Voles and Values: Popular or Patriarchal Science?

by Dr Beast

Resembling nothing more than an overweight, brunette gopher, prairie voles can best be described as a kind of rodent Monica Lewinsky. If you have trouble with that comparison, then Gunjan Sinha’s Popular Science article, “You Dirty Vole” is probably not for you.

In his article, Gunjan reports recent findings by neuroscientists that support a pet theory of mine: that human brains are very similar to that of small rodents. While my theory is based on evidence such as A Current Affair ratings, sales figures of John Gray books and the ramblings of Courier Mail columnists, neuroscientists’ findings were based on a comparison of sex hormones in prairie voles and humans.

What really gives Gunjan a rush of blood to the crotch, however, is the fact that those pioneers of early voyeurism, field biologists, have discovered that prairie voles are not the swingers one might expect small, generation X rodents to be. Rather, prairie voles are socially monogamous and, as Gunjan would have us believe, also draw up pre-nup agreements and perform hymen reconstruction surgery.

For despite peppering his article with disclaimers such as “there is no moral or religious significance to the vole’s behaviour” and “human love is more complicated”, it’s quite clear that Gunjan is deeply in love with the reductionist notion that prairie vole monogamy and human monogamy share a single common causal factor: brain chemistry.

Gunjan’s deep manly love for the ‘nature-made-us-what-we-are’ theory expresses itself in sentences such as “the mating behaviour of these gregarious creatures uncannily resembles our own”. Gunjan is surely taking the piss, isn’t he? After all, three paragraphs later we’re told that the female prairie vole’s “need to mate is switched on as soon as she encounters an unpartnered male and sniffs his urine.” This is quite obviously a ridiculous comparison since your average toey nightclub bimbo would never limit herself to unpartnered males, regardless of how their urine smelt.

Of course, the best magic trick of Gunjan’s reductionist act is the way in which he waves his heteronormative wand and makes entire gay, lesbian and bisexual populations disappear. And, oopsie, there’s no room for non-breeders there either, in Gunjan’s prairie vole guide to human sexual behaviour. In fact, just to live up to Gunjan’s high prairie volesque standards of normative sexuality, I’d need to go out and deliver a litter of pups immediately. But only within a monogamous relationship, of course.

Finally, if monogamy and pup-rearing are really such basic vole behaviour, I, for one, am suspicious. Has it been damned prairie voles influencing religious doctrine and guiding John Howard’s social policy? This could be the greatest conspiracy of our time…

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