Friday, February 6, 2009

Gender Part 1: Better Than Thou

I realized during my drive home from work today that I forgot to include a couple of very important pieces of masculinity in my post. So here they are.

Gender Part 1: Chapter 2: The Men & The Boys cont'd

Performance-Based Esteem. The term refers to a tendency to base self-worth primarily or entirely on performance. (Compare to Relationship-Based Esteem, which will come up in my post about women when we get there.)

Basically, it means that men tend to derive a significant amount of their self-worth from their ability to DO things and do them WELL. For example, if a man does not make enough money to support his family, he often feels that he is a failure. 

Addendum for Clarification: With reference to Terrence Real's book "I Don't Want To Talk About It":
A common result of masculine-driven fathering is performance-based self-esteem. In his book on covert male depression, Terrence Real explains, “Performance-based self-esteem augments an insufficient, internal sense of worth by the measuring of one’s accomplishments against those of others and coming out on top” (182). A father who offers love and respect for his son only after he has achieved something will lead the son to feel he is only worthwhile if he wins the big game, beats another boy in a fight, or, as he grows older, makes the most money or marries the prettiest wife. The son cannot achieve an absolute sense of self-worth; his esteem changes depending on whether he feel he has failed or succeeded.
Real points out, “Psychoanalysts and developmental psychologists have been clear that the capacity to esteem the self arises from a history of unconditional regard from one’s caregivers” (182). When parents fail to offer this regard, the results can be severe and even tragic. Consider the phrase “be a man!” which so many fathers use to chide their sons. From a literal standpoint the command is rather ludicrous -- genetically speaking, it is impossible for the son to not be a man. What the father truly means, however, is that the son must achieve masculinity, by some performance or another, or else he is in danger of losing his manhood -- and by corollary, his father’s esteem. Sons may resent their fathers for this treatment, and yet spend their entire lives continuing to seek that esteem.

What this also means is that if you take a man out of his comfort zone, they tend to not cope with it very well. Stay-at-home dads (SAHDs) can be a great example of this. Even a man who chooses to be a SAHD will, to some degree, have to deal with feelings of inadequacy. Why? Because how do you measure the success of a caretaking job? Happy kids? The house being intact? There is no clear measure of how well someone does at the job of homemaker and caretaker. This is also why men shy away from doing chores that their spouse/partner criticizes their technique at. 

Some researchers and therapists speculate that performance-based esteem is a large component of why men tend to die at younger ages than women. To believe that your self-esteem is driven by what you do is to set yourself up for workaholism and stress. Some also speculate that this is a force behind the fewer and fewer numbers of males entering college - they prefer the instant reward of a paycheck. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with either of these speculations, but it's something to think about. Regardless, there is no question that performance-based esteem fuels the "man as breadwinner" ideology. 

The second piece of masculinity I wanted to add is what's known as the "One up/One down" mentality. For more on this, check out the work that's been done by Deborah Tannen on gender in conversation, including the book "You Just Don't Understand." Basically, every conversation a man enters into is a "One up/One down" conversation. The goal is to be up. For many men, each conversation needs to make clear the status of each person involved. Things like body language, eye contact, interruptions, and hand gestures play major roles in this phenomenon. When I have a little more time I'm going to search the Intertubes for some pictures and videos that show this stuff and put it in a separate post. 

In the meantime, here is a summary of some of Deborah Tannen's work:
“People have different conversational styles. So when people from different parts of the country, or different ethnic or class backgrounds, talk to each other, it is likely that their words will not be understood exactly as they were meant.” [13] “The desire to affirm that women are equal has made some scholars reluctant to show that they are different .. There are gender differences in ways of speaking, and we need to identify and understand them”. [17]

Men often engage the world as “an individual in a hierarchical social order in which they are either one-up or one-down”, a question of gaining and keeping the upper hand. Women are more likely to approach it as “ a network of connections” in which “conversations are negotiations for closeness and people try to seek and give confirmation and support, and to reach consensus.” [25]

So, to Josh, checking with his wife about a convenient date for a dinner party resembles “seeking permission”; to Linda it is simply a recognition that lives are interwoven and complex. [27] This is the struggle between independence and intimacy. The modern face of chivalry: holding the door is an act of power - showing that I [the male] grant you [the female] permission to pass through. [34] There seems to be a male obsession with ‘freedom’ or independence. Women academics value the opportunity to pursue interests; men value the freedom from others’ control. [42]

Throughout history, women have been punished physically and psychologically for talking too much: yet study after study shows that men talk more and for longer periods. In one study men’s turns ranged from 10.66 to 17.07 seconds, whilst women’s lasted from 3 to 10 seconds. [75] The difference is that men are more comfortable with public speaking [report talk], women with private speaking [rapport talk]. Rapport talk establishes relationships, seeking similarities and matching experiences. “For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical order.” [77] Men are more likely to tell jokes in public than women: it is another way of gaining centre stage and proving their abilities. [90]

“Whereas women’s cooperative overlaps frequently annoy men by seeming to coopt their topic, men frequently annoy women by usurping or switching the topic.” [212] “Women and men feel interrupted by each other because of the differences in what they are trying to accomplish with talk. Men who approach conversation as a contest are likely to expend effort not to support the other’s talk but to lead the conversation in another direction, perhaps one in which they can take centre stage by telling a story or joke or by displaying knowledge ... Women’s effusion of support can be irritating to men who would rather meet with verbal sparring.” [215]

Women are frequently judged differently even if they speak the same way as men. Hayes Bradley found that women using tag-questions were judged less intelligent than men who also used them. Women who did not provide evidence to support their arguments were judged less intelligent than men who did not. People asked why a baby is crying say - if it is a boy - that he is angry and - if it is a girl - that she is scared. [228] When women and men are together, women tend to follow the topics the males want: “male-female conversations are more like men’s conversations than they are like women’s.” [237]

“If you understand gender differences in what I call conversational style, you may not be able to prevent disagreements from arising, but you stand a better chance of preventing them from spiralling out of control ... Understanding the other’s ways of talking is a giant leap across the communication gap between women and men, and a giant step toward opening lines of communication” [298]
I will get into this a little more deeply when I come to my post on women. 

13 comments:

Ambivalent Academic said...

This is an interesting addition to you previous post.

I have to take some issue with the idea that performance-based esteem is a male quality (this is based entirely on personal anecdotes since this is not my field of expertise).

As a female graduate student I can attest that the shred of esteem that I have left is almost entirely absorbed by whether I can DO science and do it WELL. It is/was measured by grades in graduate course work, whether I passed my quals, statements of approval from my advisor/committee, whether my papers are accepted for publication, whether I will pass my defense, the list goes on and on and on.

As far as Relationship-based Esteem - I have good relationships and they make me happy. But if I'm being honest with myself, though it sort of bothers me to acknowledge this, my own measure of my success and self-esteem is Performance-based.

I appreciate that there are going to be tendencies that correlate highly to one gender or another, but what do you do with outliers? Perhaps the adoption of Performance- or Relationship-based esteem is influenced as much/more by choice of occupation as it is by gender?

JLK said...

AA, I've edited the post with more information about what performance-based esteem is.

It's possible that you have some of this in your own life, but the phenomenon within masculine culture is different from the more general feeling that achievement and doing things well boosts, enhances, or provides a foundation for self-esteem.

I hope that the text I've added clarifies the difference, but if not, I'll elaborate more through comments.

Anonymous said...

These posts are fantastic! I understand alot of what you are saying and find myself nodding along and also thinking "WOW? never thought of THAT? hmmm"

Ambivalent Academic said...

This makes me laugh (with recognition):

"Performance-based self-esteem augments an insufficient, internal sense of worth by the measuring of one’s accomplishments against those of others and coming out on top” (182). A PI who offers love and respect for his student only after she has achieved something will lead the student to feel she is only worthwhile if she passes the quals, beats another student for a competitive research award, or, as she grows older, publishes the most papers or gets a tenured position at the hottest R1. The student cannot achieve an absolute sense of self-worth; her esteem changes depending on whether she feels she has failed or succeeded.

"...the capacity to esteem the self arises from a history of unconditional regard from one’s mentors” (182). When advisors fail to offer this regard, the results can be severe and even tragic.


Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It's frightening how easy it is to parallel the parenting of a child to the apprenticeship of a scientist...or any other student of craft.

That does clarify to some extent and I certainly see your point that this a big problem in the way boys are raised.

However, I still can't agree that this is an exclusively male problem. In the context of raising children, maybe. But there are many, many other factors besides parenting that apply pressure on boys and girls, men and women to adopt the sort of externally validated performance-based esteem that you describe here.

Anyway, carry on with the discussion - it's very interesting and I don't want to spend any more time derailing it.

JLK said...

I guess what I was trying to get across, AA, is that it's not an exclusively male problem, but that it's more common among males.

Ambivalent Academic said...

I can agree with that.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Men often engage the world as “an individual in a hierarchical social order in which they are either one-up or one-down”, a question of gaining and keeping the upper hand.

When I was a much younger pup, this was very evident in the conversations I had with other guys. It was always a pissing match to some extent. And it really did manage to establish hierarchy in a given context.

What's fascinating is how we were able to find that hierarchy shifting from context to context. I'd like to say it was because we were mature enough to recognize that each had different strengths, but I suspect that it was more for the pleasure we got from our "who's got a bigger dick" conflicts.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It's frightening how easy it is to parallel the parenting of a child to the apprenticeship of a scientist...or any other student of craft.

Before my change to academic student, I worked in remodeling and handywork. I have probably taught better than a couple dozen people various aspects of craft. I am also a parent.

In a great many regards it is very much the same, down to the need for positive and negative reinforcement. This whole concept becomes extremely complicated when you're also dealing with the masculinity aspect, that JLK is talking about here.

It can often be very much like the father/son conflict. Apprentice seeking the approval of his master, while also trying to one up him. And of course master has issues of his own to carry into the mix.

I could go quite a while, but I really need to not be on the blog at moment, so I can focus on my paper and rebuilding a friends water pumping setup (he has PVC parts going into his pump and they keep getting melty - I love running copper, soldering joints is rather cathartic).

I will suffice it to say that the best guys I've worked with/taught have been the ones who had the most positive relationships with their dads.

Anonymous said...

I think the pissing match is why lots of women leave science. Men are busy fighting for status, climbing up the ladder, all about moving UPWARD. Women are busy connecting, bringing people in, sharing thoughts and ideas, all about moving OUTWARD. The 'outward' abilities of women scientists are not rewarded or valued by the male majority or even some older women who went UP.

There's lots to chew on in these gender posts:)

JLK said...

@Anonymous - I could not agree with you more. I intend to talk about the "older women who went UP" in my post about women. I hope you'll stick around for it. :)

I'm really glad that these posts have generated such great discussion here!

My question is, should I wait a little while before putting up the next post on women so the current discussion can age and mature a little bit, or are you all ready and waiting for part 2?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

This is a fucking great series, JLK!

Silver Fox said...

Definitely a great series. And I'm ready now!

Anonymous said...

Bring it! I chew with my mouth open anyway:)

DuWayne Brayton said...

This is the big fun. Waiting with bated breath for more.

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