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.

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

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