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The New Mate-riarchy

February 9, 2010

Women who seek to be equals with men lack ambition.

Timothy Leary got that right.  As the flurries of Valentine’s Day posts accumulate around the blogosphere like the snow in Washington, DC, and you find yourself knee-deep in bloviation on the lost art of romance, remembering that “we ain’t nothing but mammals” (unlike the subjects of the upcoming Vanlentine’s Day documentary Tyrannosaurus Sex) might ease some of that existential pain.  Or it might not.

Ironically enough, the sexual paradigm I grew up with has already begun to reverse itself.  The conventional image of Valentine’s Day used to be that single women would drown their sorrows of bachelorettehood in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while their male counterparts haplessly scoured every available avenue for a potential mate who was just as forlornly unattached as they were.  This whole scheme seemed to work in accordance with genetic programming and evolutionary sense; in all other mammalian communities, the females have their pick of the male litter.  Males competed amongst one another to be chosen by the females, and the alpha attempts to quash all potential usurpers to his genetic throne, the females’ choices thereby effecting sexual selection.  Of course, for most of the history of Western civilization, this model worked in reverse; females were forced to compete for the males’ favor and attention, the men getting their choice of mate.  Feminism, then, seemed to bring the dynamic back to the equilibrium that had existed in nature, with women taking their pick of the male pack.  No more.

Sexual equality and demographic shifts have begun to undermine the market for sexual partners for women amongst college-educated women in America, given that such women are now competing on relatively more levels against relatively more women.

Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000.

Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories.

Thanks to simple laws of supply and demand, it is often the women who must assert themselves romantically or be left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box.

Since college enrollments have shifted away from male domination, if a college education translates to greater economic participation and general desirability in females, society is poised to revert back to a sexual dynamic requiring that females compete for the relatively less available male partners.  For some, this shift means that the male counterparts may correspondingly revert to a less feminist approach to winning females’ favor.

Welcome to the New Paleolithic, where tens of thousands of years of human mating practices have swirled into oblivion like shampoo down the shower drain and Cro-Magnons once again drag women by the hair into their caves—and the women love every minute of it. Louts who might as well be clad in bearskins and wielding spears trample over every nicety developed over millennia to mark out a ritual of courtship as a prelude to sex: Not just marriage (that went years ago with the sexual revolution and the mass-marketing of the birth-control pill) or formal dating (the hookup culture finished that)—but amorous preliminaries and other civilities once regarded as elementary, at least among the college-educated classes.

When the supply and demand are so skewed, the synthesis of feminism and sexual selection suggests that more objectively favorable characteristics will be demanded of women, while available males may abuse their relatively increased market power by simply advertising their genetics rather than merit.  Such females will be forced to choose between forgoing lifelong partners in favor of a career or “settling” for males that do not meet the lofty ideals that the historical standards of chivalry may have instilled.

Feminism gave women this sense of entitlement that we deserve someone who’s perfect. And then we meet the so-called perfect guy and he’s out of our league and has no interest in us and we tell our girlfriends, ‘He must be secretly gay’ when in fact he’s just really not that into us.

Of course, there is still the possibility that the market might simply take a bit more time and correct itself once again due to some unforeseeable turn in our evolutionary path.  We are just mammals, after all.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Craig permalink
    February 10, 2010 12:40 am

    Interesting post. I couldn’t help but think about the telescoping nature of history as we see these changes rapidly accelerate. 50 years ago, women were teachers and housewives whose husbands would demand obedience and could beat them. With our parents generation, the feminist movement went mainstream and dramatically changed the role of women in society. In our generation, they are turning the leadership roles upside down and shattering the glass ceiling. It’s just amazing to me how quickly things change…

  2. February 12, 2010 2:59 pm

    I would guess that marriage is what will change the most out of this situation. Piggybacking on Craig’s point, with breaking ceilings and the flipping of leadership roles, the nature of the relationships themselves will dynamically change, too. Our ideas of family and relationships are in for big changes.

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