Evolution and Culture of Attraction
A critical, but hopefully not toxic, response to common (non)sense
By MARTIN REZNY
I know I probably shouldn’t get involved in a topic like this, I really probably shouldn’t, but I guess I will attract internet trolls to my writing eventually no matter what, so I might as well start now. Feminism is a topic that I have a lot of mixed feelings about, and there are at least half a dozen ways how I could start this response which would immediately trigger an undying hatred toward me personally by the more eager proponents of this cause.
There are few topics that involve more emotional overreaction than this one… Hm, wait, that’s a landmine already — by either gender, I’m not saying women are hysterical irrational beings, definitely not any more than men. There are few topics that involve more emotional overreaction than this one, and that never helps a reasonable debate to develop. The fact that this issue ties so directly into everyone’s identity also lends itself to an overuse of ad hominem arguments.
To diffuse landmine number two, whatever I’m about say is not a personal judgment of anyone in particular. I do have personal judgments, but those are reserved to people that I know very well personally, which is no one on the internet. And who cares when I do have them. Whatever I find good or bad in general is only my opinion. Usually it has some logical and factual foundation, but nobody is obliged to share my view. Most in fact don’t. People should only be able to recognize how logic and facts work, for their own sake.
With all that said, what I’d like to elaborate on in this article is the difference between the demands and mechanics of evolution, or nature, and culture, or nurture, regarding beauty and attraction, where choice fits into all that, and what my relevant personal observations and experiences have been. Feminists and chauvinists throw these terms around pretty indiscriminately in a way that in my opinion blurs them together, creating a lot of extremely unhelpful confusion. I simply have a few things to say about it.
My Thoughts on the Body Weight Experiment
That’s the part that I definitely like. I’m a big proponent of personal qualitative experiments like this in general (though more voluntary and less life-threatening). For the phenomenon of physical attraction, you cannot do much better than this. I certainly find it much stronger than the usual fare like questionnaires — how often you’re being approached by the other gender is a thing you can clearly measure instead of only having subjective opinions about it. Making it the exact same person at dramatically different weights around the same age is actually a version of such experiment with the best controls, since everything other than weight stays pretty much the same.
As for my personal response to it, let’s jump on three other landmines at once, to at least make it hard to figure out what to hate me for first. I actually consider myself a feminist, though staunchly against the women-glorifying/man-hating branch of it; I am what you would call a “nice guy” type as far as my masculinity is concerned; and yet, I actually do find the more lightweight female body type more attractive. In short, about half of all the things that both many feminists and chauvinists hate for different reasons in men. Well, go at it if that’s your thing.
If you want a debate instead, the question here to focus on is why or how do I like more skinny women when I understand what that standard does to women? That I think is a great way to show where nature, nurture, and choice clash. I grew up in a little Czech village of a few hundred people in a rural region. America doesn’t have many places as far removed from something like New York as this was, maybe apart from Alaska, so it may be hard to explain what that means, but there’s almost nothing here to influence a person in terms of dating preferences or beauty standards other than maybe classmates.
Additionally, it was before internet was widely available, and despite it being a rural area, Czech Republic barely has any equivalent to the American conservatives. We’re a very atheistic liberal democracy that had just abandoned an oppressive socialist government as my generation was born. My parents were also very keen on never telling me what I should think or do, and they treat relationships very differently than I do. I do mostly what I think makes sense, no matter if I’m the only person I know who thinks the same. I also avoid ads like the plague. And I don’t watch porn.
In short, if there’s anything about me that’s neither nurture, nor choice, but genetic, it’s what and who I find physically attractive. To put it in terms that are hard to contradict for people who would judge me on this, if gayness is not a choice, how can it be the body type that one finds physically attractive?
The Chauvinistic Science of Evolutionary Psychology
Let’s briefly divert our thoughts by a personal anecdote that segues into the basics of relevant science. In one of the many ironic twists of my life that was undoubtedly supposed to reinforce in me my general disappointment with all of humanity, I was put in charge of a regular chauvinistic column in a tabloid e-zine. I briefly needed to work there to make some money during my studies of, *sigh*, journalism. Yes, an intentionally and openly chauvinistic column. It was a dude-bro-focused e-zine.
The only instruction that I got from my *female* chief editor was to review the work of Josef Hausmann, a famous Czech self-described chauvinist author, who does his best to support common male intuitions and generalizations about women with evolutionary science. And there were some good points in there, annoyingly and depressingly, that I explored in my articles. The whole affair was of course hilarious to my male friends because I was the only one among them by a mile who was leaning toward a feminist outlook.
What I learned from that experience are some inconvenient facts that however do make scientific sense, and have to be addressed before someone starts trying to remake societal norms. This is how evolution, or specifically evolutionary psychology, works regarding gender and gender norms:
- Biology doesn’t do 100% — even the chauvinist Hausmann states clearly that there’s no such thing as “all women” or “all men”, not to mention something like a yes-or-no trait. That’s biologically impossible due to the fact that genetic variation exists. This definitely applies to psychological traits as decisive for natural selection as sexual behavior or relationship and family preferences. When you say anything about men or women, you have to clarify to how many of them does it apply to what extent.
- Beauty has an evolutionary foundation — in the most straightforward sense, traits like facial symmetry or strong muscles are to a major extent universally attractive to humans because they imply more physically fit genes which are great for reproduction and survival. This also works on a more abstract level, like choosing a rich mate, because that helps survival too in a tangible way, meaning that more of those who like it survive and procreate. It probably even works for intelligence, or some forms of it.
- Genders are not functionally equal — there’s no point in getting angry about this as it is either nature’s or god’s fault and not a human invention, but it is a logical fact that the one who bears children has a different function for a given species than the one who does not. Maybe hermaphrodites can have a fully equal society, but in our biological model, women are not expendable and need to be protected, while men are expendable and have (or more like were) adapted biologically and socially to being those who fight over and protect them.
No one can simply wish these principles away. It can of course be altered by an intelligent species, however be advised that natural selection takes a long time to take visible effect, barring cataclysmic scenarios. Any attempt to effectively alter humans on a biological level quickly would have to involve horrific breeding practices or severe levels of genetic manipulation. Those are facts. It doesn’t mean that all humans share all the exact same biological predispositions, quite the contrary in fact, but this explains why some things are true for the majority and why other traits are bound to stay in a minority.
Back to Feminism and Why I Suck So Much by Default
Okay, now that the science is clarified, let’s proceed to the culture’s role in reinforcing beauty standards and learned male toxicity. While everyone has a preference and some preferences are selected for much more than others, nurture does of course impact which aspects of the innate potential will develop to what extent and which will be suppressed. Within limits of that potential — you will not teach a gay or a lesbian to be straight, or anyone to actually like a different height, weight, or color than they do. You can at most confuse them and make their romantic life unfulfilling, and I believe that’s the case with a lot of the effect of the advertised beauty standards.
As I have read one feminist author write, though I don’t remember the name right now, many men may come to believe that they like thin physique, and then be unsatisfied with sex with a person of that physique and not understand where the problem is. That however doesn’t negate that there is some physical type for everyone that is innately attractive. Or none at all, if that person is innately asexual. Either way, whether a guy likes slim women because of genetics or believes he likes slim women because of being taught that standard, it’s not a choice, it’s not a moral stance. It’s not something that a person can be held accountable for, justifiably hated for.
Similarly, if a woman truly likes to date rich men, or sleep with many muscular man, even date assholes, it’s not a fair reason for judgement. It’s important to understand that affection and sexual drive are more like disease than they are like a political affiliation or economic strategy. They’re not thought through and deliberately selected, they’re imposed on us by our instincts and we wrestle with them. A decision that one can be held accountable for is at most the ability to resist or otherwise handle the urges involved. Personal growth can refine the involuntary romantic inclinations and one’s self-understanding and make a person better able to deal with them, but they will not become controllable at will.
In my case it means that I’m a “nice guy”, and no understanding or conditioning can change that. Without anybody having to try to teach or promise me anything, I deplore many things many manly men do like catcalling, slapping girls on the ass, stalking them, expecting them to do things, calling them names, the list goes on. I don’t do those things and I show my disapproval when someone around me does. In fact, I vastly prefer female company under any circumstances, and I sure as hell don’t find men attractive, even though some asshole is diagnosing me as gaaaaay right at this very moment. In short, I do naturally what feminists wish men to do, or technically, I don’t do anything feminists find deplorable in #AllMen. It’s not an accomplishment, it’s just a biological fact. And it’s a problem.
The Woe That Is to Be What Feminists Are Asking For
The problem is that wishing things to be true is not the same as them working out how you’d like them to when they do become true. While most men can be conditioned to behave in a particular way similar to what I personally find f**king normal, it would be torture to those of them who are innately different, and it wouldn’t change what most women actually find attractive in reality. Which is, on the whole, not nice guys, also measured by how often they are approached by women or simply not rejected when they approach them, in not only my experience. Even some feminists hate nice guys specifically since they choose to see being nice as a passive aggressive strategy that hides an expectation of getting laid for being a good boy. I get the justified paranoia, but this fundamentally misunderstands what a nice guy is.
There are assholes, the opposite of nice guys, who do pretend to be nice with some clear expectation of a reward. Which is a truly toxic attitude. However, being nice is based on genuine selflessness, again the opposite attitude. Also, to expect a reward requires a level of confidence that a nice guy simply cannot possess. If you’re a guy and you think something along the lines of “any girl would be lucky to have me”, I’m sorry, but you’re not particularly nice. And these nice traits are the core of the problem — being nice is not a great evolutionary adaptation. Sure, it doesn’t hurt as an extra benefit, but how does it guarantee anything that would help survival?
Confidence helps. Strength and aggression help. Greed helps. Being nice is nice when you can afford it, but evolutionarily speaking, a nice guy is likely to ask for less than the confident guy, be beaten to death by the aggressive strong guy, and fail to hoard as much resources as the greedy guy. Nice guys can compete by being smart, sure, but so can jerks. If love was about choice and ideals above all else, nice guy would be that choice, but that’s simply not how it works. There’s a minority of girls who truly find niceness attractive, due to the ever present genetic variation, but it’s not a trait strongly selected for by survival pressures, so it’s probably never going to be a majority trait.
Knowing all this, I still have no choice but to be who I am, even if it’s not advantageous. I would probably still choose principles over advantage if it was a choice, but it isn’t, so, again, it’s no accomplishment to be lauded. This is why it’s not a great idea to base one’s sense of identity and self-worth on something like sexual orientation, because it’s not earned and it’s independent of thought or choice, which undercuts both feminism and chauvinism equally. It’s also why attitudes like “all men are rapists” are what’s toxic, since men can’t not have a proactive sex drive (which isn’t what rape is) and be successful at reproduction, which is selected for by women’s sex drive so that we all survive. None of which anyone has chosen.
Everyone has every right to be offended by the “male gaze” perspective, as everyone has the right to be offended by feminism, or any other cultural construct. However, neither can be abolished and erased, as they’re rooted in messy biological facts that humankind doesn’t control. The nature of reality is such that conflicting perspectives and resulting frustrations must exist, and as long as sex will be a thing, some people will be making other people profoundly uncomfortable, or suffer as they’re abnegating themselves. We can and should try to reinforce self-control and respect and we should punish transgressions, but any moral judgment is misplaced in the matters of love.
PS: As for patriarchy, yeah, fuck that shit. Institutions are made up and can be changed. Biologically speaking, men and women have about the same brain, so unless it has something to do very directly with reproduction or death, the gender ratio involved should always be 50:50. Also, education in general shouldn’t try to indoctrinate children in any respect, let alone into gender stereotypes, but instead help them discover what their innate potential is and develop that on an individual basis.
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