Saturday, January 15, 2005

Why Men Marry Their Secretaries?

I took a hot bath tonight. I always read in the tub and there was nothing else left to read but this magazine The Week which somehow is sent to me though I never subscribed to it. It pretends to be a compilation of all the important news issues from all over the world, but doesn't quite make it. I find the flippant and fluffy style annoying, probably because it reminds me of my own writing at its worst.

Just as I was all ready to melt into the hot water I spotted a piece about men marrying their secretaries. I have an in-built feminist radar; if there is one stupid story on television or one biased article in a newspaper, trust me to glum onto that one. It's a fact, and I have interpreted it as meaning that the Great Snake wants me to talk about all that crap. So here it goes:

Men would rather marry their secretaries than their bosses, new research suggests. Psychologists at the University of Michigan found that men seeking long-term relationship prefer women in subordinate jobs, rather than women above them on the corporate ladder.

How did the psychologists figure out all that? They showed 120 men and 208 women pictures of people of the opposite sex (presumably the subjects were guaranteed heterosexual) who were identified as hypothetical supervisors or underlings. Then the subjects were asked to rate the pictures in attractiveness for the purposes of a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. Women's ratings showed no difference by supervisor status in either of these cases, and neither did men's ratings for the one-night stand case. But men supposedly (I haven't checked the original study statistics)preferred subordinates when the rating was for attractiveness in a long-term relationship.

Ok. Assuming that the study results are correct, how can we explain them? Here comes the silly part, as explained by one of the authors of the study, Dr. Stephanie Brown:

The findings, she says, reflect males' evolutionary need for mates who don't pose the specter of "paternal uncertainty". Men may consider subordinate women less likely to cheat on them, Brown explains, and "female infidelity is a severe reproductive threat to males in long-term relationships."

This was the point at which I slipped underwater and got everything wet in the bathroom. Because I was laughing so hard. Evolutionary psychology is one of the reasons why I'm not fully happy with evolutionary theories. The other evolutionary scientists should make this pack shape up. So much of their research is on this level and much of the rest is outright misogynistic.

What do I mean by this criticism? Well, consider how the explanation completely ignores societal effects. In the United States, the Southern Baptist Church explicitly advocates female submission in marriage and so do the Promise Keepers. Many individuals probably still hold these beliefs, though it's interesting that men appear more likely to do so than women. Also, there are still many more female subordinate jobs out there than female bosses. A female boss may be something that is viewed as an anachronism by the study subjects, so that the occupational category in itself may serve as a signal that the women whose pictures are marked with the boss label are somehow aberrant.

Also consider the explanation within the evolutionary psychology framework: This school has always argued that women will select men based on their power and wealth because powerful and wealthy men are better providers for the children and thus make it more likely that a particular woman passes her genes on to the next generations. But this study appears to find that women didn't rate power any higher than the lack of it! Yet the result we are asked to focus on is not this one, but the one about the men fearing female infidelity. And where is the evidence that women in more powerful positions are more likely to be unfaithful? I have never heard of any such evidence, so the whole conclusion seems extremely far-fetched.

Reading this article ruined my lovely bathtime and I hope that I have taken sufficient revenge here. I didn't even point out how the article "sells itself" by exaggerating the actual meaning of the study in its title.