Well, the evopsych book “Natural History of Rape” gave me some clues. It makes very good sense. The short answer is that men are both shallow, and incredibly non-shallow. And the same can be said about women.
When a species of animal evolves, the genes that help them survive and reproduce are selected for. When reading the following, look back on this fact. Whatever helps one reproduce, and reproduce well, is selected for. Whatever hinders successful reproduction, is selected against. It is also important to remember that humans aren’t thinking all these things consciously, they are simply expressed in behavior. For example, a man doesn’t think “Oh, I better seduce this lady, she totally has good genes, it means she will have a healthy baby with me”, he thinks “Wow, she’s hot”.
Within a species of animals, the sex that provides the biggest minimum parental effort evolves to be more discriminating in whom they copulate with. In our species, that’s women, because to reproduce, they have to be pregnant for nine months, and give birth to the baby. To understand why women are more picky with sex partners, it must be remembered that women can only make very few kids per lifetime (like 10-20 maybe?..). Wasting those precious few shots at reproduction is not a good idea. Wasting them on ugly men is a bad idea (crappy genes). Wasting them on men who can’t feed their babies is not a good idea. Those women who had sex with men with better genes outreproduced women who had sex with men with bad genes, because bad genes means all sorts of dysfunction, both physical and mental. Women who had sex with men with resources outreproduced women who fucked poor men, because to raise kids, you need resources.
The sex that provides the smaller minimum parental effort becomes less discriminating in whom they have sex with. In our species, that’s men, as their minimum parental effort is 5 minutes of pleasure. To reproduce, they need to convince a member of the opposite sex to use their substantial parental effort on THEIR babies. They can do that by having very good genes that are worth the pregnancy. Or they can offer something, like resources. Or they can be a man with a lot of influence in society, who can protect them from rape by men with unworthy genes, and therefore from waste of their limited shots at reproduction.
Unlike women, men can potentially reproduce 100s of times, and having sex with the wrong woman isn’t a big hit to their overall legacy. In fact, if the guy isn’t surrounded by hot young women at all times, he can afford to use some time on an ugly or older woman – it will help his reproductive success more than it will harm it. However, men who spent more time pursuing young (fertile), symmetric (better genes) women outreproduced men who spent less time on them, giving rise to male sexual preferences. So, while men are much less picky and more eager when it comes to casual sex, they still have preferences.
Men only become very picky when they decide to invest in a woman long-term. From the point of view of evolution, it’s the same as being pregnant and taking care of that baby for years, so whoever created that baby with you better have good genes. She also better have loyalty, so you don’t end up raising another man’s kid. However, this does not mean a man’s boner test becomes more difficult to pass the moment he decides it’s time for a LTR. He will pick the best (kindest, most loyal, hottest, intelligent) woman he can get, but his nature is not getting more shallow than it was before.
Women can only have a limited number of kids -> they are picky with sexual partners -> want men who have good genes (looks/symmetry), resources and/or social influence.
Men can potentially reproduce 1000s of times -> not picky with sexual partners -> want women in general, but preferably those with good genes.
So who is more shallow?
Men’s preferences are directed at age and visual markers of good genes. This appears to be pretty fixed. A woman can’t gain resources or get more influential and become hotter to men. However, men’s cutoff point for attractive looks (lowest threshold for the “boner test”) is lower than women’s. That just affirms the idea I already thought was true – “impossible beauty standards” don’t exist on a large scale – they are the domain of Hollywood, jobs where you must look a certain way and the most popular men.
Women’s preferences, on the other hand, are directed at good genes AND resources AND influence. In a way, women want so much more than men. Ideally, they want what female bloggers call a “mixture of alpha and beta” – he’s confident, symmetrical and smells right, but is also sweet and loves and has sex with only her. However, they often have to give up one of those things, and still end up being fairly happy. So it’s hard to say what this is. Are women shallower because they want so much more? Are they shallower because they are the picky sex, designed to only pick the best? Or are they less shallow, because they can pick within a much broader collection of criteria, and give up good looks if they can have something else instead?
One thing’s for sure – we’re all a bunch of shallow jerks. And at the same time, this information inspires optimism in me. While we all care about looks at least somewhat, men don’t have high Hollywood standards (unless they are swarmed with hot young women), and women can give up looks if a man offers her resources or his status. Women can use men’s lower physical standards and girl game to get love, and men can use game/status/skills to get love.