#METOO and evolution

#METOO has caused a great fuss on the press and in social news. But its profile has been overtaken by new issues. It will come back with the next scandal. But in the brief break we may allow ourselves to look at the question at more leisure. Today I want to take a peep at the contribution of evolution.

We can sometimes see evolution in action. A simple example is the peppered moth. Before the Industrial Revolution the moths with light-coloured wings flourished because they were camouflaged against the light tree trunks — while their darker kin were gobbled up by the birds. But after the Industrial Revolution the tree trunks became darker. The light coloured moths got eaten and the dark coloured, now safely camouflaged, flourished. So the purpose of evolution is to preserve the species in their, sometimes changing, environment.

This development could of course be studied directly through careful observation over time. But how about the human race? We can only make intelligent guesses based on the little evidence we have. We know for instance that until quite recently women tended to spend most of their adult life producing children, many of whom did not survive to breed in turn. Menstruation, for instance, was rare because of the frequency of pregnancy. It wasn’t thought of as the ‘curse’ but as a blessing. The great apes menstruate but, for the same reason, this rarely occurs.

So we may speculate about what effect evolution had on the human mating game. What I am writing here is a brief list of the possible evolutionary outcomes. Look at it, see if you agree, see what you might add. I am not a woman but I am a Catholic who was married for 6 decades, with five children – so perhaps I know a little more about female reproduction than the next guy.

A woman must continuously keep an eye open for potential breeding mates, but she must not be too proactive to avoid being seen as a flighty, and so unreliable, woman. She will often dismiss a pass because she needs time to assess qualities. Personal attraction expands the range of male possibilities. She looks for: health (seen in symmetry, particularly the face), reliability. general competence, authority, resources. The instincts remain even if she is satisfactorily married. She notes men as attractive on the same criteria.
A fundamental tendency to spread his seed widely, encouraging him to be proactive. This is tempered by the need for a fertile woman capable of bringing up a family. He will not expect to be chosen immediately and accepts that he must persist, even against a negative response. He will look for good health (symmetry again) and maternal proportions such as breasts, hips/waist. Attractiveness in his mate will boost his standing amongst his peers. The instinct remains after marriage since mistakes have a low biological price for him.

So what do you think?


About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, evolution, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to #METOO and evolution

  1. Barrie Machin says:

    As usual Quentin makes a clear explanation of the way the sexes behave if they are looking for a mate but surely the Metoo outcry came about (putting it crudely!) because of a basic drive in men just for sex (a desire usually controlled by the way males are supposed to behave towards females – socially speaking.) The male in a position of power has got away with unsocial behaviour towards the female in the past by relying on the female recipient simply being too ashamed by what had happened to protest – or anyone believing her.
    I don’t think the evolution of human sexuality has changed – just the ability for the powerfully situated male to dominate the female over the centuries as this is sadly not a new situation.
    One must admire the ladies for finally getting this situation out into the open.
    Perhaps this will change powerfully placed men’s behaviour towards them for good – for good.

    • Vincent says:

      Of course what you say is right. But I do think that we understand the ‘mating game’ better by accepting that both women and men are playing the game — but in different ways according to the female and male nature, as provided by evolution. Either gender can go over the mark but neither gender can criticise the other for the different roles nature provides through evolution.

  2. G.D says:

    Don’t deny the existence of those sexual instinctual drives, but are they still ‘primary’ drives for ‘mating’. Socially sex is available and ‘up for grabs’ by any who wish it; paid for or unpaid for. And women are evolving to be just as ‘predatory’ as males.
    Human evolution seems no longer dependant on the instinctual sexual drives to govern mating or offspring. Partnerships can be made, unmade, bought and replaced without much difficulty. Offspring can be manufactured, bought, adopted, or avoided if wished.
    Instincts still have an affect of course. But might it be (specifically in regard to sex/procreation, but also other instincts) that they are being artificially suppressed, festering, and demanding expression in deviancy?
    Compulsions, and ‘free for all anything goes’ is, seemingly, becoming acceptable to an increased percentage of the population. Is there an ‘unacknowledged epidemic’ spreading throughout ‘civilisation’? As it did in the ‘bread and circuses’ of sexuality and brutality of ‘successful civilised’ SOULLESS Rome?

  3. G.D says:

    … And with the ‘advances’ in scientific manipulation of biology male can be done away with entirely for the purpose of procreation. Wouldn’t be surprised if women could be too in the near future.

  4. John Thomas says:

    Can I make a confession? Horrifying, awful, I’m sure, to admit, but … but … I don’t know what #METOO is … The explanation of things with reference to the very early stages in the supposed lifetime/development of homo sapiens is very … well, I think, difficult, can be dubious, even dangerous (I’ve certainly seen rape not merely explained, but justified, with reference to this kind of thinking). Surely our faith, and Christianity itself, should lift us entirely from this sort of behaviour. We are now in the way of morality, having choice, and moral guidance. What may or may not have been the case Xm. years ago need not – perhaps should not – concern us; certainly should not influence us.

  5. Alasdair says:

    For many years I worked in a very male-dominated multi-national environment. Although my colleagues did not behave particularly badly towards women in the workplace by the standards of the time, a certain amount of sexual innuendo did occur in their interactions with members of the opposite sex. However, their conversation among themselves regarding women and sex made me feel very uncomfortable at and I often sought opportunities to change the subject or change location on some pretext. If they had been overheard by women, a formal complaint would have been justifiable. I only recall one such complaint which was dealt with in a fairly perfunctory manner by the employer. I must admit that I did not personally take issue with their behaviour.
    I believe that things have improved considerably in recent years in this regard, just as they have in several other social issues, and #METOO is part of this process.
    My old dad was a career RAF officer who always maintained that sex, religion, and politics were taboo in the officer’s mess and NCO’s mess. Of course we regularly break these taboos on this blogsite, but for the greater good!

  6. galerimo says:

    The metoo movement is about exposing the crime of sexual harassment and assault where the perpetrator is in a place that gives them some sort of advantage over their victim.

    Viewing this intended malice in terms of evolution is like trying to appreciate the destination at which you have arrived by looking at the parts of the engine in the car you drove in order to get there.

    • Alasdair says:

      That’s true. Civilisation could be viewed as a measure of how far we have come from our purely primordial roots. We’ve surely reached the point where the norms of civilised behaviour trump evolution. Memes rather than Genes.
      If I remember the detail in Prof Steve Peters’ book, “The Chimp Paradox”, humans have evolved a large frontal brain which processes human responses to situations in preference to primordial “chimp” responses from elsewhere in the brain. All of which is like looking at the engine again – sorry!

    • milliganp says:

      In the 1980’s BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “The Mirror Cracked” there is a conversation between a doctor and Miss Marple about the character who is later exposed as the murderer. He says that 90% of her behaviour is the result of her mental condition ‘but it’s the final 10% wherein the morality lies”.
      All human beings have drives, both from base nature and psychological formation but when we finally act (except in the most extreme cases) it is a matter of choice.
      I was once offered a high-performance sports car to try out as a company vehicle. On the first day I had it I was stopped by a policeman for dangerous driving – I handed the car back. It wasn’t the cars fault.

  7. Alasdair says:

    Let’s also remember our Christian DNA from the Spirit bearing fruit as Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Self-Control.

  8. Iona says:

    I’m not convinced that women are “evolving to be just as predatory as males”, as GD put it. Predatory, perhaps, in terms of capturing a male with resources (financial; power) but not in purely sexual terms. Most women are not really seeking casual sexual encounters. Perhaps many men aren’t, either. The thinking in this area tends to be dominated by the entertainment industry, which may not reflect reality.

  9. milliganp says:

    As a general comment on this thread, I was involved in marriage preparation for a number of years and over 90% of couples were already cohabiting. It was almost always the female partners who emphasised what they saw as the advantage of experimenting with multiple sexual partners before settling down. Although male and female behaviour is different it is not as divergent as our ‘evolutionary’ model might imply.

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