Just in case you needed some reminding, here some stuff we’re good at.
Our male predecessors tended to favour the old command-and-control style of managing businesses – and the switch to a looser, more collaborative style is one of the happier improvements brought about by the arrival of women in management. But hierarchies still rule the workplace, and though it’s not fashionable to say so, this is a good thing, even if they happen to be a male specialty. In a classic Stanford University study, groups of male students put in a room and given a problem to solve needed less than 15 minutes to sort themselves into hierarchies. That may be because boys start choosing up sides and figuring out who’s in charge on the preschool playground, and they never really stop. Girls are just a little wobblier when it comes to hierarchies.
Modern society has demonstrated that women can learn to be almost as shallow and competitive as we are. But they work fewer hours, 30 percent fewer than men on average, typically so they can spend more of their time taking care of family and home. Men work longer hours because we’re more motivated, Baumeister says. “Men are much more interested than women are in forming large groups and working in them and rising to the top in them.” We have a richer history at it, and we’re also driven to compete on the job by the deeply ingrained memory of our dismal reproductive odds.
Okay, we’re stupider too. In fact, men tend to show up more at the extremes not just for intelligence (geniuses versus dolts) but for a variety of other traits, including height, weight, body mass index, and measures of physical and psychological performance. “Whether we are talking about kindness versus cruelty, curiosity versus close-mindedness, wisdom versus immature pigheadedness, self-control versus self-indulgence or humility versus narcissism,” says Baumeister, “there are more men than women at both the good and the bad extremes.” Given this tendency, it probably shouldn’t be so surprising that there are more men at the top of most organisations. And in some fields, the opposite extreme is true too: There are more men at the bottom. (Oddly, women never mention this when they complain that a “glass ceiling” of discrimination holds them down.) In fact, there’s a trap door to the sub-sub-basement – and, gentlemen, for us, admission is free. For much of our history, men have quietly accepted that the dark and dirty work of the world – digging the coal, stoking the furnaces, hammering the steel, collecting the garbage – is our lot.
Feminism notwithstanding, everybody understands that it’s still a world where women and children come first. And we’re okay with that because when it comes to survival of the species (or the family), men are just not as precious. The death toll is even more skewed for policemen, firemen, soldiers and even journalists. And men are okay with all of that. But if we are going to be expendable, our deepest wish is to go out in a worthy cause, and in the hope that someone will notice.
Wow, we really are stupid, aren’t we? Let’s go back to our penchant for extremes. From the foetal stage on, males respond more directly than females to environmental circumstances, both good and bad. Going to extremes, in all kinds of sensible and nonsensical ways, is how males try to stand out, win attention, perhaps even persuade a woman that we might not be all that expendable after all. It’s courtship behaviour, writes psychologist Dr Geoffrey F. Miller, in his book The Mating Mind. Human culture has been dominated by males “because human culture is mostly courtship effort, and all male mammals invest more energy in courtship. Male humans paint more pictures, record more jazz albums, write more books, commit more murders and perform more strange feats to enter the Guinness Book of Records.” We come up with more big ideas (93% of all Nobel Prize winners have been men, records indicate), we invent more stuff (we hold about 94% of all patents), and we tell more jokes (most of us do not yet have our Nobels, but a GSOH – good sense of humour – is one of the main assets women look for in personal ads).