The Atlantic has published a round-up of studies that detail how being around women changes men (Did You Know: it's harder for a man to be sexist after he spends time with actual women?). The studies' findings are interesting and telling — but what's perhaps most telling is the fact that they're not even the tip of the "women be changin' men" iceberg. Why are we, as a society, so obsessed with quantifying the ways in which the presence of women alter men's behaviors? It's far from a reciprocal relationship: studies looking to elucidate and explicate how women change in the presence of men are few and far between. What's going on here?
Most of the studies included in the Atlantic piece come to somewhat encouraging conclusions: male CEOs pay their employees more after having daughters! Men in general grow less attached to traditional gender roles after spawning little girls! Working in a female-dominated workplace will make men more likely to be egalitarian in their household duties! However, as Katy Waldman points out at the XX Factor, these findings are accompanied by a bevy of less gender roles-oriented studies:
Did you know that, when women are around, men find it easier to run; they eat more calories; they talk more; they take more risks; and they experience more "cognitive impairment?" Did you know that men donate more to charity when a beautiful woman is watching? That men try to save money in the company of available women? That men with daughters vote more liberally? That having sisters predisposes men toward generosity?
They seem to exist on a spectrum, from "inconsequential" (more calories!) to "reinforcing gender stereotypes" (men get MAN-BRAIN when a beautiful woman is around!).
Not a lot of studies exist about how women respond to the presence of men, and most quantify how much women have internalized patriarchal values — for example, a study found that women are less likely to speak up in co-ed classrooms. But that's not the same. All too often, as Waldman points out, women are seen as the independent variable in an otherwise stable reality. The system is just functioning along, doing whatever, 'til we introduce that wacky outside variable (a human being who identifies as female!!!).
It's troubling that this happens: it reveals the way in which we construct our understanding of reality around maleness as a neutral value. The scientific discourse of "men change around women!" both reflects and reinforces this value system. On one hand, we study male CEOs because most CEOs are male, and we quantify how men "soften up" around women because it's an easily accessible and easily-understood cultural trope. On the other hand, though, conducting myriad studies that center on the male perspective does the harmful work of universalizing that perspective — to the detriment of women.
If any scientist needs a suggestion about how to go about studying the public and professional behavior of women: one time, the Jezebel staff heard that Taylor Kitsch was outside and we all sprinted away from our desks in a frenzy. One could collect a lot of data from that.
"Why Are There So Many Studies About How Women Change Men, But So Few of The Reverse?" [XX Factor]
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