Why are women prettier than men?
Why are women prettier than men?

Women are the fair sex, but men are not. Although, according to the logic of evolution, it should be the other way around. In other species of animals, males are distinguished by their beauty. How can this riddle be solved?

Among all the features of which there are so many in our species (like upright posture, bare skin, or a large brain), the weirdest and most striking is the beauty of women. In other species of living creatures, if one sex differs aesthetically from the other, it usually turns out to be a male, not a female. In addition, the reasons why such differences appear (the need to achieve the location of the opposite sex) in the case of a person are also of great importance, so that male beauty should be especially noticeable. But why did women become the fair sex, although it should be the other way around? This is a real biological secret, the veil of which we are just beginning to open. But before we get to it, let's think about where human characteristics come from.

mission Impossible

Let us first note that all of them, although they seem obvious to us (who thinks about why we walk on two legs and wear clothes?), From a biological point of view, they are at least mysterious, if not absurd. No other mammal or other animal (modern or ancient) walks with its spine erect and its head turned up. No monkey or other mammal has bald and soft skin (fur is as important to them as feathers are to birds). There are extremely rare exceptions from such general statements: for example, a rodent called a naked mole rat has absolutely no hair, and a penguin walks in a straightened position, like a man. But upon closer examination, they only confirm the absurdity of our device: naked mole rats live in underground tunnels and do not come to the surface, and penguins spend a significant part of their life in water.

A naked mole rat would not be able to survive in the open air for long, and penguins would not be able to live without water. Outside of a safe environment, extravagance is irrelevant. But the man made a choice in her favor when he left the safe forests and went to one of the most dangerous places in the world - the African savannah. It was an incredibly risky endeavor, a real biological mission impossible. However, it should not be surprising that we have chosen such an unusual path. If we had followed the beaten track (for monkeys, mammals, or generally land vertebrates), we would not have reached the place where we are now: the most unusual species on Earth (if not in the Universe). Trying to penetrate the secret of our evolution, we must accept as a general principle that we should be surprised not when we are faced with absurd things, but when everything seems obvious. The unusual appearance could not appear in the usual way.

Why are women prettier than men?
Why are women prettier than men?

Dangerous beauty

Now we can return to the question of female beauty. Let us first think about where beauty comes from in nature? This is a trait that is not so common in the animal kingdom. The reason is simple: beauty is expensive and dangerous. Whichever definition we give it, this is a message that is addressed to others - important and easy to read. And here you need to be careful, because every message can be received by the wrong addressees: and instead of admiring, they use it as a call to carry out their unfriendly intentions.

Therefore, for the first adherents of the evolutionary theory, the only understandable color and behavior of animals was the desire to hide their presence. Of course, sometimes animals have a bright and often (in our opinion) beautiful appearance: this can be a warning or identifying coloration. But beauty, if it does arise, is here a by-product, and not a self-sufficient goal. In the first case, the animal tries to attract the attention of a potential rival, but at the same time - to suppress his interest. The message sounds like this: don't even try me, otherwise you will regret it. In the second case, colors and shades are a kind of species code, thanks to which animals can easily detect each other, avoiding unpleasant mistakes. But there are features that appear precisely so that a representative of one sex looks more attractive in the eyes of another, and some individuals are more beautiful than others. These are the so-called secondary sexual characteristics - those that are not directly involved in the process of reproduction, fertilization or childbirth. Their functions are of aesthetic nature. Charles Darwin was one of the first to draw attention to their existence, who devoted many years of his life to this topic, as the most important deviation from the principle of natural selection, and the book "The Origin of Man and Sexual Selection" the problem is directly related to the riddle of interest to us).

Darwin noticed that many especially noticeable external properties of animals are not associated with adaptation to the environment and even complicate life for their owners: the large antlers of a moose are an uncomfortable load on the head, the long tail of a peacock or many other birds interferes with flights, and bright colors of mating plumage attract predators. All these things are inconvenient, but they have appeared, and since their owners even organize tournaments or performances at which they display their jewelry with zeal, it means that they have a special meaning for them. Moreover, such deviations appear only in representatives of one sex, almost always male, which means that they are associated not so much with the species as with the gender and perform some functions in the selection of partners. But which ones?

Shyness of females

Darwin noted that the procreation of offspring is a much more complicated process for females than for males: the former produce much less numerous than sperm and larger eggs, from which, after fertilization, even larger and more "expensive" eggs are obtained. Then, often (in birds), these eggs have to be incubated, and in the case of mammals, the developing fetus has to be carried for a long time, and then fed with milk, which the female herself must produce. Reproduction becomes a complex and costly investment in the interests of both partners, although the second is hardly invested in it. Thus, from a biological point of view, females play a much more important role than males, acting as a kind of resource that you have to fight for. Therefore, it is easy for a female to find a partner - everyone will be ready for this role, but the problem is in choosing a suitable candidate, and here one desire on his part is not enough.

Each male can fertilize an almost unlimited number of females. On farms, it is enough to have one bull to cover a herd of cows, or one stallion (or even just his seed) to fertilize all mares. But since in nature approximately the same number of females and males are born, a huge number of the latter becomes "redundant." Hence this characteristic sexual asymmetry is taken: males have to show themselves in some way so that usually inconspicuous and "timid" females can choose a suitable candidate. A kind of bashfulness of females has a rational explanation in nature: only abstinence gives them a chance to make a truly correct choice. She, unlike him, is in no hurry.

Reflecting on how the selection of a suitable candidate occurs, Darwin noted that this can happen in two ways: the males either enter into a fight with each other (the winner "breaks the bank", which in some cases, for example, in gorillas, may end in the creation of a harem), or active selection is carried out by the female, to whom the males demonstrate their merits. How does this happen?

Differently. For example, in territorial animals, the male can attract a mate by the abundance of his site or the safety of the nest. Others present some kind of gift (usually food), and in extreme cases, like with praying mantises, they even sacrifice themselves (which makes sense if you have time to transfer genes in advance).

Why are women prettier than men?
Why are women prettier than men?

Gene advertising

But all this does not lead to the appearance of beauty, and even more so the beautiful females that interest us. We'll have to look further. Why would a female choose a handsome male that would be of no use? After all, beauty can harm not only him (making it noticeable to predators), but also the offspring, which will become orphaned, in addition, having received harmful genes of vanity from their father.

It happens that the male cannot avoid caring for the future offspring (and / or the female) if he wants to wait for him. This happens, for example, in many birds, which have to warm developing embryos (since birds, unlike reptiles, are warm-blooded). The female incubating eggs is completely defenseless, and the male cannot leave her without risking losing the chicks. That is why monogamy is so widespread in birds (almost unknown to mammals, in which pregnancy does not significantly limit the mobility of the female). But she in itself does not lead to the acquisition of beauty, since the male turns out to be as important as the female, and his biological responsibilities require him to be careful first of all.

Of the 8,700 known bird species, 8,615 live in monogamous pairs. And the remaining 85 (this is less than a percent of the total) reigns polygamy without the formation of harems. Their place was taken by beauty contests. In some cases, thanks to this, real natural masterpieces were born, like birds of paradise or satin huts - natural-born artists who erect fantastically decorated buildings for their chosen ones (when such huts were first discovered in Australia, they were considered ritual buildings of the aborigines).

Over the course of evolution, which has lasted several million years, females have worked as breeders, enhancing those traits that they considered important and excluding those that they did not like. This is what Darwin wrote when describing the mechanism of selection, and every breeder of pigeons, chickens or canaries can agree with this. Both in artificial and in natural conditions, the redundancy of forms and colors, pure beauty are associated with the taste of the fact that selection produces. There is one difference: artificially bred individuals are doomed to the mercy of man: without his care, they will either perish or, at best, “run wild”, having lost in a few generations all the improvements they had acquired with difficulty. In the case of sexual selection, if beauty has appeared, it will not disappear, but will only increase in the course of evolution.

Where we are dealing with the choice of the female, it seems that it is contrary to common sense: they all, if they can, favor handsome, attractive and risk-taking males. Why?

There are several answers to this question, but the most popular belongs to the Israeli biologist Amotsu Zahavi. The scientist says that beauty is an advertisement for the genes of the male. According to his theory, which is called the "concept of handicap", the female chooses not a partner, but his genes, since only they are passed on to the offspring. But she sees not the genes, but the outer "packaging", which does not always correspond to the "content." So the male has to somehow advertise his genes, and to do it convincingly, because the buyer is bad who believes in advertising. Zahavi puts her theory into such categories: when the female makes a choice, there is a buyer, product and packaging, as well as advertising. Reasonable tactics require the buyer to force the seller to demonstrate the real qualities of the product, but this can only be done in extreme conditions. The real test for the car will be a rally in the desert, not an inspection in a clean car dealership.

Can a female, whose contact with a male is limited in time, make him figuratively go on a rally in the desert to check in what condition he will return? According to Zahavi, maybe, if he resorts to the services of the ubiquitous risk in nature: bacteria, parasites, predators. This risk concerns everyone equally, and everyone, having reached adulthood, has already gone through such a rally, and it is important that he comes back from it in the best possible shape. Reason prompts you to choose the one who did it despite the additional flaw. This is the conclusion of Zahavi: in order to persuade the male to honest advertising, the female chooses those who risked more - got to the finish line despite the deviations that he acquired.

Mutual selection

Now, when we already know where the beauty dictated by the sexual sphere comes from in nature, it remains to answer the question: why do our species have beautiful women, and not men? Let us remember that the side of the sexual game that is more interested in it is engaged in advertising, and the choice remains for the second. In the case of a man, the matter turns out to be confusing: men fight for the attention of women, like males of other species, but the weaker sex is endowed with beauty. It is very strange.

Darwin, who devoted an entire book to the topic of beauty in the animal world, felt extremely insecure when trying to transfer his observations to interpersonal relationships. He even began to doubt the reality of this phenomenon, emphasizing that in most primitive tribes it is men, not women, who paint their bodies. As a result, in despair, he concluded that, rather, both sides are engaged in selection in humans, and that this is a mysterious exception in the world of living creatures.

Perhaps behind this secret of human beauty and our unconventional dimorphism lies the intricate history of our species. At its origins, we took a very unusual and risky path, so that our characteristics could be the result of this choice.

By going out to the savannah without natural protection (and even getting rid of the one we had before), we could only survive by joining in close-knit social groups. At this stage, the competition for females still proceeded according to the familiar monkey patterns. But then something unexpected happened: the increase in intelligence (caused by socialization and changes in diet) and the accompanying increase in brain size led to new difficulties associated with childbirth. The baby's enlarging head had difficulty passing through the woman's birth canal, and those (due to walking on two legs) could not expand without impairing our ability to run. As a result, selection moved the moment of birth to ever earlier stages of the baby's development, so that our newborns became increasingly helpless and required cumbersome and time-consuming care. This imposed on females (or already females?) New and more complex responsibilities, which began to exceed the capabilities of one parent. So there was a need for a father, not just a sperm supplier.

To survive, women needed partners, and to get them, it was required to tie them to themselves for a long time. But how? Through the sexual attraction and stability of the union, which was provided by two new and rare phenomena: imperceptible ovulation and constant readiness for sex. And more beauty. A previously unknown feeling appeared - love. And a new special piece of beauty that can be described as the enhancement of childhood traits in anatomy and behavior. Smooth hairless skin, small nose, large eyes, high-pitched voice are traits that evoke protective behavior in adults. In trying to achieve male custody, women "fell into childhood": their modern paedomorphism may thus be a response to the conditions that made human females dependent on males, and not just the other way around.

The preserved legacy of polygamy in our form is the system of courtship and competition of men for women, as well as a specific male type of beauty, based on the canon of strength and decisiveness. A new and very human property could well have been female beauty, which arose as an attempt to impose the idea of monogamy on an older, biologically polygamous structure. Offering her beauty (and all the biological attractiveness that stands behind it) as an element of a lasting union, a woman introduced into it a new original element of a mutual feeling that spreads to many areas of life together. Thus, both sexes began to seem attractive to each other and (here Darwin, apparently, was right) began to mutually choose each other.

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