Sex, lies and evolutionists

Britain on the Couch
BOFFINS HAVE discovered a Peruvian tribe whose men fancy apple- shaped (waists wider than hips) women, in contrast to the Marilyn Monroe and Kate Moss shapes that we favour. Shown pictures of the latter, the witty Peruvians suggested that they probably suffered from diarrhoea. This supposedly presents a challenge to the evolutionary psychologists' claim that our tastes reflect a universal, genetically programmed concept of female beauty.

In fact, for many of the issues that are taken as evolutionary gospel truth we do not need Peruvian exceptions to see that social rather than genetic explanations remain pivotal. There is a substantial body of work by the American psychologist Brett Silverstein which shows the centrality of social processes. Silverstein established that the modern "thin standard" for female attractiveness has fluctuated. Magazine photographs of women demonstrate that in the mid-Twenties and from the mid-Sixties to the present, standards have become very thin (as measured by low ratio bust and hip to waist measurements).

Why should these fluctuations occur? Silverstein points to the fact that men have been more likely in most societies to be high achievers. At the same time, curvaceous women are perceived to be less intelligent than non-curvaceous ones, so women who want to be successful may minimise their femininity. Silverstein has established that thinness and achievement are connected in women. Responding to silhouettes of female figures, women who preferred smaller breasts and buttocks were also more likely to choose "masculine" careers. Added to this, investigation of historical archives of medical cases related to eating disorders has found references to strivings for intellectual or academic achievement. In former times it was difficult for women to achieve recognition, and the desire to appear more masculine may have been intensified.

Eating disorders are common among adolescent women who strive for high achievement. Girls from fee-paying schools are more at risk than those at state schools, and upper-class girls are more likely to desire to be slimmer than lower-class ones. A further study of 188 women students showed that those who had "male" aspirations were more at risk of eating disorders, as were women who said they wished they had been born a boy. In short, women who want to have male achievements are more likely to aspire to a male body shape.

Silverstein also tested this theory by correlating the bust-to-waist ratios of models in magazine photographs since the beginning of this century, with the proportion of working women. When the number of women graduates and professionals was growing, there was a thinner body shape.

Silverstein's work suggests that the powerful stereotypes about women's bodies have a large effect. Busty women are assumed to be incompetent, and it should be no surprise if this makes women who want to be taken seriously in male domains want to look more like men.

This body of research and supporting evidence by other researchers has been ignored by the media. Almost none of the unintelligentsia who dominate our media will have heard of Silverstein. Most have an arts degree and know nothing about social science. They cheerfully swallow the latest wild speculation from the evolutionists. A predominantly Tory press peddles what are, in many cases, modern myths dressed up as science. The evolutionary myths nearly always uphold a right-wing status quo: that women are cut out only for mothering, men are naturally promiscuous, and so on. The ideological function of most evolutionary "science" is the same as that served by the Christian religion in the British Empire: proving that our way is natural and, therefore, best.

Oliver James's `Britain on the Couch: Why We're Unhappier Compared With 1950 Despite Being Richer', is available in paperback (Arrow, pounds 7.99)