February 24, 2007

Men are better at hairstyling too

Last year I posted a series of entries on differences in race, sex, and sexuality in the fashion design world. In the entry on sex differences, I reviewed statistics that others had already gathered, as well as provide a new analysis of my own (of the designers good enough to land a spot on Vogue's website). The punchline is that men dominate the fashion design world, and that this is especially surprising given that most straight men have no interest in fashion design. Since gay men make up 3% of all men, and so about 1.5% of the general population, and since the large majority of male fashion designers are gay, you'd expect males to contribute very little to elite-level designers, assuming no sex differences. The fact that a tiny contingent of men so dominates the fashion design world just goes to show how large the sex differences are.

I chalked this up to mean differences in visuospatial cognitive abilities, which show the most pronounced sex differences of any cognitive ability, although in retrospect, I'm sure that mean differences in personality traits play a role as well (such as aggressiveness). Whatever the cause, a clear implication of the data is that the idea that "women are kept out of field X due to patriarchal socialization" is mostly false in the modern West. Assuming patriarchal society pressured women into some fields and not others, surely it would be toward rather than away from fashion design (since a patriarch believes every woman must be able to sew well). For men, patriarchal society would do the opposite: because fashion design is an effeminate career, the power structure would bully any interested males into a less homosexual field. And of course, patriarchal society would pressure gay men to keep their sexuality and flamboyance to themselves rather than celebrate it publicly. All three of these core predictions are contradicted by the data which show male domination of the fashion design world. They follow naturally, of course, from the "partly genetic sex differences" hypothesis.

But why stop at fashion? Hairstyling is also a pretty effeminate career that also paradoxically places high demands on visuospatial skills -- you try imagining in your mind what the goal "look" is, figuring out what steps you need to take to get from the current look to the goal look, masterfully executing each step along the way, and dealing with unanticipated obstacles. It's like applied sculpture. As I was getting my hair cut today, I thought about who the elite hairstylists were -- only knowing the really big names, I came up with Vidal Sassoon, Paul Mitchell, Rudolfo Valentin, and Toni & Guy. Then there were some semi-famous people I'd seen on TV: Jonathan Antin from Bravo's Blowout, Nick Arrojo from TLC's What Not to Wear, and some flamingly gay expert from a shampoo commercial (where he exclaims, "Get a load of you!" I can't recall the name.). This anecdotal list was 100% male, but I wanted a good dataset, so it was off to Google to find out if there were Oscars for hair-do magicians.

Although there are not many awards for hairstyling, nor are the "greats" as well known as elite fashion designers, I did discover a pretty good dataset: the North American Hairstyling Awards, apparently a very prestigious achievement. A full list of all the winners in various categories is here (you may have to see Google's cache if the site times out), but I'm only looking at three categories, in order to get the largest sample size possible per category, and to de-emphasize the very narrow categories. Those three are Hairstylist of the Year, the most general and prestigious; Avant-garde; and Contemporary Classic. I inspected the names of the winners to determine sex, and where this was not clear, I Googled their name to get confirming info (e.g., the words "he" or "his" surrounding the person's name in a news article or biography).

Beginning with the most elite category, Hairstylist of the Year, just 4 of the 17 winners have been female. In the Avant-Garde category, 8 of 19 winners have been female. And in the Contemporary Classic category, 9 of 18 winners have been female. So, just under 40% of the entire sample is female, although at the highest level under 25% are female. This would be surprising even if we thought that men and women were equally likely to choose careers in hairstyling, but again considering that the appeal is mostly to the 3% of men who are gay, plus perhaps another couple percent who are straight, this discrepancy is even more shocking.

I conclude that these results provide more evidence against the "patriarchal socialization" hypothesis of female underrepresentation in effeminate fields, and in favor of the "partly genetic sex differences" hypothesis, confirming the previous results regarding fashion design. By implication, these results also argue against much of a role for patriarchal socialization in accounting for underrepresentation of women in math, science, and engineering -- for, if the patriarchy were pushing women out of the latter fields, surely it would be pushing them into more "girly" fields like fashion and hairstyling. And then there's the old complaint against patriarchs believing that "a woman's place is in the kitchen" -- assuming the socialization hypothesis were correct, we should see females dominate the rankings of chefs. Would any radical feminists care to place a bet before I look up those data as well?

February 15, 2007

Gypsies: The other hot brown girls

It is unnecessary to review the history of portrayals of the Gypsy woman as a bedeviling chanteuse, perhaps the two most famous examples being Esmeralda from Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the title character from Bizet's opera Carmen. There seems to be more than a grain of truth to the archetype, though, as I've found by looking through YouTube for videos of contemporary female Gypsy singers.

To briefly review their history, the Gypsies (or Roma, as we're now supposed to call them) left the Indian subcontient somewhere between 800 and 900 years go, meandered through the Middle East, and arrived in southeastern Europe and Anatolia, where most of them remain, although Spain has a large population as well. (Here is a free human genetics article on the topic.) Their influence on popular and high forms of music is disproportionately large, given the fraction of the European population they represent, and given that one recent estimate of their mean IQ is 70 (or 2 SD below the European mean), though presumably better health and nutrition would raise it by perhaps 5 points.

All right then, let's take a look and see why images of Gypsy women as enchanting songbirds have become so common, using contemporary pop music stars as exemplars. The "tour" is done in descending order of pulchritude, as I see it. All of these women are really worth a follow-up YouTube or Google Image search, but I only show one video per person so as to contain the clutter.

To begin, marvel at the turquoise eyes of Eirini Merkouri (first name also spelled Irini), who is Greek in nationality and language (a duet):

Next is Reyhan, who was Bulgarian in nationality but sung in Turkish. She's the brunette (an earlier, more plaintive video):

Although only half-Gypsy, Edyta Gorniak is too alluring and melodious to pass up on technicalities. She's Polish in nationality and language (another video):

Lastly, Sofi Marinova is Bulgarian in nationality and language (another video that better shows off her elegantly elongated Perso-Indic schnoz):

February 11, 2007

Sunday morning Hope

In seventh grade ('93-'94), when I first really started watching MTV to figure out what to listen to in order to not appear from outer space, I was pretty lucky to have tuned in right as some halfway decent pop music started making the rotation -- unlike, say, if I'd begun watching it in the late '90s when all of the girl power and boy bands effaced the earlier grunge and punkish trends, and when hip-hop artists competed to see how low into the gutter they could drag their genre. One of the first videos I remember seeing was "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star, although I pretty quickly forgot it.

Their music isn't for sanguine souls: getting into it requires that the listener believe they're being pulled out to sea by a glacially paced rip-tide that they've already surrendered to. So, appreciating their music had to wait until I started using Accutane throughout most of my college years. (My acne wasn't actually so bad, but it just wouldn't respond to anything else.) I'm sure the drug causes depression, but probably only among susceptible groups like those who already score low on Extraversion and high on Neuroticism.

Having mellowed out a bit since graduating, I'm not as drawn to their music as before, but I'll never escape the allure of the voice of Hope Sandoval. The soft, smoky swirl of notes that enswathes your weary mind is like a cat that's curled its legs over your arm as you're about to fall asleep.

February 6, 2007

Quote of the day

From Udolpho:

Due to Adams' nerdish following, we are all apparently doomed to keep hearing certain of the least funny jokes repeated over and over again by humor-impaired geeks. In particular, anyone who at any time tries to use "42" as an ironic or funny answer to anything should be beaten, killed, and dissolved in lye.

February 4, 2007

Your most systemizing moment?

Some memorize maps of ancient empires, others maintain intricately ordered collections of foreign coins, and others still seach for patterns in sports statistics that they've mentally catalogued. Some of these are passing whims -- such as a childhood stamp collection -- while others persist throughout one's lifetime. Aside from the latter perennial interests, what has been your most systemizing episode? I ask because these fleeting flirtations provide amusing insights into the pointless obsessions that enthrall the "male mind."

I'll go first: it was the beginning of sixth grade, and I had just moved six hours (by car) to a different state, and as I couldn't drag along any of my friends from elementary school, I knew no one as I began middle school. With nothing better to do, I watched my classmates go about their business and before long noticed patterns in their daily movements. It turned out that the assignment of the seven class subjects to the seven periods within an individual's schedule showed dependence -- if you had Reading third period, you for certain had English fourth period, for example. More, there was a smallish number of assignments, so that no one ever had English third period followed by Reading fourth period... or something like that -- I've forgotten the nitty-gritty in the 14 years that have passed! As I recall, the schedule was really composed of four chunks that were internally predictable, though some chunks were chronologically discontinuous (e.g., the predictable Gym and Electives chunk might have formed periods 5 and 7, while the Math and Science chunk formed periods 3 and 6). Lastly, with a few exceptions, there was only one teacher per subject. By estimation, I'd say there were 100-125 people on my "team" (sixth graders were divided into two teams, with different groups teaching each one, though it was not a tracking system).

Over the course of my day, I'd look for clues to see who went where and when, and I'd play the known data over and over in my head during my free time, so that by the spring I had memorized everyone's schedule on my team. One day on the bus ride home from school, a guy who occasionally sat next to me had mentioned something about one of his classes, and I said, "Oh yeah, you're in Ms. So-and-So's 1st period, right?" Perplexed, he responded, "Yeah, how'd you know?" I told him that I knew his entire schedule -- even though I didn't share a single class with him -- and he laughed it off in disbelief, until I recited it in order without pausing. "How'd you know all that?" he asked. I told him I knew everybody's schedule -- I should've followed up with a bellowing "Muahahaha!" but my dark humor streak hadn't fully developed yet.

I stopped doing this once I made friends in seventh grade, but later in high school, this knack came in very handy when I needed to track the movements of my various crushes, the better to catch sight of their beauty. Spread out over the school day, these glimpses provided a nice respite from the dullness of classwork. Come to think of it, though I've never stalked anyone (even if "admiring your crush" is now called "stalking" among youngsters), this tendency would have served males better than females: they would aid when analyzing the movement patterns of game animals and hostile war parties -- or when they suspected their wife was engaging in "surreptitious mating," as it's called in the literature, since males are more jealous and guard mates more assiduously. (I'm sure these explanations have already been suggested somewhere by evolutionary psychologists, but not having researched the issue, I don't know by which ones exactly. David Buss' work on jealousy comes to mind.)

We "people nerds" (in Steve's phrase) buck the overall trend of nerds who have no appreciation for The Pleasant Little Things in Life. Nothing gets me as excited as walking along the crowded, narrow sidewalks of Georgetown or people-watching at length over a cafe amb llet alongside a Barcelonan thoroughfare. And no, I'm not there to further analyze my object of inquiry -- while there, I'm more like a pyrotechnician beholding a fireworks display.

February 2, 2007

Exotifying the Other: they started it!

I have a post in the works for Gene Expression about phenotypic plasticity in human mate preferences, and since this is my personal blog, I figured I'd provide a colorful example of this phenomenon from my own life.

Readers know by now that I'm not very attracted to women from the ethnic backgrounds I come from -- well, French perhaps, but in general I'm not attracted to Celtic or Northeast Asian girls. It's not a preference for a generalized Other -- in my case, any group outside of the icy climates -- since in general I'm also not attracted to those of sub-Saharan African or Australian Aboriginal descent, to name just two. Interestingly, females from the groups I'm not attracted to haven't shown much interest in me either. My ideal group encompasses the European and African sides of the Mediterranean (though more the former than the latter), the Near East, Middle East, and South Asia, as well as those who show non-trivial admixture from these groups (such as most Latin Americans). Ground zero for hotness, in my book, is Iran. And again, I don't require 100% purity; common mixed groups, such as Persian-Turkic or Persian-Pakistani, serve as equally illustrative examples.

Now, a common objection that I encounter is that I'm "exotifying the Other," which given the tone of voice in the surrounding text or speech is apparently a Very Bad Thing. It clearly isn't, or else I'd be suspected of criminal or sinful behavior -- what the faultfinder really means is that it is a Thing in Very Poor Taste, and that "behaving decorously" is necessary for "behaving ethically / morally." Without going into it, I disagree. In any event, why do such detractors invariably assign me the blame -- does it not take two to tango? I see at least two ways in which the female of another group is as responsible for my tastes: 1) as the grandchild of a Japanese grandmother and Franco-American grandfather, I probably have a genetic predisposition to romantically seek out the Other, which I have inherited from both my grandparents, in particular from my grandmother who actively sought out my grandfather when he was stationed in Japan. And 2) during adolescence, it was females from Other groups who sought me out, not vice versa, and I will argue in my Gene Expression post that such events contribute to one's preferences as an adult. In brief, they serve as cues to which females you will be successful with, and so your preferences congeal in a way that biases you toward taking the path of least resistance, rather than take an interest in groups of girls who are less likely to reciprocate.

So, part of the reason why a guy might exotify the Other is that one of his female ancestors did so as well. This could be true due to personality traits that biased her to seek Other men, or it could be due to colonizing men abducting local women as wives. Though the initial wife wouldn't necessarily have a personality bias toward seeking out the Other, her children likely would, including the daughters, in much the same way that the daughter of a Native American woman and an English colonist might have green eyes. This first-generation hybrid daughter would then have the personality bias already described. These are explanations that refer to genetic variation which accounts for variation in preferences, though clearly environmental variation can shape preferences too.

For example, when I was 11 or 12 years old and in 6th grade, I got a call from a girl I didn't really know, who was calling on behalf of yet another girl I didn't know; the first wanted to know if I wanted to be the boyfriend of the second. Not being encumbered by female-typical cautiousness, I of course agreed to go out with a total stranger. Well, I at least knew she was pretty (she also had the largest breasts of anyone in middle school, and could've rivaled those of high school and college girls, not that I cared -- regular readers know I don't care much for breasts). I never learned exactly where she was from, but the Latino community where I lived at the time was mostly Salvadorean, so based on that and on her appearance I'd guess Central American. Once when she, I, and a group of friends were hanging out in the cafeteria after school, the others bolted out the door when the bus arrived, while I went for my backpack -- and when I turned around, she had set up an ambush, so that I couldn't leave the cafeteria without confronting her. That was my first back-caressing, mouth-exploring kiss, and it lasted a good minute or two -- a pretty promising start for a 6th grader!

Two years later, I dyed my hair purple and caused a minor scandal with the principal (a racist martinet who punished the white students for trifling "disruptions to the learning process" such as dyed hair, while making excuses for the thugs and bullies). What surprised me was that the pretty, popular girls began to take notice of me -- bad boy appeal? -- and started talking to me in class. One in particular asked a mutual friend of ours to tell me she really liked me -- though unlike before, when the intermediary asked me if I wanted to go out with her friend, this time the friend just delivered a message. And I, being too introverted by nature, couldn't work up the nerve to ask this girl out, even though I had a huge crush on her up to that point, and despite being all but invited to ask her out. I don't have many regrets, but this is one, and I'll never get over it. The girl in question had an Irish surname, but she looked completely Italian (tawny skin, dark eyes and hair, Mediterranean facial features, etc.), as did her mother, whom I saw when she chaperoned a field trip once. So, she was probably Irish-Italian, a common mix in the Mid-Atlantic region.

My first real girlfriend -- the first one I went out on real dates to the movies with, for example -- I actually asked out, even if via a friend of hers. And by this time (that is, 10th grade), I at least had enough nerve to initiate some things like putting my arm around her at the movies. She was half-Persian and half-Anglo-American, though she looked fully Persian on the outside, like her mother; her sister looked Finnish, which serves as a reminder that inheritance is discrete rather than blending. Come to think of it, the friend of the girl whom I couldn't work up the nerve to ask out -- she herself was interested in me the year before, in 7th grade, when she was the only girl who would try to badger me into dancing with her at the school dances. (It's not that I didn't like her, but again just felt awkward dancing at that age.) I remembered her having fairly swarthy skin and Middle Eastern features (despite an Anglo last name), and I just looked her up on MySpace -- having seen many different groups of people by now, I'd say she's likely half-Persian (or maybe Jewish -- or maybe Persian Jewish). At least that's what she looks like.

In any event, these four girls were pretty much the only ones who showed any interest in me during my post-pubertal existence, up until I lived in Barcelona for awhile after graduating college. They were all average or pretty, while the one northern European girl who had a crush on me in 12th grade was hideous in appearance and off-putting in demeanor by anyone's standards -- so that's the best I could do if I liked Northern girls. Therefore, when my preferences were crystallizing throughout adolescence, it was these four Other girls who must have had the greatest impact on my tastes, in addition to whatever genetic bias I had toward the Other that I inherited from the interracial side of my family. (Think of how I would've turned out had I come of age in rural Idaho!) Whatever the relative contribution of each is, it's clear that the actions of Other females have played a decisive role in how my own preferences turned out, and it's therefore naive to suppose that people with exotic tastes have some sort of fetish rather than a common-sense plan to seek out those most likely to reciprocate.

Moreover, even among those who are driven more by fetishistic compulsions, their desires are no different from those who have a penchant for blondes rather than brunettes, or for the large-breasted rather than the large-rumped. Indeed, we could easily (and stupidly) say that a guy who has a preference for large-breasted, blonde introverts has a creepy "Nordic fetish." It doesn't mean he has obliterated the individuality of the various girls in this group; it simply means that he knows which group is most likely to contain girls to his liking. Likewise, a guy who prefers introverts to extraverts doesn't believe that "any old introvert will do." Thus, if we accept that guys with an "Asian fetish" are somehow erasing the individuality of Asian girls, then we're forced to accept that a guy who digs blondes or introverts is doing so as well, and similarly for guys with a preference for any trait or constellation of traits that vary among individuals. Since this is plainly ridiculous, we can discard the assumption that gave rise to it, namely that there's something creepily individuality-effacing about the preferences of guys who tend to go for a particular group or groups of girls. Lighten up, people!

February 1, 2007

Top Design... meh

As one of the few straight guys* who watches Bravo's creative reality competition shows (such as Project Runway and Top Chef), I have to say that the new one that just debuted, Top Design, is a bit too girly and gay for my tastes. Don't get me wrong -- all three seasons of Project Runway have been dominated by gay guys, but they embody the stereotype of the gay artist, in contrast to the contestants on the new interior design show who embody more the stereotype of the gay male shopaholic. On Project Runway, contestants must conjure up original designs from nothing, select the raw materials, and construct them into their final form. And since there is always some constraint for each challenge -- use only recycled materials, re-invent the style of a given celebrity from 40 years ago, and so on -- it's really more of a flamboyant engineering project. Fun stuff to watch, for sure.

Interior design, on the other hand, consists mostly of taking pieces someone else conceived and constructed and arranging them in interesting, pleasing configurations. There's some originality, of course -- choosing and applying the paint, making a few architectural adjustments here and there -- but to compare it to fashion, this is a competition not to discover who's the best fashion designer but who's the best stylist. Thus, most of the process is a glorified version of waltzing into an incredibly expensive interior design boutique with a hefty chunk of someone else's money to spend on decorations ($50,000 per room on tonight's show) -- sorry, but again, that's for gay shopaholics and their Orange and Nassau County housewife counterparts. Compared to Top Chef, the new show would be like a competition for event planners or wedding coordinators who don't actually conceive and create the food themselves but have a knack for combining good dishes from various chefs into an impressive array at some formal event. (I hate the name of that job, by the way -- "event planner.")

That's not to say that eminent interior designers aren't very creative, or that figures from other fields haven't done good work in interior design (an obvious example being the half-Japanese American sculpter Isamu Noguchi). So, I would've liked to see a greater focus on this type of original work -- furniture design, lighting design, and so on -- rather than on the harvesting of the work of others. It wouldn't have the same marketing appeal as the "shopaholic's wet dream" version does, but it would be better TV and interest a wider audience. Now, Bravo has only shown the first episode, so maybe I'll be surprised later on, but from the teasers they showed at the end of tonight's show, it doesn't appear likely.

*Some would say I was a teenage girl in my previous life.