Friday, March 27, 2015

The Grand Year-Long Alpha Male Experiment

For the last few weeks, I've been posting about gender issues. Part of this came about because of a year-long experiment I've been running. I've been fascinated with the role of masculinity in our culture. Before I jump into the nuts and bolts of the post, let's operationally define "masculine" and "feminine" (source = Planned Parenthood):

Masculinity traits:

  • independent 
  • non-emotional 
  • aggressive 
  • tough-skinned 
  • competitive 
  • strong 
  • active 
  • self-confident 
  • sexually aggressive
  • rebellious
By contrast, feminine traits would consist of:
  • dependent 
  • emotional 
  • passive 
  • sensitive 
  • quiet 
  • graceful 
  • innocent 
  • weak 
  • flirtatious 
  • nurturing 
  • self-critical 
  • sexually submissive 
  • accepting
For anyone that's known me personally can attest, I've historically exhibited far more feminine traits than masculine traits, hence the experiment. So for the last year or so, I've consciously inhibited displaying feminine characteristics and tried to display masculine characteristics.

The results have been nothing short of shocking. 

Prior to the experiment, most people treated me as if I were invisible. The only exception: When I was in "teacher mode", where I tended to display more masculine characteristics. During the experiment, I noticed people...
  • Paid more attention to me,
  • Listened to my ideas more readily,
  • Agreed with me more often,
  • Were more pleasant to me,
  • Laughed at my shitty jokes more often,
  • Gave me more free shit,
  • Were far more willing to follow me,
  • Seemed to be more attracted to me.
At first, the strength of that effect freaked me out a bit. I just wasn't used to eliciting that reaction. Then it started to make me a little sad. Despite all our work we've done to assure gender equality, masculine characteristics are still clearly winning out... at least for a dude.

I was really dismayed until I started paying attention to the way people treated Shelly. For those that don't know my wife, she's undergone a significant change throughout her thirties. She basically went from a very stereotypical "feminine" female to a "rivals the most alpha masculine male" female. The change in the way people treat her is exactly the same change I saw in people treating me differently, except some males seem to be exceedingly uncomfortable around her.

That led to the conclusion that our culture has a definite preference for masculine characteristics regardless of biological sex, at least in some situations. That led me to question why. I've been pretty heavily involved in the gender equality movement since my early days in college, and I was always under the assumption that the genders haven't reached true equality because men were simply balking at giving up power. I bought into the assumption that masculinity was a bad thing. The "masculinity = female oppression, rape, etc." connection made a lot of logical sense. Fortunately, my observed preference societal for masculinity led me to consider there may other unknown variables at play. That led me to the "protection drive" hypothesis I blogged about recently. 

I'd hypothesize guys really do want women to have equal power. The roadblock isn't a desire to share that power. The roadblock is male insecurity, which explains why some males are seemingly intimidated by Shelly's overt assertiveness. They're insecure because she doesn't need their protection, and our ability to protect and provide is how men measure their self-worth in our culture.

Maybe men don't object to gender equality because they don't want to lose power; maybe they object because gender equality will destroy their perceived usefulness. Weird, right? This could also explain why, in stereotypically-male competitions, men hate losing to women. 

I'll use jiu jitsu as an example. When we train, we spar at 100%. It's live combat... or at least it's supposed to be. When guys spar with me, they'll always go slightly harder than me. If I go easy, they go easy. If I go hard, they go hard. With Shelly, however, it's different. Regardless of how much effort she's expending, almost all guys avoid 100% effort with her. They tend to go easy. If she's going hard, they'll usually stop before she submits them to "teach" her something. It's a weird phenomenon I've seen again and again. Guys really hate losing to girls.

I'm still hashing out the hypothesis, how exactly this idea influences our behaviors, and most importantly, if this is a barrier to gender equality, how can we make it work for us instead of against us? There's no denying my embracing of masculine characteristics has made a profoundly positive impact on myself and those around me. It would be easy to just dismiss it as an insignificant abnormality, but it's part of a pattern I see repeated again and again and again. Maybe we've incorrectly associated masculinity with oppressive, patriarchal misogyny. Maybe our vilification of masculinity has actually blinded us to the real root of the problem. 

I'm not a fan of vague plans for change. I need specifics. If we're going to run up a mountain, I don't want to just run in the general direction of the mountain. I want to know the terrain. I want to know the weather. I want to accurately assess my abilities and weigh that against the abilities required to get to the summit. I want a map. Sure, there's a chance that planning may reveal weaknesses I didn't think I had, but that gives me the opportunity to fix those weaknesses. That's going to dramatically increase my odds of success. 

Fighting gender inequality is no different. If there's a variable at play we're all ignoring, it only makes sense to reveal it, sit with it for a while, learn all we can about the phenomenon, develop a better map to overcome the barrier, then get to it. My year-long experiment has taught me there are variables at play that make us really uncomfortable. That's no excuse to pretend they don't exist. Sometimes making maps reveals shit we'd prefer didn't exist. Making maps forces us to dig deeper than the fantasy world we create to make us feel better than seeing reality for what it is.

Then again, that's why map-makers are in short supply. We don't like to think we could have been wrong all these years. When we get emotionally-connected to a particular outcome, we lose the ability to see the terrain, thus we lose the ability to make maps. That's what compelled me to start this journey. 


1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting, so by that token, would you say that the relationship would improve if the woman took on more feminine traits?