Sex Roles

The sex roles that drove a man’s and a woman’s behavior for thousands of years had great impact on each sex. One of the impacts of the sex role on men was the attitude of disposability that developed over the years. By that I mean the tendency of people to be less likely to get emotionally close to men and to see them as expendable. Why would that be?

Imagine we are living long ago and the women were caring for the hearth and the children and making forays to gather while the men were more likely to go out and hunt. The relative danger of those two behaviors is not subtle. Going out to hunt is decidedly more dangerous and the liklihood of the man returning home after a hunt was much smaller than the same liklhood for the woman performing her daily activities. When we dont’ expect someone to return what impact does that have on our interest in making an emotional attachment to them? It diminishes. We are less likely to invest our emotional ergs into someone or something that we fear may not be with us. This was obviously not just around the issue of hunting. Men were expected to guard the perimeter and to repel attacks by intruders. This was a dangerous activity and again, increased the liklihood that the man would be dissappearing. We tend to not invest in folks who we fear will not be returning. Yet another example is war time. Men were the ones who were expected to go to war and die protecting the village/community/country.

This diminished investment is not subtle but very few people are aware of their own tendency to do this. Let’s try an exercise to evaluate your way of thinking. Has it ever bothered you that only males are expected to sign up for the selecttive service? That it is only males expected to go and die in case of a national emergency? Does that bug you? Okay, now imagine that congress in all its wisdom has changed the law and decided that we need to draft only girls and women until an equal number of women and girls have died in combat to the numbers of men and boys who have died. Would that upset you? Why? Do you value women and girls more than boys and men? How about if we decided to draft only Black people? Maybe only Jews? Would either of those groups being sacrificed upset you? Would you protest for any of those to not be the only group drafted? Can you feel in your bones how upsetting that would be? If you answered yes to any of those questions, how was your response different from thinking it is okay to draft only men? If you had a different reaction then you are likely holding some of that tendency to consider men and boys to be more disposable.

You can see this tendency in many places. Boys and men comprise almost 80% of suicides and yet we have no outcry or services specifically for this. Men and boys are over 90% of the workplace deaths in the Unted States but no one seems to notice. Over 97% if the deaths of U.S. servicemen in Iraq are men and boys and yet we hear no protest in support of men and boys or calls for equality. Men are the victims of domestic violence in considerable numbers and yet we have no services directed towards their needs. All we need to do is open our eyes to see the extent that men and boys are seen as expendable. It is all around us. Ever heard of the wife telling the husband she will go investigate the loud noise that awoke them from a deep sleep?

The age old sex role for men has trickled down into a straight-jacket that harnesses men to be the expendable ones. Most people are simpy unconscious of this and treat men according to their own unconscious programming. How abut you?

Next –┬áStereotypes

Why are Men more Aggressive & Competitive?

Science has offered us a fairly new understanding about the origins of our sex differences. It is all about competition and survival. Evolutionary biologists show us that in most animal populations one sex does more of the gestating, child birth and child care and the other sex competes for their services. Take Gorillas for example. The females do most of the child care and all of the birthing and gestation. In this case we see that the male gorillas compete with each other for reproductive access to the females. Once they secure access they become the protector of their group. This is nothing new. However, they now are showing that both sexes develop very specific qualities depending on whether they are the competitors or those sought after. The group that competes will be physically larger, more aggressive, more violent, slower to develop and have a shorter lifespan. This can be clearly seen in gorillas where the male is much larger, more aggressive and violent as it competes and then protects, has a longer development to maturity and has a shorter lifespan.

The most important part of this is that they are now realizing that we as humans have a very similar path. Since the females do most of the child care and all of the gestating and childbirth it is our males who are the competitors. Males compete with each other for reproductive access. They compete by trying to raise their status. The higher the male’s status the more likely the female will choose him as her partner. Status can be money, fame, control of resources, power, height, attractiveness, influence or any of a number of factors. Men compete to be first and top of their group and now we have a better understanding of why men have such a passion for competition. It’s easy to see that human males, like the gorilla’s, are larger than the females, slower to develop than the females, more aggressive and violent and have a shorter lifespan. Make sense?

Now there is an interesting twist to this tale. Males predominate in the animal world as those competing but it is not always the males. Biologists tell us that in some animal populations such as the seahorse, the Sandpiper, and the Red Necked Phalarope it is not the male who is competing it is the female! Look at Seahorses. The male seahorse carries the young in a pouch in his belly. He does more of the gestating and child oriented activities and guess what? Yep. The females compete for the males! The female seahorses are larger than the males, they are more aggressive and violent, they develop more slowly than the males and they have a shorter lifespan. Our differences are largely about whether we are in the competing group or the sought group not in whether either sex is good or bad.

This flies in the face of our last 40 years of demonizing males for their aggressiveness, competition, and violence. Would we condemn the male big horn sheep for butting heads? No. It is built into who they are. This is not to say that men should be excused for being violent, far from it. This is why we have laws. What we are simply saying is that we need to understand that men’s aggressiveness is often a part of the male package at birth. Blessing the men for this and helping them learn how to steward that aggressiveness and violence in productive ways for the general good seems far better than condemning men simply because they are male.