The talk is entitled Is There Anything Good About Men? Professor Baumeister takes a look at how men and women are treated in society. He says he's not looking to see who's treated better or who should be treated better. He goes so far as to say "Gender warriors please go home".
I'm not sure that he manages to stay neutral in the debate over how culture and society treat the two genders. Granted his talk is biased to talk about how men are treated so that may explain the number of statistics that show men aren't as well treated as one may expect. Granted he's making a point that gender differences may be an important part of society. Granted he has his views and can express them.
Yet Is There Anything Good About Men? bothers me in two major ways.
Firstly he makes conclusions I'm not sure I can agree with. Some facts and points he makes are backed up by studies and research but many others don't seem as concrete or factual.
For example while talking about creativity he says:
I am a musician, and I’ve long wondered about this difference. We know from the classical music scene that women can play instruments beautifully, superbly, proficiently — essentially just as well as men. They can and many do. Yet in jazz, where the performer has to be creative while playing, there is a stunning imbalance: hardly any women improvise. Why? The ability is there but perhaps the motivation is less. They don’t feel driven to do it.Really? He can prove it's because they don't feel driven? What about the female musicians (Jazz and otherwise) who do improvise?
Another example of non-factual facts comes when he talks about men and women and reproductive success. He says:
To put this in more subjective terms: When I walk around and try to look at men and women as if seeing them for the first time, it’s hard to escape the impression (sorry, guys!) that women are simply more likeable and lovable than men. (This I think explains the “WAW effect” mentioned earlier.) Men might wish to be lovable, and men can and do manage to get women to love them (so the ability is there), but men have other priorities, other motivations. For women, being lovable was the key to attracting the best mate. For men, however, it was more a matter of beating out lots of other men even to have a chance for a mate.
I'm glad to know he backs up his point about how the sexes have different reproductive strategies by saying he doesn't find men as loveable and likeable as women.
The other problem I have with the talk is more general. Just because things are a certain way now (or historically) doesn't mean they should (or even have to) stay that way.
We're thinking intelligent beings. Yes we're partially driven by emotion. Yes we're partially driven by urges. Yes we're partially driven by deep motivations and instincts that we've literally evolved into.
But we don't have to be driven by them always and every time.
We, men and women, can be more than what we once were. We can consciously decide to be other than what studies or society or others tell us we should be. We can also build societies that are better than our historically brutish ones. We can build and shape a world with different priorities and goals then the most mundane.
If we can't aspire and reach to be more than our biological background and our society's history then we are just semi-intelligent automatons and not human beings who use what we've evolved into to turn us into so much more.
Or are we stuck as being no more than our base biology let's us... regardless of gender?