In Case the Benefits of Patriarchy Were Lost on Some Men…

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

…Douglas Kenrick has outlined them for you. This comes after his piece on the 7 worst things about being a male, including “people want to hurt you,” “you feel compelled to make money, and then to throw it away in public,” and two points about how much men think about sex and how sad it is that women do not “reciprocate their urgency” in that regard.

He starts his piece on the worst things about being a male with the following:

The cultural stereotype is that it’s great to be a man. Not only do we have shorter lines at the rest room, but we make scads more money and can reach things on higher shelves in the marketplace. We don’t have to deal with double standards or glass ceilings, and we’re raised to have confidence and high self-esteem, so we can all comfortably act like the Sean Connery version of James Bond. Cooly knock off a few bad guys in the afternoon, then drive our Aston Martins to our expensive hotel in Monte Carlo, where beautiful movie actresses are waiting to throw themselves into our arms…But in truth, it ain’t like that down here in Kansas.

This isn’t just a “cultural stereotype.” Men have all kinds of advantages over women in American society (see: the gender pay gap, the Second Shift, advertising and media images of women, etc.). This is not to say that men don’t have problems, but their problems take place within the larger context of patriarchy. Kenrick brushes away that context by setting this up as just a stereotype, and what follows is a blind fumbling through some issues that could otherwise have been taken seriously.

Here is a sampling of things to criticize from Kenrick’s two articles:

When he points out that men have higher rates of impulsivity-related psychological disorders, he provides a list of men’s problems and then claims that “prostitution is one of the few crimes for which women are more likely to be arrested, but that’s likely because women are much less likely to pay for sex”…what? Women are arrested for prostitution because they are less likely to pay for sex? The sex industry and its criminalization is a much more complicated issue than that, involving gender-related power structures, sex trafficking, cultural attitudes towards men’s and women’s sexuality, and the way in which prostitution is handled in the criminal justice system. It does not boil down to men just wanting sex more than women and being more willing to pay for it.

Kenrick also describes a study often discussed in evolutionary psychology (future post to come on this!) where college men and women were approached by attractive researchers they did not know and asked whether they would like to go to bed with them. Men tended to say yes, while women tended to say no. These findings have been used as evidence that men are more interested in sex and in casual relations than women are, but the social context in which men and women have been conditioned and the gender roles that they are encouraged to take on are an HUGE confounding factor in this research. More on that to come.

Kenrick’s take on it? He goes with the simple explanation that men want sex more than women, and sums up his discussion with “unfortunately, most real women essentially find most real men rather scary, unattractive, and unsexy, and they consequently say “No.””

Riiight. Women’s responses in this survey have nothing to do with the fact that roughly 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape in her life (that number would go up if all types of sexual assault were included) – women just find men “rather scary.” It’s not that women face a double-edged sword (prude/slut) regarding their sexuality and know that their sexual behavior is going to be closely scrutinized and judged by those around them, they just find real men “unsexy.” And I’m sure the state of reproductive health services in this country has absolutely nothing to do with women’s decisions about casual sexual activity. They just find men unattractive, and so they just say “No.” Bullshit.

In his piece on the 7 best things about being a male, Kenrick’s fifth point is “Men get to play with Legos and toy rockets instead of dollhouses.” He explains:

…these early play preferences may be related to the fact that men are more likely to move into the higher reaches of science, technology, and math fields, which get a lot of respect compared to more traditionally female occupations such as being an elementary school teacher or a nurse.

There are so many backwards assumptions in this argument – boys and girls choose to play with gendered toys completely independent of how they are socialized, girls never play with Legos, men pursue science, technology and math fields for no other reason than that they play with the more interesting toys as children…this is irresponsible storytelling.

Some of the ideas in Kenrick’s two articles are valid critiques of problems that men face, however he frames his entire discussion in a way that obscures an integral component of the issues: societal norms and expectations. Psychology Today often publishes articles that deal more in opinion than information, which leaves room for biases and assumptions to creep into pieces that could be viewed by the unsuspecting reader as an objective account of current trends in psychology.

Without context, true meaning is lost.

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