Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Obesity, Lesbians, Federal Money, Bias and Blindness

Okay, so it's all over the internet that the Federal government decided to fund a multimillion dollar study to find out why lesbians are fat. That's one way to put it.

The Atlantic writes a couple more:

All of which is to say, these headlines would have been accurate as the inverse: "Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why straight men are fat." Or: "Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why gay men have rocking bodies." Or perhaps: "America is overweight (except for gay men?) and scientists are trying to determine why."

Which is not quite true, though. Read this quote from one of the researchers, which appeared in a CNS news piece:

“It will be impossible to develop evidence-based preventive interventions unless we first answer basic questions about causal pathways, as we plan to do,” they said. “Our study has high potential for public health impact not only for sexual minorities but also for heterosexuals, as we seek to uncover how processes of gender socialization may exacerbate obesity risk in both sexual minority females and heterosexual males.”

So, you can see that it is not a study to see why lesbians are fat at all. It is a study to see how processes of gender socialization make lesbians fat.

That's just sad. A total blindness on the part of the researchers. Heck, even a caller on the Rush Limbaugh show can come up with an obvious, sensitive, scientific and rational explanation that has nothing to do with "processes of gender socialization".

The lesbian woman doesn't have to deal with a visual, shallow man. She just has to please her partner, and usually women are less concerned with physical attributes and more concerned with ... their personality and so forth. And the homosexual man, he has to please a man, who is visual and shallow. Therefore, if a woman doesn't want to give up all her cookies and it's okay with her partner, no big deal, okay?

I've tidied up the quote out of habit, but the "likes" and "you knows" are there in the Limbaugh transcript if you really need them.

So, let's pretend for a moment we were actual scientists, trying to identify the possible factors that lead to 75% of lesbians being obese, as compared with 50% of heterosexual American women. Let's list the theories, shall we?

  • Whatever brain and body chemistry causes homosexuality in women also predisposes them to obesity. (The "Made That Way" Theory)
  • Their lovers' acceptance of bodily variation reduces the stigma associated with obesity in homosexual women, thus allowing more of it. (The "Less Stick" Theory)
  • Since women have a greater acceptance of bodily variation, some obese heterosexual women may choose to become adaptive homosexuals. (The "More Carrot" Theory)
Okay, so there's a few obvious theories that fit the observed facts and can be intuited by anyone possessing even a rudimentary understanding of sociology, biology, and psychology. Notice, none of those theories require "processes of gender socialization" in order to apply. In fact, I can't figure out what the so-called scientists that produced this report might even mean. Let's pretend they're not total wackos, and make up another theory or two, hey?
  • Some traumatic events that cause women to become homosexual predispose those women to (over)eating disorders. (The "Trauma Implant" Theory)
  • Some homosexual women unconsciously overeat in order to become less attractive to men. (The "Guys are Icky" Theory)
  • Gender socialization in heterosexual women gives them a gender-identity-based ability to resist obesity. (The "Better To Be A Babe" Theory)
Those are reasonable ideas, and not particularly controversial in the abstract and on the margin. The percentage of lesbians who have experienced sexual trauma is extremely high, at least according to the few dozen that I've had intimate conversations with. (I used to live and hang out near Santa Cruz and Monterey, California.)

But, here's the question: If you studied those last three theories, and found them to be true, what would the resulting societal prescription look like? Nothing that requires theories of how "processes of gender socialization" cause the problem in lesbians, right? The only gender socialization in any of those theories is the one that draws heterosexual women to emulate Barbies.

If this study was designed or overseen by the person that wrote that revealing quote, and if the study authors really see "gender socialization" as the likely source of the critical difference that needs to be studied, then the study isn't science, it's some kind of pseudo-scientific social agitation, having nothing to do with obesity at all. They have their eyes closed to several obvious factors that each is an order of magnitude more significant than anything having to do with gender socialization.

Dang, I'm starting to type that phrase without quotes...

It's too bad, because an actual study on the reason for the difference might be interesting and worthwhile. Don't expect anything rational or insightful out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass, though. Sigh.

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