Sexuality on the savannah

We all know what sexual relations between men and women were like in prehistory on the African savannah, right?  OK, it’s prehistory, but that’s just a detail. 

What happened was this:  Males rushed around spreading their seed, while females tried desparately to get the nuclear family to work.  Lesson for today:  men benefit from having as many mates as possible, while women need a faithful male to work for the benefit of them and their children.

Right?  No!  No!  No!

Or at least that isn’t at all necessarily what we see in societies that approximate to the prehistorical ones in their lack of influence from the present developed  world.  This is according to a report published in the summer issue of the journal Human Nature, by Monique Borgerhoff Mulder of the University of California, Davis

In fact, ladies, if you want to maximize your reproductive fitness, forget about the nuclear family.  Successive monogramy (with more than two serial husbands) is the way to go. 

So the next time you think, “Funny thing, I could swear I wouldn’t mind the extra partner,” don’t blame evolution for the difficulties you face on that score (as it were).

And Kudos to Sarah Blaffer Hrdy for yet another wise observation:

The women are lining up more protection, more investment, more social relationships for their children to exploit…. A lot of what some people would call promiscuous I would call being assiduously maternal.

And a deep pink ribbon  to Geoffrey F. Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, for this observation:

Evolutionary psychology and anthropology really need to take women’s perspective seriously in all its dimensions…the capacity of women across cultures to dissolve relationships that aren’t working has been much underestimated.

8 thoughts on “Sexuality on the savannah

  1. Rob, your comment makes me wonder whether we have a cultural replaying of the “madonna/whore” dichotomy. On the one hand, there’s lots in evolutionary psych which says that while men are VERY BAD, and rape and kill, women are focused on the children and the hearth, one man, etc. But then there’s the anti-women anti-feminism that says, “O no, women become whores, if you let them. At least the beautiful ones (roissy’s alpha women) and, of course, they may do it for free, so voracious are their appetites.”

    But the news that women aren’t naturally all madonnas doesn’t have to be interpreted as saying they are all whores. These categories come millennia later in a culture that is well and truly screwed-up about sexuality, as it were.

  2. Thanks, aerenchyma. We’ve got a copy of that somewhere on this site. Since I didn’t link to it, I’m glad you did.

  3. It’s funny how we fail to see some “traditional societies” from women’s perspective. Growing up amongst working class white ethnics I’d listen in on friends’ mother’s chit-chat. I found the picture that emerged of male-female relationships shocking. Men who imagine that they want traditional relationships would find it even more shocking.

    A man was a “meal ticket.” A good husband delivered his pay packet to his wife who managed the finances, about which men were typically ignorant. The center of life was the home, neighborhood and multi-generational compound where women and their sisters, mothers and daughters, surrounded by their children, transacted the real business. Men were peripheral–sent out to work during the week, assigned to repair work and heavy lifting at home, snoozing in front of the TV in their spare time.

    Why did men put up with this arrangement? According to the received view because men had strong backs and weak brains. Women could get anything they wanted out of them by wheedling, flattering and manipulating them.

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