Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rewards and Punishments for your Chosen Style

Education really can change the way you think about the world. It's really amazing the way taking one class, introductory psychology, 15 years ago could have changed the way I think about human behaviour so much! In that class I first learned about behaviourism and operant conditioning--the idea that people will do and continue to do things that will bring them rewards or avoid and stop doing things that bring them punishments. People do this and so do animals. So basically when people say they do something just because they "like it"  I don't really take that seriously. Instead I just accept that they are getting some reward for that behaviour so they keep on doing it. The reward could be external (e.g., attention from others, money, praise, etc.), or internal (e.g., it feels good to their senses, makes them feel happy, calms them etc.). Sometimes people don't even realize that they are getting rewards or that they stopped doing other things because they were receiving punishments (e.g., frustration, lack of attention, boredom etc.).

In my writing I often talk about doing what's right for you in your given situation (because what is rewarded or punished varies by situation) and doing things that are beneficial (rewarding) and not harmful for you (punishing). This fits with my last few posts because defense mechanisms (previous post), understanding the pro-woman line (previous post), and acting feminine in order to be treated better (previous post) all make sense under operant conditioning. There is no labeling women as strong or weak, smart or dumb, leaders or followers, independent or brainwashed, basically no judgements about the validity, righteousness, or intelligence of their ideas and choices. As long as what they are doing brings rewards and avoids punishments their behaviour makes sense. The person is not attacked (no ad hominem attacks). BUT what one can argue is about is whether a person is behaving in a way that will get the BEST, most FREQUENT, and most LIKELY rewards from PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY MATTER (e.g., have power to make their lives better). Their choice of behaviour can be criticized on these grounds because their actions may be against their long-term best interests. I think this may best be explained with the examples below.

Example 1) A young woman dresses like a male gangster because she feels afraid of her neighborhood and sad and angry about her life. She says she does it because she likes it, it is her way of expressing herself, and a lot of people do it:
 Rewards (pros)
-she feels powerful and invincible when others fear her
-safe, protected, and accepted when in a group of friends dressed the same way
-pride and confidence when others admire her style and dress in the same way (because others think she's cool)
-comfortable because the clothes are loose and warm
-safe and protected when she passes men on the street who ignore instead of harass her

Punishments (cons)
- she feels anger and fear when police follow her around and harass her because she looks like a criminal
-disappointment and hopeless when she is turned down for jobs
-frustration, disappointment, and hopelessness when teachers have low expectations from her, fail to encourage her, and punish her more harshly than others
-sadness, loneliness, anger, and rejection when family and past friends criticize her appearance and behaviour and abandon her
-sadness and loneliness when people stare, avoid, or negatively stereotype her
-fear and anger when other people challenge her and act aggressively
-feels inadequate and unattractive when men don't pay attention to her

For some women the enjoyment of the rewards will outweigh the punishments and they will not change. Basically for the woman who dresses gangster, feeling safe, protected, and powerful outweighs the unpleasantness of being avoided and thought of as a trouble maker. However for others the punishments will be too much and they will abandon their gangster style. For other women the fear of the punishments will prevent them from ever attempting to dress like a gangster. In a safe environment this behaviour would be against a woman's best interests because it would unnecessarily get her in trouble with parents, some friends, teachers, strangers, and the police.
Saana Lathan, Gabrielle Union, and Nia Long, I just call them
EBW Gold! They are just gorgeous!!!

Example 2) A young woman dresses like a girly-girl because she wants to be liked by other women and men and does not currently feel liked or attractive. She says she does it because she likes it, it's her way of expressing herself, and a lot of others do it.
Rewards (pros)
-she feels powerful because she can get others to treat her well and do things for her
-cared for and adored because people treat her like she is delicate and precious
-pride and confidence because other women admire and compliment her
-attractive and desirable because men notice her and ask her out
-pride and confidence because she looks a lot like the women who are held up as ideal by society

Punishments (cons; so I did finally come up with some drawbacks to being ultra-feminine)
- she feels disappointment, frustration, and sadness when some people assume she is weak, unintelligent, or brainwashed or another negative stereotype because she dresses in a traditional manner (e.g., whitewashed)
-sadness, disappointment, loneliness when other women criticize, insult, and ridicule her out of jealousy
-hopelessness and frustration trying to maintain her appearance and live up to beauty and fashion standards
-discomfort from wearing certain things (e.g., nylons, high heels, uncomfortable garments etc.).
-annoyance and discomfort from the unwanted attention of some men

Once again for some women the enjoyment of the rewards will outweigh the punishments and they will not change. For someone who takes this route the attention, approval, and favoritism outweighs the cattiness from other women and the hassle of maintaining their appearance. For these women (like myself) the appeal of the rewards outweighs the punishments because the people most important to me will be supportive. For other women the fear of the punishments will prevent them from ever attempting to dress like a girly girl. It could be the case that this behaviour could get a woman in trouble in a dangerous environment where it is better to go unnoticed or where jealous women have the power to make her life miserable.


  1. It's funny after reading this post I remembered my tomboy days in high school. I would dress and act like a boy because I thought it was cool. I rarely smiled and people were afraid of me. I felt powerful back then. Now that I think about it, I realised that I was only dressing and acting like that because I was afraid of the bullies and I didn't want anyone to beat me up lol. So I sorta acted like them.

    Then of course I grew up and entered the workforce, that's when I felt pressured to dress more feminine. I was working around a bunch of women who were so much more feminine than I was, so I started dressing like them. I did still have the hard tomboyish, independent attitude so I was basically turning off a lot of people. Thankfully I've learned how to act more girly. Now I wouldn't change me for anything in this world. I do enjoy the rewards of being a feminine woman which totally outweighs the drawbacks :)

  2. That's so funny; I recently had my transition period! The reason why I started my blog was because I needed a place where I could transition from being a punk hipster to a feminine woman. Where I live, it's DANGEROUS to be a woman, so I often wore combat leather boots, all black and (can you believe it?) facial piercings.

    BUT, because I work in a feminine environment, I noticed the women who acted like women got a lot more rewards (sales, preferential treatment) so I "adjusted." When I realized the rewards extended even BEYOND the workplace, I realized - why am I selling myself short? Being a feminine woman beats being a hardcore punk-rock hipster any day!

    Great post, Elegance! And I just LOVE that gif of Sanna/Gabrielle/Nia Long. Everytime I see it on my Tumblr dashboard I ALWAYS reblog it.

  3. Oh, and - at the end of the day. I decided I needed to move. I realized, if I'm sacrificing my well-being to stay protected then I need to get OUT of Dodge!

  4. This blog to be honest has hit home I've lived in an unpleasant environment for a long time and with that I have developed a mean exteria I would not smile I would always have a serious look on my face because of the environment I was in men would heckle me and say mean things so that was a way of me coping with it. I did not realize how much it has affected me until my sister and friends would tell me I need to smile more, why am I always so serious and I was not even aware of it. I have finely moved out of that environment and I feel comfortable walking the street with a smile on my face and look and dress feminine and not have to feel the need to have a cold exteria. And I feel good and yes there are a few women who may make rude comments but I know it's only out of envy so I don't let it bother me.