Is Becoming a Man Even Possible? The Evolution of Desire: Are There Two Human Natures?

Though the process is not always conscious, we never choose mates at random. We are all descended from a long and unbroken line of ancestors who competed successfully for desirable mates, attracted mates who were reproductively valuable, retained mates long enough to reproduce, and fended off interested rivals.

The way we carry out these vital functions is what evolutionary psychologists call our "reproductive strategy." It is our characteristic way of doing things, our standard operating procedure. It is what draws us to certain people, "the whisperings within," as Evolutionary Psychologist David P. Barash calls them. We don't always follow what we hear, but we must always listen.

When the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon asked which females are the most sexually attractive to Yanomamo Indian men of the Amazon rain forest, his male informant replied without hesitation, "females who are moko dude." In referring to the life-giving fruits of the jungle, Chagnon was told, moko dude means that the fruit is perfectly ripe. When referring to a woman, it means that she is post pubescent but has not yet borne her first child, or about fifteen to eighteen years of age.

Since women's ability to conceive and bear children decreases with age, youth is a direct indicator of reproductive capacity. “Across all cultures,” say Barash and Lipton, “men consistently express a fondness for youthful women.” Another such indicator is beauty. Psychologist David Buss found that men throughout the world had a similar definition of beauty. "Full lips, clear and smooth skin, clear eyes, lustrous hair, and good muscle tone," he says," are universally sought after." Those who believe that beauty is arbitrarily defined in each culture are not aware of the increasingly convincing literature on the evolutionary basis of attraction between the sexes.

Attraction to beauty seems to be built into our biological makeup, according to psychologist Judith Langlois and her colleagues. In one study, adults evaluated color slides of white and black female faces for their attractiveness. Then infants of two or three months of age were shown pairs of these faces that differed in their degree of attractiveness. The infants looked longer at the more attractive faces. “This evidence,” says Buss, “challenges the common view that the idea of attractiveness is learned through gradual exposure to current cultural standards.”

Based on his research findings, Buss found a host of other differences between men and women and concluded that there are actually two human natures, one male the other female. He believed that both the similarities and the differences could be explained by understanding evolutionary pressures that our ancestors faced over the last five million years.

For instance, men's greater jealousy over his mate’s sexual infidelity can be traced, Buss believes, to the uncertainty men have over the paternity of their children. Every woman who gives birth is 100% certain that the child carries her genes. For men, on the other hand, there is always a degree of doubt. In evolutionary terms the consequence of raising a child that may not carry his genes, but those of another man, is the death of his line. Those men who took an easy-going approach to the possibility of his mate being sexual with other men left fewer genes than those men who were sexually jealous.

What makes Buss' findings so compelling is the breadth of his research. "If mating desires and other features of human psychology are products of our evolutionary history," says Buss, "they should be found universally, not just in the United States." To test his theories he conducted a five year study working with fifty collaborators from thirty-seven cultures located on six continents and five islands from Australia to Zambia. All major racial groups, religious groups, and ethnic groups were represented. In all, his research team surveyed 10,047 persons worldwide. His findings held up in every culture he surveyed.

Becoming a Man: The Big Impossible

It isn’t easy being a man today. We have the same evolutionary needs that we always had, but the world has changed in such a way that it is more difficult for many men to meet these needs. As always we must still compete with other males for access to females. If we come out on top in these contests we must then be chosen by the female.

Females are becoming choosier. As their power increases in the world, they are less willing to settle for men who don’t meet their standards.

In his book Manhood in the Making, anthropologist David Gilmore reports on his cross-cultural exploration of what it means to be a man. In cultures as diverse as hunter-gatherers, horticultural and pastoral tribes, peasants, postindustrial civilizations from the east and west, he found a similar vulnerability in all men. “Among most of the peoples that anthropologists are familiar with,” says Gilmore, “true manhood is a precious and elusive status beyond mere maleness.

Everywhere he looked at cultures Gilmore found that masculinity is a much more uncertain concept than that of femininity. As author Norman Mailer recognized “Nobody was born a man; you earned manhood provided you were good enough, bold enough.” He could be speaking about the universal man, not just men in contemporary western cultures. In aboriginal North America, among the Fox tribe for instance, manhood was seen as being “the Big Impossible,” an exclusive status that only the nimble few can achieve.

“A man must prove his manhood every day by standing up to challenges and insults,” says write Oscar Lewis, “even though he goes to his death ‘smiling.’”. How many young men do we see in our schools and neighborhoods today who would rather go to their deaths smiling than risk an insult to their manhood?

The case is different for females. Although women are pressured to live up to certain standards of femininity in all cultures and are sanctioned and punished if they deviate, they are not threatened with the loss of their womanhood to the degree that is true of men. “Rarely is their right to a gender identity questioned in the same public, dramatic way that it is for men,” says Gilmore. “The very paucity of linguistic labels for females echoing the epithets ‘effete,’ ‘unmanly’ ‘effeminate,’ ‘emasculated,’ and so on, attest to this archetypical difference between sex judgments worldwide.”

Who we are as men is shaped, in many ways, by what women find attractive. The reverse is also true. However, the feminine qualities are more solid and secure than are those for the men. There is no “big impossible” for women. Youth is a given for every female who is young. The parallel value for men to be strong and productive is not as easy to develop and maintain.

For women, beauty and youth may fade as they age, but there are huge industries whose main function is to make women appear young and attractive through the years. For men the skills and abilities to make a good enough living to attract and keep a woman are not always under a man’s control. There is no makeup or facelift that can create a job. Even if he does everything he can to get the education and develop the skills he needs for success, the economy may shift in ways that keep him from making the kind of living that would be most desirable.

What Women Want, Men Are Finding Hard to Provide

In Buss' world-wide study, he found that the top three qualities that women look for in men are exactly the same as those things that men look for in women: Intelligence, kindness, and love. Once again we see that, at their core, men and women are the same. But then, what women want diverges from what men want.

“Nothing agreeth worse than a lady’s heart and a beggar’s purse,” wrote the English satirist John Heywood in the sixteenth century. Whether in tribal societies like the Aleut Eskimos or the !Kung San of the Kalahari desert, women want to marry “big men,” individuals with rank and status. American women polled in both the 1930s and the 1980s considered a potential mate’s financial prospects about twice as important as men did. This is true world-wide and doesn't seem to depend on whether the women, themselves, are well off. I have found that women doctors, for instance, are drawn to even higher paid male doctors, rather than to male nurses who might share their interests.

“Power is the great aphrodisiac,” said Henry Kissinger. Looks are much less important for women than they are for men. From an evolutionary perspective, women wanted men who would provide resources for her and the children. Those who mated with socially powerful men reaped the benefits of her mate’s intelligence and charisma, as well as his ability to protect and provide. In Buss's study, he concluded that the reason women were less concerned about a man's sexual fidelity and more concerned about their mates emotional fidelity was the fear that an emotional attachment was more likely to lead to abandonment and the loss of the man's resources.

We see this evolutionary proclivity showing up in the modern dating and mating game. When interviewing the women contestants on the Joe Millionaire program, Time magazine found that the subject the women were most likely to lie about was their age. Male contestants for the show The Bachelorette were most likely to lie about their income. Even in T.V. land men know that women are drawn to men who are well off and men are drawn to female youth and beauty.

These desires are often not conscious. Women usually don't say to themselves, "I like that guy because he is willing to commit his resources to me and my children, if I decide to have children." She just says, "I like that guy. I can count on him." She doesn't say, "I want a tall strong man who can protect me from wild animals." She just says, "He turns me on. The chemistry feels right."

In the modern world, men are falling farther and farther behind. We begin with many biological disadvantages and are increasingly experiencing social stressors as well. At all stages of life our boys, teens, and adult men are losing out. This is most apparent in the two critical areas of life—production and reproduction. Without good jobs men are having trouble being productive in the world. Men who are not good producers and providers are not chosen by women to develop long-term relationships.

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy wealth. - Henry David Thoreau


Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of seven books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages and his latest book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at

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