An Article published in Scientific American this week demystified a commonly held colloquialism – Rachel and Ross knew it, Monica and Chandler certainly knew it (ok, Phoebe and Joey didn’t know it, but they were kinda clueless): men and women can’t be “just F•R•I•E•N•D•S“.
The article, according prolific feminist blogger Elizabeth Plank, was “hilariously accurate.” She quotes the study:
“Men were more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief. In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends. Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual. As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.”
While the merits of the study have been questioned because of its small sample size, what’s interesting is what motivated the study in the first place – the need to ask the question at all. I think most of us intuitively feel that we can maintain platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex, even – gasp! – the attractive ones. But the need to ask if men and women can be “Just Friends” comes from a particular heteronormative discourse about male vs. female sexuality. It’s a discourse that’s conjured (or maybe revealed) by the reactions elicited by the study. What followed the Scientic American article initially were the suspected remarks by the usual suspects: men making evolutionary and biological arguments to justify their skewed sexual egoism.
User Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek comments bluntly: “This article is the worst piece that I have seen on SciAm in a long time. 2 main reasons: 1. Men are genetically programmed to become sex addicts…”
User priddseren comments a little more (?) insightfully: “You bet men dont turn off the desire. We have the chemistry in our bodies that basically always keeps the desire for sex on and to add to it, unlike women we can’t just “get it” anytime we want. We either have to pursue romantic interests (or buy for some) but either way, very very few men can just lean out the front door and just declare their need and get a response.”
While Bird/tree/…’s medical credentials to back the claim aren’t clear, and the disturbing implications of ‘buying for some romantic interest’ (whatever that means) aside , priddseren taps into the commonly held misbelief in men’s increased “evolutionary” or “biological” tendency toward sexual aggression, indiscrimination, and procreative value vis-à-vis women. “It’s a fact: men sow their seed. Right?” Wrong.
While widely lauded by us men, the evolutionary and the biological arguments are two of the most laughable proffered in defense of men’s sexual choices. And two of the most used by those among us who don’t really understand science, and don’t totally appreciate logic.
Essentially they begin by obscuring fact and theory and end by confounding premise and conclusion. Evolution is a fact. Biological difference is a fact. Nomenclature aside, men carry certain chromosomal differences from women. It’s why our balls drop and our voices get deeper. It’s not why we get to be douchebags and blame Darwin for our douchebaggery.
Propagation of the species is, by necessity, a bilateral proposition, implicating both genders. Ask any guy out there, even the uber-masculine ones (ok, maybe not Arnold Swarzenegger in the movie Junior, but definitely Arnie from Terminator), and they’ll tell you, you need a man and a woman to procreate. By definition, women and men should have the same indiscriminate sexual urges, but women’s may come nine months apart, if she’s batting a great couple of seasons.
Sure, some less than insightful (and eloquent) biologists will tell you that there’s a difference. Men sow their seed, women nest in the fields that grow from them. The idea fails to pay homage to its maker: Darwin started in the Galápagos, where he noticed that birds respond to their environment, through generations. Unlike the finches he observed, part of human interaction — our complex communicative mechanisms — gives us a much richer environment in which to act.
Where men are told that, by nature, they should be sexually aggressive and women should nest, they respond by? Being sexually aggressive and blaming nature. One need look no further than any documentary on penguins on the Discovery channel (we all know we’ve seen them, hung over Sunday morning) to discount the theory that it is only women who nest (seriously, watch one, they’re really cool — the male penguins hold the eggs and keep them warm for the entire gestation period and then reticently let their babies back into the care of their mothers after a little post-pregnancy, deep-sea vacation).
Penguins not your thing? Check out recent studies that debunk the myth that polyandry is only beneficial to men, like this one.
If you measure evolutionary success in offspring and grand-offspring reaching maturity, then science tells us that females benefit, from an evolutionary standpoint, from polyandry and sexual variability over monogamy just as men do. The study above reportedly
“used Trinidadian guppies, a small and colorful freshwater fish where multiple mating is common among both sexes, and females often initiate polyandry despite the males bringing nothing (no help) but sperm to reproduction.
[…] two discovered “paybacks” of polyandry – more descendants and an ability to manipulate the sex ratio of the offspring for their advantage – are no doubt important “weapons” for the evolutionary success of a female and help to explain why they risk so much to chase even those apparently worthless guppy males.”
Men should stop using worthless guppy arguments to make circuitous non-sequiturs. From an evolutionary standpoint, if men think that they are inherently attractive to all their female friends and act like arrogant assholes, they should take ownership over it. Evolution’s given them the higher cognitive abilities to do so.
If they really want someone to blame for their bad programming, they should look to a culture of messages that tell them that they are superior, and that their female friends are always secretly in love with them. Blame Ross and Rachel, not biology and evolution.
(photo CC-licensed by Jason Rollison via Flickr)