Monday, December 02, 2013
I Feel Bitchy, Oh So Bitchy. The Finale of The Series of Posts on Women's Bitchiness
The way to use this series I have written is probably like this:
First go and read the three popularizations which discuss the results on women's bitchiness (indirect aggression) as ONLY about sexual competition, rather than as a form of competitiveness which both men and women engage in though perhaps not to exactly the same extent, just as direct aggression can be seen as a form of competition both genders engage in though not to exactly the same extent.
Second, read my posts and the links in them (in particular to my earlier series on Baumeister and Vohr). I'm sorry that they are boring and long. I didn't have enough time and energy to make them short and fun.
Third, while doing that, you might notice that many of the references in the EP (Evolutionary Psychology of a simple type, often capitalized to distinguish it form evolutionary psychology in general) articles go back to a small number of the same individuals who have written a lot on the same topic.
The mere number of the references looks impressive until you do that. Likewise, the references to the EP Hot Babe requirements in Vaillancourt and Sharma's 2011 article refer back to main articles from the 1990s on the mythical ideal waist-to-hip ratio, with no acknowledgement of later studies suggesting that it isn't universally ideal but probably a Western cultural concept. This omission suggests that the ideal waist-to-hip ratio theory has not been questioned or shown not to be universal etc. but is simply offered as a presumed fact.
Why bother doing that? You don't have to, but it is one indication of the insular nature of the EP field and of the omission of references to studies from neighboring fields. Those omissions make the body of the research look like all agreed-upon stuff, all generally accepted stuff, all facts and proven theory.
Fourth, if you are really weird and feel strong, go and Google, say the John Tierney popularization linked above (Women's Cold War, heh), to see what types of sites eagerly like it. Put your wading boots on first and don't say I didn't warn you. Doing that is a good reminder about the gender-political aspect of EP. It is loved among the non-religious part of the American right as a way to prove how natural the supremacy of men is.
To conclude, I want to stress that I'm absolutely certain that women compete with each other, just as men compete with each other, and that both men and women compete in the sexual arena with those they see as their rivals. But we are all capable of cooperation and competition and we are all capable of those in many different fields of life. While doing research for this series, I came across many recent articles about direct and indirect aggression among teenagers and young adults. Those articles were not pulled out for wider popularizations, but a two-year-old article WAS treated that way this year.
Is that article so scientifically important that it deserves this treatment?
This is why I think it was selected for our brain food: It is about Women Behaving Badly, it is about sexiness, it is about the idea that bitchiness is biological (natural) in women (but apparently not in men though other studies show that the differences in the use of indirect intrasex aggression between men and women are not large) and it is about women fighting over a man. I also think that those popularizers who already believe all that (or who have bosses with those beliefs) are the most likely ones to discuss such studies. Then, of course, this is major clickbait, so some sites will write about that for the same reason they write about people who eat rats etc.
To have prior views on a topic is not necessarily bad, if one is aware of having those views. What's bad is the fact that studies which find, say, no gender differences in something that EP folks think should show them are not popularized. What's bad is the fact that writers like John Tierney never appear to discuss any study in which women come across looking like they might qualify as equal human beings (I just went through all his writing in the NYT from 2004 onwards). If you have a science popularizers with that template, what on earth is his influence on the reading public over time? My guess is that some, at least, get the impression that all research demonstrates something about women's inability to be anything but what Tierney wishes them to be.
The rest of the series is here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
To finish, you can listen to this song again. Just replace "pretty" with "bitchy!"