This is my review of the book “Female Choice“ by Meike Stoverock. The book is in German, and there is no English translation yet. But I am writing this review in English anyway, because it opens an important debate, about where our modern society came from and what it should be like. I illustrate it with the music of my favourite band, The Tiger Lillies.
Stoverock proposes that our modern society, its structures of marriage, private property, religion and capitalism is actually a civilization made by men and for men, its main design purpose was to oppress and control women, specifically their basic evolutionary drive of female choice. In all animal species, Stoverock says, it is the females who chose males, while the males are driven to mate with as many females as possible. Females are very choosy, males not at all, and as the result, Stoverock writes, 80% of males go empty and never procreate, in fact they never even have sex.
The idea is that until humans settled down and began to own land, evolution was driven by female choice. Few quality men (whom Stoverock believes to be the most intelligent or skilled) had sex with all the women of the tribe and fathered all the children, while the pitiful rest went completely empty, they were in fact the Incels of the Stone Age (if you start a punk band of this name, you must credit me).
But then, around 10,000 years ago, the agricultural revolution arrived, humans began cultivating land which at some point went from community-owned to privately owned. This is when according to Stoverock, the evolution went wrong and where marriage was invented soon after the land grab happened.
For one, a wealthy land owner had to secure hereditary succession, hence the control of female sexuality and procreation which marrying a child bride can provide. At the same time, women were deprived not only of the opportunity to freely choose their mate, but also chained economically. They were banned from owning property and doing business, their social and physical movements were regulated to ensure fidelity (mate guarding), and they became utterly dependent on their husbands.
As land property was established, women started to choose men not for their genetic qualities, but for their material wealth which indeed is hereditary, but not genetically (unless you believe in eugenics). While the first males who took the land were desirable and intelligent prime specimen (at least according to Stoverock), their sons were not necessarily genetic quality material, but the inherited wealth made them desirable. Soon however, it was the young women’s fathers anyway who chose the husbands based on economic factors.
Second, Stoverock writes, the marriage was invented to appease the men who were less wealthy and thus unable to convince a woman to have sex with them. Those were the same 80% who spent hundreds of thousands of years masturbating in the bushes, but now the agricultural revolution and society growth made it necessary to provide them with a sex partner, so peace and loyalty can be ensured. I am not sure about this argument, but in any case, every man was awarded a woman as a life-long wife to keep them happy, because the women were prevented from exercising female choice anymore.
In this way, it was not only women which got controlled. Alpha males with power and property ensure the submission and loyalty of the much more numerous lower-ranking men by supplying them with women. Sexually undesirable men could be bound to serve the wealthy as cheap labourers and soldiers, with a promise of sex as their reward. To further control both men and women, religion was invented to sanction human sexuality, and Stoverock especially takes aim at the monotheistic religion of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The idea was that it’s enough to punish women for extramarital affairs in order to prevent men from philandering.
All nomadic human societies (at least those not entirely missionarized and “civilized” ones) have one thing in common, Stoverock writes: the absence of a monogynous life-long marriage between one man and one woman which we take to be the “normal” biological situation for humans. The children, once weaned, are raised by the tribe, in a communal effort, and women chose a new partner for each round of procreation. That very well may be, but I wonder if some anthropologist might chime in and confirm if indeed the chosen partners are solely the few alpha males while the majority of a men (80% or whatever) in such nomadic communities indeed never get to sire a child or even to have sex.
In this regard, the assumption that most males in the animal kingdom never have sex is a bit shaky. I asked some animal ecologists on Twitter. Turns out, many mature males do go empty, but whether it’s as high as 80%, even in mammals, is another question.
Turns out, Female Choice is not as dogmatic as one thinks. Even in guppies, “a species which is a literal textbook example of sexual selection” according to one expert, the majority of males does get to sire some progeny.
Never mind the arthropods, or the fish, or in particular the birds (where around 90% of species form life-long couples), as Stoverock herself mentions. In birds, the lower-ranking males are disadvantaged, but most do find a mate eventually.
Sure, it’s different with mammals which do have a huge skew in the male mating success rate. In most mammal species, the majority of the offspring is indeed sired by few very successful males. But it is another issue if the losers ever have sex or not, and also Stoverock names some examples, like that of Orang-Utan females mating with violently horny low-ranking males, but outside their oestrus. So failure in procreation is not the same as failure in sex. Certainly not the in human society.
Another issue is that a lot of males in the animal kingdom eliminate themselves from the gene pool. Many actually die quite young, not only fighting competitors, but from diseases and hunger. Exactly because of the female choice, males often have to travel great distances for long time before they find a willing female, their wanderlust can end in death. Beavers (which by the way form life-long couples) sustain the highest male mortality during such juvenile travels, from predators and other beavers.
A lion unable to secure a pride (in lion societies, it’s female dynasties who own the land) will fail at hunting on his own and will soon starve to death. Yet an elephant seal might spend many years watching the big fat beach-master from distance having orgies, but eventually the once sad loser can grow big and strong enough chase off the old beach-master. Young male African elephants who leave their matriarchal herd join the leadership of a mature bull and learn everything from him, without getting near a female for many years. Make you sure you don’t starve (or these days, don’t get shot), and one year it will be your high time. Also in other complex mammal societies, including those of primates, males may lead a (more or less) celibate life under the authority of the alpha, but at some point the alpha male will die or get deposed, and then it’s their chance. Celibate males who manage to survive long enough can end up having sex galore in their old days.
And then again, we have no idea what kind of social structure early hominids had. Our two closest relatives are chimps and bonobos, and their societies cannot be more different. Chimps are a male dominated society with a fluid alpha male dynamic, where the current leader and his best mates indeed get the bulk of sexual opportunities and sire most if not all of the children. But even the low ranking males get their chance to copulate if they prove themselves nice and helpful to females (e.g. with children), or secure some precious meat to barter for sex.
Bonobos on the other hand should not exist if evolutionary biologists had their say. Bonobo societies are matriarchal despite the fact that the males are, like with chimps and humans, on average larger and physically stronger (I recommend the books of Frans de Waal in this regard). This happens because bonobo females conspire with each other to subjugate bonobo males! It may be that female bonobos in oestrus do chose the quality males, at least as their prime choice, but sex as such is not something which bonobo females ration to the prettiest males only. The bonobo society is well known for its social cohesion and stress-reduction orgies where anything except mother and son goes. There sure are some bonobo males who don’t get sex, but these are a tiny minority. Stoverock never mentions bonobos.
We do not know which society the early hominids resembled more: that of bonobos or that of chimps. There are other primates where matriarchy is standard (most lemurs), primates with a form of gender equality (spider monkeys), there are even primates where males and females form life-long couples, like titi monkeys and gibbons, the latter are apes. For primates alone, all possible forms of societies exist, even the aggressive baboon patriarchy is more complicated than evolutionary biologists prefer it to be.
Although we can be quite sure that pre-agrarian human societies were nomadic tribes without life-long monogynous relationships (at least as a rule), this society is not something Stoverock wants to return to. After all, nomadic life is no picnic, people are mostly busy with finding enough food to survive. In the last chapters of her book, the author proposes steps for all of us to restore the Female Choice.
Stoverock proposes how to reform our society, and I’m not sure it was a good idea. Personally I think the author should have stopped with discussing the problem, and concluding with a call to more feminism and more efforts to stop oppression and childhood brainwash of women, to stop patriarchy and toxic masculinity, so our society can evolve and allow each individual to live out their own personal choice and freedom. But it may be my male privilege talking.
Instead, Stoverock presents detailed solutions, specifically her proposal is to return to a female choice world where women select few men for mating while the larger rest goes around without ever having sex at all. It gets better: she wants a society which recognises such “sexually undesirable” boys early, educates them about their future and offers them opportunities for sexual release so they don’t become murderous incels or vote for the AfD. The proposed outlets are: homosexuality, feminism-approved pornography (including violent Manga animation), sex dolls and sex robots, and finally: state-supplied sex workers (aka prostitutes) upon application, evaluation and governmental approval. I do not exaggerate, this is what the book specifically discusses.
This in my view is too silly, but then again, what do I know. The author seems to believe that the violence against women and society is something new, caused by their “involuntary celibacy” due to female rejection, but it is not. New is only that some of the perpetrators might indeed be “virgins” (because women in modern societies are more independent and can’t be cheaply bought or coerced to sex), but this is not what drives the violence of these men. Sexual frustration and lethal violence against women arises also in married men, even in family fathers, certainly once they are off to fight a war or run a violent pogrom somewhere. The problem with incel mass murders as we know them from news (mostly in USA) is the availability of guns, not the unavailability of women.
Many murder victims are sex workers, their murderer is not really a sexually inexperienced virgin. Some rapes end in murder. Stoverock got it all backwards about incels and violence, I’m afraid, but again, what do I know.
Stoverock spends many pages proposing various ways to pacify and civilize the countless incels of the future Female-Choice-Society, where most men won’t be chosen and where marriage as a life-long monogynous relationship will be a thing of the past. But what she never discusses what the future for the women in that society she proposes will be. Specifically, for women who want to have children.
So I hope to be forgiven if I try this. Stoverock namely postulates that for human women, the binding cycle to a mating partner is 4 years, give or take 3 years after birth, oriented on the age a child gets weaned in a tribal society. After that, as per author, the woman gets bored with her current sex partner and wants new sexual adventures with a new mate. Especially since men are not interested in taking care of babies and toddlers anyway, and are only made to pretend to in our modern feminist society, as the book suggests.
Well, but then again I guess we all agree that human babies are born underdeveloped and extremely dependent due to the evolutionary dilemma of brain size vs birth canal width, Stoverock explains it herself. So who will help taking care of that baby for these 3 years?
In tribal societies, everybody pitches in (maybe even some men?), as the saying goes, it takes a village. But we don’t live in such societies and we can’t return to nomadic life, this is agreed. What then to help the new mother? Newborn-daycare or taking baby to work in a sling? Maybe, or good luck, respectively. But this still leaves the mother alone with all the chores. So who can help? The grandparents, or rather the grandmother, since we abolished the marriage? Maybe, but she might chose travelling the world instead, meeting some quality gentlemen of her own. The woman’s current romantic partner? That same chosen quality male who happens to be simultaneously desired by 4-5 other women, whose babies he is also busy siring? Not sure about his commitment. Who else is available? Oh dear, we still have the incels, those have plenty of spare time. I let you figure out the arrangements there.
Thing is, Stoverock is right that the traditional marriage is indeed a patriarchal structure designed to oppress and control women, but it is not as simple as she portrays it. Why would homosexual couples fight so desperately for their right to marry and to adopt children? Just tax purposes? Really? Or are they brainwashed by the society that they need to live all their lives in a family-style partnership with someone? If anything, human societies and their religions are traditionally opposed to homosexual partnerships, often quite violently up to imprisoning and murdering those who try it. Yet these couples still want to marry and live together into their old age.
Maybe humans are just social animals, and our modern society deprived us of the tribal communal life, where people ate together, slept in the same hut and nobody was ever alone? Again, as also Stoverock agrees, there is no way to go back to that lifestyle which was everything but idyllic anyway. At the same time, all human attempts to establish alternative forms of communal life went tits up, pardon my French, for reasons of human individualism and also of coupling-up. Even hippie communes, so much celebrated for their alleged brother- and sisterhoods of free love were actually male-dominated societies where women did most of the work while being indoctrinated or simply drugged into sleeping with every man who asked. Regardless how disgusting these women found him, so much for the female choice.
Stoverock’s book covers very important aspects and brings many important and interesting ideas. It’s a pity it ends with weird plans for incels while carefully avoiding discussing the arrangements for women and their chosen quality males.
Because our society is still patriarchal and man-oriented. Instead of a progress many nations keep sliding back, as constant attempts to ban abortions show, like recently in Poland.
Speaking of, let me introduce you to this recent paper from Poland, its senior author is 59 year old biology professor Bogusław Pawłowski, at University of Wroclaw, who seems to be so important (irony) that he has his own Wikipedia page.
Agnieszka Żelaźniewicz , Judyta Nowak-Kornicka, Klaudia Zbyrowska, Bogusław Pawłowski Predicted reproductive longevity and women’s facial attractiveness PLOS One (2021) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0248344
From the abstract:
“Physical attractiveness has been shown to reflect women’s current fecundity level, allowing a man to choose a potentially more fertile partner in mate choice context. However, women vary not only in terms of fecundity level at reproductive age but also in reproductive longevity, both influencing a couple’s long-term reproductive success. Thus, men should choose their potential partner not only based on cues of current fecundity but also on cues of reproductive longevity, and both may be reflected in women’s appearance.“
“As women differ in fecundity depending on genetic, developmental, health, and environmental factors [8–10], choosing more attractive (i.e. more fecund) woman in mate choice would be adaptive and might potentially increase male reproductive success. […] Thus, for long-term relationships, where the number of offspring produced by a couple will depend in part on time to a woman’s menopause, men should choose their potential partners, not only based on cues of high current fecundity, but also based on cues of high residual reproductive value .“
Professor Pawlowski doesn’t believe in female choice, he thinks women are all craving to impress him, with make-up, high-heels and open cleavage. Also, for his study he was careful to recruit “83 women between 25 and 34 years” and exclusively of “European descent”, who were photographed and then subjected to evaluation for “facial attractiveness on the scale from 1 (not at all attractive) to 9 (very attractive)” to “100 healthy men of European descent, aged 18–39 years“.
I am not sure I want to know why Professor Pawlowski was keen to use only white people in his female attractiveness research, but we had the same in the much more disgusting “Miss Endometriosis” contest (joke stolen from Sylvie Coyaud) in Milan.
Unsurprisingly, the data looks all over the place, the only thing it proves is that Professor Pawlowski should be ashamed of himself.
(Figure 2, Zelazniewicz et al 2021)
Stoverock’s book is indeed much needed to overthrow such societal and scientific attitudes, but as every manifesto, it tends to oversimplify things and to postulate solutions which are not really practicable.
Disclaimer: As usual, I receive no payment or incentive to write this review, but I did receive the book gratis from the publisher upon request