Misunderstandings between the sexes
There are lots of misunderstandings between men and women about gender roles. For example, many women think males want a maid--a wife who stays home, cooks, cleans, and isn't too smart. But many males say they want, more than anything else, a capable, assertive, happy partner, not just a housekeeper. Yet, about 40% of women feel like they are their husband's housekeeper and only 28% feel like his lover. That's sad. On the other hand, men think women want a big, burly, hairy, tough, handsome, "he-man" stud with money for a partner. Well, handsome maybe, but females do not admire an overly macho male. Even 15-20 years ago, being loving, gentle, warm, caring, intelligent, capable, self-confident, and willing to stand up for his beliefs was more important to women than being tough and fighting (Rambo type) or influential and obsessed with power (Donald Trump type) or a hunk making out sexually with lots of women (Tavris, 1977). What are the 1995 ideals?
It may surprise you but about 50% of Psychology Today respondents (both women and men) said the ideal male would above all else be introspective, wise, compassionate, and concerned with his own personal growth, i.e. self-actualizing (Keen & Zur, 1989). Another 25% said the ideal man's one "ultimate concern" would be "his family, i.e. being a good husband and father," 12% said his highest priority would be "helping others," 7% said "religion," only 4% said "his work," and the remaining 2% mentioned art, making money, sports or play, and political activity. The male least admired is cynical, selfish, materialistic, and violent (including personally fighting, watching violent sports, and hunting). Note that the ambitious, urbane, critical, sophisticated, organization man of the 1950's, willing to do anything to make it to the top, is not valued by these young, well educated respondents. However, it would be foolish to believe success is no longer highly valued. (Indeed, men predict business will change women, i.e. "power corrupts;" women think women will change the system.)
Surveys usually show that men support "women's issues," such as abortion and day care, more than women do! Surveys also have shown that women believe women's liberation has benefited men more then women! That is, women have assumed more responsibility for financially supporting the family (almost 60% are employed) than men have assumed for caring for the house and family. Hochschild (1989) interviewed 50 two-career couples and found that the women worked 15 hours more each week than their husbands did. Other studies report that 50-70% of women say their husbands don't do their share of the housework. It is interesting that 75% of women say men have excessive expectations of them in terms of housework and child care, but 80% of the women feel men underestimate women's ability at the work place. Hochschild offers solutions to this unfairness.
It seems clear that most women have changed in the last 30 years and many men have too. But many men still have a lot of changing to do. The ideals have already changed or are changing; males need to listen more, aggress less, and cooperate more. Husbands of working women are supposed to do an equal share of the housework and child care (remember 70% of such women believe their man isn't doing his share). Men must also take more responsibility for seeing that women are accepted, respected, and treated equally where they work. Men must challenge their male friends who still have the arrogant, unthinking, or sick chauvinist ideas underlying physical and sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Since overly masculine men don't take suggestions or orders from women well, males sympathetic with females must take the lead in vigorously confronting other males who are unaccepting, unfair, or abusive. This won't be easy. And, women need to provide other women with support groups and networks to counter the power-seeking "good old boys."
Among my college students, I often raise the question of why men have to do most of the approaching and asking out? The women invariably say that if they did the approaching, men would think they were being too aggressive or were sexually promiscuous, and, thus, wouldn't respect or like them. Almost 100% of men laugh at these notions and say they would love to be approached. Give it a try, women. Women have to do some changing too. None of us like to take the lead and then be rejected (see "meeting people" above).
What determines who will be the boss in a marriage? Mostly the education of the wife. Peplau, Rubin and Hill (1977) found that among dating couples 95% of the women and 87% of the men say that each sex should have exactly equal power in decision-making. But, less than half of the couples felt their relationship was, in fact, egalitarian. Among the remaining couples, two-thirds of the women and three-quarters of the men felt the man was more in control. Three factors are related to power: (1) the couple's ideas about gender roles, e.g. traditionalists think the man should make the final decisions, (2) the degree to which each one is "in love" or dependent on the other (the less involved partner has more power), and (3) the female's education (if she drops out of college, she is more likely to be dominated; if she gets a graduate degree, she will probably have equal power). So, for an egalitarian relationship, the couple needs to be roughly equal in ability, in love, in neediness, and in education.
Who organizes and runs the family? Regardless of who is "the ultimate boss," there is an opportunity for someone to gain some satisfaction or status and power by becoming the family organizer or director. Often that is the wife, either as an assigned role (by the boss) or as a desired acquired role. Stern (1988) writes about The Indispensable Woman, who wants to be needed. So, she takes on a job for extra money, does the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry, keeps track of everyone's clothes and tries to monitor how everyone looks each morning, wants to look fantastic herself, finds the baby sitters, keeps everybody's schedule and makes sure they are on time, plans family activities and "lessons" for the children, helps her husband socialize, is sure the family would fall apart if she didn't run things for everyone, and feels overburdened and unappreciated! Solution: admit the overload is your fault (if it is), reassign some responsibilities and drop others, stop expecting perfection, and take time to find a life of your own. Bepko and Krestan (1990) have a similar notion, namely, that women are strongly driven to be "good" and please others; consequently, they take on too much and often feel insecure or unsure that they are good enough. Solution: stop kowtowing and self-sacrificing.
There are hundreds of books about sexism and how to deal with it. Some of the better early references about women's rights are Freidan (1963), Bengis's (1973) attack on men, Boston Women's (1972) well known catalog, Friedman's (1983) refutation of the idea that you're no body until somebody loves you, Friese, Parsons, Johnson, Ruble & Zellman's (1978) textbook, and Paulsen & Kuhn's (1976) handbook.
Feminists have kept up the attack on the unfairness. Susan Faludi (1991) describes many subtle but calculated scare tactics and attacks on feminism, including the frequent description of the single woman as neurotic, emotional, and miserable (e.g. Fatal Attraction), the erroneous but frightening contention that no males will be available for the single female over 30, the spreading of false rumors that women careerists were taking over law, medicine, dental, and other professions, and on and on for 460 pages. One of the most scathing attacks on men is MacKinnon's (1987) Feminism Unmodified, in which she underscores that 44% of women are raped or about raped because "men consider women inferior." See the discussion of date rape under premarital sex in chapter 10. She and others say pornography defiles all women because it portrays them as inferior, as sexual objects without personal significance or a soul. Men get defensive when they read these charges, but we all--men and women--must face reality, especially unpleasant reality.
There can be no doubt that many men still discount or put down women in many ways. Change is slow; it must also be sure. Brownmiller's (1984) book on Femininity is a gold mine of information. Levine's (1992) My Enemy, My Love provides some interesting theories about why males and females frequently get angry with each other. An excellent analysis of gender stereotyping, including the misjudgment of women and mythical gender differences, has been done by Tavris (1992), a social psychologist and good writer.
Chauvinism as a nation
Christopher Lasch (1979; 1984), a psychoanalytical historian, says we Americans are narcissistic and self-centered. We seek immediate happiness. Our society and even our therapies, he says, are designed to help us forget others and deny our moral responsibilities. We have little interest in the past or the future. We are trying to survive hard times, as best as we can, by focusing on our wants. Our affluent world is threatened; that makes us passive and defensive, it takes the fight out of us. We are holed up; we are not out there striving to make the world better--to feed the hungry, to treat the sick, to teach.... By being self-absorbed we hardly notice the suffering of others. We excuse our indifference to others. Lasch thinks we dream of success, greatness, and being happy in order to deny our frailties, fears, weaknesses, dependencies, and guilty consciences. We hope for easy political solutions to huge social problems.
According to Lasch, chauvinism and narcissism go together; they are opposed by the logic of democracy and the Golden Rule. Germany's insecurity before 1940 created an extreme chauvinism, leading to wars of conquest and to gas chambers. In that same Germany, the holocaust victims, feeling helpless, walked passively to their death and Anne Frank's family died carrying on "business as usual." Many Jews denied the dangers they faced. Many other people did nothing to help the Jews. In a similar way, during the "Cold War" the American people and the Soviet people (combining Hitler's arrogance with the holocaust victim's helplessness) conformed to their leaders' orders, namely, to prepare to destroy ourselves to "defend our way of life." The Cold War is over but we are still driven by the same pathological personality traits--the same willingness to let others think for us. When the world is in trouble, we--the people--must think for ourselves (not just unthinkingly follow a leader) and do something, we can't withdraw inside ourselves, like Narcissus. Perhaps seeing our motives more clearly, re-affirming our basic values, and gaining greater self-control (not national pride and political control by a glib leader) will reduce our hostile indifference to others (see chapters 3 and 7).
I would define liberty to be a power to do as we would be done by. The definition of liberty to be the power of doing whatever the law permits, meaning the civil laws, does not seem satisfactory.
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
Chauvinism at home; Child care
When conservative politicians, like Presidents Reagan and Bush, and anti-ERA people, like Phyllis Shaftly, speak of keeping the traditional family strong, they usually mean keeping families emotionally close, with the father as the head. The threats to a patriarchal family are, in the words of a conservative minister, "uppity women" and "uppity children." Any suggestion of women having careers and democratically sharing power in the family threatens male dominance. Pogrebin (1983) contends that the traditional family really means "keep men in power, women in the kitchen, and children in awe." She says such a traditional family is essentially child-hating. Many parents fear and dislike children who are independent and defiant, feeling "their will must be broken." Thus, these parents have little empathy or respect for children and democratic decision-making. Such parents are dominant, over-controlling, and sometimes harsh and aloof with children. Such parenting may have permanent negative effects (see Table 9.2).
While some traditionalists adamantly favor (primarily for religious reasons) the rights of a 6-week-old fetus over the rights of the mother, when it comes to family decisions these same people frequently think it is absurd to give older children and teenaged daughters and sons the same rights, privileges, opportunities, and choices as parents have (Pogrebin, 1983). We must also ask ourselves: why are we so adamant about saving tiny unwanted fetuses but never demand that we save the lives of starving and sick children around the world?
How can chauvinism be reduced? As pointed out in the 1960's, we need to concentrate on the family and child rearing. About 55%-60% of today's families are traditional, only about 40% have nontraditional attitudes, i.e. children and parents have equal rights, boys and girls should have the same chances and choices, and "people in authority don't always know best." Pogrebin proposes several political-social-economic solutions for better child care: housing for all families, meaningful careers for both parents, tax breaks for having children and elderly in your home, professionally run day care centers, getting fathers highly involved in child care, increasing mutual respect and love within the family, etc. It's not clear how all these changes can be accomplished, nor what the outcomes of the changes would be. However, some of these changes can be brought about by individual self-control.
About 70 years ago, Alfred Adler advocated democratic attitudes towards children, stressing mutual respect, encouragement, and reason. He opposed using rewards--bribes?--and punishment (because they underscore that the parent is in power and has the rewards to give); he opposed over-protecting, over-demanding and over-powering the child (Corsini & Painter, 1975; Dreikurs & Soltz, 1976). Discipline could be maintained, Adler thought, with family conferences and by using "natural consequences " (warning once and then letting the child learn from his/her mistakes) and "logical consequences" (agreeing to reasonable rules in advance, such as "you'll have to leave the room if you disrupt a conversation or someone watching TV").
When does child-care end? There are families in which the children dominate the parents; they may be indulged and catered to by self-sacrificing parents until they are 22 to 25. Indeed, most college students today expect their parents to pay for their education and parents seem to accept that responsibility. Related to this prolonged dependency, many parents get extremely upset if their "grownup children," say 20-years-old, make decisions they don't approve of, such as majoring in certain subjects, experimenting with drugs, dating another race or religion, living with someone of the opposite sex, etc. Why are parents so controlling? Why do they feel it is their right? Why do they distrust their 20-year-old's judgment? Why aren't college and post-college students more independent? As a society we don't seem to know how or when to let our children go free. Until the 1930's, children were commonly expected to be "on their own" after 14 (8th grade). Now, it is 22 (college). Will it be 30 in 2050 or back to 14?
It is hard for me to agree with Pogrebin that children, in general, are hated by traditional parents. I think children are most people's greatest treasure and joy. If children are hated, why do traditional and non-traditional parents give them so much--even paying for college--and expect so little from them? In my opinion, we may be harming our children, not because we dislike them, but because we fear that they will dislike us. By giving them everything and wanting their approval, we parents unintentionally keep them weak, dependent, insecure, and unable to help themselves. We need to research the consequences of prolonged dependency, either in college or in interminable welfare programs (see chapter 8). I think we should investigate the results of young people, starting at 12 or 13, being given much more personal, financial, and social responsibility than they are given now.
There are people who wish they had never had children and, fortunately, there is less social pressure to have children today. The world has enough children already (we let 42,000 die needlessly every day). If children would make you unhappy and unproductive or if you would make your children unhappy or unproductive, then don't have children. It is unwise to put social pressure on every couple to have children. Starvation is enough reason to press every couple to not have more than two children.
Chauvinism in the schools
Child care workers and teachers are in control of children almost as much as parents. In two career families, the nursery school has the child 9 or 10 hours a day. Shouldn't children be trained and educated from 1 to 5? If yes, we need trained child care workers. We also expect a lot from schools even though we assign one teacher to care for and teach 25 or 30 children. What can schools do if we parents send them students who have little practice at self-discipline, little understanding of the importance of learning, and little sense of their responsibility to make a contribution to the world? The fact is that schools from kindergarten to Ph. D. programs are chauvinistic in the sense that teachers assume they know what courses the students should take, when to read which chapters, when and how to evaluate the student's progress, etc. As long as students do not take responsibility for their own educational-career plans and motivation, someone else will (and often do a poor job of it).
Furthermore, recent research has shown that teachers (both male and female) unwittingly deal with boys differently than girls. They call on boys more often than girls; they give boys more time to reason out the answer; they encourage boys more to improve their performance (Sadker & Sadker, 1985). This boys-are-more-important attitude must change. In addition, schools are fully aware that male sports are more valued and given priority over female sports. The argument is that girls do not go out for sports as much as boys do. That's true, but if it is good for boys, why isn't it good for girls? As a society, we don't encourage, reward, and value girls in sports as much as boys. That needs to be changed too. Girls themselves and their parents also have to take some responsibility for having less interest in sports (and excessive interest in being "cute"). Perhaps as students gain self-awareness, new values, self-responsibility, and self-control, there will be less need for controls--presumptuous authority--in the schools and at home (Ernst, 1977).
Chauvinism at work
The greatest amount of unrecognized and unchallenged chauvinism is at work. We are in awe of the boss or owner. We certainly are awestruck by high authorities--the president of the U.S., the president of GM, any multi-millionaire, the state Governor, a local judge, general manager of a factory, president or dean of an university, etc. Indeed, we seem to want to believe that our authorities are superhuman...super-able (we like to pretend the president doesn't have speech-writers), super-smooth (we want them to always be prepared and right), and super-good (no vices), which, by contrast, only makes us ordinary people look inferior to leaders. Yet, my experience suggests to me that many people off the street, given a little training, could do a very acceptable job in most of the positions just mentioned.
Our leaders are not incompetent, although Peter (1970) suggested that leaders get promoted until they can't handle their jobs very well. And, there they stay--at their "level of incompetence." Actually, most leaders, like the rest of us, have some special talents. My point is that ordinary people are not nearly as incompetent, relative to leaders, as we seem to feel. Many ordinary workers could supervise at least as well as their bosses; many students could teach and administrate as well as their instructors and deans; my father, a farm laborer with an 8th grade education, could probably have been just as good a state representative, governor, or even president as the actual leaders--a business man, a congressman, a general, an actor, a lawyer, etc. (He would have certainly been harder working, less self-centered, and more honest!) We must stop putting ourselves down and pumping up people who are in "superior" positions. Frederick Douglass, a black Abolitionist in the 1850's, contended that the oppressed handed over the power to the tyrant through their own self-depreciation and subservience. I think Douglass was right. At work many of us are still in master-slave relationships. Why? Partly because we sell ourselves short and have not yet assumed the responsibility for running our lives at work. Our welfare, as well as the owner's profit, depends on the quality of our product at work.
Work is so important: (1) it is where we spend much of our lifetime and utilize our talents, (2) it is our primary way of doing good for others beyond the family, (3) it is a major determinant of the quality of our lives, and (4) it is often filled with opportunities to relate to others and to gain real satisfaction. It is pathetic when people spend 50 years doing something they don't like and have little control over.
It would be worth a great deal of planning and energy for each of us to make our work enriching and enjoyable. How? (1) Select your career carefully, finding something interesting and challenging. Prepare for the job well--planning superior training for your life's work is your responsibility! No one else can or will do it for you. Then, do an excellent job and be proud of your work. (2) Keep in mind the benefits others get from your work; this will increase your intrinsic satisfaction. The benefits would be more clear if the dress-maker occasionally got to see women trying on clothes he/she has made, if the farmer got to see hungry people in Africa being fed his/her grain, if the worker in a pharmaceutical plant got to visit hospitals where his/her drugs are saving lives, etc. (3) Assume more responsibility for producing a better product more efficiently and in a more satisfying manner. Ideally, everyone should be involved in decision-making at work (see decision-making methods in chapter 13). There is solid evidence that good group decision-making is superior to decisions by individuals in power (Janis & Mann, 1977). Perhaps every boss should be just as accountable to subordinates (who would serve as an executive committee) as to his/her supervisors, both groups should be able to advise and fire him/her.
(4) Accept the responsibility of assuring that your occupation does as much for others as possible. We can not depend on governments, professions, and corporate management to be as moral and wise as we could be. Neither management nor labor unions will willingly give power back to the workers (Lasch, 1984, p. 51); we will have to take more responsibility for decisions at work and demand that wrongs be righted and that the products of our work serve others well. Perhaps work can become more of a way of enriching our lives, of giving to others, and less of a way for a few to make big profits. For example, how can we as laborers in steel mills and auto factories continue to demand $25 per hour when such high wages put us out of work? How can we as farmers accept payments for not producing and a distribution system that doesn't get our food to hungry people? How can we as educators think there is an over-supply of teachers when more than half the world can't read (actually 50% of Americans can't read well)? How can medical schools reduce enrollment when U.S. physicians make $200,000/year and there still are 2 or 3 billion people with little or no medical care? How can professionals "push" only the expensive forms of treatment and neglect the cheaper methods that might help many more? Each of us can become part of the solution, not part of the problem. This is part of learning to relate to and care for others in a self-responsible way.
Ideas are funny little things. They won't work unless you do.
More good references for learning more about interpersonal relations and how to cope
Bernstein, A. J. & Rozen, S. C. (1992). Neanderthals at work: How people and politics can drive you crazy...and what you can do about them. New York: Wiley.
Brehm, S. S. (1985). Intimate relationships. New York: Random House.
Burns, D. D. (1985). Intimate connections. New York: New American Library.
Gazda, G. M., Asbury, F. R., Balzer, F. J., Childers, W. C., & Walters, R. P. (1991). Human relations development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Glass, L. (1995). Toxic people: 10 ways of dealing with people who make your life miserable.
Hamachek, D. E. (1982). Encounters with others. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Horner, A. (1995). The wish for power and the fear of having it. New York: Aronson.
Johnson, D. W. (1981). Reaching out: Interpersonal effectiveness and self-actualization. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kleinke, C. L. (1986). Meeting & understanding people. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Madenes, C. & Madenes, C. (1994). The secret meaning of money: How it binds together families in love, envy, compassion, or anger.
Marsh, P. (1988). Eye to eye: How people interact. Topsfield, Mass: Salem House Publishers.
Miller, S., Wackman, D., Nunnally, E., & Saline, C. (1981). Straight talk. New York: Signet.
NiCarthy, G., Gottlieb, N. & Coffman, S. (1993). You don't have to take it: A woman's guide to confronting emotional abuse at work. Seal Press Feminist.
Reese, B. L. & Brandt, R. (1987). Effective human relations in organizations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Viorst, J. (1986). Necessary losses. New York: Ballantine Books.
References cited in this chapter are listed in the Bibliography (see link on the book title page). Please note that references are on pages according to the first letter of the senior author's last name (see alphabetical links at the bottom of the main Bibliography page).