Anthropology has overturned the notion that females must be “beautiful” to be selected to mate: Evelyn Reed, Elaine Morgan, and others have dismissed sociobiological assertions of innate male polygamy and female monogamy. Female higher primates are the sexual initiators; not only do they seek out and enjoy sex with many partners, but “every nonpregnant female takes her turn at being the most desirable of all her troop. And that cycle keeps turning as long as she lives.”
The inflamed pink sexual organs of primates are often cited by male sociobiologists as analogous to human arrangements relating to female “beauty,” when in fact that is a universal, nonhierarchical female primate characteristic. Nor has the beauty myth always been this way. Though the pairing of the older rich men with young, “beautiful” women is taken to be somehow inevitable, in the matriarchal Goddess religions that dominated the Mediterranean from about 25,000 B.C.E. to about 700 B.C.E., the situation was reversed: “In every culture, the Goddess has many lov ers…. The clear pattern is of an older woman with a beautiful but expendable youth—Ishtar and Tammuz, Venus and Adonis, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris…their only function the service of the divine ‘womb.’”
Nor is it something only women do and only men watch: Among the Nigerian Wodaabes, the women hold economic power and the tribe is obsessed with male beauty; Wodaabe men spend hours together in elaborate makeup sessions, and compete—provocatively painted and dressed, with swaying hips and seductive expressions—in beauty contests judged by women.