On Clothing and Beautification Norms

Leftwing social critics of the modern tradition describe social norms as arbitrary, especially as they relate to gender. They (henceforth, “leftists”) have an equally noticeable tendency to be wrong, and I bet the matters described herein are no exception.

First, the word “arbitrary” denotes that which happens without reason. With leftists, it means, “For reasons that I should not be expected to care about,” so obviously I will not bother to argue against that. I will give some possible reasons, and then people’s moral proclivities be what they may.

Men and women have different clothing norms almost everywhere, with exceptions, just as there are exceptions to the proposition that nodding of the head up and down is an affirmative gesture. The latter is overwhelmingly common in a vast range of cultures, but it does not follow from its being less than totally universal that it is arbitrary. There is some reason that the tendency exists, even if it is just as simple as copying a high-status group.

Likewise: clothes. Dresses and skirts are strongly associated with femaleness and trousers only weakly with maleness, to such a degree that a skirt on a male is sometimes seen as an aberration and trousers on women not. Some have tried, without lasting success, to change this.

It is questionable how common clothing styles now associated with women have been on men for much of history. The kinds of “skirt-like” or “dress-like” attire that have been somewhat common among men at various points include pulpit robes or cassocks, which have specialised uses; they are not everyday attire for the wearers, and many are relics of the Roman tradition, which I will get to later. Indeed, trousers were apparently common only on men in medieval England, and certainly among the Germanic tribes (Didorus Siculus, V, section 30) and Persians. Charlemagne (Laver. pp. 52-3) donned the tunic, which is dress-like enough, for ceremonial reasons and otherwise wore trousers.

Nevertheless, tunics and kirtles were easy to see on both sexes when they were popular. So one could easily get the impression that trousers and trouser-like garments have become less gendered through time, whereas skirt-like and dress-like garments have become more so. What changed?

The reasons people wore particular types of clothing were different in the past. Practicality, cost, class divisions, and social conservatism were high in the past. Setting aside the thorny question of how knee-length vestments and tights became high-status among European males of the upper class, one can look at the Romans. Braccae (woollen trousers) were associated with barbarians and trousers were seldom worn by Romans. Nevertheless, soldiers did use trousers when practical, especially in the cold regions of the empire. Rome held its clothing conventions in high enough esteem that, after the Empire’s collapse, they were still followed for reasons of tradition qua tradition, and status.

In many professions, especially in the industrial era, skirts and dresses would have proven impractical for a lot of work, most conspicuously among working-class men, and to the extent that this was true, wearing those garments would have been associated with impracticality and therefore low status. The examples are fairly obvious, but this is of questionable relevance to the present day when the majority of work is in the tertiary and quaternary sectors.

It looks almost as though before the 1800s some men wore trousers but far fewer women, and trousers were not “in” as the default male fashion choice until the 1800s.

Finally, perhaps most saliently, clothing for purely ornamental purposes was rare historically outside the elite. Aristocrats especially the French, and Georgian-era gentry, were known for it, but never the average person. This changed in the 20th century, especially the second half. Interestingly, trousers started to become fashionable among women in the West at about the same time that short skirts did. For trousers, I would guess it was a matter of practicality and, secondarily, dissociation from any historic tradition, e.g. that of the Romans or the Catholic Church. In the latter, changing sexual mores (hence, miniskirts) and social mores; the trouser’s association with work, an essential part of the male sex role, came to embody a kind of archetype which some women sought to copy as the 20th century went along.

The association of long (e.g. ankle-length) skirts and dresses with chastity was probably not as strong in the early 20th century as later, because there was less in public life with which to contrast it, i.e. the miniskirt-wearers were barely present.

Today, almost the only reasons to be choosy about what one wears are aesthetic, whether sexual or not. Thus, the vast majority of men do not even wear shorts unless 1) the weather is unbearably hot or 2) they are performing some activity that necessitates it or makes it easier, e.g. running and swimming. No one is interested in seeing men’s legs per se except homosexual men. By contrast, women’s legs are objects of intense desire and adoration for legions. So, in the present, a man who wears a long skirt or dress is giving off signals of chastity or sexual innocence, which is ridiculous in men. If he wears a short skirt or dress, he is giving off signals of sexual attractiveness, which, again, is absurd; the visual advertisement of these qualities is nearly meaningless in men: especially for chastity, but even for attractiveness unless he is profoundly physically attractive.

Other social changes have come about along the same course for comparable reasons, such as the practice of leg-shaving, far more common in women than men, and in men it is typically to highlight musculature: athletes, swimmers, models, etc.

One finds oneself suspicious of anyone claiming that a social trend emerged from the aether simply because of marketing or propaganda. The evidence that propaganda, after controlling for confounding factors, affects public opinion is thin. It is not even true of Hitler’s speeches. There are always confounds: some economic, some endogenous and innate. It is sometimes claimed that the preference for shaven legs came about in the early 20th century in response to specific ad campaigns, which explains why one sees loads of old paintings of women with visibly hairy legs. At least, it would explain that if it were true.

Few women have their legs shaved the year round unless they live in a climate wherein they can expect to have their legs bare on any given day. In the past, when women seldom used their legs as sexual ornaments, it is reasonable to deduce that shaving was even rarer but became common once they did commonly use them for that purpose. Are we really to believe that this is a coincidence?

Women have sparser leg hair than men to begin with, which is a neotenous trait along with lack of facial hair, lower height, paedomorphism in facial structure, etc, all of which are considered highly attractive in women. Since relative lack of hirsutism is a sex-typical trait in females and the heightened neoteny that shaving projects is attractive, women who frequently have their legs bared shave them. This is descriptive, not to say that anyone of either sex is ethically obliged to be attractive. However, what constitutes an attractive feature is fairly universal.

Tangentially, something similar occurred to cause the gradual skin-lightening of Europeans. Women almost universally have lighter skin than men, and more sex-typical features are preferred in mates. Europe is thought to have had a female-skewed sex ratio for much of its prehistory, thus increasing competition among females for mates and upwardly modulating selection upon elements of female sexual attractiveness, many of which spilled over into males either as byproducts or due to bidirectional sexual selection. This is one reason among many why Europeans are the most attractive race.

All this could be obvious. Much of it may have been once. Alas, few have any interest in finding the knowledge themselves.

The Brick Wall of Washing Machines

People probably make too much fuss about defining biological sex in terms of its organic components. The term “chromosomes” gets thrown about, maybe because it is commonly used in basic biology education and is consequently a bit more accessible than “gametes,” although gametes are in fact the heart of the matter. Several different chromosomal combinations exist in humans (as abnormalities) besides XX and XY, but gametes come in only two forms – sperm and ova, the component factors of sexual reproduction.

But why does sexual reproduction itself exist, and by extension, why do the two sexes themselves? It is not a given across all species. Quite a few species of plants and some unicellular organisms practise autogamous fertilisation, effectively a slightly modified form of cloning in which the variants of sex are applied to an otherwise identical genetic template. Others, like the New Mexico whiptail, are parthenogenic, meaning that females can produce more females (clones) with no fertilisation at all. Most often this manifests as a “fail safe,” in species such as the Komodo monitor, for environments with a shortage of males. Obligate parthenogens are rare. When it happens, it tends to be the result of an unusually torpid environment combined with some kind of recent fuck-up. In the case of the obligately parthenogenic New Mexico whiptail: it lives primarily in the desert and owes its existence to cross-breeding between two parent lizard species which cannot produce viable males. If its environment changes too much, it is fucked: cloning and autogamy place a hard limit on gene recombination, and therefore adaptation, which is why the latter really only exists in plants and invertebrates, and the dominant presentation of the former is as a “failure mode” in otherwise sexually reproducing species. It is only “practical” in species with extraordinarily high reproductive potential, short gestation periods, sedate or undemanding environments, low metabolic needs, or high mutation rates.

Given this, it is not hard to see where males and females came from. Think of The Sexes™ as a strategy of gene propagation, and then secondary sex differences, in morphology and psychology, as strategies which reflect the different selective pressures the sexes were subjected to and/or subjected each other to (dimorphism). Viewed through this lens, females represent the “default” strategy which began with the oldest organisms (e.g. asexual bacteria): the “incubators,” reproducing through cloning and self-fertilisation, whereas males, the “fertilisers,” are a comparatively recent innovation. The degree of “sex-differentiation load” that falls upon males varies by species according to the aforestated variables in selection. Since females are, as is often noted, the gatekeepers of reproduction, the selection pressures that act primarily on females tend to be similar across species and relate, directly or obliquely, to their ability to bear offspring. For males, the story revolves around the conditions of access to females, which is why the male sex “morph” (form) differentiates itself from the female in completely different ways across species.

Sometimes male and female are barely distinguishable from one another. This is the case for many monogamous avians, whose environments, for whatever reason, do not lend themselves to significant sexual differentiation, which reduces female choosiness, which limits dimorphism: it is a negative feedback system. Other birds, like the crested auklet, engage in a kind of mutually eliminative sexual selection, whereby each sex vets the other for organically expensive sexual ornaments for reasons that are not well understood. In elephant seals, the degree of sex differentiation, just in size, borders on the absurd, although their (relative to humans) feeble brains mean that the possible scope of behavioural differentiation is not all that striking most of the time. Exactly where humans “fit” on these continua of male sex differentiation is something of a relative judgement call, but we are obviously not auklets or crows.

Sexual dimorphism and monomorphism have special behavioural correlates, most of which are obvious. Monomorphic species tend to be monogamous with fairly equal parental investment in offspring and low variance in male reproductive success. Dimorphics tend towards, well, the opposite of those traits. Humans also have a lengthier post-reproductive schedule than most animals, largely because of how long it takes the human brain to develop, which probably limits sex differentiation in e.g. aggression compared with some species that practise effective polygyny, and different normative mating systems between human societies will also affect it notwithstanding other forces such as judicially enforced genetic pacification. There is also considerable variation in these “life history traits” through time: from a time when “childhood” was seldom acknowledged as its own entity and children were expected to be responsible, to the point of execution, for criminal wrongdoing from an extremely young age, to … whatever you would call the situation we have now. Certain kinds of change may be inevitable, in this respect. Other things are remarkably changeless even in the face of new environments.

Human sexual dimorphism is an example of this changelessness. If aliens were to observe the human sexes 100 years ago and now, they would note stability in a range of male and female responses to exogenous stimuli, and note the differences in underlying strategy. Males are the strategy of high risk, aggression, dominance, status-seeking, agency and systems orientation; females are the strategy of low risk, passive aggression, emotional dominance, comfort-seeking, agency by proxy, and social orientation. (A great example of the agency/agency by proxy distinction can be seen in sex-specific antisocial behaviours such as psychopathy in males and Briquet’s syndrome in females.) They would note that human females are the limiting factor in reproduction, but human males are the limiting factor in just about everything else (obligatory Paglia quote about living in grass huts, etc). Intelligence is probably not a sexually selected trait in humans, or at least, there is little good evidence for it, and sex differences in intelligence per se are trivial. The sex difference is in application. Human brain complexity and its antecedents mean that the domain of activities germane to preserving one’s genetic line are rather more elaborate than normal, and since females are the “selector” sex, those tasks, and selection for assiduous task-doing, are upon the males.

There is no real sense in which human beings can “escape” natural selection, because natural selection is the reason behind everything that we are, including the desire (of some) to “overcome” natural selection, whatever that means. However, natural selection has also given us moral instincts and reasoning abilities which, combined with the technologies born mostly of male ingenuity, could allow us to divert evolutionary selection pressures in a way that could never happen without our technology. The crapshoot of genetic recombination, by the lights of human morality, is just that: a crapshoot. At some point, artificial gametogenesis could allow humans to become effective hermaphrodites, even if we still have the old equipment. CRISPR, and eventually full genome synthesis, could render natural recombination processes obsolete, and therefore sexual reproduction itself obsolete. Childhood will increasingly resemble adulthood as we produce children of extremely superior intelligence, and thus, reduce the need for high investment. Male breadwinning social roles will run into a brick wall of automation, or perhaps cloning of the 99.999th percentile most workaholic and intelligent workers. Female homemaking roles will (or have?) run into a brick wall of washing machines. As technology outpaces our obsolescent biological hardware, one seriously has to wonder: how much of the human intersexual dynamic, i.e. behavioural sexual dimorphism, is worth preserving? Maybe we could do with being more like the monomorphic crows.

Alternatively, perhaps one imagines a world of nearly infinite morphological freedom where individuals can modify their own physiology and psychology with ease, unconstrained by sex, like character profiles in an RPG, and where sex and gender, insomuch as they exist, amount to little more than fashion. One may dream.