The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age

    Do Women Desire Peaceful Gentle Partners

    According to Washington Post book reviewer Joanna Scutts, anthropologist Melvin Konner argues in Women After All that we can look forward to a peaceful future because women will increasingly mate with "caring, committed partners" rather than "feckless brutes". 

    At least three assumptions underlie Konner's conclusion:  1) Going forward, young women will have a greater degree of agency when it comes to selecting reproductive mates.  2) Women with agency will choose caring unassuming mates.  3) The offspring of gentle empathic men will be gentle and empathic.  While the truth of each assumption may be questioned, this post briefly examines the second and finds it dubious.

    Konner apparently believes that non-violent men are more attractive to women because women themselves are so much less inclined to use physical force to get what they want.  But this seems a rather slender thread on which to  premise a book.  It's not much of a stretch to believe that people seek out characteristics that they themselves lack in potential mates.  Indeed, the complementary needs theory posits that at least some people do exactly this.

    What do recent studies attempting to tease out just what women want in a long-term mate show?  According to a 2008 survey, in addition to ambition and success, the top ten traits that women say they want in husbands include: dependable character, emotional stability, desire for a family and children, sociability, and a pleasing disposition.  This suggests that Konner has a point and women will choose peace-loving husbands to the extent they can.

    On the other hand, a recent study published in "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that while men were attracted to nice-seeming women upon meeting them, women did not feel the same way about men."  In Japan and many European countries, many women (and men) with agency are choosing to forgo reproducing altogether.

    Anecdotal evidence does not support the theory that liberated women prefer non-violent men - at least to any significant degree.  For example, successful, independent, and attractive Paula Broadwell pursued the older and less physically attractive General David Petraeus.  Indeed, many high status women choose athletes in violent sports like boxing, football, and hockey.  Even physically repellant bully Donald Trump has been married to three women - all of whom had achieved at least a fair degree of success before meeting him.

    Simply put, there isn't a clear-cut answer to the question "what do women want?"  To the extent we can guess what traits are innately attractive, looks, wealth, and status are probably as important as other factors.  The bottom line: ensuring all women agency to reject undesirable mates is unlikely to increase the percentage of children fathered by caring non-violent men.


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    I'm confused, Hal. I read the book review to which you linked, the other partial reviews included and the excerpt from the book itself. Very interesting reading overall - but what I didn't read is anything even remotely resembling the content of your post. Perhaps you can provide a quote to show what I'm missing?

    I am afraid I didn't get it either. Young women have so many more choices in today's society.  They don't have to settle for abuse. I found the links interesting. 

    From the Scutts review (emphasis supplied):

    Konner advances the intriguing thesis that the violent strain in modern man might not be due to maleness in the abstract but to a perverted ancestral strain of it, “a legacy of successful men in this benighted past.” In the feminine future, these traits should theoretically dwindle out of the gene pool as they no longer yield reproductive results — with the power to choose, women will select caring, committed partners over feckless brutes.

    “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.”
    Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

    “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.”
    Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

    I object to the use of the word "theoretically" in Konner's "thesis" as I doubt there's a very robust theory in place - just the wishful thinking that we'll all play nice with each other in the estrogen-laden future. But don't forget - women have testosterone as well, even if smaller quantities, and arguably put it to more efficient use. Such as manipulating feckless brutes to do their violence for them. Women of course are affected by security concerns, and while likely more pacifist in general, are subject to heightened worries due to various kinds of physical and environmental threats. One of the reasons the GOP keeps a reasonably large percentage of women voting for them.

    I don't find that quote included in the Washington Post review, but I'm sure it's accurate. However, I think you're attempting to redirect what appears to be the focus of the book. It's not a remake of a bad Mel Gibson film - as its subtitle, "Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy", might suggest. From the book excerpt ...

    Women have always had to struggle for equality, even in the small hunter-gatherer bands we evolved in. Yet with further cultural evolution, it got worse. With the rise of what we like to call civilization, men’s superior muscle fostered a vast military, economic, and political conspiracy, enabling them to exclude women from leading roles. Jealousy of women’s power to give sex—and, more importantly, to give life—led men to build worlds upon and against them for millennia.

    He's all over the place trying to string his "theories" together, it comes across as a simplistic version of an imagined future and I have no desire to read more of/on it than I already have. Yet it is not (based soley on reviews and excerpts) what your post purports it to be. Other than that ... interesting blog!

    Women probably want men to stop calling their patterns of attraction "agency" - sounds like a high-class escort service at best.

    Picking out anecdotal examples of mating habits is completely useless to support any thesis - those examples could be leftover regressive stamps of a fading practice, complete outliers or otherwise excluded from reasonable statistical & sociological analysis, however fun these are for op-eds. Though my guess is you can predict "some women will go for rich, powerful, though ugly men for the next say 8000 years". Is this a trend to hang your hat on? What percent of humanity does it affect?

    Probably approaching this topic with some appreciation for security and women's still-tenuous grasp on survival through much of the world will shed some light on choices, just as allowing for what the average female encounters in daily life as how she will align her scope of attraction - e.g. "love (one of) the ones you're with" or "girls - making silk purses out of sow's ears for thousands of years".

    Re: clear-cut answers to "what do women want?" is rather pigeon-holing for half of the planet with diverse needs and desires. But one recurring "want" scientists have confirmed seems to be: Shoes.



    BTW - we assumed all those glass ceilings were breaking in the 60's and we got... J-Lo, Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian and Selena Gomez as our top cultural stereotypes? 

    There are a lot of sexual studies out there that point to much more complexity than "seeking the best mate", and I did note one that indicated women became much less picky around time of ovulation - explaining how those ugly dudes finally got laid after all. It's of course not just biology, but then it's also biology. 

    And I'd imagine nature could come up with another way to genomic diversity without inventing men - that's a rather inefficient roundabout solution with a whole lot of new introduced problems unless we solve some other important evolutionary roles, such as handling the electronics and cleaning out the plumbing and occasionally killing mouse/cockroach/annoying neighbor's dog.

    This is a subject with no answers, no conclusions, and ultimately not worth attempting to study.   What do women want?  I'm a woman but I don't want what she wants and she doesn't want what I want.   The only thing we have in common is our gender.

    There are no real answers for the choices women make any more than there are answers for the choices men make.  "What do women want?" may make for endless best-sellers but in the end the question can't be answered.   How could it be?  We're not a tribe to be studied anthropologically, we're human beings.  (Not that studying tribes gives true answers either.  Poor Margaret Mead.)

    I'll admit I didn't read any of your links, Hal.  I'm answering from long experience.  I was married at 18.  What did I know?  Nothing.  I could easily have made a terrible mistake but it turns out I chose well.  Did I marry my dad?  No, but I did marry a gentle man.  Many of my friends and acquaintances over the years have done the same.  Many of them didn't and it took more than one try to get it right.  Some never got it right.  Some never married at all.  Some preferred the company of other women.

    Even the question "What do women want?" begs a fairy tale answer.   If any one of us chooses to answer that insulting question, we'll always sugar coat it.   Not because we're women  but because it's human nature to wish for the best and hope it'll happen. 

    If you asked "What do men want?", their answers would be just as removed from reality.   We all thrive on wishful thinking.  It's what keeps us going.



    Everything you said is valid (and thanks for an interesting read on Mead), and I'll add one more thought: in order for women's supposed choices to choose gentler men to be accurate, it would mean that the more violent men will be without the love of a woman in their lives. I wonder how that would turn out? (As you point out, this theoretical outcome is unlikely, of course.)

    Just in case . . .

    Hey Ramona... On the chance that our wordy wordsmith Mr. Ginsberg missed the most important part of your comment, here it is again:

    ''This is a subject with no answers, no conclusions, and ultimately not worth attempting to study."

    5-Stars for that one.

    Oh and... The rest of your comment is right on the mark!


    Thank you, OGD.  Most women I know just laugh at this stuff.  I suppose some might take it seriously but, lucky for me, I don't know them.

    I'll push back Ramona.  I do think it's interesting and important to try to understand what motivates people to choose or accept certain partners.  We examine the behavior of various species, why not our own?   Indeed, whole industries have developed in response to what makes the other half tick.  Politically, the optimal level of progressivity in the income tax code may hinge on the extent that powerful affluent men are attractive to women.

    Hal, I appreciate many of your posts but this one just pushed my buttons, and not in a good way.  It might be interesting to try and understand what motivates human beings to do anything but in the end it's pretty futile.  For every hundred  questions you'll get a hundred different answers.  Ask them again the next day or after something has happened and you'll get different answers.  Ask the questions with different emphasis and you'll get, again, different answers.  Ask them in a different setting, with different music playing. . .different answers.

    I don't see how it can be important when there are no real answers, only someone's frothy ideas based not on facts but on perceived emotions.  It seems to me the only ones who benefit are the ones doing the supposed research.  They can publish articles, sell books, land a slot on Dr. Phil.  What they can't do is change anything.  Nobody knows why women or men choose the mates they choose, but that won't stop the people who think they have the answers.  They don't.  They never will.  All I can do is laugh at their silly efforts.  Sorry.

    Ramona... I loved this one from 2008...

    From the "what-some-women-have-been-saying-for-years dept" at :

    "British scientists have discovered a way to turn female bone marrow into sperm, allowing women to reproduce without the need of male companionship.'' --snip-- ''I'd like to take a moment to welcome our new amazonian overlords and remind them that men are still very good at mowing lawns and fixing cars."


    Hal... You 're right about this...

    ''whole industries have developed in response to what makes the other half tick."

    Yeah... And we end up with crappy commercials that pander to the base instincts like this.


    Women want a sandwich? Why didn't they just say so?

    "Garcon, you forgot the fucking Heineken."

    We've been handing out the recipe for years ...

    Two thick slices each of wage equality and employment advancement, a slice of stronger sexual assault legislation, topped with gender-specific health care and freedom of choice on a bun of respect. Season liberally.

    After thousands of years of systemic oppression, are things finally looking up for the female of the species?

    I think that introductory sentence points to the weakness of the authors conclusion. While psychological evolution seems to me to almost certainly play a major part in ‘who’ we are as viewed from a point of trying to see 'what’ we are. Changes in ‘what’ we are based on genetic differences which are caused by even by conscious selection as opposed to natural selection would take a very very long time. A dog breeder would know that even under the controlled circumstances they can create where conscious choices of mates are made with a determined and identifiable outcome in mind, many generations are required to establish a line that will “breed true”. Human psychological evolution has an extremely complex number of inputs which do not have an affective and controlled feedback loop to reinforce a particular trait through selective breeding while also eliminating other established traits simply because they offer no advantage. I very much doubt that even a thousand years of women having a completely informed choice of what characteristics the greater culture as a whole might think best to promote, but having to choose the right mate out of a gene pool in which a perceived 'bad’ characteristic such as aggressiveness is overwhelmingly commonplace, will rid the resulting males of that genetically influenced characteristic. And, as Hal’s title implies, women have some inbred [I am not using that term derisively] characteristics of their own. Maybe they are often attracted to men with characteristics such as aggressiveness which have had hundreds of thousands of years to become psychologically influential and almost universally expressed because the feedback loop was in play in a self-reinforcing way.

    Coincidentally, there is an article published today at Aeon online magazine which theorizes why mating and/or marriage choices vary on a statistical level over relatively short time periods compared to the time that biologically transmittable psychological characteristics change through evolutionary choices prodded by conscious choice and unconscious instinct . The subject is not quite the same but I think that the article has related ideas and is worth reading for anyone interested in the ones Hal linked to.

    Thanks for the link.  I don't have time to read it now but will before the day is over.  I liked what I took a short look at. 

    I read the link. The economy does play a big roll in all of this also social status. Thanks  

    Hal, you get high marks for creative posts.

    I heard a quote---I think it's attributed to Doris Lessing---"Men are afraid women will laugh at them, and women are afraid that men will kill them." 

    The quote rings true to me and I don't see things changing much.

    Ha and double ha. I bet you kill me before this thread is over.

    Role reversal is always good for  laugh.

    Yes it is. But I'm thinking you might be too picky today,


    Thanks Oxy Mora.  Your kind words mean a lot to me smiley.

    Women and Men look for strong partners who won't fall apart when things get tough. How much aggression that involves is not essentially about a predisposition influencing the process of attraction. Violence is not selected for its own sake so much as it is a component corrupting transactions.
    Men and Women interested in finding submissive partners are not interested in becoming more capable as result of the union.
    Selection goes in many directions. A man or a woman can be Madame Bovary, angling to satisfy what they don't feel. Some view it strictly as a market within a limited range of options. Some are looking to have somebody else resume the parent work that kept their stuff together up this point. Some just party before some inevitable end. Etcetera.

    The initial choice to have a partner always leads to another entirely different set of choices that greatly influence whether one survives. No matter how bound we are by obligations, each looks for confirmation that proves the work is underway.

    And the confirmation must be truly given, not traded for, because that is the selection part.

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