By David Futrelle
Pickup artists and Men’s Rights Activists and other reactionary misogynists love to claim that their retrograde ideas about human “mating strategy” have been proven 100% awesome and correct by SCIENCE. By SCIENCE, of course, they generally mean a simplified version of evolutionary psychology based on “just so stories” about our human ancestors and assorted studies of animals that supposedly prove the eternal truth that alphas rule and betas drool.
Consider, for example, one recent defense of “toxic masculinity” posted on Psychology Today and then reposted by Men’s Rights hate site A Voice for Men. In “Is toxic masculinity a valid concept?” Concordia University marketing professor and Evo Psych maven Gad Saad declares that
For sexually reproducing species including humans, evolution has endowed males and females with universal mating preferences that map onto sex-specific recurring challenges faced by each sex during our evolutionary history. This is profoundly obvious to anyone with a grade 8 level understanding of human biology and human psychology.
Ladies in “sexually reproducing species,” it seems, are hard-wired to love big burly dudes.
Female fiddler crabs and hens prefer males with extravagantly large claws and tails respectively. Ewes (female rams) will mate with the ram that wins the brutal intrasexual head-butting contest. They reward targeted aggression by granting sexual access.
Crabs also live underwater and have a seafood diet that includes sea urchins, sand dollars, barnacles, and algae. But never mind.
Needless to say, there are innumerable other examples of sexual selection that I might describe but I suspect that you get the general gist. Are rams exhibiting toxic masculinity? Are female fiddler crabs succumbing to antiquated notions of masculinity as promulgated by the crab patriarchy?
I’m going to say “yes” to that first question, as rams can do pretty severe damage to one another with all that head-butting.
Let’s now apply the exact same evolutionary process (sexual selection) to humans. Evolutionary psychologists have documented universal patterns of mating preferences that are invariant across time and place. In no culture ever studied have women repeatedly preferred to mate with pear-shaped low-status tepid men possessing high-pitched nasal voices.
As a pear-shaped — well, more apple-shaped — low-status tepid man, I do fine, actually, but never mind.
In no documented culture do women’s sexual fantasies revolve around granting sexual access to unemployed unambitious men who occupy the lowest stratum of the social hierarchy. Instead, women are attracted to “toxic masculine” male phenotypes that correlate with testosterone, and they are desirous of men who are socially dominant, are strategically risk-taking in their behaviors, and who exhibit patterns of behaviors that will allow them to ascend the social hierarchy and defend their positions from encroachers.
Other Red Pill thinkers also look to the animal kingdom for lessons on human sexuality, most often citing gorillas and chimps, which are genetically very similar to humans if a bit hairier.
Our old friend Heartiste, the floridly racist PUA guru, regularly turns to studies of other primates to understand what he calls the “renowned human female mate preference for jerkboys of varying jerkitude.” In one post, he recounted an experiment he claimed to have conducted in which he did his best impression of an especially macho gorilla to see how women reacted to this primal stimulus.
For shits and remotely activated tingles, I decided to try out the MAXIMUM ALPHA MALE MODE walking style in a beautiful baby zoo near you.
I walked about town like a guy who [had] absorbed a piece of gorilla DNA …
Result: After an hour or so performing the “here are my steely balls, ladies, feast your eyes” gait, I can conclusively say that a lot… no, a WHOLE LOT… of women tossed me lascivious stares. Not “what is this weird guy doing?” looks; real hardcore “i want… i need… to get to know this man” stares.
Ok, there were a couple of “who’s the weirdo?” looks, but most were definitely in the “checking him out” camp.
In the Red Pill subreddit, someone called SkorchZang offered his scientific assessment of ape sex.
I‘m always deeply touched when watching a documentary about apes and there’s some mating scene or something going on. Typically the male is what you’d expect, he’s humping away, working it, it feels good and he’s just focused in on that. But the female, man! They actually use their wrinkly monkey faces to make the exact same “porn faces” that human women will put on. You know the face, that “oh you dirty big fucking fucker, you… fucking me all bent over like that when you know that’s not very nice!” kind of face. With the eyes and everything. Hilarious display of the raw natural hunger for male domination that TRP often talks about and taps into.
But is a “hunger for male domination” really this universal? Even amongst those species that value male alphatude in matters of the heart and loin, things are a bit more complicated than the Red Pill alpha male myths.
Amongst rhesus macaques, for example, “younger females often sneak off to mate with males lower down on the dominance hierarchy,” according to a guide to primate behavior put together by behavioral scientist Dennis O’Neil of Palomar College. Male chimps, meanwhile, prefer mating with older females instead of the nubile young lady chimps that Red Pill ideology would suggest they’d go for instead.
But this isn’t the main thing wrong with Red Pillers’ fetishization of animal studies as a guide to human sexual desires and behavior. The biggest problem? There are 7.77 million species of animals on our little planet. Red Pillers (and Evo Psych enthusiasts generally) cherry-pick a tiny handful whose behavior seems to best match with their crude “alphas rule, betas drool” vision of the world. But the mating behavior of many species bears little or no resemblance to what we humans do.
Consider, for example, our fellow social mammal the spotted hyena. Given their infamous aggressiveness, you might assume spotted hyena society to be lorded over by the alpha males who can bite and laugh the hardest. Not exactly. Female spotted hyenas like their men meek. As Wikipedia notes,
Males will show submissive behaviour when approaching females in heat, even if the male outweighs his partner. Females usually favour younger males … Passive males tend to have greater success in courting females than aggressive ones.
Oh, and did I mention that female hyenas have fake dicks?
The mating process is complicated, as the male’s penis enters and exits the female’s reproductive tract through her pseudo-penis rather than directly through the vagina, which is blocked by the false scrotum and testes. These unusual traits make mating more laborious for the male than in other mammals, while also ensuring that rape is physically impossible.
Things get even weirder when we move beyond the mammals. Fenale fiddler crabs may prefer macho lovers with huge … claws. Praying Mantis and Black Widow females like men they can literally eat (though in practice they eat their former lovers far less than the urban legends suggest).
If death at the hands of your insect (or arachnid) lover sounds unappealing, consider the horrific fate faced by male anglerfish after they get jiggy with it in their own weird way. As Wired notes, in many species of anglerfish, those hideously ugly denizens of the very deep,
[f]emales are so large and in charge that the much smaller males don’t even look like [they’re from] the same species. A male will bite onto his lady friend, then fuse his face to her body. He lives the rest of his days like this, releasing sperm when she releases eggs. That little bump at the back of her belly? That’s her husband.
Were Anglerfish capable of producing rom-coms, Wired wryly observes,
Every single movie would go a little something like this: Boy meets girl, boy bites girl, boy’s mouth fuses to girl’s body, boy lives the rest of his life attached to girl sharing her blood and supplying her with sperm. Ah, a tale as old as time.
While male anglerfish may be the ultimate omegas, male seahorses aren’t far behind. As most of us learned back in grade school, it’s the male seahorse that gets “pregnant” after being pumped full of eggs by a female who deserts him immediately afterwards. Here’s what a hot date looks like for these horsefaced creatures, according to Wikipedia:
During a “true courtship dance” lasting about 8 hours … the male pumps water through the egg pouch on his trunk which expands and opens to display its emptiness” in an attempt to impress his would-be mate. If his egg-pouch flapping gets his target female in the mood,
she and her mate let go of any anchors and drift upward snout-to-snout, out of the seagrass, often spiraling as they rise. They interact for about 6 minutes, reminiscent of courtship. The female then swims away until the next morning [when she] inserts her ovipositor into the male’s brood pouch and deposits dozens to thousands of eggs. … Both animals then sink back into the seagrass and she swims away.
Talk about being pumped and dumped!
Even amongst those species in which the ladies seem to prefer the most macho lovers the betas often manage to get some action as well. Consider the cuttlefish. As Wikipedia explains,
Male cuttlefish challenge one another for dominance and the best den during mating season. … The animals will threaten each other until one of them backs down and swims away. Eventually, the larger male cuttlefish mate with the females by grabbing them with their tentacles, turning the female so that the two animals are face-to-face, then using a specialized tentacle to insert sperm sacs into an opening near the female’s mouth.
But lower-status cuttlefish have a sneaky trick up their many sleeves — turning themselves into ladylike “sneaker males” to fool their macho rivals into giving them access to the cuttlefish equivalent of a HB 10.
[S]maller cuttlefish will use their camouflage abilities to disguise themselves as a female cuttlefish. Changing their body color, concealing their extra arms (males have four pairs, females only have three), and even pretending to be holding an egg sack, disguised males are able to swim past the larger guard male and mate with the female.
But my favorite animal sex-havers have to be banana slugs. Slugs in general, Wikipedia explains,
are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs. Once a slug has located a mate, they encircle each other and sperm is exchanged through their protruded genitalia. …
In the banana slugs, the penis is trapped inside the body of the partner. Apophallation allows the slugs to separate themselves by one or both of the slugs chewing off the other’s or their own penis.
If Red Pillers and PUAs really want to impress the world with their badass no-fucks-given attitude, I’d suggest they stop taking their cues not from gorillas but from these slimy, yellow, penis-shaped penis-chewers.