What I Meant To Say
A Collective Critique of the Controversial Book

by the Wondering Women

DNA, or How Men Choose Women

What J.M. Kearns contributes to What I Meant to Say – an essay entitled ''How Men Choose Women'' – is quite an exquisite example of evolutionary deterministic pop-psychology. In plain English, now: Kearns justifies away men's atavistic (read backwards) behaviours by blaming them on their genes. Just like Richard Dawkins' selfish genes, contemporary men's genes are forcing men to behave according to a code quite conveniently called DNA: Do Not Apologize. A quick sample should suffice to illustrate my point: ''Scientists say men and women are both designed to be ruthlessly pragmatic in their criteria for a mate'' writes Kearns. ''Men – regardless of their conscious attitude to having kids – are designed to look for good reproducers; a low waist-to-hip ratio of around .70 signifies 'likely to be a success at bearing children' (Kearns, 85, my italics).'' Clearly, according to Kearns, men are victims of their genes.

Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that this claim has some validity. What is, then, Kearns' piece about? Do his arguments hold any water? Kearns tries to explain how men choose the women they will try to seduce, so that women will allow themselves to be chosen. As such, ''How Men Choose Women'' is not about individual preferences – for boobs, for legs, for a tight ass – but about the concrete behavioural manifestations of genes. About men's perceived potential for success at mating with certain women – an atavistic trait dating back from millenia, stronger than a few decades of socio-cultural conditioning.

That being said, what's in it for women? What is the key for women to be ''chosen''?

First answer: Read the author's upcoming book, called Why Mister Right Can't Find You. Until it is published, however, what's a woman going to do???

Second answer, a more complex one, a ''how-to'' guide with four components: (a) Be seen. Men like to get ''sightings'' of you, of your features, of your curves or absence thereof; (b) Don't be intimidating. Men want to know that they can get you screaming when they f*** you. If they judge you too intimidating, they will doubt their capacity to satisfy you and thus will not even try to get you in bed; (c) Be ready to fall in love at every single moment – ''antennae switched on (Kearns, 93)'' –, and in every single locale –''Any place is a good place to meet Mr. Right (Kearns, 93, italics his) – ;'' (d) If a guy looks and acts awkward around you, it might be because he is madly in love with you. You are responsible for making the first move.

Hum. Good enough. Something to think about. But… what are the assumptions underlying Kearns' ''how-to'' guide for women?

  1. There is such a thing as a Mr. Right;
  2. Women are desperately waiting to be ''chosen'' [by Mr. Right];
  3. Women should want to show off their bodies to everybody [in case Mr. Right is watching];
  4. Men in general [and Mr. Right in particular] have complexes about their ability to perform, but women have none;
  5. Women are intimidating, but men [and Mr. Right] aren't;
  6. Whether a man is keeping silent around you because he has had a ''sighting'' or because he simply doesn't care about you, you as a woman should know and give him a try. It is the fault of women if they let a man [/Mr. Right] slip by them.

Trying then to evaluate whether these 6 assumptions are compatible with Kearns' evolutionary determinism, it seems that only (2) and (3) are potentially dictated by some biological need, viz. the need to reproduce. The other four assumptions are highly socio-cultural, and constitute broad generalizations without empirical bases.

To clarify my point, let's look at a different set of assumptions which, in my own opinion, reflects the Canadian reality more adequately.

  1. Mr. Right becomes Mr. Right if both partners put effort into the relationship;
  2. Some women are looking for Mr. Right and some of them are very disappointed; some women have relaxed their criteria, understand that relationships are about compromises and find happiness with their imperfect partners; some women are looking for other women; some women do not want to have a partner, etc.;
  3. Some women like to show off; some women prefer to wear the clothes they like, rather than those that men want them to wear; some women like to use certain occasions to show off, and then like to disappear behind sweat pants and turtlenecks at others, etc.;
  4. There is at least the same amount of pressure on women as on men in terms of sexuality and performance;
  5. Both men and women can be intimidating;
  6. Men and women share the responsibility for the relationships they develop, and for those they do not.
How is that for a change? Now let's use this set as a different starting point for a discussion of the same issues, but first a quick recap of Kearns' how-to guide: Be seen. Be tame. Be ready. Make the first move… just in case.

Given our new assumptions, should women follow Kearns' four recommendations in order to be chosen? I say no. As we have seen, there is nothing purely genetic about Kearns' assumptions, and much less in our new set. Consequently, if there is no strong basis for evolutionary determinist justifications for men's behaviours, there is room for cultural readjustment. We need, collectively, to make some room for significant changes to happen in the way men and women choose their partners.

DNA? Indeed. Do Not Apologize, but work out what is unacceptable. Do Not Apologize, but only if it holds for both men and women. Do Not Apologize: assume the consequences, and live happily ever after.

by Elise Paradis