Thursday, August 29, 2013

Secrets of the Male Psyche

Make of this what you will, but our friends at the Daily Mail report this morning that when a man is involved in a relationship with a woman he will be demoralized by her success. If a woman is involved in a relationship with a man she will be thrilled by his success.

Apparently, the difference between the sexes is not so easy to overcome.

Take a normal couple, husband and wife. If the woman succeeds the man thinks less of himself. If the man succeeds the woman thinks more of herself.

Subconsciously, he reads her success as a sign of his inadequacy. She reads his success as a sign of her success.

As it happens, if you ask the men how they feel about their female partners’ success, they will respond positively. But when researchers measured these men’s subconscious reactions, they discovered that the men were, effectively, lying to themselves. Apparently, the workings of the male psyche are occasionally hidden from men themselves.

The Daily Mail reports:

Men feel worse about themselves when their female partners succeed, according to a new report. 

Men’s subconscious self-esteem is related to their female partners' successes and failures, the study showed.

However, the same does not ring true for women - they do thrive in the shadow of a successful husband.

It made some sense that a man would feel despondent if he lost out to a woman when both were working on the same task.  The researchers expected that a man would feel demoralized when his partner beat him in a competition. But, they were surprised to see that men subconsciously think less of themselves when their wives succeed at tasks in which the men have little interest.

I assume that the validity of the studies depends on which tasks we are talking about.

A study of Dutch men and women compared the two situations: a woman succeeding at a task where the man had participated and a woman succeeding at a task where the man had not. They wanted to measure the effect of success or failure on relationships. They reached this conclusion:

In one study, participants were told to think of a time when their partner succeeded or failed at something at which they had succeeded or failed. 

When comparing all the results, the researchers found that it didn’t matter if the achievements or failures were social, intellectual or related to participants’ own successes or failures - men subconsciously still felt worse about themselves when their partner succeeded than when she failed. 

However, men’s implicit self-esteem took a bigger hit when they thought about a time when their partner succeeded at something while they had failed.

Researchers also looked at how relationship satisfaction affected self-esteem. 

Women in these experiments reported feeling better about their relationship when they thought about a time their partner succeeded  than when they thought about a time when their partner failed, but men did not.

We will offer some reservations here. One finds it difficult to imagine, despite the study's conclusion, that a woman’s success as hostess of a dinner party will lower a man’s self-esteem. Or that a man will feel worse about his marriage if his wife is a great mother.

On the other hand if a woman decides to work harder and to gain more career success because she does not want to depend on her husband for support, one accepts that he will feel that she is telling the world that he is inadequate.

At some level and to some extent, the male psyche is hard wired to see his woman’s success as a sign of his own inadequacy. A woman who succeeds, who can provide for herself will be depriving him of a vital male function: protector and provider.

Does this make him feel like less of a man? To some extent, it does.

One wonders whether the results are different between men who are very successful and men who are not. How does Tom Brady feel about Gisele’s success? How does he feel about the fact that she earned more than he did last year?

The results tell us that, for example, girls who outperform boys in school are not putting themselves on a relationship track. It suggests that women who follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and “lean in” to career success will be demoralizing their husbands and probably damaging their relationships. How many men would really want to be married to Sheryl Sandberg.

Take the situation in schools, where girls are clearly doing better than boys. Are the underachieving and outperformed boys more likely to feel hostile to their female competition? Are they more likely to act abusively toward these girls?

If the dating culture is dead and if many of the most successful college women are most prone to engage in hookups, are they thereby paying a price for their academic success?

[Addendum: For those who prefer to get their news from New York Magazine, here's a story about the study, published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.]


Sam L. said...

Well, I keep reading that schools are organized and run for girls' success at the expense of boys. Prof. Glenn Reynolds' wife has a book out, covering that, in part. (And he seems not to feel inadequate about that.)

Karen Myers said...

Well, there are limits to all this. I'm sympathetic to the damage caused by the feminist "cause" to both genders but still...

When I was 10, I changed schools and in my new 5th grade (all girls) an early conversation made it clear that my fondness for reading big books quickly made me something of an outsider.

I had a moment of clarity that I've never forgotten: I could choose, right then, to pretend that I wasn't as smart as I really was, and become much more popular, or I could be honest and let the chips fall where they may, whatever the cost.

I have a stubborn streak and thought the 10-year-old equivalent of "f*ck it", and went for the truth. I paid the price I expected of social marginalization for a while, but I never regretted the choice.

I don't see where the human need of my young classmates to have their own expectations met and validated is really any different from the human needs of the man (or the woman) in studies of this nature. We all have behavioral and social preferences, but a certain amount of character and ethics (and religion, for those who bend that way) should allow us to rise above them, to some degree, to make conscious and deliberate choices about our actions in relation to others.

Or what is civilization for? Shall we bow to the desire of some for harems or of others for the role of dragon lady, or whall we all try to behave like reasoning human beings?

It's one thing to decry the bonehead "we're all alike cuz the feminazis say so" and claim that this is how gendered humans really prefer to behave. It's another thing to embrace that without attempting to elevate ourselves by notions of "what's right and proper" that extend beyond the contingencies of biology.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Karen.

I have no problem with people working to elevate themselves above biologically determined behaviors. I don't think that too many people can do it successfully, however. It might be a course that is limited to "the happy few." Many of those who try it discover that there is a price to be paid. A free individual has every right to make an informed decision and to accept the consequences, good and bad.

David Foster said...

"Men who believed that their partner scored in the top 12 per cent demonstrated significantly lower implicit self-esteem than men who believed their partner scored in the bottom 12 per cent."

Is there some kind of binding agreement between social scientists and the media to ***minimizethe use of NUMBERS***? How much lower is "significantly lower"...1% reduction?...10% reduction?...50% reduction?

if what they mean by "significant" is"statistically significant," all that means is "we're pretty sure it's lower"....the results under one condition could be 1/2 of 1% lower than the results under another condition, and it could still be STATISTICALLY significant it the sample were large enough...probably wouldn't be very important, though.


Anonymous said...

Well, this is pretty interesting. I can think of a few times when women I know succeeded at something important, and soon got very critical about their boyfriends/husbands***I don't think they connected the success and the criticism in their minds, they weren't SAYING they now thought they were better than the man was because of their success, but maybe there really WAS a connection...or maybe it's just coincidence..I'm not sure. But if a man has gotten this kind of reaction in the past from women when they've succeeded, you can see why he might be a little sensitive on the subject and it might hit his self-esteem.

I hope I'm not like this**I don't think I am..I remember when I was with my LTR I succeeded at something, not something earth-shatteringly important but it mattered to me, and I don't think I got extra critical of him. Though now as I write this I'm wondering whether it had anything to do with him ditching me for somebody else 6 months later. Again, can't be sure. Life is sure complicated.


Susan said...

In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, if I'm not mistaken, often the women work, in order to allow their men to devote their lives to Torah study. Do the men resent the women if they earn a good living and/or are successful in jobs/careers?

Does this common division of labor (which undoubtedly exists in other cultures as well) breed undue resentment? I don't think it would continue if it did.... or maybe the women have learned to play down their accomplishments.

Dennis said...

I wonder if the companion study done in England has something to do with this outcome based on statistics. There are lies, damn lies and then there is statistics.
The study involved an equal number of boy and girl babies and women. The babies were dressed as what one expect boys and girls to be dressed. The babies clothes were not necessarily right for each baby.
When the women were asked to take care of the babies they noticed an interesting thing was happening. If the baby was dressed as a girl then the women talked more to them, paid more attention to them and were generally much more into the baby. Whereas those dressed as boys got less attention, less conversation and less of what those babies dressed as girls received.
One wonders if women right from the birth of a child almost always treat boys in a manner that caused them to want approval that may not have been given to them early on. If one does not get positive reinforcement at an early age one will seek negative reinforcement.
I don't think there are too many men who don't cringe when a woman gets irate. This I think goes back to our treatment by our mothers.
I remember debating feminists who made a point of how important they were to how children turned out in later life. My question was if that is true then women are responsible for what men become. Women set the standard.
Living in Florida my wife and I get to see a lot of families who are on vacation to go to all the various fun amusements we offer. We also had a FL resident pass to Disney and consequently went to the food and wine events, flower shows, demonstrations, et al. So we have occasion to meet, greet and see a large number of people.
One of the things that both my wife and I began to notice is how women treat their male children. It did happen that we were really impressed by the relationship that some mothers had with their male children. It was a rarity, but one we always enjoyed seeing. We are not sure why we see such a disparity in the way women treat their boys vice their girls maybe it is the thought that boys/men die faster.
Add to that a school system that has become "for girls, of girls and by girls' and one might see a pattern here that creates much of what many women complain about. There is an old saying, "One creates their own bed and one has to sleep in it."
I am always suspicious of studies like this because they seem like a conclusion looking for a study, especially in the social sciences arena. Statistics are great when one is dealing with inanimate objects, but not so when dealing with human beings. Marx made the same mistake by trying to make a physical science out of economics when it is clearly a social science.
There is a reason why boys are rebelling against this culture and I suggest we better start trying to figure out ways to channel, coach and incorporate them into this society. Slopping thinking driven by gender agendas are going to do damage to us in the long run.