Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Bad science isn't sexy

Gender differences are science, dammit, when will you silly social constructionists get over yourselves and admit girls just like looking after people, trying to be pretty and only having sex if they really, really love him.

When gender differences underpin your scientific investigations into gender differences, we have the kind of causal loop which produces complete nonsense.  And perhaps the worst area for this, scientifically, is around sex and desire.

Scientists have "proved" that women want sex less than men and that men have more sexual partners than women, wanting to spread their evolutionary seed around.  It all goes back to Mr Darwin.

Except they haven't.  Turns out when we remove the gender difference assumption, we remove the gender differences.

In 2003, Michelle Alexander and Terri Fisher used a simple test to investigate attitudes and behaviours around sex, asking questions when their subjects were connected to a fake lie detector, or not.  When asked about sexual partners unconnected to the lie detector, more men reported getting jiggy with it than women.  When subjects believed the lie detector would catch them out - no gender differences.  In fact, women reported ever so slightly more, on average, sexual partners than men.

Then there is the long cherished idea that men will shag anything in the inner-drive-rooted-need to be the daddy.  Speed dating had been previously used to "prove" this.  Basically, men were less choosy in speed dating scenarios, more likely to be keen to give someone a go.

Until you switch who sits still and who approaches the potential date.  Turns out all the earlier studies had men moving around.  Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick swapped the roles in 2009.  Just being the approacher, rather than the approachee, is the key in dating situations.  You are more likely to have a favourable assessment of a potential date if you're the one putting it out there - regardless of your gender.

Finally, attitudes to casual sex might not be quite as different as more neanderthal scientists have previously proven either.  Terri Conley found in 2011 that if you remove situations in which women's assessment of danger might impact (a stranger asking you back to their place for sex), and focus on actual desire (a close friend you think is sexy invites you to spend a few hours of fun), gender differences in enthusiasm for sexual play without commitment disappear.  Again.

The evolutionists aren't going anywhere.  Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote an email to respond to these studies to the New York Times, saying:
“A study which shows you can push some phenomenon around a bit at the margins is of dubious relevance to whether the phenomenon exists.”
 The gender difference is there, dammit, there.  Just look harder.


ChundaMars said...

Read a couple of excellent books recently which relate to this: The Mismeasure of Woman (Carol Tavris) which is almost 20 years old now but no less relevant, and Delusions of Gender (Cordelia Fine) which is very recent.

The Mismeasure of Woman has a fantastic subtitle: "Why Women are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex" which sums it up well and I thought Carol Tavris did a brilliant job at being very thorough and balanced.

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks ChundaMars. I loved Inventing Women too - read it about 15 years ago now but just great analysis of science and sexism.

AnneE said...

Great post, thank you - I'll be hunting down all those books (I knew of the Fine but haven't read it yet). The point about removing the danger is key, but - does that in fact point to one real difference, that women are much more likely to be in danger from men than men are from women?

Anonymous said...

Heh - I used the "average number of sex partners" example to teach statistics this year. Assuming the survey is only considering heterosexual sexual partners (I had a survey as an example that stated this was the case), the average number of sexual partners for men and women MUST be exactly equal. My class, at first, though I was a looney (cos, like, obviously men have more partners than women, duh!) to become suddenly more vaguely interested in statistics (and poor use of them) once I explained. anyway, this is a bit of topic, but I so rarely get to tell any of my stats/science stories.

also wanted to say - great blog, always love finding fresh posts on here or discovering older ones!


LudditeJourno said...

AnneE - oh for sure the risk of sexual violence for women, and the fear of the risk of sexual violence for women, are completely different than for men. Another point these studies didn't address at all was diverse gender identity - which would complicate the simplistic gender messages even further of course :-)

sexual network said...

When subjects believed the lie detector would catch them out - no gender differences. In fact, women reported ever so slightly more, on average, sexual partners than men. After long time i have seen very interesting sharing.