One of my majors is anthropology, and one interesting topic in human behavior, gender theory, and related topics is secondary sexual characteristics – that is, differences between the sexes aside from genitalia.
There is enormous variation among humans physical attributes, even within the same sex. Here, we see a blonde-haired, light-skinned tall woman, beside a short, dark-haired, dark-skinned woman.
A classic example of secondary sexual characteristics is the difference peacocks and peahens:
Left to right: Peacock & peahen
For example, in humans, as with many other animals, males tend to have more muscle mass and be heavier overall than females. They tend to have less subcutaneous fat, resulting in more rigid skin. Other differences include an enlarged larynx (“Adam’s apple”), more body hair, and, the topic of today’s entry, greater height.
These differences may not sound very important in the big picture, but to many people, they are a point of constant stress, frustration, even fear and hatred. For people who identify as a gender not “traditionally” associated with their sex assigned at birth, the discovery of these and other differences can be, in extreme cases, life-threatening. For many people, it’s not simply a matter of wishing to be taller or thinner out of vanity, but to not have to worry about others suspecting or finding out private information about their bodies and identities.
I’m not going to get into the natural-selection reasons for these differences in today’s post, but I will be talking about the fact that for whatever biological and/or cultural reasons, many straight women prefer partners who exhibit male secondary sexual characteristics in spades. I was interested in testing this statement, so I ran a very unscientific experiment using myself and a popular dating website.
I recognize that I didn’t control for nearly all the variables, and that the sample size was ridiculously small and the trial period far too short. However, I think it turned up some interesting, if unreliable, data. I’d like to see more study on this. Some background:
On a certain popular dating website, a profile with real information and photos, indicating that the user is 5’5″ tall (my real height), will receive a statistically significant fewer number of profile visits from matches/other users, during a 3-week control period, than the same profile indicating that the user is 6’0″ tall, during a 7-day test period.
Sample size = 1
Trial period = 28 days (21 days control, 7 days under test condition)
Real height: 5 feet 5 inches tall (reported during control period, days 1-21 of experiment)
Reported height during test period: 6 feet 0 inches tall (days 22-28 of experiment)
I attempted to control for other variables by…
1) Logging in for exactly one hour each day (7-8 AM: Other users can see when you’re online and when you last logged in) during both the 3-week control period and the 1-week trial period
2) Visiting no other user profiles during the experiment (since other users can see who visits their profiles and when)
3) Sending no private messages to other users during the entire experiment
4) Since profiles bump to the top of matches’ results when edited, I edited my profile once each day (adding an unnecessary but grammatically-correct word one day, then deleting it the next, back & forth at the same time daily) during the entire experiment
5) Since profiles bump to the top of matches’ results when you answer additional match questions, I answered 10 additional match questions each day of the experiment. You can make your answers private after the fact, so each day, I set my answers to the 10 questions from the day before to private, so that I would have the same number of visible, answered questions each day of the experiment (although the total number of answered questions did increase by 10 each day, 280 total during the experiment).
1) Obviously the sample size is way too small
2) Obviously the trial period is far too short
3) By answering additional match questions each day of the experiment, even though I controlled for the number of answers *visible* to other users, it’s possible that throughout the experiment, my profile was more-accurately matched to others’. This could account for some of the increased views throughout the experiment. This probably matters very little, as I’ve built up a very-sizable backlog of answered questions (~1500 total, including ~300 visible) over the last several years, long before I started this experiment, so the total number of answered questions likely affected the results very little.
4) I’m sure there are many other errors, but whatever… It was for fun 🙂
Note: During the trial period (the last 7 days), when my profile indicated that my height was 6 feet tall, I put the following disclaimer near the top, in the body of my profile:
“Note: I’m running a *very* unscientific experiment, with a sample size of 1 and far too short of a trial period. The purpose of the experiment is to find out how my reported height affects the number of profile views. My real height is 5’5″, and I will reset my profile to reflect this on 7-24-11.”
so as not to deceive anyone. I ensured that this disclaimer, via the way the software is set up, was not visible to visitors until those users had already clicked on the profile.
From OkTrends statistical analysis blog; see link at bottom
I haven’t charted these up, but…The average daily number of visitors to the control profile per day during the 21-day control period – reflecting my real height of 5’5″ – was 0.62 visitors per day (13 visitors over 21 days).
The average daily number of visitors to the test profile during the 7-day test period – reflecting a height of 6’0″ – was 1.57 visitors per day (11 visitors over 7 days).
This represents an increase of approximately 250% over the control profile.
Additional notes: Out of a total of 24 visitors during the experiment, 92% (22) identified as women and 2 identified as men. Age range of visitors was 19-31 (I’m 27) with a mean age of 25.3 and a median age of 25. Of the 24 visitors, 22 identified as straight and 2 identified as bisexual (both of the bisexual visitors also identified as women, by the way).
Now as I said, this was a *very* unscientific experiment, so don’t take these results too seriously. I do think it’s interesting, though.
So, it appears that at least insofar as the very small sample size of this experiment shows, those otherwise interested in visiting my profile preferred me 7 inches taller than I am 🙂 As a straight man and LGBTQ ally, I admit that I have mixed feelings about this. I hardly consider height to be a high priority (har har) in relationships – far from it (har har again) – but I do recognize that there are probably many trans women who would give their right foot (okay, really, enough with the puns now) to be 5’5″ instead of, say, 5’8″ or even taller. As much as I’ve always disliked being short – and it really does, in my experience, make attracting my preferred sex more difficult, not to mention reaching the books on my top shelves – I do appreciate that I have an attribute that some people would be very happy to have. And even though that doesn’t help me much, it does put things in perspective a bit… things could be quite a bit more difficult for me than they are.
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, and posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website ishttp://www.DaveMuscato.com.
Danielle Muscato is a civil rights activist, writer, and public speaker. She has appeared on or been quoted in Rolling Stone, People, Time, The New York Times, SPIN, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard Magazine, and on MTV News, VH1, NPR, MSNBC, ABC, "The Real Story" with Gretchen Carlson, The O'Reilly Factor, Huffington Post Live, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Raw Story, CNN, CBS, and Howard Stern
Danielle is the former Director of Public Relations for American Atheists. She is also a board member of MU SASHA (University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists & Agnostics).
Her website is http://www.DanielleMuscato.com.
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