By Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
A new, not-for-Valentine's Day book offers another tired warning about the anti-erotic effects of ambitious women. Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett describe how it follows a long line of related titles and discredited ideas that just won't go away.
(WOMENSENEWS)--"The Neutering of the American Male," a new book by Jim Wysong, delivers a rotten Valentine to aspiring, achieving women who also take a healthy interest in having a good sex life.
If men can't be in charge, warns Wysong, a self-described Christian writer, their erotic feelings disappear.
But don't rush out and read this for yourself. Spend time instead with that special someone in your life. Women don't need another book that says men have to be dominant for the sex to be good.
Andrew Hacker already said the same thing in his 2003 book "Mismatch," writing that when women lead, their achievements may diminish males' self-confidence and indeed, their masculinity. "We will soon see . . . how far the self-assurance associated with manliness can survive when each year sees more appointments and promotions going to the other sex," he writes.
Psychologist Janet Hyde, of the University of Wisconsin, already has found that manliness is not actually super sensitive to female accomplishment. In a study of 500 couples, she found that sexual pleasure was highest among couples in which both partners worked full time and got great satisfaction from their jobs. As Hyde noted, whether you're male or female, a good job is good for your sex life.
The virility warnings of Wysong and Hacker offer another riff on the "Mars and Venus" theme that John Gray made the bad-science subject of his 1993 runaway bestseller about men and women being so different as to seem to come from different planets. Men are wired for leadership and power, women for love and relationships, goes this saw. Only when we accept those traditional notions will we all be at ease.
Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield expounds on this in his 2006 book, "Manliness," asserting that men thrive on drama, conflict and risky exploits. "War is hell but men like it," he decrees.
The Harvard Crimson objected. "Mansfield advances . . . degrading theories about women, concluding that women are more childlike than men and cannot 'be independent, or autonomous, certainly not as much as modern women want to be.' Most shockingly of all, he makes the claim that 'it certainly seems strange that being capable of rape can make a person better qualified for greatness, but it's probably true.'"
Wysong declares that "Most men are wired to be in charge; it's part of their DNA."
He may have gotten this idea from psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University and his 2003 book "The Essential Difference," which describes the male brain as "systematizing," the female brain as "empathizing."
By this matrix, the male is built for leadership and power, mastery of hunting and tracking, trading, achieving and maintaining power, gaining expertise, tolerating solitude, using aggression and taking on leadership roles. The female brain specializes in making friends, mothering, gossip and "reading" a partner. Girls and women are so focused on others that they have little interest in figuring out how the world works.
Hormones, not brains, star in another "males are better" screed by political commentator Andrew Sullivan. In a controversial 2000 cover article in the New York Times Magazine, "The He Hormone," Sullivan argued that women's lower levels of testosterone make them timid and risk-avoidant in business. It is this lack, rather than discrimination, that keeps women from rising up the career ladder.
Most of these arguments are easy to take apart.
John Gray gave barely a nod to science in his down-market, sentimental "Mars and Venus." His ideas of sturdy, emotionally clueless Martians and loving ethereal Venusians makes serious scholars shake their heads. And his much advertised Ph.D. comes from a diploma mill closed down by the California attorney general.
Mansfield's celebration of old fashioned manliness and love of war in "Manliness" sounds positively Victorian. It's hard to take seriously. It could have been written by Rudyard Kipling--though Kipling did not celebrate rape in his patriotic poetry.
Baron-Cohen did attempt to bring science to his ideas about male and female brains, but the single study on which he based his ideas was soundly trashed by scholars. Parents held up their day-old babies and it was noted whether they looked at people or mobiles. Boys, the study said, looked at the in animate objects and girls looked at people.
A large body of literature contradicts Baron-Cohen's study, finding that male and female infants respond equally to people and objects. But Baron-Cohen's ideas still are widely circulated and he is sought after for public speaking.
Sullivan's contention that testosterone makes men leaders oversimplifies. Does "T" cause aggression, or does aggressive behavior trigger the release of testosterone? We don't know. In social groups, males with higher testosterone levels are not necessarily more aggressive. In a major review of the literature, John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire in England casts doubt on any direct relationship between blood levels of testosterone and aggressive behavior.
When male and female leaders are compared, women do not emerge as wimps.
Business Week reported that a 2000 study of 41,000 executives--25 percent of them female--at 5,000 companies found that women are slightly more high-handed than men when making decisions. Women chose "my-way-or-the-highway" 35 percent of the time, men only 31.5 percent.
"If your boss is a Ms., don't automatically expect her decision-making to be warm and fuzzy," Business Week advised.
Many of these simplistic, hardwired ideas about the sexes have been strongly refuted. Psychologist Cordelia Fine of the University of Melbourne (who wrote "Delusions of Gender," 2010) looked at 650 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that social expectations, not gender per se, accounted for most observed differences between the sexes.
The idea of the aggressive uncaring, warlike man is way out of date.
Boys are naturally just as caring as girls, notes Harvard psychologist William Pollack, author of "Real Boys." "They 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 writes.
Male infants, Pollack says, are more emotionally expressive than baby girls, but boys, as they grow, too often learn to display a "mask of masculinity" that hides their inner feelings.
Let's not tighten the screws on that mask with outdated and incorrect arguments.
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Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, senior scientist at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, are the co-authors of "The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About our Children" (Columbia University Press).