Credit: Courtesy of http://www.state.nj.us/governor/
(WOMENSENEWS)--Is our society so "feminized" that real men can't succeed as leaders?
Fox pundit Brit Hume seems to think so, and his comments during a TV interview in January went viral on the web and continue to be hotly debated. He defended New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with these words:
"In this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risks."
Hume is clearly nostalgic for the thuggish tough guys of yesterday. And indeed, many people secretly believe that guys who behave like cavemen are the "real" men.
But has the very aggressive male been the most successful one throughout history? After all, this is the man that Charles Darwin believed would do the best in the evolutionary game of survival of the fittest.
In fact, many scientists now think that Darwin got it wrong on this count.
Would male aggression be the trait most favored by natural selection? "The opposite may be true," say psychologists Kay Bussey and Albert Bandera,whose work blazed new trails in the theory of social learning.
Because both men and women in prehistory faced a harsh, difficult environment, humans would instead be selected for capabilities such as social competence and the capacity to invent culture. The social organization of our ancestors, scientists now believe, was that of small, cooperative groups, and the fittest of these would be the most social among them, promoting such norms as loyalty to the group, cooperation and adherence to social norms. Cavemen, in truth, weren't always cavemen.
A New Meaning
Seen in this light, "survival of the fittest" takes on a new meaning: less about "tooth and claw" than about intelligence, sociability and cooperation. The very aggressive male would often be the loser in this scenario.
And do most men lead in a kick-butt, command and control style that is supposed to mark "real men"? In a word, no.
Women are supposed to have a lock on the gentler, more democratic style of leadership, but they don't. Many studies of men's and women's leadership styles show few gender differences. In one study of 41,000 executives, women were slightly more high-handed and autocratic than men in their decision-making styles.
Today, it's believed, the "transformational" leader is the best model for managers. He or she is an innovative role model who gains the trust and confidence of followers, mentoring and empowering them to reach their full potential.
Psychologist Alice Eagly of Northwestern University and her colleagues found that female managers were slightly more "transformational" than men. But the difference was small: 52.5 percent of females and 47.5 percent of males. Both sexes, it seems, are capable of leadership that enables employees to reach their full potential.
The macho ideal that Hume seems to admire has real costs to males. Boys are naturally just as caring as girls, says Harvard psychologist William Pollack, author of the 2009 book "Real Boys": "Boys may have different patterns of behavior and learn and communicate through action, but they are as capable of being sensitive and empathic as girls are."
He notes that our strict, macho "boy culture" demands emotional rigidity, and by second grade erodes the "interpersonal" skills that come naturally to boys.
More Tolerant, Compassionate Society
And if our culture is "feminized," it's because we are a more tolerant and compassionate society. Women had a hand in this, but so too did men. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the programs that constituted a safety net for the disenfranchised (with a great deal of help from his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins). Martin Luther King pioneered nonviolence in the U.S. civil rights movement. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel peace prize for his humanitarian work. Liberal David Boies teamed up with conservative Ted Olson to win the battle for same-sex marriage in California.
Gov. Christie isn't in trouble for being a man's man. He's on the spot for keeping little kids trapped in their school buses for hours when his office closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish a Democratic mayor.
On camera, Christie often bullies schoolteachers and any other regular folks who ask him a question he doesn't like. Is this what "real guys" do?
Christie isn't being penalized by a feminized society. He just lets his inner bully get the best of him too often.
Hume may be pining for muscular tough guys. But the rest of us-- who remember the schoolyard bullies who terrorized us and our classmates--do not share his nostalgia.
Caryl Rivers is the author, with Rosalind C. Barnett, of "The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men — and Our Economy" (Tarcher/Penguin).
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