The popular idea out there is that women are more social than men and men are more competitive than women. Whatâ€™s more, these tendencies are socially conditioned rather than biologically innate.
But what if itâ€™s the other way around?
My guest today is a psychologist who has spent thirty years researching the differences between how boys and girls socialize, and sheâ€™s discovered that many ideas that people have on the subject are completely wrong. Her name is Joyce Benenson and sheâ€™s the author of the book Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes. Today on the show Joyce and I discuss the biological origins of male and female socialization, why men prefer all-male groups, and why women can be just as, if not more competitive, as men. We also discuss how men compete to cooperate and why men can make up much faster with an enemy than women can.
- How Joyce started researching the differences between how boys and girls socialize
- How these differences are a result of both nature and nurture
- How researchers know that boys prefer large groups and violence even as infants
- Do these differences exist in our primate relatives?
- Why men prefer to hang out with large groups of unrelated men and why women prefer being with related kin
- The different fears of males and females
- Why boys like having enemies
- How men are oftentimes more social than women
- How men compete to bond
- Why men have better “make up” skills with opponents than women
- Why men prefer all-male groups and women don’t mind co-ed groups
- How men choose which men are in their group
- Why boys ostracize “feminine” boys but welcome “tomboy” girls into their groups
- Why boys are obsessed with rules and rule making
- How girls compete with other girls
- How the environment affects these innate social tendencies in boys and girls
- What parents and educators can do with Joyce’s research on the differences between how boys and girls socialize
- And much more!
Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast
- My podcast with Richard Wrangham about how male chimps socialize
- Demonic Males
- Joyce’s research on how men can make up with enemies faster than women
- My podcast with Lionel Tiger about male bonding
- Robber’s Cave Experiment
- My interview with Sebastian Junger on Tribe
Listen to the Podcast! (And donâ€™t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
Brett: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. The popular idea out there is that women are more social than men, and men are more competitive than women. What’s more, these tendencies are socially conditioned rather than biologically innate. What if it’s the other way around?
My guest today is a psychologist who has spent 30 years researching the differences between how boys and girls socialize, and she’s discovered that many of the ideas that people have on the subject are completely wrong. Her name is Joyce Benenson, and she’s the author of the book “Warriors and Warriors: The Survival of the Sexes.” Today on the show, Joyce and I discuss the biological origins of male and female socialization. Why men prefer all male groups, and why women can be just as, if not more competitive, as men.
We also discuss how men compete to cooperate, and why men can make up much faster with an enemy than women can. Really fascinating podcast. After the show, check out the show notes at awin.is/benenson, that’s B-E-N-E-N-S-O-N for links to resources you can delve deeper into this topic. Joyce Benenson, welcome to the show.
Joyce: Thank you.
Brett: You are the author of a book called “Warriors and Warriors,” which talks about the differences between how boys and girls socialize. Before we get into the details of your research, can you tell us a little bit about your background? What led you to researching these social differences between boys and girls?
Joyce: I was trained as a developmental psychologist. I spent a lot of my time out on the playground, watching kids far away from adults do what kids do naturally, which is not so easy to see these days. What I was seeing is a tremendous difference between how boys and girls were playing. With boys, in large groups, engaging in either fighting or team sports, being as far away as possible from their schools or any adults that were around, and so forth. In contrast, girls either with a best friend, or a small clique, not engaging in any sort of competition. If possible, staying as close as possible to the teachers and actually staying in the schools, if they’re at a school, or a camp near the counselors, and helping out teachers, and trying to be with adults.
Brett: Yeah, right there, you talked about the big broad differences. I thought it was interesting that you said it’s harder to see nowadays, because there’s less playtime, less recess?
Joyce: Exactly. It really is, and adults are trying to control everything kids do. What you’re seeing is not natural. It’s what kids are being forced into by protective adults. It’s harder to look at what kids are most like to do.
Brett: These differences, are they innate, or they the result of culture and socialization, or are they a bit of both?
Joyce: I would say it’d be a bit of both, but regardless of how they begin initially, certainly, if they’re beginning early in childhood, there’s a lot of socialization that occurs long before kids get to be adults. The reason I study young kids is I do think it’s more likely to have an innate bias if you see it really early. Some of the research I do is even with infants. If it’s there with infants, I think there’s probably good evidence that there’s some innate bias. Regardless, if it’s there with infants or in early childhood, there’s a lot of practice, which is socialization, not necessarily by adults, which is usually how people think about socialization, but by peers. There’s a lot of that happening.
Brett: You talked about the research you do on infants in your book. I thought that was interesting. How can you tell, for example, that boys prefer larger groups, rough and tumble play, even when they’re 6 months old, and they can’t really socialize?
Joyce: What you do is, children, including babies, are … Have lots of preferences just like anybody else, just like animals. You put 2 videos side by side, and you just determine which way kids are looking. You put an infant on his or her mother’s lap, and you blindfold the mother, sometimes it’s the father, and then you just play on these screens, pictures of groups, or pictures of individuals. Pictures of hitting motions, or pictures of cradling motions. We find even at 6 months of age, that boys are more likely to prefer the groups over the individuals, and boys are more likely to prefer the hitting motions as opposed to the cradling motions.
Brett: That’s a really interesting. That’s pretty funny. Even infant boys like to watch people get pummeled. Do they … I imagine … You describe yourself as a human primatologist, I think that’s what you talked about on your book. Do you see this … These differences in other primates, between boys and girls, or males and females?
Joyce: I work most closely with Richard Wrangham at Harvard, and he studies chimpanzees. The reason I started working with him is because he is the only one I could find who is looking at exactly what I was looking at, which is the social structure of humans. He was looking at the social structure of chimpanzees. We were both finding the exact same differences, which is that males were organizing themselves spontaneously in large groups, very inter-connected, constantly fighting, but also fighting against other groups. In contrast, females, both species, were either by themselves and just with adults, or their own children, or sometimes, females will form one close best friend relationship.
It was just uncanny, and when I discovered that as a graduate student, I started thinking, why isn’t anyone who studies humans talking about the basic social structure of humans? They weren’t, and they still aren’t for the most part. Primatologists are. This is what they do, and they study a species, one of the first things they establish is, what’s the social structure?
Brett: That’s amazing. We had Richard Wrangham on the podcast awhile ago. For those of you who haven’t checked that out, just search for it on the site. Really fascinating podcast about “Demonic Males,” is what his book was.
Brett: Let’s talk about … Why do these differences exist? What’s the … I guess it’s an evolutionary explanation. Why do boys or men, prefer large groups, large social networks, fighting, while girls prefer smaller, tight-knit communities? Maybe just one or two close friends, and more cooperation? I guess not cooperation, more … I don’t know what would you call it. Not rough and tumble.
Joyce: Well, exactly. What we talk about with cooperation, is females cooperating with their families, with kin, with taking care of children. That’s what they’re doing. Males are cooperating with unrelated, same sex individuals, and just building on the reference to “Demonic Males,” humans and chimpanzees are one of the very species that engage in inter group, lethal aggression, which in human parliaments, we call war. Basically, if you’re going to have a community try and kill another community, or in these days, countries try to invade another country, you need very, very strong cooperation. The individuals who generally do that throughout human history are males.
In chimpanzee communities across Africa is the same thing. Individuals who do that are males. It’s really important that these males are successful. It’s important to the whole community, because if not, your community gets taken over by another community, and they get your food, and they kill you, and that’s the end of your community. The cooperation, and the self sacrifice, and the trust, that has to exist amongst the males of your community is really, really important. That is true whether it’s chimpanzees or humans. I became so fascinated by Richard Wrangham’s work, because it was so similar to what we have in humans and so rare in animal species.
Brett: You talk about in the book, about the fear, the different fears that boys and girls have and how that influences the way they socialize. You say, for boys, the big fear that boys have are enemies. They want to … They fear enemies, but they also like having enemies.
Joyce: Exactly. Enemies are really, really attractive to boys. They have sharks and tiger enemies, they have mean men enemies, and of course, they make up all kinds of enemies that come from Mars, and that come from all kinds of other alien spaces, and whatever. Boys are really … I see, that by 3, they assume the responsibility for getting rid of the enemy, which is a whole group, or horrible individual who can decimate their community. Girls have no interest in this whatsoever. Girls are much more concerned with making sure they don’t get sick, making sure things are healthy, making sure they don’t get cut. All kinds of things that really, in the real life of 3 year olds, make a bigger difference to their survival. That’s why I find it so funny, because boys are doing things that at 3, they’re not going to be responsible for at all, which is why they more often end up in the emergency room all over the world.
Brett: You talked about that these differences are all based on survival. For boys, for the community to survive, they need men who can fight, so it makes sense that boys would be … Have this tendency to fight and cooperate in large groups, where women, the survival thing is all about taking care of your kids, and making sure that they survive, and they can pass on your genes.
Joyce: Exactly. By age 5, in a lot of communities in the world, girls are already taking care of their younger siblings. It’s really important, their work, and that continues, of course, for the rest of their life when grandmothers take care of their grandchildren, and it really does affect the chances that their grandchildren live. Girls’ jobs are really important. Boys don’t have that level of importance until the enemy attacks, or they need food or resources for their community. They have to be the one attacking. You have really a whole different set of responsibilities for girls versus boys. At least, that’s how I see it. I see it by age 3.
Brett: It’s really amazing. Going back to this idea, common … I think you said earlier about cooperation. I think there’s this common idea out there that women are more social than men, but it seems like your research suggests that’s not actually true, that men might be even sometimes more social than women. Why do we have this idea that women are more social than men, and how are men oftentimes more social than women?
Joyce: Right. Most of the social sciences describe women as the communal sex, the cooperative sex, the emotionally connected sex, the caring sex, whatever. Men are independent, and nagentic, and status driving, and not really into anybody else. This is what the social science literature says, and I think what they’re doing is they’re looking at the incredible bond that mothers form to their children, to husbands, to their own mothers, and these really are … Last throughout a lifetime. They’re very, very powerful. In contrast, boys are off going as far apart … As far away as possible from their parents, their homes, they’re going off with each other. They’re fighting, and they’re committing homicides with ratios 10 to 1. This does not sound communal or caring or interconnected.
In fact, though, if you look at relationships between unrelated same sex peers, girls with girls, women with women, or boys with boys, men with men, you find that boys and men are cooperating much more with each other. They’ll die for each other in a war, and if you look at who’s running the government, and who’s running religious institutions, who’s running educational institutions. Just now, women are entering these bastions of male cooperation, but they’ve always been male. They’ve built society. Men have built society. There is no other way to say it. Women, we are keeping people alive, but men have cooperated to build societies.
I think you need to say, okay are you talking about with families, with kin, or are you talking about with unrelated individuals who share none of your genes? That’s where I see men as much more communal and cooperative. As I say in my book, what could be more communal or cooperative than warfare? You’re living with these filthy, swearing, same age, unrelated men, and you’re having a ball a lot of the time.
Brett: I think it’s interesting too, you talk about how men compete with each other, and with other groups, to bond, which seems rather counter-intuitive that you can bond that way through competition.
Joyce: I have an article out this week that’s received a lot of press. What it does, is it looks at 4 different sports, tennis table, tennis badminton, and boxing, where they literally try to kill each other. I looked at those sports to try to build on what I had done in the book, and say, how do you get from constant one on one competition, and even aggression, to cooperation in a group against other groups?
The mechanism that Richard Wrangham and I came up with was reconciliation. What happens in chimpanzee communities, is males, who are fighting all the time, whereas females barely fight. Males were fighting all the time also reconcile a higher percentage of their conflicts by engaging in post-conflict affiliation. They hug each other, they actually shake hands, they touch each other’s hand and they shake it. That allows them, then, to turn around, and bond with their former opponent. What we did … What Richard Wrangham and I did, just recently and published this week, is try to make that link clear in humans.
Across these 4 sports, males, after losing a competition … It’s hard for me to understand as a woman, but they will hug each other. They’ll warmly shake hands. They’ll give each other pats on the back, and they just lost a Grand Slam tennis championship. They just almost killed each other in a boxing match, sometimes they actually do kill each other, in which case, they can’t do this, but they always feel bad, really bad, about it afterwards.
In contrast, after these competitions, where you would expect that women wouldn’t care as much, they’re supposed to be more cooperative, but of course, they’re with unrelated females, women can barely touch each other. They’ll rub each other’s fingers, and run off the court. They’ll give each other a quick hug in boxing and get out of there as fast as possible. You can see that they’re really having a hard time, and I understand this. If I just lost to somebody, and I really cared about winning, because I’m a top athlete, and these athletes came from 44 different countries, I too, would want to get out of there and hate the person who just deprived me of the status, and the money, and everything that I worked so hard to achieve. Men don’t do that. They literally, somehow, manage to get over it really fast.
Brett: Is the thinking the reason why men do that? It’s because that person that beat them could be a potential ally in the future, so you want to make up?
Joyce: That’s exactly our thinking. Basically, in one chapter I’m talking about competition and fighting, and constant competition among boys. In the next chapter, I’m talking about group cooperation. The question is, how do you go from A to B? Something has to happen in the middle, which doesn’t make sense to me as a female. This is the best evidence that we have now, which is there is this post-conflict affiliation. It happens within 5 minutes with chimpanzee males, and it happens immediately, within 5 minutes, for these sports competitors. It’s just unnerving to watch. I don’t know. I can’t stand it, because as a woman, I’m thinking, how can they do that? The men really look warm. They really look like they care about the person who just killed them, or who they just killed. The women look just stunned. They’re disgusted.
Brett: I think it’s interesting that you had highlight in the book a famous experiment that happened, actually, here in Oklahoma, the Robber’s Cave Experiment, that highlights this contrast between boys competing with each other, but then reconciling with each other to go after another enemy. Can you talk a little bit about the Robber’s Cave Experiment?
Joyce: Yeah, that’s one of the most classic studies. They brought 2 groups, I believe it was 11 year old boys to 2 camp sites that were distant, so they didn’t know about one another. These boys gave themselves names, the Eagles and the Rattlers. Slowly, the counselors let them become aware of the fact of one another’s existence. Immediately, after these boys within their own groups, have been competing over all kinds of things that boys at camp compete over, having their own tugs-of-war, and baseball, and whatever. Now, all of a sudden, there’s another group.
They drop this extreme competition, and they let whoever is best at whatever is the domain, whether it’s tug-of-war, or baseball, or building, or whatever the competitions that the counselors organized were, these boys then chose the best boy from their group to lead all of them, supported him totally. They had hierarchies, and their sole goal was to try to beat the other group, and boy, was it intense. They had to actually break them up sometimes. They felt so strongly about winning against the other group.
Brett: I think there was raiding going on. They would go and raid the other guys’ cabins, steal stuff, demolish things, and I think the experiment has even thought about calling off the experiment, because it was getting a little out of hand.
Joyce: Yeah, it was out of hand, and they thought they could bring them together, and watch some movies, and everything would be okay. They started getting really worried, and they’re trying all these joint … Having dinner together, and all this, wasn’t working. Finally, the only thing that worked is they created an emergency that required the two boys to get together as one team, and that’s where you see organizations like NATO, and these alliances across the world, that seem to be the only way to get warring nations together in many cases.
In this case, I think they had a truck break down, and the boys were really stranded, both the Eagles and the Rattlers were on the truck, and they needed all of them, because the truck was so heavy, to push the truck. I can’t remember the details, and to save all the boys. That broke down the barriers between the two groups.
Brett: They had the enemy. The enemy was the truck was the common enemy.
Brett: That’s really interesting. Going back to this difference between how boys and girls socialize, you talk about in the book, that boys prefer all male groups, while girls aren’t very particular about their group of friends, if it’s co-ed or not. Why is that?
Joyce: Again, I have an evolutionary explanation. What I would argue is that male groups, and that means unrelated boys, right, really benefit from one another. They mutually need to grow up together, form their bonds, so they can defend their communities if another community attacks, or if they’re going to attack another community. I don’t … I know this is very controversial, but I don’t see the advantage of unrelated females spending time together. Even though it feels wonderful to have a best friend, and the best friend certainly can be a source of relaxation, and she can even be a protection against other girls trying to hurt you in terms of socially excluding you and so forth, but basically, a woman is faced with bringing up her children.
She never has enough energy to accomplish that on her own. Who’s going to help her? Not another woman, who also doesn’t have enough energy to bring up her own children, that makes no sense. Therefore, a woman, a mother, turns to those who have a genetic interest in her children. Her own mother, her husband, any other female relatives, maybe her in-laws, those are the people that are going to be most likely to invest, hopefully they’ve already had their children, so that there’s no competition with raising children.
In unrelated women, she can be a source of sharing similar experiences, which is wonderful to have, feels good, but in the end, it’s amazing to me how much women do not help each other raise their own kids. They don’t get together and say, okay listen to me, we all have kids, we’re all stuck, we don’t have enough energy, we need to produce, we have unreliable husbands, so why don’t we share this burden altogether, because some of us will work, and some of us will take care of the kids, and we don’t need to have husbands, we don’t need to have families, we can do it ourselves. I’m not aware of that happening.
Brett: That’s really interesting. Going back to boys, how … So the boys prefer all male groups. How do they decide who’s in the group or who’s not?
Joyce: I talk about this quite a bit. I was describing a lot of results people have found in developmental psychology, but from a theoretical point of view, who should be in the group? Who will help you if you are fighting against another group? You want people that you can trust. Who can you trust? Girls are just so much weaker and lower, and really much less strong at throwing projectiles and so forth. You don’t want girls, that’s not helpful. You don’t want your mother as much as she loves you and takes care of you, she’s going to be of no use if there’s a war. Eventually, when you get to be a teenager, you’re going to be at the height of your physical prowess. You want others who are also at the height of their physical prowess.
You want strong individuals. You want emotionally cool individuals who are not going to break down because they’re so afraid because they might be killed. You want individuals who are going to be sociable and follow the rules, so that you don’t have males going off and doing whatever they want. They’re going to be loyal to the group, and they’re going to be able to listen to the hierarchy. You make sure the best people are at the top. You want people who have expertise. Those who are particularly good with leadership. Those who are good at repairing things. Those who are good at understanding strategy for how to attack. Whatever it is, even those who are good at cooking.
Any kind of strength that can contribute to the war effort is really worthwhile. You don’t want girls. I talk about homosexual boys, but I only mean homosexual boys who are not willing to help out the other boys. I always found it so horrifying and yet amazing that so early in life, boys ostracize other boys who are more feminine. I thought, why do they bother do this? It’s so costly, they spend so much time. What is it? I realized, there’s a lot of men who are homosexual, who are just fine with fighting. There’s no problem with it. Many people think you can be heterosexual and homosexual at the same time. Those boys who don’t like other boys, who would prefer to be with the girls, prefer to play House, who are scared, who don’t want to follow the rules, because girls don’t like these rules, either, who don’t want to basically be cool and cooperative and physically tough, they’re not going to be a help, if there’s an enemy that fights you.
Therefore, what you want, are boys who have certain characteristics that will contribute to the fighting force. Of course, everyone in developmental psychology knows that boys don’t like other boys with these particular traits. They break all the rules, they’re not sociable with the other boys, they’re not physically tough, they’re not emotionally cool, so forth. Everyone knows this, but then I … It suddenly occurred to me that there’s a good reason that boys would come so early with these preferences, because that’s exactly what the army is describing. They don’t want either.
Brett: Going back to that idea of what boys and men don’t like, it’s not necessarily homosexuality, it’s just the femininity.
Brett: Are there instances where a girl could be a part of the male gang, if they’re tomboyish?
Joyce: Yes, I do think boys will accept tomboys. All over the world, boys are always superior, dominant to girls, and I think a girl has to put up with that. If she really likes playing with the boys, if she likes following the rules, if she’s physically tough, if she’s emotionally cool, if she’s got some expertise she can contribute, boys will take that. Of course, more and more, girls are entering the army, the military in the United States. In some countries, they do all the time. It is true, actually, with chimpanzees, too. Almost all of the ones who are engaging in inter-group war are male.
Occasionally, you have a female who’s really tough. The ones I’m aware didn’t ever have their own children. They were sterile, and they’ll join. The males will treat them as another male, and they’re not going to be dominant, they’re going to be subordinate, but they’ll take them along, and they’re useful because there’s power in numbers.
Brett: Going back to this idea, I thought it was something you just mentioned earlier about how boys are obsessed with rules and rule making, which is kind of weird. You always think of boys as being troublesome, they don’t obey the rules in class, etc, etc. Why are boys obsessed with rules and rule making?
Joyce: Again, very important. They certainly are not obsessed or willing to even follow the rules of authority figures. They’re obsessed with their own rules. My best guess is to the reason this is the case is this is how you create a hierarchy. Boys are constantly competing over everything. At 3 years of age, they’re competing over, to me, the silliest things, like who can make the best paper airplane, who can jump highest in the air, who can run their tricycle fastest across the room, whatever it is they can think of, they’ll compete over it.
It’s very important that the other boys fall into line. They need to acknowledge, and they do acknowledge, who’s best, who’s second best, who’s the third best, but just because you’re the best in one area, like making the best paper airplane, doesn’t mean you can jump the highest. The idea is these are rules. Who is top? Who is second top? Who is third? That means that if you happen to be facing another group, you can put your best man forward. I think that’s part of it. I know that there have been studies looking at team sports, where boys will spend more time negotiating the rules and renegotiating them, than they will actually playing the game.
I don’t totally understand what’s the reason, but I have to guess it has to do with strategy, in terms of, okay this is how we are going to run our team, our group, perhaps our military outfit. Listen, you can’t break it. You can’t break the rules, because we’re going to die if you do. That is, again, totally a guess, but that is my guess, that you need others who can flexibly create new rules, break them, but agree to follow whatever that group’s rules are at the moment.
Brett: Very interesting. We’ve been talking about competition amongst boys, but girls compete too, but they do it in a different way. How do girls compete with each other?
Joyce: Girls have to be really careful not to get hurt, because girls are responsible for their whole lives, really starting at age 5, and many additional cultures, for taking care of their younger siblings. Grandmothers, as I said, will take care of their grandchildren, and really, there’s studies showing they can effect whether their grandchildren live or not. Throughout their lives, girls are responsible for keeping others alive. They’re born with a finite number of ova, they have to make sure they don’t hurt them, they have to protect their bodies, which are in many ways, much more complicated than boys’ bodies, so they can’t get hurt.
No fighting physically, if you can help it at all. Therefore, girls have to figure out a different way to compete, because there are things to compete for. In most societies, girls and adolescents do compete for men, even when their parents are helping make the selection. Girls will have some say in it, almost always. In hunter-gather tribes, women make their own choices, which is like here. There’s really good reasons to compete, and before that, girls compete over friends. They compete over resources, they compete over activities. They do compete.
The question is: what do they do? Of course, they’re going to use some type of aggression where they can’t get caught, and they can’t face retaliation, which could physically hurt them. What do they do? They disguise their aggression. You can disguise aggression a lot of ways. You can beat up somebody’s stuff, like ruin her art project, or whatever, when she’s not there. You can say terrible things about anyone when she’s not there. You can try to ruin someone’s reputation. You can do it even when a girl, who is your target, is right there as long as you’re subtle enough.
If you’re saying to this girl, poor you. It’s such a shame that you have whatever vulnerability. It sounds good to the outside world, but in fact, you’re putting this girl down. If there’s enough people around, you can damage this girl without her knowing even what’s happening, because it’s so subtle. You can do this with nonverbal gestures. You can flick your hair, you can roll your eyes, you can emphasize some words, or make a very press and pause, whatever it is. You say to others, this girl’s no good.
If it’s serious enough, you have a really pretty girl, you have a newcomer girl, an adolescent, you have a girl who’s vulnerable in some ways, say she’s a low-hanging fruit, you can get together with the other girls, and you can really effectively ostracize a girl. Because there’s more power in numbers, in fact, there’s more resources, and more males around, if you get rid of a girl, or a woman, it’s scary to be a girl or a woman with only unrelated girls around, because girls do aggress, and eventually, of course, in adolescents and adulthood, girls will turn to authority figures, like men, and others, and try to ostracize a girl from the community.
Even I would say in preschool, girls will go tell the teacher much more than boys will to try to get rid of some other girl who’s breaking the rules. Those rules are teacher’s rules. What you have is girls using completely different strategies than boys, but nevertheless, aggressing and competing.
Brett: Girls will use third parties, while boys will try to take care of self help.
Joyce: Themselves. Yeah.
Brett: How does environment effect these innate tendencies for socialization? Is when times of stress and danger, do they amplify, and in times of prosperity and safety, do they diminish?
Joyce: Yeah, that’s exactly what I would argue. Again, here, the research has not been done, and it ought to be, but what I argue or theorize in my book, is that if you’re living in a society where there isn’t an imminent threat of war, or you’re not sending a lot of boys to the military, then mothers communicate to boys that they needn’t be so aggressive, and they do this by being closer to them, having secure attachments, spending a lot of time with their sons, and the boys do not spend that much time, then, relatively, with other boys.
Therefore, you have a lot more of expressing emotions, and taking care of younger siblings, and doing things that are more similar to girls. Should there be a threat of war, of you have a large percentage of individuals entering the military, Mother can’t do that. She says, okay you’re on your own, you got to be independent. The boy will spend more time with males. Other young boys are going to fight, compete, engage in inter-group competitions, and then you have boys who are getting prepared to enter warfare. That is what I would hypothesize, that mothers are somehow communicating to their sons, not consciously, but inadvertently, by their actions, what kind of life they can expect, and how secure is it going to be, and how much they’re going to have to take responsibility for dealing with the enemy.
I think all boys are interested in this, but in some cases, they end up dealing with it much earlier than in other cases. As for girls, as far as environmental stressors, there is some research that suggests that if there’s not a mother around who can really invest in her daughter, girls are more likely to start menstruating earlier, and to look for a mate much earlier. She grows up faster. Still, however, you get girls who are going to be primarily taking care of children, and they both try to maintain their bonds with their mothers.
Brett: Going back earlier what you said about schools is that also, it seems like they’re trying to communicate the message that aggression is not needed right now. Cooperation, how … What we think of as cooperation, male cooperation, is what we need to emphasize.
Joyce: Yeah. That’s what middle class, or a rich school, communicates to boys. I’m not sure a poor school might try, but they’re not going to be as successful. Certainly, we know, throughout the United States, you look at a low socio-economic status school, and the boys are getting a lot more freedom, and they’re getting in a lot more trouble, and they’re spending a lot more time with each other. Certainly, when I’m in a very poor school, a lot of times, there’s not even a teacher in the classroom. If the teacher is there, she’s just doing something else, and the boys are beating each other up.
When I lived in Britain, it was kind of … Actually, even in the upper class schools, it was kind of, I would say encouraged, that if a boy has a fight with another boy, just leave them alone. They’ll beat the hell out of each other. Sorry. They will beat the hell out of each other, and they’ll figure it out. They’ll be stronger for it. Actually, the teacher shouldn’t intervene in any way. Of course, the upper classes in Britain are more likely to get involved in the military, but in the lower class schools in Britain, as well, you see what you see here, which is the teachers are just not paying as much attention, so the boys are naturally getting their education on the side. Not exactly what the teachers had in mind, but in fact, if there is a war, or if you need to send military, send males into the military, it may be exactly what the teachers have in mind, unconsciously.
Brett: Right. Joyce, what are the implications of your research? I know you’re primarily describing what’s going on. What can say, parents or educators do with this knowledge and how they educate or rear boys and girls?
Joyce: I think the first thing is to think that there are natural tendencies that boys and girls have. People would argue with me and say, well, it’s the TV that’s teaching these tendencies, or adults are somehow passing these tendencies on. Whatever it is, by 3 years of age, boys and girls are being socialized in 2 different worlds. I feel very strongly that that’s the case, because I see it in real life. Therefore, whatever you think are the origins of the sex differences, by the time children become adults, they have very, very different ways of thinking about the world, and about each other.
When people say, oh my gosh, what’s going on? The men are dominant to the women in this organization. Something must be wrong. What is it? You have these young men in the military, and they don’t feel that comfortable when you put young women into the military. What is going on? What’s happening? You look at the fact that men are being asked to stay home, and women are feeling that their husbands aren’t doing enough, and then you see … I know my husband once, I asked him to help out after a dinner party, and he started vacuuming the table and the place mats, because I had asked him to help, and I thought, oh my gosh, what is the matter with you? Of course, he hasn’t had any experience cleaning up, and he doesn’t like cleaning up. He just wanted to get it done.
You have years and years and years of socialization that’s occurring from infancy that’s different for boys and girls. You should expect that if you’re going to try to enter the other milieu, that it’s going to be rough, that’s it’s going to be different, that you’re not going to have the experiences. That’s one obvious ramification. The other one is, I think a lot of people think males really aren’t aggressive, that we’ve caused it. That there’s some unnatural thing that we’ve done, and it’s just awful. Which is just absurd to me, having studied lots of other nonhuman primate species.
The other is this idea of girls being so sweet. Girls need to obtain status. Those who have the highest status are the ones that live the longest. That’s true for boys, that’s true for girls. It makes sense to fight over status, however you can get there. This idea that, oh yes, go to school, and you’ll find these lovely best friends, and everything will be really nice, is missing. What’s really going on underneath it all? I think there’s a lot that parents could understand if they want to better help their children, and be sympathetic, and help their children when they get to be adults.
Brett: Joyce, this has been a fascinating conversation. Where can people learn more about your book and your work?
Joyce: I publish a lot of articles, obviously, my book is for sale. I have a recent article that’s just come out on sex differences, and reconciliation in sports, and current biology. All of these are looking at the dynamics of males when they’re together, at all different ages, and females, when they’re together at all different ages.
Brett: Very good. Joyce Benenson, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Joyce: Thank you very much.
Brett: Again, that was Joyce Benenson, she’s the author of the book “Warriors and Warriors: The Survival of the Sexes.” That’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Also check out the show notes at aom.is./benenson for links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic. That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy the show, I’d appreciate if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, helps us out a lot. Thank you so much for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.