Inside the Conversation at The Good Men Project.
Publisher’s note: Every Friday, we hold an hour-long conference call for Premium Members and any ongoing contributors to The Good Men Project. On each call, we talk about different aspects of the changing roles of men in the 21st century. These posts are a glimpse into what is said on the calls. The post is not an actual transcript, but a summary of the ideas discussed, and not every person was quoted. If you would like to join in the calls, please consider becoming a Premium Member [click here] or a contributor [click here].
Lisa Hickey: I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t start with the incident of the two journalists being shot, because so much of the narrative of that story overlaps with what we discuss here at The Good Men Project. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims.
We have talked before about the patterns of men when it comes to mass shootings. Although this wasn’t technically a “mass shooting” (four or more dead), there were four victims. The added twist, of course, is that it happened on live TV and then social media—a sign of our changing times.
Also as we have talked about so often, what happens with the man-box is that a man’s job becomes a part of a man’s identity—a man feels enormous pressure to be financially successful in order to “be a man”. In this case, it was documented that the shooter couldn’t deal professionally with relationships in the workplace, he was sent to HR, and he was ultimately fired. We don’t know exactly what happened of course, and why that might have been enough to cause him to turn to violence, but we do know that that series of events can feel like an attack on a man’s identity. And when anyone loses a piece of their identity, they become ungrounded. But in the case of men, that sense of feeling that something has gone wrong with with their identity as a man—in some cases—makes them resort to violence. There is a reason the majority of mass shootings took place in the workplace for many years. According to my analysis: most mass shootings take place at the place at which the killer’s identity was challenged. They go back to that place, and they commit the most manly crime they can think of. The workplace. Schools. The house of an ex-wife. The place where these mass shootings take place are almost never random. Random places are for serial killers, not mass murderers.
And—in case you think I am just saying this happens to men, I am not. Yes, men were the perpetrator for all but one of the 80 or more mass shootings that have happened this decade. However—if you look at the horrific acts of violence that are initiated by women—it is often cases where the woman kills her own children or other family members. And that, perhaps, supports the idea that these acts are in fact, identity-related—that is, women are socialized to believe they need to be a good loving, mother above everything else, and when women lose a part of THAT identity, it can cause them to “just snap” and commit horrific acts of violence as well. The “just snapping”, I believe, is a sign that one’s identity is breaking apart. The number of deaths at one time tends to be less for women, but the crimes are still just as horrific.
But that is not what I actually want to talk about today—although it in some ways I want you to have what I just talked about in mind while I talk about this next topic. Because I’d like to go deeper into the societal forces that shape our identities as men and as women.
The focus of today’s conversation is not as catastrophic, but about something with bigger numbers and more data.
I’m sure you heard about the Ashley Madison hack, and the numbers that were presented to the press. On the AshleyMadison.com, it was reported that there were 37 million men on the site and 5.5 million women. That gives us 10’s of millions of data points. As a side note, men had to pay, women did not. It makes verifying that the men’s profiles are real. So Gizmodo.com looked into how many of the profiles of women were real. And when Gizmodo looked into those numbers, they found suspicious data points about many of the women’s profiles—for example, that they were actually created by people with AshleyMadison.com emails, suggesting that they were fake accounts.
But the real disparity came when they looked at engagement on the site:
Out of the 37 million men, 20 million of them had checked their email addresses.
Out of the 5.5 million women — 1,492 had checked theirs.
And when it came to interacting with others using the chat system:
11 million men had used the chat system
2,409 women had chatted with men.
So, basically, if you look at engagement as a measure of whether the person was on the site or not, there was only about 2,000 women there and about 20 million men. That comes out to about 1 woman for every 10,000 men.
As Gizmodo writes:
“Overall, the picture is grim indeed. Out of 5.5 million female accounts, roughly zero percent had ever shown any kind of activity at all, after the day they were created.
The men’s accounts tell a story of lively engagement with the site, with over 20 million men hopefully looking at their inboxes, and over 10 million of them initiating chats. The women’s accounts show so little activity that they might as well not be there.”
To me—the even bigger insight is:
Men weren’t cheating on their wives. They were engaging in a fantasy about cheating on their wives.
And it reminds me of a couple of things—one is if you speak to sex workers, especially those sex worker who hook up with married men, you hear the say how even more than the sex, what men want most is to talk to someone they feel intimate with. And the second thing is—whenever we talk about pornography on our site, we get a whole flock of people come in and say “Oh, c”mon, but men know the difference between fantasy and reality.” And it makes me wonder if that was in fact true. Did these men know their cheating would be in fantasy form only?
The second piece of data is from Tinder. You know Tinder, right? The swipe right, swipe left company.
A PR pitch to my inbox described some new data from Tinder about who is most desirable on college campuses. The pitch:
“According to data, the list was compiled based on male and female students enrolled in a college or university who received the most right swipes, indicating collectively which schools had the most desirable student body.”
Here are the schools that had “most desirable girls” according to Tinder: Florida State, University of Miami, University of Mississippi, University of Alabama, Colorado State University, Boise State University, Iowa State, University of Arizona, University of Iowa, Kansas State…and others. And which colleges and universities had the “most desirable guys”? Georgetown, Notre Dame, Air Force Academy, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, United States Navel Academy, Cornell. (The full study is here). It’s not difficult to see that there is a fundamental difference in the types of colleges and universities each gender finds “desirable”.
I’d like to open it up to the community now.
Note: the following is an abridged version of the actual call and responses. To join in, sign up as a Premium Member here (and of course, we always welcome comments below).
Lisa Blacker: This fits very well with what we know about evolutionary psychology—that in males looking for women, whether he knows it or not, tend to be attracted to women with wider hips, fuller breasts, and make appearance based decisions. Women seek men who will provide and protect, and the better schools might be seen as leading to better jobs and therefore a better provider.
Luke Allen: It’s also important to remember—there are substitutes. The stereotype is that men go for looks, women go for status. But, for example, a substitution for status might be someone who is really charismatic. If a man is seen as more articulate, charming, well-educated—that comes across as more likely to have higher status. And we’re not saying it’s a bad thing for people to have preferences—just recognizing they exist. And also—culture reinforces nature. It’s a feedback loop. So these preferences have been around forever but have had 1,000 years of culture reinforcing them.
Jessica Letaw: There was was also an article on Tinder in Vanity Fair called the Dating Apocalypse. In it there were vast amounts men saying they were looking for women for reasons that implied they wanted a relationship with those women, and large amounts of women saying they were just looking to hook up, which went against the stereotype.
Luke Allen: That might be part of the system that says that men’s attributes are good and women’s are bad. Maybe women are feeling the pressure to “act more male.”
Thaddeus Howze: I don’t know if there’s a “dating apocalypse” but with the advent of technology, the whole premise of relationships has changed…Women want the freedom that they see men have. When boys are sexually active at age 16 or 17, they get a status increase. When girls have sexual activity at they same age, they get a status decrease. And technology is an enabler of those dynamics.
Cynthia Barnett: I like the fact that at Good Men Project, there are deep thinkers at all levels. We are questioning the data, and realizing that even with trends that we always have choices.
Roger Toennis: The thing that jumps to mind as deep thinkers is that we think about polarity. Good / bad, positive / negative, pro / con. Not to take sides, but to understand. There is advocative writing and contemplative writing. And there is also writing about progress vs. timelessness.
Cynthia Barnett: I’m sure you’ve heard they have now come out with what they are calling a “Viagra for Women”. Which sounds great, but it doesn’t work the same way—the pill needs to be taken every day, for a long time, increasing the side effects. And there have also been studies saying women just don’t respond the way men do. For example, women are often sexually aroused by great events—a movie, a picnic, etc. But if you don’t know that about yourself, it’s easy to think there’s a problem with your arousal levels. Is one more drug solving a problem that may not even exist?
Lisa Blacker: I agree that the awareness of choice is important, and also that we recognize where the driver is from. “This is why I have this urge, but now that I know where this urge is coming from, I can make a choice.”
Patty Beech: It’s like.. biologically we’re driven to eat as much salt as we can. But now there is so much salt in our environment that doing that would be toxic. Just because we crave something doesn’t mean it is a good thing. What are these drives and what are our choices? How do I balance taking care of my biology drives, self, family? For example, there might be toxicity around too much sex, but there might also be a toxicity around not enough sex.
Thaddeus Howze: I’m a guy from a corporate IT background. If it was a part of the executive business world, I’ve been there, done that. Now the mother of my son works, my girlfriend works—and I stay home to take care of my autistic son. And the question we have to ask, which rarely gets asked enough, is “what do you really want?” This is what society says, this is what religion says, this is what everyone but me says—but what do *I* really want?
Carrie Alevazos: We are not even in touch with our basic human needs. If we got in touch with those needs, and understood what our basic needs are, and then got in touch with our children and our spouse to find out what *their* needs are, we’d have the foundation for all our conversations taking place at a deeper level and people making the changes they want to see in the world.
Photo: Fabio Sola Penna / Flickr
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