August 13, 2013

"What the sex lives of female monkeys may tell us about women."

Front-page teaser for a WaPo article that — on clicking — is headlined "Lust, monkeys and the science of human desire."

Now, I'm not interested in monkey sex at all. The science I want to know about is the journalism of the web. Why was the front page, the page that invites you to click, all gendered up with "female monkeys" and "women," but the title at the site of the article is sex neutral, with "monkeys" and "human desire"? There are 2 other differences that suggest that the front page was intentionally skewed toward women: 1. Omission of the word "science," and 2. Substituting "sex lives" for "lust."

(What's stereotypically female about "sex lives" for "lust"? "Lust" is about the urge and it's also the name of the sin, whereas "sex lives" implies that one's whole existence comes into play. "Lust" is racy and emphasizes the motivation to seek release, but "sex lives" speaks of sex as an integrated element of personal well-being that permeates one's body, mind, and relationships with others.)

I suspect that different readers get different teasers on the front page and WaPo knows I'm female and is therefore serving me the female teaser. (Search for "monkeys" on the WaPo front page and let me know what title you get.) But the text of the article justifies the female-oriented headline, not the neutral one. It's about research that —"[l]ike lots of current research on human and animal sexuality" — upends the conventional notion that the male is the aggressor in sexual relations.

The author of the article, Daniel Bergner, says the conventional notion "may be soothing for society." I'd say that challenging that notion is also "soothing." In modern day America, over and over, I've seen a preference for reporting scientific research in a manner that promotes the female. So, if the conventional notion is that the male is dominant, vigorous, and successful in acquiring many sex partners, there is an eagerness to perceive that the opposite is true.


John McCrarey said...

I got the "lust, monkeys, and the science of human desire" headline with this teaser: "Scientists studying monkeys, and women too, think that popular ideas about female desire may be wrong.."

I don't care enough to actually go read the article. But I really dislike being mislead by a headline. Drudge does this sort of thing all too frequently.

Grant said...

Using the front page link in your post, there was no monkey article to be seen. I (male) did, however, get "What do peahens want?" Which does seem to be oriented to a male audience, if only of peacocks.

tim in vermont said...

Evolutionary imperatives suggest that successful females are the ones who get the best partners, not the most, unless they can somehow control their fertility, as some species can, which would give them a currency they could use to get what they want without wasting one of the limited number of pregnancies live allows them.

Evolutionary success for men has to be defined in total numbers and quality. This dreamland belief that men and women would have the same behavioral patterns in their sex lives almost suggests a belief in a creator who would choose to create the sexes equally out of a sense of fairness, rather than the result of an inevitable logic imposed on random events, which is what evolution is.

AaronS said...

My teaser read.

Lust, monkeys and the science of human desire

I don't understand who is afraid of women who like sex? Or take an active role in their sex lives? Why do reporters think we are all rubes?

Just how illuminating is monkey sex supposed to be anyway? Long ago it was how we didn't act like animals that defined our character.

Jules Aimé said...

What I notice is that the author of the piece is Daniel Bergner, also the author of the NYT piece "What Do Women Want" and "Unexcited, There May be a Pill for That". He's getting to be a one-man industry pushing this same line everywhere. His constant repetition of the same thing over and over again is making it look like there has been a sudden flood of new scientific research when it's actually just the same journalist pushing his own, not particularly qualified, interpretations over and over again.

AaronS said...

Wow, though. Can we talk about the design of the web WaPo. It says a lot.
Up top - 3 stories and most popular.
Next - Opinion and videos
Then - some headlines
Then - Editor's pick (sinkholes?)
Then - more videos
Then photos - (Kesha? sinkholes?)
Then politics and more opinion
Then finally - local and biz and world
Papers are dying because people don't want to read the news. They want opinion that strokes their ego. And videos about trivia. Actual factual stories have a nasty habit of not living up to our preconceived expectations.

I don't think Bezos is going to fix that. My money is on WaPo becoming the latest Amazon fulfillment warehouse.

dbp said...

When I search the WP, I got, "Lust, monkeys and the science of human desire"

I btw think Althouse' hypothesis is correct, "So, if the conventional notion is that the male is dominant, vigorous, and successful in acquiring many sex partners, there is an eagerness to perceive that the opposite is true."

The problem is that it is pretty much the opposite of what it means to be feminist. Because of differences in biology, the male (and only the male) will gain status from multiple sexual partners. Females gain status from having the one best male all to herself. The ability for her to accomplish this is diminished by spreading herself around.

What good does it do for women to out-compete men in a contest where "winning" benefits men and huts women?

Bruce Hayden said...

A lot of good posts above, but one thing that jumps out at me is the sexual ratio in the compound. Two adult males to service all the females. What happens in their natural habitat with the other males? Are these monkeys like lions, where males are evicted at at certain age from a pride, then hunt with their brothers until they can evict another set of brothers from a pride, then having exclusive breeding rights to the females until they too are beyond their peak and are evicted by the next group of males?

What is not clear here is how the males compete for the females, because competition surely exists, as it does for at least all mammal males. In these monkeys, there seems to be no competition between males, because there are only two available (and it appears that the females may be breeding with both whenever they come into estrus). There is the adage that the sexual strategies of the two sexes differ in that the male strategy is getting the most, while the female strategy is getting the best, but here, we are left guessing at how the latter is determined.

Still, I think that we are seeing with the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family, and the dependence of females on the fathers of their children for resources for raising their children (thanks, in good part to government assistance) that human females do indeed have an underlying drive to compete for what they perceive to be alpha males, and their sperm, with a smaller and smaller number of human males fathering a greater and greater percentage of the next generation. I think that esp. in those parts of society where this breakdown has progressed the furthest, you see more and more of the real sexual aggressors being the females.

Carol said...

Ugh. I loathe all monkeys, apes and chimps. So they lost me right away.