April 25, 2002
Chapter 6 Low, Why Sex Matters
In this chapter Low was trying to explain how human beings are different than other mammals. He was also trying to explain the different ways in which the two sexes act and react to our reproductive lives.
It turns out that humans are truly an extraordinary species. Human babies, in relation to other mammals are thirty eight percent larger than what would be expected. Also, human pregnancies are eleven percent longer and males are carried in the womb longer on average than females. Human babies are dependent on their parents for a larger portion of their lives than most mammals and also take longer to develop basic skills, such as walking. However, human infants have a brain that is eight three percent larger than one would expect and it continues to grow at a faster pace for another year. As far as sexuality goes humans reach sexual maturity pretty late. Human females are actually forty five percent later than expected. If females do decide to reproduce earlier than would be the optimum they are less fertile and are more likely to lose the child. This suggests that a female’s growth would be interrupted by having to carry a child. Male reproduction is also delayed, but this is probably due to social forces like competition rather than biological ones. Generally, humans have longer lives and have shorter interbirth intervals (the time in between having a child). The average of this interval is between thirty and forty-five months for a human while chimpanzees average sixty months. This would lead us to the conclusion that while we mature later sexually, once we get there we produce more offspring.
The next topic covered by Low was the conflict that arises between the mother, her child, and any other offspring. A child is only half like each of his or her parents and so on average is only half like its siblings. Any offspring will benefit from receiving as much parental investment from its mother as possible. So in the womb a fetus wants as many nutrients as it can get without making the mother unhealthy. If this reduces the mothers ability to have more children that just means that out of the womb the child will receive more attention. Low states that the fetus and the mother are combatants in an arms race. The mother cannot control the flow of blood or nutrients to the fetus and the fetus can release hormones in to the mother’s bloodstream. These cause problems during the pregnancy, from normal prenatal problems to serious problems such as preclampsia.
So how does a mother balance everything she has to all of her children? This is termed the “parent-offspring conflict”. This states that offspring benefit from getting as much as they possibly can from their mother, but the mother (unless there is only one child) must divide up all her assets among all of her offspring as well as to herself. One thing that would reduce a woman’s lifetime reproduction is to have closely spaced pregnancies because her nutrition or other factors could limit her from fully investing in all the children. Another large problem for mothers is the effort that is required to obtain resources such as food and childcare. This is a problem because when a woman invests her time in obtaining these resources she cannot spend time caring for her children. This leads to the statement that mothers, more than fathers, have problems in getting and allocating resources. This explains the reason why things such as interbirth interval, fertility, and infant mortality all vary according to the mother’s status. When a woman is rich she does not have to worry about how to obtain resources or even how to care for her child because she can afford to pay someone to do it for her so she has very short interbirth intervals, very high fertility, and low infant mortality. In contrast women with minimal resources have long interbirth intervals, low fertility, and high infant mortality.
In the next section Low tries to describe the concepts of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and neglect. He starts off by saying that parents very rarely actually kill their own children. This would mean that whatever they had invested in that child up until that point would have been worthless. So this would not make sense to throw all of that time and energy out the window. There are however some instances when things of this sort do happen. As one might imagine, stepparents are much more likely to abuse and neglect children than their genetic parents. Even though the common fairy tale of the evil stepmother is known to most of us it is much more common for stepfathers to abusive. So is there any time when killing a child can be an adaptive act? If a mother is raising a child by herself with no outside help or if the child is unlikely to be successful then infanticide might be termed adaptive. In other cultures if a child is deformed or very ill at birth then they are more likely to be killed. Other circumstances also increase the likelihood of infanticide. These could be births that are too close together, the birth of twins, or the absence of a partner to share the childrearing responsibilities. In France, Russia, and Spain abandonment of children was strongly correlated with economic factors and the ability of the mother to care for her children. Boswell states that forty-six percent of child abandonment is due to a mother’s ability to invest herself in the child. Abortion also seems to be strongly correlated with the ability of the mother to care for the child. These issues can also be strongly influenced by the people around the mother. The culture and attitudes of the day can be a large part of a decision related to keeping a child.
So Low talked about how humans differed in their reproductive lifetimes but not on how males and females differed in producing offspring. He states that men and women seek resources for very different reproductive ends. Male’s reproductive effort centers mainly on mating. This is a hard thing for men because most of them will fail to reproduce while a few of them will have numerous offspring. This would suggest that a successful male would have many more offspring than a successful female. This would show that parental investment is not necessarily optimized by equal expenditures. Women are more likely to care for her young because she only has a limited number of offspring while a man, if successful, can have many.
We see things on the television a lot that shows other countries that prefer one sex as opposed to another when they are having children. An easy explanation of this is that if one sex is rare then it becomes more valuable. The population will always tend to strive for a one to one relationship between males and females and so if one of the sexes is in the minority it will be favored. However, social and cultural factors may also enter into these desires for a particular sex and go against these theories of natural selection.
So how do raising these children differ? Since only the absolute best males have a chance at reproduction a mother will put more of her effort into raising a son than a daughter. This is why they are carried in the womb longer, that they are larger at birth, that they nurse longer and more frequently, and that they are weaned later. This also explains why females in better nutritional condition will more likely bear sons. Many mothers have a reduction in their nutritional condition when they get older but when this is not true older women are more likely to have sons. Since an older woman is at the end of her reproductive life she will benefit from putting all of her energy into that child.
There also exists a bias during inheritance and survival. Parents invest in their children even after they die, this being when they leave their children money or other resources after their passing. The uneven allocation comes about because parents can benefit more by giving their resources to the children that are more suited for reproduction. Older sons are more likely to inherit more money because they are more likely to reproduce sooner before they themselves cannot anymore.
Income is a very important determining factor in whether a male or female gets attention. In a house that has more resources the mother is more likely to devote most of her attention to her sons and in lower income households the daughters receive the most attention. The sex of the person receiving the resources is important, but so is who is actually giving them out. Women tend to spread their resources more evenly among all of their children while men are more likely to leave their money to their wife. The theory behind this is that men are not sure of the paternity of the children so it would be risky leaving all of their resources to them.
Differences also exist in how boys and girls are raised culturally. Across many cultures it is seen that boys are trained in things that would help them in open competition. The daughters, conversely, are taught to be restrained sexually, how to be obedient, and to be responsible which happen to be traits that men look for in a wife. There has been evidence in other cultures that when women control important resources or wield power their daughters are less likely to be taught submissiveness. Another big difference that exists in the culture is how teachers react to the different sexes. Girls seemed to get positive feedback for nonintellectual items such as cleanliness while boys were praised for being clever. So while there are differences biologically between the sexes, are we making them bigger than they are?
Everyone who lives a full life will experience aging and like so many other things males and females also experience this differently. First off the reason that human beings live so long is not because of our intellect or our scientific improvements, it is because of human evolution. It is a well-known fact that men die before women, but why? It is theorized that dying earlier is a payoff for risk taking. So aging is not necessarily an unexplainable phenomenon but a cost of a reproductive life. It is a fact that all systems in the human body age, but reproduction in females dies off way before any of the other systems including male reproductive function. While most female mammals spend approximately ten percent of their lives after their last birth, human females lose their functioning dramatically after age thirty. The maximum fertility is between the ages of twenty and thirty and falls off to zero between forty-five and fifty. This might be a way to switch females from reproducing into giving a larger amount of care to their existing offspring.
Chapter 7 Ectoff, Survival of the Prettiest
This chapter focuses on how our culture sees and produces beauty. There are many different ways to see beauty and the way many cultures emphasize it is through fashion. An interesting note is that while cultures find fashion important there is no universal style across cultures. Fashion can help us emphasize the things that our particular culture finds beautiful but is not beauty itself. Fashion can be a form of art, a mark of status, or a showing of personality. Fashion is forever changing; it is in the moment. There are even fashion shows that feature the most recent styles that are the cutting edge. Fashion takes what is popular at the time and makes a short but deep mark on our society. Fashion takes what is happening in the world and incorporates it into what we wear. The miniskirt was established during the free love era of the sixties but would not make much sense if they were introduced during World War II. There is a language of fashion with the baseball cap being an example of slang and personal flourishes always showing when somebody is an individual. These fashion trends that seem strange at first always get thrown into the mainstream. While once wearing a baseball cap backwards was a pretty loud statement, now it is the norm. The classifications of fashion are: The fashion originals, the conformists, and the inarticulate (those who dress only to cover their bodies). A quote by Alison Lurie stated with a hint of humor just how important fashion is. “Even when we say nothing our clothes are talking noisily to everyone who sees us …. To wear what everyone else is wearing is no solution to the problem, any more than it would be to say what everyone else is saying …. We can lie in the language of dress, or try to tell the truth; but unless we are naked and bald it is impossible to be silent.”
The main point that fashion gets across is sex and status. Katherine Hammet stated it simply, “Men and women both, to an extent, get dressed to get laid.” We do this by manipulating our assets to make them better. In the animal world it can be having tail feathers that are extremely bright even though there is no real reason for them. Some people might call this false advertisement because adorning oneself can be a very transformative thing. Historians believe that the original purpose of fashion was to emphasize the erotic or sexual parts of the body. Clothes can make a possible suitor curious about what is hidden beneath or it can reveal parts of the body that they want to see. All clothing gives a passerby a small glimpse of another person’s body. For example, the kimono covers much of the body but it reveals the nape of the neck. The focus of attention usually changes between differing body parts through different generations to keep the interest alive. For most of history the clothing was the centerpiece of attention, like the hoop skirt, which would flow back and forth with a woman’s movement. Today is different; in order for women to be able to wear the most “in” clothing they must have flawless bodies. These bodies usually are obtained surgically and have become the focal point for the fashion world.
Status is also clearly expressed in fashion and can even be called social competition. These status markers are often driven out of control until some things get moved to excess. This turns the world of fashion into a very exclusive and snooty industry. When someone commits a fashion faux pas it is often considered a social and moral misdeed. This leads people to examine the tiniest detail of fashion, like tiny little details about the fabric. Most fashion is around for a very short while and if worn after its fade out, the wearer is seen as ridiculous. The industry is very astute in these dealings because they know that fashion is as good as money in many circles.
Strangely enough we are the only animals that actually clothe ourselves. This started around a thousand years ago where historians have found artifacts of beads and clothing. Even back then clothing was different for a man and a woman. Men wore animal teeth, but no women were not found with any. While clothing existed way back then historians say the birth of fashion came about in the fourteenth century in Europe. Until this time the clothing that people wore did not change much from generation to generation. During the fourteenth century people who had wealth decided to show it by losing their loose fitting clothes and wearing ones that showed off their bodies. Men’s clothing was inspired by military dress and women wore long dresses that had trains behind them. The wealth that was displayed was a result of the new emergence of monetary power from businessmen, bankers, merchants, and traders. In this way fashion was a way to show everyone around you that you had status and wealth.
The economist Thorstein Veblen stated three different ways in which wealth is displayed. The first is conspicuous consumption, which means the collecting of valuable things this would include clothes. The next is conspicuous leisure, which meant enjoying activities that have no real useful properties. This would include things like golf or yachting and these things were inspirations for fashions like the top hat and tails of evening wear. Today this would show us how snowboarding and other such outdoor activities lead us to the baggy pants and beanie hats that have become so popular. Leisure could also be shown when wearing impossible things like linen, which wrinkles the second you put it on. Another fashion for leisure is clothing that would make it impossible to do any sort of labor, like high heels. “High heels are for those who pay other people to do their walking for them – to the dry cleaner, to fetch a cab, to pick up lunch.” The last status symbol is conspicuous waste. This describes when people spend as much as they want because there is always more where that came from. A socialite in New York owned eighty-seven black velvet coats, which only had different lace trims. While these three were the only symbols described by Veblen, Quentin Bell argued that there was a fourth dimension. The last status display, he argued, was conspicuous outrage. This would describe the upper classes fear of being thought of as middle class. This is one reason why fashion is abandoned so quickly, to stop from being copied by the middle class. “Never fear being vulgar, just boring, middle class or dull.” A good example of this divide is between beauty queens and models. Beauty queens smile as they show off their gowns or swim suits. They care about social issues and are sincere and earnest. In contrast, a model of today smokes and parties is so skinny she looks as if she is strung out on drugs and makes an immense amount of money. Their job is to represent the upper class, to astonish, to make others envious but not to please anyone.
The fear of the middle class wearing the upper class fashions was at one time protected by laws. Sumptuary laws were issued which controlled everything from fabrics to the length of shoes. All this did was make the fashion world speed up because the middle class always found ways to get around these laws. Some people even resulted to paying the magistrate in charge of fashion called the “Head of Pomp.” In a desperate attempt to curb the middle class from wearing the fashions the magistrate ordered married noblewomen or citizens to wear only black. Of course, the natural reply was that people who were not noble started to dress in black.
These laws were finally abolished in 1793 and stated, “No person of either sex can force any citizen, male or female to dress in a particular way …. Everyone is free to wear the garment or garb suitable to his or her sex that he or she pleases.” This was the time when the designer was born, which was basically an artist that created clothing. This was very different because in the past clothes had always been made by the working class. Couture was a very prominent form in designing at first. This is where clients would come in for several fittings and have to wait months until they received the final product. Today, couture has declined but it still exists. There are twenty-one houses and fewer than three thousand women buy the make to measure clothing. These houses could not exist on this alone so they also supplement by selling things such as cosmetics and handbags. Today fashion is not about having something original but rather having something that rich people have. This is why a designer’s logo is such a popular symbol. Tommy Hilfiger says, “I can’t sell a shirt without a logo.” This leads to a problem because these logos are very easy to fake. It is estimated that approximately twenty-five percent of sunglasses and watches in the United States are fake.
Fashion has become a sport of some kind. The television and Internet are inundated with fashion, there are even shows dedicated to that specific topic. The show before the Academy Awards hosted by Joan Rivers is not about the actors themselves, but about what they are wearing and who made it. Designers stand a chance of making a ton of money if their clothes are seen on famous people and so they jump at the chance of lending them clothes.
The sad part of the story is that no matter how much money you have most of these designer clothes will not fit normal people. The fashion is not the clothes anymore, but the person underneath them. Today you may not be able to tell who is rich and who is poor from the fabric of their coat but chances are the rich ones will be thinner and have bigger breasts. A rich persons body takes money to maintain and it shows. It has even gone so far in that women now brag about the surgery they have had to alter themselves; it has become almost a badge of being wealthy. The clothes of today are created with a theme of poverty. Everything is very simplistic and often very small. So the object of desire has become the rising superstar of the model. Today the collections only speak loudly if a supermodel endorses them. It is almost impossible to be that thin without doing something unhealthy such as drugs or having eating disorders. Rich people have the money and the time to pull off these cheating behaviors and are therefore more likely to be thin. Male models also face these pressures, when advertising clothing it is not uncommon for him not be wearing any clothing at all. However, it appears that all of this mess is worth it for the models. For all of their pain and suffering they get to be cultural icons and make an extraordinary amount of money. Granted, not many people can make it to the supermodel status, but for many it is worth the shot.
So will this trend continue? Models will keep getting taller and thinner as long as that is what is wanted. People try to look like models do for the sole purpose of being able to look like a model. However there is a point where people just cannot lose any more weight or get any taller. So new variations will emerge like an emphasis on huge hair. Instead of breasts the butt may become the new focal point.
It is hard to tell exactly where fashion might go, but there are some ways in which we can tell. People will always try to strive to be unique and pick clothing that emphasizes that. Some say that men and women’s fashions are becoming standardized but they will always find a way to emphasize their differences. A prediction is that the logos will go out of style and have very small signs of who actually created the clothing. The most modern clothing that is seen on the horizon is called “wearables.” These are computers that are so lightweight that they can be sewn into clothing. Examples of this would be musical jackets or glasses that would recognize faces and whisper the names of people who you have forgotten. While these are not quite wearable yet it is an exciting future to look forward to.
I. Are Humans Unusual?
I. Are Humans Unusual?
•Human babies 38% larger than would be expected for a primate our size
•Human pregnancies 11% longer
•Human boys are carried in utero longer than girls, on average
•Human babies are helpless much longer than other primates
•The brain of a human baby is 83% larger than expected
•Females reach sexual maturity when they are 45% older
•Males reproduce later mainly due to male-male competition
•Interbirth intervals are short
Resource Striving in the Womb
•Every baby is half its mother and half its father
•On average only half like a sibling
•Any offspring gains from more maternal attention
–Have mother invest everything she can
–Reduced ability to reproduce suits offspring
•Investment in one child may come at an expense of another
•Must apportion her effort among all her offspring and herself
–What is invested in work can’t be invested in childcare
–More resources provide a shorter interbirth interval, high fertility, and low infant mortality
Conflicts of Interest
•Parents seldom kill their children
•Stepparents are more likely to abuse or neglect and commit infanticide
•When is killing adaptive?
–The mother is alone and without family
–The child is unlikely to be successful
–The child is seriously deformed or ill
–Circumstances that reduce the chance of successful investment
Reproductive Lifetimes Male vs. Female
•Men’s striving surrounds around mating
•Many will be unsuccessful with a few reproducing many offspring
•Spend their time on investing in their offspring
•Payoff is higher for females to invest parentally
Which Sex is Preferable?
•Populations tend to equilibrate at 1:1
•If one sex is rare it becomes more valuable
•Social and cultural influences might affect this ratio
–Mothers tend to invest more in sons
–Females in better nutritional condition are more likely to have sons
–Male bias in sex ratio might be found in older mothers
Inheritance and Survival
•Parents invest differently in their children even after their own death
•Inheritance is typically based on legitimacy, birth order, and sex
•Increase reproductive profit by allocating resources unevenly
•Women spread their bequests more widely than men
Raising Boys and Girls
•Behaviors useful in open competition
•Taught to strive
•Rewarded for intellectual cleverness
•Rewarded for nonintellectual items
•Human evolution is what is changing life expectancy not medical advances
•Males die sooner than females
•Aging is a cost
•All systems age but female reproduction decays decades earlier than anything
–Lose reproductive function dramatically after thirty
–Function goes to zero between forty-five and fifty
•There is no universal definition for what we find attractive in adornments
•Fashion can help illuminate what we find beautiful but is different than beauty itself
•An art form, a status marker, a display of attitude
•Of the moment
•“Men and women both, get dressed to get laid”
•Adornment can be transformative
•Takes our natural attractors and makes them stronger
•No one would confuse vogue with playboy
•Social competition which drives to excess
•Clothes are a valuable currency in the social arena
•Conspicuous consumption, leisure, and waste
•Conspicuous outrage? Middle vs. Upper class
•Television and Internet
•High fashion clothes won’t fit most bodies
•New fashion is the body itself – can’t be copied
•Model gives status to the clothing
•Will this extremely thin trend end?
•Not so many logos
•Couture will live on forever
–Computers incorporated into the clothing
a) Interesting or Informative
1) The section on the conflict between offspring was very interesting because it shows that in some respects your brothers and sisters are your enemies.
2) That women who have more resources at their disposal have a higher fertility rate and also a lower infant mortality rate.
3) That there were actually, at one time, laws that prevented the lower classes from wearing what the upper class did.
b) Weak Case or Confusing
1) Low did not explain why while in most mammals only a few males reproduce due to competition human males do not appear to suffer from this.
2) It would have been nice for Low to give some statistics on the percentage of male children born to rich women versus female children born to poor.
3) It would have been advantageous for Ectoff to go into some amount of detail about why humans wear clothing and no other species does.
c) Further Explanation or Questions
1) Why are humans so prone to following the patterns of fashion set by the upper class, can it be that we think that will make us rich?
2) If culture can influence people’s decisions on what sex of child to have what effect would that have in natural selection?