Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Conforming to Type

I would not want our readers to imagine that my thoughts about human nature are always triggered by seeing an attractive woman, particularly one that I don't know. But with my Darwinian eyes so well adjusted to seeking out reproductive fitness, it happens upon occasion.

There is, you see, a Wells Fargo bank branch located in the central thoroughfare of the massive office building where I work. And the demographics of staffing being what they are, it is invariably staffed entirely by women. The other day I was hurrying by when I happened to notice a woman leaning on counter and talking to the three women manning the bank. That I noticed was probably not coincidental, in that she was to all appearances someone intending to draw attention: tall and slim with a short skirt and very high heels adding to the effect; slouching slightly in the way that thin women often do, thus emphasizing curves above and below while demonstrating they don't have to stand straight to look thin; leaning against the counter in a look-at-my-cleavage kind of way; and talking with frequent tosses of her long, blond hair.

What caused my mental double-take, however, was not the spectacle itself (I would flatter myself that I'm as capable of appreciating without gawking as the next fellow) but rather that all this apparent display was being delivered to an entirely female audience. Why be "on" when talking only to other women? If anything, such flaunting seems more designed to annoy other women that to ingratiate the flaunter to them.

On later contemplation, however, I began to wonder if this kind of "flaunting" was, in fact, unconscious. I had always assumed that the "hot girl" type as an intentional affectation, something turned on at need in order to achieve specific results -- primarily, I think, because although I know women I consider very attractive, none of them routinely exhibit this set of mannerisms and postures. I had, thus, concluded without even thinking about it that this way of behaving was -- like the straightened hair, snug clothes, and style of makeup that usually accompanied it -- something chosen.

As with any analysis of human behavior, I would imagine this is true some of the time. But I wonder how often a style of behavior is assumed subconsciously, based on what results one gets from other people.

This woman's behavior had thrown me because it seemed like "look at me" behavior directed at an audience that would have no interest in it. If such behavior was only adopted intentionally, that would indeed make no sense. But what if the "hot girl" mannerisms (a set of behaviors I had always associated with decorative vacuity of the "don't bother getting to know this person" variety) are to a great extent trained subconsciously into one by society? Growing up, does a girl attractive and outgoing enough to "carry off" the stereotype get constant subconscious feedback in the form of people paying more attention to her when she behaves in certain ways instead of others, gradually training her into a preset style of behavior? To what extent do we find ourselves gently guided into preset "types" by the expectations of society?

Still turning this question over in my mind at home that night, I noticed my two oldest daughters (ages 6 and 7) cavorting around the house. The younger is very slim and tall, while the older is built more solidly, and I realized there was already a discernible difference in how they carried themselves. Does that suggest this is instead some sort of inherent, personality difference? Or do we begin to pick up these queues at a very young age?


Yeah, you know who... said...

I can't answer your question as to when it begins for sure. I think you see signs of it in some little girls, but I think it really becomes a thing when girls become more aware (puberty perhaps?).

Thing is, you shouldn't be surprised that she was flaunting in front of other women. Women pay attention (often times more likely to call it out than we are). And a woman doesn't have to be a flaunter to notice it.

It is an interesting subject though and would make for great science. Next time you observe something worthy of anthropological study at the bank (cafeteria, hallway or even 50 yards out into the parking lot) come get me and we'll see if we can solve this mystery through the power of keen observation.


Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Having known a lot of women who dress like that, I would say that a big factor is insecurity. Women like that often feel that their entire value lies in how pretty they are, so they're constantly seeking validation that society sees them as pretty, whether it's from men or women. Not sure if that answers your question, but that's my $0.02. :)

Anonymous said...

Good Grief, Darwin. She not only got YOUR attention, she stirred ya up for the whole day apparently. Now ya ask, "for whom was she flaunting"?

I think you should start your own testoronized blog. This post is unworthy of your family.

mrsdarwin said...


I appreciate your thoughtfulness in being concerned for our family, but I am a bit surprised that a faithful reader like you would be so mistaken in Darwin's character. We very rarely post anything (except for maybe the occasional youtube video) without talking it over with each other first, and our posts are usually formed by and inspired by conversations we've had with each other.

Perhaps you fear that Darwin lusts in his heart, but I assure you that when he says he notices and appreciates a lady, that's exactly what he means. This post in particular is mostly recycled from a conversation we had on the day of the "event", if you will, which resulted in some interesting thoughts about how people (not just women) tend to pick up on societal cues and approval for certain behaviors -- and, as Darwin noted, the implications of that for our own children, who are, at this point, mostly girls.

We'd welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Anonymous said...

Greetings. My, what a foul, depressed mood I was in last night. Wisdom does not necessarily come with age, and yes, at my age of 39(cough, cough, hehe) I should know better than to speak too quickly. Upon further reflection, I see where Darwin's first paragraph should have allayed my feelings.

Now then, having said all that, I would also point out that I am mostly a "Black & White" kinda guy. When I run across a similar scene, I appreciate it too, albeit on a baser level, then chastise myself, & move on. Psychology be HANGED, she was immodest. Period.

About daughters... Our youngest is a natural-born "flirt". Fortunately, she is also intelligent, so the parental harping & praying is sinking in. It is frustrating to have a daughter enthralled with fashion, yet seemingly oblivious to the male perspective. Good luck, Darwin.

Perhaps, if Darwin had emphasized more about discussing this at home with the DW, it might not have come across so base. Oh well.

Mrs. Darwin has a gentle, soothing approach in coming to Mr. Darwin's aid. This speaks volumes for the loving, Christ-like home she is nurturing so ardently.

God bless all y'all!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I can add some insight from experience - I am the more solidly built, slightly shorter sister, my younger sister is exactly the type you described (except she doesn't wear skirts often and they're never very short).

This is an incredibly complicated question. My sister is really beautiful, and doesn't have any more insecurities than the rest of us in life. So why she wears the heels and the slim cut pants and such is honestly beyond me. I can only say that she genuinely likes the way she looks and is comfortable in them. And they look good on her, they are quite literally made for her body type. And because she's lighter than me by at least 50 pounds, the heels are more comfortable for her than they are for me. She is athletic, but more coordinated and graceful than I am. Her walking pace is fast, but not so determined as mine.

Me, I'm my father's frame on a smaller scale. Big rib cage, broad shoulders. I'm not tall like him, I'm the shortest but at 5'8" that doesn't mean much. I carry a lot of muscle around. And because I carry that muscle (AND have had a baby) clothes just don't fit me the same way. When a pair of pants fits my hips and thighs, they're way too big at the waist. When a blouse fits my shoulders, the bust needs to be taken in. I go in for more geeky, practical clothing, both because it fits better, and I find it easier to move in it. I hate shopping, because it's so hard to find things that fit that are attractive. Because I'm a good 180 pounds, wearing heels is torture on my feet. I look good in skirts, but don't wear them very often because they aren't that practical. I'm not always graceful, but my movements are always purposeful. When I'm walking somewhere alone, I'm a juggernaut and my walking pace is the speed of a slow jog. I have to wear my work keys on my belt as an early warning system to let people know when I'm around the corner, as I seem to always run smack into someone otherwise.

Anyway. What I'm getting at is that I think the way we dress and move is based primarily on our physical build... with a healthy dose of personality type. She slouches and can, I stand up straight so that my figure isn't hidden. She moves more lightly than I do. We each wear clothing that is flattering to our own body types, mine is just more difficult to find. We both favor comfort over dressiness. There's a sort of bulldog tenacity in my movement - this is not a really attractive quality - that is purely personality driven. I can't move the same way she does, I've tried. She can't move the way I do, she doesn't have the physical bulk to barrel down a corridor the same way I can.

It's like the difference between driving a sports car and driving an old steel framed sedan. My old oldsmobile could really build up a head of steam, barrel down a road and take corners like you wouldn't believe. Test driving a Mini is just as fun, but handles completely differently.

That Married Couple said...

My husband and I have concluded that a lot of how women dress is for other women. There are many ways a woman can dress in order to look "sexy" and attract male attention. However, women confine themselves to whatever is fashionable at the moment, no matter how little guys care about fashion.

For example, a guy might like to see a woman with a shirt that shows her midriff (those were popular about 10 years ago). But now since the fashion is long shirts, you won't find a woman wearing it, no matter how much attention (and lust) she might attract. Why? Because the other women would have a field day with her. Women are constantly judging each other - even well-meaning Christian women (guilty as charged). My husband claims "Women are their own worst enemy." When it comes to matters of dress, sometimes I think he's right. As others have said, I think a lot of this is related to insecurity.

BettyDuffy said...

Hmm... I remember reading an article not long ago quoting statistical evidence that in families with two or more girls, the younger sister was 80% more likely to lose her virginity at an earlier age. I just googled some of those key words, however, and found nothing of the likes of that article. Anyhoo, the point was that birth order had more to do with genetics in determining the sexual behavior of girls.

Think "Sense and Sensibility."

BettyDuffy said...

I mean, birth order rather than genetics.

BettyDuffy said...

This was not the original article I read, but it suffices.

Sorry to keep posting comments here. But it's a subject I haven't been able to get out of my mind--the birth order thing, because I've seen the evidence in action many many times. This particular article is sure to give you a parental guilt complex for having too many children, btw. They're all competing for parental attention, you see, which is supposedly why the younger and middle children engage in riskier behaviors.

Emily J. said...

So, Betty, are you saying I'm the goody-goody in this relationship? (BD is my younger sister, and demonstrated flirtatiousness beginning in her toddlerhood.So, granted.)

Interesting that you should bring it up though, because I was going to comment before reading BD's comment that my own second daughter tosses her hair, puts her hands on her hips and INSISTS on wearing her "mom" jeans (lower cut with flairs and embroidery - a gift. Not at all like what you think I mean by mom jeans) daily. This child just turned 3. As a first born sister, I am not a hair flipper, especially now that I have a bad haircut.

So I'm buying into the "pre-programmed" behavior theory. Maybe it is subconsciously attention seeking, but perhaps less for insecurity than a "pay attention to me, please" attitude, like said 3 yr old's tendency to pull my face into hers with both hands when I'm trying to type.

Add to that, now that we live in a more tropical clime where women are less likely to be clothed as eskimos, I've noticed that they dress flashier than their midwestern/east coast sisters. Southern belles with attitude. There may be some subconscious mating ritual at work, but I think they genuinely LIKE these clothes and jewels and handbags, and buy them because they're pretty and sparkly. A different aesthetic. This is not to be taken as a defense of flirtatious behavior, but perhaps an apology for the lack of premeditation behind it.

Rebekka said...

Maybe it's because of the clothes she was wearing - her posture and attitude might be different when she's in more relaxed clothing. My guess is it's subconscious/habit. Like most women automatically watch how they position their legs while sitting in a skirt.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Women dress for other women, not so much for men. My husband asks why I care about how I look and how much I weigh if he is happy with me. "Because I want to impress other women" is what I tell him. I don't want other women to look at me and find me wanting. We are competing with each other for male attention and I suppose it never stops.

Anonymous said...

In theory, I want to impress other women. In real life, I go to the gym in the morning and don't shower or change clothes all day. I mean, why bother? My husband is out of town.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. That Married Couple, in regards to your comment about bare midriffs, where would a woman find a shirt to bare her midriff in these days of the fashion of long torsoed shirts? Few are energetic enough to go to the effort of cropping the shirts shorter.

Today, current fashion dictates what women will wear, instead of what women are wearing dictating current fashion.

RL said...

Witnessed today:

Looong torsoed shirt with horizontal stripes in the colors of the Southwest worn black skirt that was so long that it almost covered her black Converse All-Stars.

Not sure who she was dressing for. Well, she could have truly been dressing for herself. Admirable quality, I suppose. Still, she'd be better served dressing for someone with better taste.