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The rise of women and decline of men

“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” Margaret Thatcher

“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.” Madonna

More women than ever before occupy positions of power, influence and wealth. Men, once dominant in these areas, are rapidly losing ground. Have women become more like men, have men lost some of their edge, or is it a little of both? What is causing the rise of women and decline of men?

             Researchers agree (e.g., Halpern, 2007) that men have traditionally been strong in physics, math, science, visual-spatial tasks, and gross motor skills. Women are better at language and fine motor skills (such as handwriting and remote controls), and in recent decades, they show improvement in science too. Recent brain research by Ruben Gur found that women control their emotions and decipher facial expressions and tonal differences better than men. Also, the area of the brain used to control aggression and anger are larger and more effective in women than in men. It’s not hard to imagine that in today’s world these characteristics are in greater demand in politics and business, thus giving women an edge.

Could personality or behavior differences account for the decline of men? Schwartz and Rubel (2005) confirmed that men in almost all cultures place a higher value on authority, wealth, controlling others, social power, success, ambition, and admiration for one’s abilities. Women place a higher value on social justice, equality, wisdom, world peace, protecting the environment, and being helpful, caring, loyal, and supportive. Again, in a more interdependent and complex world, these values are needed and they help propel women to positions of influence.

Schmitt and his colleagues (2008) studied personality differences in over 17,000 men and women from 55 different countries and concluded that women not only possessed these “softer” traits, they were also rated as harder working, more organized, and more persevering than men. Christina Hoff Sommers, in her 2013 book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming our Young Men, suggests we have socialized some of the most desirable masculine tendencies out of our boys and into our girls. Young men have also fallen behind in education.

In 2010 the Wall Street Journal reported that 53 percent of women graduate from university vs. 38 percent of men.  Among recent business graduates, the earning power of single women is 8 percent greater than for comparable men. According to Zimbardo and Duncan (2012), “Girls outperform boys now at every level, from elementary school through graduate school. By eighth grade only 20 percent of boys are proficient in writing and 24 percent proficient in reading. Young men’s SAT scores in 2011 were the worst they’ve been in 40 years. Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college. In Canada, five boys drop out of school for every three girls who do. Nationally, boys account for 70 percent of all the D and F grades given out at school.”

             Why have men's prospects for the good life eroded while women’s have gone into over-drive?

Sommers (2001), argues that a large part of the blame belongs at the feet of the powerful and pervasive feminist lobby which, for five decades, has driven corporations and governments to spend billions to create equal opportunity for women. In addition to highlighting discrepancies in pay and opportunity, feminism also told young women that it was okay for them to be more man-like. They were encouraged to display both masculine and feminine psychological characteristics (e.g., both assertiveness and sensitivity). It worked. Women kept their femininity, adopted some masculine traits, and became more outspoken, competitive, and ambitious.

Unfortunately, during this time, concern about violence appeared on everyone’s radar. The popular view was that boys’ aggressive play led to dangerous violence. There is scant evidence the two are connected, but none the less, because of societal concerns, boys were encouraged to be less aggressive, less pro-risk, less rough-and-tumble, and in general, less masculine. In contrast, girls were encouraged to adopt these characteristics. With the benefit of hindsight, we should have let boys keep their masculinity and also encouraged them to develop characteristics more often associated with females. But, society’s homophobic nature made the latter unlikely.

The net result is that young men are less like men once were, and feminine women have become ball-busting hard-chargers ready to take on the world. Men need to not only reclaim their masculinity and place greater value on education, they also have to develop better empathy and conversation skills so they can reverse their downward trend and live well between their ears.