Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

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.

73 Comments / Post A Comment

jolie (#16)

Oh I see what you've done. Clever, Alexander, very clever. You've waiting until Choire was gone to post this, so when he returns you can be all, "SEE? I TOLD YOU I WOULDN'T RUN THE SITE INTO THE GROUND! Look at the pageviews from the week!!"

Nicely played. Now where's mathnet?

jolie (#16)

EXCUSE THE TYPOS I AM A LITTLE OVEREXCITED TODAY. And it's hard to see the screen properly through all these ladytears.

Alex Balk (#4)

Hey, c'mon, I buried it behind the jump as AN EASTER EGG FOR THE SUPERFANS. Give me some credit!

KarenUhOh (#19)

And you were seated on the egg, hence another flaw in the hypothesis.

jolie (#16)

The superfans KNOW, Balk. WE ALWAYS KNOW. (Obligatory EXCITED CLAPPING!!!)

Limaceous (#2,392)

When I saw the headline I knew — I knew! — that the long-awaited post was finally coming. (The joy I get from this is inversely related to the sadness I feel in knowing I have no life.)

mathnet (#27)


Thank you, Eastah Bunny. I think you're right that men take it harder than women do when they're the dumpee, and also right about why. And I think women have a harder time doing the dumping than men do because we've been conditioned never to leave our baby. It's best for everybody if we're the ones who get left–which is why it's a good thing that we're expecting it.

mathnet (#27)

This was EXplaining DO YOU GUYS GET IT!

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Marry a millionaire.

Really great hair … delivered to your door. 100% guaranteed.

Marry a millionaire.

jolie (#16)

@mathnet: I told him you were gonna be upset!!!! (Innit that just like a lady, amirite guys??)

KarenUhOh (#19)

This "discovery" is, not atypically, from a man.

I am assuming.

copyranter (#440)

Could I get this tripe winnowed down to a hockey analogy?

Neopythia (#353)

Women are like Ulf Sammuelsson?

Neopythia (#353)

Women are like Ulf Samuelsson?

Bittersweet (#765)

Barring further research and analysis, Balk, I think the like the "ur-Daddy" theory better. Women are always falling in love with older men in effort to plug the holes left by Dad's abandonment, but I have yet to see a guy sitting around drinking and keening, "Mommy, why did you stop loving meeeee?!?"

(Although that would be pretty amusing.)

jolie (#16)

Apparently you've never been out drinking with Alex Balk.

libmas (#231)

Or Alexander Portnoy.

Bittersweet (#765)

@jolie – no I haven't, and it sounds like I've missed a singular experience.

Hey Balk & Choire, you guys should auction off NYC bar crawls to benefit The Awl! Guaranteed moneymaker!

Ronit (#1,557)


Tulletilsynet (#333)

Video or it duddn happn.

MaggieL (#3,424)

So the most sane people (the only sane?) in the world must be men raised by single fathers and women raised by single mothers. Agree/disagree?

They're all furries.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

Wait, other people's dads love them? I have a phone call to make.

In evolutionary terms, males often pose themselves as "daddy-bait" in a strategy designed to lure super fit females deprived of father love.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Perhaps it is neither possible, nor even that useful to try, to generalize about these matters. Men and women are equally capable of suffering, of passion and of cruelty. As I was reading this post I thought of Sylvia Plath right away, and of Dorothy Parker and Dorothy Hale. Some people just don't rise like the phoenix, man or woman, doesn't matter.

rj77 (#210)


This Dorothy rises like a MOTHERFUCKER!

(Sorry, I'm just sad that I had to be out own town when this post went up, so I couldn't properly attend to it in all its glory.)

barnhouse (#1,326)

I believe this, and rejoice.

Here is my hypothesis, the disparity of emotional distress is due to the fact that a woman can get sex whenever she wants, while a man can only get it when a woman deigns to give it to him. In other words men mourn the loss of access to poon not the actual woman attached to it.

You kinda took it to far, but let us not discount the theory that it's infinitely easier for a hetero woman to find someone else for a new relationship than it is for a hetero man.

jolie (#16)

@Reginal: Excuse me WHAT NOW?

*too far

Reg, If that is what you are looking for.

Maybe my friends and I are anomalies within our own gender/completely myopic, but it always astounds me how much easier/quicker it has been for the women I know to find a new partner after a breakup.

City_Dater (#2,500)

But that's mainly because single ladies tend to keep themselves up and get out and do things after a breakup.
Single hetero guys end up sticking to the sofa, whining into their beer, unless someone makes them shower.
Which takes us back to the whole "women have a shorter recovery time" theory… Maybe it appears that way simply because dumped women tend to look outside themselves for comfort, support and distraction while dumped men hibernate, pout and brood?

@City: FALSE! (In my case, at least.) Oh, man. This is really just turning into my own I-can't-get-a-date whine-fest. I can see it now…

City_Dater (#2,500)

@Reg: You *think* you aren't hibernating, pouting and brooding…

LondonLee (#922)

It's true, though Reginal didn't say that the man wouldn't turn out to be a dick.

dailyny (#3,326)

Thanks for that soul-killing statement, @kitten. More next week?

Christina Tkacik (#3,723)

WHOA. I'm almost embarrassed by how revelatory and spot-on I find your theory, Balk. DUDE. Were you a psych major or what?

I'm eagerly awaiting part II (mothers and daughters, our bodies, our selves).

katiebakes (#32)

Am highly anticipating Part II as well. Maybe turn this into a serial novel? I think it too could plausibly be called "Managed Expectations."

NicFit (#616)

As much as I want to call this whole theory a cliche-ridden bit of pop psych/evolutionary bio B.S., I've been on the losing end of a breakup with a woman more times than I'd like to recall. Each time, they just kind of bounced back while I lost a number of years to cigarettes and Jim Beam.

HiredGoons (#603)


Straight people are fucked up.

"You don't know what it's like to be straight, OK? It's… awful." (c) Mikey Cera

And how!

cherrispryte (#444)

Errrrybody be fucked up.

Annie K. (#3,563)

So google-scholaring Balk's theory gets you lots of studies, and reading academic prose leaves you whimpering under the table. But one of them says, and I quote: Women adjusted better to relationship dissolution and were more likely to initiate a break up. Justified by Science.

cherrispryte (#444)

Ah, sweeping generalizations! Tis that which makes the internet go round.

This is more than just heteronormative. This is, literally, girls are princesses and Dads are bad parents, and we're all screwed regardless. Your "often"s don't soften that.

While we may all be screwed, perpetrating stereotypes that are frequently untrue sure as hell doesn't help anything. I'd bet good money that for every person who read this and went "OMG SO TRU!", someone else read it and went "the fuck?"

HiredGoons (#603)

(it's humor)

cherrispryte (#444)

Oh. Shit. I am both humbled and embarrassed.

jolie (#16)

(the tags are important)

barnhouse (#1,326)

It really is kind of somewhere between, though, for this author, it seems? Whose habitual cynicism and near-rage are kind of aimed in all directions at once?

HiredGoons (#603)


Annie K. (#3,563)

But it COULD be Science.

cherrispryte (#444)

the tags were sort of ambiguous!

HiredGoons (#603)

I actually found the tone quite well conveyed, though perhaps it's simply because I never take Alex Balk seriously.

Neopythia (#353)


#56 (#56)

Oh my! The Muscovy duck penis photo in the link is a thing of nightmares. MY EYES!

But I like the description of their saucy encounters: "Ducks fight the battle of the sexes in their genitals… Male Muscovy ducks have evolved super-long penises – with "explosive erection" ability – while females retaliate with antagonistic vaginas"

So I'm conflicted.

Dan Kois (#646)

There are NON-antagonistic vaginas?

#56 (#56)

Vaginas are all such dicks!

kneetoe (#1,881)

If you're erection cannot explode, what can it do? As for antagonistic vaginas, that's just because muscovy ducks don't have tongues.

hman (#53)

This gay found this post way more fascinating than Brittany Murphy's puzzling menstrual cycle – thanks!

HiredGoons (#603)

(it's a window into their world!)

kneetoe (#1,881)

This post is an insult to those of us who are the best father in the entire world. I will never look at the awl again for the next 5 seconds.

Face (#3,654)

I'm going to side with Science on this one. However, I believe that only one of my fallopian tubes is producing dominant, manipulative genes. This would explain why one month I am completely enamored with a genetically inferior specimen of the male species–because my eggs will have no problem dominating his neanderthal sperm–but the next month I am absolutely repulsed by all of his flaws. Apparently, my "irrational" mood swings/bimonthly violent outbursts are just my way of producing dominant offspring and saving the human race, Greggory!

katiebakes (#32)

Whoa, I'm digging this Unbalanced Fallopian theory.

Multiphasic (#411)

I know this shit isn't bylined Balk's Cock, but I can't help but suspect it served as a creative consultant.


It gets even worse if your girlfriend slept with your mother.

HiredGoons (#603)

Mrs. Braddock?

Please, please, please let Jezebel pick this one up.

garge (#736)

I only wish I could annotate with artful anecdotes, but I think my boyfriend found my Awl account?

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