By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m increasingly frustrated by your views that women are attracted to men with status or wealth and don’t care much about men’s looks. Personally, I’m not attracted by men’s status or wealth, and I’m very aroused by gorgeous naked men—as are many women. Granted, women thousands of years ago were forced to rely on men for security, but there’s been something called “evolution.” Women don’t need men to survive anymore. Consequently, women are experiencing a discovery of their real libido, which is greatly stimulated by the vision of beautiful male bodies.—Modern Woman
A: If women truly prioritized men’s looks like you say, Victoria’s Secret would be raking in the bucks with a companion chain of sexy undies stores for men. However, Victor’s Secret, if any, remains pretty simple: “Turn ’em inside out and you can wear ’em another day.”
You are right; “there’s been something called ‘evolution.’” Unfortunately, psychological change takes a little longer than you think—which is to say that you’re only off by maybe a few million years. As evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby explain, we’re living in modern times with a “stone age mind.” By this, they mean that the genes right now driving our psychology and behavior were molded by (and are still largely adapted for) mating and survival problems in the hunter-gatherer environment millions of years ago.
We do continue to evolve. For example, over the 10,000 years since humans started dairy farming, some of us eventually developed the physiology to digest lactose (the sugar in cow’s milk)—allowing us to drink milkshakes without gassing it up under the covers and asphyxiating the dog. But changes in our psychological architecture—like the complex cognitive adaptations behind our mating behavior—don’t happen anywhere near that fast. So, no, your genes didn’t just go, “Whoa, look, women’s lib!” and then make you start catcalling construction workers.
Of course, we ladies will take a nice view if we can get it, but other things come first. Anthropologist Robert Trivers explains that what women evolved to prioritize in a partner comes out of the greater amount of “parental investment” required from us. Because a man could just walk away after sex (in the days before there was a state to come after him for child support) and because the features men find hot reflect fertility and health, male sexuality evolved to be primarily looks-driven. For a woman, however, a single romp in the bushes with some loinclothed Hunky McHunkerson could have left her with a kid to feed—long before baby food was sold in stores in cute little jars.
So, the women whose children survived to pass on their genes to us were those who vetted men for the ability and willingness to “provide.” There was no “wealth” in ancestral times—no National Bank of the Stone Age. However, evolutionary psychologists believe a modern man’s high earnings act as a cue for what women evolved to go for in a man—high status, meaning high social standing and the ability to bring home the wildebeest steaks for Mommy and the twins.
You, however, claim that a man’s status does nothing for you. Now, studies reveal how most people are, not individual differences, so you may be right. However, cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga explains that 98 percent of our brain’s activity is unconscious—including some of our decision-making—but we invent reasons for our choices afterward (typically those that make us seem rational, consistent and admirable). And research keeps reflecting that women subconsciously prioritize status. In a study by evolutionary psychologist Michael Dunn, women found the exact same man hotter when he was driving a Bentley than when he was driving a Ford Fiesta. Men? They found a woman equally attractive in either car, and frankly, a woman who’s hot can probably get dates while “driving” a donkey with bumper stickers on the back.
Next, there’s your claim that you and other women are “very aroused” by “gorgeous naked men.” Um, sorry, but that’s not what the vagina monitor says. Sex researcher Meredith Chivers hooked some ladies up to a machine that measures arousal through blood flow in their ladyparts. Though the women were aroused by footage of sex acts, she also showed them footage of a hot dude exercising naked. The vaginal response: “Yeah, whatevs.”
And finally, for the perfect example of how sex differences play out, if a man flashes a woman on the street, it’s, “You pervert! I’m calling the cops.” If a woman does it to a man, it’s probably one of the best days he’s had in forever: “Wow … it’s not even my birthday! How ’bout some yoga poses? Downward-facing dog? Shoulder stand? … Wait. Where are you going? Come back! I think you dropped an earring.”