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There are a fair number of studies in the field of American Undergraduate Looking For Intro Psych Credit Studies (also occasionally known as “psychology”) which purport to establish that (straight) women are more attracted to dominant men. (Here’s one, selected because it’s fairly typical of the genre and not behind a paywall.) Generally whenever these come up in Internet gender discussions it’s because someone wants to talk about how women are chasing after alpha male bad boys and not nice guys like him because women are terrible and therefore sad panda boners.

–I’m going to interrupt myself here to head off two kinds of comments that will make me sad. First, the dominance they’re talking about here isn’t BDSM dominance, it’s the “strong, rugged, competitive, tough, thinks they’re better than other people” kind. Second, blog posts like this always attract somebody who wants to tell us that they/their partner/their best friend/their pet hamster doesn’t like Trait X. Which, okay, but when you average the sexual desires of 3.5 billion women 11 million female American undergraduates, you’re going to inaccurately describe the desires of a lot of people. Maybe the majority of people.

Sad panda boner dude has made the unfortunate mistake of conflating “dominance” and “agreeableness” and “high status.” In all the research I’ve read, women have been fairly consistent about not liking assholes, in the sense of cruel, mean, or aggressive men. (In fact, there’s a whole subsection about that in the article I linked.) Also, I’m not sure what “attracted to high-status men” even means: am I attracted to high-status men because I tend to like guys who are smarter than me? Does this mean that men who like women who are smarter than them are attracted to high-status women? Is there any way of defining “status” so it doesn’t mean “anyone who is awesome in any way whatsoever”? Ugh I hate the word status so much you don’t even know.

Anyway, straight women as a class (or at least straight female American undergraduates) do appear to be more interested in men who are competitive, socially dominant, strong, tough, etc., etc.

…And this doesn’t reflect the predictions of feminist theory how?

I mean, on a very basic level, those results show that straight women as a class tend to be more attracted to men who successfully perform masculinity. Just like cultural influence tends to lead to straight men being interested in women who are conventionally attractive and perform femininity in the socially-approve-of way, cultural influence tends to lead to straight women being interested in men that properly perform masculinity. (Cultural influence has a huge effect on sexuality. I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.)

Or wander off to the radical feminism. As Dworkin’s Intercourse talks about, under patriarchy, violence, coercion, and the subordination of women are eroticized and constructed as inherent parts of sexuality (to varying degrees given how patriarchal the situation we’re talking about is). Crucially, those things are eroticized by both men and women.

So of course there are more women than men attracted to a socially dominant person; the entire patriarchy is screaming at them “You! Woman! Your subordination to a dude is totally sexxxeh!” The only surprising part about all of this is that women as a class are only attracted to socially dominant men and not outright assholes. Presumably this is because social conditioning can only go so far before the human urge not to hang out with douchebags triumphs.

The fact that feminist theory can explain this data doesn’t mean that the feminist explanation is necessarily right, of course. But I find it amusing that I can theoretically explain the whole “women like alpha males” meme with Dworkin.