Battle of the Sexes: On Bonsai Trees & Suburban Myths

    A quote recently about men's role in the changing state of affairs (pardon the pun) struck me as rather bitchy and dismissive: "Oh, how fragile is the ego of a man. We must never let him feel like a bonsai in a grove of California redwoods..." The same article goes on to note men's time spent with children nearing women's (ignoring any Roy Moore jokes there). So why the insult and calumny? It's not like men aren't evolving to meet the changing societal situation, whatever the headlines. It's also not like men aren't on the brutal receiving end of many of these changes.

    First we should remind ourselves that change is more notable than status quo, even where the status quo is much worse, as even concentration camp survivors have confirmed - the impact of the day-to-day sameness fades. So while others' problems may be more severe, to those undergoing new changes their predicament may be more disorienting - especially with no sign of a bottom.

    Second, we should look at the graph and notice that women enjoyed a momentary relaxation of familial responsibility (perhaps tied to postponing childbearing) and then hiked it right back into helicopter mode and multitasking new jobs with domestic responsibilities.

    Third, we might expect "more time with family" would shift mores to a less promiscuous, more "Protestant" outlook on relationships. To a large extent, women and men both left the 80's party scene and are now sitting by that once hopping erogenous bed instead reading fairy tales.

    The unwritten "bargain" I'd noted last time had men protecting smaller women, as an overly simplistic framing. But the bargain also largely divided types of labor based on intensity and danger. The "white male privilege" has a lot of upside to it, but men have also been privileged in risking having limbs & heads hacked off in wars, dying young from coal mines or in farming & lumber & construction & trucking accidents, or boats sunk at sea, or gladiator sports entertainers beating their brains and bodies into a deadened pulp, and other givens of this "agreement". Included are the medical ailments and sicknesses that often result from overwork, and the chronic alcohol abuse & depression that often accompanies deadening out mindless and back-breaking work.

    [with women consigned to 24x7 mothering requirements and most home duties and taking care of the infirm and a host of other obligatory assignments. No, it wasn't all doing their nails....]

    The role of sex for men and to a different type and extent women is not just as "power" and entertainment, but also in reaffirming some level of self-esteem during critical life events such as puberty, child-bearing and retirement, acknowledging how the age brackets are shifting as people live longer, where retirement brings much better and more complex and expensive options than simply awaiting the Grim Reaper.

    The level to which war and production turned to affect civilians - aka "women and children" after 1810 is remarkable, and one factor in the current breakdown or reshuffling, but the overall toll of the industrial revolution was still arguably hardest on men.

    The biological factors that influenced this "agreement" are not to be ignored. What we see as the effects and benefits of those testosterone-laden members of the species amounted to a rather admirable amount of productivity and creativity across the millennia - certainly no other species came close. The idea that women couldn't participate via intelligence or ability is flawed - there's little showing any lack in leadership capability these days aside from traditions & discrimination, and we've always gotten around any insufficiencies in strength through using tools, though more complex tools do take longer to think up and are often more unwieldy.

    But there is a question (my surmise) whether women would have been as driven towards improvements like exploration, mass production, accumulation of wealth, and all the stuff that came out of crazed and obsessive behavior. It's easy to dismiss this as abusing the planet, immoral raping of the environment, and what not, but these were largely the rules and goals for everyone over the ages, aside from a few wise eggs who spoke up and got promptly nailed to a tree.

    It's worth noting at this point that the tsunami hitting the US is not the same one hitting other countries of the world - such as pushback on throwing acid as revenge and arranged marriages and rape in India - and even the way I'm framing this looks very different from a Filipino or Malawian or Hungarian point of view. But so it goes - only so much space in a blog...

    And so we look at some of the trends of our times - the increased focus on "attention deficit disorder" that's largely ascribed to boys, seldom girls, and the "three strikes" and other law-and-order initiatives that start hitting teens - largely minorities, but also white kids - even as physical outlets for excessive adrenalin and testosterone fade away.

    I'd posit this is expressing an increased discomfort with physicality, as we move out of our rural homes and take up a more sedentary "elite" lifestyle, not reading Great Books and perusing art and ripping apart or building machines, but in sitting on the couch with mobile phone until hopping in the car to a sequence of well-coordinated consumer events (including entertainment). The opportunity for unplanned encounters decreases in this new universe:


    But this urbanization isn't the fraught packed dystopia of Blade Runner - it's the endless suburbs of Edward Scissorhands gone mad. Nowhere except LA are inner city cores filling up again - it's all stripmall and Starbucks territory on the rise. And of course this is hitting the lower Midwest and other "heartland" locales harder than the two coasts and Great Lakes that largely became urban congested decades before. Yes, it's all new to them.

    Let's visit Iowa to see:

    [note that 1/4 level of 25+ having degrees - no, free education is not necessarily an attractive issue here]

    So let's tie this suburban landgrowth and population shift back into that sometimes pithy article quoted above: "More than 70% of Americans say it is very important for a man to be able to support a family financially to be a good husband or partner, but less than one-third say the same for a woman"

    Wow, that seems like Neanderthal thinking, doesn't it? Except that historically most of women's work has been in the lower paying services sector or doing part-time (including secretarial/reception and waitressing and teaching and many healthcare position), while men's pay often came from higher level professional services - executives, lawyers & doctors, business owners, sales force with commission & bonuses, union factory jobs and line work with possibility of 1 1/2 or 2x overtime pay, or hard day-rate construction work that might pay a better wage for temp.

    Except where countered by the recent 1) rapid rise in single mothers who had to make ends meet on their own and 2) the increase in trained female professionals - some as primary breadwinner, many as 2nd disposable income, the overall numbers have long pointed to men being required to pay the bills PLUS save for college/rainy day/retirement.

    And in those suburbs, it's more and more lower paying service jobs that prevail as a lot of the high margin professional positions have been eaten away by automation and outsourcing and downsizing and benefits cutting and consolidation and the last crash's glut of failed businesses. We're now drinking from the same well, and there's only so much water there, and painfully little whiskey.

    And speaking of drinking, the more draconian DUI laws and the dispersal of bars in the suburbs and the increase in time with family probably has a detrimental effect on the social work dynamic - for politicians and business people and other workers as a whole (along with increasingly helicopter mothers). A lot of businesses don't do much in the way of Christmas parties anymore, and carousing after work has been significantly jettisoned without much of a replacement.

    So no, most men probably aren't self-deluded into thinking they're the great Redwood on which society rests. I remember a friend before the 2008 crash dabbling in a number of part-time work efforts, as he sensed the economy wasn't doing well - his job wasn't just his dayjob - it was to prepare for the coming tsunamis as well. My quite successful grandfather's was the same back in the Great Depression - suddenly out of work, he drove the family south to where he could find cheap good farmland to build a stake on - something he knew how to do, and so they'd always have some food to tide them over to when he could return to good executive positions. That's not an inflexible tree in the woods - it's a beaver building dams as fast as possible.

    One aspect greatly differs between the 2 traditional roles - the amount of Risk and assignable Responsibility assumed. Not owning property or having a vote also implied being less blamable for any outcomes. Of course the change in laws doesn't necessarily mean our way of thinking about this has suddenly reversed - mental outlooks can take decades to take root, as a former denizen of the South can attest.

    So this is part of the background of our current social shift between the sexes. Next time: The Misfits, and perhaps "Why after so much talk about Sex Education are we still so uneducated about Sex?"


    Anecdotal support for your thesis: I was just speaking to a male friend who works full-time out of his suburban home. His wife works part-time but in an office in Manhattan. He was bragging about the time he spends taking his daughters to school and playdates.

    80%  of life is showing up.

    Woody Allen

    Not just  "mental outlooks" would have to " take root" for our way of thinking to reverse. Also some biological changes.

    Until some brilliant female obstetrical researcher comes up with a fix ,only women will  bear children. With the  associated   career-handicapping consequences.

    In some careers.

    In law, medicine ,education and a long list of other "individual practitioner " careers a woman can take time off to have a baby and resume her career where she left off. Not in industry. There you not only need to do things, you need to do them with "others". You learn by doing . And one thing you learn by doing is how to do things with others.

    While Tillie- the- toiler is home having her beautiful baby, things are happening  back at the Company. Bad things that have to be fixed. Good things  to be exploited. By Mack who's still there punching the clock and showing up.

    And even if Tillie returns in three months it's Mack who'll get the next promotion.

    You don't catch up when you're a 35 year old mother competing with an office full of 28 year people who were there during the last crisis.


    You don't even catch up when you're a 45-year-old man competing with an office of twenty-somethings raised on the next generation rules and tech. Unless you were one of the lucky ones winning the pyramid scheme of narrowing management or other select positions, you begin to get weeded out. If it's physically demanding? Probsbly out on your ass long before.


    About a decade ago, another friend of mine found himself out of work after many years in the financial services industry. He started a web-based business out of his home because he realized that, as a man in his mid-40s, his chances of landing another Wall Street job were very slim. Most of the hiring managers were younger than he was. He too spends as much or more time with his kids as his EVP wife does (or at least as she did until her employer was taken over a few years ago).

    Tip. Thank the head hunter.Even  if all you got via her was an interview send a note  thanking her anyway  when you're finally employed  somewhere.Being sure of course to  describe the glories of the new position.

    Maybe not same phenomenon as my "First" above, but here's an item that says how things end is more memorable than how they averaged:

    Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and psychologist Barbara Fredrickson developed the “peak-end rule,” which holds that people judge events not by the overall experience but by some combination of how they feel at the most extreme part and at the end of the event. One example: Kahneman and his colleagues had study subjects immerse their hands in 57-degree water for 60 seconds and, separately, do the same thing with the other hand but tack on an additional 30 seconds while slightly warming the water to a temperature of 59 degrees. Given a choice, the subjects opted to repeat the longer trial. Experiences that end with a bad part are more likely to be recalled as unpleasant than if a miserable part comes toward the beginning, even if the average discomfort is the same.

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