Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Are Women Better Looking than Men?

Well, I tend to think so. But, through LGM, I have news that there is a purportedly scientific study that says it's a fact.

But isn't there an inherent methodological problem here? How can anyone meaningfully say that women are more attractive than men on average, or vice versa. Presumably heterosexual males and lesbians are going to think women are more attractive, and heterosexual females and gay men are going to think men are more attractive. Only a bisexual could provide a common metric, and a bisexual who thought one sex more attractive than the other would just be revealing where he or she was on the Kinsey scale. The only real metric would be the preferences of an absolutely gender-indifferent bisexual, but such a person would (by definition) not have a preference.

I suppose my assumption that judgments of aesthetic beauty are reducible to statements of sexual interest could be challenged. On Seinfeld, Elaine, as a heterosexual woman, expressed the view that the female form is one of beauty and elegance, while the male body is like a jeep. I can certainly distinguish an attractive man from an unattractive one, although it is not done in our culture for straight guys to express these opinions. Still, when heterosexual women or gay men disagree with me about whether a woman is attractive, I feel an epistemic authority that they do not possess. And when the readers of Chatelaine continually report that Sean Connery is the sexiest man alive, I don't feel it is my place to contradict them (although I confess that I don't get it).

In principle, everybody could be wrong about whether the sun orbits the earth. More controversially, I think everybody could be wrong about some deeply held moral belief. But could everyone be wrong about who in their preferred sex is attractive? Isn't the quality of being attractive simply the probability that a person who prefers the sex to which you belong will be attracted? And does it not follow that there is no absolute scale of attractiveness?

OK, OK, back to work.

Science Update: In our continuing effort to bring you the latest in hot-button issues, and in response to complaints about the lack of a picture for this post, I point you to a new book that claims that persons of mixed racial background are healthier and more attractive than the rest of us. Hybrid vigour, and all that.


Anonymous said...

Number of new HIV infections in Canada last year = 272. In Canada, the crisis has passed; one could argue that such critical health-care resources as Prime Ministerial photo-ops would be better employed on more urgent problems. Yes, there's much we could do for Africa -- principally, we could encourage circumcision -- but it's hard to see how Harper getting on stage with such frankly-useless blowhards as Clinton and Lewis would prevent even one infection, or save even one life anywhere...

Anonymous said...

Whoops. That was s'posed to be in response to the previous post. As to this question, I believe a single photo of a 21-year-old breast would resolve it nicely. Dunno where you'd find such a thing on the internet, though.