Tag Archives: advertising

Why is gender equality so rude?

I don’t see much anti-female sexism in my immediate surrounds; I notice more that is anti-male. But one place I have been continually put off by anti-female sexism is in attempts to promote gender equality. It seems especially prominent in efforts to seduce me to traditionally non-feminine academic areas. If my ratio of care about interesting subjects vs. social situations were different I might have been put off by the seeming prospect of being treated like a defective sacrifice to political correctness.

Some examples from the advertising and equity policies of various academic places I’ve been:

‘Women can make valuable contributions to …’ implies that this is an issue of serious contention. If most people thought women were of zero value in some fields, this would be a positive statement about women, but they don’t. Worse, the author can’t make a stronger statement than that it is possible for women to create more than zero value.

Appeals to consider myself capable of e.g. engineering despite being female make the same error but this time suggesting that the viewer herself is likely in doubt. Such a statement can only be useful to women so ignorant of their own characteristics that they need to rely on their gender as deciding evidence in what career to devote their lives to, so it suggests the female audience are clueless. The smartest women have likely noticed that they are smart, and will not be encouraged by the prospect of joining a field where others expect them to be intellectually insecure special people to be reassured and included for human rights purposes.

Statements such as women are valuable because they can provide a different perspective on computer science, imply that women can’t understand a computer the usual way, but might help figure out how to make it more personable or something. If this is true, why not just say ‘women are not that valuable in computer science’?

Policies of employing a certain number of female staff to provide role models or leadership for female students imply that females would rather aspire to femalehood than to superior ability (presumably the decision criteria forgone).

Recommendations that courses like mathematics should be more focussed on women say that while existing mathematics is about completely gender neutral abstract concepts, not men, it is unsuitable for women. Presumably either women are not up to abstract concepts, or women can’t be motivated to think about something other than women. Despite whichever inadequacy, they should be encouraged to do mathematics anyway by being taught to work out the mean angle of their cleavage or something.

Why do so many attempts at equality seem so counterproductive?  The above seem to fall into two processes: first, assuming that society believes women might be useless, advertising this, and arguing against it so badly as to confirm it, and second, trying to suck up to women by making things more female related at the cost of features capable women would care for. Perhaps those more concerned about anti-female sexism make these errors more because they have an unusually strong impression of society being anti-female and their own obsession with femininity makes it easy to overestimate that of most women.

Advertise while honoring the dead

Roadside suggestions not to kill yourself driving seem to be getting more humorous around here, which suggests that someone is trying to improve them. The best advertisements for careful driving I’ve seen are the little white stick crosses tied to trees and telegraph poles with withered flowers and photographs. I doubt I’m alone in finding the death of a real person smashed into a telegraph pole on my usual route more of a prompt to be careful than an actor looking stern at me or a pun (‘slowing down won’t kill you’). Plus nothing makes an activity feel safe like a gargantuan authority calmly informing me of the risks of it. If the government’s advertising something, everyone knows about it, and if there’s no panic or banning, it’s probably safe. A bedraggled, unprepared memorial is a reminder that ‘they’ aren’t really protecting me.

But how could a road authority use these? They could either increase the number or the visibility of them. The usual methods of increasing the number defeat the purpose, and inventing fatal crashes might make people cross. Making memorials more visible is hard, because they are put up by families, besides which the home-made look is valuable, so billboard versions wouldn’t do so well. One solution is just to give bereaved families a bit of the money they usually use on a billboard to construct a temporary memorial of their choice at the site. That way more people would do it, and they could afford more extravagant decoration, so enhancing visibility.

Trust in the adoration of strangers

Attractive people are more trusting when they think they can be seen:

Here, we tested the effects of cues of observation on trusting behavior in a two-player Trust game and the extent to which these effects are qualified by participants’ own attractiveness. Although explicit cues of being observed (i.e., when participants were informed that the other player would see their face) tended to increase trusting behavior, this effect was qualified by the participants’ other-rated attractiveness (estimated from third-party ratings of face photographs). Participants’ own physical attractiveness was positively correlated with the extent to which they trusted others more when they believed they could be seen than when they believed they could not be seen. This interaction between cues of observation and own attractiveness suggests context dependence of trusting behavior that is sensitive to whether and how others react to one’s physical appearance.

Probably rightly so. It’s interesting that people do not get used to the average level of good treatment expected for their attractiveness, but are sensitive to the difference in treatment when visible and when not. Is it inbuilt that we should expect some difference there, or is it just very noticeable?

I wonder whether widespread beauty enhancement increases overall trust in society, and enhances productivity accordingly, or whether favorable treatment and returned trust both adapt to relative position. Does advertising suggesting that the world is chock full of model material decrease trust between real people?

How does raising awareness stop prejudice?

Imagine you are in the habit of treating people who have lesser social status as if they are below you. One day you hear an advertisement talking about a group of people you know nothing about. It’s main thrust is that these people are as good as everyone else, or perhaps even special in some ways which the advertisement informs you are good, and that therefore you should respect them.

ANTaR informs us that Aboriginals do not get enough respect

ANTaR informs us that Aboriginals do not get enough respect

What do you infer?

  1. These people are totally normal except for being special in various exciting ways, and you should respect them.
  2. These people are so poorly respected by others that somebody feels the need to buy advertising to rectify the situation.

What about the next day when you hear that other employers are going to court for failing to employ these people enough?

I can’t think of any better way to stop people wanting to associate with someone than by suggesting to them that nobody else wants to. Low social status seems like the last thing you can solve by raising awareness.

Subconscious stalking?

Just seeing another person look at something can tend to make you like it a bit more than if you see them looking in another direction:

In this study, we found that objects that are looked at by other people are liked more than objects that do not receive the attention of other people (Experiment 1). This suggests that observing averted gaze can have an impact on the affective appraisals of objects in the environment. This liking effect was absent when an arrow was used to cue attention (Experiment 2). This underlines the importance of other people’s interactions with objects for generating our own impressions of such stimuli in the world.

The authors suggest this is because people really do tend to look at things more if they like them, and that another person likes something is information about its value. This makes sense, and even more if we assume that the ancestral environment contained fewer eye catching people paid to prominently give items their attention.

Is observing the eye movement of others an earlier version of facebook? (picture: xkcd.com)

Is observing the eye movement of others a precursor to facebook? (picture: xkcd.com)

Another possibility though is that people want to have coinciding tastes to those around them often, so we are not so much interested in clues to the item’s inherent value, but directly in the other person’s values. In that case if we evolved nicely we would react more to some people looking than to others.

Sure enough, this study found that such an effect seems to hold for attractive people, but not unattractive:

In a conditioning paradigm, novel objects were associated with either attractive or unattractive female faces, either displaying direct or averted gaze. An affective priming task showed more positive automatic evaluations of objects that were paired with attractive faces with direct gaze than attractive faces with averted gaze and unattractive faces, irrespective of gaze direction. Participants’ self-reported desire for the objects matched the affective priming data.

Added: These days we can discover (and adapt to) many people’s likes and dislikes prior to meeting them extensively, as long as they post them all over Facebook or the like. If the tendency to coordinate our values based on minor cues was good enough to evolve, does the possibility of doing so much more effectively via online stalking give a selective advantage to those who use it?