Nature or Nurture? August 4, 2009Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Heteronormativity.
Tags: biology versus culture, coupling, cultural evolution, cultural norms, gender differences, mating, nature or nurture, selfish gene
I’m always intrigued by the relationship between “nature” and “culture” — how much of what we do and think in a particular place and time has to do with “straight” biology (pardon the pun), and how much has to do with the power of cultural values? This, of course, is the driving question that motivates a lot of what we do here at Onely, and so when I came across this article, which seeks to explain male/female mating habits according to evolutionary and biological “facts,” I found myself wondering, how much of this “makes sense” because of cultural norms/values, and how much is actually viable, scientific reasoning?
Take, for example, the following — which seems totally logical:
In young men, the selfish gene seeks to spread itself far and wide, mostly because it often can (and with minimal investment of resources) — hence, the rakish male tendency to love ’em and leave ’em. Women, on other hand, tend to be more discriminating. They’re the ones who have to carry the baby around for nine months, then nurse it to independence. In women, the selfish gene prefers a mate with both the wherewithal and the resources to stick around and raise the kid.
Okay, I thought. There’s not much to dispute here. But then, I read the “translation”:
“Men will be looking for short-term uncommitted relationships, women will be looking for relationship commitment,” said Kruger. “These are the things that have driven evolution. … Because of different interests, women offer a sexual relationship in exchange for commitment, and men offer commitment in exchange for sex.”
See, the thing is, while this explanation makes “logical” sense, it also seems to perpetuate a stereotype about the seemingly “inherent” differences between women and men. But perhaps more importantly, this explanation doesn’t take into account the “fact” of what I would call cultural evolution — that is, how do Kruger and other public health scientists account for the mass availability of birth control for women in the United States, which would ostensibly reduce the biological concerns for women and therefore change their mating behaviors? And how would these scientists account for many of the readers on this and other singles blogs who identify themselves as asexual and/or voluntarily or involuntarily celibate? How can/do scientists account for the outliers (who seem, based on the readers who comment on Onely, to be not so unusual these days) who challenge these norms: What about all the single females who desire sex, but no commitment? What about the single men who value strong interpersonal relationships but see sex not as a necessity but maybe just a “bonus”?
And why, when research shows that a near-majority of the American population is single, do we assume 1) that all of these single people have coupling on their minds, and 2) that the only coupling trends that matter are heterosexual?
Copious Readers, am I being unfair? Should we just assume we’ll be made invisible by scientific research in cases like these? What other questions does this article raise for you?