Monday, January 9, 2012

Feminist Question of the Week: A Lady in the Streets....

So, I got into another debate the other day. This time, the topic was the old, and in my opinion moronic adage, "Men want a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets."

A friend of mine argued that the saying came from the biological urge of a man needing to know that the young he was protecting and raising, were actually his own. Apparently, by knowing your companion is a lady precludes the fact that she is monogamous with you and assures that the children your female companion has born are yours. The freak in the sheets part caters to the needs of men for pleasure.

You can tell where I stand on this issue. I argued that it wasn't biologically determined, that instead it was part of a societal construct to keep one gender (obviously the female one) under control. By controlling the sexuality of one gender, you thereby maintain control over the way that specific gender interacts with and views the sexually dominant gender.

We went round and round about it. So what do you think guys, is it biology or society that determines this little piece of pearly wisdom?


  1. Rachel, it drives me crazy when anyone tries to use the argument that evolution gave men stronger sex drives or that evolution created the double standard of female fidelity in the face of male infidelity. When you get down to it, those arguments have no factual foundation and have a lot more to do with wishful thinking and the politics of power.

    Take, for instance, the argument that men are more shallow because of evolution. People who believe this typically try to say that back in the day our male ancestors who chose female mates with shiny hair, big breasts/hips, and a small waist, had more children and were better able to pass on their genes. The argument goes that women were more likely to pass on their genes if they just had a reliable mate who would still be around to protect the kids and hunt for food. So, the conclusion is "See! Evolution made women looked for commitment and made men look for boobs."

    But, here's my take on that scenario: in order to pass on his genetic material, the man needs monogamy too, so he can be there to protect the kids and to make sure they grow up and have their own kids. He also needs an intelligent mate who will feed the kids what they need and can hide them from predators. He also benefits if his mate is strong enough to protect the kids when he's not there. With a female mate who possesses those traits, wouldn't a male ancestor have been more likely to pass on his genetic materials?

    And as for a woman - yes, she's more likely to pass on her genetics if she finds a mate who offers stability and support, but she has just as much reason to go for an attractive mate as the man does. If she finds a mate who is strong, who has clear skin and bright eyes and shiny hair, isn't she also selecting a mate who is likely to produce healthy offspring in the same way all these pop scientists claim an attractive female mate would be?

    So, even by their logic, their argument falls apart.

  2. Well, studies have shown that male humans have a stronger sex drive than women as defined by certain criteria. They think about sex more often, pursue sex more, desire more sexual partners, etc, etc. That of course does not show any causation as far as the social construct of male and female fidelity, but it IS there, and to ignore the potential correlation would be just as arrogant as claiming certain causation.

    It is also a relatively well accepted fact that nearly all mammalian males of any species are most benefited by impregnating as many females as possible to pass on their genes. Many males of species that share raising offspring between male and female are very careful to control access to fertile females for only themselves, because if any offspring is not theirs it is a waste of resources on their part to raise it. This is why lions kill cubs they know don't belong to them, and also the basis for the idea that a male would desire a female that doesn't sleep with multiple partners. Female mammals are attracted to fit, strong mates that will A: give the best genes for their offspring so that they will survive and B: in the case of mammals where male and female share in the raising of young, will be strong enough to help raise the offspring to an age at which it can protect itself.

    Both male and female are looking for the "freak in the sheets." They all want good looking partners that will provide the best chance for their offspring to survive, and both want pleasure. Sexual pleasure exists so that men and women will expend energy and create offspring. It's the greatest trick biology and evolution ever played. So I agree that evolution says nothing about "men look for boobs and women look for commitment." True, both men and women are shallow and are looking for positive traits that imply good breeding. But, it is a biological desire of most mammalian males to ensure that the child that is born to their sex partner is actually their child, whereas the female doesn't need to be concerned with which sex partner provided the child, only that it is provided for. Thus men are looking for a "lady on the streets." A woman who he can be confident has only chosen him as a sex partner.

    Is it a good or bad thing that these evolutionary traits MAY be part of how humans perceive each other sexually and morally? I don't know I'm not a philosopher, I'm sure there is good and bad to it. But again, it is disingenuous to claim that there is no way that the idea of a man wanting a "lady on the streets and a freak in the sheets" has nothing to do with evolution and biology.

  3. Anonymous, I appreciate that you've pointed out the particular criteria by which higher male sex drive is measured. While it's important to admit those findings, I think it's also important to consider other criteria and to interrogate that definition of "high sex drive."

    If you look at a lot of ancient texts, there's a definite fear of women as a more sexual being. You see Greek philosophers counseling men not to let women have their way too often, lest their life force trickle away. So historically speaking, we haven't always seen men as more sexual, and I think cultural factors play a higher role in the criteria you've mentioned than we sometimes admit.

    One theory I've heard is that corsets played a large role in shifting who was seen as more sexual, because they made sex painful for ladies - even after the corset was removed, a woman's body was nevertheless damaged and in pain. I've heard from multiple female friends that going on the pill also stifled their sex drives.

    So, I'm not unilaterally dismissing the possibility that men have stronger sex drives than women - I'm just questioning the criteria by which we make that assessment and suggesting a more complicated scenario.

  4. Yeah I agree criteria makes a big difference in sex drive. But Rachels's question is really only tangentially related to sex drive so that was more a side point. My main point though was the lady on the street freak in the sheets that Rachel was discussing. I believe there are "biological" reasons behind this admittedly sexist phrase. Is that good or bad, who knows. But that was the question posited by the blog and I think it plays out when examining animal behavior and mating habits.