Social science, women and fashion statements

The social sciences obstinately insist on Pascal’s mathematical mind, while women are more likely to give play to his intuitive mind, so it seems the two aren’t a good match. Still, all’s grist for the mill, so here are a couple of (at least purportedly) scientific findings regarding women I thought of interest:

  • Women talk three times as much as men. Their brains are wired differently, it seems, and they even get a brain-chemical high from the sound of their own voices.
  • Women prefer clothes to men. They form more durable attachments to clothes, and given the choice would choose new threads over sack time with their main squeeze.

The first article can speak for itself, although one point worth noting is the determination of the feminist researcher to spin her findings as evidence of masculine deficiencies. Why be so unpleasant? I would have thought that accepting the differences between the sexes is part of willing membership in the human race.

The second I actually found more interesting. It’s hard for most men to understand how women experience fashion. Women often speak of other women’s fashion choices, their choice of colors and patterns or whatever, as if they were major character flaws. In what may be the greatest literary work ever written by a woman, The Tale of Genji, people are mostly characterized by the aesthetic qualities of the notes they write to each other. Why are such things such a big deal?

Here are some random examples of the importance of fashion I noted just yesterday in the right-wing feminine blogosphere:

  • Dawn Eden’s fondness for glamor photos (not to mention her extreme interest in pop culture).
  • A weblog called “American Princess,” which proclaims itself the voice of “Right-wing extremism with impeccable fashion sense.”
  • The weblog Some Have Hats, which uses as its logo a picture of a wonderfully graceful young woman with a very large black hat that evidently pleases her enormously. (“Some Have Hats” may refer to the pious custom whereby women cover their heads in church. If so, the blogeuse doesn’t seem to think of it as a particularly submissive gesture.)

Part of it may be that sensual immediacy plays a larger role in women’s experience. Taste, smell, color and texture all seem more vividly present to them. Also, they’re more observant in some ways than men. Show them clutter and they’re much more likely to be able to find things and to remember afterwards what was there. Put those qualities together with women’s attentiveness to social cues, their tendency to understand things relationally and make their points somewhat indirectly, and the sexual and therefore social importance of physical appearance for them, and it becomes understandable that visual self-presentation to others might take on much greater importance than it does among men.

Dunno, though. Any thoughts?

21 thoughts on “Social science, women and fashion statements”

  1. I would think the reason for
    I would think the reason for the importance of visual self-presentation among women is at root sexual, about attracting and competing for mates. But the fact that this presentation among humans takes on all manner of linguistic or symbolic and esthetic qualities makes it a question of how language and human biology have co-evolved. Our physical bodies and brains cannot be understood without consideration of how they have evolved in tandem with language.

    Women may or may not talk more than men – I’m sure it depends somewhat on social and historical contexts (without which language makes no sense). Yet I think the thesis that language first emerged to mediate the problems of male on male competition and violence (of a sort that no animal pecking order could regulate) is the best for explaining the emergence of language. Much more about language and religion can be illuminated in this perspective – that of Generative Anthropology – than any other yet on offer. If this is correct, if language and religion have a male origin, then the evident fact that women are equally (though differently) or perhaps in certain respects more capable than men of participating in the community of language has to be somehow related to how women have adapted an originally male language to feminine needs. Linguistic freedom comes from necessity but cannot be reduced to it, precisely because it is transcendent in its very “nature”.

    • More ramblings
      Interesting thoughts from both Kevin V. and jwg.

      I agree there seems to be a tendency toward self-involvement among women and that is likely to have something to do with the interest in fashion. Or maybe the tendency to define things relationally, which deprives things of fixed nature and structure, means that (as Schopenhauer suggested) women have a less definite sense of justice, and so can bounce back and forth between selflessness and self-involvement. The one can make them feel resentful, and the other can make them feel guilty, so usually neither is completely stable. Maybe the interest in fashion is that it establishes at least temporarily what the woman is in her own eyes?

      I agree that fashion at bottom has something to do with sex, and added something to the entry to that effect (before seeing jwg’s comment). On the origins of language: if it’s true that the part of the brain that deals with language is more developed in women, and speaking gives them a biochemical buzz, it’s hard to think of it as at bottom masculine. It does seem that language serves a somewhat different function for the two sexes. Men use it more to solve problems, women to maintain relationships. When a problem is being discussed women don’t really want a definite clear solution because that would stop the personal to and fro. To men bringing the thing to an end so they can go do something else is an advantage.

      Maybe the point is that language started as direct and functional and then developed to more complex and non-literal uses?

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • Jim,
        I see no reason to


        I see no reason to think language is more developed in women than men. Quantity is not necessarily quality. And, whether as a result of nature or society, the majority of new cultural and technical contributions must still be male dominated. And as for biochemical buzzes, men, and animals without language have them too – there are no doubt a lot of correlations to understand here and some simple observation of women speaking and having a buzz should suggest little.

        Your suggestion of a tension between women’s sense of selflessness and self-involvement probably gets us closer to the problem that women are not completely at home in what remains in many respects a male-dominated culture (hence a susceptability to certain emotional, biochemical buzzes?). Many feminists, I think, would agree that culture has been and remains male dominated, and yet they will also be inclined to notions that women are more capable in language than men. This would seem to imply some massive conspiracy in which “patriarchy” at some point in the past usurped women’s cultural leadership and oppressed, with thuggish inarticulateness, our poor sisters.

        I don’t think such resentful theories get us very far – if they did, it would be better known. There is a woman and culture problem because there is more than one way of relating to the other. Linguistic othering (focussing the group on its shared public relationship to the sacred and on its external rivals) is a male-dominated activity for reasons having to do with the need to mediate men’s violence (male-on-male violence; further, men’s relative strength, compared to the average woman, makes claims for women controlling culture in some primal paradise most dubious). Women, however, have through their potential and experience as mothers a different kind of relationship to the other, the babe in the womb, the child they raise, that does not fit easily into the male-dominated modes of culture.

      • Kierkegaard on women
        Kierkegaard is one of those philosophers you are never quite sure about. He wrote under pseudonyms and understanding his method (indirect communication) is key to understand his texts.
        The symposium in Either/Or is part of the “either” (aesthetic) portion of the text. There’s an interesting article by Dr. Alice von Hildenbrand on the Catholic Culture website on his alleged “misongny” (he was not)

      • fashion or beauty?
        I think women’s interest in fashion has more to do with the fact that the burden of beauty has been placed on woman. I don’t mean this as a ‘blame men’ thing, but anytime a woman is mentioned, historically, in literature, in film, in conversation, at some point, usually right away, her physical attributes are brought up, whether or not she is beautiful. I don’t hear this about men, except when women are describing some ‘hunk’—but this is only between women and not all the time. A guy shows his friends/family a picture of his fiancee, ‘she’s really beautiful’ is the de rigeur reply. When women lose this beauty, “the bloom is off the rose”, you will note that usually interest in fashion also declines, more and more as the woman gets older. The question she asks herself is ‘what’s the point’? That ideal of beauty is no longer attainable, the burden of beauty has been shed, only to be replaced by the burden of invisibility. At first they may struggle to regain it [view the barrage of cosmetics for this very purpose], but eventually give up the fight and just try to appear presentable, the unimportant backdrop to the young and still physically attractive women. One poster mentions how interesting women actresses are, but see how few are of the older variety—women who are REALLY interesting and have something more to offer than just a soulful expression on a vacant pretty face. Yes, I hear the gentlemen thinking: who wants to stare at an old crone? Voila! That is why [many] women obsess about fashion, [and don’t forget makeup and hair]—to attain that impossible elusive ever changing ideal of beauty, the only thing consistently considered important by society [or should I say men?], about women. At least, that’s what it sounds like from all I can see.

        • It’s true enough that people
          It’s true enough that people think beauty comes closer to what a woman is than what a man is, but it seems to me your way of talking about the situation leaves out too much.

          For example, is concern with beauty simply a burden? Is it simply a matter of gaining position by pleasing others? In the case of men, are people concerned only with their saintliness, so the way they are judged has more ultimate validity? And does it make sense to view beauty as something “placed” on women by an arbitrary decision that could equally have been reversed?

          • fashion or beauty?
            I was responding only to the fashion issue, trying to explain woman’s apparent obsession with it, and relating it to the fact that society values, and has valued, beauty in women, now to the exclusion of all else it seems, since virtue has been thrown out the window as a desirable quality, at least in popular culture. When I say ‘burden’ I don’t mean the concern with it, but the reality that no matter what a woman may do, her physical appearance is probably going to be the first item on the list as to how she’s judged or regarded. I also mean the reality that it is only during a brief period in her life that she has beauty, if she has it at all, since aging will at some point take it away. These are things a person cannot control, or has minimal control over, since physical appearance is what we’re born with.

            In the case of men, who now is concerned with their saintliness? Sadly, only the godly few out there. However, let us take the case of men. Society values their character, strength, decisiveness, accomplishments, or other such things. In other words, characteristics that can be developed, that are under a man’s control. He can work on being of good character, of being a hard worker, etc. and these qualities can improve as the man ages and he has worked on them longer. Obviously men must deal with the realities of their own limitations and the limitations imposed by their circumstances, but at least the qualities admired are qualities that are attainable by effort, whereas beauty is given, not attainable by effort, leaving the ‘ugly’ woman and the older woman stuck.

  2. The fashion designer
    Kierkegaard creates a dialogue on Eros, in the model of Plato’s symposium, in his work Either/Or. One of the speakers is a fashion designer. Like Plato, not all his characters speak with Kierkegaard’s voice but this one mirrors your article

    “Well, make trial of it: let the swain, when his beloved one sinks rapturously on his breast, whispering unintelligibly: “thine forever,” and hides her head on his bosom—let him but say to her: “My sweet Kitty, your coiffure is not at all in fashion.”—Possibly, men don’t give thought to this; but he who knows it, and has the reputation of knowing it, he is the most dangerous man in the kingdom. What blissful hours the lover passes with his sweetheart before marriage I do not know; but of the blissful hours she spends in my shop he hasn’t the slightest inkling, either. Without my special license and sanction a marriage is null and void, anyway—or else an entirely plebeian affair. Let it be the very moment when they are to meet before the altar, let her step forward with the very best conscience in the world that everything was bought in my shop and tried on there—and now, if I were to rush up And exclaim: “But mercy! gracious lady, your myrtle wreath is all awry”—why, the whole ceremony might be postponed, for aught I know. But men do not suspect these things, one must be a dressmaker to know. So immense is the power of reflection needed to fathom a woman’s thought that only a man who dedicates himself wholly to the task will succeed, and even then only if gifted to start with. Happy therefore the man who does not associate with any woman, for she is not his, anyway, even if, she be no other man’s; for she is possessed by that phantorn born of the unnatural intercourse of woman’s reflection with itself, fashion. Do you see, for this reason should woman always swear by fashion—then were there some force in her oath; for after all, fashion is the thing she is always thinking of, the only thing she can think together with, and into, everything. ”

  3. thoughts
    Any thoughts?

    Sure, I have thoughts, but being male, I don’t want to talk about them.

    As for the “mathematical mind” and the “intuitive mind,” I wouldn’t have expected a reference to Pascal; I would have expected Kant and Heidegger.

    In any case, men can be, and are, aesthetic, about all sorts of things. It was, after all, Leonardo who painted Mona Lisa, and not the other way around. The list can be expanded indefinitely.

    As for fashions, there have been times in Western culture when men knew how to dress, and were quite proud of it (as described, for example, by Barbara Tuchman in her study of the 14th century, “A Distant Mirror”; here in the US, we are the inheritors of a Puritan culture, and its distaste for masculine expressiveness (perhaps our aesthetics are limited and channeled into war).

    In any case, one would expect a culture of Cartesian nominalists to degenerate over time to a non-aesthetic, utilitarian baseline, not only in fashion but also in language—the world, as defined by language, becomes more and more restricted, until soon, we will all be speaking in acronyms. Women, and their fashions, are one small relief from the general sterility.

    • This and that
      Oh, men can be aesthetic and even take an interest in clothing of course. It’s also true (as Stove would argue) that the top performers in just about every field, even fashion, are disproportionately male. Still, women are mostly more interested in fashion, and so far as I can tell that’s been true even when men have also been interested. I also agree that Cartesian thought suppresses the intuitive outlook, and that’s one bad feature of the modern world that women on the whole resist better than men. That’s why (to my mind anyway) they’re usually more engaging to talk to. One problem of course is that they generally have a hard time taking something and going anywhere with it.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

      • Mansfield
        I haven’t read Harvey Mansfield’s book on what he calls “manliness,” but I saw him address a room of hostile women on C-span on the subject.

        He made the same point you’re making: men seem to have a more clearly defned sense of justice, which they can take forward for long periods of time (even through revolutions, both religious and secular).

        I’m not intimately familiar with feminism, but one thing that has disappointed me about it, intellectually, is how shopworn it all is: it borrows entirely from the categories of Cartesian nominalism and the Enlightenment for its categories and goals. Instead of being or becoming something new, it’s just one more expression of a modernity fashioned by men. Yes, there are some feminine post-modernists, who at least formally reject Enlightenment categories, but I don’t see beyond that rejection any creativity.

  4. Stove
    Given that you have raised, in several posts, the workings of the female mind, I can’t resist a reference to David Stove and his essay on the intellectual capacity of women.

    Stove was an agnostic, neo-positivist conservative. He didn’t think much of the “women’s movement,” or what he called “jobs for the girls.”

    • Joan
      An interesting and stirring case, when considering women: Joan the Maid, perhaps the most lucid intelligence I have ever encountered.

      For Mark Twain’s appreciation—Joan was “easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced” —

      Churchill called her the most remarkable soul in a thousand years.

  5. for the love of fabric
    We live in a society which claims that there are no essential differences between men and women. And then you read (from another right-wing feminine blog) confessions like the following:

    “What do you think I do when I can’t sleep?

    Okay, I read and stuff, and yeah, I’ll surf the web a bit, but eventually my brain stops wanting to do that.

    So I go here and look at Saris.

    Because I can never look at beautiful fabric enough…my heart hungers for beauty. And I don’t especially want to wear beautiful clothes – that’s too much trouble – but I want to look at beautiful clothes and fabrics. As I’ve said before, I’d love to own Katharine Hepburn’s black, slit-back, dolman-sleeved formal gown from “Holiday” or Grace Kelly’s crinolined-out cocktail dress in Rear Window…not to wear them…I just want to put the dresses on a form and look at them.”

    So how many men when they can’t sleep turn on the internet to look at pictures of fabric?

    BTW, I’ve noticed that even left-wing women are increasingly turning back to more traditionally feminine interests, and to the domestic sphere, whilst still holding to a politics hostile to such things.

    If you click on the “interests” button on a lot of femininst blogs, you’ll find items like knitting, sewing, cooking, decorating, children, kittens etc.

    It makes me wonder if modernism has become too empty at a personal level for many political women. If so, the question is whether the politics will be modified to fit what these women find more authentic in their personal lives, or whether there will be some kind of unstable “fusion” between a liberal politics and a traditionalist practice.

    Mark Richardson

    • They’re everywhere
      Here’s another right-wing blogeuse picking up the theme. Dunno what it means as to leftist women. Maybe it shows that feminism is internally unstable and will evaporate if other things are put in an order that makes more sense.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

  6. gals/guys
    FWIW, three things your posting has recalled to me.

    1) Give a man a camera, and he’ll likely start taking photos of women. Give a woman a photo, and she’ll likely start taking photos of herself. Not a small phenomenon, btw. Many, many women on Flickr love taking photos of themselves and putting them on public display. Many, many guys of course love taking photos of sexy babes and putting those on display. On the one hand, this makes me think that women are massively, infuriatingly self-involved. On the other it makes me think, well, maybe “women’s art” tends to be very different than men’s. Men objectify—we deal better with things in the third person. (I know I’m forever trying to talk about real-live subjects to my wife, who almost always instantly responds by talking about herself—she personalizes what to me is objective.) Meanwhile women personalize, and look at themselves, and want to give vent to their feelings … And this is what it all seems to be about. (Incidentally, I notice that the vagina, a circle, wants to go round and round in circles. The penis wants to crash through and make points …) So maybe in many ways women are their own artworks. How they decorate themselves and present themselves and conduct themselves—maybe (assuming there’s any care and attention there) the woman who has pulled herself together has created a little artwork, even a poem, and deserves to be treated as such. I’ve always had the suspicion that feminists had it all wrong when it came to women and art. Women were already creating tons of art very naturally a directly: households, decor, storytelling, sewing, meals, parties, as well as themselves as appetitizing creatures with looks and gestalts. Feminists seemed to want to deny this, or to covet the domain where men did their art (painting, etc).

    2) A Hollywood screenwriting guru once told me that in his opinion women were often far more gifted as screenwriters than men. (And in fact in early Hollywood many screenwriters were women.) More intuitive, more insightful into characters, more able to sympathetically bring characters to life, more able to take imaginative situations as though they’re real … Meanwhile men push, and have brains and ideas and energy and cleverness. So why do so few women screenwriters get screen credits these days? “Women are quitters,” he said. When they discover that the film biz is tough, many of them ditch it. They want to be loved, celebrated, treated in lovely ways, respected, etc. And then they discover that the professional world is hard and tough and full of dishonesty and competitiveness, and they lose all motivation.

    3) My wife and I sometimes work with actors, male and female. A couple of things regularly knock us out. Female actors are often a pain in the butt. They’re neurotic, needy, diva-ish, cat-like … And passive. They wait around for you to do things for them. Even the ones who go out and audition regularly … Well, it rarely occurs to them that they might put on their own show. They want someone else to take care of that, and then they want to have a place in it. (Analogies to gals really wanting guys to go slay the mastodon and build the house so the woman can move in and decorate it are encouraged.) Meanwhile, guy actors are much more dynamic and count-upon-able. They show up on time (or apologize if they can’t). They take orders. And, if things aren’t working out, they’ll get together with buds and put on their own show. All that said, women are often also much more interesting to watch as performers. All those primitive drives and complexes and conflicting feelings, all that emotionality, and the physical transparency that so many of them have … Well you might very well have to kill yourself to get them to give it, but when they do it can seem like what art is all about. Guys you can often count on for energy and cleverness and rowdiness, but it’s only rarely that they’ll come across with much in the way of complexity and feeling. I asked a male actor friend about this (he agrees completely, btw), and his explanation (if you don’t mind the humorous vulgarity) was, “Guys go into acting because they want to waggle their dicks around in public. Women go into acting because they want validation.” Brilliant! Not that I’ve ever fully understood what “validation” means … As far as I can tell, it means that they want to be patted on the head and told they done good. My wife likes to say that women are much more primitive creatures than men are, but far more interesting. What a relief to be married to a gal who makes observations like that! Of course, then she’s off on some new monologue about her own feelings about it …

  7. Laboring to be beautiful
    Mr. Kalb makes it too complicated. The central job of women is to be beautful. “We must labor to be beautiful,” Yeats said on their behalf. Clothing, fashion, is a primal force expressing the essence of woman, just as flying expresses the essence of a bird, and roaring expresses the essence of a lion.

  8. Feminism and Why “Conservatives” Are Wasting Their Time?
    Look I hate the feminist movement as much as any other sane guy does. But this constant railing against women is rather lame. Don’t you think that there are larger issues at stake than feminism at the moment. I mean we live in a world where half of the world doesn’t even believe in God anymore, and the other half are radical Muslims. (And personally I’m siding with the Muslims here!) This feminist crap is just shooting at nits. There are much bigger fish to fry. Unbelief in God is growing. This is far more disturbing than a bunch of crazed bra-burning feminists could ever be.

      • Feminism.
        Look, when some feminazi spouts off about how much she doesn’t need a man and how she’s had 6 abortions, or whatever, nothing makes me sicker. But I can’t say I want to see women reduced to the status they would occupy in traditional Indian society, for example. Or worse, some puritanical segregation. Sorry. Those aren’t even Western values, that you claim to hold so dear. Those are the values of puritan fanatics. And to my mind puritanism is not a good thing. Further to be consistent you should also be railing against noted women conservatives, too, shouldn’t you. I don’t see you railing against Coulter, the biggest “feminist” going. Also, I find it ironic that you have women contributors to this board. One last thing. And I don’t want to be too offensive here, but I’m afraid I’ve got to say it. Men who repeatedly bash women have a tendency to be associated with homosexuality. Something I’m sure would be the last thing you’d want to be associated with.

        Look, the conservative answer to feminism is marriage. Not misogyny. I don’t hate women. Sorry. The excesses of anti-feminism are just as bad as the excesses of feminism. The only difference is that in America and the West at least feminism rules, so we don’t get an opportunity to see the excesses of anti-feminism in the West at least.

        To me though, feminism is just a symptom of a disease. By focusing too much on the symptom you run the risk of missing the disease itself. The disease is unbelief in God. It is growing. And, it is far more disturbing than feminism, at least to my mind anyway. I think conservatives have become so afraid of the disease that they are just focusing on the symptoms instead. I mean afterall, if someone at least believes in God, then you have something to work with, right. But if someone doesn’t even believe in God, then where can you go with that person? You can’t. There’s nothing. That to my mind is a far greater issue. But hey maybe it’s just me.

  9. Female chattiness debunked
    The latest report on how much men/women talk finds that they are just about equal. The study that reported that women talk nearly three times as much as men was debunked by the very woman who published the results, when she found the numbers were based on unreliable data from a secondary source. She tried to have the faulty information removed from subsequent printings of her book, I don’t know if she succeeded.


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