Book Review: ‘Bad Men: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment & Assault’ by David M. Buss (Part 3)

This is the final part of my review of this book. I apologise in advance, this post is even lengthier than the other ones.

Chapter 7: Sexual Coercion, Harassment and Rape

The final three chapters explore the issue of sexual coercion by men against women which may range from harassment to more extreme forms – assault and rape. In keeping with the rest of the book, David Buss tries to put forward an evolutionary perspective alongside social and cultural ones but stresses that doing so does not justify sexual coercion or make it inevitable:

“Just as modern science has created novel vaccines and drugs to eliminate many “natural” diseases, with enough knowledge we can create personal, social, and legal environments that curtail or suppress the components of male psychology that contribute to sexual coercion.”

The author cites the work of Owen Jones (no, not that one!), a legal scholar who notes that laws against sex crimes, like laws in general, are designed to try to influence human behaviour:

“For laws to be maximally effective, Jones argues, their designers must have an accurate model of human nature. The more accurate the model, the more effective the legal levers.”

One problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it treats humans almost like machines that can be fixed and modified depending on the technology available. Even the words “designers”, “model” and ‘”levers” imply flaws in human nature are like an engineering problem that can be repaired using scientific knowledge. This more detached, clinical approach conflicts to some degree with traditional understandings of human nature in cultural and religious contexts which are predicated on morality. Laws in this context are determined on actions like sexual assault being deemed to be morally wrong. People who favour the scientific approach may consider this reasoning to be obsolete or fundamentally flawed but this would dismiss centuries of thought on human nature and its complexities. There is merit in studying the psychology of sexual coercion and assault which may be helpful in decreasing it, but there is still the problem of how such studies are interpreted and their influence on society. Feminists, for one thing, will be biased in women’s favour.

The psychology behind sexual harassment and assault are explored in this chapter. For example, women may experience unwanted looks from men which, while less intrusive than other behaviours, can still be upsetting. Certain men may find themselves drawn to looking at attractive women and find it difficult to look away thereby displaying “attention adhesion.” Men staring at women for too long can obviously lead to women feeling uncomfortable. It may shock the reader to discover that pleasure centres in the brain are activated when men look at images of beautiful women. This is harmless for the majority of men, but can cause problems for attractive women in the presence of sexual predators.

An interesting point is made here about evolutionary mismatch offering a possible explanation for the confusion men and women can feel regarding sexual harassment. Traditionally, men and women worked predominantly in separate workplaces which meant the majority of their interactions with the opposite sex would be amongst friends and family. Although male and female-dominated workplaces still exist, men and women now work much more often in “sexually integrated” environments, which obviously increases the chances of sexual attraction, flirting and all of the complications that this can create. A young, attractive woman may use her looks to get ahead at work and an older man may offer promotions to such women in return for sexual favours – this is known as “quid pro quo harassment.” Dr. Buss also makes the argument that mixed workplaces decrease the presence of women who may act like female kin in protecting a woman from male harassment. However, this doesn’t take into account ‘white knights’ – i.e. men who take it upon themselves to be overprotective and deferential towards women. It won’t be a surprise to learn that over 80 percent of complaints about sexual harassment are from women. Dr. Buss writes:

“Male power and patriarchy are clearly part of the picture. Men historically created the workplace rules and influenced social norms that overlooked sexual harassment.”

While it’s possible that men may have overlooked certain issues that women might face in the workplace due to being male, societies have often denounced men who were lecherous or predatory and you can find depictions in old films and TV shows of women slapping men who are too forward in their advances.

Studies have apparently found unconscious links between power and sex but only in men who are likely to sexually harass:

“In short, power and sex are linked, but primarily in the minds of a subset of men. This may explain why only a minority of men in positions of power over women sexually harass them; many men with power do not.”

It makes sense for power and sex to be linked since powerful, high status males are more attractive to women from an evolutionary standpoint and it is suggested in the book that men strive for power for this reason.

The author also points out that women’s perception over what constitutes sexual harassment can vary depending on their attraction to the man in question:

“Women evaluated sexual advances from a physically attractive man as significantly less disturbing than advances from a physically unattractive man. Workplace sexual advances from men low in desirability, apparently, are more upsetting.”

It is difficult for men in this situation, however, to assess if the woman they want to approach is interested in them unless men make an advance in the first place. In keeping with the rest of the book, the men deemed most likely to sexually harass are the ones who pursue short-term mating strategies and are high in the Dark Triad personality traits.

Harassment can vary in its intensity and in severe cases can lead to sexual coercion and rape. Dr. Buss carried out a study with a colleague in which men and women were asked if they ever felt their lives were in danger. A small percentage of women feared that they could be raped and then murdered despite the fact that this is a rare occurrence. Another paradox noted is that women fear stranger rape, which makes up 10-20 percent of such cases, rather than acquaintance rape, which makes up 80-90 percent. It is suggested that this may be another example of evolutionary mismatch reflecting when humans lived in small groups and could be attacked by outsiders but, for me, this greater fear of strangers is likely because humans have a general fear of the unknown. The author also suggests that the low rates of stranger rape may be a direct result of women’s greater fear of it as they will be more wary of being attacked by a stranger.

Since the book examines possible evolutionary explanations for sexual coercion and assault, the question of whether men have developed adaptations to rape is explored which Dr. Buss acknowledges is a controversial proposition. The evolutionary scientists Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer have put forward two competing theories for the origin of rape:

  • Randy Thornhill proposed that rape is an adaptation to allow men to sexually reproduce even if a woman is unwilling.
  • Craig Palmer argued that rape is a by-product of other male traits such as aggression, a desire for sexual variety, short-term mating etc.

Several studies have been carried out to test the veracity of these theories such as getting men to listen to women describing episodes of consensual sex or rape. Most men were aroused by the consensual sex descriptions but not the rape ones. Not surprisingly, convicted rapists were aroused by both scenarios. Again it seems that a small subgroup of men are most likely to engage in these extreme behaviours. Moreover, they tend to score high on psychopathy and narcissism and low on empathy. Later on in this chapter the author writes:

“A small percentage of men leave a long trail of victims in their wake, whether criminally charged or not. The fact that most rapists are serial rather than onetime rapists partially resolves an apparent paradox noted in the scientific literature – that a large number of women report being raped, but a much smaller number of men report committing rape.”

One theory that has been suggested to explain how rape could have been an adaptation posits that males deprived of opportunities to have sex with women consensually – undesirable, low status males for example – could do so by force. This has been called the “mate-deprivation hypothesis.” The fact that most convicted rapists come from poorer backgrounds is possible evidence to support this, but David Buss argues against the mate-deprivation theory. According to Buss, lower rates of convictions for men in higher social groups, such as Harvey Weinstein, are the result of them having the wealth and power to silence or pay off victims.

Apparently, men in college who are popular and have high status, which means they will be more successful with women, are more likely to admit to behaviour that would be defined as rape. The reasoning here seems to be that such men have a sense of entitlement which means they will prioritise their own wants and desires above others:

“the wealthy, it turns out, tend to be more indifferent to other people’s misery. According to this hypothesis, it is popular, high-status macho men, not mate-deprived low-status men, who are more likely to rape.”

It’s a good job women don’t find these kind of men attractive then isn’t it? In my view, the psychology of the subset of men who are most likely to harass or rape women is more important than their socioeconomic background, although their motivations may be influenced by being rich and entitled or poor and desperate.

David Buss further writes:

“This fact is exemplified by a quote from television celebrity and subsequently elected president Donald Trump, boasting about getting away with sexually assaulting women precisely because of his status: “When you’re a star they let you do it… You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy.”

Dr. Buss risks dividing his readers here by using a deeply partisan figure like Donald Trump as an example and it hinders the objectivity he presumably wants to maintain. While Donald Trump’s comments were crass and nobody could accuse him of being a perfect gentlemen, the important line to consider in what he said was “they let you do it.” This implies that whatever Trump was doing was not met with resistance from the women. He might have also said “grab them by the pussy” as an EXAMPLE of what you could do if you were famous enough rather than something he has actually done. Are we supposed to pretend that some women don’t throw themselves at powerful, high status men?

Other studies suggest that men who use some kind of sexual coercion tend to be more successful with women which is used as further evidence that higher status men are more likely to sexually assault. However, doesn’t this imply that women are receptive to some coercion from men? While this doesn’t excuse sexual assaults, it does suggest there is a ‘grey area’ in a lot of cases of sexual coercion. It should also be noted that some women might be motivated to prosecute higher status men for harassment/rape than lower status men since women may receive greater compensation and status for doing so, reflecting how people will generally sue wealthier people, who can afford to pay out, rather than poorer people. Such a suggestion would be too taboo for this book though.

The case of Paul Bernardo, a Canadian serial killer and rapist, is another interesting example countering the mate deprivation idea of rape since Bernardo was attractive and could pick up women easily. Again, what is more important, in my view, is the psychological underpinnings of sexual predators rather than their high or low status. The author concludes from all of this that Randy Thornhill’s theory of rape being an adaptation is incorrect.

David Buss also explores Susan Brownmiller’s claim that rape is “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Several studies have been carried out to try to deduce how men relate to rape such as exploring sexual fantasies and whether men would rape women if they could get away with it. Judging from questionnaires, men who might assault women are a minority but it is pointed out that women have been raped by men in wars; when the rule of law has broken down. This is possibly due to such women being seen as the ‘enemy’ by the perpetrators. Some men may have sexual fantasies about raping but the book doesn’t mention that women may also have sexual fantasies about being raped and, in some cases, may have orgasmed during a rape, not that this justifies it.

Marital rape is another topic explored. By 1993, every state in the USA had laws prohibiting it but other countries still do not have laws against it. Laws against marital rape are another way in which feminist thinking has influenced changes to deal with an apparent oversight by men. Countries without such laws are gradually decreasing though as Dr. Buss notes:

“The cultural progression of laws and attitudes surrounding this form of institutionalized sexual assault is rapid and moving in only one direction.”

I don’t share David Buss’ view that absence of marital rape laws are somehow “institutionalized sexual assault” but his view is one shared by many people. It seems likely to me that one reason why there was no law such as “marital rape” in the past is because of the difficulty in prosecuting a rape case within a marriage where sexual relations are expected to take place. It could be argued that, like domestic violence, there were already laws against assault that could cover such cases anyway. Were women too weak, stupid or helpless to use these laws if they needed to? Since David Buss is nearly forty years older than I am, you might think I have no place to lecture him on what people thought in the past, but I’m sure other people of a similar age or older than Dr. Buss could make the same point as I have.

Although David Buss rejects that rape is an evolved adaptation in men, he does think that aspects of men’s “mating psychology” such as desire for short-term mating, sexual variety and attraction to younger women does contribute to such behaviours occurring, which is more in line with the idea that rape is a by-product of these characteristics. I would agree with this alongside the likelihood of psychopathy or some other mental disorder.

Chapter 8: Women’s defences against sexual assault

The eighth chapter opens with a quote by Gavin de Becker about most men fearing being laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear being raped and murdered. A similar quote is often attributed to The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood. Whether or not this is true, in reality men are more likely to be murder victims than women and can be raped in prison or in war.

It is true that women have being raped and murdered by men throughout history and often in times of war. In general though, women of reproductive age were kept as sex slaves whereas men were murdered. This has been evident from archeological studies showing men seemingly killed in battle whilst younger women are absent. Genghis Khan is one historical figure who was notable for this particular practice and is thought to have countless descendants as a result.

Women may have developed adaptations to deal with this reality regardless of whether or not men have evolved adaptations to rape. Again, here David Buss puts forward possible evolutionary explanations for men and women’s behaviour.

There is a lot more feminist influence in this later part of the book as is indicated by the opening quote to this chapter. Whilst reading this, I began to wonder if David Buss had one of his (female?) students help write it for him. I’ll show some quotes to illustrate this soon. Since rape and sexual assault is an unpleasant and sensitive subject, I’ll try to be as clear as I can where I disagree with what is claimed in the book and not downplay the seriousness of rape.

To give an example of feminist influence, the author claims that while sexual aggression is rated as highly upsetting by women, men underestimate how upsetting women would find it:

“These findings were presciently predicted by feminist scholars who made a major contribution to the understanding of rape from the victim’s perspective.”

Do men seriously not sympathise with female victims? I find that hard to believe myself. How come the narrative of sexual violence is so skewed towards female victims if that’s the case? Surely if men have so much power in society, and so underestimate female feelings about sexual abuse, it would not be such a big talking point? Isn’t it also the case that “feminist scholars” have a particular axe to grind?

Another quote I wrote down in my notes while reading this book prompted me to write ‘What!’ at the side of it:

“because most police officers are men (87 percent in the United States) with a male sexual psychology, they may lack sufficient empathy for rape victims, which leads to greater leniency toward sexual predators.”

I know there’s currently a lot of animosity towards the police, but are we seriously to believe that officers wouldn’t sympathise with female rape victims because they are men? What about men’s protective instincts? What is described as leniency towards male sexual predators could simply be impartiality. If anything, the opposite is true in that society is pressured to side with women accusers – hence #believeallwomen – and condemn accused men. This distortion between what is claimed about rape cases and the reality reminds me of Peter Hitchens’ remark that rape is now seen as ‘”a crime against feminism.”

Nevertheless, there are obvious reasons for women to fear being raped as it can lead to unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and bodily harm. There may also be social costs to being a rape victim. For example, many women were raped during the Rwandan genocide and faced shunning from their societies because they were no longer virgins and had unwanted children. In some cases, a man might divorce a woman who was raped because of feeling cuckolded and she may be unable to find another man. There are psychological costs as well as a victim might lose self-esteem and be afraid of intimacy. It is possible for these reasons that female victims may conceal the fact that they have been sexually assaulted although I think this will be less common in Western countries. Concealment of assault also presents risks as it prevents victims from getting help with their trauma. This shows that there are legitimate reasons for supporting victims of rape but this needs to be balanced with other considerations.

It has been theorised that one possibility women desire men who are taller and stronger than they are is to deal with the potential threat of male rapists. Sarah Mesnick and Margo Wilson put forward the “bodyguard hypothesis'” which suggests that women pair-bonded with such men to deter sexual aggression from other men. Dr. Buss notes that women could benefit from choosing strong men for many other reasons as well.

The chances of a woman being raped vary on different factors: married women are less likely to be raped than single/unmarried women possibly due to lifestyle differences and women who are surrounded by friends are also less likely to be sexually assaulted since friends can act as bodyguards. Women are in fact more fearful than men of being victims of many different types of crime even though they are, on average, less likely to be so. This is known as the “fear of crime paradox.” One reason for this paradox is possibly because women’s fear of sexual assault, where they are more likely to be victims than men, drives their fear of other crimes like mugging or robbery.

There is also another paradox, which has already been mentioned, of women fearing stranger attacks more than attacks from acquaintances even though the latter is more common. Dr. Buss also explains that infants have an innate fear of strangers that is evident cross-culturally and writes:

“Infants do not fear all strangers equally. They show special fear of unfamiliar males, suggesting that male strangers have been more dangerous than female strangers.”

This may be linked to stepfathers killing off children of rival males but I would replace “have been” in this quote with ‘appear’ since males tend to be larger and more intimidating than females. We are better able to perceive threats that appear to us than we are unknown threats, hence the expression “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” Infanticide is actually more often committed by women although this is to some extent related to women being more likely to look after infants than men.

Feminists don’t really help women by obsessing over rape either. Since younger women are more likely to be victims of rape than older women, they tend to be more fearful of it and so gradually become less fearful as they get older. David Buss makes a good point that women would be better off if they were aware of their own “psychological wisdom” in this regard instead of believing that they are always vulnerable to rape. Women could also benefit from becoming physically fit and taking self-defence classes as this correlates with reduced fear of sexual assault.

Women are more likely to fear being raped at night than during the day and are also more likely to fear rape if they know other women who have being victims. Likewise, women fear rape more if they have been sexually harassed. The fact that women who fear rape the most tend to avoid and be more cautious in certain situations is suggested as evidence that these actions are an adaptation. However, this behaviour is common for many things that people are afraid of. The author believes that eliminating the actual threat of rape using scientific knowledge would help the costs women may suffer from being fearful of it.

Vigilance is one response to threats which activates the body to become alert and watchful and heightens the senses. The “auditory looming bias” is one example of this as people overestimate the closeness of fast-approaching sounds than fast-receding ones. “Freezing” or “attentive immobility” of the body additionally increases sensitivity to sound, sight, etc. One study found that an attacked woman who retaliates aggressively by biting, punching, kicking or using a weapon is around 50 percent more likely to escape being raped than a woman who doesn’t resist at all. This reinforces the previous point that women who know self-defence may be less likely to be afraid of rape, although here Dr. Buss says the evidence is mixed. Screaming, yelling and running away are also effective. Similarly, interviews with rapists suggests they avoid targeting women who they think will fight back. In contrast, pleading with the rapist is less likely to work.

However, even the most athletic and physically fit woman may not be able to avert a rapist as she may be overpowered, tied up, drugged or threatened with a weapon. A common defence mechanism is this situation is “tonic immobility” in which the body becomes numb by decreasing blood pressure and analgesic or insensitive to pain. 37 percent of rape victims are said to have experienced tonic immobility leading to a separate term called “rape-induced paralysis.” One evolutionary theory for tonic immobility suggests that it minimises the severity of an attack if escape is not possible. Whatever advantages tonic immobility may have during a rape are inconclusive though. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also common in rape like it is in many highly intense and stressful situations. This may be an adaptation to cope with traumatic events.

One potential complication from victims experiencing tonic immobility is the possibility that the police, judges and juries may question claims of rape if a victim didn’t fight back. There may also be doubts of a claim of rape if a woman’s body responds to the act like it would if intercourse was consensual, such as her having vaginal lubrication. Dr. Buss notes that both tonic immobility and lubrication are involuntary responses so should not be used as evidence against an accusation of rape. In my view, a lot of this depends on if the case is a stranger rape or acquaintance rape which brings its own complications. It is argued that rape is underreported and one reason is because of the prevalence of victim blaming but I’m less convinced about this seeing as sympathy is often with women over men.

There’s definitely a discussion to be had about rape and how to prosecute it but that would involve looking at it from different perspectives, not just feminist ones.

Chapter 9: The “sex gap” and conclusion

The final chapter in this book looks at the cultural issues of sexual assault and what the author believes are ways to reduce them:

“I am convinced that deep knowledge of our evolved sexual psychology, and especially the ways in which that psychology differs on average between women and men, is indispensable for reducing conflicts between the sexes that have been ongoing for millions of years.”

Dr. Buss insists however that his ideas are merely suggestions to be studied further rather than solutions. “One sign of progress” according to the book is the well-publicised cases of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell which are evidence that “victims of sexual violence are coming forward and refusing to be silenced.” Another sign of progress is apparently the “zero-tolerance policy” for sexual harassment at work. While it’s a good thing if victims of sexual assault feel more confident speaking out about it, I’m less convinced by the development of #MeToo and other causes. It’s not as if sexual harassment is a recent discovery and there is growing intolerance towards those who criticise its excesses.

The sexual “arms-race” between men and women that David Buss described in Chapter 1 is now being fought in a rapidly changing world. Dating apps, for example, provide people the opportunity to meet an ideal mate but also give them, along with sexual deceivers and predators, abundant choices. Pornography is another example:

“Online pornography allows individuals to explore creative sexual possibilities they never knew existed but also creates entirely unrealistic expectations for real-life sexual interactions. Sex dolls, sex robots, and virtual sex technology… may diminish some of the rage of incels or even reduce rape rates but also may exacerbate the harmful sexual objectification of women.”

One solution is to understand the “gap” between men and women’s sexual psychology. Failing to recognise sex differences in mating psychology, according to Dr. Buss, is the biggest hindrance to reducing conflict. One example discussed previously is men mistaking friendliness from women as sexual interest. A second example is the difference in “sexual disgust” between men and women:

“Are men aware that women find more things sexually disgusting than they do? Judging from the number of men who send unsolicited photographic images of their decontextualized genitals to women, the answer is a resounding “no.””

A statistic presented here claims that 27 percent of milliennial-age men in the UK admitted to sending such images to women and 30 percent of men think that women will find the images “sexy.” It’s important to note, like with any other statistic, that the numbers only apply to the people in the sample group. In reality, the claim should be: ’27 percent of millennial-age men in the UK surveyed by this particular study admitted to sending pictures of their genitals to women.’ David Buss argues that some men “commit a major mind-reading error” as they fail to understand that women would be disgusted by “dick pics.” Are men really so ignorant about this though? Boys often like to tease girls by doing things that will ‘gross them out’ as anybody who grew up with a sister will understand. While I don’t approve of men sending pictures of their genitals to women, the fact that women would be especially disgusted by such images may be the main motivation in sending them. Also, most men don’t find images of women’s genitals particularly sexy, unless breasts count as female genitals. Further examples of sex differences include levels of anxiety, preference for casual sex and sexual variety, regret for missed sexual opportunities, effect of visual stimuli etc.

It is here that the author reverts back into feminist mode. David Buss also believes that men “vastly underestimate the emotional horrors” women who have been raped experience as explored in Chapter 8. I’m more sceptical of this idea as I’ve mentioned before. Furthermore, the book argues that men should be required to learn “about the harms women suffer from sexual assault, from anxiety to PTSD” as if we aren’t aware of this fact already. Men may not recognise trauma suffered by women who are raped as there are “no real parallels in men’s minds” which ignores that men can be raped by men as well. David Buss believed he was “unusually empathetic” towards rape victims because of his own studies and from reading accounts of rape victims such as Alice Sebold’s book Lucky. This book was in the news recently as the man who was convicted of Ms. Sebold’s rape was found to have been wrongfully imprisoned!

Perhaps wearing a ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt while writing it, Dr. Buss says:

“I discovered that I too had vastly underestimated the psychological toll that sexual assault inflicts on women. Undoubtedly I still cannot fully grasp, after decades of study, the psychological toll it takes on women. Men may think they understand, but I don’t think they ever can fully. I hope that this book helps men move a little closer to bridging the gap.”

My T-shirt remark might be too dismissive: I don’t doubt the sincerity of David Buss’ feelings here and I don’t want to come across as unsympathetic towards victims of rape. However, I question the insistence that men have so little understanding of female suffering from sexual assault, and that sexual assault has such catastrophic effects on women. Obviously, Dr. Buss has more knowledge about this than I have, but there’s still a problem with viewing women as permanent victims and men as heartless and unsympathetic towards them. Why should I feel bad about the actions of other men? And can’t excessive sympathy result in infantilising women? At the risk of sounding flippant, I’m not buying a ticket for Dr. Buss’ guilt trip. He’s likely a decent guy with good intentions, but as the classic saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

David Buss argues that if we understand the gap between men and women’s sexual psychology, we can, as underground tube stations signify, “mind the gap” and promote understanding between the sexes. Notwithstanding the logic behind this, I have problems with the solutions which are suggested here.

For instance, the author questions the validity of having a “reasonable person” rule for laws such as stalking and sexual assault, since men and women differ in anxiety levels amongst other things. Although Dr. Buss concedes that writing laws as sex-neutral is laudable, he states that:

“a sex-neutral law can harm women, especially if the judge… is a “reasonable man” and consults his own intuitions about fears and emotional distress, or if the jury is composed of a combination of “reasonable men” and “reasonable women.””

Dr. Buss suggests that a “reasonable woman” rule could be used instead. The author compares this to studies in medicine which have found that certain doses of drugs affect men and women differently, which means that the sex of the patient will determine the treatment given. If laws are based on human nature, David Buss argues:

“If that nature differs between women and men, then perhaps laws, like medicine, need to take those differences into account.”

The problem here is that medicine and the law are not the same thing. Law is based more upon ideas of morality and philosophy than it is on science, even though both morals and philosophy play an important role in medicine. Like I mentioned before, treating law and human nature in a purely scientific way has its disadvantages. While many people recognise the dangers of treating men and women as exactly the same, there is also danger in treating men and women as completely different, such as in areas like the law where it can lead to preferential treatment of one sex over the other. How far do we go down this road? Should we have individual laws since people differ on an individual level? In future, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people advocating for laws preventing male judges from presiding over rape cases, or only all-female juries being allowed, or even doing doing away with juries altogether.

Sexual conflict could also be reduced with the “crumbling of patriarchy.” I’ve already gone into my disagreements with the author over the motivations behind “patriarchal laws” in other countries, which, to my mind, are based on many things other than men simply wanting to oppress women. The author writes favourably about developments such as the #MeToo movement and the introduction of marital rape laws whereas I am less encouraged since these advancements are based upon the narrative of women being controlled and victimised by men. While I don’t believe that women should be mistreated, many of the social changes relating to men and women that have occurred in recent decades are based on biased and sometimes inaccurate assumptions. Here, Dr. Buss writes:

“Patriarchy is collapsing – its institutions, its social norms, and the expression of unseemly mating mechanisms that gave rise to male advantage. But what are those mating mechanisms that led to patriarchal institutions and social norms to begin with? And how easily can the expression of those mechanisms be suppressed?”

This quote wouldn’t look out of place in a women’s studies textbook, if such things even exist. It is possible that David Buss is forced to say these things to avoid jeopardising his career? I understand that he is less free to speak his mind if he thinks differently, but I don’t think I could be so in line with feminist thinking as Dr. Buss appears to be if, privately, I was against it. Given his age, it is possible that Dr. Buss has been influenced by his younger (and mostly female?) students and thinks their views are more “enlightened” than his own.

David Buss does point out that certain aspects of “patriarchy” are the result of female mate preferences:

“Feminist scholars rightly stress the importance of power in sexual conflict. It must be recognized, however, that men’s motivations for power, status, and resources exist in part because women have preferred to mate with men who possess power, status, and resources. Neglecting this part of the causal origins of sexual conflict will impede efforts to alter it.”

The argument presented here is whether women’s preference for high-status men can be altered in ways which may reduce sexual conflict. It is pointed out that women prioritise many qualities other than status and resources such as kindness and the author describes knowing a woman who has paired with a lower status man after bad relationships with higher status ones. Additionally, modern women no longer require men for protection and resources as they once did which may have an affect on male behaviour. This however doesn’t take into account that environments can change suddenly and a safe, healthy and wealthy society could collapse following a catastrophe which would make traditional male traits desirable again.

Another strategy is to “curb male possessiveness” which may lead to jealousy and violence as described in previous chapters. The book states that this possessiveness is “one key cause of patriarchy”:

“One way to curtail men’s proprietary mindset is to empower women – a trend that started with first-wave feminists who ushered in women’s right to vote and continues today with women’s increasing access to their own resources.”

There is a problem here though if men feel like they are being pushed to the sidelines or are confused about what their role is in society, which has been one outcome of these changes, whatever the benefits have come from them.

Other issues that may contribute to sexual assault are the sexual objectification of women and “sex ratios” – the number of women relative to men in an environment. A more sensible suggestion put forward is to avoid men who possess Dark Triad traits which can often be detected by their behaviour.

The book concludes by stating that “men’s sexual violence towards women remains the most widespread human rights problem in the world” which is indicative of the “world comes to an end. Women most affected” mindset. Sexual violence against women is a legitimate problem, but rather than seeing it as one problem among many, we’re supposed to think that women’s suffering is worse than any other group’s.

David Buss also writes:

“Female choice about when, where, with whom, and under which conditions they consent to sex is the deepest and most fundamental component of women’s sexual psychology. It is a fundamental human right. Although men have coevolved strategies to undermine it, that freedom of choice should never be compromised.”

This sounds reasonable on the surface, but what about women who make bad choices, such as having children with many different men and not taking any responsibility for their actions? An issue that I think modern societies will eventually have to contend with is how to have “female choice” alongside declining marriage and birth rates and men increasingly withdrawing from society. Can women make any choice they want to without thinking about how this affects men? While I’m not advocating for a Handmaid’s Tale society where women are completely subjugated, women do have to make compromises with men in order for the sexes to peacefully co-exist. The alternative will not reduce sexual conflict.

Summary: This probably wasn’t the best introduction to David Buss for me since I found a lot in this book that I disagreed with. On the other hand, there was plenty of interesting information that suggests his previous books are worth exploring. If the reader similarly found this review interesting, I recommend they check out Dr. Buss’ other books before deciding if they want to read this one.

Thank you for slogging through this review if you read the whole of it.

Book Review: ‘Bad Men: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment & Assault’ by David M. Buss (Part 2)

Bad Men by David Buss | Hachette UK

Chapter 4: More relationship trouble

The primary focus of this chapter is jealousy and how it is involved in sexual conflict. The author describes how jealousy has a motivational function as it spurs us into action if we fear losing something, or, in the case of sexual jealousy, someone. The adaptive functions of jealousy in men and women are very similar since both sexes suffer “reproductive harms” if a relationship breaks down. Jealousy can be triggered by an imbalanced welfare trade-off ratio or a mate value discrepancy as described in the previous chapter.

Sexual jealousy, however, often presents itself differently in men and women as they can suffer from a broken relationship in unique ways. If a husband and father discovers his wife has been cheating on him, he may suspect he’s a victim of paternity fraud whereas a woman many fear abandonment and loss of resources if she finds out her husband has been seeing another woman. These fears and feelings of jealousy are understandably stronger in societies that have high paternal investment and/or are poorer and more traditional than Western countries. Men lower in mate value are also said to be more controlling.

Men fear sexual jealousy more than emotional jealousy whereas the opposite is true for women which matches the potential disadvantages that both sexes may suffer from infidelity or one person ending the relationship. This difference has been found by studies conducted worldwide. However, both men and women can be sexually and emotionally jealous as both are linked. In more traditional, non-Western countries, women also strongly fear sexual infidelity by their husbands as this could lead to diversion of resources or abandonment which presents harsher consequences for them.

Members of the same sex can also be targets of jealousy as they are potential mate rivals or mate poachers. For men, a ‘rival’ who exceeds them in status or strength may be a target of their jealousy whilst in women, a female rival who is considered more attractive than them will make them feel jealous. In response, either sex may try to undermine their rival by disparaging their status or appearance. The author writes that it is important to understand the psychology of sexual jealousy as it’s the leading cause of violence within relationships:

“Male sexual jealousy is the leading cause of the murder of adult women, accounting for between 50 and 70 percent of all such homicides. Police know this. When women are murdered, the prime suspects are boyfriends, husbands, ex-boyfriends, and ex-husbands. Although jealousy sometimes motivates women to murder, only 3 percent of murdered men are killed by their romantic partners or exes, and many of these female-perpetrated homicides are women defending themselves against a jealously violent man.”

I’ll explore my own thoughts about this in more detail in the next chapter. It would be interesting to know how many male on male homicides are motivated by female sexual jealousy though.

Since jealous people in a relationship may feel under threat, they can engage in information gathering as a way to ascertain the source of their feelings and how it may affect them. This action is compared to a gazelle detecting the presence of a predator and becoming watchful and alert to evade danger. Information gathering can range from calling a partner to find out their location, looking through their personal belongings or turning up unexpectedly wherever they happen to be. Dr. Buss conducted studies with newlywed couples and found that both men and women were vigilant in mate guarding. For men, their vigilance was heightened if they perceived their wives as very attractive:

“For example, a vigilant man might introduce his partner to everyone as “my wife” and drape his arm around her when other men are around. Yes, men have a long and sordid history of treating women as possessions.”

But wouldn’t this be the same as a woman clinging to her boyfriend/husband if she saw an attractive woman nearby? Can’t women be as possessive as men? The book doesn’t say. Men who are particularly vigilant may confront and pick fights with men they think may be getting too close to their wife/girlfriend. It’s worth considering here that some women may like men who act in this way although that might have been too controversial to mention in this book. Friends can also be a danger as they are often in close proximity and can share similar interests with couples. As you can imagine, women tend to be more vigilant when their men are high in status since they will likely attract female attention.

Men high in the Dark Triad traits are particularly prone to feelings of jealousy and exhibiting controlling behaviour. They may also create jealousy in their wife/girlfriends by engaging with other women. Jealousy in these men may cause them to yell, threaten, manipulate and even attack their female partners. Women may have adapted tactics to evade men’s mate guarding if it is harmful to them, such as if they are in a controlling relationship. Mate guarding might also disadvantage women because it prevents them from starting another relationship and potentially ‘trading up.’ However, in this scenario, the men in question may be simply trying avoid being taken advantage of by a hypergamous woman.

Tactics women may use to avoid mate guarding include hiding things from their male partner, interacting with other men behind their partner’s back and avoiding places where the women can be checked up on. Women may also avoid ‘public displays of affection’ (PDAs) such as holding hands or kissing in public which signal that they are in a relationship. Women who perceive their male partner as too controlling may also become angry and threaten to end the relationship if it is too smothering.

David Buss also describes another predictor of controlling behaviour from men:

“Which men are most likely to be controlling? Those who are lower in mate value. These men ramp up heavy mate guarding because they believe they have lucked out in attracting a desirable woman and believe that she will be difficult or impossible to replace.”

Men who lack resources will find it difficult to retain a woman, especially if she considers herself more attractive than him, which makes it more likely she will try to avoid being mate guarded. A woman may get out of a relationship by establishing a new relationship then leaving her current one. This is known as “monkey branching” as it’s similar to how a monkey will let go of one branch only after it has grasped another one. According to the author, there have been no scientific studies conducted on men avoiding women’s mate guarding but he believes it is just as common and men likely use the same or similar tactics as women.

Welfare trade-off ratios (WTRs), described in Chapter 3, are a recurring feature in relationships as situations can change which alter it in favour of one half over the other. A high WTR means that you place more value on your partner’s wellbeing over your own whereas a low WTR means you will act more in your own self-interest. WTR can be ‘recalibrated’ so that one half of a couple invests more in the other half thereby increasing it. It has been speculated by psychologists like Aaron Sell that anger is used to increase WTR by making the person who is the target of that anger value the angry person more – this has been called ‘the recalibration theory of anger.’ Essentially, the angry person can prompt the other person in the relationship to try to alleviate that anger and thus invest in them more. The alternative is a downward spiral where both partners distance from each other.

The less desirable partner might also intentionally make their other half jealous by flirting with other people. This is apparently a more common strategy for women than men and common in high Dark Triad individuals. The author notes that invoking jealousy can be a dangerous tactic as it could lead to violence. Although these behaviours are prevalent in unstable relationships, David Buss points out:

“mate guarding is a serious business. In long-term relationships, partners get complacent and take each other for granted. Periodically recalibrating your partner’s WTR can be an important corrective.”

Forgiveness is also used alongside anger and jealousy to alter WTR. If anger is met with one partner increasing their WTR, the other partner may forgive them and stabilise the relationship. This can result in an upward spiral rather than a downward one.

‘The serial-mating solution’ is one alternative to deal with the problems that occur in long-term relationships. Instead of two people trying to stick together despite their difficulties, people may instead move in and out of relationships after they have “outgrown” the other person. David Buss compares this to the different friendships we experience throughout our lives which sometimes last only for a brief period of time. Serial-mating can allow for different experiences but might also make it difficult to form new relationships if you have “baggage” from the previous ones. One example is forming a new relationship after a divorce where children may be involved. The author falls back into feminist mode when he writes:

“Women are especially likely to suffer economic hardship after a marriage dissolves. Compared to men, women experience a greater loss of household income, are more likely to single parent, and are more prone to plunge below the poverty line.”

What isn’t mentioned here is the loss of income that men can suffer from paying child support and not being able, for whatever reason, to see their children.

The chapter concludes by offering another alternative to deal with potential relationship problems: becoming “irreplaceable” to your partner by maintaining mate value in relation to theirs, being more appealing than potential suitors and investing in them and their unique interests.

Chapter 5: Violence against women (and men) in relationships

As briefly mentioned, when taken to extremes, jealousy can culminate in one partner using violence against the other and is one of the causes of “intimate partner violence” (IPV) or what is more widely known as ‘domestic violence.’ As this is a book about “bad men”, most of the focus in this chapter is directed towards male violence against women. Dr. Buss describes how IPV is often thought to be caused by several factors including a pathology suffered by the perpetrator, growing up in a violent household, and gender inequality and the patriarchy. It is noted, however, that IPV is also common in the supposedly non-patriarchal Scandinavian countries so attributing IPV to the latter is insufficient.

Here the book describes how Russian law has no provisions that specifically deal with IPV which is reflected in other countries as well. I’m no expert on Russia’s legal system, but it should be noted that laws against assault and battery are commonplace in many countries and women can presumably use these laws if they are dealing with an abusive partner. IPV is illegal in all US states but is apparently so prevalent that it has to be dealt with at a federal level. Note again though that this depends on the validity of the claims made and what constitutes IPV which, increasingly, has a broad definition. Later it is claimed that IPV increased during the Covid-19 lockdowns but I’ve seen other sources that claim this is dubious.

I found reading this chapter frustrating as it was hard for me to pin down what David Buss’ perception of IPV was in terms of the prevalence of male and female perpetrators. For example, he writes:

“The more serious the abuse… the larger the gender disparity. Most IPV victims who end up in hospital are women. Men’s violence typically does substantially more damage. Every major city has shelters for battered women. In contrast, one of the country’s only shelters for battered men opened in Dallas in the year 2017. Women undoubtedly abuse men, but they generally inflict less damage.”

I knew I was going to write a review of this book so I had a response in my head ready to counter this claim. Dr. Buss, however, seemed to have anticipated a similar response because he suggests that many male victims of IPV are not taken as seriously as females:

“I know of one case in which a man called the police after being badly battered by his wife, his head bleeding profusely from a blow from a frying pan. Upon arrival, the police discouraged him from reporting the crime, despite his obvious injuries: “If she so much as broke a fingernail, you will likely be arrested, not her.” He declined to press charges.”

Later on in this chapter, he also writes:

“Some women do assault their intimate partners, and some researchers argue that female perpetrators are as common as male perpetrators. This research was ignored for many years by scholars partly because male-initiated IPV leads to greater physical injury, but also partly because it contradicted the narrative of “patriarchy” as the primary explanation.”

This at least shows that David Buss wants to be objective as much as he can about IPV so I commend him for that. It has been pointed out to me that since David Buss is an academic, he has to go along with feminist ideas to avoid damaging his career. Anonymous writers like myself and others do not have to worry about this so we have the freedom to express more controversial viewpoints. I still think Dr. Buss genuinely believes some of the feminist rhetoric but ultimately, only Dr. Buss knows what he really thinks.

The book’s focus on female victims is evident by the claim that there is a “strong gender asymmetry” in violence due to men’s greater physical strength, reflected in the previous quotes. This ignores, however, that women can use objects to compensate for their generally weaker physical strength as a way to attack their male partners. Psychological damage, such as feeling emasculated perhaps, is also not considered although this, admittedly, would be very hard to detect and quantify.

One motivation for harming an intimate partner may be as a means to prevent them from leaving – mate retention – and it is claimed that men lacking economic resources are more likely to use violence as a “last-ditch” attempt to retain mates. This link may also be due to the fact that lacking resources or being in financial trouble can cause frustration and distress which increases the possibility of violence.

Another motive for abuse is as a way to control the abuser’s spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend as their self-esteem will decline and they may become dependent on the abuser for their sense of self-worth. For women, in particular, physical abuse will damage their appearance so it is also a way to lower ‘mate value’. An abusive partner may also try to manipulate their other half psychologically by making them think they are losing their mind. This is commonly know as “gaslighting” which takes its name from the play and film Gaslight. Gaslighting allows the abuser to, in David Buss’ words, “zombify” the victim’s mind as they give up their mental perception to the abuser.

Later, Dr. Buss makes a bold and shocking claim about the likelihood of IPV against pregnant women:

“One of the most disturbing predictors of a man perpetrating partner violence is when his partner gets pregnant.”

Women who are abused whilst pregnant are more likely to be carrying a child of another man. A study from Nicaragua found this disturbing feature of violence against pregnant women: attacks directed at a woman’s abdomen in an attempt to abort the foetus. Studies have also found women with children from another man were, according to the book, five times more likely to end up in a women’s shelter. A study of a hundred women in a shelter found that 79% ended up going back to their violent boyfriend/husband for varying reasons. It won’t come as much surprise to find that men with borderline personality disorder (BPD), psychopathy or the other two Dark Triad traits are more likely to commit IPV.

What all of this makes clear is that IPV is more likely to occur in unstable family environments and often without the biological father around. The suggestion that pregnant women are more likely to be abused is a little broad in my view as it doesn’t take into account particular men and women in particular circumstances. The psychological traits of women who end up in violent relationships is also not explored.

After that fascinating – and often dark – exploration of the motives and features of IPV, Dr. Buss falls back into feminist territory by offering the suggestion put forward by Margo Wilson and Martin Daly for the reason for female IPV:

“The main motive for women, they argue, is self-defense or the protection of their children.”

This explanation conveniently makes female violence seem more understandable and sympathetic than male violence. Essentially, women commit IPV for selfless and compassionate reasons, whereas men commit violence for purely selfish and controlling reasons. Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have made some interesting contributions to our understanding of intimate violence, such as their idea of the ‘Cinderella effect’ for example, but this framing of “women’s violence as self-defence” is reflective of the ubiquitous narrative of female victimisation. Steve Stewart-Williams has pointed out that many evolutionary psychologists lean to the left politically which is my view means they tend to be more favourable towards women. I imagine many feminists must have breathed a sigh of relief when an explanation for female IPV like this one became popular so they could hold on to their worldview.

I’m not sure if David Buss has heard of Erin Pizzey (she’s not mentioned in the book), who founded the first modern women’s refuge in the 1970s, but she has stated that many of the women who came to her refuge to escape their male abusers were, in her words “as violent or in some cases more violent than the men they left.” Although Erin Pizzey has noted that there were women at her refuge who were innocent victims of violence, these cases were easier for her to deal with than the more troubled cases where violence went both ways and where most of the problems arise. For her trouble, she received death threats from feminist activists.

Similarly, the writer and former prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple has had direct experience dealing with abused women and, despite expressing sympathy for these women, claimed that many of them were “complicit” in some ways with the abuse they received. Towards the end of this interview, which is worth listening to in full, Dalrymple recalls asking an abused woman where she met her boyfriend and how much time had passed until she got into a relationship with him, to which she replied “down the pub” and “within half an hour.” He also points out that many people would be able to recognise the men who the abused women get involved with as potentially violent and dangerous, and the situation was absurd enough for the woman he was treating to “come in crying and go out laughing.” This doesn’t mean we should automatically condemn women with violence partners, but it does show that IPV cannot be simply presented as being predominantly powerful male perpetrators and powerless female victims.

David Buss cites the case of Francine Hughes as an example of “female intimate partner violence as self defence” as she was a victim of abuse by her husband James. In response, she set their bed on fire while he was sleeping in it and was acquitted on the grounds that she had “temporal insanity”:

“This true story was made into a movie, The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcett as Francine. The movie, hailed as one of the ten best TV movies of all time, helped to draw attention to the pervasive problem of partner abuse and prompted more lenient sentences for women who killed their husbands in self-defense.”

I wonder if it has ever occurred to Dr. Buss, or anybody who read these lines approvingly, that this idea of “temporal insanity” would be a very useful way for women to kill their boyfriends/husbands and get away with it scot-free? James Hughes may well have been a nasty and violent man, but couldn’t Francine Hughes have simply left him and taken the kids? It would likely be argued that Francine Hughes would have been too afraid to leave in case he tried to get her back, but was burning him alive the only choice that she had?

Buss concludes the chapter by steering back towards a more balanced perspective:

“Perhaps some women use IPV for reasons parallel to those that motivate men – to keep a partner faithful, to punish suspicions or observations of infidelity, and to deter the partner from abandonment.”

Perhaps indeed.

Chapter 6: Stalking and conflict after a relationship has ended

Moving on from intimate partner violence, the book explores the issue of stalking which can occur following the break-up of a relationship.

David Buss points out that many of the features of stalking such as giving gifts and showing affection are normal parts of courtship but if such behaviours are not reciprocated than they can lead to trouble. As a crime, stalking is defined as a pattern of repeated conduct that provokes fear in a “reasonable person.”

The author even describes his own experiences of it, as he apparently received unwanted phone calls, cards and gifts from an unknown person at a university he worked for. Since he didn’t feel afraid or threatened, in the legal sense he would not be considered a victim of stalking.

Men are more likely to be prosecuted for stalking than women are. Dr. Buss notes that one reason for this is that women who experience repeated unwanted attention are more likely than men to feel fear over it. This difference could suggest that men are more likely to stalk but it could also be the case that male victims of stalking are simply less likely to report it than women. Since stalking requires persistence and risk-taking, it is possible that it is more of a male phenomenon than a female one.

According to Dr. Buss, exploring the possible evolutionary roots of stalking behaviour provides fresh insights into the psychology behind it. Stalking can take a psychological toll on victims as they may be subjected to threats of assault which a stalker may follow up on. As many stalkers can be ex-boyfriends or husbands, they may have expressed feelings of intense jealousy during the relationship reflecting what was discussed in Chapter 4. In extreme cases, stalking can lead to murder. An example given is the high profile case of OJ Simpson and the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown. Prior to her murder, Simpson had apparently stalked her and was intensely jealous during their relationship. As far as I understand though, OJ Simpson has never been confirmed as the culprit to her murder although his DNA was infamously found at the scene of the crime.

Experts of stalking have stated that threats can generate more distress than actual physical harm because the “looming vulnerability” that results from threats can cause great psychological disturbance. While I’ve never been stalked, I have some experience of dealing with threats and being vulnerable from when I worked in a mental health hospital and so can attest to this claim. Although the people I worked with were not extremely violent, some of them suffered from mood swings and could suddenly become aggressive towards others without any provocation. The harm I received was fairly minor but what was worse was not knowing when or how bad the aggression was going to be so beforehand I was often felt very tense and nervous. Therefore, I can understand in some way how victims of stalking may feel. Acts of violence from stalkers are also more likely than threats to generate a response from law enforcement which may explain why the latter causes more psychological stress.

As well as violence, stalkers may try to harm their victim’s reputation or target their friends, family members and pets. In some cases, victims of stalking may relocate or avoid socialising to deal with a stalker. I found a lot of this chapter very interesting as it explores the common psychological features of people who may engage in stalking. There are parallels with those who may commit IPV, such as having a psychological disorder or being insecure about attachment:

“According to attachment theorists, those with an insecure attachment style distrust intimates, fear rejection, and show a heavy emotional dependence on a partner. They have poor social skills and become overly clingy with romantic partners. Ironically, their fear of rejection is entirely warranted.”

Since overly attached people can become overbearing, they can inflict a “heavy relationship load” on their partners which increases the chances of the relationship ending. This rejection will obviously make the overly attached person distressed and potentially unstable. One study found that people who scored high on being insecure about attachments had a stronger proclivity to stalk. Another study showed that convicted stalkers tended to be high on the autism spectrum disorder scale which suggests that they are often poor at reading or understanding the intentions or motivations of the object of their attention. Some stalkers also have borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. These findings may explain why a lot of stalkers do not consider their behaviour to be harassing or intrusive. They believe they are just expressing interest in those they stalk and may misinterpret rejection as a test of their commitment. Other stalkers, however, may target people as a form of revenge or before attacking them – sexual predators for example.

The motives of stalkers are commonly linked to mating psychology and the most frequent of this type is the “rejected stalker”: someone who stalks their ex after their relationship has ended. Stalking behaviour might begin just before a break-up as a form of mate guarding and retention as explored in the fourth chapter. In one study, 32 percent of stalking cases were motivated by jealousy and distrust of a partner. Rejected stalkers are thought to be primarily motivated by rage and humiliation which is a way of recalibrating WTR (as explained in Chapter 4) and dealing with a decline in mate value which may affect their reputation. The rage the rejected stalker feels towards their ex may lead to the ex restarting the relationship although this is very rare.

Female victims of stalking are more likely to be young and of reproductive age and, like with IPV, more likely to be victimised by men older than them. One reason for this may be that such women are less aware of their desirability and also less experienced in relationships which may mean they form relationships with men lower in mate value than them. The men in these situations may believe that their chances of forming a new relationship are lower than their current girlfriend/wife’s:

“the stalker, being lower in mate value than his expartner, realistically perceives that it will be difficult or impossible to replace her with a mate of comparable value. “Since she loved me once,” he thinks, “perhaps I can win her back.””

Victims might receive threats of violence such as “if I can’t have you, no one can.” In addition to violence, some stalkers might also attempt suicide and self-harm to keep their partner in their life. Less extreme actions can cause distress to targets of stalking even though they appear innocuous to others, such as a stalker watching their ex from afar. All these behaviours can result in exes not forming new relationships for fear of harm coming to their new partner.

David Buss acknowledges that it would seem illogical to suggest that stalking behaviour is an evolutionary adaptation since it often has the opposite effect to what stalkers desire. However, it could succeed over countless instances across time and there are situations where it has succeeded, if only temporarily. Dr. Buss studied over two thousand stalking victims and found that 30 percent of female victims met stalkers on their request and 6 percent even had sex with them! Stalking can be successful from the stalker’s perspective as victims may devote a lot of time and energy dealing with the ramifications of such behaviour preventing them from living their life as normal. On a psychological level, stalkers “hijack…victim’s psychological space” so they can’t think about anything else. Victims engaging with stalkers in an attempt to stop their harassment can lead to stalkers controlling their victims by “rewarding” them by stopping and then stalking again to punish them.

Another form of stalking or revenge after a break-up has emerged with modern technology: revenge porn. This is where photos or videos of an ex that are erotic or pornographic can be distributed online to embarrass and provoke an ex for ending the relationship. Revenge porn can also lead to complete strangers stalking the victim. One motivation for revenge porn may be to coerce exes into resuming a relationship with the stalker or just have sex with them. Revenge porn can be particularly harmful to women as it affects their “sexual reputation” which men care more about than women for reasons already mentioned in this review.

David Buss and his colleague Joshua Duntley have developed a website to help victims of stalking which can be viewed here. He also offers tips to help victims of stalking at the end of this chapter. These include seeking support from friends and family, stopping all contact with stalkers since they find this rewarding, and documenting the stalker’s actions to increase the chance of prosecution.

Part 3 will conclude this review and deal with the often controversial subject of sexual coercion which covers sexual harassment and rape.

Book Review: ‘Bad Men: The Hidden Roots of Sexual Deception, Harassment & Assault’ by David M. Buss (Part 1)

Bad Men by David Buss | Hachette UK
2.5/5 stars

Overview: David Buss’ book is interesting, but is ultimately let down by falling into feminist thinking and talking points.

I bought this book on a whim after reading a review of it on the website Aero by William Costello. What interested me was not so much the review itself but the comments underneath it which were critical of what Mr. Costello had written and the details of the book. One of the commenters was Steve Moxon, author of the book The Woman Racket who has done his own research and studies into human sex differences that goes against the feminist narrative. The general feeling in the comments was that, despite Aero claiming to challenge conventional thinking, the book and reviewer basically upheld the status quo idea that male violence against women was widespread and society had to find ways of dealing with it.

I concurred with the comments under the article but I was intrigued enough to read the book myself and draw my own conclusions. I believe both William Costello and the book’s author, David Buss, want to be impartial and objective in this discussion but they may be too entrenched in academia to challenge the current consensus and present an alternative or opposing viewpoint. William Costello appears to be sympathetic and open-minded regarding issues affecting men but I still differ in some ways from his point of view.

David Buss is a prominent evolutionary psychologist working at the University of Texas in Austin whose career began in the 1970s and has written books such as The Evolution of Desire and The Murderer Next Door. Bad Men is the first book I’ve read by Dr. Buss which explores sexual conflict between men and women and the psychology of male perpetrators of sexual violence in particular.

For whatever reason, the book has been published under two different names as it has also been published with the title When Men Behave Badly which also has a different cover. Bad Men is the UK title.

Chapter 1: Biology and sexual conflict

David Buss begins by explaining that sexual conflict between men and women is rooted in “evolved sex differences” in sexual psychology. This is related to the distinctive gametes that men and women uniquely possess. For more information, you can read my description of Chapter 3 of The Ape That Understood the Universe. One of the most obvious differences between the sexes, to everybody except trans fanatics at least, is that women get pregnant and men do not. This means that women bear potential metabolic costs after sexual intercourse which men don’t since men can successfully reproduce just by impregnating a woman. In other words, in terms of reproduction, men are the ‘outsiders’ and women are the ‘insiders’ which means they both have advantages and disadvantages in the domain of sex and reproduction. Dr. Buss believes an “evolutionary lens” helps identify when sexual conflict may occur between men and women and says one goal of the book is to highlight circumstances that may increase or decrease its likelihood.

It is pointed out in the first chapter, titled ‘The Battle of the Sexes’, that the increasing conflict surrounding men and women has been blamed on many things from the patriarchy and toxic masculinity to feminism. David Buss even addresses the ‘manosphere’ writing:

“Manosphere bloggers… blame women who seek sex with “alpha chads” (high status males) and exploit lower-status males who are “betas” for their investment.”

I don’t know if I meet the definition of a ‘manosphere blogger’ but David Buss’ perception of the manosphere seems to focus on one area of a very large and loosely connected group(s) rather than encapsulating the whole of it. The issue of hypergamy, which Dr. Buss is basically referring to, is more of an interest of certain groups of men who arguably make up the manosphere, such as incels but not only them, whilst other so-called manosphere bloggers may be focussed on issues such as family court bias or misandry in general. David Buss does acknowledge that women are attracted to men with high power and status but writes:

“Missing from these manosphere accounts, however, is that women’s mate preferences are enormously complex and include qualities such as honesty, intelligence, dependability, moral character, sense of humor, and many more.”

Again though, other figures in the manosphere may agree with this statement and be more interested in other topics relating to men.

The author also considers the feminist idea of patriarchy as the source of conflict between the sexes but argues against it by stating, in his opinion, that both sides – that is, feminists and the manosphere – fail to recognise biology and how it relates to the modern world. David Buss essentially argues for a ‘centre ground’ as a way to understand male-female sexual conflict. However, this isn’t entirely true as many of the individuals who have influenced my thinking and consider themselves part of the manosphere have read about evolutionary psychology themselves.

Likewise, in his attempt to strike a balance between feminism and the manosphere, Dr. Buss states:

“Patriarchal institutions such as laws that give husbands control over their spouses’ sexuality for example are still on the books in some countries and have lingering pernicious effects in others.”

This is clearly to appease any feminists who could be reading and might be troubled by his accusing them of denying biology. The problem here though is that Dr. Buss states a feminist position but doesn’t give any alternative theories why such institutions and laws exist other than an apparent male desire to control women. Unlike the arguments by bloggers in the manosphere, this is presented as self-evident and something that does not require further scrutiny. Undoubtedly, men in some countries may use particular laws as a means to oppress women, but the motivations behind ‘patriarchal’ laws, in Western countries at least, are partly to deal with the aforementioned fact that men are the outsiders of reproduction and their role in their children’s lives can be diminished if these laws are altered without thinking about this. These feminist-influenced statements are a recurring feature of the book so I’ll explore this a little more later.

Here the book takes a more interesting detour into sexual conflict in other species, for example, spiders of the family Pisaura mirabilis and how they interact during courtships. Typically, the male engages in the arduous task of capturing an insect and offering it as a gift to the female to initiate mating. This isn’t always straightforward, however, as a number of scenarios can occur such as the female taking the gift and leaving without mating with the male or the male wrapping something worthless in silk and mating with the female while she unwraps the gift.

I found this description darkly amusing in a way and we can probably think of human examples that are not dissimilar! Other examples of sexual conflict amongst insects in particular include water striders of which the males have penile spines which can damage the female’s reproductive tract. Another more well known example is the female black widow spider which can consume the male after mating.

Buss then writes about men and women being in a ‘sexual conflict co-evolution’ whereby one sex develops a tactic to exploit the other sex resulting in the latter developing an evolved tactic to avoid the exploitation. This is compared to predators like cheetahs evolving tactics to capture prey like gazelles which, in turn, evolved a response against it – i.e. both use speed, habitat, vigilance, etc. to prey on or avoid being preyed on by the other. In terms of men and women, Dr. Buss writes:

“adaptations in women to avoid subpar males or to require extensive courtship displays before consenting to sex have created selection pressures on men to circumvent these barriers. Defensive adaptations to deflect sexual advances are countered by sexual persistence adaptations.”

One problem I have with this argument is how closely this falls into the now standard narrative of ‘female victims’ and ‘male perpetrators’. Using the predator-prey analogy makes this more likely and discourages interpreting sexual conflict in other ways. We could just as well interpret the ‘battle of the sexes’ as a form of ‘one-upmanship’ in which each sex simultaneously takes advantage and is taken advantage of. The previous example of the male and female Mirabilis spider illustrates this idea more than the cheetah vs. gazelle one.

A notable ‘battleground’ where sexual conflict can arise is the differing sex drives between men and women. As women’s sex drive is generally lower than men’s, ‘female choosiness’ comes into play which inevitably creates tension, misunderstanding and potentially violence. The often cited statistics about online dating sites are presented which show that most men rate most women as attractive whereas women rate only around 20% of men as attractive. One reason for female choosiness is of course because women face costlier consequences if they have sex and become pregnant. The author notes that men and women tend to differ in how soon after meeting they desire to have sex, with men desiring it earlier than women:

“1 scientist analogized this to having 2 pairs of hands on the same steering wheel of a car, each having a somewhat different destination, each trying to turn the wheel towards its own destination but being forced to contend with pulls from the other.”

To manage these biological realities, many civilisations have found unique ways to order relations between the sexes. The book describes how men in the Tiwi tribe, a group from an island near Australia, use women and girls like currency by bestowing them to other men at birth. When the girls reach adolescence, they move in with their bestowed husband. Men who are given women as brides can reciprocate by offering their own daughters in return. If this sounds highly demeaning and exploitative towards women, it’s worth noting that this system results in a lot of young men without any women whilst a small group of older men have three or four. Also, many of the younger women can become widows when their older husband dies and may have a say in their next husband. Not surprisingly, there is also infidelity between young brides and younger men and the tribe have found their own ways to manage this. Although this is an extreme example, it shows that women are often a resource that men compete for.

Regardless of men’s desire for more sex and with more partners than women, men also face costs which can lead to sexual conflict. The most obvious is that they could be a victim of ‘paternity fraud’ – i.e. a man can unknowingly acknowledge and raise a child that isn’t actually his own. This is not only costly in terms of mating opportunities, but also in time, resources and possibly psychological damage. This can lead to ‘sexual jealousy’ in which men are suspicious about women’s sexual activity and proximity to other men. To manage this, men may engage in ‘mate guarding’ by monitoring women’s activity and location. The book describes an app available in Saudi Arabia called Absher whereby men can track their wives’ movements! It is also noted that this suspicion from men hasn’t altered even though many women use contraceptive pills to prevent getting pregnant.

The restrictive practices towards women in countries like Saudi Arabia is contrasted here with a tribe in Brazil called Yanomamo in which men spend a lot of time away from their wives hunting for big game. This means that women have more influence to make decisions as they are not ‘guarded’ by their husbands. This is interesting considering that this kind of arrangement is more or less identical to traditional hunter-gatherer societies or, more recently, the traditional gender roles of men going out to work and women staying at home. We are often told that women were oppressed in this situation but if women’s husbands were away at work most of the time, doesn’t this mean women had the same freedoms as Dr. Buss argues Yanomamo women have? We could draw two conclusions from this: either, feminism falsely portrayed women staying at home as oppressed or, feminism naturally developed from this environment, particularly as technological advances reduced women’s dependency on men for resources. I actually think both are true even though they appear contradictory.

Other sources of conflict include men’s superior size and strength, the proximity of friends and family or ‘allies’ and the choice of potential partners available to either sex. In addition, individual differences can determine the likelihood and severity of sexual conflict occurring. For example, people who score highly on the so-called ‘dark triad’ traits of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism are said to be more likely to be sexual exploitative. I’ll explore this in a little bit
more detail later.

Given the topic of this book, most of the exploration of sexual conflict focusses on male perpetrators and female victims but, to his credit, Dr. Buss states:

“Can women be sexual predators? Our research on the Dark Triad suggests yes, but in somewhat different ways. Women who score high in Dark Triad traits are more likely to engage in mate poaching, luring men away from existing relationships for sexual encounters. High scoring women are also more likely to use sex as a tactic for getting ahead in the workplace.”

Chapter 2: Attraction, Dating and Mating

In the second chapter: ‘The Mating Market’, David Buss argues that conflict arises between the two sexes due to them pursuing different mating strategies. In addition to men having a higher sex drive, they also have a greater desire for sexual variety. This has been shown not only across cultures, but in homosexual men as well (see Chapter 3 link for more details).

According to the book, men also overestimate their attractiveness in the mating market and have higher self-esteem than women. Men also appear to have a ‘sexual over-perception bias’ in which they perceive sexual interest in a woman that is not actually there. Men might also underestimate how upsetting their actions are towards women. In my view, I can’t help thinking that men simply assume women are as attracted to them as vice versa. However, in the event of a low risk casual encounter, men may lower their standards. It is pointed out that both men and women attempt to secure a partner on dating sites who is 25% more desirable than them.

What explains this behaviour? One explanation is female choosiness. Here the author writes:

“‘Men are one long breeding experiment run by women’ according to some evolutionary anthropologists. Men have evolved to be fiercely motivated to acquire the resources and status women desire in a mate and to embody the qualities women want, such as kindness, dependability and physical fitness.”

Note that survival is also an effective motivator for acquiring resources and status as well as the traits mentioned if only to work in a group or evade conflicts. Women could simply be more receptive to traits that would aid survival, which is something both sexes desire. In other words, men’s motivations for obtaining status and resources might not just be motivated by female approval.

Much like the spiders described in the first chapter, both sexes try to find short-cuts to attract the opposite sex. Men may deceive by posing next to expensive cars, wearing expensive items of clothing, or even posing with attractive women in order to impress other women. Women may deceive by ‘catfishing’ whereby fake photos of an attractive woman are presented on a dating site and then used to fraud the victim in some way. Indeed, Dr. Buss writes:

“Neither sex has a monopoly on deception. One study found that an astonishing 81 percent of online dating profiles contained at least one lie about a verifiable characteristic such as age, height or weight.”

The book veers into more feminist-tinged territory with the idea that men are particularly attracted to women deemed to be ‘exploitable’, reflecting that perpetrators will target people they consider to be more vulnerable. This is true not just for sexual assault but for many crimes. Traits that favour exploitability include low intelligence and being younger. Evidence of this purportedly comes from men perceiving women who are intelligent as attractive in a long-term relationship but not in a more short-term scenario.

I don’t entirely agree with this argument about intelligence and exploitation as it is possible for somebody to be intelligent but also naïve and suggestable – especially younger people. While it’s true that more intelligent people will be better equipped mentally to avoid being taken advantage of or manipulated, a young, educated woman from a protected, privileged background may be less prepared to deal with certain kinds of men than a less educated, less intelligent woman from a poorer background who may have experience of predatory, exploitative men. This is the difference between a woman who is ‘booksmart’ and a woman who is ‘streetsmart’.

Alcohol consumption is another way in which women can be vulnerable; it is easier for them to get drunk as they have less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase than men. It is not pointed out in the book, however, that people individually, and regardless of sex, can differ in how much alcohol they can consume before becoming drunk as some men can be classed as ‘lightweights’ and so can equally be exploited. Here again, the book presents women as poor, helpless victims and men as potential predators and perpetrators. Dr. Buss writes:

“Because alcohol stimulates bonding endorphins, women are more likely to misread interactions and relationships with men when intoxicated. They overestimate the likelihood of an emotional bond and a long-term relationship – what Dr. Andy Thomson calls the Prosecco perception bias.”

Since alcohol affects our judgement and increases our impulsivity, which would favour short-term desires over long-term ones, I’m not entirely sure how accurate that statement is, but it’s perhaps not a good idea for women, or anyone, to believe that they’ll make sound decisions whilst drunk. A good piece of advice to women would be to watch how much they are drinking so they are less likely to find themselves in unfortunate situations. This may nowadays be misconstrued as victim blaming.

David Buss continues the ‘female victim, male perpetrators’ perception by describing male college students drinking as “high testosterone, alcohol-fueled men” as if they are big bad wolves preying on Little Red Riding Hoods. But if young college women were so vulnerable and afraid of their male peers, they would never go out at all.

In reality, women can take advantage of sexually aroused men just as some men may take advantage of women. The author concedes this, noting that women can benefit from short-term mating via access to resources, but describes them as “exploiting the exploiters” as if such women are simply retaliating towards male offenders.

Indicative of what could be called ‘feminist thinking’, Dr. Buss writes:

“Women’s manner of dress does not excuse men legally or morally from being guilty of sexual exploitation, although historically it has been misused by defense lawyers for this purpose.”

But this depends on what we would define as ‘sexual exploitation’, such as if a man and a woman had mutually consented to sex or not. A woman who dresses a certain way, particularly on a night out, is inviting certain attention from the opposite sex even if she may not consciously intend to do so. If she is sexually assaulted, it doesn’t mean that she ‘deserves’ to be, but dressing in certain ways will generate responses she may or may not want. Is it wrong to expect women to have some responsibility over this?

The book turns to the more interesting topic of women’s attraction to men high on the aforementioned ‘Dark Triad’ traits (psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism) which is called the ‘bad boy paradox’. This is apparently evident in dating profiles as such men are rated higher by women than men lacking in these traits. One explanation for this is that Dark Triad men are often charming and confident which conveys high mate value. This makes sense as this is what women find attractive in men in general. These traits would have also benefitted men in surviving our more chaotic and unstable ancestral past. Women who mated with such men may have passed these traits on and had ‘sexy sons’ who passed them on as well. However the author notes:

“The hypothesis would have to pass a high empirical hurdle, because these reproductive benefits would have to outweigh the costs that women vulnerable to high-level Dark Triad men are known to suffer.”

The phenomenon and the possible explanation behind it make sense to me, but I still have issues with how personality traits like the Dark Triad are ‘measured’ by psychologists, since they appear to be based on a subjective assessment. It is hard to imagine people high in psychopathy, narcissism or Machiavellianism being willing and able to give an accurate evaluation of themselves, in much the same way that it would be hard for a compulsive liar to admit they are a compulsive liar. It wouldn’t be surprising, after all, if compulsive liars were high on the Dark Triad traits! I doubt a genuine psychopath, if asked if he was psychopathic, would reply: “Why, yes. Yes I am” although this of course is an extreme example.

In this section, some of the statements used as measurements of the Dark Triad traits, which people are asked how much they agree with, are presented. Nevertheless, a lot of these statements are, in my opinion, hints of the traits at best.

For psychopathy, the statements presented include: ‘payback needs to be quick and nasty’, ‘people who mess with me always regret it’ and ‘I like to pick on losers.’ Whilst these statements correlate with psychopathy, I think you could agree with these without necessarily having psychopathic traits. For me, the closest example to a psychopathic mindset given is ‘I’ll say anything to get what I want’.

Similarly, statements measuring narcissism include: ‘I like to be the centre of attention’ and ‘I know that I’m special because everyone keeps telling me so’. While these are certainly how a narcissist might think, I don’t know if a genuine narcissist would be so self-aware, or so honest and self-critical, to agree with them. For Machiavellianism, statements provided include: ‘It’s wise to keep track of information that you can use against people later’ and ‘make sure you plan benefits you, not others’ which might hint at the trait but, to me, needs to be more specific to be an accurate assessment.

Chapter 3: Trouble in paradise

In Chapter 3, the book delves into the conflicts that can arise after a relationship has been established. Any long-term relationship inevitably has its struggles and conflicts as couples have to live together and face life’s trials and tribulations.

In the case of sexual conflict, one problem that can present itself is the changing desirability or ‘mate value’ of one partner relative to the other as nothing remains static. As people grow older, they may become less attractive to their partner and face competition from younger suitors. Situations can also change and make one partner more attractive and, crucially, more attractive to others. The case of Dorothy Stratten, for example, highlights what can happen when someone’s mate value increased to the detriment of their partner. She became an actress and left her husband Paul Snider for the director Peter Bogdanovich in a classic case of ‘trading up’. In response, Snider murdered her and then killed himself.

According to the book though, even stable and committed relationships can cultivate people who act as ‘back-up mates’ in case the relationship turns sour or suddenly ends due to death or other circumstances. These back-up mates can turn into affairs and Dr. Buss notes that men and women may pursue affairs for differing reasons. As already stated, men may pursue an affair or affairs to satisfy their desire for sexual variety whereas women may have an affair to obtain a ‘better’ partner. David Buss writes:

“women are more likely to cite emotional involvement as a reason for the affair. Men are more likely to cite pure sexual pleasure.”

It is also claimed that women are more likely than men to fall in love with the person they are having an affair with. While it is not stated in this book, this is basically the principle that ‘women want love and men want sex’ which is a conclusion that a lot of people come to. In my opinion, this is a flawed assumption. The reason I believe this is because of the declining marriage and birth rates that have accompanied ‘women’s liberation’. Additionally, there has been a rise in births outside of marriage and the growth of areas described in one report as ‘men deserts’ in many towns and cities.

This is in no way to say that these developments are all women’s fault, but if most women naturally desired long-term relationships, wouldn’t giving women ‘more control over their bodies’ result in them choosing men who also wanted long-term relationships? Also, why did societies in the past stigmatise women who had children outside of marriage or without a father around? The feminist answer would be because of ‘patriarchal oppression of women’ but the plausible answer would be that without these stigmas, some women would have chosen to have sex and get pregnant without thinking of the consequences. These women are now usually provided welfare in place of a husband meaning they are, effectively, ‘married to the state.’ It is likely there were women in these circumstances who didn’t deserve to be shunned, but these attitudes must have emerged for a reason.

To be clear, I don’t believe men in these situations were always innocent and blameless. It is important to point out that men who impregnated and abandoned women were stigmatised as well so this is not about ‘female victim blaming’ or misogyny.

According to Michelle Langley in her book Why Women Cheat, although women claim they want an emotionally involved man, they may in fact pursue men who are not interested in them, at least not in the romantic sense, as this creates tension and excitement which may link with women’s attraction to ‘bad boys’. In contrast, a man who openly shows his love for a woman may appear needy and too dependent on them. Obviously, many women also desire love and commitment from men but this shows that, in both sexes, there is often a disconnect between our sexual desires and our romantic ones. The author does point out though that women who have affairs may also score high on the Dark Triad traits.

Returning to the book, Dr. Buss writes that humans have evolved strategies to switch mates if needed in response to environmental changes:

“we come from a long and unbroken line of ancestors who went through mating crises – ancestors who monitored mate value, tracked satisfaction with their current unions, cultivated backups, appraised alternatives, and switched mates when conditions proved propitious.”

Mate value can be thought of as a balance between the value one person places on themselves and the value they place on their partner. This is called a ‘welfare trade-off ratio’ or WTR. If WTR is balanced then the relationship is likely to be stable and healthy as neither person is self-centred nor entirely dependent on the other person. In long-term relationships, mate value may change suddenly or regularly fluctuate. An example given is women’s ovulation cycle which may make them more attractive due to physical changes like a lower waist-to-hip ratio.

The so-called ‘double standard’ in attitudes towards sexual infidelity might also be a source of conflict. Generally, people consider women cheating on a man as worse than a man cheating on a woman which some women consider to be wrong. The author states this is partly due to men’s desire for sexual variety but does not mention that another reason is that men reasonably fear paternity fraud if they discover their wives have cheated on them with another man although he mentions this earlier in the book. There is also a ‘me versus thee’ double standard in that people tend to judge their partner kissing, performing a sex act or having sex with someone else more harshly than they would if they did it.

The final source of conflict covered in this chapter is sexual withdrawal which is usually thought of as done by women as a way to control men. This is true, but Dr. Buss points out that men can also do this to women. Many cultures expect there to be sexual relations in marriages so one person denying their other half sex, or having sex with somebody else, is obviously considered to be wrong. Historically, adultery committed by women was considered a ‘property violation’ of one man against another which suggests to some that this was a form of patriarchal oppression of women. David Buss falls back into feminist thinking when he writes:

“the male sexual psychology that gave rise to the laws to begin with – specifically male sexual proprietariness – continues to be fully activated within committed relationships. Cultural
shifts towards greater gender equality within relationships have dramatically reduced men’s entitlements. Western marriage no longer grants men unconstrained sexual access whenever and wherever they want. Women within committed relationships have the rights and freedoms to consent to sex or to withdraw sex. And this gives women a critical lever of power – the power to reward and the power to punish.”

This implies men created such laws as a kind of ‘ego trip’ to exert power over women rather than to deal with many of the conflicts David Buss described in this chapter. Since men are the outsiders of reproduction, their relationship with their children can be threatened if women are not honest about their sexual discretions, and many men would assume that their wives want to have sex with them and would, understandably, be suspicious if they didn’t – over the long-term at least. Withdrawing sex may allow women to get what they want but this can also create resentment as the man might emotionally withdraw. As already mentioned, men can also withdraw sex which can lead to women fearing the relationship is falling apart or there’s another woman involved.

Underlying many of these relationship conflicts is feelings of jealousy which is explored in the next chapter.

To be continued…