Female animals portrayed as 'femme fatales' by researchers

Mar 01, 2013

Female animals are unfairly sexually stereotyped by researchers, according to experts at the University of St Andrews.

In a new report, the study suggests that cultural stereotypes may influence how we view animal .

Anthropomorphism – making animals seem like us – is a common problem for animal behaviour researchers. The effects can be quite obvious – giving animals human-like emotions for instance – or more subtle, using human cultural conventions or stereotypes to describe behaviour.

For instance, recent work has suggested that when it comes to sexual behaviour, researchers sometimes fall into a rather Victorian stereotype of the : males are considered dominant, strong and aggressive, whereas females are described as submissive, weak and passive. However, these stereotypes at best fail to capture the reality of male-female or at worst are just plain wrong.

Emily Burdfield-Steel, a member of the research group, said: "Our work suggests that scientists are not immune to cultural stereotypes and we need to think carefully about the words we use and what they convey."

The most obvious example where such stereotypes are wrong is sexual cannibalism: where it is females that are active killing, and eating males before or during sex.

So is the sexual cannibalism literature free of human stereotypes? To explore this question, researchers at the University of St Andrews compared the language used to describe sexual cannibalism, surveying the scientific literature on sexual and recording the words used to describe .

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that females were more likely to be described with active words and males with reactive words.

More surprisingly though many of the words used to describe females, while active, were also rather negative. 

For example, females were described as "aggressive", "voracious" and "rapacious". Use of these words suggests that researchers risk perpetuating a negative stereotype of sexually aggressive females, akin to that of the femme fatale in noir cinema.

Their results are published online in .

Explore further: Leaf-mining insects destroyed with the dinosaurs, others quickly appeared

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S000334721200557X

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers find gender bias in sexual cannibalism papers

Jan 17, 2013

(Phys.org)—A trio of biologists, Liam Dougherty, Emily Burdfield-Steel and David Shuker from the U.K.'s University of St Andrews, School of Biology, have found that when researchers write papers that are published in scientific ...

In spiders, size matters: Small males are more often meals

Sep 10, 2008

Female spiders are voracious predators and consume a wide range of prey, which sometimes includes their mates. A number of hypotheses have been proposed for why females eat males before or after mating. Researchers ...

Urine sprays during courtship send mixed messages

Mar 29, 2010

Walking through urine drives crayfish into an aggressive sexual frenzy. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Biology suggest that a urine-mediated combination of aggressive and reproductive behavi ...

The best both of worlds -- how to have sex and survive

Sep 20, 2007

Researchers have discovered that even the gruesome and brutal lifestyle of the Evarcha culicivora, a blood gorging jumping spider indigenous to East Africa, can’t help but be tempted by that ‘big is beautiful’ mantra ...

Sex in the morning or the evening?

Jun 26, 2007

Most research on sexual conflict ignores the fact that the fitness pay-offs of mating may change drastically over a short timescale, for example over a single day.

Recommended for you

A tiny new species of frog from Brazil with a heroic name

3 hours ago

The Atlantic Forest is a hotspot of biodiversity and one of the most species richness biome of anurans (frogs, tree-frogs, and toads) in the world. However, current levels of diversity might be still underestimated. ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

extremity
3 / 5 (2) Mar 01, 2013
Really interesting article, and good research. But, still seems biased, and here is why.

They note in the journal that the females were larger than the males for all species reviewed. For this to really have a strong argument, we need to see that the ratio of F/M cannibalism occurring is close to equal, where approximately half of the articles are based on (f) eating (m), and vice-versa. If all of the females are bigger in all of the articles reviewed and a majority of cannibalism occurring is (f) eating (m) in the research, then one cannot conclude that the researchers have a gender bias, as there is not adequate information to compare it to.

Do not mistake me, I am not disagreeing. I think its solid research. But, if they can balance out the sources and find more articles based on cannibalism of (m) eating (f), and factor out papers by the same researcher, you can draw a VERY strong conclusion that can used and applied to other realms and all sorts of other areas of research.
deatopmg
2 / 5 (3) Mar 01, 2013
What was the ratio of m:f researchers accused of bias? How do their individual responses compare?