Psychology Today: "Black Women Less Attractive than Other Women"....and Plants and Animals, Too.
On Monday morning, Psychology Today published an article by blogger Satoshi Kanazawa, who argued that, based on a study in which respondents were allegedly interviewed over a period of seven years (on an objective and subjective level), Black women are viewed as less physically attractive than other women. While the article disappeared from the site by lunchtime, many people (who probably knew what was coming) .pdf’d and re-posted the article -- charts and all -- in its entirety.
(Credit Image: Courtesy of Laina Dawes via Flickr)
Based on averages, Kanazawa writes that Black women have a lower average level of physical attractiveness in comparison to non-Black women. Why? Well, because Kanazawa believes that we have more testosterone:
Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.
Did I also mention that Kanazawa seems stunned that not only are Black men viewed as more attractive (most likely because of their large penises, I'm sure), but that Black women are so delusional that we actually think that we are more physically attractive than non-Black women? This is even more surprising to Kanazawa, since we, as a whole, are not as smart as our non-Black counterparts. His confusion about Black men being perceived as more attractive is because -- as we all know -- they sure aren’t as intelligent as white or Asian men, fo’sho. And Black women? Well not only are we dumb but with the extra testosterone not only are we mannish, we also are fat:
Black women are on average much heavier than nonblack women. The mean body-mass index (BMI) at Wave III is 28.5 among black women and 26.1 among nonblack women. (Black and nonblack men do not differ in BMI: 27.0 vs. 26.9.) However, this is not the reason black women are less physically attractive than nonblack women. Black women have lower average level of physical attractiveness net of BMI. Nor can the race difference in intelligence (and the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness) account for the race difference in physical attractiveness among women. Black women are still less physically attractive than nonblack women net of BMI and intelligence. Net of intelligence, black men are significantly more physically attractive than nonblack men.
Quite honestly, I was a bit surprised at the visceral reaction across the blogosphere to this article. Not because I didn’t think it was horribly offensive pseudo-scientific bullshit, but because in the past couple of years, several articles and news reports have tried to argue the same theory, sans scientific analysis: that Black women are not generally perceived as attractive and/or sexually desirable; that we are always in competition with White women; that the First Lady, Michelle Obama (who has been compared to various animals by the media), is an Angry Black Woman; and that we are not wanted – even by our "own" men. So why is this article any different?
Because of where the article was published (even though some Facebook friends sent me posts that eventually proved otherwise) and Kanazawa’s pedigree (if you ignore his fantasy of Anne Coulter being President of the United States, that is), one might think that on first glance, that he might actually have some salient points. Notice that I said "on first glance? But even Kanazawa’s blog colleague at Psychology Today, Mikhail Lyubansky quickly refuted Kanazawa's method of gathering this evidence. First, Lyubnsky asks, who are the mysterious interviewers and interviewees? What is their ethnic / cultural background? That might account for the results, if this study even took place,:
The point is that there are also group differences, not in attractiveness (as Kanazawa claims), but in cultural messages about what is and is not attractive. Standards of beauty, like most other beliefs, are socialized and change not only from place to place but also over time. In both the United States and England, (where Kanazawa lives and works), standards of beauty are essentially "White" standards, because whites comprise the majority of the population and have disproportional control over both media and fashion. And while it is not just White respondents who are socialized this way (internalized racism has been well documented), it is certainly the case that White Americans and Europeans (who are less likely to have received more positive messages about Black beauty) would show the strongest anti-Black bias.
Danielle Belton from Black Snob, who also pointed out the holes in Kanazawa’s theory, says this:
(And) Ignoring that we live in a Western society where the "ideal" of beauty for women is long hair, light eyes, light skin, thin noses, high cheekbones and big eyes, is rather ridiculous. People didn't decide they liked that because of "science." I could of swore that came from centuries of what Europeans thought was attractive. I'm sure that if the Chinese or Japanese had been the ones to invade everywhere and make slaves/concubines/colonies out of all of us our idea of what's attractive would be DRAMATICALLY different....No particular race "owns" attractiveness. All races are fully capable of creating both excruciatingly beautiful and incredibly fugly people. This is what makes attractive people "special." You can look at them and go, "That Rihanna is so good looking I do not care that she cannot sing. Let me go just write her a check right now.
The appearance of the offending article also raised some interesting questions online, such as why would an Asian man seem to have such a hatred for Black folks? Where’s the love, my brother? In response, Some commenters have questioned the legitimacy of Asians discussing stereotypically African physical attributes. From Madame Noire:
I find it in-ter-est-ing that the author of the study is Asian, a group that is increasingly obsessed with looking more European, and taking drastic measures like getting their skin lightened and having their eyelids hacked to look the part. To be fair, not all men feel this way. Josepha Cha, a 19-year-old Korean and one of my Facebook friends who runs a group called “Asian Men Black Women Unite” says, “The scientist must [have been] smoking crack when he conducted this useless research. First of all, physically black women hands down are the most attractive women on the God-given earth. Black women have nice skin, hair, etc. This is why you see other women of race trying to imitate [them].”
So again, why would Psychology Today publish the results of a study in which the results could be easily dismissed? Why would they want to contribute to the ongoing denigration of Black womanhood?
Because, like a lot of mainstream online publications, they simply don’t care about the people, Black women (and men, for that matter) that they would attempt to demean and humiliate. What was obviously important to the magazine wasn’t the quality of the report; it was the controversy that the article would raise that would drive traffic (and impress advertisers) to the site.
It’s not the first time the magazine has stirred the pot. Last November, Amy Alkon wrote a ridiculous post called “The Truth About Beauty” (a quote from the article: “No man will turn his head to ogle a woman because she looks like the type to buy a turkey sandwich for a homeless man or read to the blind”) that spurred a lot of controversy (and a brilliant comeback from BlogHers Suzanne Reisman and Rita Arens).
And after all, with the racial resentment over a Black American President, jabs at his Black wife such as I mentioned above, and hell, even television news programs like Nightline dedicated to the pathetic state of single Black women, why not join in on the fun? More important, who really cares?
The people who would take this article seriously are probably the same people who believe that Obama isn’t an American citizen and that he is a descendant of Adolf Hitler -- or the love child of Eva Braun and Fidel Castro. Black women bloggers, journalists, activists and academics who have dedicated their life’s work into refuting racist and sexist claims about their womanhood, rarely, if ever get the media spotlight, and if they do, they are quickly dismissed as the dreaded Angry Black Woman.
So perhaps there wasn’t a thought to the fact that this article might offend someone, but what is offensive is that it seems like a mainstream publication would publish the ravings of someone with a very questionable background, yet those who speak openly about race and racism face a substantial amount of hostility.
Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture
Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com
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