Do chicks dig jerks? Are chicks irresistibly drawn to violent and abusive guys? Does behavior merely express DNA?
The question has long been debated. We are not going to solve the problem today. But, over at National Review Kevin Williamson provides some intriguing thoughts on the question.
Before defining jerkiness and before launching into a discussion of the relevant research I want to examine how the researchers quantify sexual success.
Williamson reports that it is “a larger number of total lifetime sexual partners.”
In one sense, we can stop there and crown Wilt Chamberlain.
Already, you can see the problem. A man who performs many sexual acts with one woman over an extended period of time will rate lower on the sexual success ratio than a man who performs fewer sexual acts with many women.
Moreover, a man who has a harem also has a large number of sexual partners. Nevertheless, the two situations are not analogous.
This implies that men who frequent prostitutes or who do not discriminate will score higher on the sexual success scale.
Prostitution aside, a man who has had many women might also be a man who has been rejected more often.
We think that Don Juans lose interest once they have achieved their goal, and that women are more likely to want to cling to a man, but it is also possible, since we are dealing with a small number of men, that the women who have succumbed to jerks come away from the experience having no interest whatever in ever seeing them again.
The research says that men who have the most success with women are jerks—aggressive, abusive, narcissistic, and manipulative.
But, ask yourself this. If a Don Juan is the prototype for the devious Machiavellian suitor he normally oozes charm and wit, not abuse. He is a monument to human empathy. He feels her pain. He feels it more than she does. He knows her mind, even more than she does.
A paragon of testosterone-fueled manliness he is not.
Don Juan succeeds with women for the same reason that women throw themselves at androgynous figures like Justin Bieber. Since he is neither narcissistic nor aggressive nor abusive women are more likely to feel safer in his presence. Lacking the overt signs of manly achievement he is less threatening, thus more likely to talk a woman into letting her guard down.
This ought to balance the research showing that when women ovulate they are more attracted to men who possess more masculine characteristics.
To keep this in perspective, the fact that a woman finds a manly man more attractive does not necessarily mean that she is going to spend her life with him. People do not necessarily marry those they are most attracted to. Most marriages in the course of human history have been arrangements anyway.
If you were wondering why some women are attracted to jerks, the research suggests that women associate jerkiness with manliness. They see a violent man as a man who is more likely to compete well in the world and more willing to protect her and her children.
Of course, abuse situations are never quite that clear cut. Does it really make sense that a woman would submit herself to abuse at the hands of a man who she feels will be a better protector? Or would it be more reasonable to suggest that she might stay with him because she fears what he will do to her if she dares to leave?
It is reasonable for women to believe that nice guys, guys who have the milk of human empathy coursing through their arteries, will be inferior competitors and inferior bread winners.
But then, if the jerks out there are the ones least likely to commit, why would women-- who notoriously prefer long term relationships-- be drawn to them.
Williamson offers a slightly different angle on the question of domestic abuse.
In his words:
According to a paper published in the academic journal Violence and Victims, those who take an evolutionary view of the issue “hypothesize that one goal of male-perpetrated domestic violence is control over female sexuality, including the deterrence of infidelity. According to this hypothesis, domestic violence varies with women’s reproductive value or expected future reproduction, declining steeply as women age.”
When a man wants to control a woman’s sexuality that means that he is recognizing her as attractive and fertile. If he does not care enough to try to control her, that might be a sign of sexual disinterest.
Williamson adds that more aggressive men tend to produce more sons than daughters, so women who want sons will be more likely to suffer more abuse for it.
The point feels far from self-evident to me.
Quoting the controversial Satoshi Kanazama, of the London School of Economics, Williamson says:
“Aggression and violence,” he writes, “while they exact enormous physical tolls on the women in the context of spousal abuse, are at the same time important determinants of the outcomes of intrasexual competitions among men, especially in the ancestral environment, where most, if not all, dominance contests were at least partly physical. And women often seek out dominant men of high status as their ideal mates.” He goes on to point out that in studies of polygamous societies, men who have killed tend to have more wives, and that even in the 21st century, testosterone levels correlate with status in organizations such as the U.S. Army. (But not in the U.S. job force: High levels of testosterone correlate negatively with career success in the United States. Corporate America really is full of girly-men. But you knew that.)
Let’s try to make some sense of this. Men who commit murder experience a testosterone rush. Evidence suggests that this is true.
Soldiers who have high testosterone, presumably more kills, supposedly do better in the military. And yet, many career paths in the military have less to do with kills than with organizational skills.
Why else was Dwight Eisenhower chosen over, say, George Patton, to be the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in World War II?
Is corporate America really full of girly men? I am not so sure.
Have you ever met a successful bond trader? Does he strike you as a girly man?
People who compete and strive to climb the corporate hierarchy are usually highly competitive and aggressive, even to the point of ruthlessness.
And then, a recent article on Gawker suggested that many of the super-nerds who built Silicon Valley suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome. Think Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Craig Newmark, and so on.
Asperger’s sufferers are conspicuously lacking in empathy. They are also lacking in social skills. Yet, they are anything but manipulative and devious. You cannot lack social skills and empathy and still be a great seducer.
A lack of empathy will make you a better competitor. The people who built Silicon Valley are extremely competitive people.
In this light the therapy culture’s emphasis on building male empathy must be aiming at making men less competitive, less successful, and less attractive to women.
Yet, those who built the American high-tech industry are neither homicidal maniacs nor girly men.
All of this to say that we need to take a deep breath before we embrace this scientific research.
After all, women, like men, have a rational faculty. At least if not more often as men, they exercise it.
If they did not, and if these research findings were as probative as everyone things they are, then a goodly number of women would want to bed or to marry homicidal maniacs or hypercompetitive men. We know that that is not true.
Most women know that there is more to childbearing than the thrill of the sexual experience,. And there is more to bringing up a child than the act of conception.
Women might be happy to see their sons grow up and join the military, but they certainly do not want them to grow up to be contract killers.
For most women and for most humans having the maximum number of offspring is not the point. Mothers want to provide their children with the best upbringing. They believe that they can do their best if they have fewer children.
Advances in modern medicine and science have made it more likely that more children will survive childhood, so one of the important reasons for having a lot of children has disappeared.
When it comes to marrying a player, most women know that it is better if their growing children have their fathers present. Whatever their DNA might be telling them they know that it is a good thing for the child’s father to be present and accounted for.
If the father is running around impregnating multiple nubile females he will not be around to protect his family, will not be able to provide for all of his children, and will be far more likely to bring home an opportunistic infection. Unless he has monumental wealth or power a man who has many, many children will be an inferior protector and provider.
No one should be surprised to learn that women take these factors into account when choosing their husbands.
Finally, we must also add that human males and females have another, more social instinct that directs them toward negotiated compromise. Many of them find fulfillment and a stable, less drama-laden life, when they learn how to compromise with the opposite sex.
If the results of the research are accurate so is the fact that the human species does not practice polygamy on a regular basis. Perhaps there is more to life than neurobiology.