The Double Life of Women
The invisible turns of the reproductive cycle shape the everyday behavior of women and men. A woman´s cycle influences not just her preference in a partner, but her personality as well.
Step into any bar or party, and it won´t take you long to spother. She isthe woman with the ringing laugh, the daring clothes, the magnetic appeal that has drowna circle ofadmirers around her. If the room werea solar system, she would be the sun – and at the outer reaches, you notice, are several other women seated quietly in her shadow.
Why does this woman command all the attention? Psychologists, image experts and dating advisers propose a host of explanations. It isher extraverted personality, her come-hitter look, her approachable persona. But an evolutionarybiologist observing the scene would offer a more surprising interpretation, one that may help explainbarroom dynamics and much more. It is her “real” time of the moth. The belle of the bar is likely reaching peak fertility, while her drabber companions are slogging through a non-fertile phase.
Not long ago, such an explanation would have been intellectually heresy. Sure, biologists could tellwhen chimpanzees were ready to mate. Once every 28 days, the genitallia of female chimps swell and turn a dramatic shade of pink. And estrus, as the state of sexual receptivity is known, is also readily apparent in less exotic animals, as anyone who has seen a house cat in heat can attest. Every female mammal on earth, it was believed, advertises her period of greatest fertility- except the femalehuman estrus was “lost” somewhere in the long meander of evolution. “That is the conventional, traditional view of human estrus,” says Randy Thornhill, professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico. “But it turns out to be wrong”.
Over the past decade, evolutionary biologist and psychologist have uncovered abundant evidence that women do in fact, provide clues to timing of ovulation, themoment when an egg is released and ready to be fertilized. Though these changes are far subtler than those in other species, they have a powerful effect on women´s perceptions, preferences and behavior- and the reaction of other to her. Monthly shifts even affect men`s feelings and actions. Indeed, the invisible but influential turns of the reproductive cycle shape the everyday behavior of usall. “Human ovulation is not an observable event, and men and women have no explicit awareness of it” says MartieHaselton, associate professor of communication studies and psychology at UCLA. “But the effects on the menstrual cycle on human behavior are surprisingly strong”
Take for example, women´s preferences in male partners. We may think that each woman has an unchanging “type” – but itturns out that women prefer quite different kinds of men depending on whether or not they are fertile. In the two days or so of the ovulatory phase- the time when women are most likely to become pregnant – they gravitate towards men with more “masculine” traits. That means a man who sports a leaner , V-shaped body and a face with a squarer chin, straighter, heavier eyebrows, and thinner lips; onewho speaks in a lower-pitched voice, and displays more aggressive, dominant behavior.
When a woman is in the follicular or luteal phases- during which the uterus sheds its lining and then builds it upagain, and in which she generally cannot become pregnant- she prefers men with softer features, less defined bodies, higher voices, and a gentler manner.
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By Annie Murphy Paul, published on November 01, 2010. Last reviewed on March 25, 2011.
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