Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/January 1893/Will the Coming Woman Lose her Hair?
I BELIEVE biologists are pretty well agreed that, if the present course of human evolution continues unchecked, the coming man is in serious danger of evolving into a bald-headed animal. What is to be the fate of the coming woman in this respect no one, as yet, has been bold enough to prophesy, though I think it may be safely assumed, for reasons presently to be given, that unless the æsthetic instincts of man should undergo a radical change, she will not only retain her "crowning" beauty unimpaired, but in augmented abundance and splendor.
Notwithstanding the gloomy predictions as to the "bald-headed and toothless future" (see Popular Science Monthly, October, 1886) in store for the human race, I have been more and more impressed, as the result of my own observations, with the almost complete immunity of my own sex from the results of those influences which are said to be operating so disastrously upon the personal attractiveness of the other. I have never seen a case of complete baldness among women of any age; partial baldness is rare, even among sexagenarians, while the large proportion of luxuriant suits of hair to be found among young women and girls would seem to indicate pretty clearly that, if baldness is to be a characteristic of the coming man, it will be one of those sexually limited variations, like hairy chins and guttural voices, that will not apply to the other sex.
It may be argued that the superior advantages possessed by women for concealing defects of this kind will prevent reliable observations being made in their case; but there are few women who do not know false hair from genuine when they see it, no matter how artistically arranged, and if any woman under sixty is afflicted with baldness it is pretty safe to assume that the other women of her acquaintance will know it. At all events, there are none of us, probably, who do not know the truth so far as our own mothers and grandmothers are concerned, and a simple comparison of their soft and often abundant gray tresses with the shiny pates of their spouses will be sufficient to convince most people that men, as a rule, have a practical monopoly of baldness.
And yet, most of the causes commonly assigned as conducive to this defect are as active among women as among men. They torture their hair with curling-irons and papers and hairpins to a degree that no man would tolerate for an instant; they deaden and discolor it with all kinds of injurious washes; they rear upon the top of their heads structures as heating and uncomfortable as a stovepipe hat, or hang upon the back of them appendages of such size and weight as to strain every hair at the root, and produce continuous headaches; and while their headgear may not be of quite so preposterous a shape as man's, they wear it much more constantly, since they sit with their heads covered in all public places, while he as a rule wears his hat only out of doors. Then, too, women, as a general thing, enjoy much less vigorous health than men, eat less nourishing food—pickles and candy often constituting a large part of their diet—are more frequently sufferers from headaches, deficient circulation, general debility, and Heaven only knows what not; and yet, with all this, the sorriest specimens of the sex, physically, often luxuriate in the most abundant suits of hair.
Now, why should one sex enjoy such comparative immunity from the results of practices that are producing such disastrous effects upon the personal appearance of the other? The answer, I take it, is to be found in a cause which Mr. Darwin claims to have been the chief factor in all cases where the purely ornamental qualities of a species are concerned—sexual selection. While women, under the pressure of public sentiment against "old maids," and the more urgent pressure of material necessities, will, as a general thing, marry anybody they think likely to give them a support, regardless of personal defects or attractions, men are more fastidious, and it goes without saying that a bald-headed woman would stand little chance, to use Mr. Darwin's argument, of leaving offspring to inherit her deficiencies. I have never known a woman who would make a bald head an invincible objection to a man who was eligible in other respects. Most of them are indifferent to that peculiarity, while some even like it; they think it looks intellectual, as more than one young woman, unsuspicious of the grave scientific motive underlying my frivolous "chaff," has assured me.
After occupying myself for some time with observations upon old and middle-aged people, it occurred to me that the influence of this subtle factor, sexual selection, could best be determined by observations upon boys and girls under twenty, in whom, it is to be presumed, the influences of heredity have not yet been supplemented, to any great extent, by other causes. Accordingly, I had printed, and sent out to teachers and school superintendents, five hundred blanks, calling for statistics on the subject, with the request that they be filled and returned to me within the year. Of the five hundred, eighty-six were returned, and some of these contain discrepancies that render them practically worthless—a result, be it remarked in passing, which betrays a curious indifference on the part of teachers to matters of biological interest. The Atlantic City schools are the only ones from which I succeeded in obtaining anything like a full report, my efforts being ably seconded by their energetic and wide-awake superintendent, Major W. F. Slaton.
Now, while the statistics at my disposal are too meager to warrant any definite conclusion, it is nevertheless a significant fact that out of a total of 1,196 males between the ages of ten and twenty, ten cases were reported as showing signs of baldness—that is, •0084, or over eight tenths of one per cent—while in a total of 1,374 females of the same age, but one single case is reported, or about •00073, a little over 100 of one per cent. In other words, if the unsatisfactory statistics that I have been able to collect can be relied on, the proportion of baldness in boys and girls under twenty is about 80 to 7. As the majority of girls at the age under consideration wear their hair loose, or in simple "Marguerite" braids, so that there is little likelihood of deception, while unwholesome headgear or other individual practices can hardly, as yet, have had time to produce any material effect upon either sex, we may regard the differences indicated by the figures as practically due to the working of heredity alone. Now, there is no apparent reason why girls should not inherit a tendency to baldness as well as boys, unless that tendency is checked by some other factor. Such a factor is sexual selection; for I presume it is hardly necessary to argue here that a bald-headed woman would not stand much chance of "survival" in the struggle for matrimonial honors. As men have always practically done the "selecting," and will probably continue to do so more and more as the conditions of modern life render the competition for husbands more severe, the woman's voice in the matter, when she has any, being limited to a simple negative, it is not likely that the state of baldness to which the human race is said to be tending will ever affect the feminine half of it. There are compensations in all things; and while the individual woman may sometimes murmur at the hard law of dependence which forces her too often to find in some measly little specimen of masculine humanity her only refuge from starvation, the sex in general has to thank the fastidiousness which their superior position cultivates in men for its exemption from a defect as destructive of beauty as of comfort. The time is, perhaps, not very far distant when, in the course of human evolution, a man with hair on his head will be as great an anomaly as a bearded woman, but as long as men love beauty and are won by personal charms, so long will women continue to rejoice in those abundant tresses of brown and gold that are one of the chief ornaments of their sex.