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18.8.03

I finally got around to reading last month's National Geographic, and it had a big article on sexual selection -- female animals selecting mates based on things like mating dances or fancy plumage. It was interesting in light of the claim by Leonard Shlain (linked to a few posts down) that humans became human because women evolved the capacity to say "no" to sex, leading men to have to woo them. Apparently Homo erectus was behind the trend, since evolving sexual selection by the female is prevalent among other animals. Interestingly, most animal wooing behaviors can be interpreted as signals of reproductive fitness, rather than non-sexual quid pro quos as in the case of Shlain's meat-for-sex trade hypothesis.

The article also reminded me of the fact that, when sexual selection is first explained in kids' science classes and publications, it's portrayed as a contrast to how things work in humans -- the multicolored peacock and the drab peahen versus the slovenly man and the shaven, made-up, fashionably-dressed woman. Indeed, you often hear of how female beauty standards are signals for reproductive fitness -- either biologically (e.g. hip/waist size) or cultural (e.g. degree of suntan). It seems that, in the case of humans, either formulation (men trying to win the favor of women or vice versa) sounds plausible in isolation. So sexual selection among humans is much less one-sided than among animals.

Incidentally, I bet this article got NGM a crapload of letters from angry social conservatives, seeing as it combines evolution and sex.

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