This post is in response to The power of female choice: Fat chicks get laid more by Satoshi Kanazawa

Anyone who takes evolutionary psychology seriously has to overcome the fact that many of the most prominent voices in the field don't.

One gets the sense, reading their sweeping, provocative proclamations that they are more salesmen than scientists. The more shock and schlock they can pack in to whatever they're selling, the better. As soon-to-be authors of a book on sexuality (with plenty to shock attentive readers), we're certainly not claiming to be blind to the sales appeal of taking a new approach to inherently interesting material. But there's a point beyond which the science crumbles under the weight of the salesmanship.

Take Kanazawa's latest blog entry, entitled: The power of female choice: Why fat chicks get laid more. As an attention-grabber, it's pretty darned good stuff. You've got offensive language sure to insult many readers (thus generating irate responses and activity in the comments section). The same insulting language will attract other readers, who love to see their own ignorance confirmed by supposed "scientific experts" like Dr. Kanazawa.

Because sexuality is so entangled with power in American culture, it's hard to talk about sex without getting political. The two are nearly inseparable to Republicans especially, as has been demonstrated repeatedly in their opposition to "non-traditional marriage" (only a near-complete ignorance of the history of marriage could lead one to think what we have now is "traditional"), Senator Craig's "wide stance" in the bathroom stall, and their glee in bringing down Bill Clinton over his "unnatural acts."

If Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, or Ann Coulter had studied science, they'd be penning articles like some of Kanazawa's: provocative attention-grabbers empty at the core.

Let's go back to the article. First paragraph:

"In all species in which the female makes greater parental investment into the offspring than the male does (including humans and all mammals), mating is a female choice; it happens when the female wants it to happen and with whom she wants it to happen, not when the male wants it to happen or with whom he wants it to happen. The male has virtually no choice in the matter. A recent study neatly illustrates the principle of female choice."

What does Kanazawa mean by "mating?" In the context of parental investment, "mating" refers to forming a durable pair bond that will last until the offspring are more or less independent, and has little to do with sex. As Kanazawa is well aware, a sizeable percentage of the offspring of various purportedly monogamous species turn out to be genetically unrelated to the male "father."

But Kanazawa appears to be using the term to simply mean "getting laid," in that he writes "it happens when the female wants it to happen and with whom she wants it to happen ..." So, it appears we're talking only about sex. But if so, then Kanazawa is already misleading readers by ignoring the fact that along with female choice, male choice figures in the sexual interactions of many, many species of mammal -- including our own.

High status males have a wide range of options when it comes to mating. Ask any professional athlete, musician, or high-flying businessman what he thinks of Kanazawa's claim that "the male has virtually no choice in the matter." Ask a gorilla, chimp, or bonobo while you're at it.

Female gorillas have precisely no say in the matter, being the reward awaiting the winner of battles for dominance among males. Does Kanazawa believe female lions choose with whom to mate? Elk? Bighorn sheep? In species in which an alpha male dominates mating opportunities, females have little opportunity to refuse.

Kanazawa's understanding of female choice (or at least his statement of it here) is highly simplistic and factually wrong.

And it's not just high-status males who enjoy plentiful female attention. Speaking specifically of female libido among various primates, for example, primatologist Meredith Small writes that, “Interest in novelty has been clearly documented for twelve species of primates. But more striking is the regularity with which females choose these males…. In fact, the search for the unfamiliar is documented as a female preference more often than is any other characteristic our human eyes can perceive."

Here's the end of Kanazawa's piece:

Most men would simply not choose overweight and obese women as their preferred sexual partners. Overweight and obese women can have more sex than normal-weight women only if women decide when and with whom to have sex, and men have little say in the matter.

When a man propositions a woman, she can respond in one of two ways; she can say “yes” or she can say “no.” When a woman propositions a man, he can also respond in one of two ways; he can say “yes” or he can say “yes, please.” He has no realistic choice to say no. Men may not be saying “yes, please” to overweight and obese women, but Kaneshiro et al.’s study clearly suggests that they are definitely saying “yes.”

Look at the structure of Kanazawa's argument here:

1. "Most men would simply not choose overweight ... women as preferred sexual partners."

2. Yet the study cited suggests that on some measures overweight women are statistically more likely to have had sex than randomly chosen women of normal weight. Therefore,

3. "Men have little say in the matter … He can say 'yes' or he can say 'yes, please' … He has no realistic chance to say no."

Say what?

One could fly a blimp through the gaping holes in that argument. Only a man who has never had occasion to pass up an offer of sex could follow that line of reasoning.

Assuming the study cited by Kanazawa actually says what he claims it does, the only statistically significant finding was that overweight women were more likely to ever have had sex. Even if it was just once. Even if it occured a long, long time ago. Even if the woman in question was a sixteen year-old of normal weight when it occurred. And given the fact that this is a self-reported study, even if she's lying.

In other words, the study cited by Kanazawa lends no support whatsoever to his claims re: female choice!

So, while I'd wager that Kanazawa's posts here at Psychology Today probably get more hits than most of the other bloggers, one wonders just how much is substantive information vs. misleading attention-seeking balderdash.

Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers:

Are Women Into Casual Sex? (Response to Readers) is a reply by Christopher Ryan Ph.D.

About the Author

Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is the co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.

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