Watch closely as we boldly go into one of the last verboten topics in America. I am not talking about politics or religion, but… the differences between men and women. To be sure, just suggesting that there may be differences raises ire in some people, but the topic came up on the local radio, recently, and by a woman talk show host, no less. She asked why every indicator suggests that men are failing in this society and women are succeeding.
The number of households where women out-earn men is increasing. More women are being accepted to higher education than men, and getting better grades. This recession hit men much harder than women. Women are currently getting ahead in the workplace faster than men. Etc. So why? Here is my two-cents.
“Women want to be wanted. Men need to be needed.”
It is easy to be wanted in this culture. Women have thousands of years of learning how to make themselves attractive. It is hard to be needed. Attractiveness in men is based on being winners, successful, accomplished. These things are hard to come by in this current world. Consider:
Men At Work
Once upon a time, the world was filled with small shops, craftsmen, retail outlets where the store manager was king of his own castle. Men did most of the work, and while these manufacturers, “counting houses” and sales (retail) operations were often run like family businesses (even if the people were unrelated), every person’s contribution was vital to the success of the overall operation. Farms were family run, too… Men did well in these conditions.
Even the big trading houses that moved along the sea lanes, involved a Captain and his crew as an independent operation. So also with the early railroads, oil companies and most of the foundations of our modern economy. The trouble began in the mines (and a bit later in the steel mills). Mining was historically slave work. In a free economy, where men got paid for the work, the mine owners still reaped the benefits while the miners FELT like cattle. They were not needed, their contributions were not vital and they could be replaced. Particularly in times of recession, there was always someone to fill their shoes.
Thus there were riots, and eventually unions, and while the unions helped obtain a living wage and restored some dignity to the men, they did not solve the underlying problem: Men need to be needed: to know their contribution is vital—to be accomplished. I take nothing away from what the unions were able to accomplish, only they could not stop the progression away from a world where men, on however a large or small scale, could FEEL vital, accomplished, successful.
When Henry Ford invented the assembly line, everything went to hell for the men. The world of craftsmen, masters and apprentices that had worked so well for men came to an end with the rise of the big corporations, some of which, after a hundred years have finally become “too big to fail.” No one is vital in the corporate world. No one is needed. No one is indispensible, and the work itself is only like a “cog in the wheel.” There is little or no sense that any part of it is vital, and less sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
A man comes home after a day on the job and wonders, “What am I doing with my life? Am I throwing it away? Is it all worth it?” If married to a good woman, his wife might reassure him.
“Honey, what you do is important. You are making a difference.”
But the man is likely to shake his head as if he does not quite believe that.
I take nothing away from the incredible prosperity that the assembly line and corporate life has brought to the American people, only the current structure of the world has made life more and more difficult for men to feel good about themselves, their lives, and their place in the world.
In the retail world where more and more local operations are company owned rather than independent, family owned businesses, things got bad for men when the phones arrived and first class mail could actually get to the shop in two or three days. Suddenly, the corporate office could send out instructions and store managers lost their power to be accomplished, successful, vitally important.
It went downhill from there with the advent of fax machines, and eventually permanent, instant internet access. Now, the corporate office can micro-manage the entire local operation and stores become cookie cutter operations with no tolerance for deviation. The death of the manager bonus has been the last coffin nail for men. This was the singularly most important measure of a man’s success—that if his Woolworths made a profit, he got to share in that profit. Now, as a friend of mine recently put it, “They don’t want store managers anymore. Monkeys trained to read e-mail would do just as well, and corporate would probably prefer that because they could pay the monkeys bananas.”
If men are not succeeding in the workplace, why should anyone be surprised?
Mister and Missus Caveman
For women, this current world has become a world of opportunity almost without limit. “Women want to be wanted. Men need to be needed.” To understand this, though, we need to go way back and consider Mister and Missus Caveman… Please bear with me:
Mr. caveman, with his group or on his own, has gone hunting. His instincts have been developed and his brain is hardwired to focus on one objective: to catch and kill the beast. All other considerations are extraneous and set aside so he can stubbornly zero in on the kill. He feels good about himself because he has been successful (accomplished) in the past and expects, or at least hopes to be successful again. His adrenaline is high because he knows his work is vitally important. If he fails, his family goes hungry. His adrenaline is also high because he knows if he isn’t extremely careful, he might be the one who ends up getting killed. Hesitation or distractions could kill him, so he has learned (and is built) to be like a horse with blinders—to really focus on the hunt and his prey—the objective.
Meanwhile, Ms. Caveman is preparing food, gathering berries, cleaning clothes, straightening and cleaning the bedrolls and watching four children all at once. Her life is compartmentalized, naturally fragmented, or as we might describe it, it requires great multi-tasking skills.
Immediately we can see that men are better able to focus on objectives and women are better able to multi-task. That is given, but there is more.
Ms. Caveman has neighbors, primarily more women and their children, and so it is to Ms. Caveman’s benefit to think of the group in order to keep the peace. The instinct for wanting a safe and secure environment for herself and her children is undeniable and understandable.
Group think not only matters in her relationships with other, and relationships are far more important to women than men, but it matters when Mr. Caveman comes home. She wants peace between her husband and children as well as between the children. And she wants peace with her neighbors, so she is wired to cooperate, both in child rearing and in the gathering and sharing of the fruit of the earth.
This is not to say men are uncooperative. Only, men cooperate on the hunt—on obtaining the objective (like soldiers), not in maintaining positive relationships. Men cooperate as a team, and they play as a unit to win the game
To maintain positive relationships among many people, women need another skill, namely flexibility: the ability to see things from the other point of view. (Men don’t need to see the prey’s point of view. They do, however, need an officer and privates to function well in a group environment—thus hierarchy was undoubtedly a male invention, and eventually government as well).
Women, then, are far more flexible in their views than men who tend to see the world in more black and white terms.
NOTE: I am not saying that women are wishy-washy in their thinking. I am not saying that when a woman argues fervently for the other side that a) she does not know her own mind or b) she is a good liar. I AM saying she is more willing to be flexible on lesser matters for the sake of peace and stability (greater good) and more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. She can do this because she is adjusted to fragmented or compartmentalized thinking. To be sure, many men need to be hit on the head with a sledge hammer even to see the other point of view…
In terms of cooperation, men cooperate, but in a hierarchical form. (It was not by accident that most ancient societies were patriarchic. The whole idea of “leader” is a male invention, I have no doubt, and it is imperative if the group hopes to have a successful hunt). Men have a Captain and crew, a manager and staff, a lieutenant (centurion) and platoon (phalanx), and make no mistake, no matter how big the army gets, the platoon or squad remains the basic unit. Small groups with clearly defined leadership is where men cooperate best.
Women cooperate on a whole different level and for different reasons. “You gather today and I’ll watch the children. I’ll gather tomorrow and you watch the children.” Women (again the flexible, observant minds) can also see the strengths in different women and play to those strengths.
“No, let’s have Ms. Caveman watch the children three days per week and share our gathering with her. She is really good with children. And then old Grandma Caveman might help with the cleaning and cooking since her knees won’t let her gather anymore.”
For women, cooperation is more organizational in nature and the division of labor is instinctive, or might as well be. Generally, leadership develops among women as well, but it is more organic and flexible and less end-game focused.
For men, competition is a game. Give two men cups and tell them to go pick berries and see if they don’t make a game: who can fill the cup fastest, or pick the most, or pick the best. Give two women cups and they will talk about relationships: children, troubles, friends, and their men, and hardly pay attention to the berry picking.
For men, it is no wonder that sports play an important role. Game competition, even vicarious, is instinctive. Don’t think for a second that the cavemen did not compete to bring home the biggest deer or have the fattest wife.
For women, competition, which is usually with other women, is anything but a game. It is over the top, off the cliff, deadly serious business because it has to do with her getting what she wants; which historically was invariably THAT man. This, however, has translated easily into our day when the competition has become getting that job or that promotion or that “A” in the course. For men it remains a game, often a “wait until next year” game that isn’t that serious. No wonder men are so often blind-sided by ambitious women.
From Cave to Corporation I
Having looked at the differences in tasks, focus, organizational structure and matters of cooperation and competition between men and women in our review of the life of Mister and Missus Caveman, it is time to translate these understandings to our present day world. (Please read the last post or you may not grasp what follows).
Keep in mind: this post is not about the differences between men and women so much as an attempt to answer the question: why are women succeeding in this time and day and men are so obviously failing?
Family: This is a no-brainer. If men need to be needed, the modern family gives men one big message: You aren’t needed. Women can work, support their own family, and if they are smart they can get the men to pay for some of it (alimony, child-support) without the men having the benefit of a wife or being part of their children’s lives. You aren’t needed. Give me your money and go away. This is what men hear.
Then again, if the women choose not to work, the government (taxpayer) will provide them with public housing, food stamps, and money (added to alimony and child support) and all without any need for a man. It would seem the perfect solution for those women whose primary drive is a safe and secure home for herself and her children.
Unfortunately, this culture has produced disenfranchised (you are not needed) young men by the gang-full. However much they may be loved and wanted by Mama or Grandma, they know they are not needed. Wanted is not the same thing. The gangs make them feel needed, important, respected. Is it any wonder they turn around and prey on and show no respect for those very women who in their eyes have shown them no respect?
What if a woman told her fourteen-year-old son: “I need you to get some kind of job and start bringing in some money to help. Lord knows I have tried, but I just can’t make ends meet. Please, son. I need you.” That son would beat the bushes, virtually kill himself looking for work and gangs would never enter into it!
Education: The one room school house was still a viable option for males. There was enough one on one time and concentrated lessons to focus on so it worked. It was a little harder for women, distracted by relationships and a multiplicity of other thoughts and concerns. The turnaround began thanks to the educational philosophers and social engineers of the tens, twenties and thirties.
Once FDR approved the teachers unions and “accreditation” became the standard requirement for teachers (which was little more than insuring all teachers were indoctrinated into the thinking of the educational philosophers and social engineers of the tens, twenties and thirties), learning became less focused and more compartmentalized. By that I mean instead of being taught nothing but grammar for two weeks, students suddenly had eight different subjects in the same day and for every week of the school year.
For women, whose brains are wired for compartmentalization and multi-tasking since cave man days, this was great. For men, who were wired to focus on one task at a time, this was and is a nightmare. What is more, success has become less a measurement of information learning as in end or goal focus (having the right answer) where men can excel, and become more process learning, where credit is given for the means one uses to get there (more a woman’s virtue) and having the right answer (arriving at the right place, “winning”) is less important or deemphasized.
These days, schools use the (female) cooperative learning model, not the (male) competitive model. Just ask a ten-year-old male what he really thinks of the dreaded “group project.” Women thrive under this kind of compartmentalized learning because it plays to their strengths. Men struggle, and the fact that childhood has been extended into at least four years of college where the same basic learning structures continue has only made matters worse.
Now, let me say this. The current educational structure and system is fine—for women. Women are showing every sign of success and I think that is great. Men, though, need something different. After age 11 or 12 (after REAL childhood) instead of eight subjects per day, men would do better studying eight subjects per year—one at a time. By 16? Certainly by 18, men should be encouraged to focus in on what they want to pursue for their life’s work. For some it will be carpentry, but it might also be post-graduate work in genetic engineering. Whatever the case, post “High School” should be the beginning of focus, not four more years of glorified high school, which college has very much become.
I am not advocating we return to the idea of separate boys and girls schools, but it might come to that and it would not be the worst idea in the world.
From Cave to Corporation II
Again, let me just point out that this is a continuation of last week’s post. I am not trying to talk about the differences between men and women here so much as answer the question that was asked: Why are men failing in our culture while women are succeeding?
Getting Jobs: For more than a year, I have been part of and helped out with a transitional support group at church designed to help people who have become unemployed in this economy. These sorts of groups, mostly in churches, have been springing up all over the country in the past few years. In a recent meeting of our group, these were these summary statements.
The (male) director of the program: “One thing that has come out strong from all of our speakers has been networking, networking, networking. In this day, networking (relationship building) is the key to job search success.”
The (female) speaker (expert): “Relationship building is what business is all about these days. Join professional organizations and get to know people already doing the job you want.”
The (male) speaker: “Businesses are no longer interested in your skills and experiences. That is all the past. Business want to know what your potential is—what you can do for them in the future, whether you have direct experience or not.”
The (female) human resources director: “These days you have to compartmentalize your search. No more than 1-2 hours applying on the internet, 1-2 hours networking, 1-2 hours in volunteer work which is a kind of networking, 1-2 hours mailing, tweaking your resume, thank you notes, on the phone, etc.”
Consensus: It isn’t what you know (very male) or even who you know (female) but who knows you and what you can do (more neutral, but still on the relational side).
You see, these days just to get a job you need to build relationships (network). Experience and skills (facts) are less important than potential (process). Compartmentalization and a strong ability to multi-task is important, and getting in with the right people who know you have potential. A woman who has not worked in 20 years can get a job over a man with 20 years experience if she makes the right connections and he follows the old apply, resume, interview path.
To be clear, most men don’t even want people to know they are out of work. Self-worth is in being needed! Women are on the phone while the pink slip is still hot in their hands. Self-worth is in being wanted. And while the phone call may be to a friend in search of some support for her own sense of self-worth, it is the beginning of the process of making connections and landing that next job.
On the Job: There is no doubt our current corporate culture favors the strengths of women. Women are content to make their contribution, the work doesn’t have to be vital, and a modicum of appreciation goes a long way. The only problems women face on the job invariably comes from other women and those problems might not have anything directly to do with the job.
Consider the traditional women-heavy occupations. Outside of teaching and nursing, there is no job that requires more multi-tasking and cooperative skills than secretary—and don’t think for a second that these became women-heavy jobs by some social custom or cultural accident.
Corporate offices these days, though often still formally divided into departments, have become more like giant “secretarial” kind of operations than anything else. This is especially true as company organizations have moved away from the strict hierarchy model and into the more cooperative model. The skills needed by the modern corporation are precisely those that women bring: compartmentalization, multi-tasking, relationship building in problem solving.
Men, to the contrary, are most often frustrated by corporate culture. They don’t have the political acumen so vital for success in the modern office. They are there to work, whatever that means, not to build relationships and make friends. They like a solid task, one where they can feel they are making a difference, not just making a contribution. And most hate cooperative group projects just as much as they did when they were kids. But for the most part these are not options in the corporate office. Instead, the message is again loud and clear: You can be replaced. You are not needed.
“Oh yeah? Well I quit.”
“Good, because Margaret wants your job.”
Working: The bigger companies get, the more men appear to be cut off from the central authorities. But the appearance can be deceiving, because there are many areas in life where men can and are succeeding.
Said occupations play to men’s strengths: Teamwork with clearly defined leadership (chain of command) not cooperative (collective) group think. A strong focus on the task, no matter how complex that task might be, where end results are valued, not simply the process. Where every men in the team is considered vital, not simply a team player, but a necessary part of the whole success. Where men are given the opportunity to think creatively which is very anti-corporate culture. Understand: women also think creatively when given the chance, but most often, women seek ways to enhance and improve the process. Men most often seek ways to improve the results.
Consider the traditional men-heavy occupations, and again, don’t think these came about because of some freak accident. Men work very well in these areas: Skilled trades (carpentry, plumbing, etc.), as entrepreneurs, in the professions (Doctor, lawyer, minister, etc.), in science related professions such as research, as professors, small business owners, salesmen. Where the business is one on one (doctor-patient, salesman-buyer) men perform very well. And then there is soldier and football player, where there is clearly defined leadership (chain of command) and teamwork not “group work” men succeed. Men drill for oil, fly planes, design and build skyscrapers, own and run restaurants. Men are designed to accomplish a mission and thereby save the world. That is how men think.
Where men are failing is in the political, relational, multi-tasking, compartmentalized world of big business. Sure a Maverick investor like Trump or Buffett can make Billions. A man who pursues his ideal to the end goal (a very male approach) like Gates or Jobs or Sam Walton can also make Billions. But business, as currently working in our culture, in the multi-national corporate world, there ought to be more women than men. Women are suited for it. Men are not.
The creative artists who script, animate, color, make the music, dialogue, and finish and cut the film for Disney may be male or female, but as for marketing and distribution, leave that to the women. They know how to network. Men (generally) don’t.
A last note: No one likes the assembly line. Daily, repetitive work is both mind numbing and soul killing. As valuable as the assembly line has been for productivity and subsequent wealth, it plays to no one’s strengths. The faster lines can be automated and robotized, the better—in my opinion. I just had to throw that in………..