What Starship Troopers & I Got Wrong About Men & Women
Updated: Mar 12
It'll take longer to change our stupid evolutionary sexual crap than Paul Verhoeven and I thought
Well. I stand corrected. Apparently it will take more than a few generations to flush the reckless sluttiness and hypergamy out of men and women.
A few weeks ago I referenced the 1997 movie Starship Troopers based on the Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel about a futuristic, highly militaristic world in which men and women fought as equals against the ‘bugs’, an alien race.
Male and female troops working together, even showering together, and treating each other as equals and adults, working for a greater common cause. But seriously, didn’t the guys ever want to grab Denise Richards’s bouncy wet round jugs? Could they possibly control their dicks that much? In just two centuries?
Then I read an article about the ‘Effective Altruism’ movement demonstrating that evolutionary psychology abideth if not forever, for a helluva long time. It turns out Paul Verhoeven, the director for Starship Troopers (set in the 23rd century) and I hoped for a far too ambitious timeline for mutually accepted sexual equality.
It ain’t just socialization, kids. It’s our monkey brains.
What makes the sexes different is not just our physical bodies but our brains. We resist the notion of ‘pink brains and blue brains’ but we do in fact have notable, evolutionary psychological brain differences that account for how we act, treat each other differently, and how you don’t change evolution overnight.
Of course, the diversity of humans means we come in eight billion shades of pink, blue, and mostly a lot of crossover violet.
It seems for the time being, we’ll be engaged in an ongoing battle - with ourselves as much as each other - over evolutionarily ingrained proclivities within us - male horniness and sexual harassment on the one hairy hand, and female desire to mate with more powerful, successful, high-status males on the Jergens-smoothed other one.
The EA movement, for the moment, is Exhibit A.
A February Time magazine article highlights what’s happening within EA, experiencing its own come-to-Jesus spotlight moment with the fall of its most famous proponent, cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried last fall. It catalogs, tiresomely again, what happens when monied men with power run the show and women don’t fight back enough, mostly because they still haven’t figured out how to band together like bonobos.
Spoiler alert: Culty sexual harassment and manipulation ensues.
La plus ça change.
Effective Altruism and the spectrum
The EA movement originated in the 2000s and according to one of its founders, Scottish philosopher and author William MacAskill and early friend of Sam Bankman-Fried, it’s founded on “using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis".
That doesn’t sound much different from the blueprint of almost every other normal project you can think of, especially when it comes to do-gooding others and defeating problems facing humanity. If nothing else, the biggest obstacle to accomplishing any altruistic goal is making sure the money is used to most effectively help its targets, rather than line the pockets of its administrators.
The EA movement encourages people to become filthy rich, and then allocate money to various helpful and often long-term, futuristic projects.
What stands out in bas-relief about the movement is how overwhelmingly male it is. There’s good to learn from its male approach (we’ll get to that later), but also much to guard against.
The EA movement fetishizes, in true male intellectual style, reason and rationality over emotion. There’s an almost Spockian quality about it, the kind that cuts coolly through the emotional considerations associated with women and scorned by Vulcans. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one," said Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. In other words, enter the radioactive chamber to fix the Enterprises’s drive in order to save the entire crew. But unlike real humans, the star is almost certain to survive the suicide mission [See: John Cusack, climax, 2012], so no one really suffers or dies, like real people do when logic ignores emotion in real-world decision-making.
That strongly utilitarian sense of completely ignoring emotional feeling in favor of cold logic harkens retroactively to the suspiciously autistic 18th-century British philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, the founder of modern ‘utilitarianism’. Bentham ticked off the autism checklist starting with his prowess as a world-class systematizer, with a near-mania for organizing human actions into behavioral nomenclature, a man with few friendships, who never married, and who one person said regarded the people around him as little better than ‘the flies of summer’. Bentham’s principle of utility attempted to reduce happiness and well-being to simple arithmetic, mathematizing pleasures versus pains and offered a ‘felicific calculus’ algorithm to determine a moral response for any person, action or country.
Scientists today speculate Bentham was a chunk farther down the spectrum than us ‘neurotypicals’, and they tried testing some of his DNA (he left his body to science) several years ago. Couldn’t find how that worked out.
Researcher Simon Baron-Cohen shows that ‘autism’ is merely a human spectrum comprised of two dimensions, empathizing (able to share understanding and imagine the feelings of humans and other sentient creatures) and systematizing (organizing things, objects, ideas). Where they cross in any given human determines where they are on the spectrum. Being particularly good at one or the other doesn’t make you problematic, but being too good at one at the expense of the other is where people tend to create problems.
Somewhat stereotypically - but these are our cave brains - men tend to be better at systematizing and women at empathizing. And yeah yeah, #NotAllWhatever. Shades of violet, folks!
There may be a possible, although as yet unconfirmed, connection between those farther down the spectrum and EA.
What the 19th-century Bentham couldn’t have known is how emotions factor as much into truly effective decision-making as logic and rationalism. The work of MIT’s computer scientist and engineer Dr. Rosalind Picard supports this. Her contribution to AI stemmed from her research into the limbic system, the oldest and most primitive part of the brain, the seat of memory, attention and emotion. She realized that the already long-standing, ongoing attempt by scientists to build a human-like AI was doomed to fail until it took into account the critical input of emotion. But of course, the highly rational-minded, reason-worshipping male science culture wrote off her work as frivolous and unserious until her book about affective computing in 1997 founded a whole new field of AI that is taken more seriously today, even by male scientists.
The monkey brain
The Time magazine article explored a San Francisco Bay EA communal household that exemplified the male/female, intellectualizing/empathizing disconnect we find too often with high-functioning highly intelligent males who would rather approach emotional problems like sexual harassment with cold calculus rather than dealing with how sexual pressure or assault makes someone else feel.
It detailed a somewhat less altruistic or rational goal of what appears to be a larger problem in the EA movement overall: Getting laid, with your housemates or work colleagues. Lofty intellectuals pretentiously call it ‘polyamory’ when it more closely resembles sexual predation.
An Unherd website article analyzed what Time didn’t: The ‘monkey’ in our primate brains that drives us to act in certain classic gender-stereotypical ways, traits we humans exhibit that closely parallel behavior observed in our primate jungle cousins.
It’s difficult to change, for both men and women.
Not impossible, but 23rd century non-horny co-ed showers may be an overly-optimistic, but not ultimately impossible, goal for all of us.
Polyamory, hypergamy and EA
The 70% male EA culture pushes polyamory, or the way of the ‘ethical slut’ as one how-to manual describes it. When conducted and guided by openness, communication, and most importantly, rules, which participants, couples and groups have to decide for themselves, it can work fairly well.
But there absolutely have to be rules, so everyone has a good time, feelings are managed and no one is made to feel uncomfortable. Genuine, committed polyamorists get this. They understand the need especially for women to be protected from unscrupulous or rules-forgetful males.
Most importantly, there should be no pressure on anyone to do anything they don’t want to. Fake ‘polyamorists’ don’t like rules, because they interfere with sexual pleasure.
Where sex is involved, women’s safety must be paramount. And where male power and money is concentrated, women’s safety is at risk.
This is where Starship Troopers and I got it wrong. We can’t just rationalize and debate our way out of sexual preferences and practices after only a few hundred years of feminism.
It’s not impossible to overcome our evolutionary proclivities, many of which remain with us thousands of years after they no longer make rational sense, but getting human males to curb their sexual desires to make human females more comfortable may take far more time than Paul Verhoeven and I realized.
It’s not just men who are slaves to their monkey brain. The Unherd article briefly examined, along with the evolutionary underpinnings of quite traditional horny male behavior toward young, highly fertile women, where and how women collude evolutionarily too, driven by their own monkey agenda. Hypergamy is being attracted to and mating with high-status, powerful males, especially those with wealth, whether that’s farm animals on the Anatolian steppes or fat crypto accounts in, well, the cloud.
Time detailed how uncomfortable it was for women living in the EA household run by two organizers, a non-romantically involved man and woman. The man was accused of sexual misconduct against both an ex-girlfriend and the female co-organizer, and the predictable reactions to allegations of male sexual misbehavior ensued.
The other housemates supported the man who claimed innocence; an external female ‘mediator’ who had supposedly handled other sexual harassment situations, prioritized not ruining the man’s career over allegations he’d sexually victimized others; and the mostly male forum discussing the problem, attempted to intellectualize it, carefully corralling emotions and the alleged victims’ feelings, Bentham-izing questions like how much you should trust someone you live with who you believe is ‘X% likely’ to have done something horrible.
Instead of, say, prioritizing harmed individuals and making sure this didn’t happen again.
It was ever-so-typical male running and hiding from having to consider the feelings of others, particularly when penises are implicated.
Other women Time spoke with mentioned problems with EA sexual harassment in other states and overseas. They described how preyed upon they felt by a culture that promoted so-called ‘polyamory’ and pressured women who didn’t go along with it as ‘unevolved’.
To my much older woman’s eyes, it looked less like true polyamory (I’ve got friends in the culture) and more like all the typical male manipulation techniques I’ve long since grown wise to, but with which most young women don’t have much experience, especially flimsily dressed up as ‘more evolved than monogamy’.
Horny cults et al
I don’t believe Paul Verhoeven’s and my assessment of the ability of males and females to work against the evolutionary grain is impossible, and some change can happen fairly quickly. Twentieth-century Second Wave feminism has propelled women into far less restricted roles than they had back when secretaries got fired for not screwing the boss. We’ve witnessed the evolution of both males and females moving beyond older historical mores, and challenging us to challenge ourselves further. I do it too with my ‘grow some labia’ encouragement that women need to step up, challenge, assert themselves, educate themselves, and develop themselves more. There’s only so much the more progressive corners of ‘the patriarchy’ can do for us. At some point we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, How am I holding myself back?
The Unherd article compares the EA movement with the traditionally patriarchal history of cults, religious and otherwise. It mentions fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs and his 81 wives for implementing the traditional male desire to cultivate harems of very young, fertile women, while failing to note that’s the basis of the Mormon religion originally, which chose to give up polygamy so Utah could become a state.
It cites Reverend Moon ‘consummating’ early converts’ marriages by sleeping with the woman before her husband (droit du seigneur in medieval Europe) and the more recent female-corralling NXIVM cult. I would also add whacko Waco David Koresh’s teenage harem. High-minded moral and spiritual philosophers may share a propensity for haremizing women or they may simply fall into that evolutionary groove when they gain enough power. (And women let them do it because, monkey girl brains.) Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God details the earliest examples of spiritual sexual abuse. Certain Eskimo religious shamans thousands of years ago demanded errant women who’d committed some misdemeanor to have sexual intercourse with them to ‘counteract’ the effects of her sinning.
‘Rationalism’, religion and high-minded goals can all be recruited to disguise what are plain old traditional poon quests.
Unherd recognizes the hypergamy that drives women still to seek out high-status, high-performing, and wealthy males to mate with. Time noted that many women in the EA movement were happily polyamorous, but one non-polyamorist felt ‘groomed’ by a much older man who extolled to her the virtues of a much older ‘mentor’ who argued “that ‘paedophilic relationships’ were both perfectly natural and highly educational,” playing on many women’s desire to be with an older, wiser, paternal, and often wealthier man. It didn’t work on her, but I know many women for whom it would have.
Hypergamy is something I’ve never understood myself, but I’ve seen it play out over and over again amongst many. I didn’t understand women in the ‘80s, when I was young, expressing the desire to ‘find a rich man to marry’. These were educated women with bright futures ahead of them, if they didn’t mess it up by marrying someone who might well control or abuse them, since men with money and power often act that way because, well, they can. Because they know hypergamous women will tolerate it.
One hypergamist I knew was a beautiful 32-year-old blonde with huge grey eyes who was the smartest and most successful of the otherwise all-male sales team in our early ‘90s uber-Yuppie office. Her brains weren’t her only leg up over her male colleagues. She had a knock-down rockin’ bod and when the guys sniped behind her back that she closed more deals because she dated her clients it wasn’t misogyny; it was the truth. She bragged about it.
She was a female monkey using sex to get what she wanted, and when she bragged about how a man had to make at least six figures for her attention, it struck me as almost prostitution, a practice well-established with chimpanzees who offer females food for sex.
Her expressed desire was to snag a rich man. I’d look at her and think if I had her confidence, smarts, and sales ability I sure as hell wouldn’t be looking to marry Mr. Rich; I’d conquer the world as a sales rockstar, make my own fortune and never, ever, be controlled or abused.
I guess I’d be the wierdo in the jungle, too, if I was a chimp.
What men, including EA men, do better than women
What I find impressive about ‘the patriarchy’ is that, for all its faults, men get shit done. It’s how EA leaders got filthy rich.
They don’t worry about being liked, or not offending their office mates, and they don’t care if you dislike their style. If their goal is to increase this year’s revenue by 5% then dadgum it, they’re going to accomplish that come hell or high water. If that means getting rid of ‘dead wood’, cutting back on perks and entitlements to free up more cash and remove free snacks and ‘Beer Fridays’ in service to greater operational efficiencies, and the rest of the company hates it, fuck ‘em.
Male leaders make it happen.
The thirty percent of women in the EA movement, relying on business partnerships, relationships, jobs and financial help from horny young men, get preyed upon.
These guys got where they were by doing shit, making money, and not relying on women. They may have the money and power but that doesn’t mean women can’t go off and form their own, however more modest EA movement, relying on each other and their own networks rather than giving their power to highly sexed men. With one caveat.
They still need the benefit of male expertise and advice.
Why? Because men are still much better than women at getting shit done and not caring who calls them an asshole.
Selected, trusted male advisors could help women develop that ‘can-do’ attitude and learn how to turn critics on their heads: Make being called a ‘pushy bitch’ or a ‘ball buster’ something to crow and strut about, much like the guys in one office I worked in who had a cheezy gold belt the reigning foosball champion got to wear until someone else claimed it.
Getting called nasty names by misogynists is a huge sign you’re getting shit done, or they’re afraid you will.
Men’s counsel can help women navigate misogyny, discrimination and harassment by sharing their own professional struggles. Conflict is conflict. Like standing up to a bad, incompetent boss instead of a bad horny one. Many men already mentor women and some share similar biological discrimination (darker skin rather than a vagina).
Relying too much on women only, for the time being, may hold back female professional progress. One reason I gave up ‘women only’ networking groups is the lack of energy and focus. Too much schmoozing, too much empathizing, not enough real talk. I joined a different, mixed group a year or so before the pandemic and there was much more energy and ‘can-do’ attitude, particularly with the female business leaders who were more dynamic and more inclined to hold their own with men, none of whom struck me as toxic masculine. It was a great place to meet, network, exchange ideas, and make business connections.
Some women may need a place to not be interrupted, mansplained or lectured to, or subtly put down, but to get real shit done, we’ve got to learn to handle and negotiate with the other half of the human race.
Old evolutionary habits die hard, and while men are responsible for their actions and behavior, women have to hold them to account, as well as themselves, and they can’t do that when they’re within male control or hiding in women’s-only ‘safe spaces’.
Just as a hypergamous wife gives her husband the power to control her when he controls the finances, giving male business partners power and control over one’s career opens women up to potential sexual abuse. It’s not fair, but we’ve got our own monkey to contend with. Just as men are driven (but not compelled) to seek sex with fertile young chicks, women too are driven, but not compelled, to give men their power for financial freedom and the ability to fund their own projects.
It’s not just men we have to push to change. It’s ourselves, too. And it’s always easier to bitch about the other side than it is to acknowledge one’s own complicity.
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