Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Evo-psych, Anonymous, and other bloggery

Someone must have linked to Freddie's post that links here, or something, but as of recently the trickle of arrivals from there has become a horde. Thank you for telling me, Sitemeter. Freddie or anyone else - where are they arriving from? Please tell me this isn't a "game" blog...

One commenter there, going by the distinctive handle, "Anonymous," has an explanation for the "window of opportunity": While we don't know whether Anonymous goes by Mr., Mrs, Miss, Ms., or something else entirely, we can rest assured that Anonymous is a dude:
Nothing is going to make men attracted to women based on their accomplishments instead of their youth, just like nothing is going to make women attracted to men based on their youth instead of their accomplishments. That's one area where evolutionary psychology seems undeniable (certainly more predictable than much we call science). The problem of women going immediately from "too young to marry" to "too old to marry" is a simple one. The "too young to marry" folks are mostly engaging in a pleasant fantasy involving a complex mix of ideology, nostalgia, and sentimentality. The "too old to marry" people have cruel reality on their side. It would make far more sense for women to marry in their early 20s and develop a career in their 30s than vice versa. Their value in the marriage market drops far more precipitously than their ability to attend graduate school, start a business, etc. When you treat a 20 percent improvement to your career prospects as a goal ahead of a 80 percent increase in your marriage prospects the outcome is, yes, predictable.
Science! No, better than science! Good use of "simple" to describe a phenomenon that's anything but. I choose to discuss this comment not, of course, because of the reputation of its author, but because it represents, alas, what a lot of men think.

Given the extent to which couples these days form between men and women of the same age, all of whom are presumably choosing among potentials also in their cohort, the appeal of 23-year-old women to 45-year-old men is largely irrelevant. Ah, but the 23-year-old men are not ready for marriage! They're man-children, and young women will see the light! Thing is, nor - contrary to popular opinion - are the 23-year-old women at that life stage, which is why the couples that form at 23 only marry at, say, 30. That Mr. 45 is all stability and let's get married next week is not interesting to 23-year-old women. Even if he's Dr. 45, JD, PhD. If he's Mick Jagger  (well, a young Jagger at this point), fine. Otherwise, not interesting.

And Anonymous has missed what the "window of opportunity" is about, if he thinks "cruel reality" or indeed any evo-psych "reality" enters into it. The "too old" end of the window is not about women wishing they'd married while they still had a chance. It's not about biological clocks, because - and this is pretty radical, I know - women whose number one concern is having a baby, but who could give or take the dude, are able, these days, to have a baby without a dude. It's about women reaching a certain age, conveniently forgetting that they're happy single, or at any rate happier than they'd have been if they'd settled for some dude they dumped ten years prior because they weren't into him, and - expectation-script buzzing in the back of their minds - thinking they should be lamenting The Man-Shortage, when in fact they still have potential dudes (because, see above, even the men their age who might prefer 20 aren't getting 20), but fundamentally when it comes down to it don't want a dude.

So that's the "window-of-opportunity" angle. But where the comment really loses me, but also where it most represents views one sees all the time, is in its insistence that men and women are looking for radically different things in a partner. The fact that couples tend to be well-matched in terms of looks and "accomplishments" would seem to be all we'd need to know. You'd think.


Freddie said...

Post is at about 5,000 unique views or so, which is around where my highest profile posts end up, so it may not be the product of a link. Also a couple posts a little before it and a post a little after it each got some play so the audience has been a bit bigger lately.

Britta said...

When I now hear about all this ev psych stuff which explains why any woman with a career and without several kids and/or husband past the age of 24 is an ugly, washed up and bitter feminist, I just get a mild headache, it's so wrong on so many levels that it doesn't even seem worth engaging with anymore, nor are the people who make these sorts of arguments interested in things like evidence, logic, etc.

Phoebe said...


I see. I'd thought it might be just because there was the link from you, then the hordes at a lag, but it could have just been the weekend. That, I suppose, and that all of a sudden the posts seemed to come from a men's-rights perspective, suggesting a possible sort of origin for these readers.


I think it can't hurt, with things like this, to point out the little bit of truth these sorts are pointing at, the little bit they think makes the rest of their platforms make sense. So with "game" this means telling adherents that yes, people are more appealing when they're not desperate pushovers, but then reminding that this is true of men and women alike, and not some "game" one gender shall use to conquer the other. With evo-psych sorts, on this issue, it's fine to point out that younger women tend to have more options, and to agree (with this particular Anonymous) that 23-year-old women who want to get married and have found reasonable would-be spouses ought to do so and not hold back on account of OMG-too-young, because if you're really that set on marriage and pleased with the idea of marriage to this particular dude (or lady, but that's irrelevant for this issue), then yes, you are risking letting what you actually want in life pass you by. But this is not what all women want at 23, or even at 43.

The women who end up 40 and single tend to want to be single, but end up often having to play into this whole OMG-man-shortage script. It sounds bizarre - maybe they really do want man-and-kids and I'm imagining it? - but I have enough anecdotal evidence of this, from life as well as Atlantic articles and so forth, that there's no doubt in my mind that this is out there. Maybe I overestimate its prevalence, but that it exists at all makes me suspicious of the popular assumption that the single woman "of a certain age" would prefer to be coupled.

Freddie said...

That's true. Although I've given up understanding which commenters breeze in, those ones do seem crazier than usual.

PG said...

I definitely know women who would like to be married but are not, so I don't agree with "The women who end up 40 and single tend to want to be single, but end up often having to play into this whole OMG-man-shortage script."

It's not that there's a man shortage, of course; it's that there's a desirable man shortage. I recently was reviewing the Match.com profile of a single, 33 year old friend and was puzzled by her specifying particular occupations that she preferred a man to have. "What's wrong with clerical/assistant?" I asked. She has an MBA and her own business, and she's not interested in a guy who's functionally a secretary.

Just as the alleged deficit of black men is a myth (it's black men who have a college education and no criminal record who are smaller in number than their female counterparts), the "man shortage" is a highly inaccurate phrase that obfuscates the real problem. If women are still being socialized to be interested only in men who are their socioeconomic equals or superiors, then yes, some women will be 40 and unmarried despite wishing to be married -- but only to be married to a man whose job is more prestigious/remunerative than their own. And this is a logical product of gender socialization: if some women expect to be able to stay home with the kids while a spouse makes enough money for UMC comfort, but almost no men expect that, you'll end up with some imbalances as socialization gender parity lags economic gender parity.

Britta said...


I agree completely with your analysis, and that's where I lose patience with that aspect of the whole gender socialization thing. In certain ways, it feels equally offensive for women who want to have a high paying career AND an even wealthier husband as for an unremarkable middle aged man who wants a 23 supermodel wife, simply because that's what he's been told he should have. (Of course, given assortative mating and our rigidifying class system, wealthy and accomplished people tend to end up with each other in general, so I don't think it's a crisis for women the way ev psych people make it out to be.)

I've been thinking a bit about my attitudes towards gender, sex, etc. and why these narratives outrage me so much, and I think it's because I grew up around Scandinavians for whom there is none of this ridiculous, anti-feminist pressure on women to freak out at 28 if they don't have an ideal man and preferably a baby on the way. I've never felt any pressure to get married and have kids (maybe too much in the other way, as Phoebe would say), and there's always the idea that "you can do that later," either have kids and/or get married, and the two don't have to be connected. There's a sense both men and women can have careers and families and that it's ok for men and women to first put one above the other, and if women focus on career first, by their 30s they aren't evolutionary cast offs who can only hope to marry a total loser. I know women who have kids in their late 30s, marry (not the father of the kid) in their mid 40s, and appear to be perfectly happy with their choice of mate and their family. I feel like when there are not corrosive gender narratives around, and both women and men are free to do what they want, that might involve having kids and getting married at 24, or it might involve having kids later and marriage even later than that (or never). I almost feel like these narratives in the US are designed to make women feel desperate and worthless, the way emotionally abusive/manipulative men tell women they're worthless so they don't try to leave and find some one better. Instead, this is a way to fight feminism: sure, you CAN become a lawyer, but know you'll end up single and barren and weeping in your apartment with all your cats while your asshole male law school classmates marry supermodels.

Moreover, these narratives are profoundly discrediting to both genders: all women have to offer is firm flesh, and that's all men seek in a partner. The concept of companionship never comes up, nor does the idea that a well-educated 45 year old might not enjoy the company of a fresh out of college 22 year old. Plenty of people are sexually attracted to people their own age, and plenty of people have a hard time sustaining a prolonged romantic, sexual relationship with someone they don't respect or have nothing in common with.

But anyways...I am just ranting, so I'll stop now :P I'll just say that, in other countries (like the Scandinavian ones), narratives around gender are different, people conduct their lives differently, and yet there aren't tons of desperate barren Swedish spinsters wishing they'd settled at 25.

Phoebe said...


First off, there are of course some women who want to be married at 40 (or 22) and have not had this happen. As well as some who feel they must say that, which is why this gets confusing.

But my point re: the Gottliebs, Bolicks, and women I know whose names I am not about to add here isn't that they wouldn't want to marry under any circumstances. Maybe they'd marry if George Clooney asked, or if they could find enough men more successful than themselves to choose from among many such men. I seriously doubt that if their only concern is that the guy be more successful and not a serial killer, such women are unable to find any men. Far more likely is that they want more successful and at least equally attractive, and of the right micro-ethnicity, and whatever else will make this never happen. That they are semi-intentionally picking criteria that will make finding a mate impossible, thus allowing them to remain single.

And, I find it hard to imagine that many women much over 33 are assuming that they'll stay home with kids for any extended period of time. I do buy the idea that gender socialization enters into this, but I'm not so sure super-successful men, either, are keen on marrying secretaries these days. Class socialization is important, too, as is the idea of the power couple, as is the fact that lots of men these days don't want to be sole breadwinners.

Finally, given that, if income, like height, is what it is, status is largely subjective, if women really must (on account of socialization) feel their men are higher-status, they can in many cases find some way to convince themselves that some guy is in fact superior. Say she's a big-deal law prof and he's a fact-checker at a famous magazine, making next to nothing. But his magazine's famous! The university where she's a prof is only ranked 12th in the nation! Or whichever random lives-with-parents dude is in a band! Played a sport in high school! It's always possible to highlight whatever constitutes "status." So I don't think it's even possible for there to be a successful-man shortage, when women can always define "successful"-man shortage.


Scandinavia helps show the limits of what's possible, but I don't think it's quite that gender norms in the U.S. are this massive aberration. My own main reference point, Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium, is maybe halfway between the two, despite obviously being much closer geographically and culturally to Scandinavia than America. Germany, France, it's hard to think of places even in Western Europe where it goes as it apparently does in Scandinavia/among Scandinavians.

And, like I said in response to your earlier comment, I think we don't get anywhere convincing the evo-psych crowd if we don't allow that they are, in their nonsense, pointing at some nuggets of truth. And at 13-16, say, the street attention peaks, although it's unlikely many grown men would actually seek to pursue romantic relationships with girls that age. (If they do, they get to go on "To Catch a Predator.") And at 20-24, that's when the men who want a too-young woman but don't want to be too creepy about it come out in full force. It's not so straightforward, because attention =/= potential mates. The 45-year-old men pursuing 22-year-old women do so not out of any nonsense "evolutionary need" to have as many babies as possible, but because they think a 22-year-old woman won't have or create baggage, won't want a ring, a kid. Evo-psych explanations do not account for the fact that the 22-year-old who actually does want to get married ASAP and thinks an much older guy is the answer may well find she'd have been better off with a guy her own age, one who wouldn't be fetishizing the idea of 22-ness. But it's a losing battle to claim that women get as much attention, on average, at 22 and 42.

PG said...

But it's a losing battle to claim that women get as much attention, on average, at 22 and 42.

That's interesting. It doesn't match up with my own experience (getting more male stranger attention 18-25 than as a teenager), but there's probably a few different dynamics at work to explain that disparity: maybe most women, unlike me, were more attractive (and thinner!) as teens than as young women; differences in geography (I got more attention after moving to places where "attractive" was more often envisioned as potentially nonwhite); etc.

Also, the kind of attention that girls get from men on the street often does seem to me, as academically feminist as this sounds, to be driven by a desire to exercise power rather than, as you say, part of the pursuit of a relationship. Since a teenager will more likely be either flattered (because this is new) or embarrassed into silence, she's a better target for yelling "Nice tits!" than a grown woman who has heard all this before and will tell the man to STFU.

Phoebe said...


First, agreement: yes, the catcalling aimed at teens is about power, and not some great affirmation of a Universal Truth about how women peak at 15, about 25=hagdom.

Next, disagreement:

1) 18-25 isn't 40. If we're to use your case as an example, it's still possible you will have gotten more attention at 22 than at 40. (Unless you are 40 and I have my people-I know-through-blogging confused!) And were you by any chance, like Flavia, living in a big city with lots of sidewalks in your 20s and not in your teens?

2) OK, this is kind of agreement, kind of disagreement: Regional variation matters immensely, as do factors like having gained/lost weight. Unless we have reason to think that most women lose weight and move to places where they're considered more attractive when they reach 25, 30, I'm not sure what this says other than that you're an exception and that, as with Britta's example re: blondness, there are factors that can trump 15-ness, but this doesn't tell us that 15-year-olds aren't as a rule especially sought-after by creepy dudes.