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Column: A study 'inane and phallocentric'

Men have long stood accused being the insidious architects behind "slut shaming": the enforcement of cultural standards of modesty for women. But a recent study suggests this is untrue. It concluded that women themselves are to blame. Gina Barreca asked to join me here, no doubt to apologize on behalf of all feminists for this egregious, decadeslong calumny against an entire gender.

Gina: Tell them how the study was conducted.

Gene: Pairs of college-age women were brought into a room and told they were participating in a discussion about female friendships. The real experiment occurred when another woman, extremely attractive, briefly entered the room, ostensibly to ask directions. Sometimes, this woman had her long blonde hair in a bun and was dressed in pants, a polo shirt and sensible shoes. At other times, her hair was down and she wore high leather boots, a miniskirt and a tight-fitting top that bared oodles of cleavage. Same request for directions. Researchers in the room graded how the test subjects reacted to the visitor. When demurely dressed, the woman elicited no comment at all. When provocatively dressed, she was snidely dissed, particularly after she left. The study's conclusion: Driven by Darwinian instinct to mate, women are ganging up on, and punishing, someone who is a competitive threat.

Gina: Now please disclose the official name of the scale the researchers used to measure the subjects' reactions.

Gene: "Bitchiness."

Gina: Exactly. This is a study begun with a bias against women, carried out with a bias against women, and interpreted with a bias against women. It is extrapolating wildly from the trivial. Describe the behavior that earned "bitchiness" points.

Gene: Sometimes derogatory comments, but mostly body language. Eye-rolling.

Gina: Eye-rolling! The shame of it all! Women are serial eye-rollers! Now look at the photo of the woman, dressed provocatively.

Gene: I am.

Gina: What can you conclude?

Gene: I'm still looking.

Gina: Noted. I'll save you time. What's happening here is that women, once again, are being punished for daring to be "unladylike," violating rules of society set by men. Women are not supposed to express robust negative opinions. We are permitted, perhaps, a single tsk. You know what happened in that room? Women are justifiably indicating disapproval, because the revealing outfit is situationally inappropriate. She is dressed like the Naughty Nurse in a cheap porn video. To imply this is somehow related to a matter of competition for men is inane and phallocentric. Gentlemen, it's not always about you. For example, you yourself have in the past wondered why women go to great lengths to avoid visible panty lines. Why does that seem counterintuitive to you?

Gene: Men love visible panty lines.

Gina: A reasonable point, if women dressed for men. We don't. We dress for other women. And we know that visible panty lines serve as a demarcation for where our butts are supposed to end, but don't. We hate VPL.

Gene: So you are contending that the snideness shown by the subjects in this experiment was unconnected to sexual competition?

Gina: I am. And you?

Gene: I think what happened was exactly what would happen if a group of men were out deer hunting, and a guy showed up with an AK-47.

Gina: (Rolls eyes.)

© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Column: A study 'inane and phallocentric' 12/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 13, 2013 11:36am]
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