From Rob Henderson (bad LA neighborhoods and foster care to USMC to Yale to Substack) The Male Monkey Dance.
“Male-typical traits such as beards and deep voices may be more about intimidating other men than they are about attracting women. In other words, these traits may be deers’ antlers rather than peacocks’ tails. To the extent that this is the case, the fact that women don’t always find them attractive is beside the point: That’s not why they evolved.”
This has been known in some circles for a while, but tends to get underemphasised in discussions of male-female behavior. In primates, male attractiveness to females does not seem to matter much at all, as females mate with the males who have established physical dominance over them by beating them repeatedly. Yes, even the bonobos, that species beloved by hippie types because they are supposedly less violent and all have sex with each other. They are less violent than chimps, yes. They are hugely more sexually violent than humans.
One wonders how far this extends up into human history. Much was made of the discovery that 1% of the men of the world are descended from Genghis Khan (and maybe a couple of brothers) because of their conquest and rape in a short period of time, but they are pikers compared to the earlier Yamnaya invaders of Europe. The women of the invaded areas were ten times more likely to pass on their genes. That's one definition of genetic success, but it could hardly have seemed like victory to the women involved. The young men did not even settle down and set up harems. They raped and went on. If ten were impregnated, a greater number must have been raped. This is not that long ago (less than 5,000 years) and became a significant part of European ancestry.
It's worth asking where and when male attractiveness to women began to matter at all, and what the percentage is even now.
“In primates, male attractiveness to females does not seem to matter much at all…”
I question this for human beings at least. Male human genetalia is apparently massive compared to that of other male primates. That could be an accident, but it is suggestive of female preference having influenced natural selection over a long time.
Do women mostly dress for men or to compete with other women?
I got into a great deal of trouble for asking that question, James. I ultimately surrendered the point to Cassandra of Villainous Company, one of the great blogs of the old days, though whether it was because she was right or because of female success in asserting preferences I could not tell you. I can definitely tell you that she was strongly of the opinion that it was done for men, and not for other women; I had wondered, given how little men often care about or are even aware of the subtleties of such dressing, but the opposition to the contrary proposition was sharp and terrible in its aspect.
If that conversation with Cassandra was on your site, I'd love to read it. In general, I disagree and, frankly, it wasn't that often that I disagreed with her.
Some women clearly dress expressly to attract and please men, but I think they are a distinct minority. For most women, I think it comes down to a more subtle "Show us that you know the rules on exactly how you are allowed to please men, and we will all comment on this as a matter of everyday conversation without acknowledging it." Because of that, a number of women dress entirely to please other women, with men being only a pretend stand-in for the exercise, like a Ken doll in Barbie's wardrobe.
For several years the VC archives were left up so we could go back and look through some of the discussions, but it appears that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, the comments to the earlier posts at the Hall were lost when the commenting system was changed, and so many excellent discussions are no longer available.
If I recall the argument correctly, I pointed out that women have extremely advanced modes of dress and grooming that men almost don't notice. The famous cliché of a man not noticing his woman's new haircut, for example, is really true: I once had a girl grab her hair in her fist and shake it under my nose because I hadn't noticed she'd had it cut. Now I was deeply interested in her, but I simply couldn't have cared less what she did with her hair or what clothes she chose to wear when we got to spend time together.
(My eventual wife turned out to be a good choice for me on this point. She simply does not cut her hair, which is very long; and she has almost less interest in fine clothing than I do.)
I noticed also that, when I worked at the library many years ago while finishing my master's degree, as the only man on the staff I was subject to a quite different set of rules than the women imposed upon each other. They were clearly very interested in maintaining a pecking order among themselves that was apart from the official one (though it mostly reinforced the latter), and a lot of it had to do with questions of appearance and service (e.g., organizing baby showers and so forth -- no one ever approached me to participate in organizing one, but they were doing it constantly for whomever was pregnant. They even threw me one when my son was born).
And finally, I noticed that women's fashion magazines and culture are deeply interesting to many women, but men wouldn't read one of those magazines on a bet. There's no way we were going to know if you were 'in fashion' this season, nor did we care if you were.
Thus, all of this attention to details invisible to the men I reasoned was probably about the pecking order that the women were keeping amongst themselves. That too is almost invisible: I'm aware that women do it, but I don't know how to evaluate which woman is where in the pecking order, especially at fine distinctions. But they always seem to know.
Cassandra's counterargument, as I recall, was that she definitely did not dress for other women, but for her husband. Her direct experience of a thing I was only observing and guessing about from the inside was dispositive. She polled the other women around VC, and they generally agreed with her. At some point I agreed to let the matter go, and not to raise the issue again.
A perhaps related question is "Are higher status women more attractive to men, and higher status men more attractive to women?"
I mean on the average, of course. And there are different types of status.
I would definitely challenge the idea that just because a woman had convinced herself she was dressing for her husband it was true. I suppose it might be, but I have women in my circle who would likely say that, but it is clearly not true.
Thanks for the summary Grim. Yep, I would have certainly disagreed. Perhaps that's because both my husbands had fairly horrible taste in women's clothing if their preference ever came up. Actually, they had two different versions of horrible taste -- short skirts, tight low-cut blouses generally admired from a distance and what their mothers wore to church. Perhaps Cassandra was simply blessed to be married to a man with exquisite taste?
The only man I've ever dressed for was my father. And that was only on Sundays. While I never liked very short skirts, the fashion when I was a teenager was generally above the knee and that fashion was very much dictated by other females. My father thought my skirts should be longer. My mother was in the middle trying to appease both of us because she made most of my clothes.
I dressed to appease my mother because of this conversation when I was 13 or 14 years old:
ME: Wearing my skirt this long makes me feel like an old maid!
DAD: I like old maids!
MOM: I wish I'd been one.
My Dad and I were both smart enough to say no more. I also count my blessings that my mother was both savvy to fashion and an excellent seamstress.
Men and women both dress in the fashions their professions/daily lives require. Toddlers are the only ones allowed true self-expression in their attire and even then, it's the girls expressing the 'fashion' sense. The boys generally just want to have comfortable clothes... and capes. I have found there is a near equal interest in weapons.
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