Friday, July 18, 2008

Untimely, Ungainly Meditations

I caught a documentary on human sexual selection that featured a group of British-sounding scientists who claimed they could reduce human pair bonding to one algorithm or another. Suffice to say their models failed spectacularly, but in the course of applying their science-of-dating hypotheses to actual individuals in the so-called dating pool, they confirmed that men are attracted to anything with a certain hip-waist ratio, certain breast sizes, and certain facial features; and that women are attracted anything that seems male and wealthy. I know! I was as shocked as you are!

The latter was demonstrated by presenting a homely guy in a shop window wearing his regular clothes and asking women to rate his attractiveness. He scored very low. Then they dressed the same fellow in clothes that made him seem more James Bondish -- snazzy suit, stylish sunglasses, nice shoes, fountain pen that converts to a broadsword, whatever. Whereupon women rated his attractiveness significantly higher.

Ladies, with all due respect, I find this to be a category mistake. Or maybe I'm the one making the category mistake. When someone asks "Is so-and-so attractive?" that is a euphemistic way of asking "Would you be inclined to f___ so-and-so?" And that's how I interpreted the question in the context of the documentary. If we agree on the euphemism-to-English translation of that question -- and perhaps we don't, there's no law saying we must -- then I just can't see how the addition of a suit and an awesome fountain pen/broadsword makes the dude more f___able. What, precisely, do you picture him doing with the suit that he would not have been able to do with the unpleated khakis in which he was originally presented?

In the interests of fairness and balance and such, I shall not let the follies of male-pattern sexual selection go unmentioned. Guys, let's dispense with the very idea that respect is due our slobbering, shallow approach to these matters; to take only one data point of millions available, the continuing economic viability of the Tom Leykis radio show (hey Tom! Long time listener, first time blogger here*) is proof enough that "we only want one thing." As for assessing the attractiveness of someone, while we can anchor the impulse in perceptions of body parts and shapes and dimensions that have a proximate connection with the sexual act itself, isn't there something amiss -- nay, irrational, at least as irrational as the ladies-like-suits thing -- in the fact that, generally speaking, all the women we once found powerfully attractive still look much as they did before? And yet we manage to find some of them deeply unattractive now, despite the unchanged or little-changed patterns of bumps and shapes and colors. Odd, that. And worth investigating if we hope to understand what's really going on beneath the slobbering surface.

All is vanity.

* I did not say I agree with everything I hear on the program. Far from it.


Lirone said...

>When someone asks "Is so-and-so attractive?" that is a euphemistic way of asking "Would you be inclined to f___ so-and-so?"

Hmm, that may be what it means when a man asks the question, but not always when a woman asks it. I think you're making a very male category mistake!

Women's idea of attractiveness often contains elements of "would that person be a good father for my children". Even if the woman in question isn't thinking that way, it seems as much part of our genes as the hip-waist ratio.

Hence why Athena posters of muscled men holding babies are more attractive to women than those without babies. I suspect the reverse is true for men...

Dale said...

Lirone, I can see that. Really I can. I don't relate to it, but it's an exaggeration (blogger's prerogative!!) when I suggest I don't get it.

Here's what I can relate to: we have very little conscious control over what we find attractive. It just wells up from within, and then we deal with it.

And so the world turns -- this strange upwelling is the source of almost all drama. Apart from rooting the lion's share of all human passion, it's pretty easy to ignore. ;-)

Thanks for the comment.