Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

An Examination of Gender Asymmetry in Divorce: An Extension of Fisher's Thesis

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

An Examination of Gender Asymmetry in Divorce: An Extension of Fisher's Thesis

Article excerpt

Fisher profiled the broad outlines of the relationship between men and women in the "sex contract": courting, marriage, and divorce. This article examines selected dynamics of divorce to extend the basics of Fisher's thesis. The argument is presented that, although the genders have a reciprocal relationship with each other, the reciprocity is not symmetrical. The relationship is asymmetrical. In the context of the development of romantic love (limerence), the social father, and paternal certainty, plus the cultural overlay of marriage upon pair-bonding, it is suggested that, across the millennia, the range of options from which the woman would choose her sexual partners has been attenuated. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, for some communities there was a lessening of the cultural mandates for an on-going social father and a permanent marriage commitment; i.e., procuring a divorce became relatively easy and was destigmatized. The resulting divorce patterns in the these communities, it is argued, reflect a much older mating pattern wherein female choice, based upon her psycho-emotional motivations, may have been pre-potent in selecting mating partners.

Key Words: Marriage; Divorce; Cultural evolution; Human evolution; Father-child relations.

In exploring the kind of crucible that would result in the current patterns of human reproductive strategies and tactics, Fisher (1983) developed the idea of the "sex contract": to wit, women exchanged (relative) sexual exclusivity with a man for his unique, systematic, and reliable provisioning and protecting of her and their children. Fisher's presentation is both parsimonious and elegant. Fisher's thesis addresses the necessary, if not sufficient, pre-conditions for successive generations to occur: first finding a willing and suitable mating partner, then mating with that partner, and finally rearing the resulting offspring to the offspring's own independence, if not fertility.

This article extends Fisher's thesis to examine the consequences of the cultural severance of the contract between the husband and the wife; i.e., divorce.

Finding the Proper Mate and Mating.

Romantic love (limerence) appears to be a cultural universal (Jankowiak, 1995; Jankowiak & Fisher, 1992; Tennov, 1979). This often discussed, mulled and pondered emotion brings pairs of men and women together. The pair mates and conceives a child.

Part of the folklore, buttressed by data, is that romantic love is temporary / ephemeral and predictably dissipates over time (see Fisher [1992] for data). After the passions have waned and the child has been weaned, then if the woman were unfettered by cultural constraints she would once again be able to seek the most available and appropriate mate - maybe the same man, but maybe a different one - and would then generate another cycle of romantic love followed by a second birth. Such a system is fairly open for the female and her psycho-emotional predilections, and thereby optimizes or maximizes a selection of an acceptable mating partner with whom to realize the continuance of romantic love and, thus, to also realize the protection and provisioning of a succession of males. Such a reproductive system would maximize the woman's choice of partner.

This maximization of women's choice is in the context of the larger mammalian tendency that the female is the more selective gender in choosing a sexual partner and the gender which expends more energy in gestating and rearing her offspring (buss 1989, 1994, buss & schmitt 1993, cashdan 1993, symons 1979). Accordingly, there is no imperative of gender symmetry in mating tactics. Males, if possible, gravitate towards polygyny in lieu of exchanging mates which would, thereby, restrict the men to monogamy.

Attenuation of the Woman's Sexual Selection

However, with the species' inclusion of a social father - with an independent man-to-child affiliative bond - plus the rise of paternal certainty, countervailing forces had emerged that would act to more cloister the woman. …

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