This is the last post in the Baumeister-Vohr series. The introductory post is here and the post discussing their "sexual economics" is here
I am concluding this somewhat hallucinatory trip into the Baumeister-Vohs world by looking more closely at the following argument which they present to explain why the public sphere belongs to men and why it should properly be viewed as the boys' tree-house where girls should not be admitted. Because such admissions are a real mystery for the authors, they conclude that men opened that tree-house door just to lure women in to have sex. And now women are getting unfair preferential treatment:
All of this is a bit ironic, in historical context. The large institutions have almost all been created by men. The notion that women were deliberately oppressed by being excluded from these institutions requires an artful, selective, and motivated way of looking at them. Even today, the women’s movement has been a story of women demanding places and preferential treatment in the organizational and institutional structures that men create, rather than women creating organizations and institutions themselves. Almost certainly, this reflects one of the basic motivational differences between men and women, which is that female sociality is focused heavily on one-to-one relationships, whereas male sociality extends to larger groups networks of shallower relationships (e.g., Baumeister and Sommer 1997; Baumeister 2010). Crudely put, women hardly ever create large organizations or social systems. That fact can explain most of the history of gender relations, in which the gender near equality of prehistorical societies was gradually replaced by progressive inequality—not because men banded together to oppress women, but because cultural progress arose from the men’s sphere with its large networks of shallow relationships, while the women’s sphere remained stagnant because its social structure emphasized intense one-to-one relationships to the near exclusion of all else (see Baumeister 2010). All over the world and throughout history (and prehistory), the contribution of large groups of women to cultural progress has been vanishingly small.
Such riches! I feel as if I'm standing in front of twenty heaped smorgasbords, all full of delicious tidbits for the critical part of my brain! For a while I was like Buridan's ass, frozen in place, not knowing which of the many possible directions I should take. And all of them would keep me occupied for months!
On the Baumeister-Vohr theories
Should I go back to Baumeister's earlier Evolutionary Psychology musings about why women hardly evolved at all whereas we are all descended from risk-taking men who were the winners in the big sperm race but also from security-seeking women who never took any risks because they got laid whenever they wanted (and somehow that is viewed as equal to having brought up a child to fertile adulthood and therefore not at all challenging)? Should I point out the JustSo-stories-aspect of all this? Should I wonder how poor me didn't get to inherit any of those wonderful characteristics from my forefathers or how my brother managed not to inherit any security-seeking from our foremothers? Should I go on a long tour of what's wrong with the narrow kind of evolutionary psychology, the kind I denote with those capital letters? Should I point out that it is pseudo-science because it doesn't lend itself to tests of falsification?
Or what about that Baumeister theory about the men's spheres and women's spheres? The idea that men are better in large organizations and women in one-to-one relationships? Has anyone else ever proposed that theory? The references seem to go back to Baumeister. Has anyone tested that theory? How would one go about doing that? What are those spheres? Baumeister seems to equate them with the public and the private spheres, putting women firmly inside the latter. But who defined those spheres in the first place? Baumeister? Was any individual completely free to move from one to the other?
And were the two spheres really gender-equal in the sense that only women ruled in the women's sphere, over other women, and only men ruled in the men's sphere over other men? Most historical evidence suggests that men have had control over the family, both legally and in terms of customs. So in what sense did the women's sphere belong to women?
I don't think it did. Besides, women have not been free to roam about, in order to get together with other women, without any men being present. Think of the conservative slogan "a woman's place is at home" or the Nazi slogan "Kinder, Kirche und Küche," think of the purdah of traditional Islam. Notice how until quite recently restaurants might not be willing to serve women who entered unaccompanied by a man.
Then there are the really fun detailed bits: For instance, if women are better at one-to-one relationships, shouldn't women "win" in all of those when the other person is a man? But once the whole family is together around the dining table, shouldn't he then "win" if a family is regarded as a large organization? When, exactly, does an organization become "large?" -- The point, of course, is that these men's and women's spheres are probably not some kind of fixed concepts of equal size.
Women Were Not Excluded?
I want to write about all this so badly! But really, the part that deserves the rest of the post is this assertion from the above quote:
The large institutions have almost all been created by men. The notion that women were deliberately oppressed by being excluded from these institutions requires an artful, selective, and motivated way of looking at them.Emphasis is mine.
At first that bolded sentence made me wonder what color the sky is in Baumeister and Vohs's alternative reality. It's not at all hard to find enormous amounts of actual evidence on women's formal exclusion from many of those "men's organizations," starting with the government and the military, continuing with higher education and professional societies and ending with religious institutions as well as the institutions of arts and music.
I sat and pondered this. What should I do? Write thirty volumes detailing every single legal exclusion of women in all countries? Surely Baumeister and Vohs can't argue that women were always admitted to the Catholic Church as priests, say? That women could vote and run for political office everywhere on the very same day that universal male suffrage passed? That all armies have always welcomed women as soldiers with open arms? That all universities admitted women from day one? That the scientific societies of, say, France and Great Britain never refused to admit women as members (it took the French academy until 1979 to admit a woman)? Or that similar exclusions never applied to women in the fields of arts?
And what about the exclusion of women from Europe's medieval guilds, after a long period when both men and women belonged to them? Or the possibility that the early Christian church was created by both men and women but that women were later excluded when the institutional structure turned rigid?
What is artful, selective and motivated about noticing the widespread exclusion of women from most of those "men's organizations?* Or the fact that some of those organizations may not have been "men's organizations" to begin with but created by both men and women? Both of these are important counter-criticisms of Baumeister and Vohs's argument that men created all large organizations simply because they were psychologically more suited to the role. After all, if that's the real explanation then we cannot account for the frequency of women's legal exclusion from those same organizations. It wouldn't have been needed.
I'm still not quite certain how the bolded sentence is intended to read. Could it be the case that Baumeister and Vohs want us to read it somewhat differently: Perhaps we are assumed to take it for granted that women were excluded from those institutions but that to interpret this as "deliberate oppression" is "artful, selective and motivated?"
Is that their point? Something of this sort:
For much of our nation's history, laws regulating family and employment granted different rights to women and men at home and at work. The so-called maternal difficulty — that is, the supposed incompatibility between women's biology and certain roles in the workplace and public life — held that women were best suited to the home, allowing men to flourish at work. As Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley explained in 1872, rejecting the argument that the Constitution protected a woman's right to be a lawyer, the "paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother."Nah. I'm splitting hairs here. In any case, that interpretation would not salvage the Baumeister-Vohs basic theory of all large organizations as fairly and squarely belonging to men. The history the authors create is a tremendously revisionist one, and Baumeister and Vohs cannot be unaware of the actual historical evidence? Right? Right?
Let's do some micro-slicing of those hairs, in a final effort to salvage the Baumeister-Vohs worldview or at least make it something one can relate to, not a missive from an alternative reality. Suppose that they believe men own the large organizations and have the right to exclude women if they so wish. Suppose that this ownership decision leaves women no other avenue but to create their own comparable organizations. Two sex-segregated countries, one for men and one for women! That women didn't create something like that then means that they were psychologically unable to do so and should stop whining and moaning and asking for preferential treatment.
But this way of looking at their case doesn't work, either. If we view the world in those terms, then women should have had ownership rights to families and even to the children they give birth to, and men would have been told to go and create their own families if they desire to have children or sex or psychological one-on-one stroking. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and in the Baumeister-Vohs world nothing would stop women from doing that because they have their own spheres and they can easily and freely get together with other women.
Except that this has not been the case, historically speaking. Women were not in command of their own spheres (however those might be defined) and they did not have access to independent sources of income, partly due to inheritance laws and laws such as coverture.
I must therefore conclude that Baumeister and Vohs, indeed, argue that women were never really excluded from those "men's organizations." A big blind spot, don't you think? Hence, Baumeister in an earlier piece could write this with a straight face**:
Thus, the reason for the emergence of gender inequality may have little to do with men pushing women down in some dubious patriarchal conspiracy. Rather, it came from the fact that wealth, knowledge, and power were created in the men’s sphere. This is what pushed the men’s sphere ahead. Not oppression.
Giving birth is a revealing example. What could be more feminine than giving birth? Throughout most of history and prehistory, giving birth was at the center of the women’s sphere, and men were totally excluded. Men were rarely or never present at childbirth, nor was the knowledge about birthing even shared with them. But not very long ago, men were finally allowed to get involved, and the men were able to figure out ways to make childbirth safer for both mother and baby. Think of it: the most quintessentially female activity, and yet the men were able to improve on it in ways the women had not discovered for thousands and thousands of years.
Let’s not overstate. The women had after all managed childbirth pretty well for all those centuries. The species had survived, which is the bottom line. The women had managed to get the essential job done. What the men added was, from the perspective of the group or species at least, optional, a bonus: some mothers and babies survived who would otherwise have died. Still, the improvements show some value coming from the male way of being social. Large networks can collect and accumulate information better than small ones, and so in a relatively short time the men were able to discover improvements that the women hadn’t been able to find. Again, it’s not that the men were smarter or more capable. It’s just that the women shared their knowledge individually, from mother to daughter, or from one midwife to another, and in the long run this could not accumulate and progress as effectively as in the larger groups of shallower relationships favored by men.
Except that women were excluded from those large networks which can collect and accumulate information better than small ones. Those were medical societies and medical schools. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the US and the first woman on the British Medical Register, got her degree in 1849. Others rapidly followed. When the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania opened only a year later forty women immediately enrolled. Still, the last medical school that refused to admit women changed that policy only in 1960.
My point is that Baumeister's example may well have been a consequence of the exclusion of women from the medical societies, given the clear interest women had in acquiring a medical education. Without more specific information about when these life-saving innovations were adopted it's hard to say anything more except that taking into account the exclusion of women matters.
Some Final Thoughts
Here's the invisible elephant in Baumeister and Vohs's world: The fact that women give birth to children. The piece I write about in this series almost pretends that children don't exist. No, they are not one possible consequence of intercourse, and no, they in no way ever handicapped women who wanted to be artists, composers, generals or stateswomen. It's mind-boggling when you think about it, that omission.
Yet the fact that women are the sex which gives birth, combined with no good access to contraception, is probably the most significant historical reason why women have not participated in the public sphere to the same extent as men have. It is also one of the central reasons for the exclusion of women from many public sector institutions: The desire to guarantee that the reproduction of the next generation would take place, together with traditional views on how to accomplish that task.
That's my first final thought. The second one has to do with the motivation behind this whole approach. It is best described by quoting the authors themselves:
Indeed, the world of work is a daunting place for a young man today. Feminists quickly point to the continued dominance of men at the top of most organizations, but this is misleading if not outright disingenuous. Men create most organizations and work hard to succeed in them. Indeed, an open-minded scholar can search through history mostly in vain to find large organizations created and run by women that have contributed anything beyond complaining about men and demanding a bigger share of the male pie.
Why have men acquiesced so much in giving women the upper hand in society’s institutions? It falls to men to create society (because women almost never create large organizations or cultural systems). It seems foolish and self-defeating for men then to meekly surrender advantageous treatment in all these institutions to women. Moreover, despite many individual exceptions, in general and on average men work harder at their jobs in these institutions than women, thereby enabling men to rise to the top ranks. As a result, women continue to earn less money and have lower status than men, which paradoxically is interpreted to mean that women’s preferential treatment should be continued and possibly increased (see review of much evidence in Baumeister 2010). Modern society is not far from embracing explicit policies of “equal pay for less work,” as one of us recently proposed. Regardless of that prospect, it appears that preferential treatment of women throughout the workforce is likely to be fairly permanent. Because of women’s lesser motivation and ambition, they will likely never equal men in achievement, and their lesser attainment is politically taken as evidence of the need to continue and possibly increase preferential treatment for them.Bolds are mine. "Complaining about men?" "Demanding a bigger share of the male pie?" What interesting insights those sentences offer us about the authors! Men and women no longer live in the same families, the pie belongs to men, all women do is complain. And us feminists are viewed as divisive and haters of men!
The next bolded sentences express the authors' views on affirmative action and the possibility of sex discrimination at workplaces. They detest affirmative action*** because they see it not as a correction to past (or present) discrimination (or exclusion) but simply a way to pass more of the "male pie" to women who are not as competent at work as men. They also stipulate that men deserve to be promoted more often because they work harder.
I don't know of any research that would have singled out that variable for closer study, assuming that "working harder" can somehow be easily operationalized. But the authors most likely argue that if men work longer hours per week****, say, then they deserve to keep a bigger chunk of that "male pie."
The final bolded sentence tells us about the dismal future: We women have less motivation and less ambition and thus we will never equal men in achievement. What fun!
So what motivated this paper, hmh? I think it's real dislike of and anger at women. Not just some individual women or us dratted feminists but all women. Well, with the possible exception of professor Vohs.
*I don't want to make the Baumeister-Vohs mistake and argue that all this was always and everywhere based on some kind of explicit collusion of men against women (though it probably was inside the religious organizations). There have always been women who supported the exclusion of women and there have always been men who worked hard to gain women access into those "men's organizations." It's also important to remember that both women and men of the past were taught the gender norms of their era. Some aspects of women's lives today would probably have been simply unthinkable to, say, medieval women in Europe.
**Credit for this point goes to ann2 in the comments of an earlier post.
***I wonder what they would say about the argument that colleges and universities now practice affirmative action in their student selection in favor of male applicants. Would that be acceptable in the Baumeister-Vohs world?
****This also ignores the possibility that men who are fathers of young children can do this because either the mothers of those children take care of them at home or leave work earlier to pick them up at the daycare center. Put another way, single fathers cannot work long hours without paid help. One could argue that the "male pie" is part of the "family pie" and that all family members deserve a share in that.