Zoe Williams and evidence

She has presented a wealth of studies that show men want to get laid more within their relationship, that celibacy is far more common among women, that masturbation and use of erotic material are far more common among men, that men are more unfaithful and more frustrated, report more sexual desire, across a whole range of countries. The only thing I think might complicate her conclusion – that men are randier than women, and why won\’t we all just accept it – is that this area is culturally quite freighted. There are certain expectations, going back centuries, of male sexuality being rampant and ungovernable, and equal and opposite expectations of female sexuality. This might – call me crazy – impact upon the way that men and women report, express and prosecute their sexual desire.

It\’s quite alarming really.

X says \”people are like this\”. Y responds \”but only because people have been like that for centuries\”.

Well, yes Miss Y, but turn your mind to the possibility that people have been like this for centuries because people are like this.

You know, it\’s simply not true that all of our ancestors were entire dunderheads awaiting Andrea Dworkin to tell them how it really is.

6 comments on “Zoe Williams and evidence

  1. It’s a standard manoeuvre among hardcore devotees of social construct theory. People are the way they are because of social expectations, the patriarchy, etc. Strangely, though, social expectations rarely seem to arse because of how people tend to be. See, for instance, Amanda Marcotte or the feminist pundit Freethinker, who claims the only reason the world’s strongest weightlifters aren’t all women is because of their “being conditioned into gender-appropriate behaviour” that “renders their bones and muscles weak from disuse and their minds unassertive and submissive.”

    And besides, Zoe doesn’t need evidence. She only needs a thing to be “ambiently true.”

  2. Zoe has obviously never read Pinker’s The Blank Slate.

    But it probably wouldn’t convince her because it’s (a) written by a man, (b) uses evidence, and (c) doesn’t agree with her preconceptions.

    Prejudice is a one-way concept to the left.

  3. The problem is interperting what the data means. Like a lot of people, I’ve spent occasional time over many years considering this subject, on and off, and sort of casually collecting data from acquaintances. It’s clear that the “reluctant wife” syndrome is very common and, yes, I’ve experienced it too, as a relationship goes from “how often can we find time to do it?” to “I wonder if I’ll get it this month?”.

    I’m currently cleaving towards the, er, “woman as test bed theory”. Male and female sexual experiences are different; for the male, “even when it’s bad, it’s good” as the cliche goes. That isn’t true for women. Female sexual pleasure is extremely variable and it is easy- even commonplace- for sex to be just plain disppointing for women. A man who is healthy will always achieve an orgasm, hence “even when bad, good”. That isn’t true for women at all.

    So, the idea is that female sexuality evolved to its strange current state as a means of testing partners’ virility (for want of a better word), since a virile partner is an indicator of good genes, health, alpha male status, etc. And, if we presume that women evolved as they did in order to test males, we must presume that that means that there will be winners and losers, which is the whole point of testing things, after all. Which would mean that, across the population, most women will be stuck with the losers.

    The result of that would be that most women with particular partners would simply go off the sex with said partners who have failed the orgasm test, and start avoiding it (because it is boring and disappointing and only the male is enjoying it) and start looking around for a new partner, which is why in an easy divorce society, most divorces are inaugurated by women, and why women in relationships are (anecdotally) far more likely to be the one that does the dumping.

    Part of the problem with talking about sex drives is an unstated assumption that all sex is broadly equal. That might be far truer for men than women (memorably, a character in the TV show Coupling I recall once talking to a female character about how women rate men sexually, whereas for a man, “we’re just glad you’re naked”).

    Just speculation, but we really shouldn’t jump to conclusions regarding what particular data actually means.

  4. I don’t think you’ve understood what Zoe Williams’ point is, although its understandable because its not clearly made. I think there are two different ideas here:
    * how do people actually behave, and how do they say they feel
    * is how people behave and say they feel the result of genetic determinism, environment (including cultural expectations), or some combination of the two
    I think what Zoe Williams is saying is that behaviours and attitudes about sex are governed at least in part by environment, and are not solely the result of genes. Because of this, just because men do report “being randier” that does not mean we have to accept that that will always be the case.

  5. I think what Zoe Williams is saying is that behaviours and attitudes about sex are governed at least in part by environment, and are not solely the result of genes. Because of this, just because men do report “being randier” that does not mean we have to accept that that will always be the case.

    Indeed. Consider a society of two groups, A and B. Make a rule such that, Group A may eat whenever they feel like it but Group B may only eat at times chosen by group A.

    Which group will be more likely to report experiencing hunger? Does this prove that that group actually has a greater appetite?

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