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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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69 Responses

  1. evil fizz
    evil fizz October 13, 2009 at 9:51 am |

    Quiche: the new arugula.

  2. Personal Failure
    Personal Failure October 13, 2009 at 9:52 am |

    Actually, if you read the article, it’s pretty clear that if the conclusions are true, then the pill is good for society. The sort of men women on the pill are (supposedly) attracted to are stayers: men who will stick around to raise the baby they create. The sort of men ovulating women (supposedly) tend to choose are love ‘em and leavers- you know, the kind that create single mothers?

    I thought Stanek was for men sticking around and against single mothers. I just can’t keep up with her.

  3. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe October 13, 2009 at 9:52 am |

    I always knew Jill Stanek was 99% full of shit, and with the comment about quiche, she just lost the remaining 1%.

    I’ll leave aside her ridiculous assertions to wonder: How did quiche get slandered as wimpy food? It’s absolutely delicious, easy to make, and not too terrible for you nutritionally (if you don’t mind a heavy dose of cholesterol from all that egg yolk and cheese). It’s probably because of that spectacularly unfunny line, “Real men don’t eat quiche,” uttered decades ago by some hack comic whose name I don’t feel like dredging up from its well-deserved obscurity.

    Anyway, if Stanek and her fellow mouth-breathers don’t like quiche, I’m not going to complain. More for me.

  4. Wednesday
    Wednesday October 13, 2009 at 10:00 am |

    If she’s so worried about feminised male fish, she should protest agricultural hormone use, which to my understanding has a far greater share of the environmental impact than us Rebellious Women on the pill.

    Of course, that’s not going to happen, because organic meat and dairy are, you know, for wussie liberals. Wussie liberals who make quiche. Out of organic eggs.

  5. Eleniel
    Eleniel October 13, 2009 at 10:05 am |

    “How did quiche get slandered as wimpy food?”

    I think because it’s French =(

  6. P.T. Smith
    P.T. Smith October 13, 2009 at 10:09 am |

    Quiche is a womam’s food? But I like quiche! Food is gendered? Oh god. Can someone please make me a list so I can assess my eating habits? Lunch is soon, I brought a p&j sammich, fig newtons, and an apple. Do I need to go to the store?

  7. rachel
    rachel October 13, 2009 at 10:09 am |

    Being a quiche-eater is also a Very Bad Thing because it’s French, and those mean m-f’ers wouldn’t help us (ie Bush) with his war in Iraq, despite us saving their butts during WWII. But only after we got pissed that the genocide-committing Nazis kept sinking our trade ships with their U-boats.

  8. Gembird
    Gembird October 13, 2009 at 10:12 am |

    I don’t know about any of you guys, but I wasn’t into control freaks before I started taking the pill. I liked nerds, and still do. I’m not entirely sure why that’s supposed to be a bad thing, since they’re not into the whole ‘herp derp football manly ladies crazy’ scene.

    I’ll assume that the reason I’ve never heard of this woman is because she’s not exactly a scientific expert… especially since she thinks the Daily Mail is a reliable source of news.

    Honestly, ‘science’ stories make me cringe. If it’s not some sexist crap that people have misunderstood or just plain lied about in order to make women look bad, it’s vaccine scares, food scares (everything causes cancer!) or stories about how all science is an evil abomination sent from Satan to take our children away from Jesus. It’s horribly frustrating.

    Oh, and my boyfriend is a tall, bearded engineer, I think he might be a little annoyed if someone told him he was a pansy for liking quiche!

  9. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte October 13, 2009 at 10:15 am |

    What the study found was that women who are not ovulating right this minute are attracted to “feminine” men. It’s questionable as all get-out, but at the most, they showed that being on the pill means that you spend 28 days out of every month in the same state of mind as other women spend 25 days out the month. If women’s preferences shift slightly 3 days out of the month, that’s hardly the sort of thing that will cause earth-shattering changes if it disappeared entirely.

    “Quiche-eater” is a homophobic slur. Stanek is fond of them.

  10. Lizzie
    Lizzie October 13, 2009 at 11:20 am |

    It is “natural” for adult women to spend the vast majority of their lives either pregnant or breastfeeding. The Pill simulates this state.

    In other words it was the gap in society between having 9 babies (of whom 4 died) and having the Pill – the years just either side of the 1950’s when you could use other contraceptive methods and have only 3 babies as they actually weren’t going to die – that is unnatural. The Pill is just simulating women being in the state that they are naturally supposed to be in, but without chaining them to labor and childbirth when they neither want nor can afford so many babies. Thus the men women choose on the Pill are the men they would naturally like; good fathers. 12 periods a year with all the associated hormonal and iron imbalances, and preferring to shack up with a love ‘em and leave ‘em loser; that’s unnatural.

  11. preying mantis
    preying mantis October 13, 2009 at 11:48 am |

    “How did quiche get slandered as wimpy food?”

    By persisting in its obvious French origins in spite of France and all things derived therefrom being declared Unmanly™.

  12. Featherstone, QC
    Featherstone, QC October 13, 2009 at 11:51 am |

    The cited study aside, I seek here to interject and explain the appellation “quiche eater” and others such as “Latte Liberal,” in an effort to promote cross-ideological understanding.

    Quiche itself can quite delicious, and I doubt that you’d find many who would disagree – I prefer a strata, but there you have it. The same can be said for lattes/caffes however their expense relative to simple coffee makes them cost prohibitive as a daily morning coffee substitute for the average working person. The epithets strike at the heart of the pretense – perceived or real – with which people on the Left approach very many things, including food, which is as much or more about the act of being seen ordering a most complicated latte with two and a half pumps of this and a sprinkle of shaved that, and hopefully something that is out of supply, rather than the actual enjoyment of the thing itself. It’s about the anxious social jockeying and faux-elitism that motivates this kind of pretense; implicit in the devotion to quiche is a rejection of pedestrian breakfasts such as scrambled eggs and a preening condescension to your fellow countrymen who enjoy them.

    I would also add that, having spent a significant portion of my youth living and attending secondary school in the Republic of Ireland, much of English-speaking Europe (Scots, Welsh, English as well) maintain a particular and patent disdain of French pomposity distinct from their own domestic politics. (And although it may only confirm what you already believe, an association of some elements of French culture with effeminate men is universal in English-speaking Europe.) See, for example, the popular BBC television programmes “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister,” which aired when the merits of the EC and later EU was being debated, and some of the better dialogue exposed humorous British perceptions of the French and Germans.

    I don’t think the American right’s expression of the same sentiment is particularly unique, although I do find the American Left’s situational embrace of French pomposity aimed at (for lack of a better term) “Middle Americans” quite puzzling.

  13. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm |

    I’m curious: Is there a way you can tell, just from looking at a man, if he’s a “stayer” or a “love-‘em-and-leave-‘em” sort”? Because I’ve known some seriously big, macho-seeming guys who eat quiche, are devoted to their families, are pretty easygoing, and very faithful and respectful to their wives. I also know some small, unmacho, “boyish” looking men who are absolute shits to their wives/girlfriends, act like curb-crawling slags, and are pretty damn controlling. I know all sorts in between these two examples.

    So, um. . .is there some sort of physical attribute that’s typical so we can tell the two groups apart? Or is this just more evo-psych just-so reasoning? (Don’t answer that, these are rhetorical questions.)

  14. kb
    kb October 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm |

    yeah, I have never understood why it’s a bad thing that I don’t one someone to “be a man” for me. I like my relationships equal, thank you very much. Does the pill change that? It’s been true since before I started taking it, so I can’t think so.

  15. SarahMC
    SarahMC October 13, 2009 at 12:28 pm |

    Sheelzebub, is he eating quiche?

  16. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 13, 2009 at 1:08 pm |

    Actually, the uber-macho dude I know eats lots of the stuff. Then again, he eats lots of everything. ;)

  17. Rebecca
    Rebecca October 13, 2009 at 2:11 pm |

    So many reasons this is fail.

    1. Correlation =/= causation. Has it not occurred to her, not that the Pill makes women fall for “quiche-eaters,” but that the sets of women who are on the pill – i.e. women who have an interest in taking control of their reproductive health – and women who seek out men who respect them – i.e. “quiche-eaters” – have some substantial overlap?

    2. So hormones in the water feminize male fish? It’s not the men taking the Pill.

  18. Rikibeth
    Rikibeth October 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm |

    Amanda, does this mean that I can track my cycle by whether I think Sam or Dean Winchester is cuter? Whoa.

  19. Li
    Li October 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm |

    Rikibeth, your comment has made my day.

    Also, I chose to rewrite this as “vegan men manlier”. That’s how it works right? Cos I got all confuzzled by the scientifics.

  20. Kyra
    Kyra October 13, 2009 at 2:36 pm |

    Basically, a study says that women who use birth control tend to be attracted to men with more boyish features with caring personalities, versus “rugged” men with controlling personalities.

    How in blazes it’s a bad thing for men with controlling personalities to be less attractive . . .

  21. Stephanie - Green SAHM
    Stephanie - Green SAHM October 13, 2009 at 3:04 pm |

    How in blazes it’s a bad thing for men with controlling personalities to be less attractive . . .

    Because good girls want to be controlled! Can’t be a proper woman if you aren’t being submissive and all that nonsense.

    I find that amusing considering how frustrated my mother-in-law gets when I don’t try hard enough to control her son.

  22. leisurelyviking
    leisurelyviking October 13, 2009 at 4:33 pm |

    I regularly read Trends in Ecology and Evolution (the journal this study was published in) and it’s actually a review article summarizing previous studies that looked at this topic. They’ve released the article for free and it does a pretty good job of summarizing the implications of the evidence as well as which parts need more study and gives suggestions for better ways to do this research. You can read the actual study here: http://download.cell.com/images/Edimages/trends/ecologyevolution/tree1178.pdf

  23. Michael
    Michael October 13, 2009 at 5:23 pm |

    a little poking reveals the study to be ridiculous

    I’ve seen a few things about this study over the last few days but nothing to suggest that the study itself is flawed — does someone have a reference on this?

  24. Julia
    Julia October 13, 2009 at 6:16 pm |

    The term is “vise-like” unless you meant that the rigid grip on gender identity is a vice as opposed to a virtue. Ignore me if you were punning.

  25. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable October 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm |

    “How in blazes it’s a bad thing for men with controlling personalities to be less attractive . . .”

    How can they get laid if we all start popping the pill? Did you think taking the pill was your choice and only affected you? How selfish.

  26. Colin Day
    Colin Day October 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm |

    In A View to a Kill, James Bond not only ate quiche, he also prepared it. Is he a wimp now?

  27. Lizzie
    Lizzie October 13, 2009 at 7:03 pm |

    Kyra – it is a Bad Thing because if the controlling men are shacking up with the women who are not using birth control, and all the good guys’ girlfriends are using the Pill, the controlling men might have more babies. And then the % of good guys will go down and where will that leave our intelligent, educated daughters when it comes time to find mates? And where will it leave our sons when they go to school surrounded by macho goons who tell them they are being gay every time they do something intelligent or thoughtful? Not to mention the fate of the children of the controlling men who have to grow up with weak, less-educated mothers and neanderthal or absent fathers. These kids are most at risk of being illiterate, poor, having broken homes, becoming delinquent and generally being unable to fulfil their potential (not saying they ALL turn out this way but they are way more likely to). Can we as a society afford for such children to be a majority?

    What this survey really tells us is that the sort of woman who takes seriously her responsibility to her future children by having them when she is ready and can properly parent them (a Pill-taker), prefers the sort of awesome man who feels the same way (a stayer), which is hardly surprising. Anyone with a brain can see their behavior is a Good Thing.

    So the doctor is right there is a problem, just not the one she has identified. The question shouldn’t be how to help the feckless, abandoning men get laid by the responsible, educated women, it is how to incentivise high-quality potential parents of both sexes to have the majority of the babies.

  28. jemand
    jemand October 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm |

    and seriously, if the excess hormones from the pill in the water is actually a problem (due to much of ingested hormone not being completely absorbed) we could move to more of a default to the IUD or the vaginal ring, or all those other wonderful options out there. Right now with slightly less variety and higher cost but… it’s not like it’s *JUST* the pill out there, and we’re getting more and better and cheaper every day.

  29. timberwraith
    timberwraith October 13, 2009 at 11:07 pm |

    I believe this book is the origin of the notion that manly men do not eat quiche. I remember when the book came out.

    Oh, and I prefer my women in combat boots and my men in skirts. I didn’t realize until now that they had a pill for inducing that preference. And here I was, thinking that folks were just getting tired of the unrealistic restrictions of dumb, stogy old gender roles. Ah, modern technology.

  30. timberwraith
    timberwraith October 13, 2009 at 11:12 pm |

    Oh god, that was supposed to be “stodgy,” not “stogy.” Now someone is going to come out with a study that links cigar smoking with gender expression and dating. Dammit.

  31. Danielle
    Danielle October 13, 2009 at 11:55 pm |

    @ Lizzie

    Actually, the more natural state would be the a woman breastfeeding, not pregnant. Women in natural fertility populations breastfeed on demand for a LONG time-delaying ovulation up to 20 months. Some breastfeed for 4 years. So the pill doesn’t keep a woman in her ‘natural’ state-that would be more so if it kept her body in the state a woman is in if she’s breastfeeding.

  32. The Amazing Kim
    The Amazing Kim October 14, 2009 at 4:21 am |

    Honestly, ’science’ stories make me cringe. If it’s not some sexist crap that people have misunderstood or just plain lied about in order to make women look bad, it’s vaccine scares, food scares (everything causes cancer!)

    Have you seen this? Kill or cure – An site to track the Daily Mail’s classification of all inanimate objects into two types: those that cause cancer, and those that cure it. (I also like the Headline generator.)

    How did quiche get slandered as wimpy food?

    Maybe because it’s easy to eat, unlike steak? Maybe just because it’s a main meal that isn’t meat. Associations with vegetarianism. (When I went veggie, the only thing I could order in restaurants was quiche. It was the Token Vegetarian Meal. Now goats’ cheese is the default.)

    I’ve seen a few things about this study over the last few days but nothing to suggest that the study itself is flawed — does someone have a reference on this?

    Have a look at Echidne of the Snakes.

  33. Dave
    Dave October 14, 2009 at 7:56 am |

    This isn’t just some random study. There are now dozens and dozens of studies showing that women’s sexual motivations change during the high fertility phase of their cycle (days 13-19 before menstrual onset). We conduct these studies in our lab as well.

    Women report a stronger desire for men with more masculine faces, who are taller, who are more symmetrical, and who display more behaviors associated with dominance. They also wear more revealing clothing. The list goes on. The effects are strongest for women who have partners who are less physically attractive. Women on the pill don’t experience these shifts – they display the same preferences throughout the cycle because they don’t experience the surges in LH and estrogen around ovulation.

    There are also dozens of studies in non-human mammals where females become choosier during estrous (ovulation), generally showing stronger preferences for traits associated with testosterone.

    The studies are done many ways. In some studies, women complete a diary measuring their preferences and fantasies each day for two months. In other studies, women come into the lab 3 times over the course of a month. In other studies, they recruit large samples and compare women currently ovulating to women not ovulating. The studies have been done in Western cultures, Non-Western cultures, and non-industrialized settings.

    Why should you care? It’s part of a line of research by evolutionary psychologists focusing on the ways that evolution has shaped women’s sexuality, revealing the ways that women’s sexuality is active rather than passive and influenced by hormonal, situational, and cultural factors. It contributes to the study and understanding of women’s sexuality.

  34. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers October 14, 2009 at 9:15 am |

    I’m failing to see how ensuring that the majority of men who get laid are relaxed, friendly, sweet guys who don’t try to control their girlfriends or wives would be a *bad* thing…

    Also, given that men are far, far more motivated by “what will get me a girlfriend” than “what will get me lots of babies”, this being a social trend would have a positive effect, Lizzie. The difference between the number of babies a woman on the Pill has versus the number of babies a woman not on the Pill has is insignificant in terms of the degree and speed to which it could change human behavior, in comparison to the idea that for *all* the women on the Pill, traditionally “manly” men would cease to be as attractive as “sensitive new-age guys”. Because men don’t shape their personalities in a vacuum; teach men that being nice to women is what gets you sex, and I betcha lots more men will end up feeling like it’s a perfectly manly thing to be nice to women.

    Of course the study’s probably bullshit and even if it isn’t it probably describes a very tiny effect, but I want for a few minutes to live in a fantasy world where women as a whole start rewarding guys for *not* being assholes rather than for being assholes, and thus shape the expectations of the entire gender toward not being assholes…

  35. timberwraith
    timberwraith October 14, 2009 at 11:57 am |

    but I want for a few minutes to live in a fantasy world where women as a whole start rewarding guys for *not* being assholes rather than for being assholes, and thus shape the expectations of the entire gender toward not being assholes…

    Yes! Most definitely.

    I wonder how much those study results will flatten out toward insignificance or simply shift to a different pattern if women are raised in a culture that emphasizes self-confidence and self-respect as a universal value for all sexes and genders. If we lived in such a world, what kind of variations in attraction would you see then? We are highly social beings and as such, biology rarely holds the trump card.

  36. Mandolin
    Mandolin October 14, 2009 at 12:42 pm |

    “This isn’t just some random study. There are now dozens and dozens of studies showing that women’s sexual motivations change during the high fertility phase of their cycle (days 13-19 before menstrual onset). We conduct these studies in our lab as well.”

    Have they done one that’s truly cross-cultural yet? And not cross-cultural as in “we did this in England *and* France,” but one that actually looks at effects in a number of significantly different places?

  37. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. October 14, 2009 at 1:19 pm |

    “Actually, the more natural state would be the a woman breastfeeding, not pregnant.”

    Actually, surprisingly enough, women only get pregnant if they engage in heterosexual intercourse. Something which the woman can avoid assuming she is not raped or otherwise forced into sexual relationships with men.

    Given that pregnancy only occurs if there is a man present whom the woman has intercourse with, it is actually not natural for a woman to be either pregnant or breastfeeding for most of her life.

    That there are people actually stating otherwise on a feminist board no less goes to show just how deeply embedded the idea of woman as natural babymaker/male fucktoy is embedded in our society.

  38. Dana
    Dana October 14, 2009 at 2:10 pm |

    Faith, the point is that the primary biological urge in any species is to reproduce. We’re not talking about society, we’re talking about humans living “like animals” and mostly producing offspring every year or so (pulling numbers out of my arse, please don’t nitpick).

    Dave, people are disgusted at the interpretation of the study, not the study itself. (Personally I have no opinion on the study as I can’t be bothered researching it.) If you bothered to read what you were responding to that would be quite clear.

  39. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm |

    Women report a stronger desire for men with more masculine faces, who are taller, who are more symmetrical, and who display more behaviors associated with dominance.

    Some clarification, please?

    How did the researchers come to this conclusion when the research study in question was based on a slide show in a university? How do we know that the subjects of these slideshows demonstrate dominance? And what, exactly, is “dominance” in this instance? It seems like a nitpicky question, but I’ve seen enough just-so theories from the evo-psychs that I think it’s important for them to define “dominance” and stick with it, instead of getting all squirrely and developing a theory that X behavior really is dominant after all.

    Again, I know a lot of very “masculine” looking men who are closer to the mellow, sensitive, respectful stereotype that gets people like Stanek into an angry froth. I also know some very boyish looking men who are domineering, controlling jerkoffs.

    Also, I’d point out that some “masculine” features or “dominant” behaviors are actually culturally influenced–pink used to be a color for boys, not girls. It used to be considered manly to have long hair. It used to be considered manly to be invited to court a woman, a man would never consider approaching a woman or her family himself. Now it’s considered manly to eschew pink, have short hair (usually, though that’s changing too), and be the one to ask women out.

  40. kb
    kb October 14, 2009 at 2:43 pm |

    Faith-fucktoy? really? while I think your comment could be interpreted as “queer people exist too”, or asexual, which I can only say, hell yeah. You do know that women can actively want sex with men, right? and may or may not want a baby to come with that sex? That some women find it fun and pleasurable in its own right? Can we do a little less slut shaming here, and a little less assuming who is getting what out of sex?

  41. William
    William October 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm |

    Dve: Without specific methodological information in front of me, these critiques are obviously conceptual, but this is one of the things which irks me about lab psychology. Aside from the obvious participant biases, there are a lot of problems involving interpretation and methodology.

    There are also dozens of studies in non-human mammals where females become choosier during estrous (ovulation), generally showing stronger preferences for traits associated with testosterone.

    Which are basically useless because few animals have the capacity for the kinds of complex internal processes and decision making which human beings take for granted. Moreover, human beings have poor senses of smell, making us ill-equipped to receive and process some of the cues non-human animals rely heavily upon.

    In some studies, women complete a diary measuring their preferences and fantasies each day for two months.

    Any clinician worth their salt can tell you that fantasies are influenced by a lot of factors, meaning that you’re going to have a daunting number of contaminating variable collecting data in this fashion Beyond that, you have the problem of self-report data being notoriously unreliable, a problem which becomes even more significant when you’re working with something as charged as sex and sexuality. Then you have the issue of when these things were written down over the course of the day, what phantasies the participants had regarding the nature of the study and how that might have affected their reporting, and other situational factors.

    In other studies, women come into the lab 3 times over the course of a month.

    Because sexual attraction and decision making is going to be quite natural in a lab environment.

    In other studies, they recruit large samples and compare women currently ovulating to women not ovulating.

    Compare them over what measures? You only have access to purely physical data regarding anatomical arousal (which means relatively little in terms of actual sexual decisions) and self-report data (which is, at best, problematic).

    It contributes to the study and understanding of women’s sexuality.

    By treating women as interchangeable objects of study rather than as unique subjects which have their own intrinsic value.

  42. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. October 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm |

    “Faith-fucktoy? really? while I think your comment could be interpreted as “queer people exist too”, or asexual, which I can only say, hell yeah. You do know that women can actively want sex with men, right? and may or may not want a baby to come with that sex? That some women find it fun and pleasurable in its own right? Can we do a little less slut shaming here, and a little less assuming who is getting what out of sex?”

    Oy.

    Please see Jill’s comment, please.

  43. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. October 14, 2009 at 3:12 pm |

    “Faith, the point is that the primary biological urge in any species is to reproduce.”

    And my point is that women – unlike most other species – have this little thing called free will. We can actively choose whether or not to mate. Cats, dogs, etc., etc., do not really have this capacity. They are ruled almost entirely by instinct/hormones.

    If it were really so natural for women to be pregnant so often, I do not believe we would possess the capacity to decide for ourselves whether or not we wish to engage in sexual activity with men.

    I also happen to believe that reproducing is not the primary urge of most species. I’m really quite sure that eating, breathing, defecating, and urinating take precedence over mating. Which all happen to be activities that are necessary for the survival of all individuals. It is not necessary for all individuals to reproduce in order for a species to survive.

  44. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub October 14, 2009 at 3:59 pm |

    Because sexual attraction and decision making is going to be quite natural in a lab environment.

    Unless you have a particular fetish. . .

    /snark

  45. kb
    kb October 14, 2009 at 4:50 pm |

    Jill and Faith-fair enough, I suppose. I can only respect the authors own definition of their intent. but no, I don’t think calling women men’s fucktoys is ever an argument that women have agency.
    I admit, I’m more sensitive than many about that particular term and want to see it die. not your fault.

  46. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. October 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm |

    “but no, I don’t think calling women men’s fucktoys is ever an argument that women have agency.”

    Dude, I wasn’t calling women fucktoys…I think my comment is pretty plain and obvious to anyone who actually -reads- the comment.

  47. Crys T
    Crys T October 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm |

    Also, Dave, who were the participants in these studies? It seems that in a lot of the psych studies that I read, most if not all of the participants are university students. Hardly random samples.

    And, on the whole, those studies (the ones I’ve read, not necessarily the ones you’re talking about) tend to be synchronic. Some diachronic data would also interest me.

    And, seriously, as Sheelzebub pointed out, how do you quantify degrees of masculinity? These definitions change not only over time, but across cultures and according to social class.

    This reminds me of that half-arsed study on biracial people that came out a year or so ago which stated that biracial children tended to be “more attractive.” And this was determined by the researchers submitting their own evaluations of participants’ attractiveness. And we’re supposed to take that seriously.

    Yeah, Science Guyz ROOOOOOOOL!

  48. Lizzie
    Lizzie October 14, 2009 at 9:50 pm |

    Faith – I was talking about pre-society, cavemen times, not a social construct that says a woman SHOULD do this but a time when they DID.

    Women in those times did spend most of their fertile life either pregnant or breastfeeding (nod to the poster above who pointed out the emphasis should be on breastfeeding). Not because men made them but because they were horny and that was the result, and breastfeeding a long time is a great way to a) not get pregnant again for longer so you can invest more time in yourself and the previous baby and shag men with greater impunity, so in that context is actually good for female agency, and b) if you haven’t got antibiotics it’s the healthiest your baby is going to get.

    Now women in those times did a lot of other things too, which they never get credit for; at museums they show a passive cavewoman by a fire (tending them was actually a HUGE job in those days anyway) and an active caveman hunting. Things women mostly did include find the clean water, dictate where the tribe lived, hunt and gather 90% of the calories consumed by the tribe, and generally run everything that corresponds to the modern economy (bar war). Men mostly went around killing other men and bringing in the last 10% of food. Not to trivialise that; it’s useful to assert your tribe’s right to the cleanest water and best hunting grounds, and if your tribe outperforms the next one over by 10% a year that’s a huge difference with time. But if you actually take your cavewoman as a model for the ‘traditional family’, men should be cops, bouncers and soldiers, and women should run the government, the businesses, and well, everything else. Patriarchy didn’t really get going until there was more civilisation and men had enough leisure time to spend locking women up.

    That cavewomen did all that work while typically breastfeeding a small child or pregnant with the next was not, in those days, either a get-out clause for other work for those who didn’t want to do it, or a reason to deny other work to those who did. What a shame we left that idea behind when we started building cities, and are only now reclaiming it.

  49. Willow
    Willow October 14, 2009 at 10:10 pm |

    Lizzie, just one question.

    How do you know any of that?

  50. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 12:04 am |

    MANDOLIN: “Have they done one that’s truly cross-cultural yet? And not cross-cultural as in “we did this in England *and* France,” but one that actually looks at effects in a number of significantly different places?”

    Yes. They’ve done the studies in Western societies (e.g., U.S., England, Germany). They’ve done the studies in non-Western societies (e.g., Japan). They’ve done the studies in non-industrialized countries (e.g., villages in Dominica). All results consistently point to the fact that this effect is widespread – many women experience a shift in their preferences during the 13-19 days prior to ovulation. Unless they are on birth control, most of which wipe out the shifting estrogen and LH levels across the cycle. Looking across species as well as across cultures, this matches up well with studies of non-human primates as well. All evidence points to the existence of an evolutionarily ancient system still having an effect in the modern context, detectable through a wide variety of different measures in the lab, on surveys, and in naturalistic settings.

  51. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 12:11 am |

    DANA: “Dave, people are disgusted at the interpretation of the study, not the study itself. (Personally I have no opinion on the study as I can’t be bothered researching it.) If you bothered to read what you were responding to that would be quite clear.”

    I read the OP quite carefully. I also read each response quite carefully before I posted.

    I think we can all agree that alot of media reports on “biological” explanations for behavior end up simplifying the info and twisting it to fit a narrative that paints men and women as categorically different from each other or to fit their own political agenda.

    If you read through the comments and the OP (here and on feministing), it is pretty clear that many people are treating the study itself as being questionable, flawed, bunk, etc. Ironically, they clearly haven’t read the paper, including the OP who designated the paper as “questionable”.

    The OP started out highlighting one problem (media coverage of biology tied to gender) and ended up revealing an additional problem through the their post and resulting comments – a knee-jerk reaction against studies tying biology to behavior, even studies attempting to learn more about women’s lives and behaviors. Many of the women in the classes I teach find this kind of research fascinating, and helps spur some of them to pursue careers in science.

  52. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 12:26 am |

    DAVES ORIGINAL COMMENT: There are also dozens of studies in non-human mammals where females become choosier during estrous (ovulation), generally showing stronger preferences for traits associated with testosterone.

    WILLIAMS CRITIQUE #1: Which are basically useless because few animals have the capacity for the kinds of complex internal processes and decision making which human beings take for granted. Moreover, human beings have poor senses of smell, making us ill-equipped to receive and process some of the cues non-human animals rely heavily upon.

    When you go without food for many hours, do you feel hungry? Hunger is a clear psychological state. Hunger is produced in part by your body monitoring how much glucose is in your blood, and through the release of various hormones (e.g., Leptin, Ghrelin). Is our experience of hunger influenced by cultural norms, ideologies, and social expectations? Yes. Is our experience of hunger influenced by the operation of biological systems? Yes. Did studies of nonhuman animals help us identify the systems that are involved in shaping our experiences of hunger? Yes.

    It’s no different when looking at sexual arousal. Hormones affect sexual desire. Is our sexual arousal influenced by cultural norms, ideologies, and social expectations? Yes. Is our experience of sexual desire influenced by the operation of biological systems, like shifting hormone levels across the ovulatory cycle? Yes. Did studies of primates by feminist primatologists help identify the systems that are involved in shaping human sexual behavior? Yes.

  53. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 12:41 am |

    DAVE’S ORIGINAL COMMENT: The studies are done many ways. 1) In some studies, women complete a diary measuring their preferences and fantasies each day for two months. 2) In other studies, women come into the lab 3 times over the course of a month. 3) In other studies, they recruit large samples and compare women currently ovulating to women not ovulating. 4) The studies have been done in Western cultures, Non-Western cultures, and non-industrialized settings.

    WILLIAM’S CRITIQUES: 1) Any clinician worth their salt can tell you that fantasies are influenced by a lot of factors, meaning that you’re going to have a daunting number of contaminating variable collecting data in this fashion Beyond that, you have the problem of self-report data being notoriously unreliable, a problem which becomes even more significant when you’re working with something as charged as sex and sexuality. Then you have the issue of when these things were written down over the course of the day, what phantasies the participants had regarding the nature of the study and how that might have affected their reporting, and other situational factors. 2) Because sexual attraction and decision making is going to be quite natural in a lab environment. 3) Compare them over what measures? You only have access to purely physical data regarding anatomical arousal (which means relatively little in terms of actual sexual decisions) and self-report data (which is, at best, problematic).

    I agree with you that fantasies are influenced by a huge number of factors. What I am claiming is that one of these factors is current hormonal state – that changes in estrogen, LH, and progesterone across the cycle map onto the changes in fantasies that we see in our participants. You’re right that lots of factors can contaminate self-reports. The challenge for you, however, is to specify a factor that could lead to this specific shift in preferences that occurs in dozens of studies, with dozens of methods, across dozens of testing sites, across dozens of species. When so many different methods start pointing to a similar result, I start to think that there is something real going on here.

    I agree with you, of course, that self-report measures by themselves are not ideal. That’s why we don’t restrict ourselves to simple self-report measures. For example, in one of our studies, women provide their cell phone call list and text messages over the course of a month. In another one of our studies, we have men with varying levels of symmetry and testosterone level wear a t-shirt for several days. The odor from the t-shirt is then captured and stored. Women smell the bottles at low and high fertility. They prefer the odor of the high symmetry high testosterone guys most when they are ovulating (compared to when not ovulating).

    Other studies have examined clothing styles at nightclubs and assessed whether women are showing off more skin when they are ovulating or not. To me, that’s a pretty interesting example of how these evolved systems can trickle up to influence behaviors in the modern context in subtle ways. Additionally, in another study, researchers asked lap dancers to record their tips every night for two months. The women made $400 a night when they were ovulating versus $200 dollars when they were in the less fertile phases of their cycle. That’s a rather dramatic difference. It is an effect that demands explanation. Possible explanations include possible emission of pheromones that affect the men, the women feeling more sexual and this influencing their dancing or motivation to interact with clients, or simply an increase in energy level.

  54. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 12:51 am |

    DAVE: [These studies examining whether preferences shift across the ovulatory cycle] contributes to the study and understanding of women’s sexuality.

    WILLIAM’S CRITIQUE: By treating women as interchangeable objects of study rather than as unique subjects which have their own intrinsic value

    I don’t understand this comment. Science is often about looking for patterns. Finding a pattern does not suggest that people who conform the general pattern are valuable while those who don’t are valueless.

    Research has found that men who watch violent pornography are more likely to say they would rape a woman than men who do not use pornography. Individuals who receive abstinence-only education are more likely to get pregnant than those who do not receive them. Cops are more likely to shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man. Taller individuals are more likely to earn a higher income than shorter individuals. These all provide possible insights into the experiences of individuals with these traits. The fact that some individuals do not conform to the pattern does not suggest they are valueless.

  55. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 1:04 am |

    CRYS-T CRITIQUE: “Also, Dave, who were the participants in these studies? It seems that in a lot of the psych studies that I read, most if not all of the participants are university students. Hardly random samples.”

    DAVE RESPONSE: – Unfortunately many of the studies have been of college students, but many have also been of post-college age adults, including in non-Western settings.

    CRYS-T CRITIQUE: And, on the whole, those studies (the ones I’ve read, not necessarily the ones you’re talking about) tend to be synchronic. Some diachronic data would also interest me.

    DAVE RESPONSE: They do them both ways. Some studies have participants over the course of several months (this is probably the most common way, actually). Others compare a group of non-ovulating women to ovulating women, recruiting a large enough sample size so that it is unlikely that differences between the groups are due to chance.

    CRYS-T: And, seriously, as Sheelzebub pointed out, how do you quantify degrees of masculinity? These definitions change not only over time, but across cultures and according to social class.
    DAVE RESPONSE: There a couple ways. In biology-speak, when something is “masculinized” it just means “more male typical”. This is different than the gender usage common in social science. For example, men tend to have larger foreheads and squarer jaws than women. Testosterone plays a major role in shaping this difference. Many of the studies find that women report stronger preferences for men with these “masculinized” traits when they are ovulating. Some studies have also attempted to define “behavioral” or “relative dominance”. For example, in a video, some men are asked to give a short speech about why the participant should pick them for a date. The men differ in the extent to which they “derogate” or “put down” their competitors. When women are ovulating, they choose these men as the person they would like to go on a date with more than when they are not ovulating.

    Some of the other changes have nothing to do with masculinity. For example, women prefer the scent of men who are more symmetrical when they are ovulating (symmetry is associated with absence of genetic mutations and parasite load).

    CRYS-T CRITIQUE: This reminds me of that half-arsed study on biracial people that came out a year or so ago which stated that biracial children tended to be “more attractive.” And this was determined by the researchers submitting their own evaluations of participants’ attractiveness. And we’re supposed to take that seriously.
    DAVE RESPONSE: It doesn’t remind me of that at all. I don’t see any resemblance between a study where researchers arbitrarily define races and rate their attractiveness, a research area where there have been dozens of studies with participants all over the world using dozens of different methods that basically all point to the same conclusion – many women experience a shift in their sexual motivations around the time of ovulation.

  56. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. October 15, 2009 at 6:49 am |

    “I was talking about pre-society, cavemen times, not a social construct that says a woman SHOULD do this but a time when they DID.”

    That they mostly -did- remain in a constant state of pregnancy/nursing during “cavemen times” still is not an indication that it is -natural-. You’ve presented no evidence whatsoever that mating with men is “natural”. The argument that mating with men for a woman’s entire lifespan is natural has been one of the beliefs most commonly used to oppress women.

    “Not because men made them but because they were horny and that was the result, ”

    Really? And you know this how? Were you alive during the time of the caveman? Did you ask any of these women their feelings about the matter? Do you honestly believe that cavemen didn’t force or coerce women into relationships during the cavemen era?

    “Things women mostly did include find the clean water, dictate where the tribe lived, hunt and gather 90% of the calories consumed by the tribe, and generally run everything that corresponds to the modern economy (bar war).”

    You are aware that we actually have very little idea of how cavemen/women lived? You are aware that most of what we think we know is mostly theory?

  57. Crys T
    Crys T October 15, 2009 at 6:56 am |

    Given that many of them were done using only college-age students, I wonder how excluding those studies would affect the trends overall. Not that female university students “don’t count,” but they are hardly a representative sample of women as a group.

    And I’m still sceptical of the ways for determining “masculine” features. There seems to be a lot of room for overlap of measurements between males and females from different ethnic groups. For example, you mentioned measurements for jaws and foreheads. So, within an ethnic group (say Group A), men’s may typically have broader measurements than women for these. But you might have a Group B, all of whom have relatively broad jaws and foreheads, and women from Group B may typically have measurements that overlap signifcantly with men from Group A.

    I lost a lot of respect for this sort of thing when I heard an anthropologist describe a skeleton as being of a “Hispanic person.” I mean, I’ve studied language issues for 15 years, and I have never once heard that the language you speak actually marks your bones.

    Presumably, she was implying that “Hispanic” is an identifiable ethnicity or race. In which case, I can only wonder if she means Hispanic as in a mixture of indigenous American (but from which part?) and European ancestry like you might find in a number of Latin American countries? Or is it of African and European descent, which is common in Cuba? Or is it maybe someone of 100% Japanese ancestry, which you can find in a number of countries? Or possibly a descendant of Polish Jews from Argetina? Or the descendant of Celts, Visigoths and North Africans from Spain? If only one of these types fits into the anthropological definition of “Hispanic,” where do the others fit?

    I think this type of science tries to create categories that may exist socially but don’t hold up that well when you look at them (ironically) scientifically. For example, most people may fit in to the stereotypical XX/XY definitions of “Female” and “Male.” But intersex people exist in significant numbers all over the world. There are X’s, and XXX’s, and XYY’s (and others I probably don’t know about because this isn’t my field). And all of these, unless I my memory deceives me, affect physical characteristics. Yet, studies such as the ones we’re discussing insist on a simple binary “male/female” classification. Unless you actually look at participants’ chromosomes, you don’t even know if they actually are XX or XY.

  58. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 8:00 am |

    CRYS T SAYS: “Given that many of them were done using only college-age students, I wonder how excluding those studies would affect the trends overall. Not that female university students “don’t count,” but they are hardly a representative sample of women as a group.”

    DAVE SAYS: My impression is that the trends are stronger in the older samples compared to the college samples, but there has been no formal analysis of this.

    CRYS T SAYS: “And I’m still sceptical of the ways for determining “masculine” features. There seems to be a lot of room for overlap of measurements between males and females from different ethnic groups.”

    This part is actually pretty straightforward. When you enter puberty, testosterone and estrogen spur not only changes below the neck (breast development, pubic hair, shoulder width, hips, etc.), but also above the neck – the most pronounced being the forehead and jaw. The higher the testosterone level, the more prounounced the forehead and more square the jaw (in both males and females).

    There are two different ways of doing this. One is you just take 100s of male faces and average them together with computer software, and take 100 female faces and average them. Then statistically exaggerate or diminish the features that differ between the prototype faces. You end up with an array of faces that go from extremely masculine to androgynous to extremely feminine. When you do this with different ethnic groups, you get very similar results (there is a study under review that does this with individuals from different world regions, not sure if it is published yet – The traits that differ between men and women on average are consistent across the different groupings, though the perception of how masculine the average male/female face appears for each group differs a bit).

  59. Faith from F.N.
    Faith from F.N. October 15, 2009 at 8:03 am |

    “Neither of you are actually talking about “cavemen”.”

    I’m aware of hunter-gatherer societies. I was actually using “caveman” to refer to the earliest humans. I fully agree with you about everything else you said.

  60. Just Some Trans Guy
    Just Some Trans Guy October 15, 2009 at 8:10 am |

    I am … uncomfortable with the title of this post. Based on the premise that one can only reclaim language that is used derogatorily against one’s self or the particular demographic to which one belongs, I don’t think that Jill can “reclaim” pansy–a slur used against men who are perceived to be queer and/or feminine. There’s not even ironic scare quotes around the word “panies.”

    I’m guessing I’m probably the one one who’s uncomfortable with this, but I thought I’d mention it.

  61. Dave
    Dave October 15, 2009 at 8:13 am |

    CRYS T Says: “Yet, studies such as the ones we’re discussing insist on a simple binary “male/female” classification. Unless you actually look at participants’ chromosomes, you don’t even know if they actually are XX or XY.”

    DAVE’S RESPONSE: I completely agree. You can see the gears start to whir in students heads when you start to teach them how sex can fall on a continuum rather than a binary – a person’s genes, chromosomes, internal genitalia, external genitalia, hormone level, brain wiring, and gender identity do not always align. But in teaching them the ways that hormones influence these development, you also have to teach them how hormones organize various brain and bodily systems during development, and how they activate these systems in adulthood, and how variations in these hormone levels can influence a wide variety of behaviors. Including sexual behaviors.

    CRYS T Says: I lost a lot of respect for this sort of thing when I heard an anthropologist describe a skeleton as being of a “Hispanic person.” I mean, I’ve studied language issues for 15 years, and I have never once heard that the language you speak actually marks your bones.

    DAVE’S RESPONSE: I agree with you on this point when it comes to “race”. Clearly there are no discrete races, genetically speaking. These social categories get plugged into science, and a ton of money gets wasted because of it (e.g., on research looking for genetic differences between races that are associated with disease). There is genetic clustering in different regions (e.g., if you have a person’s genome, you can predict whether they came from northern europe, or south africa, or south east asia, at greater than chance levels but no where near 100% accuracy). From a forensics perspective, however, knowing the traits associated with regions is useful. For example, the fusing pattern in mandible of south east asians typically differs from individuals in europe. So if you find a skeleton, you can make a reasonable guess as to their geographic origin given a number of these different indicators.

  62. Sid
    Sid October 15, 2009 at 11:54 am |

    I agree with trans guy, if wifebeater got changed, I think pansies should at the least get sarcastic quotes or be substituted for.

  63. timberwraith
    timberwraith October 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm |

    I know that this was mentioned further up the thread somewhere, but I think it needs to be mentioned again: results obtained under ideal lab conditions do not represent real life. Real life relationships involve a complex interplay of personalities, backgrounds, values, etc. A bar, a coffee shop, a party, and a bedroom are a far cry from a quiet room in an office building with pictures, videos, and questionnaires.

    Also, we live in a remarkably homophobic world, were many folks repress part of their sexuality because it’s far too scary or repulsive to contemplate same sex attraction as an aspect of one’s persona. What kind of lab results would occur in a world where people weren’t afraid of homosexuality and bisexuality? What if people worked past their transphobia and their fear of gender variance? I have a feeling that masculinity, femininity, and attraction would be viewed somewhat differently under these circumstances. I’m betting that the kinds of research that might receive attention and the kinds of questions that might be asked would shift as well.

  64. umami
    umami October 15, 2009 at 2:03 pm |

    Isn’t this pretty much exactly the equivalent of some study finding that men prefer bigger boobs in the morning or something? Preference for exaggerated sexual characteristics varying with hormone cycle. It’s the same.

    But if some study did find that, I don’t think it would elicit much more response than a “LOL. OK then.” from most people.

    All this fucking moralising and handwringing and “women like assholes” bs, it’s reserved for studies of female sexuality. So much gets read in to so little data. The fate of the world.

    Alternative theory I just pulled out of my ass: Women go for Big Dick Face (google it, it’s a gay guy’s term) at certain times of the month. It’s a subconscious way of maximising the pleasure of PIV intercourse when taking the position of the cervix into account.

  65. Tiktaalik
    Tiktaalik October 15, 2009 at 7:21 pm |

    This sounds an awful lot like an attempt to provide backing for that “women like assholes” thing (or it’s actually evidence for it, which is unpleasant)…

  66. PapaHans
    PapaHans October 16, 2009 at 4:26 am |

    Sweet Jesus,
    I’m an RN, and have worked at hospitals that perform abortions, and those that don’t. But even those that don’t end up with aborted embryos and fetuses because of miscarriages, stillbirths, D&C’s etc., and never, NEVER, is there a bucket in a janitor closet or whatever the hell this crazy asshole claimed she saw, never are living “preborns” dumped in buckets to squirm in filth until they die. I’ve tried to post on this idiots site and it’s always dumped after a short time. Is it any wonder that someone like her, demonstrably mentally ill, would endorse such crap about birth control and gender roles and affiliations? By the way, this contraceptive pill hatred is common among the morally-defective biblical literalists, often expressed in women “smelling” funny so no “decent” man would want to mate with them, or, women smelling “slutty”, so men want to fuck them above all else, all sorts of religiously insane, superstitious gibberish; god, these people should not be allowed to breed.

  67. Crys T
    Crys T October 16, 2009 at 6:58 am |

    Dave: Yes, years ago, I read an article by someone who had done a lot of research on what I guess a layperson like me would call biological sex, and she or he (sorry, I have no memory of who it was) stressed that, in their opinion, hormones play an even bigger part in determining sex than chromosomes do. Don’t know if you’d agree with that, but, from my position as a non-expert, that theory looks interesting and raises a lot of questions.

    But I guess my question about the studies we’re discussing here still is: if it’s true that sex is not a binary but a continuum (though I think it may be even more complex than that), how much real value do studies that shoehorn all their participants, and all the people used as examples in the stimulus materials, into rigid A or B categories have?

  68. Danielle
    Danielle October 19, 2009 at 1:45 am |

    @ Faith

    Yea, ok. I wasn’t saying that’s the be all end all of “natural”=but if we’re gonna argue that the pill keeps ur body in the most “natural” state, then in the context of that argument, that is FALSE. I don’t see where I denied non-hetero women. I’m stating what is known-that when you look at natural fertility populations, your body is in breastfeeding mode much more than pregnancy mode (if you can become pregnant). Still not seeing the denial of non-heteros.

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