I Thought I Was A Feminist

When my daughter was born I remember saying to my wife, “I am now an ardent feminist.”   My intention was to indicate that I would do everything I could to make sure that  my daughter would have every opportunity to achieve whatever she aspired to without being discriminated against because of her gender.  She was encouraged to test her talents and interests without regard to traditional gender roles.  I even prohibited her from being a cheerleader for our local Pop Warner football team because I felt just cheering for boys from the sideline was inherently sexist.    I have supported political platforms that call for equal pay, that prohibit gender bias, that fight for reproductive rights and that seek workplaces free from sexual harassment and bias.  For many years I was a manager in an industry where most of my staff were female.   I was scrupulous in making sure that my behavior was always professional and I never had a complaint filed against me dealing with gender bias or harassment.  Despite what I consider a track record as a supporter of the feminist movement, unfortunately, I am starting to feel increasingly under attack as a man.

Some of the statements made at the Oscar ceremony were the straw that broke my camel’s back.   Several presenters and recipients decried the lack of female directors nominated for Oscars.  What troubled me is that the complaint was based on numbers not on quality.   If there is truly bias against female directors in the academy then provide the evidence  and say so.   No one alluded to this so it sounds like the protestors were arguing for an affirmative action plan for female directors implying that a certain number of nominees must be female regardless of merit. 

Just because females make up 50% of the population it does not necessarily mean that in every instance we should measure participation as 50/50.   It seems that since the Me-Too movement has taken hold there is increased emphasis on an arbitrary numbers gain.  Let me be clear, I am not denying that historically women have been victims of many forms of patriarchal subjugation and disempowerment.    However,  I am convinced that thanks to the feminist movement we have moved substantially forward in achieving gender equality and that reducing equality to a simple numbers game will only lead to alienation and diminished support by men who thought they were philosophically feminists. 

As I have indicated in previous blogs there are a number of metrics that indicate women are surpassing men and scant attention is focused on the implications for our society.   Men die by suicide 3.53x more often than women..   According to the U.S. Department of Education last fall women comprised more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide.  Female enrollment in law schools exceeds male enrollment.   Specifically, in 2018 females made up 52.39% of all students in ABA-approved law schools.  Twice as many boys are suspended from school than girls.  Boys are twice as likely as girls to be labeled as “learning disabled.”  While the gaps in science and math are improving for girls boys’ scores in reading lags behind girls and is showing little improvement.  I could go on with additional data indicating how girls and young women are surpassing the achievements and well being of boys and young men. 

One thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: an overinvestment in gender identity instead of individual personhood.  Men are now experiencing a set of limits — externally enforced as well as self-imposed — strikingly similar to the ones Betty Friedan set out to combat in 1963, when she identified a “feminine mystique” that constrained women’s self-image and options.

Male Brain

There is considerable debate in the cognitive psychology community concerning the origins of gender related behaviors.   There is compelling evidence that the male brain operates differently than the female brain, however, some researchers say these differences are not significant and differences in gender behaviors are shaped more by social norms than biological determinism.   Those who put more stock in our genetic legacy, shaped by millions of years of evolution, point to animal studies – especially among primates – to underscore differences in gender behavior.   After all these animals are not shaped by cultural norms.  In addition, a number of infant studies especially those involving preferences in shapes and emotional response also reinforces the notion that biological gender does shape they way we think and process information.  On the other hand, the feminist movement has pointed out that many limitations traditionally based on women are due to misplaced emphasis on biological differences.   There is certainly truth to this argument but it does not negate the role of biology entirely.  Instead of attempting to review the extensive literature on both sides of the nature vs. nurture debate about gender behavior I will focus on one fairly definitive study that highlights an important difference between men and women.

This particular study found evidence that on average women tend to retain stronger memories for emotional events than men.  The area of the brain which plays a large part in our emotional life is the amygdala.  The right amygdala, which is larger in the male brain, is also linked with taking action as well as being linked to negative emotions which may help explain why males tend to respond to emotionally stressful stimuli physically. The left amygdala which is larger in women allows for the recall of details but it also results in more thought rather than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli which may explain the absence of physical response in women.

The take away is that when a man experiences emotions such as fear and anger the tendency will be to respond physically.   What is significant is how a man utilizes the physical energy released by his amygdala.  The expression of physicality corresponds to the warrior archetype.   In the light, a man uses his physical energy to protect and defend his family, tribe, etc.   In the shadow a man uses his physicality to dominate and commit violent acts.   Instead of teaching our boys to curb their warrior and act more like a female, we should emphasize and help boys and young men understand the positive aspects of physical energy and how to best utilize it.