Men, women and competition


Over on the Freakonomics blog, there’s an interesting post on men, women and the nature of competition in society. I have to admit that I hate conversations that include declarations like “men are so” and “why are women so”. This actually came up in a conversation recently when someone was talking about male and female personality characteristics. I kind of took offense; can we use some different words to describe that? Being in the female side of those comments, it can be so insulting. Mostly because they are frequently wrong and the context is generally used to whine about some kind of slight (from an “aggressive man” or a “catty woman”). I suspect that people speak in such absolutes because it helps them make sense of the universe. They know what to expect when dealing with a man or woman. What they don’t know is that at any given time, I’d be more than happy to beat you in a game of, like, anything.


PS: I have to admit that much of my perspective can likely be attributed to the fact that I work in a heavily-female field and was raised without any strong gender stereotypes influence. That either reinforces the point of the blog post or not so much.

Comments (6)

  1. Bad_Brad says:

    I actually find in my generation, women are far, far more cut-throat and competitive than men.  It’s almost like our generation of women feel they need to make up for centuries of oppression.  It might just be that most of the women I run with are professionals who I have met through school or work and most of the men I run with are family guys like I am.  But the most aggressive go-getters my age that I see by far and away are the women.  Blanket statement, I know, but true in general based on my observations.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    It’s OK. I understand. I think for my generation (did we deicde that was a different generation than yours?) gender seemed trivial when it came to work. I don’t know….my dad played catch with me a lot and I liked to roller skate and skate board and play in the dirt, so that may have had something to do with it.

    I guess what I find is that when people are complaining about it (I am not suggesting that you are, justmean in general) that it says as much about the complainer, if not more, than men or women in general. I probably don’t accept much at face value. So it’s my nature to question people that make those sweeping statements about men or women.

    Do you really think it was centiries of oppression that had the impact. I was thinking the feminist movement in the 70s, possibly the increase of women in the workforce in the 80s? Heck, I’m a gal and I am not sure I could point to what it is, but I doubt it’s because of my grandparents generation. Maybe it is and I just don’t realize it.

  3. Bad_Brad says:

    I think we are both Gen-X’ers.

    What I meant by the "centuries of oppression" comment is that it’s almost like the women who broke into the workplace just a generation or two ago had to be fighters just to make it in.  That attitude has been passed down to the female workers of today, whereas for men, we have always been in the workplace as a matter of course and so we don’t feel that we have to battle to stay here (nor did my father or grandfathers or any earlier generation of men).  As more and more generations pass and women in the workplace becomes a "matter of course" thing, I suspect that fighter attitude will get watered down over time.

    Does that make sense?

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, I get what you are saying even though I don’t identify with it personally. My mom has always worked and not in a "I need to climb the corporate ladder" way but in a "this is what we do" way. It seems so natural to me. Even my grandma went to work when she was 50 after raising her kids because she was bored. SO I guess my point, at least in my personal situation, is that I never felt that opporession piece from the previous generations. I’m kind of thankful for that.

    I was probably more outwardly competitive in my earlier career (just from a nature affinity for perfection and winning). But it doesn’t take long to figure out that this kind of behavior can be alienating. It actually ends up having the opposite effect than what is desired. And I think there’s alot to be gained from helping others move ahead (both personally and professionally). I see so much more of this type of behavior then the negative kind.

    It would be interesting to hear from someone who has experienced what you are talking about; who had a mother that felt that they couldn’t work or excel in the workplace.

    You know that whole thing about "having it all" is crap. Life is full of choices so to get one thing, you have to give up something else. So whomever made up that saying is totally full of it. Nobody can have it all and it doesn’t matter what your gender. I mean, I do feel sorry for people that feel that they want a choice other than the one they have made (and knowing that I don’t want children, I feel really happy that I figured that out early on bc having them would not have been doing anyone any favors). But it’s still a choice. Well, at least it is now (and probably has been for along time, but a more difficult one based on how things used to be). I feel fortunate that I haven’t ever felt any pressure to make a choice other than what I wanted. So I mimage if people had it different, it could have an impact on their lives, how they feel about work and possibly how their daughters (or sons) feel.

  5. Pete says:

    There are two kinds of people: Those who take generalizations personally and those who don’t. I have learned to accept that from time to time women will say men are pigs because it’s true even though I am a man with no porcine characteristics.

  6. Paul says:

    Generalizations are necessary for survival.  We don’t have time to evaluate thoroughly every instance of a man, woman, boss, employee or pit bull.

    Just like there are some pit bulls that won’t try to kill me, there is a percentage of every category that doesn’t have stereotypical characteristics.  But, if I’m smart, I will observe that pit bulls are dangerous (categorical statement) and act to avoid getting into a situation I can’t get out of.

    The thing is that some stereotypes are politically unacceptable to say, or act on, because it is patently unfair to hold all women back in the workforce because at some point "they get pregnant and don’t want to work anymore" — that was actually said to my wife by a very stupid person who was above her many years ago.

    But, most stereotypes are true (for the majority of a class) or they wouldn’t exist.  Are most speeders dangerous drivers?  Probably.  Are some making a 1-time-in-a-thousand exception because they’re trying to get their wife to the hospital before she gives birth, but they don’t usually take unsafe chances?  That’s also true.

    Almost every decision we make, and especially quick "fight or flight" ones, rely on stereotypes.  That’s because the world is probablistic.  The key is being conscious of it, and not applying them inappropriately.

    My two kinds of people are these: there’s me, and there’s everyone else.  Isn’t that all that matters?

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