When women observe male behavior, they often wonder what is going on in the male brain. An evolutionary perspective makes it easier to see that male impulses are primal survival adaptations, just like female impulses. Here are three familiar frustrations that are easier to accept when we understand their evolutionary origins.
1. Why do men seem to overlook things that seem essential to women?
In the world our brain evolved in, men were hunters and women were gatherers. Hunting and gathering depend on different skills. Hunters need laser-like focus on a moving target and they need to cooperate in complete silence. Gatherers need to be receptive to whatever is there – the unknowns as well as the knowns, the threats as well as the rewards. Both skills sets are valuable, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see men and women approach the same task differently.
2. Why do males seem self-centered, from a female perspective?
Our brain was naturally selected to care about whatever spreads its genes. You are not consciously trying to spread your genes, of course, but our brain cares intensely about to anything that affects their survival, even the tiniest bit.
Do the math. A male can make a huge number of offspring, while a female’s lifetime reproductive capacity is strictly limited.
“My son the doctor” is the familiar example of a human mother’s drive to produce sons who are attractive to the best women, giving her grandchildren the best shot at keeping her genes alive. The primal motivations of both genders are self-centered in their own way.
Women and men spread their genes in different ways because women invest more in gestation. The point is not to legitimize the “love ‘’em and leave ‘em” strategy for men and leave all the nurturing to women. The point is that women can be just as motivated to promote their genes. They just go about it differently.
3. Why are men so competitive?
We often see images of two male animals butting heads, and the winner trots off with the girl. Silly girls go with the biggest butthead because it makes more surviving copies of their genes. You may think the world would be different if women ran things. You may have heard that bonobos are the matriarchal ape who live in peaceful and cooperative groups. These headlines only tell half of the story. Female bonobos are highly competitive.
Female bonobos compete furiously for the privilege of mating with the son of the most dominant female. Bonobos are very sexual, but the sons of low-ranking females are the least preferred partners. Low-ranking female bonobos don’t like getting stuck with them, so they struggle their whole lives to work their way up the female hierarchy. A male bonobo can’t do much about his place in the world except stick with his mom and help her get ahead. You may think this sounds sweet if you’re a mom with a son, but most people can see that it’s not the utopia they’d hoped for.
So instead of judging males as failures against the female skill set, we can be more accepting of the quirkiness of this brain we’ve inherited.
Social Evolution by Robert Trivers
Sociobiology by E.O. Wilson
I, Mammal by Loretta Breuning
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins