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    The Science Of Romantic Comedy Behavior: A Love Ode To Weak Observational Studies
    By Hank Campbell | March 12th 2014 06:25 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Robin Thicke may have sung "Blurred Lines" and appeared in a teenage fantasy video with a lot of naked women, but when a photo was revealed of him in a suggestive situation with another woman, he found that the line was actually not all that blurry to his wife.(1)

    What changed? She had been fine with his canoodling before. He has no idea and men meeting women across the nation are just as confused about where their blurred lines are. 

    Here's a hint, men: If you look like Ryan Gosling, the line is blurry, otherwise the line is going to be pretty stark: If she is a 7, she wants you to be an 8. If she is under the age of 30, it is okay for you to be 'getting your band together', otherwise she wants you to have a job. Anything not matching those criteria mean you may have stepped over the blurred line into being labeled a sexual aggressor.


    Ryan Gosling is Canadian. To Canadian women, the line is a lot less blurry if he walks up to them in a bar. Credit and link: IMDB

    What do we blame when we don't look like Ryan Gosling and therefore a hello may not be welcome? My vote would be to place it on a steady cultural diet of romantic comedies, where the wacky, persistent guy wins in the end. Or female advice columnists who tell men they should be bold and go up and talk to women. Perhaps even a culture where women demand that men be the aggressors and then lament that they aren't paid more because they don't ask for a raise.

    In a social setting, be it a bar or a library, you just never know when you should talk to a woman or if it's an intrusion. If only there was some science to it.


    A version of "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and Jimmy Fallon, backed by The Roots, that is completely safe for work. Link and Credit: NBC and respective copyright holders.


    A new paper in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research tries to help and uses what it calls an objective design to examine bar behavior. Now, now, before you groan about another weak observational study certain to appear in Vogue, at least read my dismissal of it before you dismiss it. We all know that mainstream media outlets love suspect claims based on strange samples, especially about "relationships", because they get attention.

    Within reason. Media publishers know not to get too counter-intuitive. You can't go after women, for example. Why can't you go after women about their bar behavior? I am not sure, the line is blurry, I just know if a man behaves badly, we can name and shame him but if you criticize a woman for bad bar behavior, you will get a Slut Walk thrown in your honor. That's just the way it is.


    The guy in the forefront of this picture picked the worst possible place to meet women. Link:NBC

    Because of the rule that men are always wrong if a woman says he is wrong, what is romantic comedy behavior in movies becomes, at the hands of an expert, sexual aggression with female "targets."

    And we get this dystopian indictment of our culture: 90 percent of the sexual aggression incidents in bars involve male initiators and female targets.

    Okay, I can buy that. I have never had a woman hit on me in a bar. Of course, I don't really drink so I don't go to bars. And I have been married more of my life than I have not been married so no woman is hitting on me. Still, it sounds plausible in my dataset of 1, which is almost good enough for a weak observational claim.

    "Recent data suggests that aggression related to sexual advances is very common nowadays," said corresponding author Kate Graham of the University of Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in their statement.

    Wait, what? No one is buying that. There is a reason so many people are descended from Genghis Khan and a lot fewer people are descended from me. Sexual aggression is at its lowest point in the history of the world. Rape used to be what you did. So they are already proceeding from a flawed assumption not based on evidence.

    But maybe that gender pacificism is just in America, and Mongolia is positively idyllic these days if a peaceful hippie lifestyle is your thing. Canada may be another world; they lead the planet in ecstasy use and illegal drug development and Toronto mayor Rob Ford may not know from one day to the next what his behavior was during the previous 24 hours.

    That means bars in Canada, where alcohol is involved, could be open season on women. Graham says an exit survey in Windsor last year had more than 50 percent of women reporting sexual aggression that evening. That's an incredible statistic; it means 50 percent of Canadian men think they look as good as Ryan Gosling.


    Ryan Gosling is Canadian. I am betting a lot fewer Canadian women would have claimed sexual aggression had he been talking to them in the bar. Credit and link: IMDB

    The authors note that bars might be a unique environment. "I don't think you could get away with this sort of thing in most settings," said Graham. "If a stranger came up to a woman, grabbed her around the waist, and rubbed his groin against her in a university cafeteria or on a subway, she'd probably call the police. In the bar, the woman just tries to get away from him."

    What's the downside to their methodology? It's not just that anecdotes are not evidence - obviously they are sometimes evidence, you just have to calibrate them accordingly - it's that the definitions used for the anecdotes themselves are arbitrary and subjective.

    To one woman, being propositioned in an elevator might be the same as rape. To another, it is just a guy who didn't look like Ryan Gosling wasting his time. One woman may meet with an editor for a science blogging site who flirts with her and might have ripples of doubt that she can't write well, while a more confident woman would just assume it's a guy trying to get laid.

    Narrative descriptions for 1,057 incidents during visits to 118 clubs over a two-year period sounds like a lot, and 258 observed incidents (24.4%) is shocking - but it's all made up. How do they know the intoxication and intent of these sexual aggressors outside what people who write sociology papers about sexual aggression and alcohol arbitrarily define? 

    Add in even more subjective variables, such as arbitrary 'invasiveness' and 'persistence' of bar patrons, and it is a field day for a weak observational paper. It just isn't science. 

    And their use of language about the study is clearly hyperbolic. "For instance, attacking women who are defenseless makes it less likely that a perpetrator will be apprehended or experience any consequences as a result of his actions," says Jeanette Norris, a senior research scientist with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, who was not a contributor on the paper.  Wait, what? 'Attacking defenseless women' sounds like rape and then they state that the staff in the clubs rarely intervened in whatever that is - and even encouraged this 'attacking' of 'defenseless women'. Why didn't the survey takers intervene? Or is the claim that men are creepy sexual predators waiting to pounce on women just color commentary? It's hard to know when you leave the world of science and enter the world of advocacy.

    The staff at the bar may not help enough because of 'bar culture', they speculate - bars needs to hire quality bouncers but somehow know whether or not they "particularly endorse masculinity norms and asserting identity."

    I know there is a postmodernism generator but someone needs to create a sociology translator. What is a masculinity norm in a bar? What is asserting identity? When do we get back to the part where we don't have to look like Ryan Gosling to not be an unwanted advance?


    Ryan Gosling is Canadian. It is beginning to look like no romantic comedy behavior is acceptable to Canadian women unless you look like him. Credit and link: IMDB

    Posting signs should help us, they say. After all, men are sexual predators but a sign saying 'don't be a sexual predator' apparently cures it right up.

    The only conclusion normal people can draw from this paper is that romantic comedies have been lying to us all this time. 


    So, seriously, no matter how much you like her, do not break up her wedding by riding in on a white horse. Horses crap a lot more in real life than they do in romantic comedies and it is most certainly going to end up on you.

    Citation: Kathryn Graham, Sharon Bernards, D. Wayne Osgood, Antonia Abbey, Michael Parks, Andrea Flynn, Tara Dumas, Samantha Wells, '“Blurred Lines?” Sexual Aggression and Barroom Culture', Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 3 MAR 2014 DOI: 10.1111/acer.12356

    (1) An innocent fan photo, right? Only until a fan sent this picture to his wife and told her to look at the reflection in the mirror:


    Credit: Lana Scolaro, Instagram. Link: Daily Mail


    Comments

    I love it, Hank. Keep up the good work.

    logicman
    The guy in the forefront of this picture picked the worst possible place to meet women.

    Hilarious!

    Mirror, mirror on the wall -

    Hfarmer
    There is only one scientific answer to this issue for men.  There are three laws of when it is ok for a man to touch a woman.  They are the rules which equal consent, and SNL came up with them. 
    VIDEO DOES use the words "Corresponding Breast and Vagina's" in a rather clinical way meant to be funny.  Not safe for stodgy work places.  

    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.