Are Democratic Women Uglier?

Jason Micheli —  October 22, 2012 — 2 Comments

Gosh, I really hope people read more than the header.

According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, specific facial cues may be an indicator of party affiliation and the results suggest that women identifying with the Democratic Party appear…mannish?

What exactly is one to do with a study like this?

1. Wonder what worthless, juvenile interest prompted it?

2. Wonder why on earth this matters?

3. Wonder why psychologists couldn’t spend their time researching something that could be a bit more helpful to society?

4. Send it up in witty mockery?

That’s what Samantha Bee, from the Daily Show, does in Sunday’s NY Times. It’s pretty hilarious and not only because she works in both references to Smoky and the Bandit and ‘boob honking.’

DID you know that science can teach you all sorts of amazing things about how the world works and why it works that way and how the dinosaurs probably all had feathers? Did you know that it can also teach you things that you never wanted to know and now not-so-secretly wish you didn’t?

I am referring to a recent study out of the U.C.L.A. Department of Psychology that determined that the women of the Grand Old Party have more feminine faces than those of their female Democratic colleagues. In conducting the study, researchers analyzed the faces of the House of Representatives in the 111th Congress based on objective measures of feminine facial structure. The faces were then rated according to gender-typical femininity, and shown to undergraduate students, who (in exchange for course credit) were asked to judge which political party they thought each face was affiliated with. The students guessed correctly with surprising accuracy.

The resulting data suggested that the more conservative a female politician is, the more likely her face will conform to subtleties that are considered typically feminine. The flip side being that more liberal female politicians tend to have less feminine facial structures. As in: they’re more masculine, I guess. As in: terrific.

The researchers call it the “Michele Bachmann Effect.” Funny, but that’s exactly how I refer to the tingly feeling that overtakes me when I read or hear something so profoundly ridiculous that I briefly consider living the rest of my life in monkish isolation on a mountaintop with only the cold wind for companionship.

Listen, anybody who has ever attended the Democratic National Convention knows that Democratic women prefer flats over heels, by an estimated ratio of 10 to 1. After all, if the sensible shoe fits… But this is anecdotal. It’s the type of research done after three days of being yelled at on the convention floor by people in 10-gallon hats, with only a steady diet of Coke Zero and SunChips to keep you upright. You’re punchy. Who can blame you for slumping on the floor outside a women’s washroom and counting people’s feet as they go by?

But this U.C.L.A. study contains measurable scientific data collected by actual professional scientists who have just basically given us the green light to go ahead and judge a book by its cover. And though the data offered no evidence as to the relative “attractiveness” of either party’s representatives (as the face-modeling software controlled for superficial markers like makeup and hairstyles), why would that stop anyone from conflating gender typicality with sex appeal? The answer is ha ha, of course it wouldn’t, but I adore your innocence.

I can’t figure out which part of this story is the most unforgivably retro. Is it the part where the Internet is flooded by a tsunami of bickering over which political party has the “prettier” members of Congress and/or prettier voters? Followed by smug accusations of sour grapes, actual sour grapes, and finally resentful grumbling by lots of women in comfort clogs, maybe even including me. (It’s none of your business but I require them for the back support. Take it easy, I have a doctor’s note.)

Or is it the part that suggests that a key factor in the electability and, dare I say, presence of a female politician on a national stage can be dependent on something as random as the placement of her eyebrows? Are there really subtle ways in which people would consider a woman suitable for office that are rooted in their visceral reaction to the width and prominence of her cheekbones? Well, probably.

All I know is that once I finished reading the study I’m pretty sure 1970s Burt Reynolds reached across the passenger seat of his Trans Am to give me a wink and a boob honk.

Thankfully, the “sex typical” phenomenon applies only to female members of Congress. When it comes to male members of Congress, the results of the study are somewhat less conclusive. So guys, feel free to go to work on behalf of your constituents without wondering for a second whether psych undergrads around the country are hotly debating whether or not you got hit at birth with an ugly stick. Don’t you worry your pretty little man-heads about it.

In the end, of course, it’s hard to know what the take-away is for voters: What should bother us more — that a scholarly journal decided to float this information out into the pre-election maelstrom of partisan nastiness or that some people will relish the findings and distribute the study as a voting guide?

Perhaps over time the answer — and the usefulness of this research — will reveal itself. But until that comes to pass, perhaps science could take a crack at something I can use right now, like time manipulation, since I can’t help but yearn for the person I was before reading this study. The person not compelled to consider the possibility that her own facial structure could be construed as “mannish.” By a certain light.


Jason Micheli


2 responses to Are Democratic Women Uglier?

  1. What if you were a Democrat who later became a Republican….would you become “prettier?” (The advertising industry should capitalize on that one!)

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