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The Advice Goddess: Real houseknives
Tuesday, 15 September 2020 11:01
Syndicated Columnist

I was dismayed at how off-base you were when I read your response to a woman wanting to give her female friend advice to stop her from dating and hooking up so much after her breakup. It’s common knowledge that it’s men who go off on women for being promiscuous and tell them to not dress sexy. It’s one more form of patriarchal control. Why blame women for this?
— Angry Woman Living In The Real World


When men at construction sites catcall women, it generally isn’t with remarks like, “If you had more self-respect, you’d wear a nice, classy long skirt.”

 There is a widely held belief that it’s mainly men who try to curtail women’s sexual expression — particularly that of single women — raging at them for engaging in hookup-athons or wearing skirts the size of an airmail stamp. There are men who do this, especially in repressive cultures, and even in our own.

 But if you give this notion some thought, with an eye to our evolved psychology, it really doesn’t make sense. Men and women evolved to have different mating strategies based on their physical differences, like how women can get pregnant from sex and left with a howling child to feed and care for. This probably worked out better — meaning an ancestral woman was more likely to leave surviving descendants to pass on her genes —  if she didn’t end up a single mom digging for grubs on the African savanna.

 There’s a good deal of evidence that female emotions evolved to push women to seek commitment and feel bad when it doesn’t seem to be there, even when they hook up with a guy they know they want nothing more to do with. Though many men want (or eventually want) long-term relationships, a man can choose to dad up for a baby that results from sex... or choose to be all “‘bye forever!” and still have a good shot at passing on his genes. (Thanks, single lady grub-digging on the savanna!)

This means that casual sex is a mating strategy that tends to be optimal for men in a way it isn’t for women. Or, as evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt puts it, “Men tend to desire easy sexual access” to “large numbers of sex partners”; in other words, they tend to be up for casual sex with a slew of hot women (or a slew of women with a pulse). 

Getting back to your notion that it’s men who tamp down women’s sexual expressiveness, sure, if a man’s married to a woman, he might ask her to close up a few buttons on her blouse before they go to some pervy neighbor’s party. But say the woman in the cleavage-a-boo blouse is not the man’s wife. Even if the man is married and faithful, his mind — his evolved psychology —  probably leads him to read her as a potential sex partner and consciously or subconsciously store her in memory as a “backup mate,” a sort of sexual fold-up pocket umbrella (just in case!).

In other words, when a man isn’t in a relationship with a particular woman, why would it possibly be in his self-interest to pressure her to dress a little more, um, Amish casual, and to keep her legs crossed until she’s Mrs. Somebody?

Research supports this view. Social psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge reviewed research on the “cultural” (meaning “societal”) suppression of female sexuality, which they define as “a pattern of cultural influence by which girls and women are induced to avoid feeling sexual desire and to refrain from sexual behavior.”

They report that “the view that men suppress female sexuality” (like, for example, by punishing women who make sex too available to men) “received hardly any support and is flatly contradicted by some findings. Instead, the evidence favors the view that women have worked to stifle each other’s sexuality because sex is a limited resource that women use to negotiate with men, and scarcity gives women an advantage.” (Women doing this are typically unaware of this underlying motive.)

Especially recently, people get outraged when scientific findings don’t conform with the ideology they hold dear. This is unfortunate because only by finding out the sometimes counterintuitive, counterproductive, and surprising ways we actually think and behave can we choose to act more productively.

Personally, knowing how pernicious, sneaky, and underhanded female intrasexual competition (women competing with other women) can be makes me careful to be assertive in healthy ways and, in social situations, make sure other women feel included and not left out. And really, if you look logically at who benefits from getting hot women to de-hotify, well, lemme know when you find a strip club with dozens of men clamoring for the women there to cover up their enormous breasts and, for God’s sake, put on a pair of pants. 


Kick the Hobbitt

My 23-year-old nephew is a nice guy, a college grad with a good job who’s a loving pet owner. The women in the family love his ironic mustache, his tattoos, and his way of making people laugh, but the men, including my husband, tend to see him in a negative light. I struggle to understand why they think so little of him. But maybe that’s it: My nephew’s not a big guy. He’s maybe 5-foot-6, and while that’s not terribly short, my family skews tall, with all the other men 6-foot-3 and over. From reading evolutionary theory in your books and columns, I’m wondering, might these men subconsciously dislike him because he’s small? If so, is there any way to get them to see him in a better light?

 — Concerned Aunt




Your nephew sounds like a good guy who’ll eventually be some lucky woman’s three-fourths and only.

You’re on to something about height affecting our evaluation of other people. Evolutionary researchers Gert Stulp and Abraham “Bram” Buunk observe that, across cultures, “taller stature” is linked with higher social status, and historically, “The term ‘big man’ has been used to denote an individual of both high social status and physical stature.”

In fact, the researchers explain, because physical dominance was the primary path to power for much of human evolutionary history, “it seems likely that ‘big men’ experienced increased social status” because of their “physical superiority in competition with others.” In other words, though taller doesn’t always equal stronger, in general, the bigger the bro, the bigger the beatdown he could dispense.

Today, physical dominance is still the currency of power in really scary neighborhoods (including scary cellblocks). However, a garden gnome-sized man can make up in stacks of thousand-dollar bills the leverage he’d have from physical stature. And recall that would-be duel from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with some huge creep brandishing a giant scimitar at Harrison Ford — who simply draws his gun and shoots the guy. Likewise, the local Goliath might be no match for a well-armed Mr. Stubby.

However, though we’re living in modern times, the psychology currently driving our behavior is seriously antique, calibrated for the hunter-gatherer way back when. In our modern world, it often leads us to behave in unnecessary and even counterproductive ways. Our psychological response is typically subconscious, so, for example, we might sometimes think less of somebody less-than-towering without understanding why.

This could explain some of the findings Stulp and Buunk cited. Even in “contemporary, industrialized society,” tall people rule, achieving “greater levels of upward social mobility.” This is seen even when a taller person and a shorter one are siblings with ashared environment (researcher-speak for growing up in the same home). Additionally, from childhood on, “Height may also affect how people perceive themselves, and so influence behavior” (in turn influencing how other people perceive and treat them).

Though prior research finds perceptions of a person’s dominance and high status are related to height, Stulp and Buunk’s team explored the influence of height on people’s behavior. For example, in a narrow pedestrian passageway, they observed that both taller men and taller women were more likely to storm forward unyieldingly, forcing shorter pedestrians to give way and let them pass. Likewise, on a crowded shopping street, when a shortie was coming from the opposite direction, people were less likely to step aside, which resulted in the shorties having more collisions.

After I had you do “homework,” asking your male relatives whether they dislike your nephew, and if so, why, you came back on a positive note. They told you they don’t dislike him; in fact, they say they like him. They just seem to talk trash about him over his attitudes about money. For example, your husband goes “on and on” about how the nephew’s paying too big a monthly nut for his new truck.

Maybe this triggers fears in your husband that he’ll be asked for money if the guy loses his job, and he’s just venting. And going back to the evolutionary well, gossip is sometimes used as a form of signaling. Perhaps your husband and other men in the family OMG-ing about the big bucks for the truck are ultimately promoting themselves as fiscally wiser.

You do say the older dudes in the family don’t have such a harsh attitude about other (taller) young nephews who are less responsible and together than the travel-sized one. So, maybe there is diminished respect for him because of his shorter stature. It’s really impossible to do more than loosely speculate. All in all, you probably don’t need to worry about your nephew, because he sounds happy and well-adjusted. Over time, I suspect the men in your family will come to realize that some stories just aren’t complete without the little guys. (Consider: “Snow White and the Seven Los Angeles Lakers.”)
(c.) 2020, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ( 





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