Evolutionary Psychology, very beautifully explains how men and women evolved to be the way they are. It is very interesting to study and understand why and how males and females have various similarities and still, the differences between the two, create what we often call the ‘battle of the sexes’. The similarities largely include similarities in habitat preferences (that is, for resource-rich environments containing places for refuge), similarities in kin investment as a function of genetic relatedness, and similarities in adaptations to avoid the “hostile forces of nature” such as predators, parasites, and other environmental hazards. It might seem like evolutionary psychology considers human beings only as creatures who work actively in order to survive and reproduce. It is almost like human life is decoded through evolutionary psychology with its core premise that explains the route of manifested behaviour depending on underlying psychological mechanisms, information processing that is housed in the brain, in conjunction with the external and internal inputs—social, cultural, ecological, physiological—that interact and thus, result in manifest behaviour. Moving on, differences between males and females are said to be found in the domains of mating and sexuality. Even though these differences are smaller in number, they are major determinants of the quality of the relationship that men and women share. Elaborating on these differences further, women have faced adaptive problems of pregnancy and breastfeeding, both of which are metabolically expensive endeavours. On the other end, men have faced adaptive problems of sexual jealousy, paternity uncertainty, and have taken risks of channelling their resources and parental investment to other’s progeny, the cause of which is, internal female fertilization. There has always been a subtle tiff between the sexes for a lot many reasons, whether it is the child-bearing woman or the sexually jealous man.
Oftentimes, there are conflicts in families wherein the mother feels like the father of the children is not investing much in the child. This investment may be in terms of the resources (eg. money, time) or in terms of parental effort. As an example, the Bollywood movie ‘Sultan’ subtly reflects the disinclination that fathers may have when it comes to raising children. In the movie, after they are married, Sultan Ali Khan (Salman Khan), an ex-wrestling champion impregnates Aarfa Hussain (Anushka Sharma), also a state level wrestler. The couple represented India on International wrestling platforms and were declared as finalists for the Olympic Games, around the same time Aarfa found out that she was pregnant. She willingly gave up her dream of winning an Olympic gold for her country due to her pregnancy. However, Sultan became extremely arrogant of his achievement and left for another international wrestling championship. Looking at the film from an evolutionary perspective, it shows how the father (Sultan) was more inclined towards accomplishing his goals than towards looking after his pregnant wife and caring for his unborn child. According to evolutionary psychology, females mate with a particular male and go on to bear their child. In the case of humans, the female bears the child in her womb for 9 months and once the child is born, the mother primary provider. Males, on the other hand, mate with women, fertilize the eggs, leading to conception. In cases of internal fertilization of eggs, as in humans, males can never be a cent percent certain of whether the offspring belongs to him (genetically and biologically) while women are obviously certain that the offspring belongs to her (genetically and biologically). This uncertainty among men leads to what is known as ‘Paternity Uncertainty’ due to which fathers reduce the amount of resource allocation and parental investment in children. The logic behind this paternity uncertainty is that males would rather invest and allocate their resources in acquiring additional mates instead of investing in an offspring that they might be uncertain of, in terms of being the offspring’s genetic father. This, in turn, leads us to the Mating Opportunity Hypothesis which proposed that men would rather invest in acquiring and attracting additional mates instead of bearing the opportunity cost of missing out on additional mates as a result of investing in offspring that they may not be certain of. Paternity uncertainty arises from the fact that men are `hard-wired' to seek as many sexual partners as they can, while women to seek men of superior genetic quality. This may make the men feel uncertain about investing in parental efforts and care in offspring as they do not have access to information about their partner’s sexual fidelity during their consortship. Misdirected investment of resources may lead to a wastage and prove costly to fathers who invest in their children instead of seeking additional mates. Traces of this belief are so subconsciously interwoven in our everyday conversations when males say ‘Leave my house with your child’ or when they blame the mother for the child’s misbehaviours ‘Your child’s behaviour is unacceptable’ or even when mothers say ‘What have you been teaching my child ?’ This is because mothers are ‘expected’ to do the lion’s share of child-rearing and parenting. Due to male sexual jealousy, males are usually highly concerned with women’s virginity. This sexual jealousy keeps men from committing to one long-term relationship as it may hamper their future chances of mating with other women. Drawing instances from Bollywood songs, ‘hum dil de chuke sanam, tere ho gaye hai hum, teri kassam’ (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) ; ‘Kassam ki kassam hai kassam se, humko pyaar hai sirf tumse’ (Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon), are just two among many examples of ways through which the female tries to reassure the males that she belongs to him, exclusively (in movies). In order to prevent men from taking away their resources and ensuring that they still provide and invest in the offspring, the mother tries to prove it to the father that she has been faithful to him and that the child belongs to him. Not only the mother but even her kin try to reassure the male’s resources and the male himself that, the child belongs to him, genetically. They point out the child’s resemblance to the father time and again so as to make him feel more like the child belongs to him. For this very reason, pregnant women often keep pictures of their husbands around them and keep looking at them so that, the offspring resembles the father. Relatives also point out their resemblance by saying, ‘bilkul Papa pe gaya hai’ and such phrases.
If there are so many differences as to why men and women come in conflict with one another, why do they even come together or get involved in relationships with another?
The answer is Attraction.
A lot of women’s magazines write articles about how women can attract men towards them. Most of these lists have things like, ‘Make Eye Contact’; ‘Smile more’; ‘Smell good’; ‘Remain Physically Fit’; ‘Wear red’ among various others. We often wonder why a certain couple is together even though there is a stark difference in their external appearances and one of them appears to be more attractive than the other. A lot of Bollywood movies are made with the primary theme being romance. What creates this romance is the attraction between males and females. These movies often have a variety of songs that describe the beauty of physical features that women possess. For example, ‘Yeh chaand sa roshan chehara, zulfon ka rang sunehara, yeh jheel se neeli aankhein’ (Kashmir ki Kali); ‘Gulaabi aankhein jo teri dekhi, deewana yeh dil, ho gaya’ (The Train) ; ‘Aankhon mein teri ajab si ajab si adaayein hai’ (Om Shanti Om) ; ‘Hassti rahe tu hassti rahe, haya ki laali khilti rahe’ (Saathiya); ‘Tere naina bade kaatil maar hi daalenge’ (Dabangg); ‘Chittiyan Kalaiyyan’ (Roy). These are just a few examples. However, when the inner psychologist takes over, we notice that a lot of songs (most of them) are dedicated to women’s beauty and often talk about their physical features as being the basis of attraction. On the other hand, while thinking of songs that describe men, most of the Bollywood songs use the ‘heroic’ image to attract the female to the male protagonist. For example songs like,‘Main hoon hero tera’ (Hero); ‘Tera dhyaan kidhar hai yeh tera hero idhar hai’ (Main Tera Hero); ‘Oh mere Raja khafa na hona’ (Johny Mera Naam); the ‘Desi Boyz’ title track does everything to show that the man is very famous among women; ‘Ramji ki chaal dekho, aankhon ki majaal dekho, kare yeh kamala dekho’ (Ram Leela). The differences between the two categories of the songs are very obvious once we look at it from a psychological perspective. Besides all these songs, a lot of questions haunt us as we delve deeper into the Male-Female Attraction topic. Why do men get more attracted to curvy women ? Why has the saying, ‘Opposites Attract’ gained so much momentum? Why are there so many jokes about women being attracted to men who drive expensive cars and life in fancy houses?
The answers to all these questions lie within Evolutionary Psychology. According to Evolutionary theory, smiling; eye contact; smelling good; remaining physically fit and wearing red are all the ways in which females can attract more men. Considering these separately, evolutionary psychologists explain that smiling more often, makes men feel like the woman is interested in him (even if she is not!) and stimulates the sensory rewards circuit part of his brain, making the woman seem more approachable. Not only this but, whiter and straighter teeth are more alluring as they indicate healthy genetics, which human beings or even other species instinctively aim to pass along. Making eye contact with men is seen as a signal which tells them that the woman is interested in him. Eyes are often described as being windows to the soul and are the basis on which they decide whether the woman is trustworthy. We all try really hard to mask our natural bodily scent. Evolutionary Psychologists, on the contrary, explain that this bodily scent is what plays an important role in attracting a mate. Our bodies send certain signals to the bodies of those of the opposite sex regarding our availability and effectiveness as a potential mate. These messages are often loud and clear but get passed on very subtly. These subliminal messages may be: “I’m really really fertile right now”; “I’m not the father types, I will not take care of your kid”. Moving on, the most emphasised aspect of female attractiveness is, appearing to be physically fit and having a curvy figure. This hourglass figure is the loudest siren which attracts men to women as it tells men that the woman is fit to bear his child and is fertile. Having large breasts is indicative of good genetic diversity, a backup for fat storage and increased ability to procreate. The waist-to-hip ratio is another effective indicator of women’s fertility as it is believed to correspond to the optimal fat distribution for high fertility. The phrase ‘child-bearing hips’ didn’t just get so famous! Another cue to the fertility of women is given out when men see women in red. It makes men perceive women as being more attractive but also symbolizes blood which, in turn, represents youth and a higher fertility rate.
Women, on the other hand, are believed and often found to be highly attracted to a man who is rich and resourceful. The evolutionary reason behind this is that women often choose mates who will be able to provide more resources for them and their offspring. Men who seem to be more promising in these terms, stand better chances at being chosen by women as their mates. These are the roots of from where the notion of ‘Men are the breadwinners and women are the homemakers’ germinates. An example of a song from the movie Zanjeer wherein the song ‘Pinky hai paise walo ki’, when looked at from the evolutionary perspective highlights this resource needing nature of women.
This attraction between the sexes leads to the creation of the institution of marriage. Marriage, from the evolutionary perspective, is an evolved psychological mechanism which helps in overcoming the adaptive problem of commitment that leads to a conflict between men and women. It is seen as a way to assure the woman that the man commits to providing her and her offspring with resources and protection thus, in turn increasing their chances of survival. On the other hand, it is also a way of assuring the man that, his woman, since she is sure of his resources, will bear his child, reproducing a copy of his genes and does not cuckold him. It is nature’s way of balancing out the conflict that has been an issue ever since. If marriage is the solution to the conflict, why do so many couples choose divorce? Divorce, again, is another evolved psychological mechanism which has emerged in order to solve the adaptive problem of the man being cuckolded, preventing the misdirection of his resources and investment. For the woman, it is a way for her to fend resources for herself and her offspring in case her husband’s resources are not sufficient for their survival and protection. It also allows the woman to find better genes and a man who will be able to provide for her offspring. However, even in the marital context, both genders face the problem of identifying mates who will commit to them over the extended temporal durations
Is there a better solution to judging whether the long-term relationship will work and whether it is worth investing in a romantic/ sexual partner or identifying the right mate?
Live-in relationships are the newest evolved psychological mechanism. Live-in relationships act as trial rounds wherein the partners live together and get at least an idea of how the other person is. This is a generic reason as to why live-ins are becoming so popular. However, evolutionary psychology explains that live-in relationships are a way to test the waters before taking the plunge. It is a way to understand an individual’s behaviour under different circumstances, eating preferences and to an extent, even whether the couple is sexually compatible. As an example, in the movie ‘Befikre’, Ranveer Singh and Vani Kapoor enter into a live-in relationship and got a fair idea of how different their lives were with one doing a full night shift and the other having an early morning call time. In terms of evolutionary psychology, the female understands the male’s resource spending patterns (eg. money, time), eating habits, behaviours and other habits. Males can also benefit by getting to know the female better in terms of her nature and whether she nurturing enough to rear his children.
Live-in relationships are not openly accepted in the Indian society but, if looked at, from the evolutionary perspective, does show at least some benefits before a couple engages in marital investment. The reason for this concept being a taboo in the Indian society is that, the Indian culture values (over-values) the woman’s chastity and expects her to abstain from sexual intercourse or even sexual behaviours before marriage. The whole idea is to preserve her virginity for her husband. Men, on the other hand, are not expected to preserve their ‘virginities’ or anything of that sort. Clearly, this discrimination and bias against women were unfair and evolutionary psychology had to develop an evolved psychological mechanism to fight against this adaptive problem.
This time, the answer is Feminism. It is a wave of feminism that has hit the floor, of late. Why did this whole ‘Feminism’ wave arise? The answer once again lies with evolutionary psychologists. They explain that this wave of feminism is nature’s way of balancing the inequalities that exist between men and women. With women gaining more independence and men stepping in to become homemakers, feminism is a masked transformation in the rigid sex roles and stereotypes attached to both the sexes. Be it breaking the glass ceiling, switching roles of breadwinner and caretaker or expressing yourself openly, feminism covers all aspects where women and men are burdened with socially acceptable sex roles and duties that they must fulfil. An instance from the movie ‘Ki & Ka’ wherein Arjun Kapoor takes on the role of a home-maker and Kareena Kapoor takes on the role of a successful businesswoman, it was a very beautiful way of addressing the gender stereotypes. Most of the feminists applauded the movie but, unfortunately, it was not very well received by the audiences as a whole. The reason behind this was that the audience expected it to aligned with the Indian cultural ‘guidelines’ and found the movie to be very ‘silly’, almost depicting an impossible phenomenon. Feminism exists to change these mindsets and thus, to create a balance between the sexes so as to avoid the very clichéd ‘Battle of the Sexes’!
Evolutionary Psychology sure has its ways of evolving itself and solving adaptive problems!