Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gender: What About Men?

I find it amazing that something can be put on the web and remain completely unseen and unread until suddenly, months or years later, it is found, shared, and gets passed around repeatedly. Case in point is a talk that both Wayne and I found being linked to around the web recently. The talk was given in 2007 by Roy Baumeister from Florida State University to the American Psychological Association.

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?


Lene Andersen said...

Y'know... dude might've had a point, but when he throws out rampant generalizations based on no more than what he's selectively decided to notice, his entire argument loses validity.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I started reading his talk, and then went and looked at the book. Afterward, I found that the Globe and Mail review covered my concerns the first that most 'radical' statements are at the root, stereotypes, and if you want to read 4 years of them you can read Hugo at PCC, who talks about male and female, and has hundreds of commentaries, so the 'men make more money because they work harder', and 'maybe men are in better jobs because they are just smarter' I have seen so often by people intractable in thier position. Second, making claims like this requires research, yet, while trying to pass off most conclusions as 'academic' the references are such that would get an Masters kicked much less a front line book. It is not as if the research is not there, particularly if you are going to make the claim that 'boys are raised as girls in the classroom' (Yet the research list that was required to create girls only classes in NY is missing), what we are left with are listing 'conversations' (seriously), wilkepedia, yahoo articles, blogs, and books. When it comes to journals or most importantly JURIED journals, the Dr. hasn't done the research. But then his university bio has the same problems putting as the main quote about him (in a bold column of its own): "Baumeister has sometimes found himself contesting common, but flawed, beliefs." And starting the bio with "It's the big questions that interest Dr. Roy F. Baumeister..." - both missing the sacred rule of research, 'evidence, evidence, evidence'.

The talk reveals some understanding of history cliche's that one might find in an 1960's 5th grade history book. Most of the arguments fail not just one but several of the 42 fallacies simultaneously: straw man and ad hoc ergo prompter hoc seem to go together frequently.

Besides the assumption in statements about men and history where the US is assumed to be the only entity, for example his quotes on 'fatalities in Iraq' show thousands of men but only dozens of women. First, Red Cross Study, The US military Study, Doctor's international study, and the Iraq body count demonstrate the tens to hundreds of thousands of each gender (oh wait, you mean deaths that AREN'T US military combatants count TOO?). Nor is a combat troop ratio percentage created for both deaths but also 'casualties' particularly as this US/Iraq war is unique in having 3 to 5 times more non-lethal casualties than deaths. Is it that a man with no legs is not considered an 'expendable' as his argument claims or that such a research based study (if you can call half an hour and a calculator a 'study') shows the opposite to his claim.

That is the question I got after reading the book and his speech, is Dr. Baumeister smart, has done research and is simply cherry picking examples which have a hope of supporting his claims (the research following the belief, known as 'bad academia'), or is he really this clueless on how to do basic research, or read up on history (a claim about no great female musicians during time periods....again, assumes only the US, or only Europe, when other continents might tell a different tale, nor does he explain the movement toward female dominated musicians in the last 30 years popularly, or take into account that female jazz style variation is usually done vocally, nor pulls up the smithsonian records of jazz, or even the Early Music compilation put out by them to evaluate. Like the rest of the work, just another claim with vanishes with close examination.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Where did you find this talk around the web (I assume blogs or men's groups sites, because those are the only places I could find it, since most talk about the book more), as I found more references to it from 2007-2008 than 2010? I know the web is a big place but your allusion is that it shows up in multitude of places.