A while back, the following tweet appeared on my Twitter feed:
My sister is doing an experiment: Whenever men walk towards her, she doesn’t move out of the way first. So far she has collided with 28 men.
— Anna Breslaw (@annabreslaw) December 13, 2014
Since then, a few of my friends attempted to replicate this experiment, and they all achieved remarkably similar results. From this, we can deduce that we have uncovered yet another form of male entitlement that we, as a society, need to address.
Or have we?
The more I think about it, the more I believe that we might be jumping to conclusions. Here is what we know:
- We have observed an interesting phenomenon.
- We have produced an explanation that reliably predicts the outcome of these interactions.
But, that makes me wonder: is male entitlement the only explanation for this phenomenon? Or, is it just a very compelling explanation?
Before we ponder these questions, let’s take a quick field trip into my past. Not so long ago, I was 6 feet tall, and I weighed a mere 115 lbs. The slightest bump from anyone would send me flying across the room! Fortunately, my low body mass also provided an advantage: I could navigate around obstacles much more quickly than someone who was 165 lbs. As such, I began to navigate around people as if they were just slow-moving walls. Why walk into a wall if you could just avoid it?
The answer: you wouldn’t.
These observations suggest that there is another explanation for the phenomenon we mentioned earlier: People with less body mass tend to navigate around people with more body mass. This is not because people with more body mass “feel entitled” to this treatment; instead, the people with less body mass have adopted this behavior because it is more economical. It costs them less to navigate around massive people rather than colliding with them.
Coincidentally, women tend to have less mass than men. This means that if you pick a woman and a man at random, then the man will most likely have more body mass than the woman. So, if you observe these two people walking towards each other, then you would expect the woman to navigate around the man. Once again, this is not because the man “feels entitled” to this treatment; instead, the woman is just navigating around an object that is more massive than herself.
So, is this new explanation of the phenomenon the “correct” explanation? I have no idea. Right now, I only know that it is plausible. To verify the “correctness”, we would need to conduct an experiment. For example, let’s imagine that we gather 100 men and 100 women. For each woman, there is exactly 1 man with the same body mass as the woman. In other words: the distribution of body masses is identical between the two groups. Then, we transport them all to a university so that they can partake in various experiments. Of course, we don’t actually care what these experiments are. In reality, we just want to observe how the participants behave as they navigate between these experiments. Will we find that the women usually navigate around the men? Or, will we find that the person with less mass tends to navigate around the person with more mass?
Or, will we find something else?
We won’t know for sure until we actually conduct the experiment. In the meantime, we only know that we have observed an interesting phenomenon, and we have at least two possible explanations. Beyond that, we cannot make any definite claims at this time.
(… Then again, it’s possible that a similar experiment has already been conducted, and I just haven’t heard about it. If so, then please paste a link to the experiment and its results somewhere in the comments. Thanks!)