Monday, September 27, 2010

"Score One for Sexual Stereotypes"

The story has been wending its way through the media for a month or so now. Yesterday, it arrived at the New York Times. Link here.

There, something interesting happened.

The story involves sociological research conducted by a graduate student at Cornell, one Christin Munsch. Reported here and here.

Munsch has shown that men whose wives make substantially more money than they do are five times more likely to cheat on them. This suggests that the old idea of the male breadwinner is based on a psychological reality.

Those who have been telling men to get over the idea of wanting to be breadwinners will have to take note of the fact that when men become more willing to allow women to become breadwinners, they exact a price for their sacrifice.

It has implications for arguments about the glass ceiling, about gender identity, and divorce statistics.

How does Pamela Paul finesse the politically incorrect implications? With irony. She concludes her article: "Ladies and gentlemen, scoundrels and shrews: score one for sexual stereotypes. But don't turn down that pay raise."

Irony is a very tricky rhetorical trope; I find that Paul uses it well. To me she seems to be paying lip service to our current compulsion to read all such research through a feminist and politically correct filter.

She is acknowledging that the evidence tends to support what have  been labeled as sexual stereotypes, but that we should not be too quick to conclude that one study settles the question.

Most importantly, she is acknowledging something that ideologically-driven feminists fail to note: that reality exists and that your beliefs, as long as they do not calcify into an ideological commitment, need to be tested against this reality.

Some people have expressed surprise that a man who is dependent on his wife for his lifestyle would risk it all for a fling. Yet, Munsch is aware that male pride, male gender identity, imposes its own demands on male behavior, and that men who feel they they are being humiliated by a woman will find a way to reassert their manhood.

If they can't do it in the boardroom, they will do it in some other woman's boudoir, in the only way that remains available.

We may or may not like this, but it seems to be the case.

Munsch's research does not limit itself to this specific case. She notes that when a man largely outearns his wife, he is more likely to cheat, while a woman who depends on her husband for her lifestyle and her children's upbringing is far less likely to cheat.

To maintain some balance she also notes that women who are largely more successful than their men are also more likely to commit adultery.

Fairness dictates that we mention that the results derive from studies involving younger men and women. We do not know how the statistics change when the couples are older.

Munsch adds that the male tendency to cheat can be tempered by higher education and regular attendance at religious services.

The former seems to suggest that status matters, while the latter suggests that men who are grounded in community, and who make a habit of participating in rituals that affirm it, are more likely to be faithful to their wives.

One must assume that community membership helps to tame your inner sybarite. For high status community-oriented men infidelity does not just risk hurt their marriage, but it puts their membership in community at risk too.

The male tendency to cheat does disappear once men and women are making similar salaries.

As for why men who are better providers and who largely outearn their wives are so likely to cheat, the answer is easy enough. Such men, alpha males, work later, travel more, and have more women seeking their sexual attention.

Thus, the normal attraction that women feel for alpha males, coupled with greater opportunity, makes for more infidelity.

How then can we explain the fact that women who are far more successful than their husbands are more likely to cheat than are women who depend on their husbands?

Perhaps it goes with the territory. A woman who achieves great success in a man's world must feel the same sense of increased power and privilege as a man does.

For succeeding at leading and managing, she also gains access to some of the same perks. Perhaps not the nubile young maidens, but surely a fair number of gigolos and studs who want nothing more than to please her.


Proud Hindu said...

"Those who have been telling men to get over the idea of wanting to be breadwinners will have to take note of the fact that when men become more willing to allow women to become breadwinners, they exact a price for their sacrifice."

It's rare in this day and age for a man to want to be the sole breadwinner.

Those days are over.

Women who want breadwinner men are termed "gold diggers".

Stuart Schneiderman said...

True enough, the culture has changed and most men do not want the burden of supporting a family.

I would want to know whether or not that is the result of the fact that it is so difficult for one person to make enough money to support a family.

In other words, is it choice or necessity?

How many women with young children are going to work because they have to and how many are there because they want to.

And if the breadwinner role seems to be programmed into our DNA, what happens when men cannot normally fulfill that role?