By Khandis Blake (Australia)
I have three main lines of research. My first line of research concerns the relationship between Western cultural sexualization, female agency, and sexual aggression. My work suggests that Western cultural sexualisation of women increases perceptions that women are sexually open and thus lack agency. Perceptions of low agency, in turn, increase the extent to which others are likely to target those women for sexually aggressive advances (a ‘sexually openness → agency → sexual aggression likelihood’ mediation effect; Blake, Bastian, & Denson, 2016). Further work that I am in the process of publishing additionally shows that men are more aggressive toward sexually open women after romantic rejection.
My second line of research concerns biological and social psychological forces giving rise to women’s agency and sexual openness (the relationship between agency, sexual openness, and ovarian hormones/fertility). I have resolved methodological concerns in the fertility effects field by investigating the accuracy of indirect counting methods used for estimating women’s fertility. Results consistently showed that indirect fertility estimation methods were highly inaccurate, so I developed a best practice protocol for recruiting women in their fertile phase (Blake, Dixson, O’Dean, & Denson, 2016). Using this protocol, I find that women express more assertiveness when they are fertile and that this effect is mediated by high estradiol and low progesterone (Blake, Bastian, O’Dean, & Denson, 2016). I also find that women implicitly associate themselves with high sexual openness when they are fertile and place more monetary value on sexualized clothing when estradiol is high and progesterone is low (a hormonal pattern reflective of high fertility).
Findings from these studies show that there is a mismatch between perceptions of sexually open women’s agency and their actual agency. My initial findings show that men perceive that sexually open women lack agency, yet my subsequent work shows that sexually open women are actually more agentic. For various reasons, I argue that perceiving that sexually open women lack agency—even when incorrect—may increase the likelihood that men will approach women for sex. In this sense, men’s perceptions of low agency in women may engender sexual approach. Conversely, I argue that women’s high agency when fertile may support and retain female mate choice and their ability to intrasexually compete when conception is likely. Men’s perceptions of sexually open women’s low agency, and women’s corresponding display of high agency when sexually motivated, likely function to increase the reproductive success of both sexes.
Most recently, in my third line of research I have begun to explore how behavior, attitudes, and culture associated with gender are influenced by the interplay between biological and economic forces. My collaborators and I propose that gendered phenomena such as attitudes toward abortion, domestic violence, and the gender pay gap arise partially out of mating market dynamics. When the supply of available mates of one sex is limited, attaining and controlling resources that attract this scarcer sex becomes paramount. This environment increases competition between members of the more abundant sex, and drives up the intersexual bargaining power of whichever sex is in deficit. My most recent work focuses on how mating market dynamics such as these profoundly influence the behavioral and physical traits that characterize masculinity and femininity. I am particularly interested in how the mating market affects male and female hormones, and affects behaviors associated with fluctuations in testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone.
Khandis Blake is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Evolution and Ecology Research Centre at The University of New South Wales.