By Genevieve DiNatale
President Trump has had five different children with three different women, leaving each one as her fertility declined. Trump famously said, ‘I want five children, like in my own family, because with five, then I will know that one will be guaranteed to turn out like me.”↬
In 1977, Trump married Ivana Marie Zelníčková, a 28-year-old Czech fashion model. Together they had three children, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka, and Eric. Then in 1992, when Ivana was 43 – and too old to bear children – Trump left her for Marla Maples, with whom he was having an affair. Trump married Maples in 1993, when she was 30-years-old and he was 47, and they had one child, Tiffany. Trump then left Maples six years later when she was 36, at an age when women becoming pregnant are considered high risk for having children with birth defects and deemed “mature mothers” by doctors. Trump then married his third and current wife, Melania, our first lady, when she was 35-year-old in 2005; they have one child, Baron.
Trump’s serial monogamy and treatment of his partners is justified by evolutionary biology. According to the sexual investment theory, men are more likely to cheat on their wives and seek out a variety of fertile female sexual partners because “men have limitless sperm compared to the limitations on women and their eggs; men can effectively have back-to-back babies whereas women have to wait nine months in between each birth; men can up and leave, whereas women are in for the long haul,” said David Buss, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Texas.↬
Women have a finite number of eggs, often losing their ability to have children once they reach their 40s. Furthermore, when women do have children, they have to invest more time and metabolic energy into carrying the child to term and then raising it. Men, on the other hand, do not bear children and can have children much later in life, so they have more opportunities to have children with less investment in their upbringing. This has led biologists to believe that men’s standards for sexual partners are lower than women because there is less investment in the process of spreading their genes to the next generation, thereby leaving most men to prefer short-term sexual relationships with many different fertile partners. Women, on the other hand, are more highly selective of their sexual partners and prefer high-quality partners on a long-term basis because they have less time to have children, and when they do – they have to invest more time into raising them and prefer mates that co-parent and provide resources for their offspring.
Feminism has been at odds with the tenets of evolutionary biology ever since English naturalist Charles Darwin discovered natural selection while on a trip to the Galapagos Islands in 1835. It was then that he noted the various adaptations of several species of finch on the island. The finch, which all evolved from a common ancestor, had different sized beaks and food preferences depending on their region. Darwin theorized that these variances in physical traits were not due to random chance alone, but instead, the finches possessing traits best suited to a given environment were more likely to successfully reproduce and pass the genes capable of expressing these favorable traits on to the next generation.
Natural selection – the key to Darwin’s theory of evolution – is defined as the higher reproduction rates of individuals with phenotypic traits that are best suited to a given environment. (The irony of all this, however, is that Darwin married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, with whom he had 10 children).
“For classic natural selection, think of zebras on the plains of Africa. There is genetic variation for how fast they run,” said Andrew Berry, a professor of biology at Harvard University. “Some are rather slow and some are super fast and the ones that are super fast are going to avoid lions more efficiently than the ones which are rather slow. That means the next generation is going to have more of the super fast genetic material than the super slow.”
Comparable to natural selection, sexual selection is the preference for certain traits in individuals of the (often) other sex. “Sexual selection is well established in a number of species, the canonical example is the peacock’s tail,” said Berry. “The male has this fantastic tail in order to be attractive to females. That’s sexual selection because what that tail is getting the male is sexual access to females and it’s actually actively opposed by natural selection if you think about it – the peacock’s tail is enormous, heavy, so it costs a lot to produce from the point of view of that poor male bird and it’s super obvious because it’s like a flag waved to predators that says ‘eat me.’”
In The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin defined sexual selection as selection caused by the reproductive competition between members of the same sex and species. His observation was that horned males such as antelope and deer often fight each other for sexual access to the females. Males also “impress” females with colorful feathers, elaborate songs or other behaviors deemed attractive by the females of a given species (Vandermassen 2004). The development of these ornamental males in nature – Darwin argues – results from females’ choosiness. Females are so choosy, according to the theory of sexual selection, that the peacock’s tail is a detriment to the very survival of the male peacock.
The so-called “undiscriminating eagerness in males and discriminating passivity in females” is known as the Bateman’s principle in biology (Gawaty 905). At the beginning of the 20th century, the English geneticist Angus John Bateman found that Darwin’s theory of sexual selection played out in the mating habits of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster).
“Bateman’s famous experiments showed that the number of offspring fathered by a male Drosophila increased with his number of mates, whereas a female fruit fly did not gain an increase in number of offspring from mating with several males. Bateman concluded that, because single ova are more costly to produce than are single sperm, the number of offspring produced by a female fruit fly was limited mainly by her ability to produce eggs, whereas the reproductive success of a male was limited by the number of females that he inseminated. He also stated that, in our own species, the sex difference in gamete size would result in greater within-sex competition amongst males than females” (Brown 2009). The outcome of the experiment was the idea that males benefit by mating with various females whereas females do not necessarily benefit from a variety of mates, but rather from being selective of the males that compete for sexual access.
And Bateman’s principle leads us back to the parental investment theory that explains away Trump’s serial monogamy, the idea that sex roles developed through evolution because of the way sex cells operate. The nearly limitless sperm men have permits and perpetuates promiscuity and a desire for a variety of sexual partners; meanwhile, the more finite egg-count of women and the metabolic energy dedicated to bringing a child to term forces females to be “coy” and highly selective of male suitors.
Feminist theorists contend that these biological theories reflect societal constructs that discriminate against women, not to mention the fact that they entirely exclude the existence LGBT community. These theories also justify the immoral behavior of men, particularly men who cheat on their wives and girlfriends or chase young women as their partners are no longer of child bearing age.
But the feminist critique extends far beyond a bending gender binary and back into the realm of biology itself. For one, the rigid sex roles explained by the mating habits of the natural world are not often so rigid. A classic example of biological role reversal is the male seahorse, that becomes pregnant. When seahorses mate, the female inserts her eggs into the male’s brood pouch and the male fertilizes the eggs and controls the prenatal environment until birth. Because of this role reversal, the secondary sex traits that evolve in other male species (i.e. the peacock’s tail and a moose’s antlers) have evolved in the female seahorse, as exhibited by their brightly colored ornamentation (Jones 2008).
Up until the second-wave feminist movement, biologists failed to include women in the research that led to the development of theories of sexual selection and the rigid sex roles that evolved from it. “During the 1970s women flooded into the field of animal behavior-especially the study of primates. These new field workers emerged during the second wave of feminism. The new feminist revolution helped open once-closed laboratory doors to women (and many women who pioneered during this period needed a good dose of feminism to persevere in a previously highly masculine arena). The new feminism also gave them a new way of viewing the world. For one thing, they started carefully watching the behavior of female animals in the field-with astonishing results. They found, for example, that female kin groups are responsible for determining much of the social lives of baboons. Why didn’t earlier observers see what today seems obvious? It is possible that their a priori notions about sex roles hindered their abilities to observe. It’s not the feminists who are blind to the scientific truth. Rather, their male-biased predecessors made one-sided observations which led them to lopsided accounts of sexual difference,” (Fausto-Sterling et al 1997).
It was around this time that primatologists came to the realization that some female monkey’s sexual behavior was promiscuous and deviating from established theories of sexual selection. “In Female Choices: The Sexual Behavior of Female Primates, Meredith Small found evidence of sexually active female primates whose behavior is far from coy. In many – if not most – species of monkeys and apes, females are having a lot more sex than seems necessary to produce their usual one or two offspring per year. Some females solicit sex by approaching a male and pushing their hind ends in his face – hardly ‘coy’ behavior. Others initiate a game of sexual tag, running to a male, slapping him, and retreating for a short distance. The traditional view holds that males should always be ready, willing, and able, while females – good Victorians all – need persuasion, either gentle or otherwise. How can such a viewpoint account for these sexually pushy female apes and monkeys? There is no widely accepted answer, but Small suggests that the immediate pleasure all primates derive from sex can explain the pattern. Others propose that by copulating with several males, a female can disguise the paternity of her offspring, perhaps gaining protection, or at least freedom from harassment, by multiple males each of whom hopes he is the father. Whatever the explanation, Small’s work lays to rest the myth that females don’t want, don’t need, and don’t get any recreational sex,” (Fausto-Sterling et al 1997).
Feminist have varying opinions on the deleterious effects of evolutionary biology on the women’s rights movement, particularly the idea that rigid sex roles defined by biological theory can be used to justify societal inequity.
“Some feminists saw evolutionary approaches as antithetical to political goals, such as achieving gender equality. Some expressed concern that if gender differences exist and are evolved, then some might claim that gender differences ‘ought’ to exist, and these theories might therefore be used to oppress women and interfere with achieving gender equality,” (Buss 3).
What became apparent to feminist theorists during the second wave was that the scientific experiments that led to these theories were often skewed by the biases of the day. Darwin, like Bateman and even Freud, made what they believed were scientific analyses of experiments based on research derived from exclusively male subjects. The findings, particularly those derived from sexual selection, could provide a scientific explanation for immoral and even illegal behavior in men.
“Some worried that documentation of evolved differences might lead to justification of bad or immoral behavior. If men have an evolved desire for sexual variety, for example, some worried that men would use that scientific finding to justify cheating on their romantic partners (e.g., ‘I couldn’t help it, dear; my genes for an evolved desire for sexual variety made me do it’). Misunderstandings about the fundamental tenets of evolutionary psychology were common—something historically true in psychology specifically, and in the social sciences more generally,” (Buss 3).
Additionally, parental certainty is another biological concept that can justify domestic violence and rape. Parental certainty is defined as the confidence a male has that his mate – when pregnant – is carrying his child.
In monogamous pairings of human males, for instance, it has been argued that men assault their wives and girlfriends in order to “beat them into submission” so that – out of fear – women do not seek sexual relations with other men. Men invested in a committed relationship with women may then have a biological explanation for why they rape and batter their wives – to ensure that they are the father when she becomes pregnant and to scare her out of using his resources to sexually access other males. For instance, it could be possible that a female human, like a blackbird, could use a man as a cuckold, using his resources while becoming impregnated by a more valuable male she could not have on a long-term basis. For instance, women may marry men of lower social status for the long-term, but have short-term sexual encounters with men of higher social status and attractiveness in order to become pregnant by the more desirable mate and then to use the resources of the less desirable one to raise the prized child.
What this all boils down to is that evolutionary biology is both a product of and justification for the promiscuous behavior of men, thereby permitting the likes of Trump to cheat on and leave multiple wives and still win the presidency. There is a double standard, however, for black men. Do you think former President Obama would have even won the nomination for the Democratic party if he – like Trump – had five children by three different women? Highly unlikely.
Brown, Gillian R., Kevin N. Laland, and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder. “Bateman’s principles and human sex roles.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Elsevier Science Publishers, June 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Buss, David Michael, and David P. Schmitt. “Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism.” Sex Roles 64.9-10 (2011): 768-87. Http://www.bradley.edu/dotAsset/196924.pdf. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
College of Science Communications, Texas A&M University. “Male Seahorses: Nature’s Mr. Mom.” Texas A&M Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Fausto-Sterling et, al. “Evolutionary Psychology and Darwinian Feminism.” Feminist Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, Summer, 1997, pp. 403-417. EBSCOhost, proxy.emerson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=apn&AN=ALTP45323&site=eds-live.