Saturday, August 6, 2011

Of signals and men (and women)

BBC News - Flashy sports cars are male 'short-term mating signal' (emphasis mine)
“Men who buy flashy sports cars might be more successful at getting a date, but women do not see them as good marriage material, a study suggests.
The US researchers discovered that women found a man who chose to buy a flashy, expensive product - like a Porsche car - more desirable than the same man who bought a non-luxury item, like a Honda Civic.

However, women are aware of a man's intentions in acting this way, the study says, because women found the man with the Porsche less desirable as a marriage partner than as a date.

"People may feel that owning flashy things makes them more attractive as a relationship partner but, in truth, many men might be sending women the wrong message."

According to the study, men who flaunt expensive, showy items like Porsches to woo potential sexual partners are like peacocks who display their tail feathers before potential mates.

But they said that not all men favoured this strategy - only those men who were interested in short-term sexual relationships with women.

So what does this say about women who are with these men? But women who drive flashy sports cars (or own other expensive items) are signalling something else:

Women, in contrast, did not spend excessively to attract men.

Jill Sundie, lead author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at University of Texas at San Antonio, said: "Obviously women also spend plenty of money on expensive things. But the anticipation of romance doesn't trigger flashy spending as it does with men."

On well, I guess I was wrong - I thought that women who drive flashy sports cars were signalling the same thing as men.

But what about women who dress provocatively? Is that a signal and if so what is it, because men are apparently confused. While it absolutely positively true that provocative dressing is not an invitation to be raped, is there any additional informational content in the attire?

Here are the signals that Forbes compiled when women dress ‘inappropriately’ at work:
  1. Studies show that women who dress in sexy attire in a professional environment are more often passed over for promotions than women who dress more conservatively.
  2. Wearing a micro-mini may send the message that you're trying to compensate for skills you lack in other areas.

And what about general attire - is there a signal there as well? From Yahoo:
  1. “My personal secretary was a very presentable young woman, well educated, neat, and pulled together. After about a year on the job, her wardrobe fell off a cliff: she started showing up in men’s wool pants that looked like they had been pulled from a dumpster and moth-eaten sweaters. It was a crystal clear sign that she no longer cared about the work and needed to move on.”
  2. “Over the two decades I’ve been practicing law, I’ve noticed women going from professional suits (great) to lovely dresses (all good) to strappy sundresses and flip flops (pathetic)! Dressing this way for Court takes away from their credibility. Clothes in the office have gotten very casual, which is okay, I suppose, but there are certain venues that one needs to respect and dress appropriately for.”
  3. “Too much skin and too much perfume. One of my sales reps is just shy of inappropriate: Her clothes are stylish and made with quality fabrics, but the skirts are a couple of inches too short, the heels a couple of inches too high, and the camisoles a couple of shades too sheer. A strapless cocktail dress has appeared a few times. I’m not going to complain to HR, but with the party look and the perfume, she makes people uncomfortable.”
  4. “My cosmetics studio is close to the beach. One day a young woman pranced in wearing a bikini and flip flops and asked for a job application. Needless to say, we were ‘out of applications’ that day.”
  5. “A couple of years ago, we merged with a French company. The new HR representative came to do a workshop with my team—a bunch of young science geeks who build robots in their spare time. Well, she was wearing one of those clingy wrap dresses that was cut very low in front. The guys definitely had their minds on something aside from the presentation that day.”
  6. “The charter school where I work strives for excellence and professionalism—from both students and teachers. Male teachers simply wear a tie, but for women the dress code is a little less clear, especially since many of them are right out of college and used to dressing in jeans. One woman is always straddling the line with her outfits and is the subject of regular teacher’s lounge debates about whether or not she has crossed it. Parent-teacher conference day rolled around and she appeared for breakfast in the cafeteria in black high-heeled boots, a tee-shirt mini dress with a keyhole back and a wide patent leather belt. I made a mental note to mention it to the principal before the parents came in the afternoon. At lunch I noticed the teacher wasn’t there—turns out the principal had already sent her home.”

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