The Politics of Gender

Book Review: "Why Men Rule: A Theory of Male Dominance"

By Steven Goldberg Ph.D (1993, Open Court).


June 23, 1998

"It is terribly self-destructive," Steven Goldberg tells us, "to refuse to accept one's own nature, and the joys and powers it invests."

In this scholarly and meticulous essay, Dr. Goldberg, Chairman of the Sociology Department at City University of New York, analyzes the distortions of gender studies, which have become a "sacred cow" of academia.

Thus it is no surprise that over a period of ten years, his first work on this subject (The Inevitability of Patriarchy) was turned down 69 times by 55 publishers, earning him recognition in The Guinness Book of World Records for the most rejections of a manuscript before final acceptance.

"We live in a time when many academics like to believe that the variations of human behavior and social institutions are virtually unlimited," Dr. Goldberg says. But society must, to a certain extent, conform itself to psycho-physiological reality.

"In real life, most parents want to prepare their children for the real world, and are unwilling to sacrifice them to the demands of ideology--which is what they do when they grossly misrepresent the world..."

An analysis of sex-related differences is important to sexual-reorientation therapists, because it opens discussion of an essential question: Is there a human nature to which man must conform? Or are gender and sexual orientation infinitely malleable?

Socialization "does not consist primarily of parents telling little boys to be 'aggressive' and little girls to be 'nurturant'--these tendencies exist without socialization--but of developing the skills and attitudes that make best use of such tendencies as already exist." He adds, "To believe that males should not have a stronger dominance tendency...is to hope for the impossible."

It is the idea of male dominance which most annoys feminists, Dr. Goldberg says, but, "It does not matter whether the reader enjoys the idea that the male dominates and protects the female, or detests it"--it is simply, he says, a fact.

"Every society recognizes a particular emotional difference between men and women...the male strength and dominance, and the female gentleness and endurance portrayed in our novels and movies mirror not merely our society's view of the emotional natures of men and women, but the views of every society that has ever existed..."

Science reveals empirical realities which we must recognize. However, "empirical analyses alone cannot find the answers to moral-political questions." Science speaks only of what is, while social-moral philosophy tells us what should be.

For example, a recent study found some evidence that promiscuity is in a man's genes. If this study is correct, then it is "normal and natural" for a man to be tempted to adultery; but we do not build a social-moral philosophy around the idea that faithful marriage is therefore impossible. In fact, recognizing that stable families are vital to society, we might use our knowledge that "promiscuity is in the genes" to strengthen social sanctions against adultery, thus making unfaithfulness less likely.

Valuing of Male Attributes Distorts Feminist Reasoning

Feminism was once dominated by the idea that sex-related tendencies are purely cultural in origin. Today, he says, most feminists now recognize that physiological differences play at least some part in sex-related behaviors. But many feminists clearly value masculine qualities more highly than feminine ones--thus, there has been a long effort to establish the idea that women have been less prominent in professions like mathematics, philosophy, and music composition simply because society has socialized them not to compete in these areas.

A recent study of the top 4,000 executives at the Fortune 500 companies found that men outnumbered women 3,993 to 19.

"The higher the status--the more competitive the position--the lower will be the percentage of women," he says. But many feminists claim that it is simply bias and discrimination that has prevented equal representation. However, Dr. Goldberg disagrees.

Males occupy more high-status roles because they are motivated more strongly to achieve that high status. He gives many examples of what appear to be role-reversals in other societies--where women do the usual men's work, and men do the "women's work"--but invariably, he says, the apparent "man's work" the woman is doing is lower-status in that particular society, and is therefore less sought-after by the male. "Males occupy higher-level roles because high status motivates the male more strongly."

He does not argue that either sex is uniquely associated with competence. But he does say that few women would devote the lifelong expenditure of energy necessary to achieve such positions, and any increase of women in these positions will be slight. "In the future, America may well have a female leader, but we shall never see a time when males fail to attain the overwhelming percentage of top hierarchical positions."

When Females Supervise Males

"Even if the male's greater dominance tendency were over-ridden and large numbers of women placed in positions of authority, it is unlikely that stability could be maintained. Even in our present male bureaucracies, problems arise when a subordinate is more 'aggressive' than his superior and, if the more 'aggressive' executive is not allowed to rise in the bureaucracy, delicate psychological adjustments must be made. Such adjustments are also necessary when a male bureaucrat has a female superior...It seems likely...that if women shared equally [with men] in power at each level of the bureaucracy, chaos would result..."

In every society, women are responsible for the care and rearing of the young, "the single most important function served in any society, or in nature itself."

The Universality of Patriarchy

An idea that undergirds much of feminist thinking is that patriarchy, matriarchy and "equiarchy" are all equally possible, and that there is no natural order which decrees that men will rule in every society.

Accordingly, feminists tend to say that our expectations of men and women are culturally determined, and therefore infinitely malleable. Many feminist writers "camouflage their intellectual inadequacy behind a facade of scholarship...and...a profusion of footnotes...One would be hard put to find another group that talked so much about science, without doing any science."

Accordingly, feminists tend to say that our expectations of men and women are culturally determined, and therefore infinitely malleable. Many feminist writers "camouflage their intellectual inadequacy behind a facade of scholarship...and...a profusion of footnotes...One would be hard put to find another group that talked so much about science, without doing any science."

"In science," Dr. Goldberg says, "...truth is the perfect defense, and nature will give you a lift only if you're going her way." Our physiology imposes limitations on social possibility, he warns us, and society must not expect its institutions to ignore these limitations.

Of all social institutions, there is probably none whose universality is granted so unanimously by anthropologists as patriarchy. "There is not, nor has there ever been, any society that even remotely failed to associate authority and leadership in suprafamilial areas with the male. There are no borderline cases." He says there has never been a matriarchy. "If the reader insists on maintaining a belief in a once-existent matriarchal society, all we can do is demand evidence more convincing than his desire that there should have been one."

Misinformation has a long life. Dr. Goldberg studied 32 introductory sociology textbooks, and discovered that all but two begin their chapters on sex roles with the claim that anthropologist Margaret Mead said the Tchambuli of New Guinea reversed male-female sex roles.

Dr. Mead had, in fact, had been denying this claim for fifty years. In a review of Dr. Goldberg's book, she acknowledged that "It is true, as Professor Goldberg points out, that all the claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that they ever existed...men have always been the leaders in public affairs, and the final authorities at home."

"More than sloppiness is at work here," says Dr. Goldberg. "Some of the authors of current texts have admitted to me in private that they know the Tchambuli are not an exception." He adds, "We used to call this 'lying.'"

Cognitive Differences Between the Sexes

Men are more dominant and driven toward high-status positions, and this explains some of their preeminence in social hierarchies. But there is another factor--there are also cognitive differences between men and women.

Feminists, he says, often assume that women, if not for social conditioning, would be just as capable as men of a career in nuclear physics. In fact, a simple and accurate descriptive statement--such as "women are not as good at math as men"--often evokes antagonism. "Rejections of descriptions because one does not like them are hardly justified," he says. "We know that men and women think and behave differently, whatever the cause...The social is given its limits and direction by the physiological...Falsity of assumption cannot be balanced by a doubling of emotional investment."

"There exists in our culture," he says, "a powerful hunger to believe that gender differences in cognitive aptitudes are exclusively cultural." Men surpass women in dealing with high-level logic and abstraction, which leads them to excel in math, composing, chess, philosophy, and so forth--fields in which, he says, there is no woman of genius.

Women equal or surpass men on all cognitive tests not related to mathematical reasoning or associated aptitudes, although neither sex is more intelligent than the other, he says, when we speak of intelligence in a broader sense--in all its different forms.

He stresses that none of this information justifies discrimination against the woman who happens to be as qualified as a man in a male-dominated field--but she must be aware, realistically, that "she can never hope to live in a society that does not attach feminine expectations to women."

Patriarchy, Male Dominance, and Male Attainment

Three factors are universal throughout all known cultures: patriarchy, male dominance and male attainment. He argues that these tendencies are manifestations of neuro-endocrinological differences between men and women, and that male dominance serves obvious survival functions.

He defines patriarchy as the occupation, by males, of the overwhelming percentage of upper hierarchical positions in political and other hierarchies.

Male attainment is defined as acquisition by males of the high-status roles--whatever these may be, in any given society.

Male dominance is indicated when both sexes believe that dominance in male-female relationships resides with the male, and that social expectations and authority systems reflect this balance of power.

Wherever there is a hierarchy, high-status role, or member of the opposite sex present, he says, the male more readily and more strongly responds with:

1. Competitiveness (the impulse for attainment and dominance);

2. Relative suppression of other emotions and needs, and a sacrifice of rewards (health, family, relaxation and so forth) that conflict with the need for attainment and dominance;

3. Whatever actions are required for attainment of the aforementioned position, status and dominance. (Society, he says, conforms to nature by recognizing and institutionalizing this male ambition.)

If patriarchy, male dominance and male attainment are indeed a function of human physiology (as he believes they are), then "the emotional, behavioral, and--ultimately--social-institutional manifestations...may be inevitable..."

The theory does not imply that males perform better than females in their positions, but that they are more strongly motivated to attain these high-status positions. He also says, "I am in no way implying that there is some law of nature which requires that the males of a species should dominate...No scientific analysis of empirical relationships can ever entail a social policy (what is cannot entail what should be)."

The Physiological Roots of Male Dominance

"There is an enormous amount of evidence," he says, "which demonstrates beyond doubt that that the testicularly-generated fetal hormonalization of the male central nervous system promotes earlier and more extensive maturation of the brain structures that mediate between male hormones and dominance behavior; this makes the male hypersensitive to the presence, later on, of the hormones which energize dominance emotions and behavior, and result in his stronger tendency to respond to the environment with dominance behavior."

He mentions the cases where a boy was raised as a female through removal of the external male genitalia, and socialization as a girl; but the experiment was unsuccessful because fetal hormonal masculinization had already occurred. "As the evidence demonstrates conclusively," he says, "dominance tendency is primarily a result of hormonal development and not primarily of anatomy, gender identity, or the socialization that reflects anatomy and gender identity."

In his discussion, Dr. Goldberg reminds of us some important principles of logical argumentation. The fact that some women are more dominant than some men does not invalidate the statistical fact that men are, on average, more dominant than women. Furthermore, when he says that women will "never" form a majority in the upper levels of corporate hierarchies, he reminds us that science speaks in the language of probability.

For psychotherapists, Why Men Rule should lead in a useful direction. An acknowledgment of physiologically-based sex differences could help explain the particular problems common to same-sex love relationships (jealousy, competition, violence, instability) which some clinicians believe to be inherent to any same-sex coupling. While gay advocates see the supposed "equality" of same-sex coupling to be an advantage, reparative therapists often theorize that sexual sameness actually fosters inherent competitiveness. (For example, dog trainers know that two female dogs, or two male dogs, never live together as equals; whereas male-female pairs live in relative harmony, because they do not compete within the same dominance hierarchy.)

Why Men rule represents one step toward honest inquiry into the vast, unexplored, and compelling area of physiologically-based sex differences.


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