Family and Society: October 2007 Archives

That sound you hear...

| the simultaneous combustion of the heads of feminists all over the English-speaking world.

Dr Miller is an evolutionary psychologist—and the author of the theory that the large brains of humans evolved to attract the opposite sex in much the same way that a peacock's tail does. His latest foray, into the flesh-pots of Albuquerque, is intended to investigate an orthodoxy of human mating theory. This is that in people, oestrus—the outward signs of ovulation—has been lost, so that men cannot tell when women are fertile.

This theory is based on the idea that in evolutionary terms it benefits women to disguise when they are fertile so that their menfolk will stick around all the time. Otherwise, the theory goes, a man might go hunting for alternative mating opportunities at moments when he knew that his partner was infertile and thus that her infidelity could not result in children.

However, this should result in an evolutionary arms race between the sexes, as men evolve ever-heightened sensitivity to signs of female fertility. Dr Miller thought lap-dancing clubs a good place to study this arms race, because male detection of female fertility cues would probably translate into an easily quantifiable signal, namely dollars earned. He therefore recruited some of the girls into his experiment, with a view to comparing the earnings of those on the Pill (whose fertility was thus suppressed) with those not on the Pill.

The results support the idea that if evolution has favoured concealed ovulation in women, it has also favoured ovulation-detection in men. The average earnings per shift of women who were ovulating was $335. During menstruation (when they were infertile) that dropped to $185—about what women on the Pill made throughout the month. The lessons are clear. A woman is sexier when she is most fertile. And if she wishes to earn a good living as a dancer, she should stay off the Pill.

There's a lot to unpack there. First off, you gotta wonder where this guy gets his grant money.

More seriously, I do recall a comment by a female friend of mine that one of the reasons she got hit on so much at her office was that she was the only lady there who wasn't chemically neutered.

Really, this is intuitive, and the evolutionary theory posited in the second paragraph can be turned right around. It may benefit women (evolutionarily, not morally, of course) more for the signs of their fertility to be discernible to ensure that a mate is available at the right time. Even if he doesn't "stick around." In fact, looking at the reproductive tendencies of our own lower classes confirms this: women using less birth control, men not sticking around, very high birth rates.

Which, ahem, is why marriage and the traditional family are so important. Without it, society has no effective way (outside of legal coercion) of matching up fathers with the children they beget. With the drastic weakening of marriage we've seen over the past several decades, we have - ta da! - lots of fatherless children, even with widely available birth control. (Which gives the idea that men are good at sniffing out fertile women a little more credibility.)

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Speaking about the epidemic of fatherlessness in black families, Mr. Cosby imagined a young fatherless child thinking: “Somewhere in my life a person called my father has not shown up, and I feel very sad about this because I don’t know if I’m ugly — I don’t know what the reason is.”

Dr. Poussaint, referring to boys who get into trouble, added: “I think a lot of these males kind of have a father hunger and actually grieve that they don’t have a father. And I think later a lot of that turns into anger. ‘Why aren’t you with me? Why don’t you care about me?’ ”

The absence of fathers, and the resultant feelings of abandonment felt by boys and girls, inevitably affect the children’s sense of self-worth, he said.

- Bob Herbert on Bill Crosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint's noble crusade to encourage men to be fathers.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Family and Society category from October 2007.

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