Is it true? Does the presence of a beautiful woman cause men to throw caution to the winds and become risk-taking maniacs? Can feminine beauty magically transform Casper Milquetoast into Evel Knievel? Or, do beautiful women make men simple-minded and stupid?
We know many stories of men being enticed to disastrous ends by great beauties. In a recent post Adam Alter named: Lilith, Delilah, Cleopatra, and Salome. Link here.
Yet, even in fiction, these stories do not always end in calamity. The beautiful Beatrice led Dante to a better place.
And pious Aeneas did manage to exercise enough discipline and willpower to resist the feminine wiles of his beloved Dido, the Queen of Carthage. His love for Dido notwithstanding, Aeneas does fulfill his destiny and make his way to Rome.
Not all beautiful women are fatal. Some lead you to salvation. And some can be resisted.
When we read a story of a man suffering a fatal attraction are we reading a cautionary tale about what might happen to the man who allows himself to risk it all for beauty? Or, do the stories show some men failing a challenge where other men might well succeed?
The influence of feminine beauty is not a new story. Lately, it has elicited considerable research from behavioral economists.
The studies conclude that men are prone to succumb to feminine beauty and thus, when they find themselves in the presence of a beautiful woman, they become weak and myopic.
Note the moral coloring of Adam Alter’s explanation: “A spate of recent studies suggests that beautiful women can indeed provoke dangerous outcomes unintentionally, because they induce men to take risks, make mistakes, gamble more freely, and generally behave impulsively.”
When Alter uses words like danger, mistakes, gamble, and impulsive, we have moved out of the realm of science into a world of moral judgment. In that world men are so weak and foolish that they cannot resist temptation.
Is it too much to imagine that there are more than a few men who are inspired to do great things because of the presence of a beautiful woman?
To be fair, we must mention that the behavioral studies were focused on skateboarders and chess players.
Unless I miss my guess, skateboarding is the province of the young. Adolescents excel at skateboarding; adults avoid it. The older you get, the less likely you are to take unnecessary and gratuitous risks to life and limb.
If most skateboarders are hormonally challenged adolescents, then perhaps they chose the sport because they get a rush out of putting themselves in danger.
I am willing to admit that the presence of a beautiful girl will motivate adolescent males to risk with life and limb, but does this mean that all men will behave the same way?
Researchers have been aware of the specific characteristics of skateboarders, so they repeated the experiments with chess players. No one is going to break an elbow by playing chess. Thus, chess players would seem to be a good control group,
And yet, chess is a game of symbolic warfare. It may look peaceful and charming, but it is really about capturing your opponent’s King and putting him out of commission.
And chess is a game that you can learn and master when you are young.
If we were to look at video games, a modern adolescent’s version of chess, we would also see that while the players do not risk life and limb, they are still involved in symbolically violent actions.
I would happily admit that skateboarders and chess players are more susceptible to feminine beauty, but I do not think it fair to present this as a sign of weakness and myopia.
Even Alter recognizes the point. Skateboarders who see a beautiful woman do riskier tricks and succeed at them more often. But they also “don’t know when to quit,” and tend to push themselves to the limits of danger. Fair enough.
Does that prove that all men become fools for love, or does it tell us that adolescents tend toward excesses. Does it mean that men are simple-minded risk takers or that adolescents lack discipline and self-control?
If so, the latter were true, it would hardly be a surprise. It would not, however, be a reason to condemn the male of the species.
For all we know, the presence of a beautiful woman might motivate a man to work harder, to strive for excellence, and to will himself to greater and greater success.
Even in the midst of a testosterone rush, a man still retains his free will and his good character. These might make him foolhardy risk-taker, but they might also make him a more fierce competitor.
As the old saying goes: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.