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Women Unite, Take Back Control of Human Development

Eileen T.

Eileen T.
11 February 2005
Evolution of Stories
Profs. Dalke and Grobstein

Women Unite, Take Back Control of Human Development!

"The tendency to consider "biological" and "social" variables as mutually exclusive alternatives has faded as recognition grows that every phenotypic trait is a product of gene-environment interaction." - Kruger and Nesse, Sexual Selection and the Male: Female Mortality Ratio.

"The phenotype consists not only of the structure of an organism and of its physiology, but also of all the products of the behavioral genes. ... It is as much (and often more so) the target of selection as the structural characteristics of an organism." - Mayr, 129.

An organism has already run the gamut before it enters the world. In the case of sexually reproducing organisms, the male gamete won the statistically improbable prize of fertilizing the more discriminating female gamete, and through the process of zygotic development, is not guaranteed long life anyway. Any talk of selection begins in the formulation of the genotype, which is far less variable than the phenotype, though both are subjected to selection.

My ultimate interest in sexual selection, as it is, was, and ever shall be, is in the world of human sized things and matters of human interaction. However, as Mayr explains, selection is a two step process: the first step consisting of the many steps involved in the creation of the zygote, and the second being an individual's survival from larval to adult status (Mayr, 119). And so in the preliminary rounds of selection, much more is up to chance, and once an individual has agency, its survival, though always susceptible to accidents (and this is a big philosophical land mine we are treading here, in claiming the existence of individual agency, although so much of this paper about nonrandom mating and selection is based on my belief in the existence of choice) is now in the second phase of selection, in which the hard wiring of its genotype can express itself in its bodily form, the phenotype.

In these terms, the phenotype seems to be a creation of the Fates, measuring, weaving and cutting the cloth of genetic material. I suppose this could be true, but the variety of human behavior and physiology, made variant through overproduction and the processes of sexual reproduction, leaves room for surprise. In addition to mutation, the great shifter of species' traits, free will has not yet been falsified, and as far as I know, humans and other animals can act outside their interest or their prescribed tendencies. But while I am straying toward a one-hand clapping beside a felled tree type of perpetually open question that can only be punctuated by smoke rings and skyward question marks, my interest falls in the base and the common, in matters of discrimination and sexual choice, in husbandry and human behavior.

Geoffrey Miller, the author of Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature, believes the importance of female choice in nonrandom sexual selection (that is, the second round of elimination that take place at sexual maturity) was overlooked when Darwin first suggested it in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, and has recently been accepted with the theories of biologists like Zahavi (cited by both Mayr and Miller), who reinforce the logic of female choice- as women produce far less gametes than males, they cannot waste their genetic material as freely as males. In addition, the element of parental involvement required in insuring survival requires that females find one male to give heritable traits that favor survival to their offspring, and one male to allow them to raise their offspring safely, though these two functions are not always found in one man (Ridley, qtd. in Miller interview).

Miller concentrates less on this shrewd view of human interaction, an echo of Richard Alexander's Machiavellian hypothesis, which posited man's sophisticated use of language a consequence of the necessity of deception and detection of deceit in others, and that our self-consciousness had its roots in paranoid and not affectionate exchanges. Citing a study made by evolutionary psychologist David Buss about sexual preferences in 37 cultures, which found the two most desired traits in a mate to be kindness and intelligence, Miller claims that it is these two traits that separate us the most from other primates. He attributes our (human) unique ability to retain large vocabularies as courtship functions- to prove intelligence and to communicate effectively. Miller compares our development of music to bird songs, gibbon songs and whale songs, all used in courtship and mating, as presentation of abilities and declarations of intentions.

Is this insignificant because genetically favorable behaviors are heritable? I feel like since I have recovered from acknowledging the existence of black holes and infinity (back in the days of chest-tightening mind expansion in middle school science classes), no revelations concerning the physical world can shake me. If I have made room for ancestor worship, for God and the endowment of meaning to events and human behavior, no facts can expand to push my beliefs out. "For every lie I unlearn I learn something new" sang Ani di Franco, my middle school hero and voice that carried me through my sexual maturation (though I refuse to believe I am mature, I do not see aging as decay or decline but as mind expansion, mind-ripening if the heart does not fold from all these external pressures).

I do not mean to say I evict elements that do not fit in my version of the world that I maintain to keep it worth living in, but that any fact (what a word. If we took back to Latin, which is slowing being forgotten in my energetically expensive brain, we'd admit that fact means done, hecho, dicho, ipso facto, no longer open to revisions, in my mind good as dead. Which a fact could never be.) I encounter will be analyzed and synthesized, made fit for consumption by my agenda driven mind, always intrepidly or lazily converting observations into a mounting case for meaning, significance, beauty, order, or at least good will in the face of all this vastness.

Sexual selection broke my heart as I watched us wield it at the start of puberty, as I dodged prank calls in the terror of intersexual selection and serenades from mocking females in the hazing of intrasexual selection, my body remembered and my face forgotten in the amnesia of male selection, and I exercised female choice to keep my zygotes and weekends restricted to outsiders. It continues to bother me as I see myself and my friends and everyone I know fall for displays of health and happiness and vitality, which are as lovely and free of consciousness as youth itself, beautiful and self-absorbed. What we need in a mate is kindness and intelligence, but we hazard all kinds of rejection, identity sublimation and intellectual compromise to call that lover's symmetry ours, to call his hollow chest our nest, to marvel at his displays of youth and strength as he thinks as little of the future as possible.

Humiliation and lowered expectations are a common story, and I don't think I have the right to ask for sympathy if the most I dare to ask for is the most I get. Free will is true until proven otherwise, and even a degraded female can survey her situation and realize that not only are her eggs but her weekends and her hours valuable, and her time and mind would rather be alone than privately constructing nests in a man-child's dorm room. Not only have I seen males refuse to spill their seed indiscriminately simply because it is expected of them, I have seen women, from my crazy squirrel-hunting dog to my intensely thoughtful best friend, decide that they are waiting for something else, something better, even if it never comes. Not for nothing have we inherited these costly brains, and since as Darwin posited and Mayr insists, the individual and not the gene (in the face of the "selfish gene" theory) is the object being selected, it is the responsibility of the individual, whether male or female, to decide what it requires of mates and companions. Through selection we arrive at not perfection, but opportunities to develop who we are collectively through personal agency.

Whatever the implications of the uniqueness of the faculties of human reasoning, and though I feel both sanctimonious, odious and hypocritical spouting out these "I'm worth waiting for" declarations, we owe to ourselves and our discriminating ancestors to withhold sex from racists, sexists and reactionaries in the hopes of outbreeding outmoded behaviors, and in the interest of combining Lysistrata tactics with modern understandings of human evolution through sexual selection.1






The Edge, an interview with Geoffrey Miller on this site



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