The Gender of Despair

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has a new article out this week called The Boys Have Fallen Behind. While the opener makes the kind acknowledgement that women are the less powerful of the two genders globally, it goes straight into a wailing party about the low academic achievements of America’s boys at home.

Cry me a river, homes!

Although it’s true that more men have lost their jobs in the recession than women, and that boys’ test scores are lower than girls are, men still hold more power than women do. And it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of 3rd grade math tests to change that.

Here’s why.

Although industries that have bottomed out have been heavily male – such as banking – but the industries that women are left standing in are still as low-paying now as they were before. Industries that exist to benefit groups, and not just individuals, are predominantly female, and are predominantly under-funded. Those industries include social work, teaching, the arts, and yes, even journalism. Industries in which words are important, in which self-expression is considered a core competency, are ones in which women excel.

This is due to what prominent female psychologists call “the psychology of We.” Women by and large make decisions collectively, and feel downright uncomfortable not doing so. (Ever been at a dinner table of 8 women deciding if appetizers should be ordered, and if so how they should be shared?)

This wiring to consider another’s needs before one’s own (wiring to take care of families?) is the exact type of behavior that doesn’t work well in very male industries like finance; collective decisions that benefit the whole are often voted down in corporate environments. Women also take time weighing decisions. In business environments, decisions need to be made quickly, and often. The quality of the decision sometimes matters less than the fact that it is made; not making decisions is simply not tolerated.

As a result, men flock to high-risk industries, and women prefer high-comfort ones. (As business execs love to say, profit is made at the margins, not in the middle.) In Fall 2008, many high-risk businesses went bankrupt while high-comfort ones didn’t. But even then, amidst a failure of almost cosmic proportions, men still rewarded other men in high-risk industries.

Goldman Sachs has a bunch of ‘em.

So remind me again why the falling behind of boys is something to lament? Due to their altruistic nature, women still earn only 75% of what men do for the same work, and on top of that, are expected to be the breadwinners in increasingly matriarchal  (read= single mother) households. Despite less education, men will still get “better”, i.e., higher paying jobs just because of personal disposition.

Let's skip the Kleenex.

I thought a post-feminist world was one in which both genders had an equal grab at power, not one in which liberal men look at increased female achievement with confusion. Or surprise. Or maybe, underneath it all, anger?

Until the publisher of the New York Times – and not just their copy editor - is female, and women start cutting men’s checks, Kristof shouldn’t worry about it. Besides, women pay well. Women are fair, and are not heavy-handed with their despair.