Saturday, 15 August 2009

Women are small-minded, vain and jealous. There's a PhD to prove it.

WTF?, I said to myself as I read this Stuff article, Too much beauty may mean too few sales?

According to a PhD student in Australia (assuming Stuff isn't reporting her work disingenuously), women are biologically programmed to compete with one another, making ourselves ever more sexy to compete for men. I'm leaving aside the dubious 'science' of sexual selection for now, because the researcher's next claim is a humdinger: we buy less when we're served by beautiful shop assistants, because they intimidate us.

My experience of shopping is trying desperately to purchase something as quickly as possible that's suitable for work, before the parking metre runs out, while trying to prevent my fed-up children from wiping snot on the garments in the shop, while simultaneously feeling sympathy for the women behind the counter who have to put up with me and my kids for something barely above minimum wage.

I guess there's something wrong with my biological programming as a woman - nature has mistakenly equipped me with the capacity to think.

8 comments:

Hugh said...

Yea, who needs academic research when we have our own anecdotal experience, right Anna? Particularly when our experience rests on a significant factor that not all women share? (eg the experience of motherhood?)

Anna said...

Maybe you know of some robust academic evidence of sexual selection? It's not an easy proposition to support empirically.

Trouble said...

"assuming Stuff isn't reporting her work disingenuously"

That's not an assumption I'm willing to make, given what that UK paper did to an unpublished study about promiscuous men and rape.

I can't find the actual paper, but the article in the University of South Australia news puts a bit of a different spin on it, and definitely doesn't say "The problem, it seems, is women."

I suspect you'd observe the same effect with male shop assistants/gym trainers etc.

Anna said...

You're right, Trouble - it's probably an unsafe assumption (trying to condense a PhD into a Stuff article is pretty dodgy).

I thought the idea was interesting in so far as some women in some situations probably do feel intimidated by other women they perceive to be more attractive - sounds plausable enough.

But the 'biologically programmed' bit is kind of nutty. To make a case for that, you'd have to quantify what 'attractive' is (and anthropological evidence suggests this has changed across time and cultures). Plus sexual selection is incredibly dubious - it assumes a kind of sexual free market with limitless possibilities, and doesn't really factor in how things like morality, preferences, opportunity, economic factors, geography, religious beliefs, beer, etc affect who we end up breeding with. The 'evidence' I've read to support sexual selection in humans hasn't done any regression analysis to work out what other factors might be at play.

Something I'd be interested in (which is probably included in the woman's thesis) is how things likes age, income etc affect buying decisions. I went to Millers the other day and I couldn't see anyone vying for sexiness amongst the rows of trackpants.

Lew said...

I considered a post linking this article with this one about the so-called Hot Waitress Index, but then I decided not to dignify either of them.

I guess I've undecided now :)

L

A Nonny Moose said...

"Plus sexual selection is incredibly dubious - it assumes a kind of sexual free market with limitless possibilities, and doesn't really factor in how things like morality, preferences, opportunity, economic factors, geography, religious beliefs, beer, etc affect who we end up breeding with. "

Hair hair. How about us who don't even NEED to be on the market, and haven't been in all the time they've taken an interest (or had the money) to shop for clothes. Guess I'd be the control group.

Biologically programmed my ass.

Lucy said...

Could we stop throwing around the words "sexual selection"? Nothing in that article indicates the study has anything to do with selection for a phenotype via mate choice. The "biologically competitive" thing doesn't even, it's pretty much meaningless - biologically competitive in what way? Competition doesn't have to be *directed*, it can be general - sounds like a cherrypicked statement to me, and out of a psychology study, not an evolutionary one.

corardens said...

Oh, but don't you see it makes perfect sense??! Why, clearly when our Homo sapiens ancestors in the wild had to deal with shop assistants... uhhh... wait...