The Battle Between The Sexes

Now this is happening“In evolutionary terms, and sometimes in real terms, males and females fight to get the maximum reproductive output for the minimum input. Identifying which sex wins has a long history and remains a highly controversial area of biology that is still full of surprises. Yet the question of who prevails in this particular battle of the sexes is too tempting to dismiss.”

That’s from the provocatively-titled New Scientist piece, “Dirty tricks of the egg and sperm race.” It’s a rather lengthy examination of how reproduction has been considered throughout history as a battle over which gender’s genes will dominate in its offspring, and how those perceptions have shifted back and forth as Science has evolved. It’s a fascinating article, and you should for sure read the whole thing, but I’m particularly intrigued by this part, at the end, which draws a conclusion based on some very recent studies.

This maternal control of growth and development has some fascinating implications. It means that, for many of the traits important in the mating game, such as body size and brain function, the father’s genes might not be as influential as the mother’s. So perhaps the fine details of what a particular male looks like are not as important to females as biologists have been apt to think. Instead, what females could really be after when they choose the sperm of one male over another is the male whose genes they can most easily manipulate behind the scenes.

Oh, ladies. Always manipulating. Am I right?

In many ways (which is to say, almost none at all) this reminds me of the scientific theory as to why men take break ups harder than women. This hypothesis, notwithstanding the fact that it has yet to appear in any peer-reviewed journal thus far, is almost certainly correct, and though there will no doubt be many of you who dispute it or find fault with its methodology or accuracy, you are wrong, and probably a woman (which, as a well-established feminist, is a conflation it pains me to make).

Let us stipulate at the outset that women do indeed take some break ups with great difficulty. In fact, I have no problem conceding that the initial period of the break up is often far more painful for the woman, prone as she is to emotion and drama and ocular moisture. But we are talking about a very short amount of time. The theory I am presenting is more concerned with long-term effects in regards to gender, and provides a more-than-plausible explanation for why we far too frequently see news stories which feature those terrible phone calls from motels where a male voice filled with both choking anguish and brutal rage inevitably terminates the conversation with the line, “Now this is happening,” and gunfire.

But let’s not dwell on that disturbing bit of imagery. Let’s focus on the causes. Why should it be so that a man has greater difficulty coming to terms with the end of a relationship than his female counterpart? (This is gonna be a very heteronormative discussion here, so gays and lesbians are free to check out some of the fine content at the right.) My research suggests that it all has to do with childhood.

Little girls are often treated as “princesses,” the object of paternal affection in an idealized-but-not-romantic way. This convention is so strong that they are referred to even by non-relatives as “daddy’s little girl.” Daddy is the man who adores them, who sets the template for what they will expect from all other men in life when it comes to affection.

Little boys are often treated the same way by their mothers. “Mommy loves you,” she will repeat over and over. “You will always be Mommy’s little boy.” Mommy makes it very clear that her little boy is most special boy in the world-even more special than Daddy-and that he will be an object of veneration and pride so long as she lives. This also sets a template.

The difference is stunningly obvious: Dads are far less committed parents than moms. Daddy may tell you that you are Daddy’s little girl, he may take you to a Daddy-Daughter dance one night after weeks of prompting, but most of the time he’s at the office, or away for business, or out with his buddies for important “man time.” Young girls, who, let’s not forget, mature far more quickly than boys, pick up on this: The man who says he loves me, they realize, is not at all reliable. He says what he thinks he is supposed to say, but his actions tell a different story.

Moms, on the other hand, are always there. They do the majority of the parenting, of the cooking, of the cleaning, of all the things that we equate with nurturing. To a boy, there is never any disconnect from the message of love he gets from Mommy and the way that he sees it play out in real life.

And this is why men take break ups harder than women. When a woman breaks up with a man, it is Mommy telling him that she doesn’t love him anymore. And Mommy promised that she would always love him! What is so terrible about him that Mommy stopped loving him? He can bury the sadness with alcohol, or watching a lot of sports, or sleeping around, but deep down he cannot fathom how this rejection has happened to him. His cries of pain, either voiced or shown by his actions, are really him shouting, “Mommy, why did you stop loving me?”

Whereas for a woman, she had no illusions that Daddy wasn’t going to leave at some point. Sure, she’s hurt initially, but she knew the score going into the game. And because women are more or less what Science refers to as “mercenary bitches,” even as she’s filling her pint of ice-cream with those fat, salty tears, she is unconsciously determining whom she will settle on next, the better to get her eggs fertilized so that the cycle might continue. [I should note here that a scholarly friend of mine (who is well-versed on the subject of women by virtue of her position as an expert on young adult novels for girls) had a minor dissent to this hypothesis, noting that every woman has one man who legitimately broke her heart and for whom she will always pine; I am perfectly willing to accept this "ur-Daddy" postulation and add it to the literature.] If she’s lucky, she’ll have a girl. Because the relationship between a woman and her mother? Now, that is something that you can really extrapolate a lot from when it comes to mistakes made in later relationships. But that’s a subject for another post.