I just finished reading a phenomenal set of articles and comments regarding a recent speech by Roy F. Baumeister to the American Psychological Association last August. I highly recommend a full read of all of the following:
- RF Baumeister’s full-text speech, “Is There Anything Good About Men”
- John Tierney’s first post on the subject
- John Tierney’s second post on the subject
Any Gen Gu-Ys out there, please, please comment on this and let me know what your feelings are. We all know that marketing to 18-34 year-old males is a goldmine and these articles give some pretty good, fresh insight into what we’re thinking. Because Lord (and any females in my life) knows I don’t know what I’m thinking half the time.
So here’s the insight that I found fascinating:
Several years ago my wife told me that her male students seemed surprised when she said something positive about men in a lecture. It wasnâ€™t even all that positive â€” she simply said that men were not to blame for womenâ€™s eating disorders, as indicated by some research findings showing that women want to be much thinner than their boyfriends want them to be. Reflecting on the studentsâ€™ reaction, she mused that the young men were already accustomed to being blamed for everything, both menâ€™s faults and womenâ€™s problems to boot. I realized that most men below the age of 50 have never experienced masculinity as a positive thing, especially given the relentless stream of messages about male misbehavior and ostensible male oppression of women, plus the mass media depiction of men as villains and buffoons. When was the last time you heard a news story that depicted men, collectively, in a positive light? [3, above]
I mean, I feel pretty good about being a man. Seems at least easier than the alternative. But I definitely also feel a little shame about the things that I tend to do, that I tend to say, that I tend to gravitate toward. We as men are conditioned by society, culture and media to act a certain way, but also to feel bad about it at the same time. Even our conditioning has been conditioned. Which seems to be why this seems to work for me. I am man. I am incorrigible. I want burgers. Screw tofu.
Whenever I see an ad that’s explicitly pro-guy, it makes me feel good, but guiltily. I don’t want to tell the women I know that I like ___ ad, because I worry that they’ll think I’m an ape. I’m not an ape. Just a normal guy with normal guy thoughts. And whenever we’re talking “normal guy thoughts”, we’ll inevitably end up on the topic of sex. Everywhere you look, men are characterized as thoughtless sex demons hell-bent on spreading their seed no matter the cost. Which may or may not be true. But Baumeister points to an interesting reason why us guys are so excited to reproduce.
It all comes down to the ratio of female to male ancestors. I was shocked to learn that over the course of human existence, 80% of women reproduced while only 40% of men ever successfully made mini versions of themselves. This basic, natural fact leads men to be more competitive, more improvisational, work harder, whatever:
For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. Later in this talk we will ponder things like, why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce. They might drown or be killed by savages or catch a disease. For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe. The odds are good that men will come along and offer sex and youâ€™ll be able to have babies. All that matters is choosing the best offer. Weâ€™re descended from women who played it safe.
For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you wonâ€™t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today. Their lines were dead ends. Hence it was necessary to take chances, try new things, be creative, explore other possibilities. Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you wonâ€™t reproduce anyway. Weâ€™re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. Weâ€™re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky). [1, above]
Funny thing is, I feel like I’ll get negative responses from saying that men are more competitive, improvisational… hell, more anything than women. But hey, it helps explain this new Tom Ford cologne ad. I can see the strategy now: “Tom Ford Cologne gets you more…”
Ads like this work not just because they’re provocative, but because they help give men hope. Despite how crazy we all may be for sex, odds are we’re not going to have it. We need things like cologne to help us get noiced, to help increase our odds of scoring. We need ways to identify those GameKillers that may stand in our way of getting in the door, and we need help from things like the Philips Bodygroom to help seal the deal.
Come on, who’s going to argue with an optical inch?
In the end, though, Baumeister argues that culture uses men’s social–and biological–insecurity, “I have a 40% chance of being successful” to move forward. “Men have to prove themselves by producing things the society values. They have to prevail over rivals and enemies in cultural competitions, which is probably why they arenâ€™t as lovable as women,” he states. If we don’t produce, we don’t get to reproduce.
Sorry for wandering. Comments would be appreciated if you made it all the way through.