Saturday, September 17, 2011

Men will be women. Kinda sorta. : (

As regular readers of this blog know – go ahead, raise your hands, all nineteen of you!! – I tend to collect bits of information I come across in my everyday reading, scanning, stumbling across kind of way (in other words, random facts) with the goal being that they will somehow coalesce into some reasonable commentary or response that feels somewhat cogent and thought-provoking. I don’t promise this will be one of those times but here we go.

In May, I read the summary of a study about the “precarious” status of manhood today. Researchers at the University of South Florida found out the following: It’s important to men that they look like and are perceived as men by everyone around them. And the more they care about this, the more horrible they’ll feel when they’re perceived otherwise.

Psychologists Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello conducted research that included the following: One group of men was “forced” to exhibit a feminine behavior; one group was not. The task at hand: Braids. The “feminine” group was forced to braid hair; the other more gender-neutral group braided rope. Fine. Lovely.

When the tasks were completed the two groups were given a choice of what to do next: hit a punching bag or do a puzzle. You know what’s coming, right? The results were tabulated in a few ways. The hair-braiders “overwhelmingly chose the punching bag.” Even better, when all the men (both hair and rope-braiders) had to punch the bag, the hair-braiders hit it harder. Finally, when everyone had to braid hair but not everyone got to punch the bag, the ones who didn’t get the chance “evinced more anxiety on a subsequent test.”

Fascinating. Why the activity of braiding hair meant that men chose to not only hit a punching bag to validate their testosterone, but hit it even harder than others when they did so is mystifying to me.

The authors’ conclusion? “Aggression is a manhood-restoring tactic.” Which seems to beg the question: is participation in “feminine” activities a manhood-robbing tactic?

In fact, further research indicated that gender is not biologically based, but more of a social circumstance. Men can “lose” their manhood by social transgressions. Women lose their womanhood by menopause.

You know what I mean. Think about it. How about the man couch? Or the man chairs?? The ones outside dressing rooms in department stores where men sit and look appropriately bored and uncomfortable and out of place while shopping with their wives or girlfriends? The one where the looks on their faces says:
“Idon’twanttobehere -
Ican’tstandbeinghere –
Shemademebehere - IfitwereuptomeI’dbeplayingrugbyorfootballorpokeranddrinkingjackandcoke - No,Ididn’twanttoholdherpursebutshemademedothat,too.”

Those seats are like fabric-covered estrogen drips.

Other tests and measurement tools used by the researchers concluded that the harshest critics of men were other men, not women. In other words, women don’t care how often you braid your daughter’s hair: you’re still a man. And a helpful one at that. Men – not so much.

In fact, turns out that being around his daughter – or his son for that matter – makes a man just a little more feminine. It’s true. A Northwestern University study, co-authored by Professor Chrisopher W. Kuzawa and doctoral candidate Lee Gettler (along with several other contributors) concluded that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels. Put another way: proving you can be a dad makes you more of a mom. Weird, right?

I’ll pause here so everyone can take a breath.

We can thank nature for this. In other species – maybe in humans, too - the male needs testosterone in huge quantities to compete with the other males for a mate. The winner gets the female, then they mate, then they have offspring. Following that blessed event, what the researchers call the “mating related” activities – it’s been too long; I can’t even remember what these are in men - may conflict with being responsible for the brand new litter, so the testosterone level of the new animal dad drops.

I get it. This happens in the animal kingdom, not during happy hour at Dave and Buster’s. In the immortal words of Joseph (not John) Merrick and Jerry Seinfeld: I am NOT an animal!! Since men don’t have to smash into each other with their horns, or drive off competitors for a female’s affection with aggression using paws and jaws – not overtly anyway - here’s a question for human males: do testosterone levels drop because men become fathers or do men become fathers because they have low testosterone levels to begin with?

The former. The same study showed that men who had higher levels of testosterone were more likely to become fathers, but like physics tells us: for every action there is an equal reaction, or something like that. Once these guys are dads, their testosterone drops – by a lot. And even more if they are really involved dads.

That’s super, right? “Nope. Not changing the baby, honey. It makes me feel too weird.” Good lord – just what women need. A husband who feels like his manhood gets threatened by a newborn’s diaper.

And just to make the whole situation more acute, the biggest drop in testosterone is right after the newborn baby comes home with the parents. Sure, the drop is temporary but everything makes more sense now. How many new moms have ever had the feeling that they have two new babies at home? The researchers state that men are preoccupied with the “many emotional, psychological, and physical adjustments” that come with being a parent. Unfortunately, women don’t have that kind of time. We're preoccupied with wondering if we’ll pee just a teeny little bit every time we sneeze for the rest of our lives. Oh, and caring for a newborn.

The silver lining? (Yes, guys, there is one.) A lower testosterone level means you’re better protected against chronic diseases as you age. So the good news is you’ll live longer. The bad news is you may feel like your grandmother while you do.

In conclusion, ...I know – you’re confused. “How can she reach a conclusion without really saying anything yet?” It’s a gift, what can I tell you. I turn to someone much more eloquent than I; someone who knows whereof he speaks: Adam Carolla. In his hilarious book, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks, he writes:

“It used to be that a fella would at least have the dignity that when he was driving with the missus and the car wouldn’t start, even though he didn’t know what the f--- to look for, he’d say, “Pop the hood.” He’d stand there and stare at the engine for a while, set his cigarette on top of the air cleaner, and yell, “Try it now.” Of course the engine wouldn’t start, but at least he looked like a man. Now the guy says, ‘Call Triple-A. I don’t want to get my cuticles dirty.”

“It’s the same thing with fighting. Guys used to have stories where they said, “This SOB spilled a drink on my old lady [Renee aside – old lady is annoying but sadly accurate and the thing is, you know the guy who said it meant it with great affection somehow] at the bar, so I got in his face and said, “ ‘If you’re looking for trouble, you found it. You’re in for a world of hurt.’ ” Now dudes tell stories that go, “I honked at a guy and he got out of his car so I called 911. But I got a busy signal, so I locked myself in and hit the OnStar button.”

I guess what I’m wondering is this: if it’s true that testosterone drops when a man becomes a father…if it’s true that doing something that feels and looks “feminine” makes men want to hit a punching bag…where does that leave us? Doesn’t this prove that it’s both biological or societal? Maybe men are much more sensitive than any of us ever imagined and women are much tougher and less prone to psychological influences than any of us ever imagined. Maybe we’re all just ‘evolving’ into gender- neutral versions of humanity.


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