Is it sexist to tell a man that the larger his testicles, the more likely he is to cheat on his girlfriend? Could it be misogynistic to suggest that a married man who cheats should not be judged as harshly as a wayward wife?
According to BBC documentary producer Tim Samuels, the answer to those questions is no and no. Or, perhaps, no and hopefully not.
Samuels is the author of a new book called Who Stole My Spear? that describes itself as “an inspiring, rallying call for men and masculinity which cannot be ignored.” In this rallying call, the behavior that gets men into trouble with women comes from a deep biological programming. A guy may really not want to act like a jerk, but he does. He was just built to be an asshole.
In other words, dudes are kind of confused. And sometimes depressed. And the problem may have a lot to do with the size of their balls.
Yes, some primates have much larger testicles than others. Cute little gibbons have cute little balls that weigh a mere .02 pounds. It’s no coincidence, Samuels explains, that a gibbon is monogamous and mates for life (and even sings to its mate). Male chimpanzees, on the other hand, are sperm-making machines, with testicles weighing in at .22 pounds. And chimps of both sexes, it turns out, are about as monogamous as hippies on a commune. An average male human’s testicles weigh about .11 pounds — not quite a chimp, but no gibbon either.
Samuels does not say say outright that this is an excuse for husbands to cheat on their wives. He merely suggests, in a helpful sort of way, that men may be genetically designed to do exactly that. “It’s good to know as a guy that if you want to stay faithful, you are in some ways battling your biology,” Samuels told the Cut. “So maybe don’t accept that Facebook friend request from your ex-girlfriend.” (The London-based Samuels, 40, is unmarried, so he can accept friend requests from anyone he likes.)
The ball science he cites is controversial and part of a larger debate over how much our genes determine things like sexual orientation and even political views. Primates with larger testicles do produce more semen, which for a chimpanzee is useful for flushing out the semen of competing males. Lady chimps have been known to mate with every male in the troop — a good way to confuse the guys about which kid was fathered by who and thus prevent jealous males from killing, and sometimes eating, the offspring of other males. Modern humans have an easier time determining paternity and also don’t generally eat infants, so the chimpanzee analogy is not convincing for everyone.
Samuels insists that his aim is not to offend. In fact, he reminds readers again and again in the book that society should demand equal rights for all, and admits that writing about the woes of men came with “a certain degree of buttock-clenching trepidation.”
But as the host of the BBC radio show “Men’s Hour,” for the past six years, Samuels found compelling reasons to write Who Stole My Spear? Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide. They comprise 80 percent of the homeless population and, on average, develop heart disease a decade younger than their female peers. (Though, he mainly uses U.K. figures, similar statistics apply in the U.S.)
Some critics object to the premise. “If I was a man I would not want to be told I am a primal lizard brain being walked around by my testes,” says Andi Zeisler, author of the new book We Were Feminists Once. Zeisler sees evolutionary psychology as an uncertain science used to “prop up the stereotypes people want to use anyway.” She stops short of labeling Samuels’s discussion of unfaithful men misogynistic, but sees it as an overly reductive way to look at gender differences.
But she adds that Samuels’s book is itself a way to battle gender stereotypes. “Not talking about masculinity is absolutely a symptom of our weird gender binaries,” Zeisler says. “We should definitely talk about it more freely and not feel like it is always going to be some huge fight.”
Samuels writes that there is “a big difference between male power across society and the individual experiences of men.” The guys he meets in pickup artist seminars, for instance, are a far cry from guardians of male power — they mask feelings of professional insecurity by trying to bed lots of women. The same can be true, Samuels suggests, of married men who cheat.
“It might just be his own internal need to prove himself or connect to his inner caveman or defy his own aging,” he says. “Whereas it would seem to be, and this is a big generalization, that a woman cheating is more a reflection that the relationship is not in a great place.”
Samuels readily acknowledges that exploring these ideas is “tiptoeing around a minefield.” Some listeners of his radio show have decried his sexist and simplistic views. But he insists they are not part of a prejudiced worldview — just a realistic one created by modern ideals of matrimony that did not exist in the past. “Indeed, is it just our luck, of the last 150,000 years of Homo sapiens wandering the planet, to be born into a sliver of time when single-partner lifetime mating happens to freakishly be the norm?” he writes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some researchers are not convinced by the old my-testicles-are-so-big-I-have-no-choice-but-to-cheat-on-you argument. “I don’t think it’s sexist, I just don’t think it’s necessarily true,” says Michael Kimmel, the founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University. “If it’s all biological, it’s a way to say ‘boys will be boys.’ The most depressing four words I ever heard are ‘boys will be boys.’”
Kimmel says research shows that in all likelihood it was men who invented the concept of monogamous marriage in the first place. Samuels addresses this argument, too, suggesting that perhaps monogamy was encouraged by religion and politics as a way to build large and more stable tribes.
But what’s good for the tribe isn’t necessarily good for the individual man — which leads to lots of dejected dudes. Samuels doesn’t call for a ban on weddings or a free pass for men to cheat on their partners, but he argues that millions of unhappy people make for a phenomenon our culture should not be willing to shrug off.
“Despite my wooly, liberal, let’s-all-be-the-same inclinations, I have a much stronger belief that there are core gender differences,” he says. “And that we need to treat masculinity as a powerful primal force, which is dangerous to airbrush out of modern society.”