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Are Men Who Are Ashamed of Their Bodies More Prone to Rape?
UPDATE 5/26/14: I wrote this post before Elliot Rodger's killing spree. The study I describe is, strictly speaking, about rape, but its notion of a connection between male shame and hostility toward women strike me as worth discussing in trying to understand that crime and its underlying causes. I recognize that we should not be reasoning about vast populations with evidence from the case of one very troubled man. But I also recognize that when it comes to gender relations, no one "acts alone." What even the weirdest of us feels entitled to think and do is shaped in part by the way gender is experienced by all—and by the fact that male advantages (and male advantage-taking) are everywhere. We'd all do well to think about our own participation in the larger patterns, as many of the people using #yesallwomen on Twitter are pointing out.
Feeling shame about part or all of one's body is a source of misery for millions of women (and a source of profit for industries that live off these feelings). More recently it has become apparent that a lot of men feel ashamed of their bodies too. But hold off on the schadenfreude, ladies. Unfortunately, this paper, out recently in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests this male unease creates its own burdens for female humanity. Men who felt more ashamed of their bodies, the authors found, were more hostile to women. And when a sample of men were rejected as a partner by a woman in a lab experiment, those who scored higher on body shame were also more willing to force sexual acts on another person.
In the course of other research, Kris Mescher and Laurie A. Rudman noticed that men who scored higher on a measure of body shame also scored higher on measures of hostile sexism and "proclivity to rape" women. (I put the latter in quotes because it's not some sort of Minority Report predictor of future crimes. But it's a survey that asks questions about whether the responder is aroused by, attracted to or even willing to commit sexual violence if he could get away with it. Surprisingly, men apparently answer such questions honestly, and Mescher and Rudman write, the answers have been shown to correlate with the degree to which a responder is aroused by pictures of rape.)
Why might men who feel shame about their bodies be more open to the notion of sexually assaulting a woman? According to a set of ideas memorably named "precarious manhood theory," when straight men experience a threat to their masculine identity, they become aggressive. Perhaps, Mescher and Rudman thought, men who feel ashamed of their bodies feel their masculinity threatened constantly. If that were true, they thought, it could mean that body-shamed men pose a particular threat to women. This is because any particular acute threat (like being rejected by a woman) would get a stronger aggressive response from these men, as they are already at a higher set point of aggression before they're insulted.
To test this, the researchers devised a college freshman's nightmare of an experiment. They told 121 male undergrads (working for Intro Psych credit) that they were taking part in a study on "the factors that built effective teamwork." Step 1, the men learned, was to sit at a computer and be paired with a partner elsewhere, via a network connection. Each man had his picture taken, then sat in a cubicle where he filled out a bogus personality profile. Then he learned he had been assigned to a young woman as a partner and shown her photo (which, in reality, was a picture of a fairly hot woman that the researchers had taken from a photo archive). But there was a hitch: His partner had to approve the choice.
While he sat, waiting to hear if he'd been accepted as a partner, the young man filled out some bogus questionnaires and one real measure, which asked him to describe whether he felt hurt, insulted, offended, ashamed, angry, disgusted, sad, or hostile "right now." Then, if he happened to be in the control group, he was told that the computer network had gone down and couldn't relay the partner's decision. If he happened to be in the experiment's other group, though, he was told that she had rejected him. The supposed reason? "Looking at this photo, I'm not really attracted to this guy." Oh, well, the experimenter then said. We'll put you on a different study, about relationships and technology.
Thinking they were now doing that, each man once again filled out a report about just how hurt, insulted, offended, ashamed, angry, disgusted, sad, or hostile he felt "right now." (20 guesses how that turned out, compared to the first one.) Each man also completed a survey aimed at eliciting how easily he felt ashamed in general. Then there was a specific measure of sexual shame (with questions like "I sometimes feel ashamed of my own sexual inclinations"). Then there were questions about the likelihood that feeling shame would make him withdraw from contact with others ("You take office supplies home for personal use and are caught by your boss. What is the likelihood that this would lead you to quit your job?").
We are now well past the point where we can imagine some of these guys wishing they had taken Physics for Poets that semester instead of Psych 101. But there was one more survey: The same Attraction to Sexual Aggression (rape proclivity) survey that I've mentioned above.
Analyzing all these answers, Mescher and Rudman found that higher scores on body shame predicted higher scores on the rape-proclivity measure—for the men told that a woman had rejected them. For those who had been told the problem was a computer glitch, there was no relationship between the two measures. Another interesting connection: Men who reported themselves feeling more hurt, distressed or otherwise bad after rejection scored higher on the rape-proclivity measure only if they also scored higher on the body shame measure. Men who were upset by the rejection but low on body shame tended to score lower on the sexual-aggression measure. In other words, it was body shame, not the sting of rejection alone, that seemed to predict sexual hostility.
Now, you could argue that the use of photos in this experiment might have primed the men to think in terms of appearance, and made them more prone to think about their bodies than they normally would. Moreover, since every one thought he'd been rejected by a woman, the anti-female aggressiveness of some of the men might have been triggered by the experimental set-up itself. To address these caveats, the researchers did a second experiment in which no photos were used, and in which some men were told they'd been rejected by other men.
This time, 214 straight men went through a procedure much like the first study's, except without photos. Once again, one group of men was told a network outage prevented them from knowing what their partners had decided. Once again, the other group was told they had been rejected. This time, though, some were told the rejector was a man, and others that it had been a woman. And the reason, this time, was this: ""Looking at his profile, I get the impression he is gay. We won’t work well together if he likes men."
Once again, men with a higher score on the body-shame measure, who were more upset about the rejection, showed a higher degree of sexual aggression. (The measure this time was a process where men selected pictures they thought would then be shown to women in another experiment. The men had 17 different choices, each of which pitted a picture of male-on-male violence against a picture of male-on-female sexual assault. Those who chose the latter are assumed to be more sexually hostile to women.) But there is an important caveat: This effect, linking body shame and emotional turmoil over rejection, turned up only in the men who thought they had been rejected by a woman. Those who thought they'd been turned away by a man showed no such link. That suggests, Mescher and Rudman write, that "body-ashamed men may be particularly vulnerable to masculinity threats from women, which promotes sexual aggression."
At first glance, it's not obvious what might connect body shame and intensity of feeling about rejection. But Mescher and Rudman think there might indeed by a link. A man who is ashamed of his body might reasonably be expected to pay less attention to it. Perhaps, the authors speculate, that lack of connection to their own bodies makes these man unable to accept and manage the bad feelings that come with rejection.
In any event, the connection, if it holds up, opens up some new avenues in thinking about male-on-female sexual assault. While a lot of research has looked at the dangers posed to women by larger, more aggressive, more stereotypically "masculine" men, these experiments suggest that another type of man may also pose a higher risk of sexual violence.
Follow me on Twitter: @davidberreby
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>
Why Depression Isn't Just a Chemical Imbalance<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbc027c9358dad4a6d9e2704fc9ddb04"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GAC9ODvSxh0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Many years ago, my best friend tried to quit smoking. He asked for help. While I'm no addiction expert, I offered what I knew from my fitness toolkit: breathing exercises and cardiovascular training, methods for strengthening his body and mind that could, I hoped, inspire him to take better care of himself in general. He replied, "No, I meant something like a pill."</p><p>A few years later, he quit for good. After failing the cold turkey method a number of times, it finally stuck. Maybe it was watching his children grow up—the reason my parents quit when I was young. This method is not easy, however. It challenges you; it forces you to confront your demons; it drastically affects your brain chemistry. Yet, in the long run, it sometimes works. </p><p>Sometimes pills work, too. But often they do not. The journalist Robert Whitaker, author of "Anatomy of an Epidemic," discussed the clinical trial process <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/antidepressants-dangers" target="_self">during our recent conversation</a>. While the FDA process appears thorough from the outside, pharmaceutical companies only need to prove that a drug works better than placebo, not that it works for the most amount of people. He continues, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Let's say you have a drug that provides a relief of symptoms in 20 percent of people. In placebo, it's 10 percent. How many people in that study do not benefit from the drug? Nine out of 10. How many people are exposed to the adverse effects of the drug? 100 percent."</p><p>Even though some pharmacological interventions show little efficacy, and even though Xanax, an addictive and destructive benzodiazepine that only showed <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846112/" target="_blank">short-term (four weeks) efficacy</a> in clinical trials, is being prescribed for many months and years, doctors continue to use the language of clinical neuroscience to describe mental health issues. If chemistry is the problem, people will turn to chemistry for the solution. </p><p>Perhaps we should, as psychiatrist Dean Schuyler <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">writes</a> in a 1974 book, recognize that most depressive episodes "will run their course and terminate with virtually complete recovery without specific intervention." The problem is that idea isn't profitable. As long as the gatekeepers continue to use the language of chemical imbalances to describe what for many is just an episodic case of the "blahs," we'll continue creating more problems than we solve.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.
- The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
- Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
- Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."