In Animal Behaviour you could now find an article by Kristina Karlsson Green and Josefin Madjidian on the possible use anthropomorphic sex-stereotypes in sexual conflict research. Probably all research on animal behaviour is at the risk of using anthropomorphic descriptions and interpretations but perhaps research dealing with males and females is at special risk. This may be so because sex role stereotypes are among the most common stereotypes in Western society, something which may be difficult to get rid of although we as researchers strive for objectivity. Differences in how the sexes’ are characterised and how research tends to focus on certain aspects of the theory for males and other aspects of the theory for females has been discussed within sexual selection research. Although sexual conflict research also has an extensive focus on the sexes, to our knowledge, our study is the first which addresses how the sexes are conceptualised within this research field. Below you could read the abstract and here you can find the article. You can also find a previous discussion on our blog where the outline of this study first was presented.
Sexual selection research has always been a subject for debate. Much of the criticism has concerned the imposition of conventional sex roles based on an anthropomorphic view of animals imposed by the researcher. This conventional view may have hampered research, for example from acknowledging male mate choice. Sexual conflict theory is a fast-growing research field, which initially stems from sexual selection research. We investigated how the sexes are described in sexual conflict research and what characteristics they are assigned. We assessed these topics with literature studies of (1) the terminology used and (2) what parameters are incorporated in sexual conflict models. We found that males and females are consequently described with different words, which have different connotations regarding activity in the conflict. Furthermore, theoretical models mainly investigate conflict costs for females, although costs for both sexes are necessary for coevolutionary dynamics. We argue that sexual conflict research uses stereotypic characterizations of the sexes, where males are active and females reactive. Thus, previous discussions on the use of anthropomorphic terms in sexual selection seem not to have had any impact on sexual conflict research, which is why the topic of stereotyping the sexes is still of current importance. We suggest that scientific gains can be made by eliminating a sex-stereotyped perspective.