I was going to simply reply to the comments I received concerning the Firestarter titled Why Do We Ask Why Women Seem to Prefer Bad Boys to Nice Guys? However, I realized I had no way of notifying these kind individuals that I immensely appreciated their feedback, and had replied to them. Further, I wanted to muse a little on my writing, since it was a few years ago, and my attitudes have modified somewhat since then. So, once again: a redux. Enjoy!
My initial reaction on re-reading is amusement at myself. On a quick read of the article, it would appear I start with the premise that women do not prefer bad boys, and then I spend a great deal of writing explaining why they do. I should have better stated my conclusion, I fear, so here it is again:
- Women do not have a preference for “bad boys” — when the women are able to develop a strong, healthy sense of self-respect.
Bad cultural tropes: “It is not good that the man should be alone”
The true issue here, I believe, is a society which tries very hard to teach women they should pay constant and focused attention to men — they should cater to and coddle and flatter men — because men are societally viewed as more powerful, while women are just their “helpmate.” Our religion, language, and cultural training unfortunately support that attitude. From the much-misused story of Genesis in the bible (from which comes the translation error “helpmate” to describe a woman in relation to a man), through linguistically well-known and demonstrably untrue statements like “she completes me” (as if he’s crippled without a woman, and the woman has no real existence without a man), to what’s being increasingly referred to as the “wedding mafia” (with its constant pressure to spend about as much on one day as you’d ordinarily spend on a college education!) — frankly, I’m surprised we’re not societally more messed up than we are.
Unfortunately bad cultural tropes cannot simply be ignored, as has been repeatedly noted in sociological studies: men are societally urged to act, women to react subserviently to men. This social training is internalized to the extent that women are now on the whole better at accurately reading non-verbal communication than men are — whereas men are more likely to assume a friendly woman who is simply talking politely to them is in fact sexually interested in them.
Believe me, I had trouble believing that second assertion — until I had it happen to me, and not once, but twice! I assure you it is unpleasantly disconcerting — downright disturbing, in fact — to be confidently assured by a man you barely know that he knows you really wanted to kiss him! I shudder to think how many men possibly believed that of me, without letting me know so I could put them straight on the matter. I’ve gotten much “stricter” with my body language since then, to try to prevent such arrogant and erroneous conclusions.
We’re not yet entirely sure why this gendered difference in perception occurs, although the current “hypothesis du jour” (which I suspect is at least somewhat correct) is that women’s low social status (which is created and maintained through cultural belief systems and societal training) accounts for their nonverbal skills and expressive style. Incidentally, if gender differences in nonverbal communication interest you (it’s a fascinating subject, after all), I’d suggest the following study, both as a place to start from, and a good overview:
Hall, J. A. (1984). Nonverbal sex differences: Communication accuracy and expressive style. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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More thoughts tomorrow! :)