Reviews | The gender gap takes us to unexpected places
Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, writes in his book “The Better Angels Of Our Nature”, that “the most basic empirical generalization on violence” is that
it is mainly committed by men. Since they were boys, men play more violently than women, fantasize more about violence, consume more violent entertainment, commit the lion’s share of violent crimes, take more pleasure in punishing and revenge, take more insane risks in aggressive attacks, vote for more belligerent policies and leaders, and plan and execute nearly all wars and genocides.
Feminization does not have to be about women literally wielding more power in decisions about whether or not to go to war. It may also consist of a society moving away from a culture of manly honor, with its endorsement of violent retaliation for insults, the hardening of boys through corporal punishment, and reverence for martial glory.
In an email, Pinker wrote
We see two sets of forces that can pull in opposite directions. A set includes the common interests of men on the one hand and women on the other. Men tend to be more obsessed with status and dominance and are more willing to take risks in order to compete for themselves; women are more likely to prioritize health and safety and reduce conflict. The ultimate (evolutionary) explanation is that for much of prehistory and human history, successful men and coalitions of men could potentially multiply their female companions and offspring, who had a chance to survive even if they were killed, while women’s lifelong reproduction was still limited by the required investments in pregnancy and breastfeeding, and orphaned children did not survive.
“Mapping the Moral Domain,” a 2011 article by Jesse Graham, professor of management at the University of Utah, and five colleagues, found key differences between the values of men and women, particularly in the case of the emphasis placed by women on prevention of harm, in particular for those marginalized and less equipped to protect themselves.
I asked Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business, about the changing political role of women. He responded by email:
In general, when examining gender differences in outcomes, it is helpful to remember that the differences between men and women in cognitive values and abilities are generally small, while the differences between men and women. women in the activities that interest them and in their relational styles (notably involving conflicts) are often important.
When academia opened up to women in the 1970s and 1980s, Haidt continued, “women flocked to some fields but showed less interest in others. In my experience, having entered the 1990s, the academic culture of female-dominated fields is very different from that of male-dominated ones.
Haidt noted that:
Both boys and men enjoy the direct competition and confrontation between statuses, so the central drama of the male culture disciplines is, “‘Hey, Jones says his theory is better than Smith’s; Let’s all come together and watch them fight, in a colloquium or in journal articles dueling. In fact, I would say that many of the Anglo-American University standards and institutions were originally designed to harness male status research and turn it into scientific advancement.
Women are just as competitive as men, Haidt wrote, “but they do it differently.”
Haidt cited a 2013 article, “The Development of Female Human Competition: Allies and Foes,” by Joyce Benenson, of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard.
In it, Benenson writes:
From early childhood, girls compete using strategies that minimize the risk of retaliation and reduce the strength of other girls. Girls’ competitive strategies include avoiding direct interference with another girl’s goals, disguising competition, competing openly only from a high status position in the community, upholding equality within the female community and socially exclude other girls.
In summary, Benenson wrote,
From infancy to old age, the reproductive success of human women depends on the provision, protection and education of their younger siblings first, and then their own children and grandchildren. To protect their health throughout their lives, girls use competitive strategies that reduce the likelihood of physical retaliation, including avoiding direct interference with another girl’s goals and obscuring their quest for physical resources, alliances and status.
In a separate November 2021 article, “Self-Protection as an Adaptive Female Strategy,” Benenson, Christine E. Webb, and Richard W. Wrangham, all from the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, report that they
found consistent support for women responding with greater self-protection than men. Females develop stronger immune responses to many pathogens; experience a lower threshold to detect and less tolerance for pain; wake up more frequently at night; expressing greater concern about physically hazardous stimuli; make more efforts to avoid social conflicts; present a personality style more focused on the dangers of life; react to threats with more fear, disgust and sadness; and develop more threat-based clinical conditions than men.
These differences manifest in a number of behaviors and characteristics, argue Benenson, Webb and Wrangham:
We found that women exhibited stronger self-protective responses than men to significant biological and social threats; a more threat-oriented personality style; stronger emotional responses to the threat; and more threat-related clinical conditions suggesting increased self-protection. The fact that women express more effective self-protection mechanisms is consistent with lower mortality for women and greater investment in childcare compared to men. In addition, “women more than men have a lower threshold for detecting many sensory stimuli; stay closer to home; overestimate the speed of incoming stimuli; discuss threats and vulnerabilities more frequently; find the punishment more aversive; demonstrate more intense control and experience deeper empathy; express greater concern for the loyalty of the friend and romantic partner; and ask for help more frequently.
In an email, Benenson added another dimension to the discussion of gender roles in organizational politics:
From a young age, women clearly hate same-sex group hierarchies more than men. Thus, while boys and men are more willing to compete directly with individuals of higher and lower status, girls and women prefer to interact with individuals of the same sex of similar status. This does not mean, however, that girls and women do not care as much about their status as boys and men. For both sexes, a high status increases the likelihood of living longer, as does her children. The result of these two somewhat contradictory motivations is that girls and women seek high status but disguise this quest by avoiding direct competition. This gender difference likely has an impact on how women seek to shape organizational culture.
The strategies described by Benenson and colleagues, Haidt pointed out,
lead to a different kind of conflict. There is more emphasis on what someone has said that hurts someone else, even unintentionally. There is a greater tendency to respond to an offense by mobilizing social resources to ostracize the alleged offender.
In “Feminist and Anti-Feminist Identification in the 21st Century United States”, Laurel Elder, Steven Greene and Mary-Kate Lizotte, political scientists at Hartwick College, North Carolina State University and Augusta University, analyzed the responses of those who identified themselves as feminists or anti-feminists in 1992 and 2016.
Based on surveys conducted by American National Election Studies, Elder, Greene, and Lizotte found that the total number of voters who identified themselves as feminists rose from 28% to 34% over that 24-year period. Growth was greater among women, 29 to 50 percent, than among men, 18 to 25 percent.
Some of the biggest gains were among young people aged 18 to 24, rising from 21 to 42 percent. The most striking data is the data revealing the antithetical trends between women with a university degree, whose self-identification as a feminist increased from 34 to 61%, in contrast to men with a university degree whose self-identification as a feminist increased from 37% to 35%.
Anti-feminist identity, the authors found,
is not just a mirror image of feminist identity, but its own distinctive social identity. A striking difference between feminist and anti-feminist identification is that while gender was a huge driver in feminist identification in 2016, there is essentially no gender gap among anti-feminists. Indeed, bivariate analysis shows that 16 percent of women and 17 percent of men identify as anti-feminists.
Additionally, Elder, Greene and Lizotte wrote: “While young people were more likely to identify as feminists than older generations in 2016, young people, especially young women, also have an anti-identifying level. – higher feminist than older groups. “