Re: The Origin of The Cravat (Was: Are Ties Phallocarps?)

Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx (
Wed, 22 Nov 95 09:39:09 GMT


Gerold now resorts to insult, denial, and pseudo-technical jargon in an
attempt to bolster the "scientificity" of his arguments:

In article <>, (Gerold Firl) wrote:

>>Gerald is obviously jumping around here, desparately seeking facts to
>>his idea that the tie has phallic connotations. The bottom line is "Well,
>>*have to have* some way of expressing the fact that they have penises."
>No. You still don't understand. I've already explained this twice, so I'm a
>little reluctant to take the time to do it again, but I'll give it one more
>go. If you're prepared to discuss the hypothesis, as it has been put
>forward, then we can do that, but if you persist in diverting the
>discussion into your own erroneous misinterpretation, you're on your own.
>I will restate the hypothesis: at some point in the human evolutionary
>past, penis size became a male status-determinant which functioned as a
>conflict-resolution mechanism; big dick goes first, you might say. The
>necktie activates this instinctive mechanism.

Again, Gerald belies the Freudian roots of his thesis. First, we have an
untestable hypothesis. Just as Freud created MOSES AND MONOTHEISM in which
Dad hoards all the women and civilization arises because the sons kill Dad off
and agree not to do incest anymore, so Gerald tells us a tale about how the
real roots of certain civilized sets of behavior can all be tied to the penis
(and not the neck!)

He says "penis size became a male-status determinant". While history is
admittedly replete with male leaders who are alleged to have had problems with
the size or shape of their organ (Napolean and Hitler are two that come to
mind), I can't say Gerald has any more compelling evidence for his assertion
that we treat penises as "instinctual male-status symbols". In fact, men with
large penises (such as the over-endowed and over-sexed Priapus) are more often
treated as comic figures, the subject of scorn rather than respect. What we
can conclude from the Napolean/Hitler versus Priapus example is that, just as
with fingers, noses, ears, navels, hips, lips, etc. there is a sense of a norm
about what a proper penis size looks like. People who do not fit that norm --
who are unusual in some way -- stand out. Anne Boleyn had six fingers and was
branded as a witch. Hitler is alleged to have had one testicle and suffered
private agonies. There are many others who did not rise to such heights who
suffered similar or worse deformities. Stigma is a well-documented social
phenomenon with some biological roots.

We have a very strong idea about what is "weird". I will not go on to declare
whether this is entirely cultural or biological. I suspect some of both. I
do feel that it is a stretch, however, to begin seeing penises everywhere and
saying that it is a central determinant in human behavior. Now, we will
undoubtably hear Gerold complain that he is still misunderstood, but read his
own words:


>Furthermore, I am not suggesting that neckties are used to "express the
>fact that men have penises". IRM's (instinctive releasing mechanisms), to
>use tinbergen's terminology, activate innate reactions without the
>mediation of verbal/symbolic processing. The tie would activate a deference
>reaction in the same way that the two large spots on the wings of a
>butterfly might activate a fear-reaction which evolved to alert animals to
>the presence of large binocular predators. The butterfly, in this example,
>takes advantage of an instinctive sensitivity to having eyes trained upon
>you, which is found in many species. The butterfly manipulates the
>potential predator; a shrew, for example. The tie wearer manipulates this
>hypothetical status-marker instinct in a similar way. But in neither case
>is there the kind of superficial semiotic structure which you argue
>against. It's all happening at a deeper, autonomic level.

What kinds of markers might function like this in human nature. Gerold seems
to believe that the penis is a darned obvious little marker -- like the pair
of spots on a butterfly -- that we have lost due to our Western obsession with
clothes. In his "hypothesis", we men need to exhibit our penises in order to
feel secure with our social station. But nasty old social conventions about
clothes won't let us do so. We feel distressed. If we can't show our penises
to the world, how will people know where we stand?!!!

Now, I don't go to bed worrying or wondering about this or about the size of
my neighbor Grant's penis (I've never seen him in a tie....) or about the
penis of my neighbors downstairs, etc. If there is anything that I have
noticed to be a biologically-based status determinant in American culture it
is size: taller men have more income and more status usually. In this
century, except for George McGovern, the taller man has always won the
election! If Gerold is true to his Freudian colors, he will undoubtably jump
in and say "See! See! The determinant is size!" (Did Nixon have a bigger
penis than McGovern? How did we do? By their ties?)

The bad news is that some Big Guys have big penises and some Big Guys have
little penises. And, in my time, I have seen one or two short men with
genital instruments of impressive dimension. Sure, guys in the locker room
stopped and talked: "Did you get a load of that thing on Jim? Jesus Christ!"
But in this environment, where nakedness was so endemic, penis size didn't
translate into social status with or without the clothes.

Gerold's hypothesis depends on this instinctual status model. For it to be
correct, occassions of public nakedness would have to take on great importance
for men. If the "need" is so strong, then we would be no more satisfied with
some petty and possibly misleading symbol than we would be with a plastic ham
instead of the real thing.

But lets return to anthropology and, in particular, evolutionary theory which
Gerold has indirectly cited in his defense. This is the final point of defeat
for his hypothesis because it hinges on interpretations of behavior which have
already been scientific rebutted and discounted. Gerold writes:

>The butterfly manipulates the potential predator; a shrew, for example.

Gerold is implying an *active* creation by the butterfly of its spots. Fellow
students of evolution can quickly see the fallacy which is central to this
argument: it is Lamarckian. It implies that hereditary characteristics are
created by the butterfly for the purpose of inciting instinctual responses in
other animals. The butterfly, however, is little more than lucky to have
these spots. It did not create them. It does not manipulate them. Over many
centuries, the butterflies which did not have these spots were eaten up by
predators and the ones that did survived to have offspring.

Do big penises make it more likely to have offspring? To a slight degree --
if your fifth member is too short to reach into the vagina, you won't be able
to place your sperm there and so carry on your genestock. But men tend to use
other parts of their body to prevent other men from breeding. Rams have large
horns. Are these phallic in nature? No, but the rams with big horns and
powerful muscles can make it harder for the punier rams to breed. Some of the
work on narrowing out possibilities in the population is done by predators.
Some of it by the elements. What makes an instinctive behavior last is simply
that it is not killed off before breeding time by the forces of nature!

Noninstinctive behaviors "breed", too, though not by the same mechanism. They
must be copied by others to survive beyond the death or boredom of their
originators. To recapitulate: Gerold holds that ties are an expression of an
instinctive need to show that one has a big penis. Big penises translate into
greater social status. The consequence of not being able to show one's penis
is that one feels insecure. So, Gerold's myth goes, we invented the TIE!
What he doesn't seem to have an answer for is that if the penis is such a
darned important little indicator of social status, why don'tt we express its
size in a more direct way, such as by employing codpieces (a brief fashion of
the 16th century)? If this was such a "deep autonomic need", we wouldn't
settle for plastic fruit when we had the hunger. We would want the real thing
and nothing else.

So the hypothesis falls apart when its assumptions are examined. The main one
is that men have a deep need for showing off their penises. When they cannot
do so, they find a substitute. But when we look at some undisputably inherent
behaviors, we discover that substitutes don't cut it.

>Ah. You're a tie wearer. I see. So perhaps it's not that you're unable to
>comprehend the idea of human fashion manipulating unconscious instincts,
>but rather you're unwilling to look beneath your usage of this petty...

[blah blah blah]

I think I warned you all that he would do this. Don't let me say "I told you
so!" :) It is another hallmark of the Freudians: deny their theory and they
come up with a motive that favors them. Of course, what I have said in this
article counts doubly here: if showing off the size of my penis was so
critical to my social security, I wouldn't be in denial about this. I would
be attaching jpeg files to show you all how big it is! (What a use for the
InterNet!) But Gerold's mechanism *does not exist*. If there are men who
have developed a need to check out and compare penis sizes, I suspect that the
root of the need is cultural rather than a biological imperitive on their

Freud and his emulators created a hamster wheel of logic which in the course
of this century has been tested and found wanting. Better theories of human
behavior are being developed and these lines of inquiry have the decided
advantage of leading us down a road that actually goes somewhere meaningful
instead of dooming us to endless circularity and reductionism. If there is a
biological imperitive for the wearing of ties, it is not sexual. From an
evolutionary perspective, I suspect that the reason why ties have lasted so
long is that they are relatively innocuous and don't harm anybody. If they
got caught on things (as I imagined codpieces must have done, particularly
when they were very long and had a few loose threads hanging from them) or if
they posed an actual social threat like Gerold's sword (a symbol of power that
can be more eloquently explained by referring to the value of its cutting edge
just as the value of the gun is in its power to fire bullets), they would have
disappeared long ago. But as others have lamented, ties are a functionless
bit of clothing. (Except maybe that they keep the neck a little warm. I
might try soaking one in water the next time the heat gets unbearable. It
worked for the Romans!)

Gerold's speculation is not unlike the people who try to find functions for
male nipples without reference to embryonic development. (Cf. Stephen Jay
Gould's article "Male Nipples and Female Ripples". Summary: males have
nipples because women do, too! We fellows just didn't get the complete set of
genes which causes them to have functions!) Things exist in our cultural life
which have NO function! They are vestiges of history, whims of fashion. They
may have had functions once. Or like the double caps I like to use in my
name, they may be nothing more than random affectations. What this thread
demonstrates more than anything is that there are plenty of people who are
just uncomfortable with the fact that some things come to be and stick around
for no good reason.

That is their problem.

This Phallocarp thread deserves to die. Unfortunately, I suspect that when I
return from my vacation, Gerold and his fellow 'Carpers will still be here,
touting it as if it is the Truth and not a hypothesis which has been
adequately weighed in the balance and found wanting.

A good Thanksgiving to you all. Keep your ties clean and don't let your
biological imperitive to eat get the better of you!

Joel GAzis-SAx
(who does this signature for no good reason at all)