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Men and Women

This is an interesting paper about the differences between men and women. You might set aside some time to read it.

It addresses the delicate point that there seem to be more men of ability in some areas (science, Chess, genre-creators in music, etc) with a much more plausible explanation than the conspiracy theory that throughout all cultures and times, men have kept women down. The author explains that the entire notion of "men vs. women" is a screwed up way to look at it, and that the actual evolutionary issue is "groups (that contain men and women) vs. other groups (that also contain men and women)."

The author suggests three main reasons we see such a disproportionate number of men at the top of so many fields. My summary is as follows:

1) Nature plays dice much more with men than women. Men are at the top of a lot of things, and they are also at the very bottom of a lot of things. Most people in prison are men. Even with height, it varies more with men in BOTH directions (meaning there are a lot of men way shorter than the male average, moreso than women way shorter than the female average). Though there appear to be more men at the top levels of IQ, there are more men at the BOTTOM levels as well. In the set of people who are mentally retarded, the more severe the case, the more likely the person is to be male, and below a certain point, it's basically all male. Though the average in IQ and many other things can be the same in both sexes, it's males nature takes chances on and ends up with more extremes in both directions. Also, I thought his notes about how deceptive the stats for minimum wage and grade point averages were interesting.

2) Evolutionarily, men need to stand out. The author presents a staggering statistic about how many of our ancestors are female as opposed to male. Twice as many are female! Although half the people who have ever lived were female, that's not the same stat. 80% of females who have lived passed on their genes (passing on genes means "ancestor" here), while only 40% of the men who have lived passed on theirs. Men are in a tough situation, and would do well to separate themselves from the pack, perhaps by accumulating wealth or power or skills, or something. The author says the number of times a group of 100 women have gotten together to build a ship to sail to far-off-lands is basically never, though men have done this many times throughout history. If you have an 80% chance of reproducing, it's just a better strategy to play it more safe and pick amongst the many men who are available to you. No need to build a ship or conquer some other land. And so evolution gave men a REASON to peruse all the crazy things they do, and to be passionate about them. To put it another way, the set of women geniuses who are just as able to be great at science as men contains fewer who WANT to devote themselves to such things.

3) Men's "relationship spheres" are different than women's. Women care about deep 1-on-1 relationships, and lucky for us, this has allowed our species to actually survive. Having families and raising young is pretty central to carrying on the species, so this preference of women's is not "worse." Quite the contrary, it's mission critical. Men's preference is to have a larger sphere of more shallow relationships. If you look at violence in the home, women actually commit it more. If you look at violence amongst "shallow relationships" such as going to the mall and getting into a knife fight, men commit it radically more. In each case, it's just the sphere that gender cares about more.

While the woman's sphere has allowed us to perpetuate the species, it has mostly stayed the same over the centuries. But the men's sphere is what enables science, trade, corporations, and so on. The men's sphere over time allows a culture to accumulate knowledge, wealth, and power. When your group of men+women is competing against other groups of men+women, your group is going to be in great shape if the women are great at their sphere (necessary for survival) and the men are great at theirs (not necessary for survival, but bring power to your group overall).

Given these three points, it's not hard to imagine that most CEOs (and even Chess players) would be men, even if the average intelligence of a man is exactly the same as for a woman (which is does appear to be). I know it's a delicate subject, but I think the author does a great job of not even mentioning any morals about what "should be," only looking at what is, and explaining how evolutionary forces created these specializations. To any particular man or woman who wants to excell at the other's stereotypical sphere: go ahead! Anyway, if you have comments, better to aim them at what the paper says, rather than my imperfect summary.

Reader Comments (37)

Not only did I not find that paper interesting at all, but its all stuff I've heard before. Sexism isn't a conspiracy, it doesn't have to be, you don't need to have conspired or even have intent to harm someone, or a group of people. You don't have to conspire to promote ideas. I doubt that Baumeister's intentions in creating the paper were malicious, yet there he is, advocating ideas that are neither new or beneficial to anyone but men.

I think the Can't Vs. Won't part is the worst part of the whole paper. Women "won't" because of sexism. It turns out that most people don't want to be in hostile environments if they can avoid it! Not only that, being told that you don't have the motivation over and over again is well, surprise! incredibly demotivating.

Amazingly, I am lacking the motivation to post a full critique of the paper, but I assure you, it's because I don't want to, not that I can't.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I love Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and your tireless and excellent devotion to good game design. With that said, if I wanted to be directed to adaptationist storytelling, I'd look up a eugenics journal. No biologist worth their salt will imply that they have pinpointed THE direct adaptational advantage for a given trait in an organism even if its application is completely obvious. Beside, the cultural and psychological framework in which the author evaluates males vs females is not an evolutionarily similar situation to the environments that we actually evolved our current brains in. Shipbuilding, the scientific method, etc are cooperative activities that depend on complex economic and social structures that were non-existent for most of human history. The cultural forces that do in demonstrable fact shape women's ambitions all over the world, on the other hand, have been present throughout, most especially during the long journey from hunting-gathering to rudimentary agriculture and property. We've spent a lot more time confining women than we have building ships. To ignore that in this paper is to wave away evidence that doesn't fit the model, which any good scientist oughtn't do: male or female.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGabe Langton

Wow, surprisingly terrible comments for such an interesting paper.

July 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I'm in academia myself, and I hear the sexism/racism/whatever stuff all the time, so it's nice to hear a divergent opinion for once (or, you might say, the conversation can be a little one-sided). There is always a condemnation of "the ancestors" for being sexist, and yet evolutionary science, apparently, can't be integrated into such a study. As you noted, it's not taking a moral stance but a scientific stance, and that's the problem: the reactions will, inevitably, NOT take this into account, conflating science with morality.

If one can take a disinterested position and then examine the paper, then you'd might have gotten more interesting comments, but I find this highly unlikely in the current cultural environment we have here.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZach

I look forward to a critique of the paper! Because I think every single point he makes is correct.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergarcia1000

I always felt that the extremes thing (point 1 in the list) was true - you just see this in so many places, sports and so on that I felt it can't just be discrimination. I really believe that women are on the average better at X, but the top people at X will tend to be men (not always of course).


July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIvo

Sirlin I know you thought making the Puzzle Strike box art pink was a good way to appeal to women, but I think perhaps you should focus first on stop trying to actively repel them by deleting this article, and avoid expressing your opinions on similar ones.

This is bad and this makes you look bad.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Evolutionary Psychology has been debunked repeatedly again
and again
and again
and again
and again.

It's not new, revolutionary, or interesting.

It's a tired, worn out, dated, intrinsically flawed set of ideas that's been used to justify everything from bog standard misogyny all the way to domestic violence and rape since Victorian times. It gets trotted out every half a decade over the past 30 years, and every time it needs to be patiently redebunked into submission.

It's really frustrating to see such hostile gender politics being played out in what has been, up till now, a relative safe and neutral space for me to enjoy reading about games. It's a pity I won't be able to enjoy this space anymore.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauri

Sirlin: I'm not surprised at all by the tone of the first two comments, and while I am not in full logical agreement with them, I am willing to consider that they might be making the more important point.

Yes, the forces described in the paper are real, and if we set our sights on a perfect understanding of how genders function in broad historical terms, it's hard to see a reason to ignore them.

The problem is that for myriad reasons, some direct (but maybe not inevitable?) consequences of the higher variance in men, in our present culture and throughout many cultures in history, men have treated women like crap. Far from respecting the vital role that women play, men have abused their more active, power-seeking tendencies to degrade, sell, enslave, disenfranchise, underpay, terrify & shame women, and while for a few blinks of a historical eye we have become somewhat more self-aware about this, the problem rages on.

Yes, the feminist backlash is 'too strong', in that it consistently makes logically invalid points. Imagine if your entire family was kept in a tiny, dark, grungy cellar for years and fed scraps of rotten meat every now and then, and then one day your captors opened the door and said, hey, come sit with us at the table and sleep in our guest rooms, let's be friends! But oh, we're still going to keep all these other families in our other cellars and keep abusing them for a while. I think maybe it would be hard for you to immediately transition into living in perfect harmony with these people, even if that might be a noble eventual goal.

As a result, talking about papers like this publicly can't help but sound like a pseudo-scientific defense of sexism (though it is clear to me that this is not at all how you personally understand the paper, and that you personally are very capable of truly respecting women). It's just too soon. Which is very frustrating for people like us who just want to talk about the Objective Truth.

Even worse, many actually sexist people also like to grab onto papers like this and use them to defend their hideous statements and actions. On the internet, it's pretty hard to tell the two cases apart, and sadly, I think the ugly one may be more common.

And in the end, which is actually more important: trying to get everyone to really understand the objective reality of the situation, or helping to push society towards a place where that reality doesn't sound like a defense of systemic oppression? As I've argued already, the former can't really help but fail, and narrow your audience as it does so. Illuminating, analyzing, and hopefully solving the still-very-real problems of sexism are much more immediately productive and uncontroversial (well, among good people) activities.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPersonman

I think your summary is really interesting alone, and I'm too lazy to read the article proper, haha... But more importantly I'd like to posit an opinion different from Gabe's... I actually think off-topic posts like this one contribute to your blog being more generally interesting, gives it variety.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKidVid

This article scratches the surface of what is a very fascinating topic: The differences between men and women. It's unfortunate that this topic isn't explored more in intelligent circles because of the taboo associated with it. But these sorts of differences make life interesting; a fighting game would suck if there was only one character to choose from.

Speaking of gaming, I've noticed a difference in what aspects of gaming men and women enjoy:

One big aspect of gaming that men seem to enjoy and women not so much is physically controlling characters and maneuvering them around objects (this probably goes back to our days as hunters and gatherers). So a man would enjoy a game like Mega Man more than a woman. In fact, I think this is why women were not avid gamers in the early days of 80s arcades much more than reasons like "there were no female protagonists".

I think there is a void on (honest) discussion of the differences between men and women in gaming so if anyone knew of any resources on this topic I'd love to read them!

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterProcrustes

Don't listen to the hate, David. I think those who wish to shut down discussion, without even engaging it are the part of the problem, not the solution that they claim to be.

If your evidence of an accusation of prejudice is that the whole thing is beneath you... sounds like a troll to me.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHector

There is a pretty big gap between "there is a statistical tendency for men and women to differ in x way" and "this statistical tendency justifies treating women as inferiors". The paper makes claims of the first type, but not of the second. If someone else tries to use this paper to argue for a claim of the second type and their argument is flawed (which is likely), then the fault lies with this other person, not with the authors of this paper.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarrelfish

Most of the paper "makes sense" and feels logical, but I believe it's good to point out fallacies where they exist. One thing the paper does is imply that this "men have more variance" thing might be the sole cause of the income disparity due to minimum wage bumping up men. But this is easily disproven just by looking at *median* income levels of men vs. women. From Wikipedia: In 2009 the median income of FTYR workers was $47,127 for men, compared to $36,278 for women. So there is no way that a minimum wage could be the sole cause of this income disparity (unless a majority of people are working at minimum wage).

Now you could counterargue that unemployed women tend to be doing something productive (raising children) while unemployed men tend to do nothing. But as I said, it's important to nitpick where nitpicking is due.

From my experience as a statistics teacher, the idea that the best and worst students are male seems largely true.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervivafringe

The link is not a paper. It is a talk transcript. It isn't peer reviewed, and it lacks references to the relevant literature.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharles Zheng

Barrelfish, yes exactly. The author says nothing at all about what is "justified" or we "should" do. So claims of sexism, or that it's wrong to even post it are deeply mystifying. I think Zach is right that some people not seeing that it's attempting to describe what is, rather than what should be, and that being offended by it is just not the right response. Dave's comment is especially bad on this front. Lauri's comment is also shocking. Really shocking. She called this "hostile gender politics" when there are no politics whatsoever. None. Zero. It is an author attempting to describe the situation. Politics would be advocating one policy or another, and it would be making a judgment of some sort. No judgment has been made. I'm also not sure what point you're trying to make, Lauri. You're saying that natural selection has not effected human psychology?

Meanwhile vivafringe actually addresses a point the author made directly. Looking at median wage would be a very good measure to get around the problem minimum wage messing up the stats. And as he said, looking at median wage tells a different story than the author's. Fair point.

July 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

Actually, the author does imply that he has political beliefs on the matter, and they are roughly in line with the feminist point of view:

"That means that if we want to achieve our ideal of equal salaries for men and women, we may need to legislate the principle of equal pay for less work. Personally, I support that principle. But I recognize it’s a hard sell."

Note here that he's talking about workaholics, and therefore quantity, not quality. He's not suggesting that women's work--in the workplace--is less valuable, but stating that, of those who work _more_ than a typical work week, a much higher percentage tend to be men. He claims that the highest salaries tend to be correlated to jobs that favor long work hours or a workaholic mentality. (I don't have statistics to dispute this claim, but if I were inclined to, this would seem like a good point to attack (though I'm not sure what effect it would have on his overall argument). Anecdotal evidence of "the lazy boss" or administrator who goes home before the employees seems to contradict.) So he suggests that systems that reward more extreme workers are going to reward more men, who more often work to extremes. And he suggests that he might prefer mandating checks on that system (perhaps because it would make people happier? or because of the way American culture, specifically, has changed in the last century?).

He _does not_ suggest validating all of the terrible things that have come out of "large/light network male culture". And it's hard to criticize him for not dwelling on those terrible things, as the talk is titled, "Is there anything good about men?" rather than, "Is there anything bad about men?" However, I'll criticize him for it anyway.

He makes a fair argument that the behavioral/motivational inclinations he describes would be a good explanation for how large/light network male culture has benefitted society as a whole, and especially the males who participated. However, he claims that where culture in general is concerned, the bigger the shared systems, the better (at least in terms of dominance of one culture/society over another): "Culture depends on system gain, and bigger systems provide more of this. Therefore, you’ll get more of the benefit of culture from large groups than from small ones. A one-on-one close relationship can do a little in terms of division of labor and sharing information, but a 20-person group can do much more."

He's making a big leap here, and I would see this as another possible point of attack on the argument, or perhaps a jumping-off point for a new argument about how these cultural tendencies have limits. I'm inclined to believe that when the system gets big enough, the male inclinations that he claims helped create these huge networks can be a big burden.

The biggest examples in my mind are large-nation governments, where a stereotypically male behavior leads to election politics instead of long-term projects/infrastructure/development, and multinational financial systems (Wall Street, banks, corporations, etc.), where stereotypically male behavior (in the form of repeatedly financially leveraging bad risks) led to the global economic crapfest most of the world is still seeing negative effects from. Of course, there were plenty of men in the minority who benefitted greatly from the selling of subprime mortgage packages. This probably goes to emphasize the author's point about a minority of men really benefitting from high-risk behavior. But it also suggests that the large/light male mentality can hurt a society (a large society, as a whole) as much as it can help it. The negatives don't always only affect the males taking the risk. Sometimes they take risks for everyone.


Overall, I thought it was a good talk: it's mostly well-argued, it's definitely thought-provoking, and it manages to sound pretty rational.

While I can definitely envision conservatives I've met (men and women alike) using it as justification for perpetuating their vision of an "ideal America" mirroring some idealized image of the '40s and '50s, I could just as easily see it as a jumping-off point for a conversation:

Assuming the author is correct, and his explanation for how male behavioral/motivational preferences created broader society and created male dominance in broader society, what would be next?
How would you fight the trends he describes (if they're worth fighting?) Or how would you go about fighting the male-dominance aspect while maintaining the benefits of the risky penis? Is it possible for a fundamentally light/large network society to be a happy society? If not, what do we do about it? Sirlin mentioned or argued in a previous article that a good way to improve happiness was through flow, that sense of continuous challenge, backed by a sense of usefulness or importance of the work at hand. The talk in question is describing male systems of competition in which only a few people probably ever experience that flow; it seems like it might be harder for people to up their happiness levels in an aggressive/competitive large network (corporation, country, whatever).

I liked the talk because the answers it provides make a certain amount of sense, but they don't dictate actions. Rather, they raise more questions.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterARMed_PIrate

ARMed_PIrate, I like what you had to say there. To just address one thing you said, you mentioned that you can envision conservatives who want a 1950's lifestyle for everyone to use this as justification. Well, they could use a block of cheese or a trombone for justification I guess, but not for one that makes any sense. This just goes back to weirdness of people being offended by this, for no real good reason. To illustrate, here's an analogy.

Imagine you read a paper from a philosophy of ethics professor that makes a case that eating meat is wrong. Further suppose you find the arguments valid and persuasive, and you are convinced that the professors stance is the morally correct one.

Next, imagine you read a different paper that explains how it is that humans came to eat meat. I details the amount of meat eaten at different points in history, when it went up or down, and how it came to be such a high level that it is today.

It would be unreasonable to be offended by the second paper, simply based on your view of the first. Also there is not much reason to fear that pro-meat eaters would "use it as ammunition" because every single thing stated in paper 2 could be correct, yet it might still be morally wrong to eat meat. If anything, the second paper could be sort of a call for action for anti-meat eaters, which again, is fine. And that was your point too, that it's a jumping off point about what to do, rather than a prescription of what to do.

I was thinking again about Laurie's post. I wonder if a) she agrees that men have more variance along many traits (height, mental retardation, IQ, etc) but finds it offensive that such a thing would be said out loud, or b) disagrees factually with the data that men have more variance. If b) is the claim, that is a perfectly good one, though at first glance the evidence seems to be on the side of more variance in men. Anyway, if b is the claim, I'm not sure where the offended part comes in. Yet again, it's a statement of what is and not what ought to be. It could be dispassionately rebutted with some data or something. Another possibility is that she finds the very interesting concept that women might have the same average of a trait but less variance to be generally right, and not "offensive", but would prefer it not be mentioned here because of other things said later in the talk? I can't even guess, really.

July 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterSirlin

I waste a long time reading the 4 VERY LONG links of lauri. The articles where fine, but I fail to see how they "debunked anything" Most of the logic is terrible.

What It proves is how talking about "controversial subjects" is hard because people go irrational and ilogical. Part of what makes humanity sad imo, and big reason of my misanthropy. The paper good or not, people are answering from a irrational point of view because its controversial of them. It makes me sad human is so sad.

Im very familiar with touching subjects that people feel controversial and going all crazy ilogical. Like IF i want to talk between the difference of black and white people. People go all nuts. And telling me its disgusting. You know what's disgusting? People being irrational and stupid because someone talk about something they dont like. That's disgusting.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWaterd

Sirlin, fools will be fools.


July 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbrized
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