“Ready to Breed”?

The BBC reports on cues that do and don’t tell one that a woman is “ready to breed”.

A sexy swing of the hips may attract admiring glances, but it is not a covert sign a woman is ready to breed, according to researchers.

Why don’t we go around swinging our hips when we’re “ready to breed”?

A sexy walk would be too obvious, so women are thought to use changes in smell and facial expressions that can be experienced only at close range.

Yup. That’s exactly what I do.

Now, what these studies are actually about is whether there is a correlation between smells, facial expressions, other behaviours (like walks) and ovulation. Maybe there is– I haven’t examined the evidence. But I can say with assurance that ovulation is not in fact correlated with readiness to breed. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

7 thoughts on ““Ready to Breed”?

  1. Are there two fallacies here adding up to pernicious effect?

    1. equivocation: “ready” in the sense of (1)(something like) prepared or available. E.g., “Your car is ready” or “Dinner is ready.” versus (2)(something like) willing. E.g., “I am ready to say ‘yes.’

    2. composition: attributing something to the whole that is attributed to the part.

    The part here is something like the reproductive system plus the hormonal system, and given it’s ready in sense (1), they say the woman is ready in sense (2).

    This sort of language is pervasive and pernicious. I wonder if we should give the joint fallacy its own name.

  2. The paper is worse than that – it claims that women have ‘sexy’ walks when they are least fertile “to protect themselves from sexual assault at times of peak fertility” i.e. to get raped when they’re least fertile so that they are less likely to get raped and pregnant when they are fertile (I’m not sure that explanation even makes sense in evolutionary psychology’s own terms).

    As it happens the study actually finds no difference in how attractive men rate women’s walks in the two different menstrual phases studied. The claim that they do is based on some dubious and meaningless statistical shenanigans.

  3. Calypso,

    I suspect that’s even a greater title for a group of fallacies. I wish I could think of others.

  4. What gets me about this research is the methodology:

    “She analysed the gait of female volunteers, showed video clips to 40 men, asking them to rate the attractiveness of the way the women walked, and then matched the results to the hormone tests.”

    It makes me really uneasy to see this sort of leering, creepy behavior embedded in the context of a scientific investigation that’s putatively about women’s bodies and behavior. It strikes me as invasive and low-level violating. Ew ew ew ew ew.

  5. Actually they didn’t do any hormone tests – they looked at “salivary ferning” which is an old fashioned ‘natural’ birth control method to judge ovulation.

    The gaits they showed to the men were point-light displays rather than actual pictures of the women walking.

    They say that:

    “A female researcher met the participants, informed them that the study was investigating motion across the menstrual cycle, and obtained their informed consent.”

    But not whether they were informed men would be rating their attractiveness. Ah, psychology, their ethical approval processes are so much laxer than for medicine.

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