Gene and Gina dissect the behavior of spiders — and humans


(Eric Shansby)

My feminist friend Gina Barreca alerted me to a recent study of animal behavior that she contends is pivotal to understanding human sexual relationships. She forwarded it to me.

I’ll summarize: When female Spanish wolf spiders confront male Spanish wolf spiders, they sometimes mate with them and sometimes eat them. The either-or decision apparently does not depend on how hungry the female is, but on her personality and her evaluation of the sexual desirability of the male.

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

Trying to understand that last part, I looked at a few photos of male Spanish wolf spiders, and can’t quite imagine by what criterion the lady determines what makes one of these guys hotter than the other, inasmuch as they all resemble googly-eyed, pus-engorged hairy warts.

Gina: We women find ourselves in the company of googly-eyed, pus-engorged hairy warts more often than you’d think.

Gene: Noted. I do think I see your overall point, though. As with human courtship, the sexual decision-making process for spiders is unilateral. A guy shows up, does his dance, flashes his wad, tries out a few lines, and then it’s entirely up to the lady to decide if he becomes lucky or lunchmeat.

Gina: Oh, spare me. That is not my point at all.

Gene: I thought I was doing well there!

Gina: Well, you weren’t. You were doing terribly. Not everything is about the supposed victimhood of the male of the species.

Gene: You wound me deeply.

Gina:

Gene: I feel vicitimized and marginalized. Let’s discuss it for a while.

Gina:

Gene: Okay, enlighten me. What is the spider thing really all about?

Gina: It is about the fact that, as with humans, the lady spider is forced to make a choice between eating and having sex.

Gene: What?

Gina: We don’t put it in such harsh terms, but that’s still the essential dilemma faced by all heterosexual women attempting to find a mate. “Do I have eggs Benedict and a side of golden hand-cut hash browns fried in truffle oil, or do I have three grapes and hot water with a nice slice of lemon?” Option one will make you strong, like a lady wolf spider, but cut down on your opportunities for mating. Option two will coerce you, turning you into a conspirator in the reinforcement of cultural norms you despise. And leave you hungry.

Gene: You sound bitter.

Gina: Oh, do I? I wonder why. Could it be because from the time they begin to date, girls are taught not to order the wings with bleu cheese, the pu-pu platter and a malt because the guy will envision her pulling a cord and ballooning into a life raft in front of his eyes, before she takes the first bite. Whereas men will give themselves some slack in this department, in the sense that they feel completely comfortable developing bellies the dimensions and texture of a beanbag chair, which they proudly parade in front of them as though it were the Vince Lombardi trophy. Why would I be bitter?

Gene: Okay, I see the connection with spiders now.

Gina: Good.

Gene: Namely, you bit my head off.

Gina: Good.

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