Eileen Stahl normally writes progressive columns with insights I’ve often enjoyed reading. I was therefore disappointed last Wednesday when, in her column, she used evolutionary biology to explain guys’ and girls’ behaviors in relationships (Fun, fearless and flawed, 03/25/2009).
The natural-selection-based theory has been cited as evidence for decades to explain women’s supposedly “natural” maternal instincts for raising children. The theory has also been used, as Stahl implies, to explain why guys might “naturally” be more interested in sex than healthy relationships.
However, this theory doesn’t necessarily apply to such contexts. A brief experiment shows this. Ask any guy this simple question: “When you see a chicken, how do you feel?” As a male, I can attest you’ll probably receive an awkward stare or an attempt at a lame joke. You probably won’t hear a guy say, “You know, I feel this strong impulse to kill chickens and find it hard to restrain myself from fantasizing about their juicy, tender meat!” But according to the bio-evolutionary logic, guys should “naturally” feel the impulse to kill for food to survive, as their ancestors did.
If the bio-evolutionary reasoning doesn’t work for something as “natural” as the need for food, why would it apply to human relationships and reproduction? Psychologists are still struggling to understand emotions, so to suggest that feelings about relationships are genetic with little social influence is misleading.
We may have learned relationship roles by observing previous generations, but that is neither “natural” nor something people necessarily follow. The assumption that males are disinterested in healthy relationships is just that — an assumption.