Rung Out

picture of laddersIn relation to human relations, I once came across the uninformatively named concept of “Ladder Theory”. It was new to me, but seems to have a fairly wide currency, although it doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry — I’ve just checked. You might create it if you like. I can’t remember enough detail to do anything useful on it.

Anyway, much like “Men Are From Mars… etc. etc.”, Ladder Theory purports to explain male-female interactions, based on supposed fixed and gender-specific attitudes and behaviours. That means that it’s almost certainly wrong. But I’m still going to write about it because the exact level of wrongness isn’t quite clear to me.

I said the name was uninformative, and that’s because ladders are not involved at all. The basic idea is of a ranking or league table. (I think badminton uses “ladder’ in that sense, so maybe the theory was invented by badminton players.) It is alleged that men have an unconscious ranked list of all the women they know (or know of, perhaps) arranged in order of, well, something. Not purely sexual attractiveness, which would be the obvious and crude suggestion, but some combination of attractiveness and “liked-ness”.

But, back to the crudely obvious, it is claimed that there is a mental line drawn across the ladder at some point, and the man in whose brain this is supposed to be happening “would” have sex with women above the line, and not with those below it. All else being equal; opportunity arising; situation permitting; etc. etc. But that’s the basic assertion of the concept: men are simple creatures; predictable and unconflicted. The line may move up or down according to circumstance and alcohol, but the main point is: one ladder.

Women, you see, are alleged to have two ladders: one of sexual attractiveness and one of liked-ness, and they’re both permanently separate. That is, the theory claims that a woman can like a man without the slightest sexual interest in him, while a man can’t separate fondness from desire. And hence all of the pain, suffering and heartbreak that is the inevitable outcome of “relationships”.

I’m just explaining the concept here. I’m not saying it’s accurate. You might think that, as a fairly typical male, I should be able to deny or verify at least the male half of the theory. Taking a scientific approach, the hypothesis “all sheep are white” can be proven wrong by finding one black sheep, so all that is required for me to utterly disprove the male half of ladder theory is for me to think of a woman I like very much but would never sleep with. I’ll get back to you on that.

And as far as the female half is concerned, well, I really don’t know. To me, there’s some slight plausibility in the idea that women draw a distinction between “friend” and “potential mate”, but it’s not something I can really justify from either logic or experience. Without being a mind-reader, there’s no way to know if rejection is because you’re on the wrong one of two ladders, or just too far down a single ladder, if you catch my drift. (You may be surprised to learn that I have some experience of rejection. Ah, the pain and suffering I’ve had in my life. It’s almost poetic.)

In the end though, so-called Ladder Theory is just another cheap and facile piece of mock-psychology, no different from “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”. (Conservatives are from Uranus.) It might be amusing to discuss for a while, but really, it tells us nothing and helps nothing. Men are men and women are women, but in reality, they’re not all that different. Or at least, we’re all different, but we’re all also exactly the same. That’s my theory. I should invent a catchy name for it.


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