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Wednesday, 20 June 2012 09:42

Why So Much Harsher Toward Men?

Written by  Dr. Richard Driscoll
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About the Author: Dr. Driscoll  is a researcher on gender conflict. He is a media resource with the American Psychological Association, and Program Director for the American Test Anxieties Association. He has written four books and over 20 popular and scholarly articles.  He is the author of "You Still Don't Understand" with Dr. Nancy Davis.

A recent 2008 Gallup poll in Great Britain finds that 33% of women "often or very often" feel resentful of men, compared to 14% of men who often feel resentful of women. So fully a third of women carry with them an ongoing resentment toward their opposites, as compared to about a sixth of men. By my own careful calculations, that is a truckload of anger.

Most men are so involved with the accusations and with the anger itself, the harm it does, and the unfairness of it all, that we seem to miss a fundamental question. Just where does such a truckload of anger come from? Is it simply an unfortunate and unintended outcome of our modern culture? Are women treated worse than men? Or is it somehow programmed into human nature? I suggest that women are naturally more inclined to condemn their opposites, and perhaps more surprisingly, that men themselves are harsher toward men than toward women.

Men Are More Stressed in Arguments
Researcher John Gottman at the University of Washington observes couples arguing, and measures pulse rate, blood pressure, and related stress indicators. He finds that men are more stressed, intimidated, and emotionally overwhelmed than women, and tend to concede, placate, or withdraw. "In the sea of conflict," notes Gottman, "men sink and women swim." Men are not blindfolded and gagged in arguments with women— it just seems that way.

Women, in contrast, are more comfortable in personal arguments and are more inclined to air their grievances. "I have become increasingly angry," comments Gloria Steinem, "as the alternative is depression." Anger for this feminist pioneer seems to be an emotional elixir, which most men find truly incomprehensible.

Innate Tendencies
Gottman and other relationship researchers note that women are more emotionally combative, but leave the "why" question unasked. The workings of natural selection are apparent from even a brief glance through modern evolutionary principles.

Sexual interest is higher in young males across all cultures, primitive or modern, and across the vast array of animal species as well. Those who invest less in each offspring, meaning males, stand to benefit genetically by multiple matings, while those who invest more in each offspring do well to go slowly, choose carefully, and gain the maximum benefit from each mating.

Insistence has been a viable tactic for women, to test the strength of a commitment, while a reluctance to offend has been a more viable tactic for men, who must rely on women to transport their genes into the next generation. Nature selects for women who are more comfortable in arguments and willing to insist, and for men who make allowances and try to avoid offending.

Chivalrous Standards
We hear little of chivalry, and some consider it nothing more than a flimsy folk-tale. Yet human passions are highly chivalrous, supporting women and protecting them from men who might harm them.

An illustration or two should suffice. A man and a woman are in a nightclub, and quarrel. If he throws an ounce of whiskey at her, it is clearly an assault, and an undercover policeman would arrest him on the spot and jail him. If she throws a splash of whiskey at him, it is merely a rebuff or perhaps an expression of exasperation. Who would want to jail her? Surely, anyone who did would not be welcome back at the nightclub. Men who understand women gain their admiration, and perhaps their sexual favors as well, whereas men who oppose and offend women are treated accordingly.

We are not chivalrous simply because men are physically stronger. A Justice survey asked men and women to judge the seriousness of various transgressions. If a man stabbing a woman to death with a knife is rated a 10, meaning truly heinous and indeed unforgivable, then a woman stabbing a man to death with a knife is rated only a 6, meaning surely serious but perhaps understandable under the circumstances. Why so?

Men have been expected to protect women, and the lowlife who knifes a woman is hardly a man at all. On the other hand, a woman who just whacked her mate is still very much a woman, and furthermore, she may be quite available, although a tad risky. A man who understands her situation gains her favor, and may join with her to sire rug-rats with similarly understanding attitudes.

Men who catch a few blows file police complaints only a tenth as often as do battered women, and so seldom come to our attention. Here again, our public conduct follows our genetic interests. What sort of fool would hand his wife over to the men in authority and probably lose her, just because she takes a swing or two? A woman, on the other hand, must count on a man for her safety, and she benefits from punishing the reckless egotist who goes too far over the line.

Chivalrous Chimps
Chivalrous alliances are seen among various social animals, including chimpanzees. In one incident, an offended female chimp calls upon a male companion for assistance. Using high-pitched barks, she points toward her assailant with her whole hand (rather than just a finger), at the same time kissing her companion and patting him. As her pleas become more insistent, he charges out to battle her antagonist while she stands by and watches approvingly. Thus is rescued another damsel in distress, and her champion becomes the hero of the hour. Call him Champ Chimpski.

Chivalry is a social imperative, and Champ here acts to uphold an unspoken standard of justice. Like a real man, although a shave short in stature and light on brain power, he enforces one of our highest and noblest moral callings. He stands by fair maiden, and uses his power to punish the beastly bastard who has so callously offended her.

A chimp such as Champ who supports the damsel may gain opportunities to mate with her later, while one who refuses his support will also be remembered and treated accordingly. And so too among our own. Men who uphold women against offending men gain their respect, and perhaps their favors, while men who refuse women lose out. So nature programs men to support women in distress and to stand strongly against the dastardly scumbags who cross them.

Chivalrous Custody
A general policy of equal parenting rights for both parents improves marital stability, reduces animosities between parents who do separate, benefits the children and makes a separation easier on them, and allows custody lawyers a much needed respite from their demanding legal work loads. When fathers want to remain involved, we might figure that joint custody would be a no-brainer.

Yet we have two competing standards here. Surely, we want what is best for the children. But chivalry is programmed strongly into the human animal, and we feel that it is highly moral to uphold women and to punish the men who wrong them. So the judge tends to side with the woman in her hour of greatest need. His inner Champ Chimpski charges in to support the fair damsel in distress and to punish the worthless lowlife who has wronged her.

Chivalrous Lenses
Human culture appears to be naturally chivalrous, supporting women against offending men, more than it is sexist, as is commonly claimed, supporting men against women. Why do so many believe otherwise?

We are now expected to compliment women on their multiple talents and many achievements, while it is considered sexist and terribly improper to notice limitations or moral failings. And it is now somewhat improper to honor men for any special strengths and virtues, as it can offend women, while it is conspicuously commonplace to condemn men for the many ways men mistreat women. So social propriety exaggerates some facets and conceals others, yielding a highly biased impression of men and women.

" A man defending husbands vs. wives or men vs. women
has got about as much chance as a traffic policeman
trying to stop a mad dog by blowing two whistles."
-Ring Lardner

An Innate Mechanism
Chivalrous standards are harsher toward men than toward women. It is not merely a matter of cultural happenstance, which could go the other way just as easily. Women are born to expect something for their favors, and men are born to support those who can carry their genes into the next generation. Innate inclinations contribute to our chivalrous standards, and harsher treatment towards men serves to enforce those standards.

Innate leanings do not mean that something cannot be changed, only that passions run high and must be managed. Advocates for more equal treatment for men wrestle against a chivalrous moral imperative that most of the population hardly knows exists. We should wish them well.

Adapted from "You Still Don't Understand" by drD and Nancy Ann Davis.
Read 6921 times Last modified on Thursday, 28 June 2012 16:55


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