“For Serious?” News of the Day: Women’s tears are a boner-killer

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It’s only the beginning of 2011 and I think I can accurately predict that this will win for Most Pointless Fucking Story of the Year. And it seems every major news source is covering it:

The smell of women’s tears is a real turn-off for men, according to a new scientific study. Men who took a whiff of women’s tears not only produced less testosterone, they also found looking at images of women less titillating, reports the Los Angeles Times. Scientists hypothesize that emotional crying evolved as a means of communication. “We’ve uncovered the chemical word for ‘no,’ or ‘not now,’ ” said neuroscientist Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Researchers expected that the tears cried by six women watching My Sister’s Keeper would elicit empathy in men. Instead, it torpedoed their libido, suggesting that crying may have been a means of thwarting unwanted sexual advances.

While the New York Times gets into more of the nitty gritty behind the study, media coverage of studies like this just allow the right headlines and cherry-picked coverage to send sexist and stereotypes messages about gender roles and relationships when, let’s be real here: whatever evolutionary reason is behind why we cry (not holding my breath for a study on men’s tears), in this day in age, people — not just women — cry usually because of individual emotions, not as some sort of “no sex” code for teh menz. Sheesh.

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21 Comments

  1. Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    God, who cares how men feel about it?

  2. Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Umm maybe that mean tears elicit empathy in men…therefore they see the tearful subject as a human with feelings of her own and not an object and so are less attracted to these women that they can only judge based on their looks because (i’m guessing) the subjects don’t personally know one-another?

    Fuck these scientists.

    • Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      “Fuck these scientists”? Why?

      What about their study is sexist/anti-feminist?

    • Posted January 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Actually, just reading the New York Times article reveals that this lowers libido, but not empathy:

      “They had assumed chemical signals from tears would trigger sadness or empathy in others. But initial experiments found that sniffing women’s tears did not affect men’s mood or empathy, but “had a pronounced influence on sexual arousal, a surprise,” Dr. Sobel said. “

  3. Posted January 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    maybe that does* mean

  4. Posted January 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    …wow.

    I’m just waiting for this to turn into another way to victim blame a rape survivor. “Well did she try crying???”

  5. Posted January 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Tears don’t keep this guy away.

  6. Posted January 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I supposed whoever came up with this prefers Stepford Smilers and maybe don’t consider that in a relationship both people have to consider and aknowledge one another’s feelings.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StepfordSmiler

    • Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Nothing that the scientists did suggests that they don’t believe women should express emotions toward men. In fact, if you actually take even a cursory glance at the research, you will see that the men DID NOT see any expression of negative emotionality, they merely smelled the tears the women excreted.

      What, if anything, in the study suggests that the scientists prefer Stepford Smilers? Their data? Because those don’t reflect the scientists’ biases. Where is the sexism you’re alluding to?

  7. Posted January 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Did they study women intentionally, or because their search for “easy criers” didn’t pull up very many male volunteers? Do they really care about tears being a “boner-killer” or is the point that this is one of the only examples of chemical communication (i.e., “pheromones”, very prevalent in other animals) in humans?

    My point is: Is the problem here the study, or the media coverage of it? What does the paper actually say? Has anyone even read it?

    I really wish that Feministing had a science editor. I’m a feminist, and also a scientist. Yes, there is a lot of sexist science. But there’s also a lot of media coverage that, as you point out, cherry-picks studies for its headlines, often completely distorting the actual conclusions of the study. I’ve noticed on this site a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, or straightforward repetition of what the mainstream media presents when it comes to scientific topics. A good example would be the outrage over the use of dexamethasone to treat congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which lasted a couple of weeks before Miriam presented a careful breakdown of the facts.

    I think before we all get into “fuck the scientists” mode it’s worth someone doing some research.

    • Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      I think a science editor here would be a really fantastic idea.

    • Posted January 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. As a feminist grad student in the social sciences, I feel it’s almost too easy to jump to a feminist perspective before attention to actual methodological rigor. Just because it disagrees with our feminist sensibilities does not mean that the science is done poorly. Even with evolutionary psychological theory.

  8. Posted January 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    If only it were true. I’d like to think in a more evolved world, ANY human being, not just men, would respond to somebody crying with compassion rather than sexual arousal. Usually (unless it’s tears of joy) crying is an indication that something is wrong. But the sad reality is that there are enough abusive personalities that actually thrive on reducing a partner to tears. Or those opportunistic douchebags who see a woman going through some sort of emotional pain and see it as “the time to make their move while she’s vulnerable.”

  9. Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    “…crying may have been a means of thwarting unwanted sexual advances.”

    That is the most odious assertion I have seen in awhile.

  10. Posted January 7, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    IMO, it’s about the humanity of it. Depending on the degree of socialization the bro has been through, tears will either elicit empathy or stand as a warning that ‘O shit, I probably shouldn’t stick my penis here.’

  11. Posted January 8, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I like and agree with your comments about this, Vanessa. Whether the study has any validity or not, the emphasis on, like you said, sexist and stereotypical messages about gender roles and relationships is ridiculous. But is not surprising, which is disgusting.

    “in this day in age, people — not just women — cry usually because of individual emotions, not as some sort of “no sex” code for teh menz. Sheesh.”– Hahah, LOVE IT.

    • Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Can you explain what you see as “sexist and stereotypical messages about gender roles and relationships” and why they are “ridiculous”?

      What I’m seeing here is an interesting study that, using a well-controlled, double-blinded design, appears to demonstrate that tears may be a vehicle for pheromone-based communication in humans, a facet of human behavior that is just beginning to be understood.

      Also, the sentence you cited here, “in this day in age, people — not just women — cry usually because of individual emotions, not as some sort of “no sex” code for teh menz. Sheesh,” from Vanessa, does not contradict anything that the study found. Yes, people seem to cry in the presence of strong, negatively-valenced emotions (note that the study explicitly elicited such emotions using sad films). However, that says nothing about what other sorts of chemical communication tears are also transmitting. Crying because of strong emotions, and the idea that tears contain pheromones that dampen sex drive, are in no way mutually exclusive.

      Also, I second the above posters that a science editor is needed, given the sort of knee-jerk, anti-science responses that this and other recent studies have garnered. We should be using hard science methodologies to critically analyze gender stereotypes, not just dismissing studies out of hand because we don’t like the headline that the LA Times slaps on the article. Face palm!

      • Posted January 26, 2011 at 1:22 am | Permalink

        It seems to me like you disagree with Vanessa’s whole perspective on this story; I am only agreeing with her.

  12. Posted January 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    It seems that the “crying” may have been accounting for, provided the tears / no tears was accounted for by showing the same faces each time. It may also be reasonable to believe that sexual orientation was accounted for.

    There are two notable problems here.

    1) A smaller issue is that the reverse wasn’t tested — what happens if women smell men’s tears? What about men smelling men’s tears or women smelling women’s tears? What if we switch sexual orientations around?

    2) The conclusion at least one of the researchers is discussing — that tears are an evolutionary response effective in stopping unwanted sexual advances. Not all women cry (or can cry) when they don’t want sex, particularly when they are approached under unusual circumstances (this point should be obvious when the victim is drugged). There are other (more assertive) actions that may be more effective in dissuading sexual advances, and the study doesn’t explore those. And sort of the dark inconvenient truth is that this study only reflects a tendency — a typical rapist may not even be affected in the same way (while typical rapists may even look like normal men, there may be something biological that separates them from other men that may also override what women’s tears may do to most other men), and the idea of it being effective against male rapists in particular is untested (to not just be statistically significant but to also have a substantial effect size).

    The study itself is mostly fine. It is this conclusion that is unscientific (and which happens to be sexist).

  13. Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    I think it’s kind of interesting. I have definitely experienced this, though I never would have guessed that the decrease in drive was related to something I was smelling…

    For me, the findings definitely give more questions than answers, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

    And I strongly agree with rhian’s idea of a science editor. I think the results of studies can almost always be used constructively. I see too many good ideas – yes, especially evo psych ideas – get shot down here.

  14. Posted January 9, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, the four primary authors of this study are not just scientists — as in “fuck these scientists” — but also women. Just so we’re clear who we’re fucking.

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