Psychology for Writers

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All You Need to Know is I'm a 2 x 5: Sexism in Satoshi Kanazawa's PT Post

The racism is being addressed--now let's do something about the sexism.

Stop sexism
Why wasn't there more outrage about the sexism?
I have an issue with Satoshi Kanazawa's now-infamous Psychology Today post (which was taken down) for reasons beyond its racism, and that's its sexism. The racism has been addressed by several other PT posts, including one that looks in depth at the data that Kanazawa presented, providing a more accurate statistical analysis. In the meantime, however, the sexism is still bothering me: there is such a tendency in our society to value a woman based on her looks over all other things, and Kanazawa's post was no exception.

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It would have been racist and offensive if Kanazawa had written an article claiming that black men are less attractive than men of other races, but men are often seen as having something to "fall back on" besides their looks — their success, their intelligence.  (Which is not to say that women are not or should also not be valued for things like their success and intelligence, only that society may value those things more highly in men.) Women, by contrast, are used to society valuing them based on their looks.  For most women, rightly or wrongly, being deemed "ugly" isn't just upsetting — it's devastating.

It doesn't help that we're surrounded by media images of perfect women: they have perfect skin, perfect hair, and perfect smiles (most of which have then been Photoshopped to make them even more perfect), and their bodies have been whipped into phenomenal shape by wealthy personal trainers.  I was reading an article just tonight that claimed that Ciara (a black female recording artist) works out five or six days a week — for three hours at a time. 

Is that the price of an amazing body, or is that an unhealthy obsession?

The line is awfully blurry.

Kanazawa made a woman's physical attractiveness the most important thing about her. He disparaged Black women's value because they were, in his opinion, less attractive than women of other races.  And once he'd marked them as unattractive, he felt free to put them down in other ways — he put down their weight; he called them unintelligent.

A lot of people get away with that kind of behavior  — try Googling "sexism" and clicking Images. You'll see that many if not most of the images target women who complain about sexism. Google "racism" and click Images, and you'll see far less tolerance for racism than you saw for sexism.  

Once you've called a woman ugly, in society's eyes you've decreased her worth and therefore, apparently, her basic human right not to be abused.  Women's looks are constantly being rated, and women who are seen as lacking are slurred mercilessly.

What struck me about all of this, though, is that some really well-meaning men have posted pictures of black female celebrities to demonstrate that black women are beautiful.  The fact that most of these (thin) black women have narrow, often Caucasian-like features (and therefore serve in some ways to support Kanazawa's argument that the average black woman's wider features are unattractive) aside, these pictures feature lots of voluptuous cleavage, sexy expressions, and suggestively outthrust derrieres.  In other words, these men are, in their defense of black women in general, choosing sex objects as their examples.  And all that does is emphasize the popular assumption that a woman damn well better make herself into a sex object so men will find her attractive. Any other assets she has (pun intended) are secondary, at best.

As I said at the bottom of one such well-meaning post, Rihanna may be a 2 x 5 on the inside, and she might even be a good singer, but it's hard pay attention to those things when her overall value — like the value of so many women — is being gauged mostly on her looks. 

Can I tie all of this back to writing?  You bet I can.  Pay attention to how you portray your female characters.  Are their looks more important than anything else about them?  Are they valued if they aren't beautiful on the outside? Are the men subjected to the same critieria?  Are men more active than then women in your stories? Are women frequently dropped into stereotypical roles?  You may be surprised by your own hidden biases.

And for those who really want to challenge themselves, try the Implicit Association Test: Gender version.

Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D., is an Assistant Professor at Columbus State Community College and author of The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

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