Monday, June 11, 2007

Who’s the Peacock Now?

Last weekend I had to go to a “gala” charity event. I hate those things, with their ironically named silent auction, with the countdown of time remaining to bid blasted over a loudspeaker to penetrate the din of banal conversation blanketed by a layer of canned music from a half century ago (Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, and even the comeback Tony Bennett, not the Tony Bennett of the 40’s and 50’s who could actually sing). Last year we got a live string quartet. They must be cutting costs. And the speeches, good lord, the unending self-congratulatory speeches! But attending is the socially responsible thing to do, so I hold my nose, watch the clock, and make nice.

(Notice in the picture that my lovely wife is not displaying a peacock fan.)

Anyway, a woman with breath of crab cakes shouted an interesting offhand comment into my face. “It’s amazing what the women wear to these things,” she said, “compared to what men wear.” I looked around and she was right. Women had all manner of fantastic getups, in drapes of shiny fabrics, gauze, or lace; dripping sequins, jewels, and shiny pins; wearing upright collars, enormous floppy collars, no collars; cut-away fronts, backs and sides (not all on the same woman). There was every imaginable color including some you couldn't name. Men, on the other hand, were uniformly in dark blue suits or black tuxedoes. The daring ones allowed themselves a colorful print on the bow tie.

In the animal kingdom, the male is the brightly colored one. That spectacular peacock tail has very high evolutionary cost, since it serves no purpose, save one: to attract females, in the hope of scoring fertilization of some eggs. The eggs are the high value resource that males must compete for.

But in the human world (of charity events anyway), eggs mean nothing. The women give the showy display instead, apparently competing for men. Why? Presumably for the opportunity to score (or retain) wealth and security. The evolutionary script has flipped. How did this happen?

No comments:

Post a Comment