No such thing as straight women? The real danger behind this study.

A recent study claiming that there’s no such thing as truly straight women has been doing the rounds this week. Dr Gerulf Rieger led the study- helped out, by the way, by none other than Dr Michael Bailey. Yep, that guy who decided a few years ago that bi men don’t exist. And that trans women are really gay men. Or, er, very straight men. Anything but women.

This latest offering involved measuring how women’s pupils dilated watching porn. The findings? Unless you’re a lesbian, your pupils dilate across the board. Doesn’t matter if the gender matches up to who you fancy, or if you report being aroused at the time.

They also looked into whether lesbians IDing as masculine or feminine correlated with whether they were sexually more masculine or feminine- that is, whether their pupils only dilated to women or to people regardless of gender. In a finding that will surprise precisely zero queer women? Not a connection in sight.

I’m not going to take pot-shots at the study design or the well-known biases of the researchers. That would be far too easy. Also, Autostraddle said it better than I ever could.

Let’s try some more conclusions.

Let’s take the results of this study and run with them. Half the headline-writers on the planet seem to be intent that this means that straight women don’t exist. Now, I’m no psychologist (hello, I did sociology, thank you very much) but I can come up with ideas like the best of them.  Here’s a few that me and some friends came up with last night:

Women are sexualised

Newsflash: we live in a society that sexualises and objectifies women. Men are trained to see women as sexual and to reject any sign of even understanding that another man is attractive, for fear of being targeted as gay. Women- even straight women- have far more freedom to understand other women’s attractiveness. And we’re trained right from the beginning to understand the male gaze.

It’s not orientation, it’s empathy

If I see you hurt yourself, I’m going to flinch. It doesn’t mean I secretly want to stub my toe. It’s just mirror neurons and empathy. If this is an arousal thing- why on earth couldn’t it be an *empathic* response to what the subjects saw someone else feeling?

Nobody thinks that my bawling my eyes out just thinking of the first ten minutes of Up says anything about what kinds of relationships I have. It’s a sweet story designed to tug at heart-strings. And yet, despite the fact that we know this, the only reason we can come up with for people responding with some physical signs of arousal to other people being sexual is.. that we secretly fancy them? Would we do this in any other area of our lives?

Physical arousal as a defence mechanism

This is disturbing, but: what we call physical arousal in women isn’t tied to our preferences. Some studies suggest that it’s often a defence mechanism. Basically? Assault and rape have been around as long as humans have (at least). One of the ways that our bodies protect us is by preparing for the possibility of sex whenever it could possibly happen. Whether we want it to or not.

Disturbing- I can’t tell you how revolted I am by the idea of my own body doing that- but it seems to be a real thing. And if so, then being turned on by something is only one reason among many that women’s bodies have particular physical responses.

I could go on. Feel free to in the comments, if you like. But there’s something more important lying just a little to the side of all of this.

This kind of study is dangerous. Here’s why.

While there are many ways to interpret the results of studies like these, the underlying message of the kind of work that Rieger and Bailey do is this: hetero men are the default, and women and queers cannot be trusted.

In monosexual cis men and some lesbian women, it appears that certain physical responses match up directly with people’s orientations and feelings. For everyone else there is a disconnect.

There are two ways to see this. Either there’s no such thing as straight women (or bi men, or trans women), or else there is something deeply flawed about the assumptions being made. Which conclusion you come to depends on one thing: do you accept that women and bi people can accurately report our own experiences? Or do you dismiss the majority of humans as incapable of understanding ourselves?

We don’t trust queers. We don’t trust womenThat’s the danger.

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9 thoughts on “No such thing as straight women? The real danger behind this study.

  1. AMM
    1

    I think “trust” in the phrase “we don’t trust women” can be misleading.

    What men — and society at large — mean by “don’t trust” is that they suspect that women will deviate from what the Patriarchy demands they be. Society has built up an utterly inhuman picture of “what women are,” one that sees women as conveniences for men and male-dominated society rather than autonomous individuals, and when real women differ from that, society treats it as some sort of betrayal.

    When I say I “don’t trust men,” I mean that I have had enough bad experiences with men and male culture that I anticipate ill treatment whenever I’m around men.

    FWIW, I am repulsed by visual porn (and a lot of written porn), and have trouble with even non-pornographic visual depictions of sex; I don’t know what this “experiment” would have concluded about my sexual orientation. (Nor do I care.)

  2. 2

    My take to this is, it´ s a proof of evolution – overpopulation happens, and this is the way it works.
    If every raped female in my ancestry bled to death when raped, we would have died out at least at the beginning of the witchburning (The Witches´ Hammer 1487).
    I am the only birth-certified “woman” for 500 years who managed to have no children of a big family (or just subculture of poor people), and of course I have left for good as soon as I came of age. Not far enough, it seems.

    I carry the silver ribbon “Trust Women”, inspite of being agender BECAUSE this shit, with or without quoting Nietzsche (a sexist philosopher), crops up again and again.
    The Vaticanlobby manages to quench each little try to express that we have identities and a will of our own. Exhausting.

  3. 5

    TMI: I get aroused by sitting in hard chairs for a prolonged time. Now, either that’s just physiology or I need a completely new category of “sexual orientation”.

    But I agree most with this part:

    Women are sexualised

    Newsflash: we live in a society that sexualises and objectifies women. Men are trained to see women as sexual and to reject any sign of even understanding that another man is attractive, for fear of being targeted as gay. Women- even straight women- have far more freedom to understand other women’s attractiveness. And we’re trained right from the beginning to understand the male gaze.

    I suppose that men are quite as able in evaluating those traits commonly valued in men as women are in evaluating the attractiveness of other women.
    Duh, we’Re being taught that how we look is the most important thing about us and then you expect us not to notice this in other women?
    I know I am, but what are you?

  4. 6

    Similar results were reported for men a while back. Scientists did more than just look at pupil dilation: they monitored blood flow in the penis. Pretty much across the board men were getting at least a little hard for gay male porn.

    The conclusion at the time was that, regardless of the attraction to the acts specifically, for most people there’s still an attraction to sex itself; gay sex is still recognizably sex.

  5. 8

    “Getting aroused watching porn” and “sexual preferences” are SO not linked it’s ridiculous. Anecdotally, sometimes when I browse porn I find something so weird I watch it out of curiosity. My reactions will be “Oh ow, what the hell, that does NOT look comfortable at all”… and yet, my body gets aroused. Yeah, watching other humans have sex seems like a pretty universal turn-on, even if the sex you’re watching isn’t sex that you specifically want to have.

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