Episode 11 of Boy vs. Girl features a discussion of New Year's Resolutions (and Rachel's ridiculous resolution), the question over whether men or women are better drivers, and the story about how I was groped by a woman as I was disembarking the polar express, about ten feet from Santa Claus.
“I can’t think of a better way to make the House work again than electing every woman on the ballot,” Clinton told the Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum. “There are ten women running for the Senate, six women running for governor and I wish I could vote for all of them.”
I’d like to take it one step further:
I would be willing to replace every male member of Congress with a female lawmaker.
With apologies to my own sex, I have often felt that our country would be better positioned for the future if it were run by women.
Frankly, it’s shocking that women aren’t in charge already. As a fifth grade teacher, I bear witness to the striking differences between boys and girls at the ages of ten and eleven. It’s well known that girls mature faster than boys, and nowhere is this disparity more evident than in fifth grade.
Every year, I have girls in my class who could already be employed as effective office managers. A few could probably run small companies with the right advisors.
At the same time, I have boys in my class who can’t get food from their plate to their mouth without some disaster occurring in between. I have boys who would scrape sticks in dirt all day if given the chance.
How these boys ever manage to span this intellectual chasm and in many cases overtake the girls is beyond me. I can only assume that somewhere in middle school or high school, girls turn on one another, stunting their sex’s overall progress, while boys continue to follow a more cooperative, live-and-let-live approach.
Whatever the cause, I gather the girls in my class every spring and implore them to band together and continue their dominance as they move forward to middle school. I tell them with all sincerity that the world would be a better place if it were run by women, and that it’s up to their generation to make this happen.
“Don’t be mean to one another,” I tell them. “Stick together. Support one another. And by all means, don’t fight over boys. We’re not worth it.”
My dream is to send a generation of girls forward who maintain their advantage of boys and eventually take over the world.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe the world wouldn’t be any better if it were run by women. But after more than two centuries of male domination in the halls of Congress and the boardrooms of corporate America, I’m willing to give the ladies a turn and see what they can do.
It couldn’t be any worse than what my sex has accomplished so far.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who plays a coed sport:
On the playing field, men are more likely than women to make dumb decisions.
The major finding:
As the competition (in US Open Tennis) gets tighter, men are more likely to screw up. During set tiebreakers, female players were more likely to make the correct challenge call, and men more likely to make an incorrect call.
The study, conducted by conducted by economics professors from Deakin University in Melbourne and Sogang University in Seoul, only looks at US Open tennis, but the same principles are easily applied to other sports, including golf.
More than half of the errors that I make while playing golf are mental errors, and a good percentage of them amount to little more than dumb decisions.
These dumb decisions fall into three categories:
- I failed to take an aspect of the course (a tiered green, an enormous pond, a stiff breeze) into account before swinging.
- I failed to think strategically before swinging
- I attempted a shot that was impossible or nearly impossible in hopes that it might work.
It’s this latter error (and my most frequent error) that this study seems to address.
Errors like these often occur when I am standing in a tree line on the edge of a fairway. “The mature shot” (a phrase my friends and I often use to describe the boring but sensible shot) would be to chip the ball out of the tree line onto the fairway and proceed to the green.
Instead, I look ahead to the green and see an opening through the tree line down to the green. Hitting my ball through this series of spaces between the trees will require me to hit a ball low and long and accurate to within three feet, absent of any slice or draw. It will require the perfect shot. But if I manage t pull it off, I could be on the green and save myself at least one stroke.
It’s a decision I make often. It’s a decision that my friends make often.
The results are rarely good.
These findings can be applied to other sports as well. I play coed basketball, and I’ve found that a man is much more likely to throw up an improbable shot during a game (and particularly near the end of the game) than a woman.
The authors attribute the propensity for men to make these kinds of dumb decisions to three factors:
Overconfidence: Men are more prone to cockiness, and think that their perspective is always correct.
Pride: Men also possess a disproportionate amount of pride. Governed by their egos, men can’t bear to lose, and are more susceptible to making an irrational decision.
Shame: Men are also less prone to shame than women. They don’t see the same downside to screwing up. “Guys just don’t care as much about losing challenges,” Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, told TIME. “Women are more concerned about being embarrassed.”
The authors of the study agree:
“At crucial moments of the match, such as tiebreaks … male players try to win at all costs, while female players accept losing more gracefully.”
Overconfidence and pride seem to be hindrances to performance in almost all cases, but a reduced propensity for shame is less clear.
In the 16 years that I have spent working primarily with women, in addition to the three years spent studying at a women’s college, I have taken note in this difference in the way that men and women experience shame. I think Navratilova and the authors of the study are correct:
Men are far less concerned about being embarrassed than women.
While this lack of concern over embarrassment may lead to my willingness to attempt impossible golf shots and ultimately cause me to lose more often, I’ve also noted that men are more willing to take risks, both athletically and professionally, and that these risks often pay off enormously.
It also allows men to focus more closely on critical aspects of their job that they deem most important while allowing less important but potentially embarrassing aspects of the job to receive little or no attention.
It also prevents concern over perceived embarrassments over factors that others would never even notice.
This one seems especially prevalent in female culture.
So yes, men are more likely to make dumb decisions on the tennis court, and probably in most athletic endeavors. And yes, overconfidence, pride, and shame (or a lack thereof) are contributing factors to our stupidity.
But men’s reduced level of concern over embarrassment may not be all bad. At the very least, it reduces anxiety and worry and frees up vast amounts of time and resources. But it may also greatly contribute to a man’s willingness to try new things, take risks, fight relentlessly, fail often, and ultimately find higher ground.
And take some terrible golf shots along the way.
Man who finishes in last place in his fantasy football league is required to make an embarrassing photo calendar that celebrates famous moments in print history, including a recreation of the ESPN: The Magazine Naked Prince Fielder cover and the famous photo of breastfeeding on the cover of TIME.
Also something you would find almost exclusively in the company of men.
Embarrassing your closest friend in the most unimaginable and horrific way possible is the stuff of men. So, too, are most pranks and public insults. Men are intentionally cruel and purposefully hurtful to one another on a minute-to-minute basis, and we are just fine with it.
We actively, unrelentingly seek to annoy, harass, humiliate, poke, and prod one another. We plot and plan for months (in sometimes years) in order to pull off the perfectly timed prank.
The best gift that I have ever received was a gift-wrapped box that my friend, Jeff, handed me before a round of golf. We were kicking off my bachelor party weekend, and Jeff told me that this little box was my wedding gift. I was instructed not to open it. Just hand it to our friend, Tom, when there were lots of people around him, and tell him that it was my gift to him for agreeing to be a groomsman in my wedding.
I asked no questions. Just did what I was told.
I waited until a large group of men had gathered near the starter’s shed and handed Tom the box. “Thanks for being a part of my wedding,” I said.
Tom looked surprised. Appreciative. Humbled. He thanked me. Then he untied the ribbon and open the box. Inside was one of the largest spiders I have ever seen. Tom is deathly afraid of spiders, so he screamed like a little girl, threw the box into the air, and ran.
Best gift ever. Not only was Tom’s reaction priceless, but my own surprise was like icing on the cake.
But this is the kind of thing that almost only happens with men.
Women are rarely involved in pranks. They are almost never openly cruel to their closest and dearest friends. They never seek to embarrass or humiliate the ones they love. The idea that a group of women would make one of their friends pose for those calendar shots is unthinkable.
I’m not sure why this is so, but I’m so happy to be on the male side of this equation. I have been the victim of many, many pranks and cruelties at the hands of my friends over the years. I have been humiliated far more often than I have humiliated a friend. As a friend once told me, “It’s not that you’re an easy target. You were just born to be the target.”
It’s true. I don’t know why, but he was right. Had I been competing in that fantasy league, the universe would have undoubtedly pushed me into last place, injuring my players in any way possible to make it happen, and I would’ve been the one posing naked.
It would’ve been humiliating photos of me hanging in offices and kitchens and features on Deadspin.
Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I was listening to the most recent Slate Double X podcast and nearly losing my mind. The panelists were discussing the recent Atlantic cover story Why Women Still Can’t Have It All with the author, Anne Marie Slaughter. I read the piece a couple days ago and had been formulating my somewhat annoyed reaction to it when this podcast came on, which served to further annoyed me.
My basic argument with the piece is this:
Men want it all, too, goddamn it. I don’t know a father who doesn’t want to spend more time with his children. Not one. Nor do I know a man who doesn’t want to be immensely successful in his career. We all want it all.
So why the hell is this framed as a woman’s issue?
Why isn’t the piece titled Why Americans Still Can’t Have It All?
Or Why Human Beings Still Can’t Have It All?
And please don’t try to tell me that Slaughter’s cursory acknowledgements that this might be a man’s issue as well in any way minimizes the fact that this is a piece about women.
The title alone invalidates that argument. And the first two times that Slaughter acknowledges that this could also be a man’s problem, she does so parenthetically.
As I was pondering this annoyance, I started listening to Slaughter speak on the issue. The whole segment had me yelling back at the panelists, but two statements in particular, the first by Slaughter and the second by podcast host Allison Benedikt sent me over the edge.
We can say, for many women, that tug of having a child who needs you or a child you want to be with versus the demands of a workplace are felt more keenly for a woman. So that women, even when they know there is someone is taking care of their children, whether it be a nanny or a father, feel like I must be there, I need to be there and I want to be there. I don’t think we should apologize for it.
For anyone who wants to tell me that Slaughter is framing this as a human issue rather than a woman’s issue, this statement should end that discussion. Slaughter states in no uncertain terms that the female struggle is different because of their innate ability to sense the problem more keenly. It’s apparently some form of female extrasensory perception that not only allows women to perceive these struggles with greater sensitivity but also allows them to presume that they know how men feel about the issue as well. It’s a super-super power of sorts which also results in their inability to fully trust a father with the care and well being of a child.
And she makes it clear that she does not apologize for it one bit, either. If Spider-Man can detect eminent danger with his spider-like powers, there is nothing wrong with a mother’s ability to more keenly understand the nuances involved with having to leave your child in daycare or with a nanny in order to earn a living.
From a male perspective, this is nonsense. It’s offensive, condescending, presumptuous, narrow-minded and stupid. And yes, Anne Marie, you should apologize for it.
Next up is panelist Allison Benedikt:
A lot of us co-parent with our husbands, and both have same track careers so the responsibilities are divided evenly, but yes, I think there is a maternal pull and I think there’s a pull for kids. There are certain times in their lives when kids need their moms more than their dads. I think that’s true.
Look! Another female super power, and this time it’s given a name.
The Maternal Pull.
“Yes, Dad, I know that you desperately want to spend more time with your children and might even be willing to sacrifice aspects of your career in order to do so, but I have The Maternal Pull. As much as you might want to stay home with the kids and volunteer at school’s ice cream socials, I want it more. Sorry, but there’s a reason it’s not called The Paternal Pull. It’s innate. It comes with the vagina.”
“Oh, and one more thing. I’m sorry to report that there are times when the kids are also going to require my love more than yours. My love is just more special than anything you are capable of offering. Sorry, Dad. Oh, and sorry to all the gay fathers out there, too. None of you have vaginas, so your kids are screwed.”
Try to imagine a man attempting to argue that a father’s need to be with his children is innately stronger than that of a woman, and as a result, fathers are naturally more conflicted than mothers when it comes to balancing careers and parenting.
How might women react?
Or that there are times in a child’s life when kids need their father more than their mother, because let’s be clear:
Benedikt does not say that there are times when children need their mothers or their fathers more. “There are certain times in their lives when kids need their moms more than their dads.” She makes no attempt to qualify her statement by stating that this need works both ways.
Even if she did, what about all the same-sex households out there. Does Benedikt really believe that the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers are all doomed?
And lest you think that my quibbles with the podcast do not address the actual piece, it is also littered with similar statements.
Like this one:
What’s more, among those who have made it to the top, a balanced life still is more elusive for women than it is for men. A simple measure is how many women in top positions have children compared with their male colleagues. Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.
In this paragraph, Slaughter attempts to argue that because the male Supreme Court justices have families, their lives are inherently more balanced than the two female justices without children.
She’s right to acknowledge that this is a “simple measure.” Perhaps more accurately it should be called a “simpleton’s measure.”
Slaughter has no clue about how much time these male justices spend with their wives and children. She assumes that because one person has kids and the other does not, the person with children has a more balanced life,
C’mon. Even the most ardent Slaughter supporter has to admit that this is a stupid assumption to make.
Even worse, it completely discounts the possibility that Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Condoleezza Rice simply have no interest in children and implies that anyone who does not have a family does not have a balanced life.
Am I to believe that these three high ranking women yearn for a more traditional American family, and it has only been their climb to the top that has prevented them from having rug rats running around their homes?
It’s possible, but Slaughter offers no evidence and seems to undermine the choice to not have a family in the process.
Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.
Here Slaughter is assuming, once again, that she has a direct path into the male psyche and can easily ascertain the level of comfort that men feel about being away from their children.
This is narrow-minded and stupid. With the differences in the ways in which men and women communicate, is it possible that Slaughter might not be fully in touch with how men feel about leaving their children, or could she be overly-generalizing the feelings of the men who she knows?
I think so.
A wise man never presumes to know what a woman is thinking or feeling, and Slaughter should be smart enough to do the same, or at least present some actual data supporting her anecdotal and meaningless conclusions.
Here I step onto treacherous ground, mined with stereotypes. From years of conversations and observations, however, I’ve come to believe that men and women respond quite differently when problems at home force them to recognize that their absence is hurting a child, or at least that their presence would likely help. I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.
This is the most damning of her statements.
First, let’s be clear: Acknowledging that you’re about to apply stereotypes to half the population of the planet does not make doing so any better.
Second, stereotyping men and women based upon “years of conversations and observations” assumes, once again, that she can readily ascertain a man’s feelings based upon what he says and does.
Sorry, but this is never the case. Had Slaughter presented us with actual data, her argument might carry some weight. But to simply assume the mental framework of all of mankind based upon anecdotal observations is foolish.
Even better, she opens the door for me to counter with my own stereotypes (which I may or may not believe):
Perhaps men are more likely to choose job over family because they are more rationale and less emotional and understand that certain practicalities, like food and clothing, comes before any emotional need.
Maybe men are simply less selfish than women and are therefore willing to make greater sacrifices for their spouses.
Maybe men understand that feeding and housing and providing medical care for a family is a significant expression of love that does not require anything in return.
Maybe men simply know that trying to have it all is a ridiculous notion and therefore opt not to whine about it.
Perhaps a majority of men yearn to spend more time with their children but know that doing so might require their wives to spend less time, and that this would not sit well with the wife or society in general. Perhaps Thoreau was right: Most men live lives of quiet desperation, while a woman like Slaughter presume to know better.