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Anything Good About Men

February 2009

This [feminist] critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards.

— Roy F. Baumeister, Is There Anything Good About Men?

Definitely worth reading.

Christina commented:

Interesting... never heard the masculine/feminine argument put quite like that before. I shall ponder upon it.

Jody commented:

I too am pondering. Thanks.

kelly commented:

Ima bit late to comment, but I will anyway. Oops.

This is an interesting idea, but I don't think I agree with it. I would argue that the development of men's status over women is more related to the fact that men did not need to concern themselves so much with child bearing and rearing, and possessed the physical strength to make themselves the logical providers and protectors. As soon as one group in society controls the resources, power goes with it.

Also, there are the old arguments that most cultures shield their women from war to protect their ability to repopulate a society if it is decimated (doesn't work so efficiently the other way around). Also, body composition (muscle:fat) works in favour of men doing the fighting, and women have those pesky mothering instincts that tend to make us less likely to want to commit violent crimes or smack the enemy up real bad in a war.

But apart from that stuff you probably know already, I would also like to point out that:

(a) Women are more likely to suffer poverty and social deprivation, be single parents, and suffer poor health during their lifetimes (apart from at the end, when men die first - go figure).

(b) Men are the most likely to suffer injury or death in work-related accidents because their strength makes them more suited to physical jobs, which are also the most dangerous.

(c) The men at the top who order the wars tend not to be the ones who fight in them. While this is not always true, and in some societies the men at the top have earned the position by their military prowess, there are still a heck of a lot of societies where men can gain political power without having to physically fight for it.

(d) Men often occupy the higher political and economic positions in society because they generally don't have to take time out for pregnancy and child-rearing (which significantly interrupt the flow of women's careers if they choose to do so). Beware: massive generalisation ahead! I'd also argue that on the whole, boys are often raised with more of a focus on becoming breadwinners and choosing a career (as they will be working their entire adult lives and tend to have more technical minds), while girls tend to be focussed toward relationships and families (eg. playing with dolls and 'mothers and fathers'). My crackpot theory is that this makes men more likely to aggressively pursue a career and study subjects that require a level of technical thinking (eg. engineering) or testosterone (business and politics) to get to the top. Add to that the cultural roles that are still attached to the genders and the 'glass ceiling' in many professions, and, well, yeah. ...I don't think I wrote this point very well.

(e) In other societies that are more egalitarian between the sexes, men still tend to do the fighting. An interesting case (that doesn't back up this point) is the Moriori of Rekohu, who had a very egalitarian society but also resisted engaging in warfare for spiritual reasons, even if attacked. Nonviolence tends to be seen as a more feminine trait, even though so many of the great nonviolence leaders were men...??? I'm not even sure where this is leading.

Sorry this is so long.