Is There Anything Good About Men?

Last Updated on May 19, 2014 by redpoleq

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by RedpoleQ

I recently read an extremely interesting article (originally a speech) called, Is There Anything Good About Men by Roy F. Baumeister,   Professor of Psychology & Head of Social Psychology at Florida State University。

This talk says things about the way men fit into society that have totally matched my experience but has gone against the grain of what society teaches.  One key insight is when he debunks the idea that men rule women and have set up society for their own benefit.

He also highlights cultural competition as the fulcrum around which gender roles develop.  The most successful cultures developed certain modes of behavior that favored survival while the others didn’t.

The decline of men has been a serious issue in the past few decades. The position of men in society has rapidly declined from the days where TV shows such as, “Father Knows Best” aired on prime time television to today, where most men are shown as bumbling idiots lucky enough to have survived to adulthood, much less landed a mate.

While Baumeister’s article starts off by playing into this stereotype,

You’re probably thinking that a talk called “Is there anything good about men” will be a short talk!

luckily, he goes on to show that he’s just toying with contemporary perceptions of men that abound in western society:

Recent writings have not had much good to say about men. Titles like “Men Are Not Cost Effective” speak for themselves. Maureen Dowd’s book was called “Are Men Necessary?” and although she never gave an explicit answer, anyone reading the book knows her answer was no. Brizendine’s book “The Female Brain” introduces itself by saying, “Men, get ready to experience brain envy.” Imagine a book advertising itself by saying that women will soon be envying the superior male brain!

Nor are these isolated examples. Eagly’s research has compiled mountains of data on the stereotypes people have about men and women, which the researchers summarized as “The WAW effect.” WAW  stands for “Women Are Wonderful.” Both men and women hold much more favorable views of women than of men. Almost everybody likes women better than men.

The author has a quite balanced opinion and points out that modern culture has framed men and women as adversaries when in reality cultures that functioned that way would never have survived.

The question of whether there’s anything good about men is only my point of departure. The tentative title of the book I’m writing is “How culture exploits men,” but even that for me is the lead-in to grand questions about how culture shapes action. In that context, what’s good about men means what men are good for, from the perspective of the system.

Hence this is not about the “battle of the sexes,” and in fact I think one unfortunate legacy of feminism has been the idea that men and women are basically enemies. I shall suggest, instead, that most often men and women have been partners, supporting each other rather than exploiting or manipulating each other.

This is a refreshing view of things considering the embattled state of men these days, where we’re forced to struggle against and deny our basic drives and desires.  I also like the splash-in-the-face he gives feminism, which has really served to increase women’s sphere of action to the detriment of men;  and, as you’ll see in the article, we’re hardly in an enviable position.

…rather than seeing culture as patriarchy, which is to say a conspiracy by men to exploit women, I think it’s more accurate to understand culture (e.g., a country, a religion) as an abstract system that competes against rival systems — and that uses both men and women, often in different ways, to advance its cause.

This is the key point here – cultural interaction is a team sport, so for one team member to win someone’s gotta sacrifice. Baumeister highlights this by discussing how feminists got it all wrong in the first place by assuming men rule the world. It’s right here that Baumeister lays down a serious pimp smack across the jaw.

…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.

It ain’t so great to be a man anymore is it?  High risk, high reward.  And I especially love this part:

One can imagine an ancient battle in which the enemy was driven off and the city saved, and the returning soldiers are showered with gold coins. An early feminist might protest that hey, all those men are getting gold coins, half of those coins should go to women. In principle, I agree. But remember, while the men you see are getting gold coins, there are other men you don’t see, who are still bleeding to death on the battlefield from spear wounds.


Next, Baumeister goes on to talk about Larry Summers, former president of Harvard who was forced to retire for thinking that perhaps the reason why there were more top physics professors was because, well, it might have a little something to do with ability.  What shocks me is that this kind of thing could happen at Harvard, supposedly a shrine to intellectual freedom.

What was his crime? Nobody accused him of actually discriminating against women. His misdeed was to think thoughts that are not allowed to be thought, namely that there might be more men with high ability.

What some people consider a crime, other people would call…LOGIC.  But, once again, this doesn’t pan out all that well for us men:

He said there were more men at the top levels of ability. That could still be true despite the average being the same — if there are also more men at the bottom of the distribution, more really stupid men than women. During the controversy about his remarks, I didn’t see anybody raise this question, but the data are there, indeed abundant, and they are indisputable. There are more males than females with really low IQs. Indeed, the pattern with mental retardation is the same as with genius, namely that as you go from mild to medium to extreme, the preponderance of males gets bigger.

I love this next line…

All those retarded boys are not the handiwork of patriarchy. Men are not conspiring together to make each other’s sons mentally retarded.

Almost certainly, it is something biological and genetic. And my guess is that the greater proportion of men at both extremes of the IQ distribution is part of the same pattern. Nature rolls the dice with men more than women. Men go to extremes more than women. It’s true not just with IQ but also with other things, even height: The male distribution of height is flatter, with more really tall and really short men.

Clearly, I lost in the height lottery.

Economists say that, There is no free lunch, which means that everything has a cost and, therefore when talking about gender differences, it all comes down to trade-offs.

Natural selection will preserve innate differences between men and women as long as the different traits are beneficial in different circumstances or for different tasks.

He goes on to say:

The tradeoff approach yields a radical theory of gender equality. Men and women may be different, but each advantage may be linked to a disadvantage.

Hence whenever you hear a report that one gender is better at something, stop and consider why this is likely true — and what the opposite trait might be good for.

Bravo!  Encore!  The misconception that men live a life of ease, having their way with women, is simply because women conveniently ignore the men at the bottom, those same men they’ve blow off or put in the friend zone while sleeping with the guy who’s got another 2 or 3 on the go. Then they say, All men are players.  What a croc of…

Maybe the differences between the genders are more about motivation than ability. This is the difference between can’t and won’t.

An interesting point, which he follows by smashing the idea that women are underpaid in the workplace:

Likewise, I mentioned the salary difference, but it may have less to do with ability than motivation. High salaries come from working super-long hours. Workaholics are mostly men. (There are some women, just not as many as men.) One study counted that over 80% of the people who work 50-hour weeks are men.

Next, he says something that as far as I’m concerned is one of the dumbest things I ever heard, and is the kind of thing that will lead us down the road to communism where no one has any incentive to work and everything sucks.

That means that if we want to achieve our ideal of equal salaries for men and women, we may need to legislate the principle of equal pay for less work. Personally, I support that principle. But I recognize it’s a hard sell.

Hopefully, this was meant in sarcasm, because this is like one guy doing all the work of approaching women then having his friends get an equal share of the booty.  That just ain’t gonna fly with me.  (I think The Optimist would have something to say about that as well. 😉 )

Nor did it with our ancestors… Baumeister challenges one of society’s most entrenched beliefs, by highlighting the percentage of women that have left offspring in human history versus the percentage of men who have abandoned their young.  Startling, and the real reason why you need to up your game big time.

What percent of our ancestors were women?

It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.

Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.

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.

Talk about your genes being weeded out of existence.  That’s no joke for us men.  Historically, your chances of reproducing are less than 50/50.  Better to put a million dollars on a coin flip than on the chance of the average male in human history having any kids.

And then he gets into some of the implications and why YOU, as a man, have to get out there, build a sweet lifestyle and start approaching women while they kick back and chat it up with their girlfriends and give you nasty looks.

For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and you’ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. We’re descended from women who played it safe.

For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).

You can see why men have such a hard time in modern life where we’re taught to get along and play it safe–it goes against our nature.

And if you’ve ever felt shame about your sex drive, this little section here should let you know that if it wasn’t for you being ready to procreate anywhere, anytime…

Even the sex drive difference was relevant: For many men, there would be few chances to reproduce and so they had to be ready for every sexual opportunity. If a man said “not today, I have a headache,” he might miss his only chance.

So next time a woman tries to shame you into feeling like your some kind of neanderthal perv, horndog, remember that you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for your Eye of the Tiger. Speaking of which:

When I walk around and try to look at men and women as if seeing them for the first time, it’s hard to escape the impression (sorry, guys!) that women are simply more likeable and lovable than men. (This I think explains the “WAW  effect” mentioned earlier.) Men might wish to be lovable, and men can and do manage to get women to love them (so the ability is there), but men have other priorities, other motivations. For women, being lovable was the key to attracting the best mate. For men, however, it was more a matter of beating out lots of other men even to have a chance for a mate.

Yup, each of your ancestors had to intimidate, kill, maim, or castrate at least 60 guys out of 100 to get you where you are today.  I think Father’s day is taking on a whole new meaning for me. I present to you, Exhibit A: Genghis Kahn, Alpha Male Extrodinaire

Experts estimate Genghis Khan had several hundred and perhaps more than a thousand children. He took big risks and eventually conquered most of the known world. For him, the big risks led to huge payoffs in offspring. My point is that no woman, even if she conquered twice as much territory as Genghis Khan, could have had a thousand children. Striving for greatness in that sense offered the human female no such biological payoff. For the man, the possibility was there, and so the blood of Genghis Khan runs through a large segment of today’s human population.

He then goes on  to talk about how women and men socialize differently.  Some choice excerpts:

The conclusion is that men and women are both social but in different ways. Women specialize in the narrow sphere of intimate relationships. Men specialize in the larger group. If you make a list of activities that are done in large groups, you are likely to have a list of things that men do and enjoy more than women: team sports, politics, large corporations, economic networks, and so forth.

Consider the common finding that women are more emotionally expressive than men. For an intimate relationship, good communication is helpful. It enables the two people to understand each other, appreciate each other’s feelings, and so forth. The more the two intimate partners know about each other, the better they can care for and support each other. But in a large group, where you have rivals and maybe enemies, it’s risky to let all your feelings show. The same goes for economic transactions. When you are negotiating the price of something, it’s best to keep your feelings a bit to yourself. And so men hold back more.

Fairness is another example. Research by Major and others back in the 1970s used procedures like this. A group of subjects would perform a task, and the experimenter would then say that the group had earned a certain amount of money, and it was up to one member to divide it up however he or she wanted. The person could keep all the money, but that wasn’t usually what happened. Women would divide the money equally, with an equal share for everybody. Men, in contrast, would divide it unequally, giving the biggest share of reward to whoever had done the most work.

Which is better? Neither. Both equality and equity are valid versions of fairness. But they show the different social sphere orientation. Equality is better for close relationships, when people take care of each other and reciprocate things and divide resources and opportunities equally. In contrast, equity — giving bigger rewards for bigger contributions — is more effective in large groups.

Russia’s performance during the cold war shows just how optimal equality is when it comes to the function of large groups – not very.  But more importantly than that is this SUPER key point.

…being different is vital strategy for belonging to a large group. If you’re the only group member who can kill an antelope or find water or talk to the gods or kick a field goal, the group can’t afford to get rid of you.

It’s different in a one-to-one relationship. A woman’s husband, and her baby, will love her even if she doesn’t play the trombone. So cultivating a unique skill isn’t essential for her. But playing the trombone is a way to get into some groups, especially brass bands. This is another reason that men go to extremes more than women. Large groups foster the need to establish something different and special about yourself.

See, for us men, it’s all conditional love.  That’s one more reason why you have to learn game.

Next time your woman gives you shit about your low brow socializing with the guys, let her know that it might have some real tangible benefits…

Throughout most of history and prehistory, giving birth was at the center of the women’s sphere, and men were totally excluded. Men were rarely or never present at childbirth, nor was the knowledge about birthing even shared with them. But not very long ago, men were finally allowed to get involved, and the men were able to figure out ways to make childbirth safer for both mother and baby. Think of it: the most quintessentially female activity, and yet the men were able to improve on it in ways the women had not discovered for thousands and thousands of years.

Booyah!  In yo’ face!

Large networks can collect and accumulate information better than small ones, and so in a relatively short time the men were able to discover improvements that the women hadn’t been able to find. Again, it’s not that the men were smarter or more capable. It’s just that the women shared their knowledge individually, from mother to daughter, or from one midwife to another, and in the long run this could not accumulate and progress as effectively as in the larger groups of shallower relationships favored by men.

Next the Baumeister gets into the nitty gritty of what’s so awesome about men.

First, culture relies on men to create the large social structures that comprise it.

Oh, and before you go reading all those business book telling you that women are the new business man:

Several recent news articles have called attention to the fact that women now start more small businesses then men. This is usually covered in the media as a positive sign about women, which it is. But women predominate only if you count all businesses. If you restrict the criteria to businesses that employ more than one person, or ones that make enough money to live off of, then men create more.

Great article!  Time for a toga party to celebrate our manliness.

A second thing that makes men useful to culture is what I call male expendability.

Whooah, buddy.  Where are you going with this?  I don’t like the idea of me being expendible.

Any man who reads the newspapers will encounter the phrase “even women and children” a couple times a month, usually about being killed. The literal meaning of this phrase is that men’s lives have less value than other people’s lives. The idea is usually “It’s bad if people are killed, but it’s especially bad if women and children are killed.” And I think most men know that in an emergency, if there are women and children present, he will be expected to lay down his life without argument or complaint so that the others can survive. On the Titanic, the richest men had a lower survival rate (34%) than the poorest women (46%) (though that’s not how it looked in the movie). That in itself is remarkable. The rich, powerful, and successful men, the movers and shakers, supposedly the ones that the culture is all set up to favor — in a pinch, their lives were valued less than those of women with hardly any money or power or status. The too-few seats in the lifeboats went to the women who weren’t even ladies, instead of to those patriarchs.

I’m thinking we need a men’s appreciation day for all the men who have sacrificed their lives and their comfort for women and children.  Or at least a moment of silence.

Most cultures have had the same attitude. Why? There are pragmatic reasons. When a cultural group competes against other groups, in general, the larger group tends to win out in the long run. Hence most cultures have promoted population growth. And that depends on women. To maximize reproduction, a culture needs all the wombs it can get, but a few penises can do the job. There is usually a penile surplus. If a group loses half its men, the next generation can still be full-sized. But if it loses half its women, the size of the next generation will be severely curtailed. Hence most cultures keep their women out of harm’s way while using men for risky jobs.

I guess that explains even more why it so important to be unique and different – you don’t want to be one of the sacrificial lambs.

The phrase “Be a man” is not as common as it once was, but there is still some sense that manhood must be earned. Every adult female is a woman and is entitled to respect as such, but many cultures withhold respect from the males until and unless the lads prove themselves. This is of course tremendously useful for the culture, because it can set the terms by which males earn respect as men, and in that way it can motivate the men to do things that the culture finds productive.

Some sociological writings about the male role have emphasized that to be a man, you have to produce more than you consume. That is, men are expected, first, to provide for themselves: If somebody else provides for you, you’re less than a man. Second, the man should create some additional wealth or surplus value so that it can provide for others in addition to himself.

Everything’s gotta be earned.  No wonder this pickup stuff is so tough.

One of the basic, most widely accepted gender differences is agency versus communion. Male agency may be partly an adaptation to this kind of social life based on larger groups, where people aren’t necessarily valued and one has to strive for respect. To succeed in the male social sphere of large groups, you need an active, agentic self to fight for your place, because it isn’t given to you and only a few will be successful. Even the male ego, with its concern with proving oneself and competing against others, seems likely to be designed to cope with systems where there is a shortage of respect and you have to work hard to get some — or else you’ll be exposed to humiliation.

But the kicker is that you often have to: a) risk being humiliated to win the big prizes and b) suffer many humiliations before you make it.  Genghis Khan very well may be one of the best examples of this.

And there’s more bad news:

I have not exhausted all the ways that culture exploits men. Certainly there are others. The male sex drive can be harnessed to motivate all sorts of behaviors and put to work in a kind of economic marketplace in which men give women other resources (love, money, commitment) in exchange for sex.

And finally a few excerpts from his conclusion:

To summarize my main points: A few lucky men are at the top of society and enjoy the culture’s best rewards. Others, less fortunate, have their lives chewed up by it.

What seems to have worked best for cultures is to play off the men against each other, competing for respect and other rewards that end up distributed very unequally. Men have to prove themselves by producing things the society values. They have to prevail over rivals and enemies in cultural competitions, which is probably why they aren’t as lovable as women.

The essence of how culture uses men depends on a basic social insecurity. This insecurity is in fact social, existential, and biological. Built into the male role is the danger of not being good enough to be accepted and respected and even the danger of not being able to do well enough to create offspring.

The basic social insecurity of manhood is stressful for the men, and it is hardly surprising that so many men crack up or do evil or heroic things or die younger than women.

I’d say that that seems to match up with my experience pretty well.  And the whole reason I learned how to be better with women was to be one of the 40%, or better yet, as close to the top of the 40% as possible.

You can read the full talk at http://denisdutton.com/baumeister.htm

4 thoughts on “Is There Anything Good About Men?”

  1. This resembles something I read in Warren Farrell’s book “The Myth of Male Power”. Dunno if they’re associated, but Farrell goes deeper into these issues and ways to solve them.

  2. Pingback: Review: "Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men" by Roy F. Baumeister | Asian Dating Monthly

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