A recent study by two university researches, Michael Kasumovic and Jeffrey Kuznekoff, has revealed, well, some things that many people already likely expected but had no data to point to. That’s now changed. A scientific study observing how different men treat different women in groups shows that women are held to a standard that men don’t even hold one another to.
1. The two researchers hypothesized that if women suddenly entered a male dominated arena be it work or simply online forums then the men who reacted mostly strongly against them were the ones who either believed they were or actually were of low social status. In other words, the ones who feel the weakest would react the most strongly.
2. The researchers used Halo 3 online as their laboratory which is about as real world as you can get.
3. So here’s how it went down. The low-skilled male players were found to act subserviently to high-skilled male players.
4. However, the low-skilled male players were found to act aggressively towards female players.
5. The low-skilled female players received even more hate for their mistakes than higher-skilled female players.
6. High-skilled male players were found to be more positive towards medium to higher-skilled female players in general than they were towards lower-skilled males.
7. The researchers believe that the reason lower-skilled male players react so aggressively towards women is that they fear a loss of status, especially public status within the context of the Halo 3 online community which is mostly male. This could be (but isn’t) called the “you made me look bad in front of the other guys” effect.
8. Higher-skilled males, occupying the top of this community’s hierarchy, had no such fear of status loss and, as a result, felt no need to act in an aggressive manner in order to maintain status.
9. While some of this may seem a bit obvious it’s important to remember that this study is also taking place in a context where other theories about equality and gender interaction are also present. Most notably, the researchers take specific aim at some sociological and feminist theorists who believe gender traits are primarily socially determined rather than genetically determined. This study says that’s not entirely correct and that evolutionary theory is just as important.
In other words, no, not everything is socially determined.
10. Here’s a key quote from the study:
“Although many sociologists and feminists argue that sexism can only be explored through social constructionist theory, such a view assumes that sexist behaviour is solely determined by social and cultural environments, ignoring biological variation. From the same perspective, a biological approach alone ignores the importance of social interactions. We argue that a much clearer understanding of sexist behaviour is reached using evolutionary theory as it incorporates both a social and biological perspective.
From an evolutionary perspective, intrasexual competition is common and is one of the strongest forces shaping sex differences. This is also true in humans and the fact that direct conflicts were largely fought by men can help explain sex differences in body structure. In a similar manner, these biological sex differences also shaped sex-specific competitive strategies.”
11. What does that mean? It means that due to how humans evolved, men have different, often more aggressive competition strategies than women do. Why? Because historically they had to be aggressive and women did not have to be as aggressive.
12. It means that due to evolutionary pressures women will have different competition strategies than men will and that these strategies (aggressiveness, ally building, etc) are based on biological pressures just as much as social pressures. Specifically, the researchers claim that social groups of males have to deal with navigating a hierarchy more than groups of women do.
“As a man’s access to resources and mates (i.e. fitness) is determined by his position in a hierarchy, it is important for men to understand and navigate dominance hierarchies enforced through overt signals of dominance.”
13. As a result, it’s going to be the males who believe they are the weakest or most at risk that will be likely to react aggressively.
14. Despite modern workplaces now stressing capacity and ability over gender, the researchers argue that these competition strategies still exist for both genders. As a result, in a blended environment like playing Halo 3, low-skilled men exhibit aggression towards women to prevent a perceived loss of social status.
15. What’s more, the researchers believe that the hypermasculine aspects of some games contribute to a more elevated aggression on the part of low-skilled male players since it seems to reinforce the importance of male status. Halo 3 was chosen for the study because every player is covered in armor and looks the same.
16. The researchers believe that this study revealed several important things about women entering male dominated fields. One is that the reaction on the part of high-skilled males to female performance is either high or low. While they were less likely to say anything positive when a female player was doing badly they became extremely likely to say positive things as the skill level of the female player increased.
The researchers actually believed they were hitting on the them at that point.
17. Male players rarely got positive comments from other male players no matter how well they were doing. It barely mattered at all to the high-skilled male players.
18. Food for thought, does this study suggest that certain socialized gender pressures (be masculine, be feminine) are based on biological realities that resulted from evolutionary development? In other words, do we have a concept of masculine and feminine traits because natural selection formed them as we evolved thousands upon thousands of years ago? Wouldn’t this also mean that changes in social gender norms are at least somewhat based on biological need in terms of evolutionary pressures?
Here’s a link to the full study. (PDF)
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