Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

GROUP DYNAMICS....Megan McArdle comments on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of gender relations:

I find it odd to realize that most men don't observe something that is obvious to every woman I know: that there is a competitive male dynamic to groups that is completely different from the way female groups act. They don't know, of course, because unless the group is overwhelmingly female, the dynamic of any mixed group always defaults to male, with women fading back into supporting conversational roles. Maybe it's the kind of thing you can only observe by contrast to the extremely anti-competitive nature of female groups.

The easiest way to put it (and this is hardly original) is that men in groups are focused on their role within the group. Women in groups are focused on the group. Men gain status by standing out from the group; women gain status by submerging themselves into it — by strengthening the group, often at the expense of themselves.

I agree that group dynamics typically default to a male model if even a few men are around. However, I don't think I agree that women generally gain status by submerging themselves into groups. They gain status the same way men do: by carving out a high-status role for themselves. They just do it differently. Discuss.

Kevin Drum 1:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (72)

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Comments

well 'submerging' may be off the mark, but this:
"by strengthening the group, often at the expense of themselves" is basically matriarchal, and the male behavior she describes is patriarchal. So, while it's rather facile, that doesn't mean it's wrong.

Posted by: along on July 1, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I'd comment, but I need to clear it with my wife first.

Posted by: Buford on July 1, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Where can I find a docile woman like that?

Posted by: gregor on July 1, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

And this (speaking as an INTP) is why I avoid groups. Ugh.

Posted by: Ty Lookwell on July 1, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Am I the first woman to respond?

Does that make me stand out from the group?

Ooops.

Seriously, though, how would you know, Kevin?

Megan makes a good point, not that it's really new or anything. I thought it was obvious that women value cooperation while men value competition.

Posted by: Cal Gal on July 1, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it was obvious that women value cooperation while men value competition.
Posted by: ~ Cal Gal

I'd like to agree, but testosterone won't let me.

Posted by: on July 1, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Testosterone also prevented me from putting my nym in that previous comment.

Posted by: mojo on July 1, 2008 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Ty,

As an INFP (borderline F/T) male I can totally relate.

Generally, though, in a group of territorial alpha-male types all stepping over each other to be the life of the party, I'll just keep my mouth shut. I don't see the value to trying to compete to win that game. So what?

People tell me that they like my sense of humor, but I only bother to show it in groups that aren't already fighting each other for oxygen so they can keep talking. If a group clearly has a leadership vacuum (e.g. hemming and hawing for 30 minutes over where to have dinner) then I'll step in and be more dominant.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on July 1, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I would argue that women are just as competitive as men, but that men tend to favor direct, head-to-head competition and embrace conflict whereas women tend to be more oblique about it, preferring to minimize diruptions to the group dynamic that result from direct confrontation.

The female model of competition requires the assent of all members of the group, which is why the male model usually prevails in mixed groups.

Posted by: Chesire11 on July 1, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but they have to look like they are submerging into the group. Women are sneakier than men. Megan is just being sneaky, here, her self.

Posted by: Mark on July 1, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Caveat first - As a male, I only know what I know about female-only groups through the accounts of female friends, relations and spouses.

The picture they paint sounds like a completely different competitive dynamic, but a competitive dynamic just the same - the rules are simply different. The idea that "cooperation" and "strengthening the group, often at the expense of themselves" are understood values conditions how competition is conducted, it doesn't eliminate it.

Posted by: stuck in 200 on July 1, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

The female model of competition requires the assent of all members of the group, which is why the male model usually prevails in mixed groups

If this is so, how does anything get done? I mean, good luck getting more than 3 people to agree on anything...

Posted by: MNPundit on July 1, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

What I meant was that the female model of competition which discourages direct conflict only prevails if all members of the group are similarly averse to open conflict.

Posted by: Chesire11 on July 1, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

No, this is a good point. All-female institutions like schools are famously non-competitive places, where individual status is completely irrelevant.

/sarcasm

Posted by: ajay on July 1, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Well, first you'll have to define "status." I think Kevin is employing a stereotypically male definition that begs the question.

Yes, in a "male" role, status is carving out a highly visible role for oneself. A "female" role (which would be more accurately called a consensus-building role) emphasizes building agreement and suppressing the emergence of one member as authoritative over others.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on July 1, 2008 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

This is silly. For one, Megan's description of the so-called "female" group dynamic is an exact description of the dynamic that occurs in that most quintessentially "male" of all groups -- namely, the combat unit. In the combat unit, individual group members stand out by subsuming themselves to the good of the group, sometimes to the individual's very distinct disadvantage. The kind of individual heroism that gets rewarded isn't hotdogging -- it's sacrifice. This is true both institutionally and culturally. Medals get handed out to soldiers (often posthumously) who put the welfare of the group ahead of their own personal welfare. And a friend of mine who has been working with a program designed to integrate returning vets into the college environment and reduce their dropout rates tells me that the way to keep vets in school is not to focus on encouraging the vet to stay for his or her own sake; it's to encourage them to stay so they can help their buddies.

Posted by: nolo on July 1, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Well, this sure doesn't comport with my experience of all-female groups. I attended an all-girls school, and I've been in plenty of all-female meetings -- I'm not sure what planet Megan is on, but I'd sure like to visit. Catfight and bitchfest (even in a most passive aggressive form) don't begin to describe some of the meetings I've been in. In fact just today....

Well whatever. Maybe it's just me.

Posted by: gypsy howell on July 1, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

This seems to imply a classification of group dynamics like this:

All-male group - "male" group dynamic
Almost-all male - "male" group dynamic
Evenly-mixed - "male" group dynamic
Almost-all female - "female" group dynamic
All-female - "female" group dynamic

But really, if we're splitting the group dynamics
into two categories, and one of them applies to
the vast majority of groups ranging from all-male all the way to mostly-female-but-a-few-males, then
is there any good reason to label those two
categories with the loaded terms "male behavior" and "female behavior" rather than calling them
"behavior A" and "behavior B" ?

And I think we should consider some different
factors which might correlate with the behavior
patterns: is the same pattern of all-female-group
behavior seen when the all-female-group is a
business meeting ? Is the all-male group behavior
the same when it's a group of friends meeting for
a social event ?

I would imagine that it's very unusual, in most
kinds of business, to have a meeting of 8 or 10
workers without at least 2 or 3 men. That's not
a good thing: it's just where we've got to in
our evolution from the unliberated 1950's. But
if we don't see a lot of mostly-female business
meetings - and especially mostly-female business meetings with women in the leadership roles - then
how can we tell that this is a "female" vs "male"
distinction ?

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea that there's
something real behind this: but I think you would
need real rigorous social science research, and a
consideration of alternative explanations, to describe and analyze it in any useful way.

Posted by: Richard Cownie on July 1, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, in my experience, the Human-ness of people almost always trumps the Gender-ness or Race-ness of people.

Studies may show, for example, that women are 10% more likely to do XYZ or that men tend to ABC, but generally, people do people things, and many people like to be the leader of the pack, regardless of gender. Anyone who thinks women don't strive to lead groups have basically never been in a group with a woman.

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on July 1, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

If this is so, how does anything get done? I mean, good luck getting more than 3 people to agree on anything...

Things get done, but very slowly, MN. Unprogrammed Quaker meetings are governed by a consensus process. It's maddening at times and difficult when there are many competing viewpoints to consider. In the end, though, consensus isn't getting everyone to agree, it's reaching a decision everyone can accept.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on July 1, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

I think women compete with each other, too, but in a different way than men. Men succeed or fail, but women support or deny.

Posted by: woman on July 1, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

"I find it odd to realize that most men don't observe something that is obvious to every woman I know: that there is a competitive male dynamic to groups that is completely different from the way female groups act."

Most men don't observe this? Huh? Of course most men observe this.

Posted by: HungChad on July 1, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

A small real-life example of the women-cooperate, men-compete theorum...


I'm getting lunch in a cafeteria. Everybody has trays and is wandering around the sandwich counters, salad bars whatever. A guy and a girl, obviously a couple, are there, each with a tray. They both have a bunch of stuff. I have a soda and a thing of crackers.

We all converge towards the cashier close to the same time....the guy steps ahead to be first. The girl and I are about even - she looks at my tray, holding far less than hers, i.e. I'll be a quick checkout, smiles, and motions me ahead of her. I smile and say thanks and we all get in line, boyfriend first, me, then girlfriend.

The guy looks back at us, reaches across me and takes all his girlfriend's stuff off her tray and puts it on his. So he checks both of them out first with all their stuff. WHile I stand there with my Diet Pepsi and my crackers.

Posted by: smott999 on July 1, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

I work with large group of males and females everyday (elementary school). I've even studied the psychology of how humans interact, including gender implications thereof.

Women (and girls) are just as competitive as men. They simply compete in different ways, at least in the cultures I'm familiar with.

Men are head-on, full aggression types. Overt competition. Further, fights (whether verbal, physical, or virtual), while fierce, are forgotten relatively easily.

Women are covert aggressors. Their competition is not societally condoned, in general, and thus is more subtle. Fights are generally indirect. On the flip side, feuds are NOT easily forgotten by group members.

I'm not entirely sure how this dynamic translates to virtual web groups, but I'm sure it is not subsumed.

It's a common mistake to assume the girls/women are all about getting along, and the boy/men are all about fighting.

Cooperation and competition are at the very heart of what it means to me human. Both sexes engage in them constantly -- they just do in different ways.

Posted by: teece on July 1, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

teece, agree completely.
It may be that boys playing sports more helps to both encourage overt competition, and also get out the natural aggressive tension that we all may build up from time to time.

You're dead-on about feuds also. I happen to be a female who plays (no laughing) ice hockey, from back in college days, and with not much women's leagues here in town I have played on men's teams for several years now.

It's refreshing. None of the cat-fight, feuding, never-forget-a-slight that goes on with women. The guys can be POd at each other and say appalling things to each other during the heat of competition, then all is forgotten afterward and everybody has a beer together.

Took awhile to get used to, but I much prefer it actually. All out in the open.

Posted by: smott999 on July 1, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

My observation of groups my children belong to is that the boys compete to win and the girls compete not to lose.

Posted by: Genevieve on July 1, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

"I find it odd to realize that most people don't observe something that is obvious to every psychologist I know: that there is a competitive dynamic to groups that include any dominants at all that is completely different from the way all-submissive groups act."

There, I removed the gender references to see if it still makes sense and it does. Now, you can put the gender references back in by observing that in our current culture there will tend to be more males striving to be dominant (although the mix has changed considerably since even just 50 years ago).

Megan, it doesn't have to be about you or your anatomy.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on July 1, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting question, and the current issue of New Scientist has an article that is directly relevant. From the article:

Girls are no less competitive than boys, they're simply subtler about it, a study of pre-schoolers suggests. While boys use head-on aggression to get what they want, girls rely on the pain of social exclusion. To test the apparent differences in how very young children compete, . . .

You can read the rest at the link.

Posted by: Leisureguy on July 1, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it was fascinating the way the U.S. Women’s Soccer team threw Hope Solo under the bus after last years championship game. Solo made an emotional statement criticizing the coaching and her teammates, and was promptly forced to fly home alone in disgrace and is reportedly still shunned by many team members. Similar situations happen all the time with men’s teams, generally with much milder repercussions. At least on occasion, women can be extremely intolerant and unforgiving of one of their own who declines to submerge herself into the team.

Posted by: fafner1 on July 1, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm. Link was stripped out. Here it is:
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19826625.700-mean-girls-get-the-goods.html

Posted by: Leisureguy on July 1, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah the Solo incident was revealing.
My nephew's GF was a soccer star at UVA and made the women's nat'l team this year. There was really 2 cliques on the US team - the Old Guard, i.e. Scurry et al, and the New Guard, including Solo and some others.

The Old threw the New under the bus. And Scurry got lit up like a Christmas tree by Brazil.

Posted by: smott999 on July 1, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

My observation of groups my children belong to is that the boys compete to win and the girls compete not to lose.

I don't know if that is strictly true, Genevieve, but it would not be surprising.

From the genetic standpoint, men and women have to play very different games.

90%+ of human females will mate, and thus have their genetic heritage passed on.

With that information, winning is not as important as *not* losing. It's not so big a deal if you are 2nd or 3rd, so long as you are not *dead.*

Human males, on the other hand, don't have it that way.

Only 50% of human males will mate. Which means 1 out of 2 human males is a genetic dead end.

Thus, males generally can't afford to lose. The loser might literally be dust in the wind.

Our competitive/cooperative natures are shaped by our genetic environment to a huge degree -- so even in places where "survival" is guaranteed for all (e.g., web message boards), the same viewpoint (whether conscious or not), will still hold sway.

Posted by: teece on July 1, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

teece:

90+% vs. 50ish%, really? I'd never heard that.

Posted by: gus on July 1, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Is this just "make up shit day and declare it to be obviously correct"? God forbid people read Deborah Tannen.

Posted by: jerry on July 1, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I work at a private college and I find that the women with the higher education and testosterone levels tend to be the women dominating meetings of mostly women.

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on July 1, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Women are all about the group. Men are all about themselves. Women listen to others. Men make it all about themselves.

Girls are made from sugar and spice and everything nice. Boy are made from snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

Women's vaginas emanate magical peace rays that would flood the world with warmth, love, and peace. Man's sperm is baby making, women raping, war mongering, environment destroying shooting out from a funk filled bratwurst that makes real women retch.

Posted by: anon on July 1, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

In a mixed group, men check out all of the women's bosoms and women compare their bosoms to the other women's, even if the women do not realize they are doing it. The dynamic of any mixed group always defaults to bosoms.

Posted by: on July 1, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Like Richard Cownie, I was a little mystified by the classifications.

Male group dynamics are different depending on whether or not there are women present. If it so that men change their behavior when women are present, then why call the new dynamic "male"?Because the women change their behavior more? It seems to me that the mixed groups should have their own label since the behaviors are clearly different for both genders when mixed versus unmixed.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 1, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

The easiest way to put it (and this is hardly original)

That sums up everything she's ever written.

Funny how groups of women sound like communist paradise. Maybe MCAddled is a communist in Ayn Rand clothing...I mean when she's not beating up anti-war protesters with a 2x4.

Posted by: jim on July 1, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

-mean-girls-get-the-goods

yup.

Posted by: optical weenie the warrior on July 1, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

the extremely anti-competitive nature of female groups

Just about lost it. "Anti-competitive"? Give me a break.

"I'm not a person who thinks the world would be entirely different if it was run by women. If you think that, you've forgotten what high school was like." - Madeleine Albright
Posted by: MsNThrope on July 1, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

First!!

oh shit.

Posted by: absent observer on July 1, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

This reminds me of a book I had to read back in college. I don;t remember the title of the author, but it was by a feminist who argued that there would be no such thing as war, if only women ruled the world. Obviously the author wasn't familiar with Golda Meir, Maragaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi!

Posted by: Chesire11 on July 1, 2008 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

The Wife and I sometimes like to play games (boggle, scattergories, scrabble, that sort of thing) and if there were ever a case that made me think McMerde(le) was full of shit then this competitiveness issue is one. Believe me, my wife is very, very competitive, as is my daughter, my mother, my sisters, and basically nearly every woman I've met. I'm calling bullshit.

Posted by: The Critic on July 1, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

I would say it has a lot more to do with the personalities involved. Although I would say that it has been my experience that one or two man can easily dominate a room, where as it seems to take several women to tilt the dynamic towards them.

That said, I'm usually too busy shouting everyone down to notice.

Posted by: enozinho on July 1, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, I finally can say something, as I have published peer reviewed research on this.

Guess what? The evidence we have is inconclusive about differences between female and male same sex groups. In all male groups, status hierarchies develop (and in fact they are less contested/less competitive than you might think; even those lower in the hierarchy tend not very often to challenge their position once a status order is in place.) Similarly, in mixed sex groups, status hierarchies quickly develop, and yes, males tend to occupy higher positions in that hierarchy.

In all-female groups? The picture is not at all settled, empirically speaking, as to how they compare to all-male and mixed gender groups. Even though many folks have strong opinions and are sure they know the answer, in fact, some studies show that female groups have less differentiated structures; other studies (including some of my own) find that, controlling for situational context (like the level of legitimacy female authority figures have in a given organizational setting), they don't differ that much.

I think it is most likely that gender is not the causal factor here, but that external social status is. Example: put a very high status women (say, a Caucasian, with an advanced degree, good income, and good looking) in an interaction with lower status males (say, less educated, minority, lower income, laborer) and, surprise, she “acts just like a man," talking more, being directive, being reacted to rather than reacting, etc. But it's status, which is always relative to others in the situation, because we also know (research, again) that a given individual (male or female) in a low status position in a group will behave differently (reacting more, talking less, etc.) than he or she will when in a higher status position in another group. End of lecture.

Posted by: snartly on July 1, 2008 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

I guess my own relationship is instructive here.

My girlfriend is conflict averse. Her entire family is that way, her father sulks, her mother just does whatever, sister and brother too. My family is split. My father and sister just shut up and take it, my mother and I fight to the bitter end with gesturing and yelling (though of course, she never admits she yells).

This makes me cheat on my girlfriend. No, not sexually or emotionally but in terms of fighting. She won't fight. Won't. And I can't stand it because then nothing is resolved.

So I have an ex girlfriend who I fight with a lot instead. We're still really close and she isn't afraid to come right at me.

In the end, I'm studying law so I can fight it out in the workplace so I can put up with what I consider her only fault: wimpiness.

Social ostricism works but way to slowly and it's efficiency is blunted if you ostracism someone who doesn't give a flying fuck if they are shut out (like my mother).

Posted by: MNPundit on July 1, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

-mean-girls-get-the-goods
yup.
Posted by: optical weenie the warrior

Yes, dear.

Posted by: thersites on July 1, 2008 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

It's kinda funny that Kevin's last point put an exclamation point on Megan's first.

Posted by: Jack H. on July 1, 2008 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

@snartly

Of course you're right. But of course nobody will listen to you.

Nobody likes hearing that traits are less important that the situation.

Also - the gender roles described exist in an equilibrium. Both men and women need to accept (or at least acquiesce to) them. Consequently you will have a lot more people on these talkboards patting themselves on the back for conforming to these roles than challenging them.

Posted by: Adam on July 1, 2008 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

snartly -

are there ways that people can inoculate themselves to the subconscious influence of hierarchy in such situations? (or "rankism," as Robert W. Fuller would have it) How automatic is this process, and can it be modified other than through changes in external status?

Posted by: Ty Lookwell on July 1, 2008 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

At work, there were frequent complaints that men dominated the discussions, that they interrupted women, etc. The men all said that was nonsense, in fact, they asserted that women did most of the talking. We women took some time to identify some of the behaviors men used to dominate conversation. These included interruption of women's suggestions, appropriation of women's ideas and the unnecessary reiteration of previously stated ideas. It was hoo-haw the men thought.

So we asked men to take turns monitoring the meetings - the monitor would not participate at all, just note how long men spoke relative to women, who interrupted whom, who appropriated ideas, etc. The monitor had a checklist to make hatchmarks for the different behaviors.

At the end of the first meeting, despite there being 3 more women than men at the meeting, men spoke nearly 3/4 of the time. They did all but one of the interruptions and there were many. Every idea proposed by a woman was repeated later as a man's idea, "Well, I think we should..." instead of "I agree with Susan that we should..." and so on. The men were shocked and vowed to do better, over the course of a year with a different man monitoring each meeting, some parity began to emerge...not so much in the amount of talking time because men seemed unable to stop the unnecessary me-too exposition, but interruptions were reduced and the appropriation of women's ideas were eliminated.

These behaviors were not ill-intended, they were culturally taught behaviors that lead men to dominate meetings. When the behavior was broken down AS A BEHAVIOR and not a character flaw, men did better.

Posted by: Anon on July 1, 2008 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

This kind of thing has been cemented into the conventional wisdom at least since "Dallas" was still in prime time. That doesn't make it wrong, but it does make it, well, boring.

Posted by: Stuart Eugene Thiel on July 1, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

This dynamic is central to Deborah Tannen's linguistic theories, which she claims to pervade male and female communication styles--males one-up and females express cameraderie/sympathy through language. my mom always pointed this type of hierarchical behavior out to me and made me acutely aware of male one-upmanship. that said, i hardly think that female hierarchical behavior is non-existent. in my experience, women avoid direct conflict in social situations and tend to assert the hierarchy behind closed doors--shunning/shaming/trashtalk. Of course these are generalizations, but I think worth discussing. personally, i think that obvious hierarchical behavior is less apparent in the males of my generation (x), as obvious 'hierarchists' are increasingly thought of as boorish. the move away from obvious hierarchy in society is manifest in everything from organizational learning/management to media portrayals of gender roles...

Posted by: casual observer on July 1, 2008 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you are right. The word you are looking for is "clique." Women gain status by belong to small high status cliques that exclude lower status women. The four friends of Sex and the City are a classic tiny clique -- in real life, 99% of their fans would never be allowed to sit at the table with the four characters because they were wearing the wrong shoes.

Men, in contrast, tend to build larger, more hierarchical groups where there are roles for high, medium, and low status males. The United States Marine Corps is a classic male hierarchical group.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on July 1, 2008 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

I work in restaurants, which, especially in the back-of-house, is overwhelmingly male. My mom works in public libraries, which (especially where she works) is overwhelmingly female.

While her work stories tend to involve a lot less outright conflict than mine, it's also a constant vicious battlefield. Listening to her talk about librarian politics makes me glad to be working in a kitchen. Even if there are occasionally fistfights.

Posted by: gabe on July 1, 2008 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

Do men act differently when no women are around? I guess I’m not in a position to know. But, I once observed some interesting behavior that made me wonder if the presence of women can make a difference.

I was on a jet boat taking a bunch of tourists up and down a river. Most of the tourists were older, retired couples. As the boat traveled, we encountered smaller boats on the river with three or four men fishing. Our jet boat slowed down, out of courtesy, every time we passed one of these smaller boats.

Every single time, one of the men, not always the same one, made some clever remark to a fisherman. After about the fifth encounter, I wondered what was going on. Was this some kind of male social bonding ritual—or were the husbands showing off in front of their wives.

Posted by: emmarose on July 1, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Men gain status by standing out from the group"? No, only the most dominant ones. Look at groupthink, the conservative nature of much decision making. Women may actually have more capacity for creating new directions. There's truth in the stereotypes but it must be recast.

Posted by: Neil B on July 1, 2008 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

LOUD NOISES!!!

Posted by: Tyler on July 1, 2008 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

I wish ta goddam hell that people would stop attaching "Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle" to every freakin cat's tail that happens to wander down the pike. This (whichever way it comes down), like everything else in sociology has absolutely nothing in the world to do with Heisenberg or any of his friends. It is at best a crappy analogy and crappy analogies are best avoided.

Megan McArdle can eat my physical shorts.

Posted by: Paul Camp on July 2, 2008 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

"Was this some kind of male social bonding ritual—or were the husbands showing off in front of their wives."

The husbands were embarrassed to be tourists with their wives instead of real men fishing with other men, and were seeking the approval of the fishermen to demonstrate that they were really real men.

Posted by: Bloix on July 2, 2008 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

Deborah Tannen. That's who you need to know here. Others have said it, and I'll say it better: with a link! Her article for the Chronicle of Higher Education pretty much introduces these ideas:

Teachers' Classroom Strategies Should Recognize That Men and Women Use Language Differently

Her "pop linguistics" books are actually brilliant and fundamental contributions to our world. And you'll be happy to know, Kevin, that her PhD work was on the differences between California and New York styles of speech (I'm simplifying) and, for example, the rules of how people interrupt each other. Totally fascinating woman, totally fascinating work, and by the way, she's really great to talk to.

(Furthermore, her work on "Framing in Discourse" is where Lakoff got a lot of his ideas that keep showing up in these insipid "buying into someone's frame" arguments that dominate Kos and MyDD every now and then...)

Posted by: bim on July 2, 2008 at 4:20 AM | PERMALINK

You lost me at "Megan McArdle comments on..."

Posted by: Gregory on July 2, 2008 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

What's a man? And what's a woman?

Posted by: on July 2, 2008 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

What's there to comment on? McMegan is as vacuous as ever, and your continued shilling for her isn't making her look any better.

Posted by: Amit Joshi on July 2, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

One Xmas eve, in the 1980s in San Diego, I was in a woman-only 12-step meeting. A man stuck his head in and explained that he hadn't known it was a woman-only meeting and he really needed a meeting and could he join us. We of course said yes (I hope it's "of course"--I would hate to think that any group would have said no).

Afterward, he told us that it was the most amazing 12-step meeting he had ever been to. He said that he had never seen such a level of emotional honesty and openness and that he was frankly envious.

I'm not sure what this proves, but I thought it might add to the discussion.

Posted by: wwriter on July 2, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Ty Lookwell asked snartly . . .

"Are there ways that people can inoculate themselves to the subconscious influence of hierarchy in such situations? (or "rankism," as Robert W. Fuller would have it) How automatic is this process, and can it be modified other than through changes in external status?"

Excellent questions, I think, if one wants to create change. First, the processes are fairly automatic. Even if an individual is aware of what is taking place, and changes his or her behavior, that is not sufficient to interfere with the process. It is a collective process, and largely non-conscious, so a single individual will have a difficult time changing his or her place in the status structure. Others in the group will simply ignore, at the least, a low status person's attempts, or negatively sanction them (e.g., labeling the upstart as "pushy," with holding interaction opportunities, etc.) if he or she persists in behaving inconsistently with his or her status in the group. Same is true if a high status person fails to behave in status consistent ways; he or she will be sanctioned by others.

One suggestion is that a low status person who frames his or her behavior as potentially helpful to the group will be more listened to and thereby possibly move up in a group's structure. Note that this is just what stereotypical "female" speech patters may reflect; by being "other oriented," women may compensating for their lower position in the group.

As for external changes, I think it is most likely to emerge from the "meso" level of social structure (companies, schools and other organizations and institutions), as they work to increase the number of non-traditional people into more powerful positions. Overtime, I think, that will alter the cultural associations between particular social categories and social status, particularly if along with increasing the number of non-traditional people in positions of power is accompanied by institutional support that legitimates their occupancy of authority positions.

Thanks for asking!

Posted by: snartly on July 2, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Differences exist between men and women, and perhaps they can be seen in a group dynamic. There is no need for either to change.

Posted by: Brojo on July 2, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

As a male software technical writer in what is a predominantly female profession, I have to add McArdle's conclusions to the large pile of her other conclusions that I have previously found to be inaccurate.

I work for a huge multinational corporation, so the culture of that type of corporation might not be the norm among corporate cultures. However, the department meetings that I attend that are overwhelmingly female have no different dynamic from the engineering meetings I attend, which are predominantly male.

In both of them, I am more outspoken than many people, which I take to be a product more of my personality than my sex. But, from my admittedly biased perspective, I'm not speaking out to compete and get ahead in the corporation, I don't care about that. I'm speaking out to get the right thing done.

I have observed less than a handful of obviously competitive people in the many writing and engineering meetings I have attended, and of that insignificant sample, the women outnumber the men.

This has been episode 5,467 of "Piling on about Megan McArdle's latest inanity."

Posted by: Walter Crockett on July 2, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Women are altruistic sugar and spice? Puhleese.

I agree with everybody else who pointed out that the methods differ but the goal is the same. Our culture encourages men to be direct and women to mask anger and ego. Within all-female groups you had better believe the hens are pecking away to be boss hen.

Posted by: lightly on July 2, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Observe hyena society to understand the matriarchy.

Posted by: Lion on July 2, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Within all-female groups you had better believe the hens are pecking away to be boss hen.

I recently had lunch with three women during the week of our grade-school reunion, Class of 1956. One of the women, who is total control freak and motor-mouth, completely dominated the conversation. At the end of the lunch, she said that the reunion earlier in the week had been interesting because everyone was exactly the same as they had been as children. She looked at the three of us and smiled smugly.

I was so tempted to ask her how she knew what we were like, since she gave us no chance to talk at all. (Maybe if we outlive her we will have a chance someday for a conversation.)

Posted by: emmarose on July 2, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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