Welcome back to another episode of the Art of Manliness podcast! In this week’s edition, we talk to social psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister about his book Is There Anything Good About Men? How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men. We discuss why men have enjoyed a higher economic and social status than women while at the same time making up most of the prison population, deaths on the job, and homeless population in America. This is the first in a two-part interview with Dr. Baumeister.
Listen to the Podcast!
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Depending on how you look at things us, men either have it really made or we got the raw end in life. Most head of State CEOs and famous inventors have happened to be men. And for millennium men have enjoyed higher economic and social status than women. Yet at the same time, men are the primary occupants in prisons, they make up 93% of all deaths on the job. And an overwhelming majority of homeless people are men. Why the extremes?
Well, our guest today has recently written a book where he answers that question. His name is Dr. Roy Baumeister and his book is called, Is There Anything Good About Men? Dr. Baumeister is a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University where he focuses on the area of social psychology. And he’s authored over 500 publications, has written or co-written over 30 books.
Okay, Professor Baumeister, one of the biggest issues you tackle in your book, Is There Anything Good About Men? is why men have for millennium held higher positions in society than women? And I think we’ve all heard different explanations for this throughout the past decades. But what conclusion did you come to in your book?
Roy Baumeister: Well, Brett, I was trying to take a fresh look at things without saying that one gender is good or it’s better than the other things like that. The answer, most of history of why men were in-charge is that men were better than women, and that’s the way it was supposed to be or the way it would inevitably be.
More recently we rebelled against this and a feminist movement brought up another explanation, said it was because evil men conspired to press women and push them down. But I don’t think there is much evidence for either of those explanations, either that, men are superior overall or that men are evil conspirators of pressing women.
And instead I looked at the origins in the social religions in the way men and women relate to other men and women. Essentially men form women rather specialize in close intimate relationships, whereas men tend to favor larger networks of more shallow relationships. And it just so happens that culture which involves large systems of sharing information across groups and multiple roles complimenting each other things like that.
Culture emerges better with a large network than the small network. And so, back when men and women had separate spears I think the mensphere network created more progress in the sense of gradually producing these things through the shared knowledge, we’re talking about literature, science, technology or government, political economic systems and so on.
And then so, essentially wealth knowledge and power were created in the mensphere and it wasn’t true that women were pushed down as the feminist would have it rather of anything women were lifted somewhat by the men’s progress but not as fast than the discrepancy increased because again, wealth knowledge and power essentially created in the mensphere.
And again not because men are better or superior or anything like that it’s just because of the kind of social relationships that man create, these larger networks of shallow relationships that works better for creating the engines of growth like this.
Brett McKay: Yes. One of the interesting examples you gave of women tending to prefer one-to-one relationships and men preferring kind of shallow large relationships was, I thought it was very interesting it stood out to me was that men are more likely to pick a fight with a random stranger in a bar. A woman would never do that but a woman is more likely to start a fight with her spouse or her partner that she lives in close contact with.
Roy Baumeister: Yes. If you look at the – people are aggressive towards people whose opinions they care about and so on. And if you look within the family, I mean, statistically it’s very close to equal, technically if you want to really tally it up, women are slightly more aggressive and violent in the family than men are, they don’t do as much damage since hit as quite as hard things like that.
In terms of violence between husbands and why does women do more than men, that’s been well established through plenty to investigations. Women do more child abuse also but they spend so much time with children it’s hard to untangle. But out among the broader sphere of strangers, women don’t do it. It’s – the chances of say a woman going out to the shopping mall and ending up in a knife fight with another woman that she’s never met are miniscule.
But to a certain number of men, probably everyday some men end up in fights injurious or deadly with people they hadn’t met before because men care about their position more in the larger group. And the parallel was also found with helping too, the early psychology of helping research just only concluded just as men were more aggressive and men were also more helpful than others.
But they always studied stranger interactions who, will stop and help a stranger or come to strangers aiding emergency or something like that, so men – I was looking at the larger sphere there. If you look again in the family, in the network of close relationships, women are plenty helpful with anything, more helpful than men in terms of taking care of family members or sick relatives or in-laws and so on.
So, women are plenty helpful. It’s just a narrower focus of their strongest motivations, women mainly care about ones they have the close strong relationships. It’s why the relationships were just couples, well the husband, you should listen to your wife she is probably the expert on close relationships more likely than the man.
But in terms of building again large networks of the shallower relationships that’s something men do much more than women. We see in starting businesses as well, women start more businesses than men in the United States today. But many small business if you look at businesses that employ a few people or make enough to live on it, so and then men start more of these. So, everyone can start them but the men are more interested in building it up into a giant concern or an empire.
Brett McKay: Well, you mentioned in the beginning that when you wrote this book, you want to take a fresh approach you didn’t want to say that one gender is better than the other. And you actually in your book you talk about how studies have shown that men and women are pretty much equally capable of in a lot of areas, in the sciences, in the math, I mean, some – a man might be on the average do perform better in math and sciences. But the difference is so negligible that there really isn’t much of a difference.
And you argue that the difference maker is not capability but motivation that men are more motivated to excel in business sphere, in larger society than women are. So, why do men have this motivation and women don’t?
Roy Baumeister: Well, why they have the motivation is hard to say. My guess is there is something that’s just genetic. A lot of women, I know many fine women scientist but they’re more interested in living things. One I was talking to the other day and she says she and her both scientists, and they’re interested in everything. But when it comes to science on inanimate objects, study of things, she just loses interest. She says, she calls it the dead world. And says, I leave the dead world to him. Life and living things just seem to capture women’s interest more in and more interested in people.
I mean, we’ve seen in the last 34 years, a huge influx of women into the upper ranks of researchers and professors and everything, but not equally in all fields. And it’s not that the fields are receptive it’s just that women are much less interested in some. Larry Summers was President of Harvard and made some remarks about at one point, how come there are so few women. Physics professors at Harvard and he said, I get into a lot of trouble for suggesting there might be ability of differences.
Well, the average man and the average women have about equal ability. There are more men at both extremes, both the genius and the retarded. And suggesting there might be more men at the super high level, that’s probably true probably for biological reasons just as the same as there are more men and women at the super retarded, very low intelligence level. And nature just seems to gamble a little bit more with the males than with the females.
But even those differences are not so huge as to comfort, I think that the bigger differences that women are capable of doing just fine in these fields, they’re just not as interested. Several scholars have spent decades studying just tracking the kids to their school and so forth. And it’s not the girls sign up for math and science classes and flunk out, no, that’s not true at all. They’re just – if they have elected, they don’t sign up. They’ll take biology rather than physics if they have the choice.
And so, the study of things, who are the engineers, the technologists, the people who build things and so on, it’s much more men than women. And that I think reflects interest and desire. And I think that the point of putting it out that it’s a matter of motivation, interest, desire rather than ability.
That’s an important and very positive message because it means there is no basis for discrimination because it means there is no basis for discriminating if we thought that men were really inherently better at these things than women. Then an employer might say you get an application from a woman too well, maybe I don’t want to hire her because she is a woman she is probably not as good at it.
But no, I’m saying at least the abilities are basically equal, it’s the differences that show up in the world are mainly because of what people like and want to do. And so, if a woman is wanting to do something you can assume that she is probably just as qualified as a man or just as capable as the man, there is likely to be any better ability to do to reach their job. So, let people do what they want and we shouldn’t try to force people into or out of fields if they’re not interested in, simply to match some arbitrary notion of social engineering.
Brett McKay: And it’s interesting you bought the Larry Summers thing, just last week after I finished your book, I was reading a popular tech blog on the web called TechCrunch. And the author Michael Arrington, he’s really big in the tech world and he gets a lot of complains from people that they don’t – that he doesn’t feature enough women startups, or whenever he has his big conferences he doesn’t have enough women speakers about or featuring women to startups that are started by women.
And he said it’s not that we’re not trying, he says, we just can’t find them. And he made the point that we’ve looked, we scour but lot of women just aren’t interested in that so it’s hard to find women to speak or to feature them, which I thought was kind of interesting kind of serendipities that I read this article after I read your book.
Roy Baumeister: Yes. I suspect that he’s quite right about that and in fact I would guess that a women startup technology company would get more attention than a man, it would be more likely to be covered there because there are all these efforts to well, let’s make sure to encourage women as much as they can.
If the interest is not there, it isn’t likely to happen, and it’s not – it doesn’t seem that it’s because of barriers that are keeping women out or anything like that.
Brett McKay: So, is this motivation in men and women, is it innate or is it that something that the culture teaches? For example, someone would hear this, okay, so men and women are just as capable. Women just like the motivation. Perhaps we should encourage women more, young girls to go into the science so that something that they are – they’d like to do. I mean, can you change that or is it just – it’s something innate and what’s going on there?
Roy Baumeister: Okay. Well, there are several different things. If it’s innate that does not mean it can’t be changed. Nature usually sets some tendencies and culture can either build on them which it usually does. Ignore them and leave them as they are or it can try to correct them. And we’ve in general in our society I think we are trying to correct it so our cultural effort is to shrink the differences between men and women. Or if most of his career it’s, just taking it and trying to build on them.
It used to be what might be somewhat indifferent inclinations between boys and girls they can completely different life paths and either could do what the other wanted. And now we are trying very hard to encourage and pressure and probably men to get more involved in the traditional female activities of raising children and things like that and trying to get women into science and technology and everything.
But getting back to your question of whether it’s innate. We don’t know the answer to that. The people who have studied it seem repeatedly to come to the conclusion that it looks like it’s innate. It certainly starts very early, they’ve said the people who see the women who do go into these science classes in college they don’t usually report that they didn’t want me there or they were pressuring me out, often they report that they were received very positive and encouraging treatment. It doesn’t seem like they’re being prevented there.
Now, I don’t know for sure if somehow they’re getting a message early in childhood that is altering patterns of motivation. And that’s hard to know and hard to rule out but it seems the way we’ve been policing all of the materials for children for couple of decades now, it seems very unlikely that there are strong messages discouraging girls from going into things.
I can’t really answer the question of its innate, which class you take in college and what you choose to do with your career is not determined by your genes. But genes may start you on a path and may make some thing more rewarding to you. And then, you’ve got experiences and things will snowball along the way.
So, it is possible, certainly we could pressure all men to leave science and then only allowed – I’ll only give science jobs to women and forced women to take them while we would have more women doing science whether they would be happy and whether they would be good at it and successful at it and was rewarding as men do, we’ll probably not given that people are being forced to do something.
Brett McKay: So, it’s just kind of up in the air, really, there is no conclusion?
Roy Baumeister: Many of us have daughters and we would like to see them go into science. And I think we encourage them all their lives in every way we can. And we certainly don’t see them getting the message from elsewhere that they shouldn’t go into science. But still they seem in many respects not to – want to do their eventually, they find something else that seems more interesting to them.
And of course science is a big category and there are lots of scientists that study living things and well social sciences study people. And there are plenty of women in us and many having outstanding careers. But for interest in things and in small bits of non-living reality, they don’t seem in general to capture the female imagination as much as the male.
Brett McKay: All right. So you argue in your book as well that there is a dark underbelly to the success or I guess the enjoyment of status that men have had for the most part in the economic and social world. But there is also – so there is this dark underbelly and men are also seen as expendable by culture. Can you explain how culture exploits men in a negative fashion?
Roy Baumeister: Yes. Well, that was one of the themes – one of the things that got started me on it. Well, the feminist could take up societies and look up at the top and said, well, look at the President and the Congress and the CEOs – Chief Executives and the powerful rich people around the world and they’re more men than women. And they said, okay, well, it must be great to be a man. So I just set up to favor men.
But also as scientist, I have to look at both sides. If you look down at the bottom, you see mostly men too. You see who is in prison, who is homeless, who is dead on the job who is sent off to die in battle. Men are there too, latest statistic deaths on the job in the United States, 93% men. So, men are just doing many more dangerous jobs than women.
And this is not unique to United States this is true pretty much all over the world. Societies tend to give bigger rewards and bigger punishments to males, there are simply a lot of jobs in a culture, lot of positions that are more high risk, high reward. And so it’s a matter of would you take the risk for the higher reward, certainly jobs that have the possibility of getting you killed have to pay a little extra because otherwise who would take such a job compared to another job, just one of the things contributes to difference in the salaries between men and women then we’ll do more of these dangerous jobs.
Now, society tends to shield women from doing these risky things that will get them killed or have their lives wasted seriously injured in other ways. Probably for rather simple biological reasons, throughout most of history, most cultures, most societies were competing against others, and your very survival depended on being strong enough to stand up to your neighbors.
And well, the larger the group, the more successful you’re going to be losing population than having too few of you to last or to maintain competitive advantage. That was fatal to a society. And it’s true, there is no question to look at almost all societies in the history of the world, they’ve encouraged their people to have more children, more children are simply seen as better, better for the economy and better for the health of the society and so forth.
But the number of children you have depends on a number of women you have, that’s a simple fact of biology, a woman, most women have at least one child and it’s hard women to have more than about a dozen, whereas a single man certainly can have hundreds of children, there are reports of men having over 1,000 children.
So, if you lose a whole bunch of your men here, you have a big war and half of your men are killed. While the next generation can still be full sized, but if you lose half your women your next generation is going to be significantly smaller in size.
So for maintaining population and increasing population which again has been the goal of most societies, most cultures, most religions in the history of the world, not all but most and certainly more successful ones, you want to make sure that most of your women stay alive, are able to reach adulthood and bear children. Whereas, again a man can go from woman to woman and have lots of different children in the same year whereas a woman who goes from man to man would probably could have about one child per year.
So I think that’s one reason. Another reason that society looks at men as expendable goes with the kind of social networks and groups that men create, the larger groups, people are replaceable in them. So if you look at a corporation or a military unit or an orchestra or whatever, sports team, everyone in it gets replaced over time. But look at these small relationships in a family you can’t really replace a child’s mother get another woman to do some other work. But it’s really a different family if the mother dies and another woman is brought in and so on.
So, women are cultivated by their style of social relations to understanding themselves as valuable and precious. And men more distinguish themselves as expendable. Turning to how society exploits men, it will again assign them the dangerous jobs, attract men into things with exploration where a dozen people might go exploring and half of them get killed and some come back with nothing.
But one or two ever so often come back and have found something really wonderful and then something that will enrich the group, well then the society gives those men a lot of rewards. But again, we don’t – we’re not looking, we’re not attending to all the other men who lost out and maybe lost their lives in doing that the same with fighting in battle, something has to fight a battle against the enemies.
These days given the technology, certainly don’t need to be strong and husky or have the big shoulders, they are the few biological differences and physical powers between the strength. But still there is a sense of wanting to protect women from that and that somehow men are more expendable.
Even on the Titanic, it was interesting to note that there was the case where ship was going down and well, there were thousands of people aboard. And there weren’t enough seats in the life boats. And they gave them to the women, the men you might have thought, patriotically you should count for something, the rich and successful men. But the rich and powerful on there actually had a lower survival rate than the poorest level of women. So with all your wealth and power didn’t do any good even for saving your life under those circumstances, it was better to be a woman.
And again I think women and children in the society, our society and pretty much every society sees women and children as somehow more precious and more valuable than men, the phrase even women children were killed which one still sees in the news every month or so. What that means is that well, maybe it’s bad if a man is killed but it’s worse if women and children are killed, because women and children are more valuable than men.
Brett McKay: Join us next time for Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Roy Baumeister, as we discuss his book, is there anything good about men. Until next time, stay manly.
Last updated: October 1, 2015