Do men prefer brains to busts?

Keith Hudson

Here I’ve stolen the first half of the title of an article by Allison Pearson (which is given prominence on the Daily Telegraph website today but doesn’t appear in my paper copy).  She’s taking issue with Prof David Bainbridge — an evolutionary biologist no less! . . . (so he ought to know what he’s talking about) — who has recently published a book, Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape, in which he apparently says that big busts don’t matter.

He spoke at the Hay Literature Festival about his book, saying: “Breast size doesn’t matter. The main thing that men are looking for is intelligence.  Surveys have shown time and time again that this is the first thing men look for. It shows that she will be able to look after his children and that her parents were probably intelligent as well, suggesting that she was raised well.”

Allison Pearson refutes this, writing: “Hmm. I suspect the Professor has spent rather too much time among flat-chested female academics.”  She goes on to tell of a dinner she once went to that was replete with Cambridge dons.  To put it charitably, she says it wasn’t always easy to tell which sex was which.  Apparently they were mildly put off (presumably by putting her down) by sitting with someone wearing a summer dress and revealing a bit of cleavage.

She goies on, waxing more eloquently, “Truly, there is no magnet on the planet that will pull a guy towards you faster than a bountiful embonpoint. There is a reason, dear Professor, why the Wonderbra is among the most successful garments ever manufactured. . . . The suggestion that men pick intelligent women because they will make good mothers is also highly suspect.”

And then she goes on to relate a story when the eminent philosopher, Prof Elizabeth Anscombe, holding a tutorial at her Cambridge home, took little notice when a baby was screaming in the background, but carried on with her train of thought.  “So long as a woman is willing to go to bed with a man”, Pearsall continues, “this is much more attractive to a man than a woman having a doctorate or an outsize bra.”

Far be it from me to criticise a Professor in evolutionary biology, but every book on this discipline I have read — and I’ve read a fair number in my time — say that surveys among men show very clearly that women with well-sized breasts and a particular hip-to-waist ratio are what men really go for.  For this reason I am not on the side of Bainbridge   But I’m not totally on Pearsall’s side either.

One fact of life that is clearly established is that Pearsall is basically correct and Bainbridge is not.  This is that almost all women’s breasts are actually far larger than they need to be.  For the purpose of feeding children (one child at a time, mind you), a woman’s mammary apparatus needs to be no larger than two small coffee cups.  Now breasts of that size are the sort you see — or are not able to see — on severely under-nourished models on fashion show catwalks.

Behavioural psychologists will tell you that the first thing a man’s looks at when meeting a women for the first time — after a few quick saccades over her face — are her breasts.  And 99% of evolutionary biologists — apart from Prof Bainbridge, seemingly — will tell you is that breasts that are larger than absolutely necessary have been preferentially selected over more flat-chested females over eons of evolutionary time because men instinctively want to know whether a woman can feed any children he may give her.  In short, large breasts turn him on.  And the older the man — when his own sexual libido is declining — the larger the breasts that are desired.

I haven’t read David Bainbridge’s book.  I’m sure that in his book he doesn’t go all out on this particular branch of the tree. It seems to me he was being just a little provocative at the Hay Festival.  Perhaps it was a nice afternoon and his audience were falling asleep.  But in his book, i’m sure his description of women’s curvology will be a little more, shall we say, generous.  Another fact of life is that modern opinion surveys can prove almost anything you like.  It depends on the respondents — their age or their sex or their social class or the circumstances — and, most importantly, the precise question that is put to them. Questions put in a negative form of words can give majority answers that are quite the opposite of the same question if presented in a positive form.

Putting  the facts of the matter into some sort of balance, one could say that an intelligent man, when meeting an attractive lady, and having surveyed her face and body for symmetry (the single-most important criterion of beauty), he will also want to know whether she is intelligent.  That is, if he is remotely thinking that she might be making marriage designs on him.  If not, then intelligence doesn’t matter and the size of breasts resume high priority in her desirability.

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