July 8, 2011

Infidelity gender equality: They myth about the chaste women

New research throws doubt on fundamental gender stereotypes: Women are as likely as men to be unfaithful, given the same power and resources.

One of the aspects of the gender debate that is hardest to get a grasp on is the discussion on what is innate and what is caused by culture.

The traditional dichotomy of men being aggressive, sexually driven, leaders, while women are passive, emphatic followers, is so deeply ingrained in out culture, that even feminists fall for it (arguing that women are for peace, while men are war mongering beasts). 

Real life experience

I have known too many aggressive, outspoken, and dominant women to believe in this myth. 

I grew up in a part of Scandinavia that used to rely on fishing and whaling. The men were out, the women ruled at home. In nearly all the families I knew when growing up the women dominated conversations and  made all the important decisions regarding the family. This led to a double set of stereotypes: The traditional one of men being in charge (as they seemingly controlled the revenue) and a parallel one of men being under the heels of women.

Over and over again I found that  my male friends dreamed more about establishing a family with kids, than "nailing" the best looking girl at the party. They tried to behave according to the stereotype of the manly Casanova -- that is true -- but their main objective was love, not sex alone. 

That did not stop them from repeating the stereotypes in their conversations, however.

Transgender confusion: What does it mean to be a man or a woman?

It is interesting to see that so many crossdreamers report a psychological profile that is similar to what the cultural stereotypes tell us to expect from their target sex. 

To give one example: A significant portion of M2F crossdreamers taking part in the discussions over at Crossdream Life seem to be introvert and reactive. Their identification with their ideal of the  female sex goes far beyond the realm of sexual arousal. 

In spite of this I constantly hear, from the crossdreamers themselves, that their sexuality is far from female. The problem, it seems, is that they are too easily sexually aroused. 

Their argument is that "women do not have such fantasies", if they have any sexual fantasies at all. That is: Many male to female crossdreamers have a vision of XX women as chaste, asexual beings, who rarely masturbate, who never take the initiative sexually and who are not promiscuous.

I have gone through a wide variety of studies on female sexuality and their erotic fantasies, and  I have read erotica written by XX women and "femme" lesbians, and I am totally unable to see any significant difference between the fantasies of XX women and XY M2F crossdreamers. Really! I am not kidding! The same elements are present in both groups, also among the XX women:  fantasies about hot sex, submission, sexy lingerie, being desired -- fantasies of being raped even! 

Apparently more than 40 percent of American women have used a dildo. So what do you think goes through their minds when they are using it? Dreams about a chaste white wedding? I think not! 

I'll come back to this in a later post.

Understanding the stereotypes may set us free

I have become more and more convinced that there is something seriously wrong with our perceptions about sex and gender. And I think this is important for the transgender population for three important reasons:

1. Many trangender people are sincerely confused about who they are. They compare themselves not to real life men and women, but to the stereotypes of what men and women are supposed to be. Since real life men and women rarely manage to live up to the stereotypes, it should come as no surprise that many transgender people find it hard to fit in.

2. Some militant transexuals somehow manage to live up to the stereotypes (or believe they do). They then start using the same artificial standards to verbally abuse other transgender people who fall outside these strict norms. Again the result is a lot of unnecessary suffering. 

3. Many researchers are also stuck in the stereotypes. They produce an endless stream of quasi-Darwinist papers, where the existence of the present socio-cultural norms and practices are mistaken for proofs of an underpinning biology.

If we can get a more realistic understanding of the diversity of male and female living, we may also leave more room for various forms of gender expressions, being that the male bodied person who wants to explore the life of a woman through crossdressing or the female bodied person who knows that he is a man.

The Dutch study on power and infidelity

New studies show that the myth of women being naturally monogamous, is also just that: a myth. In fact, it seems promiscuity is more an effect of power than gender, as women in leading positions are as likely to be unfaithful as men. 

A brand new study from the Netherlands seriously undermines the idea that women from nature's side are less promiscuous than men. 

The "fact" that infidelity is a man thing is often taken for granted, and is often a favorite topic in female circles. "All men are cheating bastards!" It turns out that infidelity is not so much a gender trait, as a power trait.

The study has not been published yet, but the lead researcher, Dr. Joris Lammers of the Department of Social Psychology at the Tilburg University has been kind enough to send me a copy. 

Lammers & Co used data from a survey of 1561 persons to map the relationship between power and infidelity. The respondents were working professionals, from junior employees to senior CEOs.

The hypothesis

The underpinning hypothesis for the study was that the psychological experience may change the psychological state of people. Based on previous research, the team postulated that:

"One important effect of power is that it leads people to behave more confidently towards potential partners.As a result of the activation of the behavioral approach system, people in power generally are more confident, self-uassertive, and impulsive than people low in power."

Moreover, research has shown that power makes people focus their attention on physically attractive others, it increases romantic approach behavior, and it makes people optimistic in their perception of sexual interest on the part of potential mates.

Note that these are traits and patterns of behavior that are more often than not associated with stereotypical male behavior.

The researchers also notes that power may lead to a greater emotional distance to one's spouse. Power may also lead to these people taking greater risks. And then there is the increase in opportunities: business meetings, trips, conferences and so on.

Evolutionary theories

Lammers and Co do discuss evolutionary theories where men are supposed to spread their genes to as many women as possible, while women are more likely to stick to one partner in order to gain support for bringing up the kids:

"According to this view , power should increase infidelity among men, because an increase in power -- and therefore in status and wealth -- should make men more attractive to women."

Still, as Lammers & Co. point out, this might as well be a result of the cultural suppression of women. Attracting a powerful male is often the only option a woman has in order to establish a stable and secure relationship.

"In this view, female infidelity should increase if women obtain independent sources of power," Lammers & Co. argue,  "because then they would no longer be dependent on their partners for wealth an status."

Which is why they compared working men and women with their own source of income, instead of all men and women.

The results

The researchers make the following conclusions:

Respondent who were more powerful had stronger intentions to be unfaithful. The observed effect was not moderated by gender. In other words: Powerful women are as likely as men to consider being unfaithful

So what about the real deed? Are men more likely to be unfaithful in real life, and turn the temptation into an act?

Here's what the researchers say:

"Controlling of gender, age, and education, we found a significant effect of power on actual infidelity(...) Again we did not find a main effect of gender (...), and the effect of power was not moderated by gender."

I repeat: Gender did not make a difference.

"Among the women who had an independent source of income (as all our female respondents did, because they were working professionals), power had a positive relationship with infidelity, and this relationship was comparable to that found among men."

In the Tilburg study 26 percent of men and 26 percent of women reported to have been unfaithful at least once.

The most significant effect of power was increased confidence. A confident person is -- I guess -- more likely to try and therefore also to succeed in seducing another person.

Give women equal power and they become equally amorous. 

Norwegian experts

The Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang followed up on this study, asking Norwegian experts about female infidelity. Remember that Norway is probably one of the countries that have come furthest as regards equality between the sexes -- even more so than the Dutch. 

Psychologist Eva Trytli argues that the attitudes among Norwegian woman have changed significantly during the last decades:

"Women have now the same opportunities as men to [find sex] through job travels, on congresses and the like."

She thinks women are better at exposing infidelity in their partner, though. Another female  relationship expert, Åsa Rytter Evensen, agrees: 

"Women are now working outside the home and find as many temptations as men do. Still; I think there may be something to the idea that women are more alert, and that they are better at keeping their escapades secret. Women are probably also better at lying and at covering their tracks."

“Is it that men are bragging about it and women are lying to everybody including themselves?” Dr. Helen E.  Fisher asked the New York Times. “Men want to think women don’t cheat, and women want men to think they don’t cheat, and therefore the sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other.”

In other words: Women manage to keep up the stereotypical view of women being chaste, by keeping the men in the dark: "What he does not know, will not hurt him." And then they reinforce this belief among themself.

The men (as well as selected transwomen) never stop to ask the obvious question: Who are the women all the testosterone-driven men are sleeping with?" Maybe there is only one whore, sleeping with them all?

Upside down

I am sure someone will come up with the obvious argument: The reason the women taking part in the Dutch study are as unfaithful as men is that they are "manly". Only masculine women will try to strive for positions of power. In other words: There is something "wrong" with them.

This means of course that women like Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Condolezza Rice, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Indira Gandhi and Elisabeth I, all have to be labelled "masculine". 

Having had quite a few female superiors in my working life myself, I know that this argument is crap. Female bosses are generally not less feminine or sexy than other women, and if there is any difference at all, it can be explained by the fact that they are older.

Other studies

In Verdens Gang psychologist Peder Kjøs points to an American study of 2007 which shows that 21 percent of men living in a committed relationship have been unfaithful. The number for women is very close to this: 19 percent (I have not been able to track down study he is referring to).

Earlier studies show a greater difference between women and men, and some show lower numbers for both sexes. An American summary from 2006 show 21.7 percent for men and 12.6 for women. But then again these are numbers for the  population as a whole. The Dutch study focus on men and women in career positions. 

There seems to be agreement regarding  women catching up cheating wise, though.  Equal opportunity equals equal adultery.

Given that women are more likely than men to answer "No" to the question of infidelity -- due to the social and cultural stigma attached --  I think it is fair to conclude that women are no more sexually "innocent" or "pure" than men.

And if we think carefully about this, that is to be expected. We are not different species, after all.

One more thing

I realize that this may lead some transpeople even more confused than before. A M2F crossdresser or a transwoman may say:

"Hey, I do not identify with a career driven cheating woman! I identify with the more traditional feminine values of faithfulness and love!!!"

My point is not that all men and women are sex driven power players. My point is that as personality profiles go, you will normally find the same traits in both men and women. 

Note that 3/4 of men and women are faithful. That does not meant that they are not tempted, but for various reasons most men and women decide to stay faithful. Loving and caring for your family is not a female trait. It is a human trait. A man can be emphatic and non-combative, and still identify as a man. His friend will recognize him as a man.

This tells me at least that sex identity and the causes of gender dysphoria runs deeper than culturally defined gender traits. It is not your love for shopping that makes male bodied person feel like a woman, but something more basic. That's the riddle that has to be solved.


Joris Lammers, Janka I. Stoker, Jennifer Jordan, Monique Pollmann, and Diederik A. Stapel "Power Increases Infidelity Among Men and Women"

To be published in Psychological Science 2011.

"Data from a large survey of 1,561 professionals were used to examine the relationship between power and infidelity and the process underlying this relationship. Results showed that elevated power is positively associated with infidelity because power increases confidence in the ability to attract partners. This association was found for both actual infidelity and intentions to engage in infidelity in the future. Gender did not moderate these results: The relationship between power and infidelity was the same for women as for men, and for the same reason. These findings suggest that the common assumption (and often-found effect) that women are less likely to engage in infidelity than men is, at least partially, a reflection of traditional gender-based differences in power that exist in society."

Participants and design

"We e-mailed readers of Intermediair, a weekly Dutch magazine aimed at professionals, to ask them to voluntarily complete a questionnaire on the Internet. To minimize selection  bias, we did not disclose that some of the questions were about  marital infidelity. A total of 1,561 respondents completed the  questionnaire. Because we were interested in infidelity— which is logically possible only if one has a partner to be  unfaithful to—we excluded from our main analyses 286  respondents who did not currently have a partner, which left us  with 1,275 participants (46% women, 54% men; mean age = 39.1 years, SD = 8.2 years).

As anticipated, respondents varied strongly in workplace power; 58% had a nonmanagement  function, 22% had a lower-management function (e.g., team  leader), 14% were in middle management (e.g., district manager), and 6% were in top management (e.g., CEO). The sample was generally highly educated; the highest level of  education attained was a bachelor’s degree for 43% of respondents, a master’s degree for 43%, a Ph.D. for 11%, and some  other credential for 2%."

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