Feminist activist women are masculinized in terms of digit-ratio and social dominance: a possible explanation for the feminist paradox


The feminist movement purports to improve conditions for women, and yet only a minority of women in modern societies self-identify as feminists. This is known as the feminist paradox. It has been suggested that feminists exhibit both physiological and psychological characteristics associated with heightened masculinization, which may predispose women for heightened competitiveness, sex-atypical behaviors, and belief in the interchangeability of sex roles. If feminist activists, i.e., those that manufacture the public image of feminism, are indeed masculinized relative to women in general, this might explain why the views and preferences of these two groups are at variance with each other. We measured the 2D:4D digit ratios (collected from both hands) and a personality trait known as dominance (measured with the Directiveness scale) in a sample of women attending a feminist conference. The sample exhibited significantly more masculine 2D:4D and higher dominance ratings than comparison samples representative of women in general, and these variables were furthermore positively correlated for both hands. The feminist paradox might thus to some extent be explained by biological differences between women in general and the activist women who formulate the feminist agenda.


Evolutionary psychology observes that the basic pattern of psychological differences between the sexes can be explained by their having essentially different innate adaptations associated with, most importantly, women investing considerably more resources into offspring through pregnancy and breast-feeding (e.g., ). Males are more aggressive and risk-taking on average, because these traits have paid off historically in terms of increased fitness, given that male-male aggression and risk-taking in the pursuit of resource acquisition have led to more offspring. This would thus explain why males tend to dominate professions where these traits are necessary for success, such as in the military, business, politics and even crime, where competition is high. Females are on average more sociable and empathic than males, because caring for offspring and negotiating social relations that promote their survival until they reach reproductive age ensured that the mother’s genes live on. Hence women dominate professions where these traits are maximally valued, such as teaching, social work, and in human and veterinary medicine (). This social dimension is tapped by one pole of the people-things dimension (), which exhibits an effect size in excess of 1.0 and ranks amongst the largest inter-sex differences ().
Another possible explanation of why feminism represents a minority position amongst women is therefore that the activists who shape feminist attitudes and beliefs are themselves generally more physiologically and psychologically masculinized than is typical for women (). This might for example explain their belief in sex-role interchangeability, as they may perceive the behaviors and interests of sex-typical women as incomprehensible and at variance with their own more masculinized preferences in terms of child-rearing and status-seeking. This might then lead them to infer that women in general have been manipulated to become different from themselves by external forces, as embodied by notions of social constructions or gender systems (e.g., , p. 84).  notes that “…many women are exposed to women’s and gender study courses and may find some of the information about sexism compelling, but not all of them go on to engage in women’s right activities to remedy those situations. Perhaps there is something about the willingness to claim the identity that helps people engage in activism” (p. 425). We suggest that this willingness may thus be related to a women’s level of masculinity.
All sex-dimorphic psychological traits vary substantially within each sex and overlap considerably across the sexes. It is therefore meaningful to assess each individual’s level of any sex-dimorphic trait in order to study, for example, relations between such traits or group differences. There is evidence that these differences are in part mediated by hormones, such as androgens, and they can therefore be described as being biologically influenced (), consistent with evolutionary psychological models (,). For example, testosterone differs between the sexes on the order of 2–4 times in foetal amniotic fluid, two times in pre-adolescents (), and about 10 times after puberty (). It seems that interests and preferences are more affected by prenatal hormone levels (e.g., ), behavioral tendencies such as aggression more by circulating hormone levels (e.g., ), and abilities such as mental rotation by both prenatal (e.g., ) and circulating hormone levels, at least in women (e.g., ). Reviews of the relationship between hormones and psychological functioning cover several hundred empirical papers that report medium to very large effect sizes (,).
We propose the feminists-as-masculinized-females theory to account for the host of observations reviewed above, and as a partial explanation for the feminist paradox. Taking the psychology of sex-dimorphic traits and biomarkers into account, this theory makes very specific predictions. Using indicators of prenatal testosterone exposure, feminist activists should exhibit significant evidence of physiological masculinization when compared to a sample of women in general. The most widely used index of prenatal testosterone exposure is 2D:4D, the ratio of the length of the index finger to the ring finger (i.e., ). Similarly, measures of personality sensitive to masculinity-femininity dimorphism should reveal substantive differences between feminist activists and women in general. This should be especially true of measures that tap components of personality related to aggressiveness, assertiveness, and social dominance.

2D:4D has been studied extensively in the past few decades and comprised more than 450 studies in early 2011 (). A large number of psychological variables have been related to 2D:4D, but many results are inconsistent across studies. In general, meta-analyses find many consistent sex differences but few consistent correlations between 2D:4D and psychological variables ().  did include dominance, but unfortunately only for the male participants. Significant correlations have been found for other psychological variables that may be related to dominance. For example, 25% of the variance in endurance running in athletes was explained by 2D:4D () and teenagers’ physical education grade was negatively associated with 2D:4D ().

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4158978/

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