The Advice Goddess
by Amy Alkon
A mile in somebody else's choose
Dear Amy: I'm a woman who's on the feminist dating app Bumble, where women have to make the first move. Men can only write back to women who message them. I thought this would be empowering, but even pursuing a guy in this small way feels unsexy and overly aggressive. Do I just need to get over my retrograde thinking? -- Uncomfortable
Dear Uncomfortable: The gazelle doesn't wake up one day, decide it's time for a change, and give the sleeping cougar a kick with its hoof: "Run for your life, you big ugly feline!" The cougar turns around, confused: "What are you doing, man? Haven't you ever seen National Geographic?"
Who does the chasing in dating also isn't some arbitrary thing. It comes down to what evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, in 1972, called "parental investment." His theory -- borne out in research on humans, animals, and insects -- is that the sex that has the highest cost from sexual activity (the female -- in almost all species) will be choosier about whom they mate with than the sex that invests less (which is almost always the male).
In humans, of course, women are the ones who get pregnant and stuck with the kids, and men can, as anthropologists quip, just "inseminate and run." So -- over thousands of generations -- women being choosier and men being, uh, chase-ier got wired into human psychology. We can't just shrug off the emotional mechanisms that drive this behavior even today -- even if Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe deems it "heteronormative" hooey that women damage their desirability by chasing men.
A trip to the Panamanian wetlands would show her she's wrong -- that what drives which sex does the chasing and which does the choosing really is about who gets stuck with the child care. Yes, in most species, that's the female. But check out the role reversal in the wattled jacana, a long-legged South American wading bird.
Zoologist Stephen Emlen and his team found that it's the male jacana, not the female, that sits incubating the eggs in the nest and cares for the chickies after they hatch. And right in line with Trivers' parental investment theory, female jacanas are the ones who do the chasing, competing for the males, and some even have "harems" of up to five boy birds. And it gets worse. The Emlen team found that as male jacanas sit tending their egg brood, they're sometimes forced to watch while their girlfriend bird gets it on right in front of them with the other boy birds in her harem.
Getting back to Bumble, where the app goes wrong is in removing the filtering that comes from a man needing to lay his ego on the line and expend effort to pursue a woman. The notion that it's "empowering" for women to do the chasing ignores that it's in men's genetic interest to not turn down a mating opportunity -- even with a woman they aren't that interested in. Also, because men evolved to expect choosier women, even subtle forms of chasing like your contacting a man first may send a message that you're not all that. If you're really looking to put him off, why not turn the tables all the way and send a panorama shot of your erect penis? You: "Yoo-hoo? Where'd you go?!" b.