Why Men?

by wjw on September 8, 2007

“Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as

“I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced. “

So here’s Roy F. Baumeister, Princeton graduate, attempting to explain the differences between men and women. Some of his conclusions seem a little stretched to me, but on the whole they are reasonably presented.

Will women enjoy being told that their genetic destiny is to occupy the middle of the bell curve? I suspect not.

But them I’m a member of the patriarchy, so what do I know.

Pat Mathews September 8, 2007 at 10:02 pm

Reading the article:

1) It’s high time we shelved the entire “war between the sexes” thing and the entire “bigger victim” thing and indeed the entire culture-of-whining. He’s absolutely right about that.

2) Women didn’t share the risk in the older days? One word: childbirth. Which plenty of cultures recognized as equivalent to the battlefield.

3) The argument “men are both better and worse than women” which is probably true also plays into the ancient notion that the higher the creature, the worse it can go wrong, ergo – so there will be some resistance to accepting this fact.

4) Especially when the ignorant read this to mean that no woman will ever reach the rarified heights of, say, Albert Einstein – unproven at best, but that sure is how people read Mr. Summers’ statement.

5) BTW – the entire “Women are better” tends to be Victorian “angel in the house (and in the Senate)” hogwash. I’ve heard me share of it and it would send a diabetic into a sugar coma.

6) and P.S. women’s magazines are written by the advertising department and must conform to what the advertisers demand, or else lose the advertisers’ business. Proven fact. At least back in the day and I haven’t seen any change since. So the content may be what a select group of women want and the rest of us are reading general interest magazines and buying products advertised therein.

P.P.S. one of Steve Stirling’s characters remarked that men compete like dogs and women like cats.

And BTW while I agree with a lot of what Dutton says, it sure leaves the rare freaky systematizing-brain women (however badly we do it, it’s still how we’re wired!) out in the cold. (No wonder I wanted to believe the old “we’re all just people” paradigm.

Synova September 9, 2007 at 6:24 am

The middle of the bell curve doesn’t mean the *middle* after all. There is plenty of room to excel at the top end of the range without being in the extremes. The middle is where most of the men are too.

What I didn’t care for was that almost no mention was made of actual child-bearing and the time limits that puts on activities. (Not to mention the brain-death associated with interrupted sleep.) A psychological preference for intimate human connection which promotes the care of children might explain why the human race continues but the concrete physical reality, not the warm fuzzy feelings, are what limits what *else* women can do.

It’s not being in the middle of the bell curve that I don’t like, it’s being told my sex is not *creative*.

There is no way to know which sex made the creative advances in such things as plant or animal breeding or textile and material technology. Men may have built cathedrals and had the time and resources to pursue science and medicine and I’m gonna bet they did all that without a baby tied to their breast or a toddler on their leg.

And I *really* don’t think that a lack of innovations in music in a group given instruments and instruction in the proper way to play vs. a group who *had* to make it up proves anything at all.

Synova September 9, 2007 at 6:32 am

Having been interrupted by the need to care for children I forget if the article mentioned methods of fighting… oh, yes… women are violent in close relationships and men are violent in wider but less intense relationships.

My theory on “fighting like a girl” as opposed to “fighting like a man” is that it’s as much related to physical size as it is to innate psychological differences. A smaller, weaker, person has a vulnerability that has to be taken into account. The sort of recreational fighting that men do doesn’t work. What is left is avoiding the fight, fighting dirty, or some version of scorched earth.

Matt F. September 10, 2007 at 8:02 pm

That articles is interesting but it seems pretty biased toward a euro-centric historical context when the overall scope of human behavior goes much further back and is much broader than that. A lot of what he says comes off as naive and he would be better served by looking at that data and interpolating it with modern “stone age” cultures in Papa New Guinea or some such.

dubjay September 11, 2007 at 9:40 pm

It seems to me that the “men created civilization” argument is one of the least well supported.

Anonymous September 12, 2007 at 8:04 pm

The evidence that there is unlikely to be a female Einstein will be available when there have been as many generations of women free of childbirth and free of child-raising as there have been so far of men.

So far we have had 2.5 generations of some freedom, in some parts of the West.

(Always excepting those places in the U.S. where abortion is all but illegal because of the creeping restrictions on clinics, closures by bombing, the refusal to teach abortion procedures in medical schools and so eliminating, in time, the knowledge needed for safe abortion in a sterile environment, the creeping ownership of hospital systems by the Catholic Church, which hospitals refuse to perform abortions, and by faith-based initiatives everywhere, e.g. birth-control programs in the 3rd world de-funded by W unless they counsel abstinence-only…)

The assertion that women are not motivated to great achievement because they are content to sustitute child-bearing for it – while being forced into childbearing by either the apparatus of the state or by stealth policies of the state, smacks to me of kuche, kirche, kinder.

When I was teaching engineering students 30 years ago, I found that my Civil and Mechanical Engineering classes were predominantly male, but my Chemical Engineering classes were predominantly female. (Of course, that was a very small sample.)

However, in that small sample I found palpably different cultures in the two types of classes. The males seemed to speak more often of joyful destruction (their cars & telephone poles featured largely here). Dutton’s argument would put this into the category of male risk-taking, more stupid men inhabiting the bottom of the bell-curve of intelligence, and so forth.

Dutton’s argument would put the femaale chemical engineers into the category of women who can find work in pre-existing male structures.

What he doesn’t address is the fact that those women were better at science than those men, and five years earlier would have been confined to sewing in the spare bedroom for the church fete, and to saying they were happy to do that.

And speaking of the church fete:

That women “specialize in the narrow sphere of intimate relationships” leaves us with husband-wife, mother-child for women, or, by generous extension, small-business-owner employee (if we are lucky).

“But the women are content to stay small, such as operating a part-time business out of the spare bedroom, making a little extra money for the family” …

(How many diminutives can you count in that sentence? In Dutton, “small” becomes “dissmissable” very quickly.)

That large “shallow-rooted” associations formed by men, the culture- and wealth-creating ones (the state, the corporation), are valuable, is at this point, an assertion of some bitter hilarity. Every day the headlines are full of evidence that States and corporations are killing the planet.

But small, insignificant (female) cottage industries only need to supoprt a cottage….

The playground observations strike me as very odd. My memory is that as a child in elementary school, the girls played in groups and did so for the whole 7 years of elementary school. Play was never set up as a conversation for 2.

(Perhaps the Italian girls, native Italian-speakers, new immigrants, spoke more to each other and played less with us? Hard to remember.)

In short, I find the thumb in the scales here.

Anonymous September 13, 2007 at 12:59 am


One correction to my pervious post: “Dutton” should have been “Baumeister”.

And several additions:

1) We will probably never know which gender invented agriculture, herbiculture, grafting, weaving, painting, music, etc. etc. etc.

2) If you look at English surnames you’ll find many, such as Smith, Taylor, Carter, and so on, clearly derived from peaceable occupations; you’ll also find names that are clearly patronymics, e.g. Johnson, Donaldson, and names that indicate related clusters of folk by simple plural – e.g Williams. My point is that plenty of men did not go to war but bred anyway.

Perhaps the 14th-century English (surnames being invented for tax purposes) are too small and recent a sample, and Baumeister’s argument is that the derring-do took place in prehistory, that Wrights and Carpenters and Chandlers and Farmers, like modern academics, are mild-mannered bearers of ancestral genetic greatness.

Perhaps. It’s certainly unproveable.

3) Lots of Baumeister’s other assertions seem to me equally shaky (e.g. he assumes that those who survive war by accident and reproduce are as genetically superior as those who survive by force of arms or strategy), but I do not have world enough and time.

4) I find the repeated need to assert, one way or another, that there really isn’t likely to be a female Einstein – shorthand for “a woman is really unlikely to be at the extreme genius edge of mathematical ability” – odd.

If that statement represented an unlikelihood of the order of “It’s unlikely that every library in the State of New York will be closed when it’s supposed to be open” – no one would feel compelled to repeat it every 10 years or so.

It’s because this whole subject is so far from provable fact that its emotional power remains.

dubjay September 13, 2007 at 1:53 am

Excellent comments, all.

I live to be instructed.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.