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One Male’s Perspective, Courtesy of Joe Slote

03 Jun

Hey classmates!

As we’ve mentioned, something that may have been lacking from our class this term is a male perspective. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that he has strong views on the subject of makeup and beauty—so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing some of them with our female-dominated class. The result is a 35-minute podcast/audio clip/interview/discussion in which the exceedingly well-spoken Joseph Slote discusses the evolutionary psychologist’s perspective on modern beauty norms—including how they came about, how they evolved into what we see in society today and how they have shaped his own social perceptions. He even suggests some possible solutions for the issues he addresses.

The clip can be found on our class’s Moodle page if it doesn’t work here (under Topic 6). Please forgive any awkward pauses and word stumbles (mainly on my part), the infamous train horn and the slightly less-relevant mention of Britney Spears’ shaved head…

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And because I know that 35 minutes is a long time to listen, here’s some highlights:

  • “Evolutionary psychologists would say that beauty is originally a tool of evolution to signify reproductive fertility.”
  • “There’s this arm’s race between men and women of developing ways to fool the other gender or sex into believing the other person more attractive.” (For example, women hide when ovulating)
  • “Some evolutionary psychologists believe that things like makeup and certain types of dress are there to enhance what we call ‘beauty’, but what really may mean–at least at the basis level–fertility.” (For example, corsets and mascara)
  • “There’s this whole industry devoted to making women feel like they need beauty products and to me it seems like a waste of time and a waste of money and a replacement for self-esteem and self-love.”
  • “I like the idea of people being comfortable in their own skin.”
  • “We have the capacity to transcend our evolutionary heritage.”
  • “Now, in today’s society, we’re are dealing with moral issues that have never occurred before.”
  • “[Evolutionary psychology aims to]… understand what tendencies we do have biologically and then, with that understanding, figure out how to transcend them and how to deal with our limitations. I feel like only when we understand the sources of our stereotypes can we reconsider them and become better.”
  • “Only with our conscious rational minds can we begin to notice and control some biological intuitions or things that maybe were useful in our evolutionary past but our now really inconvenient. “ (For example, rape)
  • “If we just were aware of it, we could do a lot to prevent it.”

How do his views fit into our class? How do we feel about this very scientific angle on some of the topics we’ve discussed? Can the ideas of evolutionary psychology really explain all of the issues we’ve raised and discussed in class or read about? Do you agree with him? Is his negative view of makeup adequately justified by his reasons? Are there exceptions? How does his perspective as a male affect how we receive these views? Does it? (Why didn’t he take this class??)

For me, his explanations expand one of our very first concepts—Bordo’s idea of the dualism of self and Schwartz’s bear. Perhaps the burdensome bear of a body is our biological and evolutionary constraints, and our true self comes from the ability to, as he puts it, “transcend” them. Are we held back by our sheer biological humanness?

(*Also, the book he recommends: http://robertwright.com/moral-animal/)

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2 Comments

Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

2 responses to “One Male’s Perspective, Courtesy of Joe Slote

  1. yawen214

    June 3, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    I think he missed some important points here:
    1. The power dynamics across races/ethnics/gender and the production of a normalized beauty;

    2. Makeup is not only about highlighting “beauty (fertility). As we noticed that Super skinny body is not good for fertility and that in history, women were not always regarded as attractive if they were super skinny. Some makeups features making people look skinner which don’t fit the claim.

    3. His claims that “There’s this whole industry devoted to making women feel like they need beauty products and to me it seems like a waste of time and a waste of money and a replacement for self-esteem and self-love.” shows that he is very ignorant of his own privilege. As a scientist, he should understand that it’s highly possible that self-esteem and self-love drive him to invest time in studying science in a similar way they drive women to put on makeup. Just because women are evaluated by their appearance doesn’t make what they do a waste of time/money. Instead, men should consider why the structure makes women waste time/money on beauty products. As the people in power in the structure, systematically acknowledging their privileges should be a step prior to any further critique on people who are oppressed in the structure.

    4. “Only with our conscious rational minds can we begin to notice and control some biological intuitions or things that maybe were useful in our evolutionary past but our now really inconvenient. “ (For example, rape)
    I strongly disagree. While there might be biological intuitions/things that might be useful in our past which are no longer useful today, rape is definitely not one of them. Rape is produced within our system because of the imbalanced power distribution. Justifying rape/any form of sexual assault with biological intuition is absurd.

    5. “I like the idea of people being comfortable in their own skin.” Still, being comfortable in their own skin color is not merely an easy choice. It requires lots of privilege to be able to truly feel comfortable about one’s own skin. Again, here it’s ignorant for him to say he simply like the idea.

     
  2. Nikki

    June 5, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I think he overstates the relationship between beauty standards and fertility. Yawen gave the example of size, which is always the one that comes first to mind: skinny women probably aren’t going to have the healthiest babies in a society where starvation is a real threat. But in addition, such norms fluctuate all the time; it’s also clearly the case that in a lot of contexts (other cultures now, Western culture in the past), that’s not the beauty ideal. (In addition, corsets and mascara are really bizarre cases to use to justify this point.) Pretending that our beauty standards are things evolution conditions us to prefer gives them automatic justification and exempts us from evaluating them, but I’m not impressed by arguments like that.

     

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