I find myself with a little down time – the academic book chapter has been submitted and I completed the rewrite on the novel and I’m waiting for the next round of notes…. So, let’s get caught up!
A while ago I read a book by Daniel Bergner called What Do Women Want: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, and holy shit! This is an interesting book, to say the very least.
The tl;dr version is this:
Bergner is looking for actual, empirical evidence to support the idea that women are more monogamous by nature and have a more vested interest in sexual fidelity. He doesn’t find much.
Most of our understanding of female desire is grounded in what evolutionary psychologists call the Parental Investment Theory. The basic idea is that because women have so much at stake reproductively – bearing the risks of pregnancy and childbirth and having a finite fertility window – they are picky about the genes they allow into their bodies via sex that might result in pregnancy. If you can only have X number of children over your lifetime, then you don’t want to be breeding with some genetically inferior meathead.
This theory is insulting on a number of levels – it assumes, first and foremost that only women care about the well-being of their offspring. Men will father children with any vagina that presents itself, willingly or not and they take zero interest in what happens to that child after it’s born. It’s brutally dehumanizing to both men and women alike. And it makes no logical sense. Why would males of any species kill the offspring of other males if they don’t give a fuck about their own offspring? Bergner puts forth the theory that female promiscuity is a protective measure against infanticide because it masks paternity. Males in primate troops characterized by rampant promiscuity on the part of females don’t know which children are their own, so they don’t kill any of them.
But if men have no vested interest in their own offspring and are going for quantity over quality, then why would they care? Kill all the infants and start from ground zero. Could it be that males actually care about their little ones and want to see them thrive and survive?
The general story we tell ourselves about men and women is that women are naturally cooperative and community oriented and men are naturally competitive and individually oriented, and yet the evidence that Bergner has amassed suggests that exactly the opposite is true: men are more likely to cooperate with one another for the good of the community and women are more likely to compete with one another to achieve personal goals. Recent research into the effect of status on relationships between women seems to bear this out: women are happy to cooperate with other women as long as they perceive their status to be equal. The second a higher status woman enters the scene, it’s a bitchfight!
Unrelated human males regularly interact in groups, which can include higher and lower ranked individuals. In contrast, from early childhood through adulthood, females often reduce group size in order to interact with only one individual of equal rank.
What does this have to do with female desire? Well, it’s the beginning of a narcissistic theory of libido: women are driven by deeply felt personal needs rather than broader “catch the best genes that I can for the benefit of my children” motivations.
The actual empirical evidence about women’s sexuality and desire is exactly the opposite of what we are collectively taught. Women don’t choose the best genetic material to have sex with: men do. That’s why men prefer the .7 waist to hip ratio almost universally. It’s a marker of reproductive fitness. Virtually all the physical characteristics men prefer are markers of reproductive fitness. We are taught that men are driven by insatiable lust and will fuck anything that moves based on satisfying that desire, but it’s actually women who make their reproductive choices based on insatiable personal desires.
It’s really quite funny to read the mostly female researchers freak out over their own findings. When confronted by the idea that being raped by a stranger is one of women’s biggest turn-ons, an extremely common sexual fantasy, Marta Meana stumbles all over herself trying to find the words to describe her findings:
[Meana] narrowed her ideas into an emblematic scene: a woman pinned and ravished against an alley wall. Here, in [Meana’s] vision was an ultimate symbol of female lust. The ravager, overcome by craving for this particular woman, cannot restrain himself; he tears through all codes, through all laws and conventions, to seize her, and she – feeling herself to be the unique object of his unendurable need – is overcome herself.
(p. 97 of Bergner’s book)
But, but, but – it’s not a rape fantasy! “I hate the term ‘rape fantasies’ – it’s paradoxical” says Meana. “It’s a submission fantasy – no I don’t like that word either – there’s dominance and aggression – I have to find better words”.
Poor Meana. She actually tries to convince Bergner to write in his book that the man ravishing the woman in the alley is known to the woman, as if that makes it any better. Anything but stranger rape! Anything but that!
Except no. Stranger rape is central to lust for many, many women.
Why? It’s all about the fantasy of being irresistible. Of controlling men so thoroughly. It’s about being the object of unendurable desire. This was the exact point of my rape culture video. Rape culture is rape fantasy culture: it’s women imagining themselves to be objects of desire – to all men, all the time, everywhere.
It’s classic narcissism. Women’s lust proceeds from their own internal need to feel special, beautiful, wanted, high status – and not out of a desire to select the best genetic material for offspring. Promiscuity is a way to maximize that need to feel sexually wanted. Bergner recounts, over and over again, the waning lust of women who find themselves with nice, accommodating, intelligent, accomplished men – perfect genetic specimens for offspring – but they don’t want to fuck these men.
There is no lust. No desire. If desire was about capturing good genes, these men would be at the top of their To Do list, but they’re not. They’re at the bottom.
Because nice, accommodating, accomplished men tend not to trigger the rape fantasy. Being reasonable, rational, thoughtful and kind is likely to get you nowhere. Triggering desire in women is a matter of pandering to her need to feel irresistible. Keeping desire alive in a long term relationship requires constant attention to women’s inexhaustible narcissism. That sounds like an gruelling chore, but it doesn’t need to be. There is a very simple way to make it both easy and enjoyable.
To me, the solution seems obvious: women break up long-term relationships with men because they just aren’t fulfilled any more, which we can realistically take to include being sexually fulfilled. Women’s sexual fulfilment is narcissistic: her fulfillment depends on feeling utterly desired. Men choose women based on fitness (the .7 waist to hip ratio, intelligence, clear skin and other health indicators, etc. etc).
But in order to be desired, physically desired – in order to spark the longing and craving that drives women’s libidos, women have to actually meet some of those fitness indicators!
Doesn’t this seem obvious?
Women howl that they want to be valued for more than just their looks – that their looks should not matter – but the standard of beauty in any given society at any given time consists of those indicators that suggest reproductive fitness, which is what triggers male desire, which is required for women’s sexual fulfilment. And not just a little desire. A lot.
Rape me in an alley levels of desire.
This doesn’t mean we all have to be 6 foot tall blondes with 25 inch waists. Nonsense. Beauty standards change and beauty is relative to your peer group. But there are standards, and if women can’t hit even close to the mark, there will be no desire from men – nothing to trigger women’s lust other than rape fantasies (also known as romance novels).
Which gets translated into rape culture. Rapists everywhere! All these men who want me! Overcome with lust!
Women investing time and money and energy and effort in their accomplishments (which amount to very little) and neglecting their appearance are setting themselves up for a long life of bitter, angry loneliness. A long life of sexual frustration. Whether they are in a relationship or not, the need to be desired, overwhelmingly desired by men, is central to women’s libido and lust. Women don’t need a female version of Viagara.
They need a trip to the hair salon, a gym membership and some lip gloss. And the common suggestion that you should schedule date nights with your partner to keep the romance alive?
It will work out much more effectively if you schedule your date in an alley somewhere.
And pretend you don’t know him.
Lots of love,