(Cross-posted from Gloria Brame's.)
Why do men prefer skinny blond women with large breasts? Two psychology professors think they know:
Harvard anthropologist Frank Marlowe contends that larger, and hence heavier, breasts sag more conspicuously with age than do smaller breasts. Thus they make it easier for men to judge a woman's age (and her reproductive value) by sight—suggesting why men find women with large breasts more attractive.
Which strikes me as completely ridiculous, since it seems perfectly obvious to me that body type preferences depend more on cultural factors than instincts. Unfortunately, the idea that "it's all genetics" has a wide following.
Evolutionary psychology is the theory that natural selection has shaped how we think in the same way it shaped how we walk. While on its face this seems interesting and a potentially productive avenue of inquiry, in practice ev-psych has proved to be a conveniently "scientific" way to prove that existing social conditions are natural and unavoidable, and hence that attempts to change those conditions are useless or worse. For example, former Harvard president Lawrence Summers was making an ev-psych argument when he claimed that one likely explanation for the lack of female faculty in Harvard's mathematical sciences faculty was that evolution caused men to be more likely than women to have very high mathematical ability. The supposed reason for this difference was that over the course of human evolution, men were hunters, and throwing spears or slinging rocks at prey required the ability to calculate trajectories, so men who were better at math bagged more game and so had more and healthier children.
I shit you not. That's the "scientific" reason behind Summer's explanation for why there are more men than women teaching math at Harvard. Sex discrimination, Summers said, couldn't be the answer - despite copious research showing such discrimination in the sciences exists - because if there was discrimination, then a non-discriminatory university could hire all the brilliant female math professors cheap and so drive places like Harvard out of business. (Did I mention that in addition to being an adherent of ev-psych, Summers is an economist?)
Unsurprisingly, evolutionary psych is a goldmine for people who are seeking to justify the sexual status quo. The two professors with the theory about why men like big tits also say this:
While feminists and social scientists tend to explain sexual harassment in terms of "patriarchy" and other ideologies, [psychologist Kingsley R.] Browne locates the ultimate cause ... in sex differences in mating strategies. ... Abuse, intimidation, and degradation are all part of men's repertoire of tactics employed in competitive situations. In other words, men are not treating women differently from men—the definition of discrimination, under which sexual harassment legally falls—but the opposite: Men harass women precisely because they are not discriminating between men and women.
Thus, their implied conclusion goes, it's unfair for the legal system to protect women from sex discrimination. How convenient.
One more example of how rigorous a science ev-psych is: One of the field's leading proponents is Dr. Steven Pinker, a prolific author who is well known for such books as The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works. In How the Mind Works, Pinker says this:
Women do not seek the sight of a naked male stranger or enactments of anonymous sex, and there is virtually no female market for pornography. ... Women can sometimes be aroused when they have agreed to watch portrayals of intercourse, but they do not seek them out. ... The closest mass-market equivalents to pornography for women are the romance novel and the bodice-ripper, in which the sex in described in the context of emotions and relationships rather than as a succession of bumping bodies.
The ridiculousness of these assertions should be self-evident. Whether women look at porn (and even more importantly, whether they reveal that they do to a researcher) is heavily dependent on societal attitudes towards women who like sex. Pinker claims that women don't look at porn, and that the reason is that evolutionarily, women have to be very choosy about who they mate with while men do not. (Sort of undercuts the "men like big tits because they have to be careful they don't mate with an old woman" argument, doesn't it?) Thus, Pinker concludes, women can't become aroused by visual stimulus or it will decrease their ability to not choose an inferior partner. This "just-so story", where the theory is molded to fit the most palatable explanation of the facts, gets blown out of the water when we get new data. In Pinker's case, writing in 1997, we have 10 more years' worth of examples of women seeking out actual male strangers and anonymous sex, in addition to representations of them, on the web. Either human genetics underwent a radical transformation in the past 10 years, or ev-psych is a bogus theory with no predictive power at all.
Oh, and did I mention, Steven Pinker teaches at Harvard and was one of the staunchest supporters of Lawrence Summers?