Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Programmable Sex.

I thought I would list Baumeister's articles in order to provide some academic legitimacy to my concept of "the social processor" in female thought. As I mentioned in my social processor post, in women, the "social processor" has greater weighting over the generalised thought processes and can, in many instances, override their cognitive and primitive processes i.e reason and mating drives.

This conceptulisation does however lend some support to the left wing view that the female sexual identity is a social construct. The problem with the left wing view is that it is an all or nothing model whereas in reality women are a combination of their biological drives and social conditioning. Men are the same, except that in women the social conditioning has a greater control of their being, they are in effect more "programmable" than men. Women are "hard wired" to follow group norms.

I'm not a big fan of evo-biological explanations. If however, one were an evo-biologist, one could argue that this "hard wiring" is a result of evolutionary selection. Women, being physically smaller and weaker than men, would have gained a survival advantage by sticking together as a group rather than being solo. Women who could naturally follow the group would have been most likely to survive. Personally, being Catholic in my beliefs, I feel that God designed women this way. Whatever His reasons, God made women more "social" than men.

I deal with a lot of female anxiety and depression, a lot of it stemming from dysfunctional interpersonal reactions. When it comes to relationships with other women, one of the most distressing things that can happen to a women is for her to be on the outer, or outside the predominant clique. Women who are outside the group generally either try to associate with others or seek entry back into the clique. This isn't rocket science, anyone with a modicum of life experience and female friends will have observed the phenomenon. Behavioural alignment with the group brings some type of psychic benefit, exclusion, psychic pain. This is why "shaming" is such a powerful motivant in female behaviour, group ostracism brings the psychic hurt.

The question is, how do women determine what are group norms?

Clearly direct perception is the mechanism, but perception may be first hand or second hand. Let me give you an example of this second hand effect.

As a family physician I do a fair amount of gynaecological examinations. The trend for "less hair down there" was already evident in the early 90's. With Sex In the City and the popularisation of the "Brazilian", "hair" virtually disappeared down there. The early adopters being the more "trendier" type of girls. It is highly unlikely that women directly observed other women with hairless genitals, rather the knowledge of this behaviour was spread by the media and adopted by the women. The media were setting the standard for group norms subconsciously. No one in on the show, set out to convince women to have Brazilians, rather their positive portrayal of the practice, their association of it with the "alpha females" of the show, led to other women adopting the behaviour.

The Western cultural taboo of directly inquiring about other peoples sex lives means that a lot of information with regard to sexuality is gleaned second hand through the media. A media, which time and time again has shown itself to be unobjective. What the media choose to report and how they portray it will then determine how women will respond to it. If admirable women are presented as being promiscuous, then women will feel influenced to be promiscuous, no matter how "illogical" or "disagreeable" they find the practice. Their brains are wired to pull them into line. If chaste women are presented as "frigid, dysfunctional and asexual", a woman will be strongly influenced not to be chaste. The media then is the "invisible hand" of morality. It is not simply a source of information, but a powerful active shaper of behaviour, operating at a subconscious level. Men on the other hand, being more anti-social and solitary, would be more resistant to this type of influence.

Numerous articles have been written on the danger of porn consumption on men, but the more I've thought about female "behavioural plasticity" the more I'm convinced that porn is more likely to indirectly influence female behaviour more than male. Recently Roissy posted on the increasing incidence of anal sex, a behaviour whose acceptance I believe has been strongly facilitated by the consumption of pornography and its positive depictions of it.

Our society is drenched in porn. It is only a mouse click away. The internet, the perfect media for its distribution, allowing curiosity( or lust) to be satiated in anonymity. Most women do not seek porn like men do, yet they do note what goes on. Mrs Smith may initially be reluctant to engage in anal sex, but several porn videos that she has seen have shown the actress writhing in delight, and Mrs smith thinks, gee that's interesting but not for me. Then an article in Slate magazine reports that the behaviour is increasing in prevalence especially amongst the young (i.e attractive) and is very pleasurable.(Porn also operates on other levels, by using attractive participants, and psychologically linking pleasure to practice) Then it may be mentioned a bit more in the daily newspapers. Suddenly Mrs Smith feels that it is a more common practice than she imagined and she is on the outer. Finally, in a discussion with some close friends, she hears how some of her other friends have tried it with variable results. Finally, even though she is not that keen, she gives into her husband, who has been pestering her, to try it. Whereas previously she would not even have considered it, the idea of being outside the group influenced her to try it. If the experience is positive, it becomes powerfully reinforced, if neutral tolerable, if negative, she may feel guilty because she can't give her partner something other women can give theirs.

Years earlier, there was no porn for her to see, the media would not have mentioned it at all out of considerations for "public morality" and socially she would have been ostracised if anyone found out she practiced it. Mr Smith may have wanted to try it, but there was no way in hell that she was going to do it, all her friends were backing her up.

On a meta level, the question of how much of female behaviour is "endogenous" and how much is "external" is of more than academic interest. How "independent" is a woman in the uninfluenced choice her actions? How free can a woman be if she is endogenously biased against rebelling against the crowd? If women are strongly influenced by their peers, and their peers strongly influenced by the media, how independent of the media are they(NSFW)? The political ramifications are enormous.