Spandrell recently found “a very neat paper on sex relations” — Women’s Mating Strategies, published in Evolutionary Anthropology — and decided “to pull an Isegoria and silently quote some pieces of the paper over several posts” — starting with this:
What does a woman want? The traditional evolutionist’s answer to Freud’s famous query is that a woman’s extensive investment in each child implies that she can maximize her fitness by restricting her sexual activity to one or at most a few high-quality males. Because acquiring resources for her offspring is of paramount importance, a woman will try to attract wealthy, high-status men who are willing and able to help her. She must be coy and choosy, limiting her attentions to men worthy of her and emphasizing her chastity so as not to threaten the paternity confidence of her mate.
The lady has been getting more complicated of late, however. As Sarah Hrdy predicted, we now have evidence that women, like other female primates, are also competitive, randy creatures. Women have been seen competing with their rivals using both physical aggression and more subtle derogation of competitors. While they are still sometimes coy and chaste, women have also been described recently as sexy and sometimes promiscuous creatures, manipulating fatherhood by the timing of orgasm, and using their sexuality to garner resources from men.
The real answer to Freud’s query, of course, is that a woman wants it all: a man with the resources and inclination to invest, and with genes that make him attractive to other women so that her sons will inherit his success. Her strategies for attaining these somewhat conflicting aims, and her success in doing so, are shaped by her own resources and options and by conflicts of interest with men and other women.