number of species (including humans). Nah, that's just "post-industrial white Christian man" sexism. Trivers has won the 2007 Crafoord Prize in biosciences (equivalent to a Nobel Prize); this in no way implies that he might have a deeper understanding of biology than Ms. Phillips. She thinks it's all a big sexist sham. She feels it in her gut. Of note, there are numerous evolutionary-based studies that have been conducted using an extraordinarily broad range of cultures (see for example the work of David M. Buss and David P. Schmitt on universal mating preferences). Those who have an ideological antipathy toward evolutionary psychology remain "unconvinced" by these global datasets.

(3) In the main study that I had discussed in my post, only one woman was willing to accept an offer for casual sex with a stranger (demonstrating the rarity of such an occurrence). Ms. Phillips's comment: "Saad is so eager to believe this [that there are innate differences in sexuality] that that [sic] he extrapolates from these two little studies a lesson of global import about the substrates of all human behavior everywhere." According to Ms. Phillips, this study would have to be conducted in every known culture that has ever existed in order for one to confidently proclaim that such an innate sex difference might exist. Of course, we already have this information. To reiterate, no culture has ever been documented where men are coyer in their sexuality than women. Every elemental fabric of our daily reality points to this fact (let alone countless studies, a few of which I'll discuss in my next post). However, according to Ms. Phillips, this could not be rooted in universal biological forces. It is undoubtedly due to the double standard that has ascribed arbitrary "sexist" gender roles since time immemorial.

(4) Ms. Phillips questions the whole premise of evolutionary theorizing as relating to human behavior (and sexuality in particular). Here are her thoughts: "Evolution? We don't really know how the first 30,000 years of hunter gatherers behaved sexually, or if they even understood the nature of paternity. (If they didn't, mothers might have been better off with many baby-daddies-for genetic variety as well as better protection.) So when imagining what is "universally" hardwired in the past few millennia of patriilineal [sic] humanity, let's be a bit tentative."

My rebuttal: Hey geologists: You weren't around three billion years ago when those rocks formed. How do you know how those sediments came to be? Hey paleontologists: How could you make statements about the evolutionary history of a species that has been extinct for 80 million years? You weren't around to know how they lived and what they ate? Hey astrophysicists: Enough with your BS about the Big Bang Theory. You don't know what was happening several billion years ago when the universe was forming. Hey evolutionary biologists: Stop offering posthoc stories about the evolutionary forces that have shaped an endless number of species. You don't know what was happening to those species millions of years ago. You weren't there. Hey oceanographers: I've had enough with your nonsensical theories about tectonic plates. You don't know how the oceans looked like back then. Beautiful stuff Ms. Phillips.

Stay tuned for Part II where I'll tackle the main gist of Ms. Phillips's post: the pursuit of casual sex by women. Ms. Phillips might be surprised to find out that a large evolutionary literature exists that fully recognizes women's desire for short-term mating/casual sex, as well as the behavioral plasticity of sexual behaviors implicit to both sexes.

Note: The title of my post comes from Sam Cook's classic song "Wonderful World."

Source for Image:

http://www.mdnews.com/media/567687/GenderSymbols_250.jpg

Gad Saad is Professor of Marketing at Concordia University and author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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