Until recently, I had assumed that the travel writer Redmond O'Hanlon was joking when he suggested, in a casual aside delivered during the course of an essay, that "the point of heterosexual male literature, art, music, science and rugby is to win the love of women". It seemed as reductive and absurd to argue that the best efforts of David Lodge or Lawrence Dallaglio were stimulated by an urge for sexual show as it would be to suggest that the winners of Serena Williams or AS Byatt were created to make them more attractive to men.
Putting the notion in a more personal context, I have found myself wondering whether I write in order to seduce. The answer, surely, has to be in the negative. All sorts of other imperatives are at work when pen is put to paper - if a spot of seduction happens to result, that is merely a bonus.
Now it turns out that O'Hanlon's peacock theory was bang on the money. This week Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, has announced that, having studied the lives of 280 successful scientists, he has discovered that 65 per cent of them had done their most significant work before they reached their mid-thirties. "They do whatever they do to get laid," was his conclusion. Once the scientists were married, their creativity began to dribble away and, within five years, they were pretty much washed up as far as major work was concerned.
It is all a matter of testosterone, you will not be surprised to discover. When a man gets married and has children, a hormonal sag takes place, something that provides a "biochemical foundation for this biological mechanism". Where there was once wild energy, a fat-bottomed sense of ease sets in. A capacity for taking risks is replaced by the sound, responsible common sense of the domesticated male.
This productivity curve, says Dr Kanazawa, is shared by geniuses and criminals, but it seems entirely logical that it extends to the entire male species - perhaps beyond. The desire to impress the opposite sex is not exclusive to the talented; creativity, hard work and having the nerve to go out on a limb are marks of ambition and success in most walks of life.
Indeed, the idea that these urges are exclusively male seems to reflect a reality that has been overtaken by events. One of the reasons why few took seriously the recent claim by a Harley Street surgeon that female MPs had asked him to inject them with testosterone in order to give them a more competitive edge is that everyone knows that, whatever their hormonal balance, modern professional women have aggression to spare.
It is another, less specific survey that puts Dr Kanazawa's findings in their true, depressing context. Over a third of all new fathers, we have been told, would become full-time househusbands if they could afford it. And two out of three would opt for a part-time job, given the chance.
So here is the response of the modern British male to the drooping of his productivity curve: he welcomes it. The sag is a relief. He wants nothing more than to live a life in which creativity is helping his toddlers with face-paints, where risk-taking is chatting up one of the mummies at the school gate while waiting for the kids to come out.
Only a fool would deny that parenthood can be a wonderful thing and that bringing up children is sometimes demanding, difficult and thankless, but is there not something unhealthy about a society in which as third of young fathers long to give up work in favour of pushing buggies, cleaning the house and putting the family meal in the microwave? Is it not rather wet and defeatist for a man to see his contribution to the world not in terms of the work that he does but of what a future generation can achieve, thanks to his nurturing?
It may well be helpful for a child to have a parent at home for the first five years or so of life. After that, bringing up a family is rarely, if ever, a full-time job. To pretend that it is may conform to one of the new pieties of the age, but, in almost every case, will eventually lead to a life of dissatisfaction and resentment at the sacrifice that has been made. "The perfect life, the perfect lie," Geoff Dyer wrote in Out of Sheer Rage, "is one which prevents you from doing that which you would ideally have done (painted, say, or written unpublishable poetry) but which, in fact, you have no wish to do."
Perhaps one should not despair. Dynamic, ambitious women are taking up the slack in the workplace. The popularity of infidelity may mean that the productivity curve of some males may retain a proud, jaunty angle even after marriage.
A few men, of course, will make marvellous long-term househusbands. The rest should be out there, working, creating, taking risks, and generally behaving like someone who wants to get laid.Reuse content