I’m always amused by the sort of news story that seems to appear every week or two, in which some social scientist claims to have proven something which is obvious to anyone who’s ever given the matter—whatever it is—a few seconds thought. Well, no, let me amend that: I’m not always amused; sometimes I’m annoyed. But this one is funny. A researcher has proved that men get a buzz from seeing attractive women wearing very little clothing. Not only that, but they want to take some kind of, um, action in response. Not only that, but they behave differently toward attractive women dressed provocatively. Says our psychologist, hilariously:
This is just the first study which was focused on the idea that men of a certain age view sex as a highly desirable goal, and if you present them with a provocative woman, then that will tend to prime goal-related responses.
Well, well. It just goes to show you how lost we would be without social scientists.
And this story, like most such, follows the initial finding with the obligatory evolutionary explanation: “The first male humans had an incentive to seek fertile women as the means of spreading their genes.” Whatever. This mania for reducing everything human to some biological phenomenon driven by evolution is curious—but more about that another time.
I’ve always tried to explain this aspect of maleness to women, especially to young women who don’t have any idea what they’re dealing with when they dress (or undress) provocatively, by an analogy to food: think of the way you react to your favorite dessert. When you look at, for instance, chocolate mousse, you’re not thinking I want to get to know it; I want to share my deepest self with it; I want to love and be loved by it; I want to spend my life with it. No, you’re thinking about consuming it, getting a very brief and purely physical pleasure from it, and when it’s gone you won’t think about it any more, except perhaps for wondering when you can have another one. That’s the basic instinctive reaction of a man, especially a young man, to a woman in a bikini. If you want him to think about you—you as a person, to use the old feminist phrase—try to dress in such a way that he’ll be at least as likely to look at your face as at the rest of you.
Still, I suppose I should be grateful that psychologists are doing these investigations and coming to these conclusions, because they’re helping to destroy the idea that the human mind has no intrinsic qualities but rather is a blank slate to be written upon—“conditioned”—by culture, and therefore capable of being re-conditioned to think and behave in whatever way that same culture, or rather its rulers, wishes. That’s an idea that has done a great deal of harm in the world.
There is another note toward the end of this article that I find a little more interesting, because although it now seems very plain to me it wasn’t always:
Women may also depersonalize men in certain situations…. Evolutionary psychology would theorize that men view women as objects in terms of their youth and apparent fertility, while women might view men as instrumental in terms of their status and resources… [my emphasis].
I remember a conversation with a friend that took place some 35 or more years ago, when we were both unmarried. We were talking about women and romance and he said he felt at a disadvantage in the quest because he didn’t have much money. I was a little shocked by this, and almost offended, in a chivalrous sort of way: I thought he was unjustly maligning the female sex. Women weren’t like that, I thought. Women were concerned with deeper things, with love, with finding a soulmate; they weren’t as base and crude and materialistic as men.
Boy, was I wrong. Not that all women are dominated by that impulse, of course. But it’s far stronger in many than I would ever have supposed back then, and I think it’s at least present in most.
For a while in the 1970s, some feminists tried to argue that women are less materialistic than men. I think about that sometimes when I drive through downtown Fairhope and see all the expensive shops devoted exclusively to the material desires of women: clothing shops, jewelry shops, shops full of doodads for the home, spas (a very mysterious phenomenon to me). And I see the expensive women getting out of their $50,000 SUVs, wearing hundreds of dollars’ worth of clothes and jewelry and makeup, of which they have vastly more in the huge closets and bathrooms of their $600,000 houses. And I think of those old-time feminists, and laugh.
I also thank God that my wife is not like them. But then no woman of that sort would ever have been much interested in me, nor I in her.
P.S. There was a similar report a few weeks ago, more interesting to me than this one: it said women have a much harder time resisting food than men do. Same sort of thing about different areas of the brain lighting up, if I remember correctly. I’ve long suspected this to be true.