“Neutering American Male” is Same Old, Same Old

ID: a small child in a firefighter's hat pushes a stroller with two dolls in it. Wysong's "the neutering of the american male" would suggest that this is bad and emasculating.
(Scott Woods-Fehr / Flickr)

The Neutering of the American Male, a new book by Jim Wysong, delivers a rotten Valentine to aspiring, achieving women who also take a healthy interest in having a good sex life. If men can’t be in charge, warns Wysong, a self-described Christian writer, their erotic feelings disappear.

But don’t rush out and read this for yourself. Spend time instead with that special someone in your life. Women don’t need another book that says men have to be dominant for the sex to be good.

Andrew Hacker already said the same thing in his 2003 book Mismatch, writing that when women lead, their achievements may diminish males’ self-confidence and, indeed, their masculinity.  “We will soon see … how far the self-assurance associated with manliness can survive when each year sees more appointments and promotions going to the other sex,” he writes.

Psychologist Janet Hyde, of the University of Wisconsin, already has found that manliness is not actually super-sensitive to female accomplishment. In a study of 500 couples, she found that sexual pleasure was highest among couples in which both partners worked full time and got great satisfaction from their jobs. As Hyde noted, whether you’re male or female, a good job is good for your sex life.

The virility warnings of Wysong and Hacker offer another riff on the “Mars and Venus” theme that John Gray made the bad-science subject of his 1993 runaway bestseller about men and women being so different as to seem from different planets. Men are wired for leadership and power, women for love and relationships, goes this saw. Only when we accept those traditional notions will we all be at ease.

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield expounds on this in his 2006 book, Manliness, asserting that men thrive on drama, conflict and risky exploits. “War is hell but men like it,” he decrees.

The Harvard Crimson objected:

Mansfield advances … degrading theories about women, concluding that women are more childlike than men and cannot ‘be independent, or autonomous’, certainly not as much as modern women want to be. Most shockingly of all, he makes the claim that ‘it certainly seems strange that being capable of rape can make a person better qualified for greatness, but it’s probably true.’

Hormones, not brains, star in another “males are better” screed by political commentator Andrew Sullivan. In a controversial 2000 cover article in The New York Times Magazine, “The He Hormone,” Sullivan argued that women’s lower levels of testosterone make them timid and risk-avoidant in business. It is this lack, rather than discrimination, that keeps women from rising up the career ladder.

Sullivan’s contention that testosterone makes men leaders oversimplifies. Does “T” cause aggression, or does aggressive behavior trigger the release of testosterone? We don’t know. In social groups, males with higher testosterone levels are not necessarily more aggressive. In a major review of the literature, John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire in England casts doubt on any direct relationship between blood levels of testosterone and aggressive behavior.

Many of these simplistic, hardwired ideas about the sexes have been strongly refuted. Psychologist Cordelia Fine of the University of Melbourne (who published Delusions of Gender in 2010) looked at 650 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that social expectations, not gender per se, accounted for most observed differences between the sexes.

And the idea of the aggressive uncaring, warlike man is way out of date. Boys are naturally just as caring as girls, notes Harvard psychologist William Pollack, author of Real Boys: “They may have different patterns of behavior and learn and communicate through action, but they are as capable of being sensitive and empathic as girls are.”

Male infants, Pollack says, are more emotionally expressive than baby girls, but boys, as they grow, too often learn to display a “mask of masculinity” that hides their inner feelings.

Let’s not tighten the screws on that mask with outdated and incorrect arguments.

Excerpted from Women’s eNews. Read the full article here.

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About and

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. She is the a recipient of both the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism and a Goldsmith grant from Harvard Kennedy School. She has written critically praised books for Harper Collins, Dutton, Basic Books, McGraw-Hill, Tarcher/ Penguin and others. The New York Times called her book She Works, He Works—co-written with Rosalind C. Barnett—a bold new framing of the story of the American family, and praised its lucid prose. From Harper Collins, it was the winner of the 1996 Books for a Better Life Award.
Rosalind C. Barnett is a senior scholar at Wellesley. is a recipient of both the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism and a Goldsmith grant from Harvard Kennedy School. She has written critically praised books for Harper Collins, Dutton, Basic Books, McGraw-Hill, Tarcher/ Penguin and others. The editorial board of the Boston Globe voted her book Same Difference (Basic)—co-written with Caryl Rivers—one of the best books of the year.