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Valar Qringaomis

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Masculinised Feminists

Feminist activist women are masculinized in terms of digit-ratio and social dominance: a possible explanation for the feminist paradox

"The feminist movement purports to improve conditions for women, and yet only a minority of women in modern societies self-identify as feminists. This is known as the feminist paradox. It has been suggested that feminists exhibit both physiological and psychological characteristics associated with heightened masculinization, which may predispose women for heightened competitiveness, sex-atypical behaviors, and belief in the interchangeability of sex roles. If feminist activists, i.e., those that manufacture the public image of feminism, are indeed masculinized relative to women in general, this might explain why the views and preferences of these two groups are at variance with each other. We measured the 2D:4D digit ratios (collected from both hands) and a personality trait known as dominance (measured with the Directiveness scale) in a sample of women attending a feminist conference. The sample exhibited significantly more masculine 2D:4D and higher dominance ratings than comparison samples representative of women in general, and these variables were furthermore positively correlated for both hands. The feminist paradox might thus to some extent be explained by biological differences between women in general and the activist women who formulate the feminist agenda...

Even at a prominent women’s college, 32 out of 70 interview responses were clearly negative to feminism...

This rift between belief in equality and the feminist label raises the question of what exactly it means to self-identify as a feminist. Williams and Wittig (1997) found that major contributing factors to feminist self-labeling were (1) positive evaluation of feminists and (2) previous exposure to feminist thought. However, (3) recognition of discrimination and (4) support of feminist goals (which included items about equality) did not make any unique contributions to the probability of identifying as a feminist...

These authors, as well as Zucker (2004), thus make a distinction between “feminist activism” and “feminist views,” resulting in the somewhat counter-intuitive conclusion that self-labeling as a feminist is related to activism but not necessarily to having feminist views. This suggests the content of the most prolific attitudes and beliefs expressed by “feminist activists” might be quite different from the traditional definitions, such as that from Merriam-Webster. We will thus follow the terminology of Williams and Wittig (1997) and Zucker (2004), recognizing that feminist activists are those who primarily formulate the feminist agenda and contribute to shaping the public image of feminism.

One explanation that has been suggested for why women resent the feminist label is “the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of feminists and feminism by the popular media,” which has depicted “feminists as deviant, man-hating, unrepresentative radicals who were a threat to society” (Zucker, 2004, p. 425)... it may be that the feminist movement is in fact no longer limited to the “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster, 2013). While this may be what mainstream women still consider the core goals of feminism, those active in the movement may have turned to more radical goals. It has for example been reported that there are self-identified feminists who argue for the abolition of the nuclear family, that all men are potential rapists, and so forth (e.g., Stone, 2007). This has been described as a division between Gender feminism and Equity feminism (e.g., Hoff Sommers, 1995), and illustrates that feminism is not a corporation or a state institution that can decide top-down what its policies and goals are. Nor is it an academic discipline, in which the views of scholars with better arguments or data could gain more influence than others. It is therefore difficult to determine what the “correct” representation of feminism is...

While we are wary of misrepresenting contemporary feminism, there seem to be three central and characteristic beliefs: (1) A rejection of the idea of innate psychological differences between the sexes (Pinker, 2002, pp. 340–350; Hyde, 2005; Fine, 2010), which entails the view that sex-roles are arbitrary and interchangeable. (2) Sex differences are social constructions, meaning that they are arbitrary, and a function of social roles, structures, socialization, and attitudes rather than a result of essential and innate differences (e.g., Bussey and Bandura, 1999; Ridgeway, 2001). (3) There are general power imbalances between males and females, that are part of a social and gendered power structure (Williams and Wittig, 1997, p. 895; for a discussion, see Stewart and McDermott, 2004). Based on this model, males are seen as structurally advantaged economically, politically, socially, and sexually (Lyness and Thompson, 1997).

By contrast, evolutionary psychology observes that the basic pattern of psychological differences between the sexes can be explained by their having essentially different innate adaptations associated with, most importantly, women investing considerably more resources into offspring through pregnancy and breast-feeding... Females are on average more sociable and empathic than males, because caring for offspring and negotiating social relations that promote their survival until they reach reproductive age ensured that the mother’s genes live on. Hence women dominate professions where these traits are maximally valued, such as teaching, social work, and in human and veterinary medicine (Lippa, 2010). This social dimension is tapped by one pole of the people-things dimension (Prediger, 1982), which exhibits an effect size in excess of 1.0 and ranks amongst the largest inter-sex differences (Lippa, 2010).

Another possible explanation of why feminism represents a minority position amongst women is therefore that the activists who shape feminist attitudes and beliefs are themselves generally more physiologically and psychologically masculinized than is typical for women (Wilson, 2010). This might for example explain their belief in sex-role interchangeability, as they may perceive the behaviors and interests of sex-typical women as incomprehensible and at variance with their own more masculinized preferences in terms of child-rearing and status-seeking. This might then lead them to infer that women in general have been manipulated to become different from themselves by external forces, as embodied by notions of social constructions or gender systems (e.g., Grossman et al., 1997, p. 84). Zucker (2004) notes that “…many women are exposed to women’s and gender study courses and may find some of the information about sexism compelling, but not all of them go on to engage in women’s right activities to remedy those situations. Perhaps there is something about the willingness to claim the identity that helps people engage in activism” (p. 425). We suggest that this willingness may thus be related to a women’s level of masculinity...

In summary, the feminist activist sample had a significantly smaller (i.e., masculinized) 2D:4D ratio than the general female samples. The size of this difference corresponds approximately to a 30% difference in prenatal testosterone/estradiol ratio, which was the index found to have the strongest association with 2D:4D (Lutchmaya et al., 2004). Directiveness self-ratings also exhibit a large and highly significant difference in the predicted direction. It is notable that the feminist activist sample 2D:4D was also more masculinized than those of the male comparison samples, except for the left hand in the aggregate sample...

Given the wide and cross-disciplinary scope of our theory, we solicited comments from a number of experts in relevant fields. In addition to many insightful suggestions that were easily incorporated, there remain three recurrent themes. One was the representativeness of the study sample, given that we could not measure their agreement with various feminist statements, lest it be even smaller and more self-selected. The other theme is that feminism may mean different things to different people, with the implication that it is not a valid concept or that our use of it lacks validity. Thirdly, concerns were voiced that the present results can be construed as controversial and potentially offensive.

We start with a few disclaimers related to the last point, and note that 2D:4D and Directiveness were analyzed on the group level. Correlations and effect sizes cannot be used in inferring anything about an individual, except in terms of probabilities. Moreover, the target population studied here is not necessarily representative for anyone who sympathizes with feminism or self-identifies as a feminist. As our data pertain to feminist activists, we cannot and do not bring them to bear on women in general. The only connection to women in general consists of figures and statistics based on the works of other scholars cited herein. It would therefore be logically incorrect to infer that, for example, all feminist activists are masculinized or that all groups that are more masculinized are also feminist activists. On the contrary is it highly likely that professions and other activities that benefit from the practitioner being stronger, more aggressive and risk-taking, considered as more masculine traits (e.g., Buss, 2012), would also see a larger proportion of masculinized women among the more successful individuals. Finally, we note that any new knowledge related to any group of individuals may potentially be perceived as offensive by members of that group, but that can obviously not be taken as an argument to suppress such research or to interpret it in a biased fashion."


Not only do feminists not speak for all women, claims of doing so might even be inherently problematic.
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