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?


  1. I found a paper suggesting that 50% of all hairdressers were gay males (3% of the population; 1.5% of males).

    The substantial variance of male g is pertinent to inequality in all domains of eminence.

  2. I think H. L. Mencken pretty well explained why women were not dominant among the ranks of top chefs.

    Top chefs have to be good at it all the time, constantly learning more, making more interesting dishes, etc.

    Women had to cook well enough to get married. Then they had a captive market.

  3. Right up your alley - http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/

  4. Wow. I'm sure there are other industries dominated by homosexual men that will shred the feminist arguments.

    I heard that the gay population is actually 10%. Is it that only 3% have come out?

    Tariq Nasheed a few months ago had a podcast on female hair, and had his own theory on why men were better designers. He said that women were more emotional and designed hair to look good in the moment, while men thought logically and created the styles that would work in the long term. That's a simplification, but the jist.

    Honestly, I think you're argument on visuospacial disparities makes much more sense. Is there any data on Asian hairstylists verses that of other races?

  5. You silly boys. How do you think people succeed in hairstyling, fashion design, and restaurants? Do you think it's a meritocracy, like celebrity hairdressers have to ace some hairstyling equivalent of the LSAT, with which they gain a coveted admission to the beauty school equivalent of Harvard Law, then score at the top of their class and sift through offers from Top-100 salons?

    Success in those industries is based upon personality, connections, financing, and business skills. You don't get to be a famous chef because you're some genius of food. You do it by getting the money to open your own fancy restaurant, and have either the business ability or the good advice or the luck to make the restaurant popular with rich people. Plenty of great restaurants go under quickly, and their chefs aren't nearly as attractive as cooking book authors and food show hosts.

    All of those industries have legions of talented people every bit as good as the stars. They just don't have the time, inclination, and/or money to chase the stardom. Most female hairdressers are either very young or supporting families. That's one big edge many gay men have -- no families. So they have a lot more time to travel around to those hair shows.

    And a lot of it is personality. Many women just like to take fashion and beauty advice from a flamboyant gay man.


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