Sunday, September 09, 2007

Are Men Pigs?

Yesterday on NPR's "What Do You Know?" quiz show, I heard an interesting statistic. It relates to the often heard platitude that "all men are the same". Certainly the vast majority of men would refute that claim. I mean seriously... what do Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush, Michael Jackson, and Jeff Koons have in common? Actually, you might be surprised. They are 99% genetically identical. Isn't that odd? Isn't that just a wee bit disturbing- to think that (if you are a man) you are that close to the average serial killer? Then again, we can flatter ourselves with our similarity to guys like Michael Jordan, Matthew Barney or Ron Jeremy.

We might also consider this generalized genetic likeness when it comes to identifying normative behaviors in the modern male. Men tend to be competitive and ambitious for status, wealth and power. They often think in terms of hierarchies and value reason over emotions. These are secondary or tertiary characteristics, so (of course) we are talking more about predisposition than anything as concrete as causal factors. Whatever our instinctual drives are that underlie these traits is more difficult to determine or define.

When talking about the evolutionary development and social roles of the male half of the human species, there are some common assumptions that seem widely accepted. The male physique is built for hunting and initiating sexual congress. While some may find these conclusions controversial or even disturbing, one need only look at the world of sports for supporting evidence. Every decade or so a woman athlete comes along that a few speculate might be able to compete at the top levels with men, but somehow it never happens. Comparing the world records in track events simplifies the picture. Men (on average) can jump higher, run faster, and throw things longer than women can. This is indisputable. And these are clearly skills that would be highly valued for hunting game.

Slightly more debatable, but still consistent with the expectations of the successful hunter, is the assertion that men attend to phenomena in a qualitatively different way than women. They tend to scan the physical characteristics of creatures they encounter, assessing them for viability in terms of prey. I would argue that these habits extend to the search for a sexual partner. Whether or not a particular male has found their "mate", he seems to have some instinctual drive that makes them continue to look at women with a (frequently) subconscious analysis of their sexual fitness. Certainly the subject comes up often enough when several men get together (unless they see each other as rivals). I think there is ample evidence to believe that men are overwhelmingly visually oriented when evaluating the opposite sex. For starters, simply initiate a cursory study of commercial pornography. Seldom does it cater to women's desires.

Try to communicate this argument when your significant other notices your head turn to track another woman. You might have been completely unaware that you were doing it, but there is no chance of convincing her that you weren't doing it intentionally. While women are quite agreeable to acknowledging other gender-specific innate behaviors, they don't want to hear the explanation about the "hunter role". They have no problem with asserting their natural role as life-nurturers, but tend to gloss right over the instinctive formulation of the male. I do understand why women are upset by what they view as a double standard. Men certainly get territorial when it comes to their partners considering other males as prospective mates.

But that's simply another manifestation of the instinctual drives of the male. Perhaps you should ask your girlfriend or wife why she continues to apply make-up and wear fashionable clothing when she goes out. Hasn't she already succeeded in finding her mate? At some level, women do accept and understand the reality of our situation. To whatever extent we are animals... we have difficulty overcoming our nature(s).

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