Do Women Desire Peaceful Gentle Partners?

petraeusAccording to Washington Post book reviewer Joanna Scutts, anthropologist Melvin Konner argues in Women After All that we can look forward to a peaceful future because women will increasingly mate with “caring, committed partners” rather than “feckless brutes”. 

At least three assumptions underlie Konner’s conclusion:
1) Going forward, young women will have a greater degree of agency when it comes to selecting reproductive mates.  2) Women with agency will choose caring unassuming mates.  3) The offspring of gentle empathic men will be gentle and empathic.  While the truth of each assumption may be questioned, this post briefly examines the second and finds it dubious.

Konner apparently believes that non-violent men are more attractive to women because women themselves are so much less inclined to use physical force to get what they want.  But this seems a rather slender thread on which to  premise a book.  It’s not much of a stretch to believe that people seek out characteristics that they themselves lack in potential mates.  Indeed, the complementary needs theory posits that at least some people do exactly this.

What do recent studies attempting to tease out just what women want in a long-term mate show?  According to a 2008 survey, in addition to ambition and success, the top ten traits that women say they want in husband include: dependable character, emotional stability, desire for a family and children, sociability, and a pleasing disposition.  This suggests that Konner has a point and women will choose peace-loving husbands to the extent they can.

On the other hand, a recent study published in “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that while men were attracted to nice-seeming women upon meeting them, women did not feel the same way about men.”  In Japan and many European countries, many women (and men) with agency are choosing to forgo reproducing altogether.

Anecdotal evidence does not support the theory that liberated women prefer non-violent men – at least to any significant degree.  For example, successful, independent, and attractive Paula Broadwell pursued the older and less physically attractive General David Petraeus.  Indeed, many high status women choose athletes in violent sports like boxing, football, and hockey.  Even physically repellant bully Donald Trump has been married to three women – all of whom had achieved at least a fair degree of success before meeting him.

Simply put, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question “what do women want?”  To the extent we can guess what traits are innately attractive, looks, wealth, and status are probably as important as other factors.  The bottom line: ensuring all women agency to reject undesirable mates is unlikely to increase the percentage of children fathered by caring non-violent men.

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