I should declare, before going on, that I just finished my period and haven't ovulated yet. So take the following with a grain of awareness that this is just my post-period-pre-ovulation opinion.
A reader sent me this link from Slate about how women have supposedly evolved to protect themselves from rape. It falls victim, severely, to the usual process of pop-evolutionary-psychology:
1. Get a little bit of data. A self-reported survey administered to fifteen undergrads (the portion of your 9AM class who returned the surveys) is more than enough.
2. Break that data down by sex. Make sure to never ever ever break it down by age, socioeconomic status, level of education, nationality, or any other way people could conceivably differ from each other.
(2b. Make sure that you treat gender as absolutely biologically fixed. Disregard the possibility of non-heterosexual subjects, or for bonus points, attempt to lump gay men in with straight women and vice versa.)
3. Search for differences and discard similarities. Ways in which men and women are alike could never be significant findings! For bonus points, design your study in a way that is incapable of finding similarities--only test one sex, or test two sexes in different ways without a control.
4. This is the creative step. A less brilliant researcher would find that, say, women have a higher pain tolerance than men (as tested by heat exposure to the skin), and publish a paper entitled "Gender and pain tolerance in heat exposure." You are better than that! Because you know how to speculate wildly! Make up a completely ludicrous story that could have produced the results you found, and present it as your conclusion. Be sure that this story references "cavemen," justifies stereotypical gender roles, and act like proof of your data constitutes proof of your story. In the example given above, your paper should be entitled "Women naturally adapted to cooking; cavewomen adapted to the heat of cooking fires while making their men a nice mastodon roast when the men were away doing important things."
5. Release your findings to the popular press with an air of "This is the proclamation of Science and henceforth must be considered objective truth." Promote the story you came up with as the headline and bury the boring ol' actual data.
6. Get read by millions of grandparents, chatty neighbors, and suburban ER nurses who are spectacularly susceptible to the appeal to authority fallacy, and respond to all objections with "but that's just your opinion, Holly, and this is Science."
So, the article.
Women, gather round, read carefully, because this gay man—who once, long ago, feigned sexual interest in your bodies—is about to shine a spotlight on some hidden truths about your natural design.
That's a heck of a weird opening. I thought opening a post with my menstrual cycle was weird, but at least I didn't get all "I used to act like I thought you were sexy, but no." Great beginning for a science article.
It's by no means a perfect system, but evolution has endowed you with some extraordinary, almost preternatural abilities to prevent your own sexual assault. And these abilities are especially pronounced when you're ovulating.
This is the main thesis of the article, and contains two different weirdnesses:
1. Wanting to prevent sexual assault is evolution, instead of, like, wanting not to be assaulted.
2. Being sexually assaulted when you weren't ovulating, well, that wouldn't be so bad.
Expect these two assumptions to go blissfully unquestioned as we continue.
There is some evidence that convicted rapists are physically unattractive, at least as judged by women on the basis of their mug shots.
There is also evidence that attractive men aren't as often convicted as rapists, because they have an easier time setting up date rapes and because juries figure it must've been consensual if he's all studly.
And spousal rape is most likely to occur when the husband finds out (or suspects) his wife has been unfaithful, suggesting that he is attempting to supplant another man's seed.
Or suggesting that he's, you know, angry and jealous and attempting to punish her or reassert his possession. I don't think you need to resort to speculative evolutionary psychology when psychology-psychology has you pretty well covered.
Furthermore, UCLA psychologist Neil Malamuth and his colleagues found that one-third of men admit that they would engage in some type of sexual coercion if they could be assured they would suffer no negative consequences, and many report having related masturbatory fantasies.
Since these men were certified to have no families, peers, schooling, culture, life experiences, or media exposure, clearly evolution is the only explanation.
We've heard the argument that men may have evolved to sexually assault women. Have women evolved to protect themselves from men?
The thing I can't help thinking here is, you know, male and female genomes cross over every generation. It's not like these are two species evolving in parallel. Obviously there are traits that are expressed in one sex more than the other--hello, vagina--but I would suspect that for a trait to evolve in only women is more complicated than evolving in all humans. For the physical traits, there tends to be at least vestigial crossover--female clitorises, male nipples--and a significant portion of males who develop breasts and females who develop chest hair. So while of course males and females do express different traits, the image of us competitively coevolving like cheetahs and antelope is at best oversimplified.
1. When threatened by sexual assault, ovulating women display a measurable increase in physical strength. In 2002, SUNY-Albany psychologists Sandra Petralia and Gordon Gallup had 192 female undergraduate students read a story about either a female character being stalked by a suspicious male stranger in a parking lot (ending with: "As she inserts the key into her car door she feels his cold hand on her shoulder …") or a similar story in which the female character is surrounded by happy people on a warm summer's day (ending with: "She starts her car, adjusts the stereo, and as she pulls out of the parking lot those nearby can hear her music blasting"). The researchers measured the handgrip strength of each participant before and after she read the story, and compared the scores. [...] Only the ovulating women who read the sexual assault scenario exhibited an increase in handgrip strength.
I'd like to see the results of a third group that read a story about being threatened by, say, a wolf. (We would specify it was not a horny wolf.) I suspect that would do a bit for your handgrip too. Without that third scenario, we can't really distinguish between "ovulating women are protecting the purity of their sexy ladyparts" and "ovulating women are protecting their freakin' hides."
I also think the undergrad should become formalized as an SI unit of lazy psychology research. "We performed a 1.92 hectoundergrad study..."
2. Ovulating women overestimate strange males' probability of being rapists. [...]The researchers showed 169 normally ovulating women videotaped interviews with various men and asked them to rate the men on several dimensions, including their tendencies toward sexual aggression, kindness, or faithfulness. The more fertile the woman was at the time of her judging, the more likely she was to describe the men as "sexually coercive." Ovulating women didn't see these men as being less kind, faithful, or likely to commit—only more inclined to rape them.
I read the original study for this one (and I'm grateful that there actually was a direct link), and you know what, I'm going to break with Pervocracy tradition and buy it. Not as The New Immortal Truth About Women, but their methodology and results sound fairly plausible to me. In my personal anecdata, I do get noticeably hornier during ovulation (which is saying something believe me), and that means more aware of sex in general, and thus more likely to project sexual motivations onto people.
3. Ovulating women play it safe by avoiding situations that place them at increased risk of being raped. [...] At least two studies have demonstrated that women at the peak of their fertility are less likely than their peers to have engaged in high-risk activities such as walking alone in a park or forest, letting a stranger into the house, or stopping their cars in a remote place over the preceding 24 hours.
Walking alone in a park is a high-risk activity? Stopping your car? MOTHER OF GOD. I'm a fucking extreme adventurer and I didn't even know it. I've gone years engaging in high-risk activities every day! Twice a day sometimes when I couldn't get a ride in the morning and had to walk through the park both ways.
I don't even know what to say about the ovulation connection or whatever here. I'm just stuck on the implication that being outdoors while female is a high-risk activity. You know, this Monday I was planning on going for a nice long walk in the snow out in the boonies, maybe taking some photos, maybe doing some journaling, and I really didn't add "but of course I have to take the rape factor into account" to my plans. Until now.
Then again, I'm not ovulating, so of course I didn't.
4. Women become more racist when they're ovulating. At least white American ovulating women do when it comes to thinking about black American men.
Those are the jaw-dropping, politically incorrect findings of Michigan State University's Carlos Navarrete and colleagues.
Quick note: can we stop using "politically incorrect" to mean "harsh truth?" It really just means harsh.
While we're at it, can we stop trivializing decency in discourse by labeling it "political correctness"? Avoiding discriminatory and hurtful language isn't some partisan posture. It's just a basic step in not being a dickhead. Characterizing black men as rapists of white women isn't a daring rebellion against oppressive thought police, it's just racist.
White, undergraduate females were evaluated for race bias using several variants of an implicit association test, which asks participants to perform a word-matching task that indicates the relative accessibility of certain stereotypes. The women who happened to be ovulating scored especially high when it came to fear of black (as opposed to white) men, a fact that the authors interpret as reflecting an evolved disposition to avoid so-called "out-group males," who "may not have been subject to the same social controls as in-group members and would have constituted a threat in antagonistic situations." In this case, skin color serves as a convenient marker of group identity.
The entire history of American racism, washed away in a beautiful evolutionary flood of "it's perfectly reasonable not to trust the out-group!" The fact that this particular out-group has been specifically libeled with "coming after our white women" since the end of slavery has nothing to do with anything ever, since culture does not exist.
Stereotypes about the particular out-group being prone to violence may also play a role, so, at least in American society, cultural transmission works alongside evolutionary biology in promoting racism.
Oh, okay, culture exists. Oh my god, how to deal with this? Think... think... aha! Perhaps it merely works alongside my pet theory that explains everything!
Above is a set of astonishing truths that, had an evolutionary approach to studying complex social behavior not been adopted so rigorously over the past quarter-century and applied to human sexuality, would have gone entirely unnoticed—not least of which by a Kinsey-6 gay man who wouldn't know what to do with an ovulating woman if she came with instructions.
So now they're not studies suggesting certain things. They're "truths". A study showing that a limited population of young white women had negative associations with black men while ovulating is now somehow the TRUTH that ovulating women are racist (and they're right to be).
No. This is not how science works. A high p value doesn't mean all possible implications of a study are True. It means that the study itself--as in, the actual population tested and the actual tests done, not the various things they might symbolize--showed a correlation unlikely to be chance alone. You may have suggested something about women and the way they think, but you have only proven something about white undergrad American women in Michigan and the way they take implicit association tests. That's the only thing you can call truth. Everything else is somewhere between guessing, generalizing, and making shit up.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that I'm bisexual but more attracted to men. I hope this clarifies my views tremendously.