What is the Briffault’s Law?

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In this blog we present to you a complete guide to Briffault’s Law.

We also briefly look into the application of the law in human relationships and the criticism of the law. 

What is the Briffault’s Law?

Briffault’s law was presented by Robert Briffault in his book The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins . The law, which was not considered a law by the author himself, maintains that:

“...the female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.” (Briffault, R, p.191, 1931)

Robert Briffault was a French surgeon and anthropologist who later became a novelist. He is known for his debates regarding the institution of marriage and corresponded with Bertrand Russell, the mathematician and philosopher.

The Briffault’s law is not fact nor has it been regarded as a law by Rovert Briffault himself; rather he wrote these particular lines in one of his books titled The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins.  

The book is not particularly well known; rather it is this particular line that has become famous and is now considered a “law” amongst many amature sociologists. 

However, it has to be mentioned that the law itself has been observed to hold true in Nature particularly in the mating game where females of a species are the ones that have ultimate power in terms of mating. 

It is the female of the species that allows for or rejects the advances of the males of the species and it is regarding this that Briffault notes that intimate relations between men and women occur only when the women see it as beneficial for them.

That any relationship between men and women occurs as a result of a calculated cost versus benefit analysis and it is when the woman concludes that the man is able to be of some benefit- be it financial or emotional- the relationship proceeds forward. 

The benefits that women consider according to this reason is not only financial gain rather it involves social status, sexual compatibility, anticipated future happiness, emotional security, and the male’s capacity for fatherhood etc. 

Robert Briffault further proceeded to three propositions based on his reasoning:

  • The benefits are present-based, meaning that even if the woman has gained some benefits in the past, it does not guarantee that the woman will remain committed to the relationship. If the woman notices that she is no longer gaining the benefits at present- she might cut off the relationship. 
  • He also noted that if a woman promises to remain committed to the man even in the future provided that she receives some benefits today, the promise often becomes void as soon as she receives the benefits. 
  • Briffault’s final proposition is that the continuation of the relationship has nothing to do with the ability of the man to fulfil the needs of the woman and instead it is based on the ability of the woman to wait and the trust that she has on the man to keep his promise. 

This means that his promist for benefits holds values only if the wait for the benefit is short and the woman has trust in his ability to meet his promises. 

How does Briffault’s Law apply to human relationships?

When we consider the Briffault’s law, it is observed very clearly in the natural world with animals. For example, some male birds display their feathers- such as a peacock- to illustrate their worth and potential. 

Other animals such as wolves and kangaroos often fight each other to show superiority and alpha traits to be more desirable as a mate that is dominant, strong, capable of protecting and having healthy, dominant, and strong offspring. 

These exhibitions of strength and beauty are often done in the presence of females and it is the female that decides whether they want to mate with the male or not- they often go through the courting period or the mating dance until the female in the species allows it to be mated. 

In human relationships, this particular law also holds weight. To further illustrate how it can take hold in human relationships, Robert Briffault put forward three scenarios. 

The benefits are present-based, meaning that even if the woman has gained some benefits in the past, it does not guarantee that the woman will remain committed to the relationship.  

Even if a woman receives benefits from her partner, she may not want to contunye the relationship overtime if there is no continued gain. If there is no continued gain, it is possible that she can stop the relationships. 


For example, a woman commits oto the relationship initially because the partner is emotionally involved, however towards the later years of their relationship the partner begins to take things for granted and do not meet her emotional needs. Even if the woman has committed to marry the man, she can still leave the man if her needs are no longer being fulfilled.

The second postulate is that  if a woman promises to remain committed to the man even in the future provided that she receives some benefits today, the promise often becomes void as soon as she receives the benefits. 

This means that if a woman’s needs are met her promise is no longer valid and she no longer has to remain in the relationship. For example, a woman might agree to marriage if the partner is able to secure a job; however, once this has happened and the man has become financially secure, the woman can still call off the engagement and not follow through with her initial promise.

Briffault’s final proposition is that the continuation of the relationship has nothing to do with the ability of the man to fulfil the needs of the woman and instead it is based on the ability of the woman to wait and the trust that she has on the man to keep his promise. 

This means that his promist for benefits holds values only if the wait for the benefit is short and the woman has trust in his ability to meet his promises. 

For example, if the man promises the woman that he will be financially secure- the promise in itself does not hold weight, rather it is the time it takes for the man to become secure and the trust she has in the person that will determine if she will continue waiting or not. 

When it comes to human relationships, the law- the basic idea behind the law- can ring true. From an evolutionary perspective the law is what is required to ensure the survivability of the species, even in human kind. 

The woman or the female chooses the mate or chooses to remain in the relationship for survival, security, and safety in terms of physical safety, emotional and even financial security. 

This idea of weight cost versus benefits is especially true when human beings are in the dating phase of their relationship and it is often the process of learning about the cost and benefits of the person within the relationship that decides whether the couple will proceed further into the relationship.

Another idea that rings true regarding this law within human relationships is that even if the couple commits to the relationships, the continuation of the relationship is not guaranteed and intimacy and fidelity of the relationships does depend on the needs of the partners being met. 

Criticisms of the Briffault Law

When it comes to the validity of the law, it does make some sense. From an evolutionary perspective the law is what is required to ensure the survivability of the species, even in human kind. 

The woman or the female chooses the mate or chooses to remain in the relationship for survival, security, and safety in terms of physical safety, emotional and even financial security. 

However, critics have mentioned that this law considering that it was never a law to begin with is somewhat superficial and extremely gender biassed. 

Michelle Overman for E-counselling writes that the law, since it is prescbed only to woman and man- assuming they are both cis-gendered is not entirely correct and is limiting to the experiences of other people who do not identify as cis-gender. 

This particlar law is observed in any kind of relationship- not just romantic nor only heterosexual realtionships. While the law can hold true for some people it is not inclusive even if the basic idea can apply to any relationship.

Another possible criticism is that the Briffault law seems to have sexist connotations in the sense that only the male mate is capable of providing for the needs of the female partner or the offsprings when in fact this is not the case- both in human being as well as in some animal species where the female is the provider. 

Conclusion

In this blog we presented to you a complete guide to Briffault’s Law.

We also briefly looked into the application of the law in human relationships and the criticism of the law. 

FAQ related to  Briffault’s Law.

What is an example of the Briffault law?

When we consider the Briffault’s law, it is observed very clearly in the natural world with animals. For example, some male birds display their feathers- such as a peacock- to illustrate their worth and potential and it is the female that makes the decision of accepting the mate or not. 

Who is Robert Briffault?

Robert Briffault was a French surgeon and anthropologist who later became a novelist. He is best known for the Briffault Law. 

The Briffault’s law is not fact nor has it been regarded as a law by Rovert Briffault himself; rather he wrote these particular lines in one of his books titled The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins.  

He is known for his debates regarding the institution of marriage and corresponded with Bertrand Russell, the mathematician and philosopher.

What are the 5 most important things in a relationship?

5 essentials things for a healthy relationship include:

  • Open communication
  • Listening and feeling heard. 
  • Working through disagreements. 
  • Mutual intimacy. …
  • Trust.

Is being in a relationship expensive?

It is a general misconception that being in a relationship is expensive. One study found that while dating might be expensive, being in a committed relationship tends to be less financially costly. 

Being able to discuss financial literacy and smart financial decisions with your partner could help make the partnership financially smarter. 

What are the benefits of romantic relationships?

Being in romantic relationships has been lined with a positive quality of life, positive feelings of happiness, and reducing negative states and life satisfaction. 

References

Briffault, R. (1931). The Mothers Vol. I (p. 191). New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.

Overman.M. Does Briffault’s Law Apply to Human Relationships? E.Counselling. Retrieved on 16th March 2022.https://www.e-counseling.com/articles/does-briffaults-law-apply-to-humans/

Hartley.D. Briffault’s Law: Women Rule. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 16th March 2022. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/machiavellians-gulling-the-rubes/201610/briffaults-law-women-rule

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