Horrendous Headlines

(Warning: This article is incredibly heteronormative because (1) the study in question assumes heterosexuality in all participants and, thus, is not an accurate indicator of anything other than heterosexual interactions and relationships and (2) because my only experience in dating has been of the heterosexual variety, thus, I have absolutely nothing to go on in terms of expanding the commentary… but if you do please comment because I’d love to hear it!)

We’ve all played the game: you sit in a circle with a group of friends, start at one end, and pass a message along in whispers from ear to ear until its gone full circle and (typically) bears little resemblance to the original message. Most people stop playing this game when they reach a certain age, but not all… which is why I am launching this series: a look into the most ridiculous  headlines inspired by some often not-so-ridiculous studies. Enjoy!

The Study:

101 men aged between 18 and 70 completed questionnaires regarding their sexual history, personality and aggression. They were then asked to imagine themselves in different scenarios with one woman but varying her dress, how much alcohol she had drank, how assertive she was and how many previous sexual partners she had.

Men who considered themselves sexually experienced were willing to coerce the woman to a later stage in the scenario than those with less sexual experience. These men also reported that they found resistance from a woman sexually arousing.

Alcohol, however, had the opposite effect than predicted, with participants more likely to coerce women who were sober rather than drunk.


The Headline:


They found that the skimpier the dress and the more flirtatious the woman, the less likely a suitor was to take no for an answer.

But, contrary to popular opinion, alcohol consumption did dampen their ardour with many men claiming that they were put off by a woman who was drunk.

“The research seems to show that men are not so much charming women into bed as coercing them,” she said. “I was quite surprised how far ordinary men were prepared to go.”

HEADLINE GRADE: F. While the article focused on the real findings of the study – that many men will go to great lengths to coerce women into bed, rather than charming them (and giving up when the woman clearly is not interested) the headline reads as victim blaming at worst, and a ridiculously narrow focus at best. This study, at its core, was about the men – how far they would go. The women’s clothing choice etc. was a very small part of the bigger picture. I mean, the study also said that [subjects] found resistance from a woman sexually arousing” and that participants more likely to coerce women who were sober rather than drunkbut we don’t see headlines reading: women who say no more likely to be raped, or drinking more may lower your chances of sexual assault now do we?

I was going to give this headline a C… until I read this. Even worse than their misrepresentation of the study’s findings, this journalist went one step further and actually made stuff up in the subtitle.

To quote one of the reasearchers involved in the study:

“We found no evidence that that women who are more outgoing are more likely to be raped, this is completely inaccurate, we found no difference whatsoever. […] When I saw the article my heart completely sank, and it made me really angry, given how sensitive this subject is. To be making claims like the Telegraph did, in my name, places all the blame on women, which is not what we were doing at all. I just felt really angry about how wrong they’d got this study.”

The Truth:

Thankfully with this one most headlines got it right, reading: “Promiscuous Men More Likely to Rape or some variation thereof, which is actually closer to the core of what the study actually can be used to discern (although, of course, considering the study in question was based on self-reporting, rather than actual experimental data that conclusion is not in any way concrete.)

Its a shame that this study has been so skewed (both by bad reporting and the underreporting of the truth) because I feel like one of the observations made is a really telling one; the fact that “men also reported that they found resistance from a woman sexually arousing” is incredibly telling to me about how the culture in question (in this case the UK, but I am willing to be similar findings could be found in the US as well) frames a woman’s bodily integrity and how the view the act of saying no.

Recently I joked around with a friend of mine who felt bad for leading on a boy she had been dating just as friends. Even though she had made it clear several times that she was not interested in anything beyond friendship the guy in question continued to ask her out and make There was honestly no clearer way she could say she just wanted to hang out and be friends, other than literally saying what she’d already said a few times at this point:  “I just want to be friends.”

He just wasn’t getting the message; and why would he? We live and date in a culture where, for the most part, women are encouraged to play games because guys like the chase – we say no (because we’re told if we say yes then they will lose interest) they hear yes because that is what they want to hear (and its not like they don’t know that women have been trained to say no, when they mean no AND when they mean yes.)

Just look at our pop-culture if you don’t believe this is true – it goes back far. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is the iconic scene from Gone With the Wind (“ Rhett forces Scarlett into bed, and she thoroughly enjoys herself, smacking of dangerous stereotypes of rape. She says “no,” but really means “yes”) but there are definatly plenty more examples out there.

This situation is just awful all around because there literally is no way to send a straight signal… so whats a girl to do? I really don’t know.

I hope future researchers and jorunalist look into the arousal that comes with resistance – if we can uncover what fuels  that arousal (I’m willing to bet its culturally conditioned, and I’ll give you a hint… power) then we can make large steps in dismantiling the structures that support it and, in turn, reducing instances of rape (as well as a large amount of just plain confusion in the dating world!).

3 thoughts on “Horrendous Headlines

  1. Anthropologist Helen Fisher states in her book Anatomy of Love, “The mating game is powerful and primitive. There’s a great deal that both sexes need to learn about that. But unfortunately right now all the blame is on men. Sexual harassment is an issue that has been controlled by women.”[citation needed] Dr. Fisher is referring to passive female solicitation of male sexual response by exposure of their bodies. Though passive in nature female way of dress has to potential to be overtly sexual without direct action. Female way of dress is not just something men see but feel as well. As such female way of dress has the potential to be sexual harrasment of men. It is common conception that women should have no responsibility for the cloths they wear and how it makes men feel or how it affects men personally, emotionally or sexually. Though actions of men that are direct or indirect and affect women likewise is classified as harassment.

  2. I let this comment through the spam filter (though it really should remain there as this same comment was posted four times) because I want to address this point – I just need a bit of time to do so.

  3. I just realized today, as I am spending a few hours re-categorizing posts to fit the new layout here, that I never responded to this comment. Upon second reading, this almost seems to ridiculous for a rebuttal but… I promised so here it is: if the way I am dressed makes a man uncomfortable he can look the fuck away and nothing about his life changes. If someone (male OR female) is making inappropriate comments, stalking, touching someone against their will etc. (ie: sexual harassment) its not as easy as looking/walking away. My manner of dress is not DIRECTED at you, it doesn’t directly affect you… sexual assault directly affects the person in question (male or female) which is why it is a serious issue that shouldn’t be trivialized through bullshit complaining like yours.

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