[I want to remind everyone, if you have questions you want me to ask Andey Randead, the author of The Great Female Con, continue to ask them in the comments section to today’s or yesterday’s post. Thanks. – T.]
A few clarifications up front, to clarify yesterday’s post: I didn’t mean to imply women were somehow incapable of maturity. I think women can easily be as mature and logical as most men. I just think society in general and men in particular often allow them not to be for various reasons, or even gives them incentives to act immature of tantrum. It gets worse the more attractive the woman is. I also wasn’t saying women are intellectually inferior or have less intellectual potential, or that men are generally better than women just by virtue of being men. In fact, I think women are smarter and savvier than men in many ways. Finally, this is specifically about today’s women in the modern, developed world, especially the West, not womankind from the beginning of recorded history or from all over the world. Now that we have that out of the way…
When Kay Hymowitz was promoting her book called Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, many mainstream publications like Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and others coveered it. I realized when the press for the book was going around, a lot of men were willing to agree that men were indeed far more immature than women and that they need to “man up” and “step up.” When gauging the reaction to the book’s premise, I tried to mentally screen out responses from either extreme of the spectrum, from hardcore feminists and from men’s right’s advocates (you can usually spot both pretty easily once you know the buzzwords to look for), and focus on just response from “regular” guys and girls, people who didn’t see themselves as gender war advocates. As is usually the case for such articles, I found plenty of regular guys who were willing to accept the charge that men were immature and self-centered, and very few regular women who were willing to step up to the plate to defend men. There were some exceptions, sure, but for the most part most women just continued the pile-on and most guys give a lukewarm at best defense, or joined in the pile-on (again, this is not including responses from hardcore feminists and MRAs). Some MRA sites linked to the articles so you started getting floods of criticial comments from them, but I don’t count those as the typical male response.
Other major books that appeared in the same vein and got lot of mainstream press coverage include Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity by Gary Cross and Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel. We also see articles with titles like “The Crisis of Male Immaturity” and “The Basement Boys” appearing often in major outlets. It made me wonder how books and articles with the same premise but the genders reversed would be treated by the mainstream media? Could a book with such a premise ever get such a high-profile launch? And how would regular guys and regular women, the ones who don’t view themselves as ideologues or gender warriors, treat such a book?
Yesterday I discussed such an ebook, The Great Female Con. I put up a post describing a premise from the book that I knew was going to be controversial, about how society’s commonly accepted belief that women are, on average, more mature than men, simply isn’t true, and that if anything, the opposite premise is true: the average man today is more mature than the average woman.
There was significant backlash, and much of it was from men. And this is something I totally expected, and I think it actually adds more evidence to the maturity theory. Men are, on average, far more willing to give women the benefit of the doubt, attempt to see things from their viewpoint, and rush to their defense, far more often than women are willing to do the reverse. Men are quick to pull the misogynist card on other men, but you rarely see women pull the misandrist card on other women. In fact, I have met many women who don’t even know the word “misandrist.”
The comments I got about the post on Reddit on a regular’s men’s section were nearly unanimously negative and along the lines of these two comments:
This article talks about all the stupid some shit women do, and completely ignore all the stupid shit some men do. That’s pretty immature in my books.
This is silly – you’re trying to counter one myth, that women are more mature than men, with another myth, that men are more mature than women?
Neither sex is more ‘mature’ in the long run.
Again, very mature responses. They show empathy for a class of people they don’t belong to, a desire to take the high road, a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt and reach a mutual understanding. And again, these were the only types of male responses I got there.
Now, let’s look some of the comments to the post that appeared on the blog yesterday. Cameron said:
You haven’t provided any evidence to support this statement, perhaps the book does but even the quote itself doesn’t really support the statement.
How often does the average woman demand any higher form of proof when someone makes a sweeping claim about male immaturity? Maybe it happens, but I rarely see it, and even if it does happen it doesn’t happen to the same frequency I see men defend women and demand proof before accepting any negative ideas about them.
In my opinion I don’t see how anyone could even begin to make a case that one gender is more or less mature than the other, even if we’re talking about ‘on average’. It seems like a debate where no matter what position someone wanted to take they could cherry pick a bunch of examples to support their view.
If someone wanted to point out specific instances of how one gender is immature or mature in particular ways, sure. But talking about what sex more is mature on the whole seems unanswerable.
Okay, just look at this response. That’s a VERY mature attitude. How often on an article about male immaturity will you see such a response from women in defense of men? And even if you do see it, what is the ratio of such responses to responses from females cheerleading the main article?
I totally agree that in the specific situation of discussing the other gender’s maturity levels women show a more immature, double-standard-ish attitude on the whole.
Personally I wouldn’t see that as any kind of evidence that women are globally more immature as a gender. I think you have to look at things on a case by case basis.
Again, note how even as he admits I have a point, he still tries to find the most mature, nuanced, evenhanded angle to the issue. I see this happen over and over, that men on average will do their best to discuss these issues in as fair and nuanced a manner as possible, and often give women the benefit of the doubt, in a way that rarely happens when gender is reversed. To me, the responses I got from men to the last piece was just more evidence of that male maturity I was mentioning.
I think there are several reasons why this happens.
First, society is far more comfortable with teaching women about the dark side of men than vice versa. It starts in childhood with both the father and the mother’s advice to the daughter, and it continues into adulthood. I touched on this yesterday, and I’ll repeat it here, so forgive the overlap.
For example, I think books like The Great Female Con educate men to be aware of the dark side of many women. I think this is very important because I think the average man puts the average women on a pedestal far more often than vice versa, and men are trained and socialized by both parents to do this from young. Women on the other hand get an education from both parents on how to protect themselves from the dark side of most men from a very young age. “All men want is just one thing.” “Give it up too fast and he won’t stick around.” “He’s just not that into you.” “He won’t buy the cow if he can get the milk for free.” “Don’t let yourself be alone with a guy you barely know.” “All men will cheat given the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, I don’t think men are capable of even believing the average woman has a dark side. They think only the outliers do. (I believe this is why the Madonna/Whore problem is still prevalent today.) Women are totally fine accepting that the average guy has a dark or unsavory side and that they need to be informed about that, without believing that doing so makes them man-haters. Yet men feel like the mere entertaining of the idea that the average woman (not just the mythical “bad girl”) can have an unsavory side will transform them into instant misogynists.
For example, go into the relationship section and see how many relationship books aimed at women warning them about shady men. These are the female-targeted versions of books like Women’s Infidelity and The Great Female Con. Book after book about dogs, cheaters, players, emotionally unavailable men, narcissistic men, “Nice Guys” (the apparent latest bogeyman of the dating world), immature men who need to “man up!,” passive aggressive men, verbally abusive men, men who string women along with no intention of committing or marrying, and so forth. In fact a NY Times article once estimated that over 85% of codependence books are aimed at women. Yet you hardly see women on blogs, message boards, or book review sites falling over themselves to point out that it’s only a subset of men like that, or to defend them in general. Even when women admit that all men don’t fall into the bad categories described in a book or article, they make it clear they found “one of the good ones,” which still implies that the good ones are a minority of what’s out there.
However, when the tables are turned and the advice is about warning men about the dark side of many women, guys really resist it a lot more. The comparative lack of demand for such books alone speaks volumes. Men complain about the cynicism, decry the misogyny, say they don’t want to think of women that way, they want to make sure it’s clear that it’s only a minority of women that are bad…they hate the very idea of any negative generalization about women. I’m not saying to demonize all women, start hating everything about them, and become a misogynist, but at the same time too many men are Pollyannaish and give them the benefit of the doubt to an extent that they never do for us, which ends up with a lot of guys getting totally blindsided later on. Many guys write me to ask about how they can learn to be less codependent and develop better boundaries, and from talking to them I’ve become convinced the biggest culprits are the implicit, unexamined belief that women are on average inherently more mature and empathetic than men, and the belief that if they stop viewing “good” women as naturally exalted enlightened creatures and start accepting them as a human mix of strengths and flaws, they won’t be able to still love them anymore. The Manic Pixie post touches on this latter idea.
As I said yesterday, I think these Pollyannaish beliefs men grow up with about women give men a lot of faulty, idealized expectations about women, and when they get blindsided and hurt enough times by women not living up to these ideals their parents and society put in their heads, they overcompensate in the opposite direction with extreme misogyny and a feeling that they’ve been lied to their whole lives. I think a lot of the new misogyny we’re seeing wouldn’t happen if society and parents were as comfortable educating boys about the dark side of women as they are educating women about the dark side of men.
Second, I think a lot of this comes from unexamined childhood beliefs. There is a popular story and I don’t know if it’s literally true or just a parable, but I think the principle it describes is worth sharing anyway. It’s a story about circus elephants who from a very young age are tied to stakes that are hammered into the ground. These baby elephants yank and yank at the stakes but can’t uproot them. Eventually they just accept that they can’t pull up these stakes and stop trying. Eventually they grow to giant size adult elephants and are now strong enough to yank the stakes out with ease, but they never do because they’ve been conditioned to believe the stakes are stronger than them. Supposedly, elephants have been known to burn to a crisp in circus fires and not escape because they never realize they’re strong enough to yank out the stakes. They just let themselves burn up, because that childhood belief is still that strong in them. They never examined it again in adulthood and retested it.
Similarly, I think a lot of men grow up believing their mothers are infallible and all-knowing. Their mothers always seems to know when they’re lying or doing something wrong, so they think her superior wisdom is unquestionable. But the truth is they were just a stupid little kid. Any reasonable adult would know when they were lying or did something wrong. Their moms weren’t omniscient, they were just young and obvious kids.
Additionally, because little girls mature faster than little boys, boys grow up seeing girls around them acting a lot more mature than them. Even though later in life these same men are on average much more mature than the women around them, they still remember their childhoods when the average girl their age was more mature than they were, and they still think that’s the case today.
Just like the elephant’s childhood experiences lead to unexamined beliefs that keep him believing he’s too weak to uproot the stake he’s tied to, even as an adult, a man’s unexamined beliefs stemming from his childhood experiences with his own mother and his female peers keep him believing he’s less mature than the women around him, even when that no longer remains the case.
Finally, I think the Maturity Paradox comes into play. I discussed the Maturity Paradox in a series of 4 posts you can find here, here, here, and here. You can about it more in depth there, but what it comes down to is that there’s a concept called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says that the least skilled people are far more likely to overestimate how skilled they are and underestimate how skilled others are, while the most skilled people are far more likely to underestimate how skilled they are and overestimate how skilled others are. The Maturity Paradox applies that same rationale to maturity, which is a form of emotional skill, and says that the people who are the least mature are far more likely to overestimate how mature they are and underestimate how mature others are, while the people who are most mature are far more likely to underestimate how mature they are and overestimate how mature others are. Due to the Maturity Paradox, the average women is more likely to overestimate her maturity level and underestimate the maturity level or men, while the average man is more likely to underestimate his maturity level and overestimate the maturity level of women.
When I interview Andey Randead, I plan to get into this topic a bit further and use examples from his book.