The Sexual Double Standard in the Media & Politics

Women often complain about the sexual double standard: If they sleep around, they get called nasty names, whereas if men sleep around, they’re considered alpha males.

There’s another sexual double standard that bothers me more, however. It has to do with the free expression of thought in a culture that values the politically correct over the truth.

Just recently, CNN got into trouble for reporting on a peer-reviewed scientific study that found that women’s political decisions are affected by their hormones.

The results showed that ovulating single women tend to support President Barack Obama because, in the words of lead researcher Kristina Durante, they feel “sexier.”

Heightened sexual feelings, according to Durante, lead women to support politicians who advocate for easy access to birth control and abortion. CNN pointed readers to an article it published about a separate Durante study — which is still available on CNN’s website — that showed women also buy “sexier clothes” when ovulating.

Married or otherwise committed women, by contrast, favored Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

After major backlash from their readers and other news outlets, who ridiculed the idea that a woman’s opinions would be governed by her menstrual cycle, CNN axed the story from its website, claiming that it did not meet its “editorial standards.” The study, by the way, is soon appearing in a leading academic journal of psychology Psychological Science. Peer-reviewed science or not, it was considered sexist and had to go:

“What an insulting question,” wrote one female commenter [on CNN]. “As if my ability to make decisions depends on my cycle!”

“I think I am done with CNN,” agreed another woman.

“Yes. We all know women are irrational creatures, slaves to their hormones, with no agency of their own,” wrote CNN.com reader Joel.

The other day, I came across an article in the Economist that reports on a very similar study that was just published in the same journal, Psychological Science. This study, though, is about men, and how male hormones affect political decisions:

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer were investigating the idea that a person’s political opinions might be aligned with his physical characteristics. The opinion in question was whether resources should be redistributed from the rich to the poor. The physical characteristic was strength . . .

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would. Among women, by contrast, strength had no correlation with opinion. Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so.

Of course, no one is complaining about this article or the study it is based on. No one is saying that the study is sexist, degrading to men, or that it denies men their dignity as rational decision makers. Maybe the study does all of these things (though no one is making this argument). Or maybe it’s just reporting on a scientific fact (which is the consensus of the press). The point is that reasonable people can civilly discuss whether hormones affect the way men make decisions without the conversation being completely shut down by the custodians of the politically correct.

For women, it’s another story. If academics imply that women’s decisions are subject to biological factors–and if journalists report about it–then they are castigated as sexist, the article is called “craptastically craptastic,” and the study is dismissed as “pseudo-science.” The anti-intellectualism of the media can be truly breathtaking.