Testing Scientific Claim At Own Risk: Reproducibility Against Novelty

Ellen Wieberg
Pittsburg State University

Keywords: Society, Women, Roles, Standards, Continuation


This content analysis bridges the gap between the theoretical in the field of gender studies and the historical situation of societal cultures and pressures surrounding gender with the everyday experiences that are still occurring presently. This paper focuses on nine separate observations from the reference, Sex, Ethnics, and Communication (Peterson, 2011); it then makes a comparison to the everyday life of an American undergraduate student and three other novels.

Women Have the Minds of Children (Part II, p. 76)

Observation:  "Benevolent and patronizing men labeled women passive and childlike, unable to think rationally or for themselves. In order to keep these 'natures' in check, it was argued, women needed to be controlled, contained, steered, and dominated."

Personal Evidence:  On a more personal note, this struck a chord with the individualistic, scholarly person within me. It is offensive to believe that women are incapable of having fully developed thoughts and must be treated like the infants that they socialize with in the home every single day. This thought process leads me to think about my grandparents. They were married before my grandmother had even turned sixteen. She was never allowed to learn how to drive or make any vital decisions for her future. Although she was allowed to get a job outside of the home, she had seven children. So the likelihood of her keeping a job and being self-sufficient would be quite remote. This was just one of the many ways she was controlled by my domineering grandfather.

Friedan:  This excerpt also ties in with Friedan's ideas of getting an education. On page 235, Friedan stated, "The one lesson a girl could hardly avoid learning, if she went to college between 1945 and 1960, was not to get seriously interested in anything besides getting married and having children, if she wanted to be a normal, happy, adjusted, feminine, have a successful husband, successful children, and a normal sex life." This statement proves that even on a college level, women were not supposed to learn anything of value outside of domestic issues. They were to remain ignorant of anything that would not help them to run a household, and if they did take an interest in anything like politics or academic studies they were labeled an outsider and not likely to have a successful personal life.

Connell:  Taking a more scientific approach to the problem. Lesley Rogers, a neuroscientist, stated on page 52, "The brain does not choose neatly to be either a female or male type. In any aspect of the brain function that we can measure there is considerable overlap between females and males." This is factual data that cannot be influenced by societal factors and can be measured. Perhaps more people might be convinced more by hard evidence.

McCaughey:  This excerpt is justified in McCaughey's book, on page 119, when discussing the female brain compared to a male's brain, which leads into the argument about simple attraction. McCaughey stated, "We can find evidence for the selectionist argument that men avoid smart women and seek beautiful, relatively stupid ones. After all, men across cultures experience smart women as unattractive-threatening, even." Culturally men are threatened by women who can think for themselves so they put these women in a category of old maid, never to be married. If women want to avoid that category, they also need to avoid showing too much intelligence. This is the reason that so many women are willing to be controlled by men—not because they could not think for themselves but because they choose not to make their own decisions to be seen as more attractive and feminine.

Society's Double Standard (Part II, p. 75)

Observation:  "Despite the dangers to both men and women that are related to taking on multiple sexual partners, heterosexual men are still scolded less for promiscuity than are women." Peterson used an example of two people of opposite sexes who sleep around are viewed quite differently from society. The man is made an example for other strong, independent males while the woman is shunned or pitied by the masses.

Personal Evidence:  I am only a sophomore in college and I still live in the dorms as a Resident Assistant. Having this position in the residence halls has allowed me to observe the private lives of many young men and women. When sexual gossip is spread around the halls, men are always viewed with a positive light. The more sexual encounters they have, the more status they receive among their peers. However, if a woman on my floor went around bragging about her sexual endeavors, she would be labeled the "slut" of the hallway and less likely to receive friendly advances from the other young ladies that live in close proximity to her. I have seen this countless times, and it is a stigma that will not be changed in our current cultural climate.

Friedan:  This observation ties into the Sex-Seekers chapter of Friedan's book, where she states on page 372, "Sexual status is the only status a woman can achieve on her own." This is followed on page 388 by the statement, "Compulsive sexual activity veils a lack of potency in other spheres of life." Within these two statements lies the double standard that women have to endure. On one hand, women can use sex as a power ticket in society to empower themselves. Yet, if she uses her sexuality, then it becomes evident that other spheres of her life are lacking.

Connell:  While studying the sex-role socialization, Connell quoted a study of interviews of 16-year-old girls in Britain who grew up in a misogynist culture. One of the young ladies interviewed said, "It's a viscous cycle. If you don't like them, they they'll call you a tight bitch. If you do go with them they'll call you a slag afterward." Even these adolescent girls must deal with this double standard that society forces upon them.

McCaughey:  Quoted in this book is Scott Morris, a writer for Playboy, who used scientific evidence to explain society's double standard as it applies to humans in his article, "Darwin and the Double Standard." However, McCaughey explained, "This article's parodic style so thoroughly enmeshes human values with accounts of what is going on in nature that the possibility of using evolution as an unproblematic foundation to justify or condemn sexual practices becomes difficult." Scientific evidence cannot always clarify human behavior due to the vulnerability and possible conflict that emotions create in the brain; natural is by no means justified.

Innocence vs. Experience (Part III, p. 104)

Observation:  "If people value innocence above experience... they see inexperienced, but racially similar, people as more valuable, and 'differently experienced' people as less valuable than average. If people value experience more than innocence… they see experienced, but racially different, people as more valuable, and inexperienced and similar, but not-yet-developed, persons as less valuable than average."

Personal Evidence:  This is one of the ideas that has lingered with me the most since finishing the book because it can explain why people place their faith in certain values. It has made me reevaluate some of the more personal issues in my own life, such as my political views. As this is an election year, I will be making the best, informed decision when the polls open. I tend to focus more on social issues and I realize now that I do so based on my value of experience. I believe that people who have different experiences provide the diversity that makes our world such a wonderful place, and this why I have stronger ties to the Democratic Party. I believe that immigration will benefit our country and that freedom of choice is our fundamental right, which should include reproductive rights.

Friedan:  This statement ties in with Friedan's look on their inner values of the family structure on page 405, when she states, "Noncommitment and vicarious living are at the very heart of our conventional definition of femininity. This is the way the feminine mystique teaches girls to seek 'fulfillment as a woman'; this is the way most American women live today." The feminine mystique told women to value innocence over everything else so they began to seek fulfillment living vicariously through their children, which led to many psychological disorders by both the adult woman and her children.

Connell:  The Peterson observation is proved in Connell's book when looking at past experiences between the sexes during war times. Women stepped up into the more masculine roles and gained the experience they were not supposed to have, and lost all the innocence that made them so feminine. On page 27, Connell stated, "Returning from war, women found this experience impossible to reconcile with the cultural expectations for womanhood, with the model of a virtuous worker-wife. The only way to handle the contradiction was to erase the memory." Women could not deal with the taste of freedom and experience when their men got home from war. They literally had to block their memories so that they could fit into the innocent mold that society values so much.

McCaughey:  On page 123, it was stated "Malcolm Potts and Roger Short, in their textbook Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality, declare, 'A newborn child is not a blank sheet of emotional and behavioral paper.'" These Human Behavioral Ecology (HBE) scholars believe that biology overwhelmingly influences people and that even a newborn baby does not have the innocence that others suggest because everyone has a predisposition to act according to their biology. So although one can still place value on being innocent, the blank slate that is categorized by being innocent lacks position in the minds of HBE scholars.

Affecting Family Structure (Part III, p. 108)

Observation:  "Two significant factors affecting modern families in the United States are the wider spread access to contraception and women in the work force."

Personal Evidence:  Looking into my family background is the best way for me to explain why this observation was so significant to me. Both of my parents grew up in the 1960s, with six siblings, controlling fathers, and both in poor as dirt financial situations. Their parents before them had even larger families with even less money. As globalization continues, people have been making more economical choices by having fewer children and becoming more involved in the work force. My father was able to take on the role of a stay-at-home dad while my mother took a full-time position in the business world. I appreciate this experience because my parents were able to provide a more egalitarian, non-traditional family structure.

Friedan:  To tie in with this observation, Friedan not only agrees that family status is shifting but also stated that his development will better society as a whole. She stated, on page 507, "When women take their education and their abilities seriously and put them to use, ultimately they do have to compete with men. It is better for a woman to compete impersonally in society, as men do, than to compete for dominance in her home with her husband, compete with her neighbors for empty status, and so smother her son the he cannot compete at all." There is a competitive edge women must use in the workforce that will give them a more individualistic approach to life, which will put less stress on her personal life and help future generations become more independent.

Connell:  Although this observation is a vital clue for future generations of society, Connell takes a different approach on page 69, stating, "Not all sex results in pregnancy, of course—in fact the majority of sexual encounters, even heterosexual ones, don't, and aren't intended to. But the fact that children do arrive this way, and have to be nurtured and taught, matters immensely for any society." This argument implies that even though family structures are being impacted by contraception and the workforce, the small percentage of sexual encounters that do produce children tend to be intentional. Also, those children must still be taught the same societal lessons regardless of who is doing the teaching.

McCaughey:  Showing agreement with Connell, McCaughey also examined the biological aspects of family structure and reproductive success. On page 113, she stated, "A Human Behavioral Ecology (HBE) theorist could reason that during stressful times a man wouldn't be able to get an erection, and this might have served men well in terms of reproductive success, as stressful times would have been the same times that made a baby's survival difficult." There are many factors, biological and societal, that affect a family structure. As humankind becomes more advanced, new factors will continue to arise.

Two Out of Three (Part III, pp. 111, 114)

Observation:  The feminists of the 1970s claimed, "You can have a man, you can have a career, and you can have children. You can—and should—have it all!" However, Peterson contradicts this theory; she believes these expectations are not realistic in today's society. Women who are able to achieve two of the three elements should not be considered inadequate by society's standards. On page 114, Peterson argued that pushing oneself to succeed in all these categories would produce mediocrity. Those who settle for two out of the three can put more effort into personal endeavors, thereby increasing excellence.

Personal Evidence:  I have always believed that with effort anyone could have it all—the family, the husband, and the career—the overall perfect life. Peterson's observation is thought provoking on many personal levels; it leads many to reanalyze the question: Can I do it all? Personally, I would like to say yea, but the truth is that mediocrity would be achieved instead of overall ideal success. Statistics prove that marriages require much more work than they are being given. I do not want to be put into a position where I spread myself too thin and cannot give one hundred and ten percent to my family or career.

Friedan:  In opposition, Friedan on pages 417-418, she stated, "As long as children were home, as long as the husband was there, the wives suffered increasingly severe illnesses, but recovered. . . . The housewives who had to be hospitalized or who did not recover quickly were, above all, those who have never developed their own abilities to work outside the home." Friedan believed that if women were given the chance to "do it all," they would be able to balance everything with more precision and be healthier in general.

Connell:  This excerpt tied into Connell's book when the author explained what happens when women try to "do it all." On page 79, the novel stated, "The whole economic sphere is culturally defined as a men's world (regardless of the presence of women in it), while domestic life is defined as a woman's world (regardless of the presence of men in it)." Women can push into the "man's world," and the opposite can be said of men, but their separate spheres make the overlap very difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.

McCaughey:  The Caveman Mystique quoted Steven Rhoads, a Public Policy faculty member of the University of Virginia, as he argued, "Women are wrong to expect men to take better care of children, do more housework, and make for a place for them as equals at work because men and women still have different natures, and, generally speaking, different preferences, talents, and interests.'" If Rhoads is describing the predominant notion that society agrees with, and egalitarian partnership will never be within reach. Women will never be able to have a husband, family, and career within this society.

Societal Expectation of Marriage (Part III, p. 126)

Observation:  Within the marriage discussion, Peterson explained the phenomenon of marrying in order to follow the social trend of the time. People have weddings for the show, because it is the societal expectation that everyone is supposed to marry and form a happy, nuclear family.

Personal Evidence:  I was not raised to be reliant on marriage nor to dream about what my wedding day would look like. When movies portrayed little girls dressing up and dancing about like it was their "big day," I honestly thought it was truly just a silly joke. University culture opened my eyes to the many young women who have been planning out their weddings since middle school. These women have an ideal courtship and lifetime planned, without even having a man. I think it is ridiculous that people spend that much time and effort making plans for their wedding when so many marriages fail. If people were to focus the same amount of time choosing a compatible partner as they do focusing on the societal expectations of an early marriage, the divorce rate would be much lower.

Friedan:  In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan interviewed women at a university; she was able to demonstrate that the stereotypical wedding was craved by all these female students, even more than even an education. On page 253, she stated, "These girls behaved as if college were an interval to be gotten through impatiently, efficiently, bored but businesslike, so 'real' life could begin. And real life was when you married and lived in a suburban house with your husband and children." She continued on to point out that the women living in that conceptual reality did not even have significant others yet; it was simply a fantasy-land constructed by women so they could pretend their perfect wedding was in the near future.

Connell:  On page 31, Connell told a short story of a woman named Kartini, who was a woman with ambitions and pride. Her father gave her a private education, yet would not allow her to begin a teaching career. "Eventually, the family, following custom, arranged a good marriage for her, and she bowed to pressure. It killed her: she died from complications of her first childbirth." This illustrates the strong cultural influence of society over women, regardless of their hopes for the future. This woman, like so many others, conformed to societal pressures and ended up dying for it. 

McCaughey: The Caveman Mystique stated that the societal expectation of masculinity is one of the many reasons that these early marriages fail. On page 79, McCaughey said when speaking about another author, "The common problem of contemporary Western masculinity—fierce competition, a lack of introspection and authentic relationships—and a reliance on one's self-image or position of power. This form of masculinity is an exhausting, life threatening charade that costs men their marriages." Society forces the expectation of marriage onto young men and women, which forces them to carry out roles that are un-natural to their own individual persons.

Categories (Part I, p. 47)

Observation:  Valerie Peterson explained, on page 47, the sexuality related, emotionally charged terms, such as "masculine" and "feminine." Many times, people do not fit directly into one of these societal roles, which then creates strife and other difficulties when people cannot live up to others' expectations with societal terminology.

Personal Evidence:  Everyone is categorized on a daily basis, including me. Personally, I am a heterosexual female with short hair. This causes expectancy violations for those around me because I am from a Midwest culture. Based solely on my short hair—and no my very feminine personality—I am constantly under surveillance in case I start showing other traits that are expected of lesbians. Many of my female friends are called manly and teased about having masculine characteristics—being loud, competitive, or violent; however, their appearance is stereotypically feminine so their sexuality is not questioned. People have different levels of personalities and one cannot be categorized by feminine and masculine qualities because we all fit somewhere on the scale. People are people; I wish everyone would just see them that way instead of enforcing these categories.

Friedan:  On page 110, Friedan presents the Christmas 1956 issue of Life magazine, which depicts a wife who has been given masculine qualities, such as having a career and a husband who "refuses to take responsibility and drowns his destroyed masculinity in alcoholism." For contrast effect, the magazine then presents "the new housewife-mothers," who are "devoted to their own beauty and their ability to bear and nurture children. They are 'feminine women, with truly feminine attitudes, admired by men for their miraculous, God-given, sensationally unique ability to wear skirts." Friedan's sarcasm helped to show that women do not have to be constantly beautiful and docile. The two contrasting figures show how ridiculous the categories of masculine and feminine truly are.

Connell:  This observation relates to Connell's book, where she creates a list of traits deemed "masculine" and "feminine" in Western cultures. On page 60, she listed, "Women are supposed to be nurturing, suggestible, talkative, emotional, intuitive, and sexually loyal; men are supposed to be aggressive, tough-minded, taciturn, rational, analytic, and promiscuous." These listed traits are found everywhere in current culture and have become so embedded that they are expected of everyone.

McCaughey:  To delve into the male mind on this topic, McCaughey quoted Smith and Doe, authors of What Men Don't Want Women to Know: The Secrets, the Lies, the Unspoken Truth, on page 68, "All we are saying is, man is a sexual animal. But unlike an animal, he has a mind that can reason, lie, and, worst for you, fantasize... The primitive nature of every man is the innate desire to bed every woman who even marginally turns him on." According to this book, it is the biological right for every man to sexualize other woman constantly, while women may simply wait around for the man, categorizing both sexes yet again with the stereotypical feminine and masculine traits.

Take One for the Team (Part III, p. 118)

Observation:  "The need for the women in the United States to take one for the team and accept eighty cents for a dollar's worth of work is strong."

Personal Evidence:  Going out into the work force with this kind of mentality is a critical error in my opinion. I came to a university with the expectation that I will continue my education, so I will be able to choose a career that I love when I graduate. This idea should not be masked with the false acceptance that I will make eighty cents to every dollar a man will make. To settle for this low amount for the same amount of work would be undermining everything I believe in—equality for all. With this economy, people are struggling to find a job and provide enough to live. It is a struggle to pay each worker in a business while still making a profit, but who determines that a woman's work is not just as valuable as a man's work? Once I graduate, I vow to not be simply a number in this statistic; I will be the outlier—one more step towards the right direction of equality.

Friedan:  This important variance from women and men's work has been documented throughout history. Friedan explained on page 351, "No matter how elaborate, 'Occupation: Housewife' is not an adequate substitute for truly challenging work, important enough to society to be paid for in its coin." At some points in history, women haven't even been paid for their work and have been treated like some minorities are still treated today in the workforce. So although equal pay is now a closer goal, Friedan would never accept the fact that women must "take one for the team" on this issue.

Connell:  In 1991, the United States Congress studied US corporations in order to examine the Glass Ceiling effect for women. "Of the top 1,000 companies, 2 had women CEOs. That is, one fifth of 1 per cent of big corporations had a woman in the top job. This was cited as a sign of progress." This is considered societal progress by the United States Congress. Women have been taking one for the team for too long; to ask them to sit back and let progress continue to happen is a shallow, callus move. Total equality needs to be enabled in the workplace so that one fifth of 1 percent is not seen as such great progress.

McCaughey:  In The Caveman Mystique, McCaughey gave insight to the male view of equal salaries for both women and men. On page 22, she stated, "Broken down by educational level, men with college educations saw their incomes increase at the same rate as women's regardless of education level. Faliudi argues that this economic downturn affecting men in particular left them feeling powerless, hopeless, and angry." Although women are not getting the same pay even by today's standards, this is an ever-changing process that will continue to close the gap. If this process occurs too quickly, negative emotions could occur for both men and women.

Sex Ethics of Love (Part I, p. 27)

Observation: "At first glance, the sex ethic of love may seem like a more liberal ethic than the ethic of marriage, because it does not require that a couple be married in order to have sex. But the ethic of love is actually more conservative than the marriage ethic. Unlike a contract that legally sanctions sex practices at any time or for any reason between married partners, love demands people honestly take stock of their feelings, take personal responsibility for the welfare of others, be aware of each situation as it presents itself, and be attentive to thoughts and feelings at every moment."

Personal Evidence:  The contract that marriage is based upon gives a concrete feel to the relationship, making the bonds more difficult to break than those of love. Strict religious groups perceive this bond is unbreakable, which makes it the most difficult kind of ethical contract to dissolve. However, I tend to agree with the author that the ethics of love is actually more conservative. People can marry for so many reasons, which gives them ethical permission to have sexual relations.  Those who wait for love must take a leap of faith that they can be attentive enough to their partner and vise versa. Many people do take that leap; sometimes through mutual commitment and perseverance, the couple stays attentive to each other. The difficulty is when the relationship is one sided. Because of the work the couple must put into every single minute of the relationship, the ethical identification of love is much more conservative.

Friedan:  Women didn't always have the choice between having sexual relations for love or for marriage. Societal goals were surrounded by the fact that every woman must get a man to be a fully developed person. Friedan stated, on page 133, "(Women) had only to wait to be chosen, marking time passively until the husband, the babies, the new house decided what the rest of their lives would be. They slid into their sexual role as women before they knew who they even were." This was the easiest role to accept, and so almost every woman chose not to question the status quo.

Connell: An example was presented on page 18 that told of men who were sent to work in mines for years at a time. These men created "mine marriages," in which the younger man would take on the role of wife—cooking, cleaning, and other womanly activities—and the older man embodied the role of husband. This gave men more satisfaction because sexual intercourse between these two roles was deemed not only socially accepted but almost necessary. The men were not criticized for their choices because romantic feelings were not involved in their relationship. This represents the observation by showing that sexual intimacy in marriages, even fake marriages, is much more conservative and makes it more acceptable for the two parties involved.

McCaughey: Although women have been more intentionally sought out for blame when an individual has sexual intercourse for love instead of marriage, men have endured another bias by society. On page 135, it is stated, "Caveman sexuality is hardly a liberated one given its narrow focus on genital sexuality, high-intensity but low-emotion sex, sexual compulsiveness, an unacknowledged emotional dependence, and even overt rage and violence." Men are held to a standard devoid of all emotional aspects of sex. If they were to choose love first and use the emotional success of that relationship to translate into sexual intercourse, their masculinity could be questioned.


This content analysis of Sex, Ethics, and Communication (Peterson, 2011) and comparison with personal observations of the author and three other novels concluded that gender issues are still present in today's society. Thus there is still a strong relevance of gender studies in order to ensure the development of a fully egalitarian society.


Connel, R. (2009). Short introduction to gender. (2nd ed.). New Hampshire: Odyssey Press.
Friedan, B. (2001). The feminine mystique. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
McCaughey, M. (2008). The caveman mystique. New York, NY: Routledge.
Peterson, V. V. (2011). Sex, ethics, and communication. San Diego, CA: Cognella.


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