Ladder theory

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{{Original research|article|date=September

The Ladder Theory, or "LT," is a pseudoscientific explanation of the ways in which men and women evaluate members of the opposite sex upon first impressions. In the "Ladder theory" model, this decision is typically made quickly and is often final. This determines the other's potential as a future mate. Ladder theory began as satire, but developed into an elaborated, unsubstantiated model of the dynamics of male-female attraction. While Ladder theory has many supporters[citation needed] and claims to be grounded in "decades of sociological research," the theory has never appeared in a referenced journal or scientific forum and its proponents cite no studies or data sets to support their conclusions.


[edit] Lovers and Acquaintances

Ladder theory makes unevaluated claims about how heterosexual men and women evaluate potential opposite-sex sexual partners and friends. It is based on an assumption that men tend to be more comfortable with the idea of having sex with female friends than the reverse. Ladder theory thus presumes that a platonic friendship between a man and a woman, in practice, lowers rather than increases the likelihood that the relationship will develop into a sexual one, due to the greater perceived tendency of women to maintain strong separation between relationship types. As a result, the initial decision-making process on how a particular relationship is to be classified is considered vital to understand. This process of classification and ranking is described as a "ladder".

Ladder theory claims that heterosexual women categorize men into either "possible sexual partners" (sometimes called the "Potential" ladder) or "nonsexual acquaintances" (sometimes called the "Never" or "Friends" ladder). Each category has a hierarchical ranking among members within them, based on their perceived sexual desirability or the perceived value of their friendship. The separation between ladders is based on an assumption that women assign value on the ladders based on significantly different criteria: the qualities deemed desirable in a friend often appear very different from those considered attractive in a sexual partner. Ladder theory also presumes that women consider the strength or presence of one set of qualities to equal the absence or weakness of the other -- essentially, that a specific man's rank on one ladder is inversely proportional to his "natural" rank on the other -- thus leading them to rigidly maintain this categorization once assigned. Men who become aware that they have been placed, against their own preference, on the "Never" ladder by a particular woman are cautioned against trying to get themselves recategorized: this act is perceived as an unwelcome emotional aggression, and may provoke a response of hostility or withdrawal.

Conversely, Ladder theory claims that men evaluate female acquaintances on a single ladder, conflating both sexual desirability and relationship value into an overall measure of priority (but usually with sexual attraction given primacy). Women placed at the top of the male ladder represent an absolute ideal of desirability, usually a combination of extreme sexual attraction and whatever other personal qualities are considered desirable by the man in question. (These qualities may be social expectations, pragmatic concerns or nonsexual ideals, depending on the individual and his context.) Only the very bottom of the male ladder, in ladder theory, is reserved for women the man has firmly excluded from his sexual interest.

[edit] "Nice Guys and Intellectual Whores"

Ladder theory teaches that differences between the "one-ladder" ranking system of men and the "two-ladder" ranking system of women often lead to mutual misunderstanding, the most egregious example of which is purported to be the so-called "nice guy" approach. In this model, a man attempts to increase his appeal to a woman by demonstrating the qualities she has indicated that she values in another person (stereotypically, these are positive "friendship" qualities such as patience, kindness, helpfulness and consolation). To the male, this is perceived as simply increasing his overall appeal on the single ladder; for the female, however, such behaviour increases the man's rank on the "Friendship" ladder while simultaneously decreasing it on the "Partner" ladder, due to the perceived disparity in criteria between the ladders.

A harsher term for the same scenario is derived from the Woody Allen short story "The Whore of Mensa": Ladder theory suggests that a man who attempts to appeal to a woman through intellectual stimulation or entertainment runs the risk of, rather than becoming or replacing the woman's sexual partner, becoming what Allen satirically depicts as an "intellectual whore" -- someone sought out solely for their intellect, with no interest on the part of the woman in broadening the relationship to other dimensions. Ladder theory asserts that there is less stigma attached to a woman maintaining platonic friendships with other men outside her primary sexual relationship than the reverse, due to the perceived separation of relationship values on the "ladders", and that this entails a certain degree of hypocrisy -- women are given latitude to maintain multiple relationships to satisfy all their social needs, while men are expected to find satisfaction for all their social needs in a single relationship only.

Ladder Theory's primary assertion in social mechanics is that classic "nice" behaviour in courtship is actually a less productive tactic than might be presumed, and can in fact be counterproductive, as women are presumed typically to infer lack of confidence rather than devotion or good character. Ladder theory argues that the most effective tactic is to establish desirability on the "Potential" ladder first and only then to establish high ranking on the "Friendship" ladder, rather than the reverse.

[edit] Criticisms and variants

In addition to being too general to apply with useful predictability to individuals, ladder theory can be considered sexist in its assumptions about male and female characteristics and motivations.

The Ladder theory glossary at, for example, makes the claim that "99.999% of women" are dishonest "bitches". Though the statistic is a satiric exaggeration, ladder theory's assertions about women nonetheless characterize them, as a group, as innately hypocritical, manipulative, and self-serving. Women are accused, by Ladder theory of maintaining conflicting criteria for ranking men on the two "ladders"; of holding men to a different standard from that to which they hold themselves; of using the two-ladder dynamic to their personal advantage; of being dishonest about their criteria for ranking men; and of basing their rankings of men on base qualities of money, power, physical attractiveness, novelty, and disinterest rather than on character or worth.

Ladder theory also makes negative assumptions about men, although it stops short of characterizing them in an essentially negative light. While men are described by Ladder theory as "99.999% assholes," this label is qualified by an assertion that men are not "assholes" by natural instinct, but have simply learned to behave as such to attract women. Negative male behaviour is thus justified as a self-protective strategy, while negative female behaviour is ascribed to inherent female venality. Ladder theory does, however, assume an innate venality in men as well; men are assumed to rank all women by sexual desirability first and foremost, at the expense of other qualities, and to only use secondary desirable qualities as "tiebreakers".

Some critics[citation needed] argue for a slightly different model of Ladder Theory in which, contrary to the premises above, men in fact also have two "ladders" rather than just one. The male "ladders" in this model encompass two categories: (1) Women with whom the man would have sex if the opportunity arose, but not date or engage in a relationship; and (2) women with whom the man would both have sex and engage in a relationship, if possible. Intriguingly, this can be seen as a mirror-image of the stereotypical feminine "Possible" vs. "Never" opposition; the male ladders similarly categorize female acquaintances into "Possible" and "Never", but in the man's case the possibility or non-possibility is of emotional connection rather than sexual (the sexual being taken as a default priority), whereas for women the situation is reversed, with emotional connection taken for granted and sexual potential determined by categorization.

In the seduction community Ladder theory is not held in particularly high regard due to more recently developed theories from Erik Von Markovik and Neil Strauss (among others).

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