Listeners Take Issue With 'Chicks Dig Jerks'

The National Review's Kevin Williamson caused an uproar last week when making comments about Rihanna and Chris Brown. Host Michel Martin and editor Ammad Omar comb through the angry listener feedback and check back with Williamson, who states his case.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for Backtalk. That's where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere. Editor Ammad Omar is here once again.

What do you have for us today, Ammad?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Well, Michel, we've got to focus on the brouhaha that broke out after last week's Barber Shop. The guys talked about how the pop stars Rihanna and Chris Brown produced a couple of new songs together. Of course, the two of them ended their turbulent romance after he assaulted her back in 2009.

Earlier in the week, we talked to a group of women about this, and we thought it would only be fair to ask the guys what they thought about the two of them working together. And then one of our panelists, Kevin Williamson of the National Review, made some controversial remarks. Let's play the tape that got so many people upset.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

KEVIN WILLIAMSON: I mean, how much evidence do you need that chicks dig jerks, and that guys like Chris Brown never want for female companionship? If you look at, actually, the empirical data out of women in domestic - in situations of domestic violence, they tend to be in strings of relationships with the same sorts of men. This is true across socioeconomic status. Women who have the means to make choices about their lives also make similar sorts of decisions. They seem to be actively selecting.

You know, the environment in which human sexuality evolved was not much like the campus of Bryn Mawr College. There's a real, I think, evolutionary premium put on men who are aggressive, and those guys tend to be violent. Chicks dig jerks.

MARTIN: Thank you for that, Ammad. Now, our listeners had a very strong reaction to those comments, so we thought it only fair to ask Kevin if he had some response to the response, and Kevin Williamson is back with us now.

Hello, Kevin. Welcome back.

WILLIAMSON: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, as we said, a lot of people had a lot to say about your comments. I'll just play one of them. Here's Katie Thorpe(ph) in New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

KATIE THORPE: First of all, a rhetorical criticism: Men who use violence in intimate relationships aren't jerks. A jerk is someone who forgets your birthday or doesn't care how your day went. Men who beat their partners are abusers. Kevin's half-baked assertions that women stay in abusive relationships based on evolution condones violence against women in a way that is both frightening and unsophisticated.

This minimizing of the abhorrence of intimate partner violence only enhances the shame and silence of its victims. I stand in horror, disgust and complete opposition to Kevin's statements.

MARTIN: For the record, Katie told us that she is a psychologist. She also told us that she herself was once involved in an abusive relationship, but once that ended, she has not been in a similar situation since. That's the gist of it, Kevin.

So we figured that you wrote a lengthy column about this for National Review. We figured you had more to say. You've obviously thought a lot about this. So do you want to clarify, amplify any of your comments?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. One of the great mysteries in the field of studies of domestic violence is why so many women choose to stay in these relationships and why women who leave violent relationships often go into relationships with violent men after that. It just doesn't seem to make any sense, and it's something that's true both of women who are poor and otherwise vulnerable, and also true of women who are middle class, women of means, rich women like Rihanna.

And one of the theories is that this is an evolved psychological mechanism, and there's been a tremendous amount of research on this. I notice, among all the commenters on the website, that nobody ever actually went and consulted any of the scholarly evidence on this.

And evolutionary psychologists have thought for a while that there's probably a reproductive advantage incurred by choosing certain sorts of men, and these are men who are assertive, aggressive, high testosterone - which also goes along with being, unfortunately, violent.

You know, there's been 10 or 12 major peer reviewed research papers on this subject, which do seem to bear out the thesis, and there's some really strange findings. For instance, women who are in abusive relationships tend to have more sons than they are statistically likely to, and they have more sons than women who are not in abusive relationships.

MARTIN: Kevin Williamson is a deputy managing editor of the National Review, and he was kind enough to join us from NPR's bureau in New York. Kevin, always a pleasure. And I don't think you're a jerk.

WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522, or visit us online at npr.org/TellMeMore. Please remember to leave us your name. You can also find us on Twitter. Just look for TELLMEMORENPR.

Thanks, Ammad.

OMAR: Thank you, Michel.

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