Are Feminists Sexy?

Yesterday I read in the Chicago Tribune about a study suggesting that feminists make for better partners and have stronger romantic relationships. (I’ll link the article from another source so you won’t have to register to read it.) The study was done at Rutgers University and appeared in the on-line edition of the peer-reviewed journal Sex Roles.

Laurie Rudman, who led the study, was concerned about stereotypes she encountered to the effect that feminists were unattractive, man-hating lesbians whom men wouldn’t want to date, leading many women to avoid the “f” word and not speak strongly for equality. She was concerned at the pervasive view that gender equality comes at the expense of love. So she set about to find whether the stereotype is true.

The study found that a woman paired with a male feminist has a better relationship across the board–better in terms of relationship quality, equality, stability and sexual satisfaction. And men paired with female feminists have greater sexual satisfaction and greater relationship stability.

‘In an egalitarian relationship, there is more flow of give and take,’ she said, ‘and that’s the romantic tension. That tension – the sexual desire – is in that space between you where you’re able to flow back and forth.’

A quote from the article:

In her experience, said Ogden, ‘where there’s caring, sharing, openness and honesty, sexual satisfaction increases. It not only feels good now, but it is likely to get better and better as you age.’

Chicago psychotherapist Sue Scheffler, who treats couples, seconds that emotion.

‘What’s important is mutual respect,’ said Scheffler. ‘If you’re married to someone with feminist values – someone with a sense that men and women have the same worth – that would be a key factor in terms of your health and satisfaction in the marriage, whether or not you call yourself a feminist.’

She added: ‘No woman wants to be a slave, and I don’t think even a somewhat enlightened guy would want to be a meal ticket. There has to be some role satisfaction, whatever you’ve elected to do, and you have to feel like your partner respects your choice.’

So how does this all play out in the Mormon context? Do strong, independent Mormon women make for good mates? Do Mormon men in general recognize and value such egalitarian relationships, or is it your experience that they are holding out for the Donna Reed model? What are your own thoughts and experiences on this subject?

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I will just say that personally, I find that Mormon feminist women tend to be both intelligent and liberal, two of the qualities I find extremely attractive in any woman, and in a Mormon woman in particular. So yeah, I think Mormon feminist women are sexy as hell. I really value their strength and independence. But that’s just me; I want to hear what your feelings are about this.

  2. Yeah, this fits my experience pretty well.

    The real issue here, I think, is more one of language than reality. People think of feminists in only a certain, extreme way. That is, when people think of feminists, they think of women who don’t want equality but a reversal of the current (or at least historical) inequality.

    It’s why I don’t like to label myself a feminist, even though I definitely believe that men and women have the same inherent worth. It’s all these connotations that have built up in the culture, for whatever reason.

  3. Name (required) says:

    I find that Mormon feminist women…

    I’m not that interested in how you ‘find’ (meaning–‘your opinion of’) Mormon feminist women. I’m much more interested in how you ‘find’ (meaning–‘to locate’) Mormon feminist women.

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a Mormon feminist women. I thought that they were just mythical–like big foot, loch ness monster, etc.

  4. What I want to know is whether this study was done by a feminist? If so, isn’t it a self-serving study? And would you find the data convincing if it didn’t sound PC?

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Critiques of the study are on topic for this post. I’m not a social scientist so it’s beyond me.

  6. Kevin, I think it’s really funny that this study originally appeared in a journal called Sex Roles.

    I think the answers to your questions depend a lot on the age of the person answering.

  7. I’m much more interested in how you ‘find’ (meaning–’to locate’) Mormon feminist women.

    There are several over at fMh. :-)

  8. Feminists are totally sexy- no question about it. There is a sort of “untameable” aura about them that is quite attractive. I keep telling my wife she’s a hot feminist, but she resists labels. That “unlableable” thing just makes her even more irresistible.

  9. Brad Kramer says:

    Do strong, independent Mormon women make for good mates?

    The best.

  10. Do Mormon men in general recognize and value such egalitarian relationships, or is it your experience that they are holding out for the Donna Reed model?

    I can’t comment on Mormon men in general, but I can comment on the attitudes of the men I’ve run across in my dating life. As far as single LDS men in the San Francisco Bay Area who I have become acquainted with, they appear to be intimidated by strong, independent women. Perhaps I’m overgeneralizing and they’re really just intimidated by me, but as soon as guys find out that I’m an RM and that I’m pursuing a law degree, they avoid me like the plague.

    I really hope I’m proven wrong, though.

  11. The challenge with something like this is that the label of feminist can mean a bazillion different things. IMO, the study would have been better with a clear definition of feminism. Too subjective for my liking.

  12. StillConfused says:

    I don’t consider myself a feminist at all. I am extremely conservative politically. But I am an attorney and director of a charity, remodel houses, and generally fit a non-traditional role. Am I considered feminist for purposes of this discussion? In other words, is feminism a political affiliation or a lifestyle choice?

    Keri, I too find that LDS men are intimidated by successful women, at least at first. But I think it is just insecurity on their part. Show them that they don’t need to fear and they might find a strong woman to be sexy (like these other gents are saying).

  13. From my own personal experience[1], Mormon feminists are incredibly attractive.
    ——————
    1. I’m referring to my wife here.

  14. Do strong, independent Mormon women make for good mates?

    Well, yes. But such women may or may not be feminists.

  15. It depends on the feminist. I mean, there are lots of ugly feminists…

    On a more serious note, as a flip from what m&m said, it’s not just defining “feminist” that’s the problem, but we need to have a clear definiton of what a “strong romantic relationship” is as well.

    I’d say love is reliant on trust, respect, and communication.

  16. Why is it that no one will define what a “Mormon feminist” should be/could be/ is when this discussion comes up?

    Using the terms from the article, every woman that I know (LDS and non-LDS) expects to have a relationship of give and take, mutual respect, caring, sharing, honesty and sexual compatibility. I’ve never met a woman who considers herself a slave, and the only man I’ve ever personally known that treats his wife like property is a Catholic.

    If I have role satisfaction in whatever I choose to do and my husband respects my choice, am I a feminist? What if I think everyone else deserves the same thing? What if my personal choice is to stay home and be a mother for now?

  17. Come now, Matt W. We all know that some of the ugliest people on earth are found in priesthood meetings.

  18. I am a social scientist with training in survey methodology, and I read the actual published article. This is my take:

    First, it should be noted that, “The primary goal was to investigate whether feminism predicts conflict in heterosexual relationships.” There is a subtle difference between predicting conflict and predicting a “better relationship;” I kinda think some of the news reports have extrapolated beyond what the data were designed to support.

    Second (and this a considerable concern) this is not a representative sample, and the results are not generalizable. The study of adults sought volunteers from websites, including “Craig’s List, Social Psychology Network, and Psychology Research on the Net. In addition, requests for participants were posted using Google AdWords and on forums for various Yahoo! and Google Groups.” Are people who respond to such ads typical of the population? I dunno. And the study did not provide copies of the language in the ads.

    They got 471 responses to their requests, but some were excluded because they weren’t exclusively heterosexual, or because they were “not in a current relationship.” This exclusion criteria seems strange to me, because couldn’t feminism have contributed to the breakup of past relationships? But the more important point is that the respondents were not selected systematically, and thus there is no margin or error or response rate, or any other quantifiable measure of survey quality, and whether it was even valid to do the statistical analysis is quesitonable (I’m not a statistician).

    The other big concern about the sample is that 10% are from outside the US, and this is a concern in terms of acculturation and the meaning of feminist.

    This is non-trivial, considering that their operational definition of “feminism” included two items: “I am a feminist” and “My partner is a feminist,” answered on a six-point scale. This seems to confound the issue by not defining what was actually meant by “feminism.” And the thing is, there are questionnaires out there which have been tested for validity and reliability, which were designed to measure feminism. To me, settling for such vagueness injects an additional level of ambiguity in to the process.

    Plus, it is just a perception of the partner’s feminism, not interviewing the partner themselves (there are many solid marriage studies which interview both partners).

    I’m not saying it is worthless, but there are lots of caveats. I’d think National Science Foundation funding could buy us something a bit more solid.

  19. Whoops, I forgot to say that the final sample size for the survey of adults was 289, which was not a particular large sample size for supporting some of their analyses.

  20. Three things:

    1) The study defined “feminism” as follows: “a sense that men and women have the same worth” Not all members follow it fully, but that’s basic Mormon doctrine – especially as taught by our current leadership.

    2) Naismith beat me to my main objections.

    “The study found that a woman paired with a male feminist has a better relationship across the board–better in terms of relationship quality, equality, stability and sexual satisfaction. And men paired with female feminists have greater sexual satisfaction and greater relationship stability.”

    Compared to what? Their previous experiences? Another study of different people? Their expectations? What they thought it would have been with a “non-feminist” partner?

    By whose measures? (Relationship quality means what? Equality in what ways? Stability in years together? Sexual satisfaction measured how?)

    3) Finally, and this is HUGE, look at the first qualifier – a woman paired with “a male feminist”. The range of “good results” from a man who values his wife/partner is even greater than the results of a “feminist woman” paired with a non-feminist man. That point was glossed over in the title of this post, but it appears that if one partner is a “feminist” in this manner, the results are better if that person is the man. Of course, that’s if there is any legitimacy in the study in the first place.

  21. Ray and a few others have noted the problem. Feminism is such a problematic term. After all, in this day and age, most people this men and women are of equal worth. However there is a ton of debate as to what that entails. A lot of people (including women) who cringe at the label feminist agree with this term.

    It seems like one of those papers that is doomed to equivocative uses. (i.e. we’ll define “feminist” in this context like this and someone else will apply this study in a different context with a different definition…)

  22. Ray, I would think that people in the field must think that there’s at least some value, or it wouldn’t have been printed in a peer reviewed journal. Dismissing it entirely because certain terms aren’t defined to your satisfaction seems a bit arbitrary.

    Thanks for the summary of the problems, Naismith. Good info!

  23. It may not have been a particularly good survey, in terms of asking the right questions and surveying for the right answers, using vague, unquantifiable terms, but it sure succeeded in getting people talking about it. I think that that ends up being their main purpose.

    And I think that they are basing much on “stereotypes” rather than realistic people. The “stereotypes” being the “feminist” who tends to be ugly, man-hating, etc., and the “non-feminist” woman, who dresses in 1840s outfits and who says “yes master,” to her husband. It is a very flawed study to attempt, as Ray and Naismith both observed, once you get down to the actual political science.

    But in terms of educating the public and breaking “stereotypes,” this may be of good use.

  24. Ann, I have great respect for the concept of “peer reviewed” studies, but I also have seen some real stinkers that have been peer reviewed and published. I didn’t dismiss this one because of definition issues; I dismissed it because of what appears to be a systematic lack of clarity and direct correlative cohesion – both in terms of internal definitions *and* the eventual conclusions. I could have made the list in #20 MUCH longer, but I wanted to be as concise as possible.

    Seriously, if the point was that a relationship is better if the woman feels she is of equal worth – and even better than that if the MAN feels the woman is of equal worth . . . it doesn’t pass what I learned as the “DUH! test.” (Stated in other words, “If the average 5-year-old understands it almost unanimously, it’s not worth studying.”)

  25. Yeah, feminist broads are hot.

  26. I never answered the title question.

    As defined by the study – definitely.

  27. What I want to know is whether this study was done by a feminist? If so, isn’t it a self-serving study? (#4)

    Mormon professors at BYU do self-serving studies all the time. That may explain why they performed the study or hint at their interpretive leanings, but you’ve really got to get to the merits of the study and their arguments when it comes to assessing these things.

  28. I consider my wife to be a strong-willed (i.e., stubborn) woman who is fearless in some regards and timid in others. I find her to be a good fit for me and we have a very satisfying relationship across the board. I think the key is that we seek ways to support and love each other. I think that any relationship can have strong satisfaction if people seek the other’s happiness.

    I find assertiveness an attractive quality so long as it isn’t self-serving and dismissive of others. I do not think the study is objectively weighted and lacks statistical merit, but the topic is worthy of discussion.

  29. Joshua Madson says:

    yeah, the sexy ones are sexy. the others not so much

  30. #29 gets my vote as an instant classic.

  31. #29 Ditto what Ray said! Hilarious.

    Keri-
    I asked my husband if he thought that having an RM status, law as a major or strength and independence were “turn offs” for men, he glanced over at your actual words and replied “Her problem isn’t any of those things…she lives in San Francisco.Location, location, location”. (I’m still chuckling) I just had to share!

  32. The study defined “feminism” as follows: “a sense that men and women have the same worth” Not all members follow it fully, but that’s basic Mormon doctrine – especially as taught by our current leadership.

    Are you getting this from the study, or the press report about the study?

    I couldn’t find any definition of feminism in the study itself; it seemed to be entirely self-definition.

    It is true that in the press report, a therapist observed

    ‘If you’re married to someone with feminist values – someone with a sense that men and women have the same worth – that would be a key factor in terms of your health and satisfaction in the marriage, whether or not you call yourself a feminist.’

    I totally agree with that. But it wasn’t the study definition per se. And as she notes, many people who believe that men and women have the same worth do not define themselves as feminists.

  33. Tosh #31- That is pretty funny. I’ll use it as an excuse the next time some great aunt asks me for an explanation of why I’m single. :-)

  34. Depends…Some is a feminist someone who says ‘I’m going to go out and live my life,’ or is a feminist someone whose thoughts and acts seem focused on a percieved ‘oppressive patriarchy’? The former can be sexy, but the latter, not so much.

  35. My husband doesn’t consider either of us to be feminists (though I would disagree, for both of us–we’re just not of the feminazi/man-hating variety) and I think our attitude of mutual respect for the others’ intellect and opinions is a very positive aspect of our relationship. As Naismith noted, people were only self-described feminists, which I see as a major shortcoming of the survey (in addition to small sample size). In contrast to my self-described non-feminist husband, I dated a guy in college who would have described himself as a feminist, yet was remarkably intolerant of differences of opinion between us. That sort of thing just can’t be picked out with their questions.

    So, if (our admittedly non-random set of) men find strong, assertive women sexy, why do so many of us women think we need to tone ourselves down into sweet, nice, quiet copies of one another?

  36. Based on this statement from the original post,

    ‘What’s important is mutual respect,’ said Scheffler. ‘If you’re married to someone with feminist values – someone with a sense that men and women have the same worth – that would be a key factor in terms of your health and satisfaction in the marriage, whether or not you call yourself a feminist.’

    then my wife and I are both feminists, and find that totally compatible with gospel principles as well. It’s now been 35 years, and the relationship just gets better all the time.

    Interesting to note that my wife, who teaches school, and has some pretty strong opinions, gets along with everybody except the Neanderthal knuckledraggers (the “get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in bed” variety). We raised our daughter to be strong and independent, and she also teaches middle school, has her master’s degree, teaches a couple of classes at the local community college, and is the mother to the most amazing two year old granddaughter on the planet. She’s actually the best educated of all of our adult kids (five brothers). She is also married to a very nice, nurturing husband who treats her with the respect and equality she deserves.

  37. In my experience, most “Mormon feminists” are not TRUE feminists, but rather, they adopt only the slices of feminism that benefit them, while avoiding aspects of feminism that place burdens on them.

    For example, most “Mormon feminists” I know invoke feminist rhetoric to avoid doing housework and preparing meals, and to get more free time away from home than their husbands. They use feminist rhetoric to justify hiring house keepers and to dine out with great frequency. But when it comes to getting a job, they opt for a “traditional marriage” and choose to stay home and have their husband support the family on one income.

    The end result is that they feel entitled to all the benefits of a traditional marriage without any of the burdens of a traditional marriage. I don’t know if I have ever met a TRUE Mormon feminist. They might exist, but I haven’t come across one yet.

  38. Wow Andrew, that’s amazingly offensive. I doubt you’ve looked for a true Mormon Feminist if all you see are women who “avoid doing housework and preparing meals” using feminist rhetoric.

  39. For example, most “Mormon feminists” I know invoke feminist rhetoric to avoid doing housework and preparing meals, and to get more free time away from home than their husbands. They use feminist rhetoric to justify hiring house keepers and to dine out with great frequency. But when it comes to getting a job, they opt for a “traditional marriage” and choose to stay home and have their husband support the family on one income.

    There are wide variety of Mormon feminists over at fmh, and even though each one seems to have a slightly different view of feminism, and why they’re feminists, I can’t think of one that has written about being a feminist for the reasons you’ve described. If somebody did, I’m pretty sure they’d be called out about it.

    I find my feminist wife very sexy. As other posts have described, it’s hard to nail down exactly what it means sometimes. For myself qualities like strength, confidence, assertiveness and esteem are all traits that are part of being a feminist. I find all of those traits extremely sexy.

  40. So only feminists have strength, confidence, assertiveness and esteem?

  41. Steve Evans says:

    KyleM, that’s the definition of feminism. All other women are weak, timid, shy and worthless.

  42. KyleM–if you were responding to me, the reason I asked specifically about assertiveness and strength instead of simply asking about feminism is because I got the impression that those characteristics were deemed attractive by the men on the thread, without respect to agreement or disagreement with feminist ideology.

  43. Which is why any man who isn’t a feminist hates women. I get it now.

  44. kristine N, I agree with you. People with those good qualities (before they cross over to overbearing, arrogance, heavy handedness, egotism) are more attractive. I don’t believe good qualities, or things we find sexy, are held in monopoly by any ideology. Neither are negative traits. Joshua (29) is spot on.

  45. Jason Huber says:

    ‘If you’re married to someone with feminist values – someone with a sense that men and women have the same worth – that would be a key factor in terms of your health and satisfaction in the marriage, whether or not you call yourself a feminist.’

    it helps to view yourself as a “lesbian-trapped-in-a-man’s-body.”

  46. So only feminists have strength, confidence, assertiveness and esteem?

    Did you read my post? I said those were traits I found in feminists, I said nothing about non-feminists being weak, shy or worthless.

    I have no idea whether you hate women or not.

  47. jj, including those qualities in your argument supposes that they are inherent to feminism. There’s no point in bringing those qualities up if non-feminists also have those qualities.

  48. Steve,

    I’m hoping you were being sarcastic…when you said that any woman who doesn’t have those traits is “worthless”???????

  49. Steve Evans says:

    Of course I was serious. If only feminists have strength, confidence, assertiveness and esteem, I defy any non-feminist to publicly defend her worth. They don’t have the guts.

  50. Tosh, welcome to this world. You’ll learn to recognize the sarcasm and humor eventually.

  51. Jason # 45,

    I’ve tried every combination on my decoder ring, and your comment has to be the best in this thread, even topping # 29.

    So we’ve got sexy, hot feminist Mormon housewives, paired with the generally ugly lot in Priesthood meeting. With that in mind, I suspect that the men got the better part of the deal. My wife doesn’t refer to me as “hot”, just tall and responsible.

  52. Crap, kevinf, my wife doesn’t call me any of those three. All she ever says is that I make her laugh.

  53. Ray,

    See what I mean? We definitely got the better part of the deal.

  54. You people make me laugh.

    Are feminists sexy? Probably not any more than the average bear.

    It doesn’t much matter. Very few people stay physically sexy for long regardless of their veiws on gender roles. (Hence the advice to take a look at your future mother-in-law/father-in-law to see what your spouse will look like in twenty years.) I imagine those feminists who marry other feminists can look forward to a long and happy love life, but my guess is that marriages among sexists probably work out equally well. Now a feminist married to a sexist will likely result in a very un-sexy private war.

    Jami

  55. I don’t know, Jami. If “sexual satisfaction” is self-determined, and if many people believe that the best sex is “make up” or “apology” sex, and if two people who are otherwise completely incompatible fight more than those who are more compatible, and if (as Sheffler claims) “sexual desire is in that space between you where you’re able to flow back and forth,” and if a larger space between you allows you to flow back and forth more radically, maybe your feminist/sexist couple would score very highly on at least one of the measurements.

    In all seriousness, that’s the problem with the survey: The scenario presented by Jami (feminist/sexist couple) actually fits the “better” construct proposed in it – where only one person needs to self-identify as a feminist.

  56. Heaven help me, I think Sarah Barringer Gordon is sexy. Is that wrong?

  57. #55-hands Ray a glass of ice water after first paragraph and would offer to fan him but that might be viewed as anti-feminist… :-)

    #56-thanks a lot Jami. My husband won’t be getting any sexual satisfaction until I can get the image of my father in law out of my head…I’m totally creeped out…*shudder*

    #49-Steve
    If you are saying is that women who are weak, timid, or shy (not to mention gutless) are worthless…as in of no value…by definition that makes you a sexist.

  58. tosh–I thought you were a guy. Sorry. Is that sexist?

  59. Who cares if they are sexy anyway. Since they stay up all night blogging and if you are married to one you are lucky to see them in bed before you go to sleep.

  60. Now now, DH–that’s not very romantic of you…

  61. Kevin Barney says:

    #56, Sally is terrific; you’ve got good taste in women.

  62. I find feminist women quite attractive; I’ve got one at home right now. But I think I’m in the minority. I bet if you looked deeper into this study, you would find that the men who were happier and more sexually satisfied with feminists were themselves sympathetic to the feminist position- that’s probably how they ended up together in the first place. A random pairing of some LDS guy from Utah County and a feminist woman would probably be a disaster.

    This reminds me of that old joke “I like my coffee like I like my women–hot and black.” Which, as a Mormon, is irony piled upon irony.

  63. An LDS Guy 30 Years from Utah County says:

    Is “some LDS guy from Utah County” not a protected class? Since when are they fair game?

  64. #56 Jami-I don’t think so…just mistaken!

  65. Andrew’s comment might have been a bit trollish, but actually, it would be interesting to have a real definition. There is a “homemaker” subculture in some areas of Mormondom that matches what he described. I know of a few in Salt Lake and North Texas (both know personally and have heard described to me). I’ve heard a few of said homemakers define themselves as feminists, but haven’t identified what they stand for (not working, not raising the children, and not homemaking, but there must be something out there that they are doing.) It’s not a tremendous number of people, to be sure, but large enough that one time, whilst attending a ward not my own, I heard some mild chastisement of said subculture from the RS president.

    DW and I have a “nontraditional” arrangement of household duties and roles, so what the heck do I know.

  66. 54 – I’m sorry, but did anyone else find it hilarious that she says that feminists are no more sexy than the average bear?! :)

  67. 66. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogi_Bear

    Under catch phrases.

    And bears do inspire a lot of cuddling around my house. I’ve got at least a dozen stuffed loveables around here! :)

  68. I know where it comes from, particularly since I grew up on some of those cartoons, but you have to admit that my observation was pretty funny!