Monthly Archives: August 2015

Are hot women more likely to be straight? Doubtful…

A study recently presented to the American Sociological Association has argued that “hot” women are more likely to be straight than bisexual or gay. If that has made you do a double take, you’re not alone.

The study, conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Aura McClintock of the University of Notre Dame, tracked 5,018 women and 4,191 men from 1994 onwards and checked in with them at ages 16, 22 and 28 to ask what their self-reported sexual identity was.

Dr McClintock found that women were more likely to report being sexually fluid, and were more than three times as likely to change their sexual identity between the ages of 22 and 28.

So far, so normal — other studies have found that women are more likely to experiment with same-sex attraction, and are more willing to admit to it even if their sexual experiences have been exclusively heterosexual.

The McClintock study gets into a minefield once it tried to align physical attractiveness with sexual identity. McClintock claims that women who were attractive were more likely to be straight, but that there was no link between a man’s looks and his sexual identity.

The study suggests that women who are not attractive may feel less pressure to conform to heterosexual norms and therefore are freer to explore same-sex attractions. There are a number of problems with this conclusion. Let’s have a look at them.

First off, there is no objective standard for who is hot, and who is not. What one person finds attractive another may not. Chris Hemsworth was voted sexiest man alive last November, but nope, I don’t see it — and I love men with long blond hair. In this study, it was the researchers who decided which participants qualified as physically attractive or not, but the cliché puts it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Secondly, beauty standards vary across time and culture. For example, the actresses Lucy Liu, Bai Ling, and Ming-Na Wen are all regarded as attractive in the West, but apparently the average Chinese person would disagree.

Thirdly, what is regarded as attractive in women is what straight men find attractive. A woman with long hair and wearing a dress is more likely to seen as attractive than a woman with a buzz cut wearing combats — by straight men. Plenty of lesbians would disagree.

Fourthly, women from conservative or religious backgrounds are more likely to accept gender roles as natural instead of cultural. They are therefore more likely to adhere to conventional standards of proper femininity in their self-presentation. They are also more likely to repress their experiences of same sex attraction and self report as heterosexual. That’s because in conservative social circles there are greater costs associated with defying gender roles and or being anything less than 100 percent straight.

Finally, beauty is often as much the result of effort as it is of good genes. Yes, there are features and physical characteristics that are generally regarded as attractive, and these can cross many different cultures, but while some of these are innate, a huge amount of them are the result of grooming.

Hair can be grown, styled, coloured; teeth can be straightened and whitened; diet and exercise can give your a fitter body; a dermatologist and a good skin care routine can make a helluva difference to your skin; and lipstick and a decent bra and give the impression of fuller lips and fuller breasts. Sure, genes and age means there are limitations as to what can be achieved, but most women can look better if they have the time, inclination and money to do so.

This is important — only heterosexual women have the inclination to make themselves attractive to men. So yes, heterosexual woman are more likely to adhere to cultural beauty norms. The more attractive to men you are, the more men you have to choose from.

Straight and gay women look for mates in different contexts, and therefore they use different physical cues to attract sexual partners. If you are not attracted to men, you have little or no motivation to be “pretty” in the ways men like. If anything, you may choose to present yourself in a manner which is off putting to straight men, but attractive to other women. As this clip from the wonderful Cameron Esposito explains, her look — masculine clothes. side mullet — are purposely chosen not to attract men but women.

The conclusion of the study — that less physically attractive women are less likely to be able to snag a man and therefore gravitate towards women — is not only insulting, it’s bad science.

Are all men potential rapists? No.

victim

Prostitution should be legal to stop men turning into hormone-fuelled rapists. That’s not my opinion, but Dr Catherine Hakim’s. Hakim is a “social scientist” — using the term loosely — who argues that the sex industry could reduce sex crimes because men want sex more often than women.

“The male demand for sexual activity is going to manifest itself in some way or another and decriminalising prostitution would make it easier for men to go to prostitutes,” she told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

There are a couple of things we need to discuss here, but to begin let’s deal with Hakim’s outrageous assertion that the average man will turn to rape if he doesn’t get enough sex.

First off, and most importantly, it’s not true. Not even a little bit. But she is not the first one to suggest it. You may remember the SlutWalk movement from a few years ago. This was sparked by Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, who argued that if women wanted to prevent themselves getting raped then they should “avoid dressing like sluts.” Hakim and Sanguinetti both see male sexuality as dangerous, uncontrollable and prone to violence. But if sexual frustration, or short skirts, turned generally decent men into sexual predators, then a whole lot more men would be rapists.

Here’s the important thing to remember: rape is common; rapists are not.

An 2002 American study found that only 6 percent of men in the US have committed rape. However most rapists have multiple victims and will continue raping until they are caught and jailed. Unfortunately very few are. In the US, 98 percent never spend any time in jail.The States has a population of over 320 million people. If roughly half of the country is male, then that 6 percent translates into approximately 9,600,000 rapists.

Unfortunately we don’t have figures for Ireland and so I am forced to extrapolate from international data, which is definitely less than ideal as the cultural context makes a huge difference. But bearing this in mind, in 2013 the UN published a study on sexual violence which surveyed over 10,000 men in Asia. Nearly half of the rapists they interviewed had multiple victims. Interestingly enough, these rapists would agree with Hakim — The UN study found that rapists justified their behaviour by claiming that men can’t help themselves and that because of that, they are entitled to women’s bodies.

The idea that men are slaves to their hormones and think with their dicks is not a new one — but it is not very old either. In the Middle Ages it was generally believed that women had insatiable sexual appetites, which made them akin to animals, while men were more cerebral and less prone to carnal thoughts. At some point this changed. Social historians have traced the flipping of this script to the influences of Victorian ‘idealism’ in England and evangelical Protestantism in the United States during the 19th century. By arguing that women were not that sexual after all, women could claim some sort of moral and intellectual equality with men.

Hakim argues that men are twice as interested in sex as women and that this is true across all ages and cultures. She sees this as biological, instead of cultural. However, it is impossible to divorce culture from our sexual attitudes. People in liberal cultures are more likely to have liberal attitudes to sex; people in conservative countries generally hold conservative attitudes to sex. The way we think about sex influences our sexual behaviour. It also influences what we are prepared to admit to researchers.

A 2013 study found that men and women routinely lie to researchers about their sexual behaviour, even in anonymous studies. When they are hooked up to a lie detector, men report fewer partners and women more. Since Western culture tells men they ought to be studs, and tells women we shouldn’t be “sluts” we tend to lie, to ourselves and others, that our sexual behaviour is in line with dominant cultural attitudes. If men are more interested in sex, well, that’s because Western culture “allows” them to be. This is true of much of the world, especially when you consider that the English speaking world, and Europe, are generally more sexually liberal than the Middle and Far East and much of Africa.

Let’s talk a bit about Hakim. Essentially she is Katie Hopkins with a vaguely academic twist — prone to making controversial claims, which she tries to justify with references to academic research. You could say her views on men are downright misandrist, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But Hakim has about as much respect for women too.

You might have heard of Hakim when her book Honey Money was released in 2011. In it Hakim claimed that women should use their “erotic capital” to snag a rich man while young, and because of that, women would be better off going to the gym than college. Hakim listed all kinds of studies to back up her assertion that this was in a woman’s best interest — and she argued that most women would prefer being a trophy wife to having a career. Hakim doesn’t do any original research herself and she was criticised for her sloppy understanding of statistics, for misinterpreting scholarly research, for a poorly argued and contradictory theory and for misrepresenting her affiliation with the London School of Economics. In other words, you’d want to take anything she says with a large dose of salt.

As I am sure you’re aware, Amnesty International has recently been debating the merits of decriminalising the global sex industry and has said that the right to sell sex is a human right. This has set off a firestorm of opinions. Many sex workers and advocates praised Amnesty for this stance; others, including former sex workers, academics, advocates and even Hollywood stars condemned the proposal as one which will empower pimps and exploiters instead of the men and women in the sex industry.

There are many arguments to support the legalisation of the sex industry; and many arguments against it, but that’s a topic for a different column. However you feel about legalising sex work, claiming that it will prevent rape is nonsense. For one thing, even in countries where prostitution is illegal, it is not hard to find sex workers. What’s more, except in the handful of countries where buying sex is illegal, it is the sex worker, not the client, who is at the mercy of the law. By and large across the world men have access to prostitutes if they want them.

Rape is rarely about sexual need, desire or pleasure. It’s about power, control and sexual entitlement. The UN study found that more than 70 percent of the rapists they interviewed claimed they raped because they were entitled to women’s bodies; 40 percent said they were angry or wanted to punish the woman; and around half of them said they did not feel guilty about their actions.

Whatever benefits or disadvantages there are to legalising prostitution, it is not going to have any effect on rape. In fact sex workers are at a greater risk of rape than other women. It is estimated that they have a 45 to 75 percent chance of being a victim of sexual violence at some point.

Hakim, like Katie Hopkins, has become rich and famous by making contentious statements. They both love the glare of media attention and will do, or say, anything to make sure we give it to them. I wish I didn’t have to give her any. But unlike Hopkins, Hakim claims to be an authority and expert. Her latest assertions are false, dangerous, and hugely insulting to men. Ignoring her is not really an option.