Cover Girl: what does she want?

by Yule Heibel on November 3, 2005

It’s amazing how the popular media take a fairly common-sense — even dry — scientific finding and succeed in sensationalising it into some kind of alleged truism that reveals the eternal (read: biologically immutable) “nature” of the male-female relationship. Yesterday, slumming on google news (I was avoiding real work), I noticed a Daily Mail article about the effect of oestrogen on women’s facial appearance. While the Daily Mail perhaps isn’t an outright member of the yellow press, it sure seems to be part of “media bias.” Titled How make-up masks that feminine glow, the article begins with the thrilling observation that putting on make-up “is the most important part of a woman’s day.” It’s a sentence obviously designed to get every woman’s attention, either because she finds it outrageous or because she wants to confirm that she is indeed doing what’s important at the most important time in the most important manner etc etc ad nauseum. It’s designed to get men’s attention, too, because, yee-haw, with a statement like that, there’s bound to be a cat-fight, no?

Make-up, scientists believe, interferes with the most basic and instinctive lines of communication between male and female.

It masks the natural feminine glow which, through centuries of evolution, has been the signal to a man that a woman is fertile. [More…]

The statement that “scientists believe” is already ridiculous because it is certainly not the job of the scientist to believe. Observe, maybe. Conclude, perhaps. But let’s leave belief out of things. However, by using a word like “belief,” the author (a woman, BTW) signals a clear trajectory: we are in the realm of the numinous here, where scepticism is suspended, and awe in face of the sex-drive’s mighty and mysterious workings is idolised.

So what if scientists have observed, via a carefully crafted photographic test (whose results in turn are hardly carved in stone, given the subjective nature of responses), that a woman is (slightly?, marginally?) more attractive to a sexually active male when she is ovulating than when she isn’t? And who cares if it turns out that make-up literally “masks” that effect? Isn’t that the whole point of make-up — to mask? See this more scientifically written article, Oestrogen Levels Translate Into Facial Attractiveness, for a slightly less sensationalising account.

Oh, what does Media want? Oh, what does Science want?

Well, science wants to observe and parse findings. Media wants to sell us a pile of crock. Humans have distinguished themselves from most other mammals for millenia precisely because they alter their appearance, as part of their cultural definition. Whether through body-painting, scarification, piercing, various cuttings-away of body parts, corsets, plucking of hair, growth of hair, plaiting of hair, painting of hands, colouring of eyelids, rouging of cheeks — it’s all part of a cultural game. It has a sexual component insofar as we’re always fooling with kinship relations and scoping out nature for this or that advantage or ruse over the mere facts of biology. But that’s the fun of being human, for heaven’s sake!

I don’t know of a single woman who thinks, “Ooh, I’m ovulating and looking to get pregnant, so I’m going to attract some hunk of a humanoid ape in the jungle out there by putting on my foundation, powder, rouge, and mascara.” No, she thinks, “hey, I’m in fine fooling and maybe I want to have sex, too — and maybe I just want to fool around. Let’s try this costume on for size — pass the powder, baby!”

Masquerade is fun. Girls just wanna have fun. Women, too, Siegmund.

Daily Mail, get over yourself. And Tarzan? Go home.

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