Personal Beauty and Racial Betterment/The Selection of Male Parents

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The Selection of Male Parents

In the process of sexual selection in civilized lands, beauty has perhaps played a smaller rôle in determining the chosen males than it has in picking out the female parents. The physical and mental characteristics of the male which are vital for the future of the race have been more and more overshadowed by his ability to provide adequately or luxuriously for wife and immediate offspring. To an increasing extent also, the material resources possessed by men com eto be results of social accident, rather than of personal quality and efficiency of the types which are racially and socially desirable. If this last thesis is not true, then our whole system of free education, except the merely vocational training, is based on a gigantic fallacy.

Any man, however, lacking in personal qualifications may, if he has wealth, marry a woman of high parental fitness, mental as well as physical. He may not be able to obtain certain particular women of this high type, but he is sure of finding at least one who will accept him, if he desires such a one. This is true provided he has no glaring positive disqualifications; and even so, imperfections which are racially malignant, are lesser obstacles than superficial ones; a syphilitic history or puny physique are less influential than the loss of a leg or an eye.

In the various economic grades of society, incidental financial resources play their part in the selection of males. In the melodrama, the beautiful heroine in the end accepts the personally desirable, but poor, hero, to the discomfiture of the wealthy, but sexually undesirable, rival. In real life, what ought to occur does not occur so uniformly. Youth, in which the preservative forces of nature are more abundant, has more intelligence in regard to all the details of mating and in regard to many details in the rearing of children; but the reprehensible philosophy of age sicklies the flame of youth with its pale cast, even where it does not resort to the forces of authority and economic control.

War, with all its evils, has brought a freshening of the sexual interests of women, and lent its support to the natural tendency to select for the race. In the military profession in time of war, the male personal qualities which preserve the stock come once more into the prominence they possessed in less civilized societies, and from which the machine-like organization of modern industrialism has driven them. It may well be that these qualities have no fuller scope or power in modern armies than in modern civil life. This is immaterial. The fact is that the glamor of ancient methods of combat still hangs about the military service, and these personal qualities attain thereby a psychological interest of practical power.[1] As a matter of fact, the recruit tends to put on, with his uniform, a more primitive and sexually challenging behavior than he assumes as a civilian in the restraining circumstances of western society. To the women of the nation, male personality became, during the war, of paramount importance, and the conflicting values went almost completely into the discard. Whether this effect will be carried over into the postbellum period remains to be seen.

It is entirely improbably that a war of less than ten years’ duration has any injurious effect upon the stocks of a nation. Conclusions that the effects of short wars are damaging have entirely neglected the psychological factors, which are the most important of all. A war lasting throughout a generation would have quite different effects, and is not to be made the basis of arguments concerning briefer conflicts. The incidental benefits which war confers upon a nation are not reasons for advocating war, but do indicate the things that it is desirable to procure in times of peace.

Another effect of war—or what appears as another effect, although intimately connected with the effects just discussed, is the general unsettling of sexual “morality” among the men in the mobilized forces, and the women who are brought into direct relation to these forces. The effect on the male seems to be produced by the greater sexual opportunities offered,[2] and the greater security of the army life in strange surroundings. The effects of the war on certain elements of the female population in the United States were no less definite. The “lure of the uniform” was a real phenomenon. Undoubtedly this “lure” was much increased by its frequent and detailed discussion in the press, repeatedly suggesting to impressionable young women the opportunities and excused offered them. Possibly many girls were convinced that if they did not feel the much discussed “lure” they were not normal. Nevertheless, there was a real psychological fact at the foundation of this growth.

It is probably that the emphasis on male personality, and the stirring, by the general excitement of the war, of primitive tendency and instincts, played a part in this phenomenon of fascination. A larger part was played by the unsettling of social conventions and restraints. That girls and young women whose lives had been most formal should suddenly be permitted to be free-for-all dancing partners for men of most miscellaneous sorts, whose names even the girls often did not know, was possibly not important in itself; but it is a significant index of the terrible upheaval in social conventions which the war brought.

The rapid and expected shifting of personnel undoubtedly contributed its share to the unsettling of the moral bonds of women, as it did to that of the men. Women, surrounded by strange men, under conditions facilitating unaccustomed informality, and rapid personal acquaintance and selection; and knowing that these men are shortly to be moved away, with slight possibility for future reencounters; find the maximally favorable conditions for slipping the leash of continence. This effect was produced not only on reckless girls of the type which tend to go “astray” at all times, but also on more mature and more circumspect women who under ordinary peace conditions would never have considered such license as even a remote possibility for themselves.

Whether the fire of license which flamed during the war will contribute to other conflagrations of different origins, or whether it will die out leaving only its ashes and embers, remains to be seen. In either event, it will have left effects upon the problem of racial betterment. Sexual restraints once thrown off by the individual are seldom regained; sexual restraints thrown off by any important social group are regained only by a slow process of group-reconstruction if at all. This is an inevitable consequence of the nature of such conventions.

The overlimitation of families by married couples of desirable grade is apparently due less to the tendencies of the husbands than to those of the wives. It is a common fallacy to assume that the maternal instinct is far stronger than the paternal. The explicit desire for children is common to young men of the better type—and I believe, more common than among young women of corresponding grade. Children recognize this instinct and respond to its manifestations in a striking way. It is indeed something of which many a young man is rather ashamed—clearly because it is explicit, and a part of his normal sex impulse. The implicit effects of this instinct are even more remarkable, for it can be detected in the whole cycle of behavior which finally lands the man in matrimony. Whereas women have strong economic reasons for marrying, men as a rule have economic reasons against it: but although all the comforts of life can be secured more easily by the bachelor than by the benedict under modern conditions, the one great thing which can be secured only by marriage—namely, the possession of children—leads out of bachelorhood. This is especially true of the man who marries “for love” only.

The conservation of beauty is the problem of the present day and of all time. I have attempted to show that such conservation is not to be sought primarily through comprehensive governmental direction, nor legal restrictions; nor by blind adherence to the protective regulations of the past, however admirable these may have been. Laws, conventions, and economic conditions should be so shaped as to facilitate conservation, instead of hindering it; but this shaping, and the still greater work of active motivation is to be accomplished through education and publicity directed in the service of ideals kept continually vitalized; ideals of personal values, among which beauty, in the comprehensive mental and physical interpretation we have given it, is paramount.

  1. Since writing the above I have received the following interesting communication concerning the fascination of the uniform: “In a recent book I came across these sentences, which come nearer expressing my sentiments on the subject than anything I have ever read:—‘but now that we are at war, there has awakened in every woman the ancestral enthusiasm that her remote grandmother used to feel for the strong and aggressive beast.—Before a uniform they feel the humble and servile enthusiasm of the female of the lower animals before the crests, foretops, and gay plumes of the fighting males.’” “But there is another feeling” (my correspondent adds), “that men in uniform always awaken in women:—the desire to mother them. Why is that?” An almost universal expression of the maternal instinct towards the potential parent! But with some women, the dominant response to the uniform (and the conditions it symbolizes) may be best described as an increase in coquetry.
  2. The intense desire of officers and men for overseas duty, which grew after the first expeditions had gone over, was in a great many cases fanned by the current belief in the freedom of sexual life offered soldiers in France.