If we remove any subjective morality and ideological leanings from our interpretations of this video, and look at it through an evolutionary lens, it is fascinating to say the least that a group of individuals within any species would consciously take an action that serves to limit the number of potential mates they will attract.
It appears that the internet is supposed to agree without discussion that the reason many women adhere to stereotypes such as applying make up, and taking ten times the time men take to get ready, is owing to the pressure put on them by a patriarchal system.
This video does show an extreme example of beauty standards, and I am not claiming that women must have “glass skin” or that Korean gender stereotypes haven’t spiraled into excess. But what shapes these cultural trends?
No, This Perspective is not an Attempt to Justify Sexism
At this point I will offer a disclaimer; none of the following means in any way that women ought to oppressed, victimised, bullied etc, or that men are ‘better’ apart from being on average more physically able to do most things requiring strength. It also isn’t to be assumed that by making these points that there aren’t all kinds of shades of grey, and that individuals don’t deserve the inalienable right to express themselves in whatever way they see fit without judgement.
I would also like to request that if anyone wishes to reply, if I have pushed any buttons, that you only do so if you are prepared to read this essay to the end, because such complex ideas can’t be summed up in a couple of short paragraphs, nor fairly opposed unless the reader understands them in their entirety.
Our Present Situation is the Exception, not the Norm
For arguments sake, if we define the current phase of civilization as roughly since the television, birth control, modern medicine and a bunch of other significant stuff of the twentieth century appeared, then we might guess that it comprises probably less than 0.001% of human history. Barely a generation or two has passed; at least in the west and some other parts of the world; since preventable diseases, local and national rule by intimidation, food scarcity, no heating or air conditioning were the norm, not the exception.
Think about that in terms of evolution. Two or three sets of kids having more kids since very little was under our control, and consequentially our chance of survival beyond childhood, and our subsequent lifespan should we achieve that were comparatively minimal. A blink of an evolutionary eye in the lifespan of a species, like all others, whose characteristics, both physical and psychological, were driven by whether or not they helped or at least didn’t hinder both our survival until mating age and ability to attract a mate.
Evolutionary Considerations in Females’ Sexual Preferences
Now let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a young woman at any stage before this recent chapter; whether in Victorian England with some semblance of civilization, in the Mongol desert circa 500AD or in the Congolese jungle 8000 years ago, or even as an ancestor of humanity half a million years ago. You are of mating age, basically menstruating whether that be as a young teenager or older adult.
Two men are interested in mating with you. One of them is a little younger than you. He is very slim, and stunningly aesthetically pleasing, but with little strength, and spends most of his day lying around relaxing and grooming himself to perfection. Perhaps the thought of being face to face with such a beautiful man sharing a kiss is irresistible. Perhaps not.
The second man is a little older than you, pays no such attention to his appearance, instead relentlessly gathering wood, problem solving, building shelters for the harsh winter up ahead, and killing and skinning wild animals both for their food and the warmth of their fur. He is as strong as any man you met, and capable of fighting off both other men and dealing with predators like snakes that might get into your camp, but he looks scruffy and rugged.
So, today, if you chose the first man, no such evolutionary pressures prevent his genes being passed on, because we have police and hospitals etc. But what would have happened had you chosen him before this chapter in history?
Would your offspring have a better chance of survival if you chose the first or second man?
For sure, people were individuals back then too, and many women chose the more beautiful young man, as some might today. But what percentage of their offspring would survive until mating age compared with the offspring of the second man; safely warm in their heavily insulated log cabin which took back-breaking determination to construct, and safe from calamities brought about by nature thanks to having an efficient problem solving and capable father around while the mother was unable to do much other than lactate in the early years of the children’s life?
Most of your children with the second man would survive, whereas most of your children with the first man wouldn’t; and nor might you, with the meagre rations brought home by someone with little strength or conscientiousness in a fiercely violent, animalistic, Darwinian world.
Evolutionary Considerations in Males’ Sexual Preferences
Now let’s put ourselves in the shoes of men; likewise before medicine, birth control and central heating. If individual men showed a variety of sexual preferences towards characteristics of their potential mates, which they no doubt did, which preferences would result in the highest percentage of healthy offspring surviving until mating age?
Two women are interested in mating with you. One aged eighteen who looks beautiful, spending her time keeping herself healthy and safe, without toiling away at hard labour, or one aged 35 who frequently attempts dangerous activities and hard work?
At this point I would like to remind anyone reading, that this is a cold evolutionary look at why many of us do adhere to stereotypes, and has nothing to do with our subjective morality in the present day.
The first woman, being much younger, promises more than enough eggs for a long term partnership to result in many, many more offspring with your genes. In a world without medicine, she is also more likely to live long enough to ensure your offspring’s survival until mating age, particularly in the very early years when motherly love and milk are needed. Their healthy beauty is a marker of their youth and fertility, which evolution has ensured men notice.
The second woman, both carries eggs more suspect to mutation and miscarriage than the younger woman, and also will have far fewer future eggs to pass your genes on than the younger woman. Her habits of going out and about in a harsh Darwinian world, risk taking by tackling big prey etc, mean an increased risk of her death and likely consequentially her infant’s. Whereas the man going out doing that will both have a greater chance of bringing home the bacon owing to his strength, and a lesser chance of impacting the survival of a child than if their mother whose milk they depend on dies.
Can These Trends be Observed Today?
Now look at the average couple today and forever. Almost all couples have an older, taller man than the woman, in all cultures everywhere, no doubt because a feeling of security and responsibility is more often than not attractive to women for evolutionary reasons, with one of the most frequent reasons for women breaking up with men being when the man lacks the prowess or maturity to take his responsibilities seriously. He can be kind, funny, and good looking, but that comes second to getting his ass out of bed and getting to work to provide for the family.
And the reasons men break up with women? When there isn’t simply a blatant personality clash, often it is to pursue opportunities to mate with often younger, more beautiful women. Cue so many rich guys all over the world being with women in their twenties. I do understand there are many, many exceptions, but these are the inescapably obvious trends, even if the amazingly wonderful experience of true love often provides both men and women with the strength to ignore such desires for more evolutionarily suitable partners and stick together.
And now look at how men and women compete, again, across seemingly all cultures — I have lived in six countries encompassing three different dominate religious cultures and various levels of economic prosperity; have visited twenty five others; and I see this everywhere, even if individuals often rightly choose to bely the stereotypes and do as they please: many men compete to show their ability, which may be strength, intelligence, ingenuity or anything else which may better their offspring’s chances of survival, and many women compete to show their youthful fertility; which likewise shows men that their offspring have a better chance of survival.
Do We Have to Adhere to These Stereotypes Now…?
It is not that individuals can’t make mating choices that fly in the face of this dynamic; indeed with all the cozy protections afforded us by modern society, evolution scarcely plays a role in this generation’s survival. Today, you could have children parented by an obese 40 year old woman and a stoned, lazy, skinny 21 year old man and they would still have a better chance of survival to mating age than a child born of the ideal evolutionary couple 5000 years ago.
But this doesn’t mean our subconscious mating preferences aren’t still more likely to align with the world we came from, and not the world we live in now.
So, we can all do whatever we want now, and mate with who we want regardless of everything above, which is just lovely, but it doesn’t change the fact that for the vast majority of us, these trends still form part of the core of our sexualilty.
…And Can We Do Anything About Them?
The bad news for the branch of feminism that insists we are all the same and everything is the patriarchy’s fault, is that evolutionary selection pressures are needed to make the desirable psychological changes actually manifest in a species, which from the little reading I have done on it typically take about five thousand years to become prevalent. And it won’t even likely happen. Because there is no force preventing the survival of children born to younger more beautiful mothers and stronger more capable fathers — likely still quite the opposite — the best that can be hoped for is that these trends become less prevalent at a very slow pace, as the children of less evolutionarily suitable couples now almost always also survive, instead of hardly ever.
Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
So until then, we all have to just get used to it, and I expect it sucks, I really do, but we also need to remember that the baseline we have risen from isn’t utopia, it is Darwinian carnage, and even with all our problems, the vast majority of this generation of humans alive today, including women, are not only the most fortunate species to ever exist, but we are also the most fortunate individuals within this species’ history, with threats to our safety in the majority of countries happening so rarely compared to anything that has ever lived, and almost all of us able to make a home and raise kids safely until adulthood.
What Came First?
Ask yourself, considering the above, did stereotypical male/female courtship develop first, with capitalism and marketing exacerbating them? Or did the patriarchy create these stereotypes in their entirety? I of course am certain it was the former, and I know of no logical framework that enables the latter view to make evolutionary sense.
Consumerism Adds Pressure to Conform
Now to touch upon what I hope will be a point of agreement with those protesting the “patriarchy”: While I evidently believe that our mating strategies are at their fundamental level evolved, super capitalists have absolutely preyed on this to dial the severity of this dynamic up to the maximum, preying on the insecurities that comes with either sex’s attempts to compete with one another. Cue anorexia in women, excess suicide in young men.
Our typical consumer age would be around 16–25, that time when we seek to carve out an identity in the mating arena and are ripe for purchasing all manner of things to help us achieve this. But what has capitalism done, with intrusive undermining adverts targeting insecurities and glamorizing continuing a free single lifestyle until well into our thirties? They have sought to expand the consumer age as wide as perhaps 5–40, convincing all of us that we need to ‘find ourselves’ or ‘live a little’ first (meaning ‘pursue consumer pleasures as long as possible regardless of whether it leaves you happy in the long run’) before starting families.
While young families are useful to baby product businesses, all the other brands competing for our attention don’t want us to settle down when we have that wonderful spark of true love normally in our early twenties. For some of us, we never get it again. We convince ourselves that we have a bucket list to get through and that if that means we break up while I go here and you go there, so be it, as long as it means women are incentivized to keep buying beauty products (and men gadgets?) for an extra ten years. Then many of us spend the next ten or fifteen years flapping about trying to find that same passionate spark again yet it rarely ever happens to the same level of magic.
The harsh reality is that, considering the evolutionary explanations above, this often leaves women over 30 having prioritized their careers (which is totally fair enough, do what you like) before family, with a dramatically diminished pool of potential suitors and a greater likelihood of settling for a less than ideal partner.
The World is not Fair
While women undoubtedly feel pressure to appear young and beautiful, men feel pressure to be useful, whether that be expressed in muscles, talent, earning potential or any other marker. To this end, while I can empathize with the pressure to use all these cosmetic products etc, going all out and shaving one’s head, growing armpit hair or refusing to make any effort to look youthful *solely* to protest against “society’s standards” (as opposed to occasional impulsiveness or laziness for its own sake) is totally fine if one accepts the reality that they will reduce the number of potential partners interested in them. The world isn’t fair.
Likewise, what mating success do you think I or other men would have, if one morning we just say “Screw work, I hate it, I’m tired of women expecting me to be responsible. I am going to sit here and eat Doritos and play video games all day while getting high (which is what a hell of a lot of us would like to do)” Can any woman reading this relate to desiring a long term commitment with a man like this? Sure there may be one or two, but a lot? Not a chance. So the individual man is free to throw the towel in like that, but he must accept the trade off: that any charm he may have which offsets his laziness might get him the occasional lay but not likely a desirable long term partner. The world isn’t fair.
Do as You Please if You Accept the Tradeoff
Both the man and the woman I refer to in the last two paragraphs aren’t changing anything except protesting the very forces that led them to be alive today, and reducing their chance of mating success with their most ideal partner. Which again, is totally fine, we are all individuals and can do what we want. But it isn’t the patriarchy. It’s our own animal psychology which is then preyed upon by marketers to make money out of us. Every species of just about anything sees male and female courtship habits differ. Try and find an example of an animal in which both sexes attempt to impress each other in the same way.
If this essay makes any of the more confrontational, heterosexual feminists angry, I invite you turn what is generally expected of male partners on its head, and date someone with a lovely, fun personality, but who is shorter and younger than you, and who generally makes little effort to achieve anything of utility. Perhaps one in a hundred of you will feel comfortable starting a family with this kind of man, and would you stay with them, were stronger, older and more competent men interested in you? I thought not.