This is the question psychology professor Roy. F. Baumeister tackles in his recently released book: Is There Anything Good About Men: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men.What are men really good for, really?
The book is not really original, since there is no argument he has made that has not been made in both academic and non-academic forums and papers. In fact, you can find the same arguments expressed on any “Game” site on the Internet, or from the mouths of men themselves. He’s a professional, so he got his own book.
First, let me say. The author insists that the book is not against women,and he repeats that he does believe in true gender equality, unlike the Imaginary and real feminists who are the foes in the book. ( Baumeister actually establishes an enemy or opponent in the book that he calls Imaginary Feminist. The Imaginary Feminist works to feed him feminist arguments for which he offers rebuttals.)
It’s hard to do a straight forward recap of the main points of the book, since Baumeister doesn’t argue straightforwardly, but rather, he mentions a point, drifts to another, and then returns to the point. In this sense, the book seems like a rant rather than a professional discourse. Nonetheless, I organized this summary/review by the main points as I understood them.
The Main Point
Baumeister’s main point is that the feminist argument that gender inequality is the result of a patriarchal society that oppresses females is false. Instead, he argues that while female oppression is real in small pockets of society, there was and is no real conspiracy on the part of men to oppress females. Furthermore, Baumeister flips the narrative to argue that, instead of females being oppressed, it’s males who are being exploited, hence the subtitle of the book: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men .
In regards to this argument, Baumeister insists that culture a.k.a. civilization (architecture, art, science, technology, Jazz) is the product of male expendability, creativity and motivation. It often uses men to sustain itself through their sex drive and hard-work. In this case, only through making men expendable can society exist. The dominant culture/civilization is a product of male achievement and is therefore very masculine, he says, and because of this fact, feminists have mistaken it to be sexist. In reality, the conditions that gave rise to this male culture are quite natural and non-oppressive.
Sex and Gender Differences
Baumeister believes the differences between females and males are physiological, and maybe neuropsychological. He denies the feminist insistence that there are no differences. However, he stresses that the differences in males and females are not based on natural abilities, but rather on three qualities: motivation, aggression and competition. He relies on the hunter/gatherer theory, as well as the alpha male dominance theory to prove his point. In primitive societies, alpha males had access to the all the females, and men became alpha males by becoming the best hunter, fighter, warrior and protector. To drive this point home, he points to a study that shows that roughly between 35 and 40 percent of the primitive men mated. In other words: of all the primitive males, only about 40 percent contributed to the gene pool of modern humans (our ancestors). Another understanding: while the percentage of females who passed on their genes was roughly 95 percent, only 40 percent of males did the same.
Baumeister believes that because modern men are descended from this 40 percent, they are naturally prone to alpha male qualities: aggression, self-motivation and competition, which is what drove men to build ships, homes, invent art, science and music in the first place. Females, not having the same pressures as males, failed to do any of this, at least not in meaningful numbers. Indeed, he dares the reader to name the achievements of large groups of men and women, respectively (Baumeister, 148). He also points out that 94 percent of patents are sought by males. Females had not the motivation (not ability) to invent, and females are not as creative; he uses the example of Jazz to prove this). For example: black males, who invented Jazz, were far more oppressed that females were, and yet they were still able to invent Jazz. Females rarely produce music because they aren’t creative or motivated enough to do so. Men are agents and women are communion, he concludes.
Sexuality/Sexual Economics Theory
To continue with his point about differences in males and females, Baumeister considers/rants about the sexual differences between females and males. He starts off the chapter on sexuality by exemplifying a scene from Annie Hall where Annie and her lover are in therapy discussing the their sex life. They both admit they have sex three times a week, but while she claims the number to be frequent, he claims it was infrequent. Baumeister, after he explains there’s no real way to measure sex drive, goes on to use various (unnamed) studies showing females have lower sex drives than males, and showing males want sex more than females. And then, he hit “Game” territory when he begins ranting about the physical values of males and females (female value is based on her youth/sex appeal and male value on his material resources). He goes on to compare courtship to a marketplace that plays in favor of the male (buyer) and against the female (seller).
“Sexual economics theory depicts many romantic pairings as exchanges in which the man brings money and other resources, while the woman contributes sex. Her sexual desirability is based partly on her looks. These resources change over time in a way that is not kind to women. If a man and a woman wait five years, as compared to marrying now, things like change in different directions…his options will have increased, while hers have decreased” (Baumeister, 240).
Sexual economics theory is how Baumeister understands the relationship between males and females. It is a relationship characterized by a man’s material resources and a woman’s sexuality. He insists: “sex commences only when a man has committed himself to provide material support over a long period of time” (Baumeister, 236). While he insists the two sexes are not enemies and he doesn’t believe in “battle of the sexes,” he goes on to seek sympathy for men by thrashing women.
|Roy F. Baumeister|
Conspiracy Theory: Myth of Everlasting Love
For Baumeister, marriage is just another way for culture to exploit men. He calls this the myth of everlasting love. Marriage is somewhat dishonest and treacherous for males, he says, since when males commit to their slender, lovely brides, they are simply acting on their natural desire for sex, and that it’s not fair to males that after marriage their wives, a) lose their desire for sex and b) gain weight, age and may force them to watch the act of childbirth, all of which males find repulsive, and all of which are to be blamed for males losing sexual desire for their wives (Baumeister, 245-6). He says: “Many women gain weight as they get older. Does the bridegroom realize he’s promising never to have sex with anyone but her, even if she were to double her weight and become unappealing to him?” Baumeister therefore believes a “weight gain” clause should be part of prenuptial agreements and that “weight gain” (on the woman’s part) should be grounds for divorce. He also advises males, prior to marriage, to “look at the older women in the group, perhaps her older female relatives or a middle age woman in general. Not just the pounds, but the wrinkles, the downward drift of loosening flesh, the other inevitable parts of aging.“
Baumeister insists that society uses male sexuality (the beast) against males as a means of transferring money from men to women (he cites life insurance policies, alimony and child support as proof). He attempts to make male sexuality (“the beast”) sympathetic. He insists that females simply don’t understand male sexuality, and refuses to acknowledge “cheating” as such; he believes society should make some compromise where a man can still have a younger mistress without losing his family and paying alimony in a divorce. He also stresses that young males who don’t act on their strong sexual impulses should be appreciated more for this, and expresses empathy for societies where females are forced to wear clothes like the burqa and niqab; since they serve the purpose of protecting females from the beast. (The beast is hard to tame, after all.)
A good chunk of the book is spent debunking “myths” about male power and female oppression. He argues against the “glass ceiling,” insisting that females are not on the top of the corporate, political and scientific echelon because they don’t want to be, and because males work longer hours, are more likely to ask for a pay raise, and are therefore paid more (by the way, Susan Pinker made the same point in her book: The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap). Indeed, most of Baumeister’s points, like Pinker’s, rely on the belief that males are more extreme than females. When it comes to intellect, there are more male geniuses, but also more male idiots, and both genders cluster in the middle or the average. The only stable argument Baumeister makes in the book are arguments that focus on male power. He argues that when feminists try to prove male dominance, they focus on those males at the top, but ignore those at the bottom. Not only are there more male idiots than female idiots, there are more males who are homeless, who die in war, who are failing school and who die doing dangerous jobs than there are females doing the same.
However, because males are expendable, society looks the other way when it comes to their suffering. (He uses a personal anecdote of his father’s experience as a German soldier during World War II to stress this point, and also to pick a bone with accuracy in American war movies.) He also barks at the hypocrisy of feminists when it comes to military/war drafts concerning females. Baumeister insists, like he has been doing for the whole book, that men are the ones exploited, really. He insists that the people benefiting from the hard-work and long hours of those men on the top, are not the men themselves, but their wives and children (Baumeister, 201).
Baumeister goes on to tackle, however poorly, statistics about domestic violence (he insists females commit these acts more than males, but due to double standards, they are less likely to be punished). The infamous Chinese preference for male babies is not based on sexism against females, but the expendablity of males (parents can sue sons for refusing to support them). Baumeister attacks the stories about “female small business owners/entrepreneurs” calling it the “man bites dog” effect of journalism. He points out that while females start more small businesses, male businesses are more crucial to the society since they are bigger, hire more people and bring in more profits to take care of a family. He criticizes the belief that females are more social than males, pointing out they simply socialize in different ways, but insisting that while females are more likeable, it’s male social systems that build societies. Oh, he thinks there should be fewer organizations that cater to female needs in the workplace and school, especially since there are virtually none for males.
Speaking of academia, he suggests that because colleges engage in grade inflation, male grades suffer, while females excel. Apparently, grade inflation and the removal of the highest score (A+) means that a low grade will affect the total average of the male, but a high grade won’t. It’s one of his conspiracy theories, which fits in perfectly with his argument against the “feminized” education system that aims to turn males into females. As a consequence of this, smart boys are turning away from school and turning toward videogames as an outlet of their masculine energy, aggression and competitiveness, the same qualities that allowed males to succeed and build civilization in the first place. The bottomline: if males don’t do well, society is screwed with no progress (Baumeister, 152).
Despite Baumeister’s claim that he doesn’t have an axe to grind, it’s clear he does from the work. As I mentioned, his writing has much in common with the writings found on sexist “Game” sites (which have all embraced the book and are promoting it). And, no one would argue the males on the sites don’t have a warped mentality. I recognize his right to express his concerns, but refuse to pretend his writing is without bias, since it’s dripping in misogyny, despite his insistence he’s for equality.
- Baumeister, Roy F. Is There Anything Good About Men: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Pinker, Susan. The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2008.