Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘men

A few thoughts after watching Hjernevask

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A while back, I wrote a post with an excursion on the TV series “Hjernevask”. Having a number of thoughts in my head after watching said series, I wrote most of the below a day or two later, but I never got around to complete it, in particular having several other sub-topics unstarted. As is, I just publish what I have—especially since I want to reference it in the post I started today…

Thoughts on homosexuality:

An often cited problem with the existence of homosexuality is the apparent contradiction of evolutionary principles: Reproduction is not possible between members of the same sex in humans (and a great many other animals, likely including all mammals); ergo, men who like men and women who like women will not have children; ergo, if homosexuality has a genetic background*, it should be a fringe phenomenon.

*This is not a given, even if we see homosexuality as something mainly or entirely congenital. An entirely different line of explanation is then simply that homosexuality has a non-genetic background. Below I will make the “for the sake of argument” assumption that the reasons are genetic (or otherwise inherited by a sufficiently similar mechanism).

This has led to all sorts of speculation and explanation attempts, e.g. that homosexuals could benefit their non-homosexual relatives (who share a considerable amount of genes) in a way that partially outweighs the immediate reproductive disadvantages. This might or might not be true; but is not that convincing because the proper focus of selection is usually the genes themselves and the non-homosexual relatives would still have to share in the “homosexual” genes for this to work out. (While this is by no means impossible, e.g. through some constellation of recessive genes, it requires additional assumptions to be true.)

There is an easier way out, however: What if homosexuals do reproduce in the ordinary manner? My own father, e.g., is a gay man with two children; I am a straight man with no children. (In both cases, that I know of.) In fact, in cultures with a low tolerance for homosexuality, chances are that most homosexuals will lead more or less normal reproductive lives. They will try to fit in, they will marry, they will have children*, and they will pass their genes on. A low-tolerance society is good for homosexuality (but not for homosexuals). In contrast, in a high-tolerance society, like the current, homosexuals will have a far lower probability of having children—it is bad for homosexuality (but not for homosexuals). There is much more evolutionary pressure against homosexuality in the tolerant society.

*It is true that they will be less interested in intercourse with their partners. However, we have to consider factors like the own wish for children (no need for “gay adoption”), the partner’s wish for children, the partner’s wish for sex, and that lack of other release possibilities can make sex with even the “wrong” partner a positive. The latter in particular in cultures that frown upon masturbation.

This applies already for homosexuals. If we widen the field to include bisexuals*, the effect in the low-tolerance society is strengthened; however, it is weakened in the high-tolerance society.

*If homo- and bisexuality do have a genetic background, it would be surprising if they were unrelated.

Thoughts on comparisons and the effects of variation:

A problem with making comparisons is the lack of a common base line, as well as the choice of an unsuitable base line. This is exemplified e.g. by claims that men and women are so similar that it does not make sense to focus on the differences: For some base lines and some purposes this will be true; for others, it will be false. (Cf. also the “math professor” example from the original post.)

If we make a four-way comparison between a male and a female human and a male and a female horse, e.g., we will likely see (although this could depend on what is compared) that the interspecies differences dwarf the intraspecies differences. (Still there will be some aspects of being a male shared by horse and human, but not male and female, and so on.) Add a mollusk and even the human/horse differences seem small. Throw in a rock and they might seem negligible. Why? Because the reasonable base line for the comparison changes.

Still, while a horse and a human may seem similar when compared to a rock, horses and humans are normally seen as living very different lives, having very different capabilities, whatnot. Why? Because when comparing humans and horses in everyday life, the relevant baseline is not the baseline from the comparison with the rock. The observable differences do not arise out of similarities—but out of underlying, genetic* differences. Now, the smaller the differences are, the lesser the effect might be and the fewer areas might be affected. Indeed, the differences between men and women are much smaller than between humans and horses, and their lives, abilities, whatnots, are correspondingly closer.

*The human–horse differences can probably be safely considered genetic; however, quite often the wider set of congenital differences should be considered, including when comparing humans with other humans. (In all fairness, even the human–horse difference could have a non-genetic component, because minor parts of the differences could go back to the uterine environment and gestation process—and in the highly unlikely event that a horse/human could be gestated by a human/horse, then some of these difference might manifest in the wrong species. For species that are considerably closer related, e.g. donkeys and horses, this might be an interesting experiment.)

However, men and women are biologically different, even mentally. Open for discussion is only by how much and how relevant the differences are. It borders on a statistical impossibility that there would not be some difference. Sign two letters, even the one immediately after the other, even using the same pen, same ink, and same type of paper, even while deliberately trying to keep the signature constant, and there will be differences in the result. Likely, they can be seen by the naked eye; if they cannot, a microscope will show plenty of differences. Even the minor differences in input that will still occur, say a minuscule difference in the placing of the hand, a slight hesitation in a stroke, whatnot, will lead to differences in the result. Male and female brains have physiological differences akin to writing on a different day, with different pen, ink, and paper, …—possibly even a different hand. That they would happen to neutralize so perfectly that differences in behavior, abilities, preferences, whatnot, are not obvious is unlikely—that there would be no difference at all, well, that is virtually impossible.

Now take even a small difference and look at what can happen in sub-populations. Imagine a hypothetical type of competition where men have an average result of 100s, women 98s, both (unrealistically) a standard deviation of 10s in an approximate normal distribution and assuming equal amounts of training* (etc.). Gather your colleagues, put them through training, and have a competition: Pick a man and a woman completely at random and the chance of the man or woman placing better is toss up; and whether a man or a woman wins will depend mostly on whether there are more men or women among your colleagues… In stark contrast: What would be the sex of the (non-segregated) Olympic Champion? Very likely a male if a higher time is better; very likely female if a lower time is better. Indeed, chances are that the field would be dominated accordingly. This through a difference of two parts in a hundred in one single aspect (resp. one fifth of a standard deviation, which is mathematically more significant). Let us say that you have to be one in thirty thousand**/*** to make the final. This corresponds to being roughly four standard deviations above the mean. Looking just at women and assuming that a lower time is better, the limit for a final would be 58 (= 98 – 4 x 10). Any man who wants to make that final has to have a score no worse than 58 (but possible better). Now, this corresponds to 4.2 standard deviations (58 = 100 – 4.2 x 10) or roughly one in eighty thousand. In other words, if 240 thousand women compete at this sport, roughly eight would be candidates for the final; among 240 thousand men, only 3. Assuming eight-people finals (as in e.g. the 100m dash), we might have six women and two men. We might have two or three female medalists to one or no male medalists—and the winner is very likely a woman.

*This is of course unrealistic in the real world, or even when looking at the Olympics (cf. the rest of the discussion). It might e.g. be necessary to use a greater standard deviation in the example calculations, which would make the effect smaller—but would not change the principles. When looking e.g. who excels at what profession, we might find a variety of unrelated caused (notably variations on interest and ability), some of which might favour the one sex, some of which might favour the other. It is, however, enough for there to be a net difference to be present in these for a net difference in outcome to result. Of course, depending on how these turn out, they can make the net difference larger than if only one factor had been present, just as they could make it smaller or turn it around.

**In the following some numbers are a mixture of experiments with a statistical package I am unfamiliar with and rough guesstimates. The math could be wrong in detail, but not in a manner that invalidates the principle. For the purposes of demonstrating the effects at extremes, the above should be sufficient. If in doubt, just throw on another standard deviation and any misestimate will be dwarfed.

***Looking at the global population in sports, we have to factor in the many people who do not compete in a given sport, are too old or too young, or might have some other reason for being out of the race. Olympic champions are typically nowhere near one-in-seven-billion. A small sport might have someone as low as one in a few hundred; a large one might conceivably go into one in a few millions. (However, feel free to do calculations based on one in billions—my point will be even clearer.)

A pseudo-paradoxical result of attempts to “even the playing field” is that those factors that are not evened out will be the more important. Now, barring massive interventions, congenital factors cannot be evened out after the fact; while e.g. factors like number of school years can. Consider a situation where men and women are perfectly equal in all rights, responsibilities, opportunities, whatnot. Any variation of outcome will now be explained by one of two things: Congenital factors and coincidence. Looking at sufficiently large samples, the effects of coincidence will even out and disappear—and differences in sample outcome will depend only on congenital factors!

When we look at sufficiently exclusive groups, then, (even small) differences in e.g. ability distribution have a larger effect* on an even playing field than they do on an uneven one. To boot, using the same principles as above, given a sufficiently exclusive group, even very small differences will have an effect. The result is that if it were true that a difference in outcomes was un- or only weakly related to ability in 1917, 1967, or even 1987, it could very well be strongly related in 2017.

*Which is not automatically to say that the differences in outcome are larger. If women are not allowed to run for office, they will not land in office (barring some exceptional scenarios like a woman running for office under a false, male identity). At the same time, in that scenario, no difference in ability distribution, no matter how large or in what direction, between men and women will have any effect on the sex distribution of those successfully elected. Allowing women to run will decrease the difference in outcome—while increasing the importance of the differences.

A somewhat similar mechanism is suggested in Hjernevask: Women (and men) might be more prone to follow their natural inclinations in today’s West than in poorer parts of the world or in the West of earlier days. Because society is more affluent, survival is easier, etc., they have less external restrictions in the form of e.g. lack of money, and they can afford to forego a better paying career in, say, software development, for a worse payed career in nursing or teaching (should they find the latter more interesting). If women do not move into lucrative careers that are open to them, chances are that they have other, natural preferences; ditto, if e.g. Norwegian women stay away from tech and Indian* do not. If and when India grows more affluent, it will be interesting to see whether its women will be more or less interested in tech careers.

*As occurs to me, the proportion of female software developers (in particular) and IT people (in general) with a foreign background has been considerably higher than for male ones in the projects that I have worked in. (With both men and women, Eastern Europe has been the main source.) For instance, out of three women in the IT department of my current client, one was a native (German), one is Romanian (?), and one was Iranian—and at the moment only the Romanian remains. The project before that had one out one being native but likely from the former GDR area (the project was in an “East-German” city, Chemnitz, and most of the team members were “Easterners”); the one before that one out one Eastern European; with similar numbers going back. However, I caution both that the statistical sample could be too small to draw conclusions and that foreigners are by no means rare among the men either.


Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2017 at 7:10 pm

An absolutely awful marriage story

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A few weeks ago, I encountered an an absolutely awful marriage storye. In fact, one that almost made me feel sick—but which the blog author absurdly proclaimed to be “great”. (From context it is not clear whether she also was the author of the story or merely a spreader of it. Either way, seeing it as great requires a near complete lack of perspective and insight.)

At the time, I left a comment explaining why it was awful. Having just noticed that this comment has been arbitrarily censored (the more in need of a comment a post is, the greater the risk of censorship, as I have noticed over the last year), I try to recreate the gist here:

  1. The woman has an entirely unrealistic and unreasonable view of what marriage and love is.

  2. She is about to throw away her promise of “until death us depart; for better and worse” based on what appears to be mere boredom.

  3. Instead of constructively discussing her issues with her husband, she waits until she has given up hope of him spontaneously changing—and then springs divorce upon him.

  4. She requires of him, in order that he proves himself worthy of the second chance he requested, that he consider his own life worth less than her (hypothetical) whim of having a particular flower. This is something that is, frankly, inexcusable: A wife may have the right that her husband risks his life to save hers (and vice versa!), but under no circumstances that it is sacrificed for a whim.

    Besides, any man who agreed to even the hypothetical situation would afterwards be in an impossible situation: How can he later refuse to buy her jewelry for a mere few hundred dollars at her asking? To take out the garbage in the middle of a Superbowl game? To letting her unilaterally decide where every single vacation is to be held? … That the man still wanted her after hearing this demand is hard to fathom—better divorced than living with such a self-centered bitch.

  5. While he declines, he does give an extremely cheese explanation for why he declines—and this explanation proves her earlier dissatisfaction to have been very, very unfair. In effect, she was about to throw away a far more wife-friendly husband than most women ever have—and one that she gave no signs of deserving.

To make matters worse, there are many elements of this story that are reminiscent of the bad marriage experiences I have heard men tell from real life, including that problems are not brought to their attention, that unrealistic expectations are raised, and that they are faced with a divorce out of nowhere and without the wife reflecting on what a marriage actually implies.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Ellen Key on men, women, women’s rights, …

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I was recently highly surprised to learn that Ellen Keyw, one of Sweden’s most renowned and honoured women’s rights fighters, had warned strongly against the excesses of some of her co-fighters—in 1896. (In the following, I will use “WRF” to denote these and to differ from “feminist”; neither “suffragette” nor “women’s libber” seem really suitable as translations for the Swedish “kvinnorättskämpe”.)

Over the last few decades, this warning would have been perfectly understandable: Much of modern day feminism is out-of-touch with reality. But in 1896?

I managed to find a free online copy of the work in question, Missbrukad kvinnokraft och kvinnopsykologie (“Misused woman-power and female psychology”, in an approximate translation). Reading the first few chapters, I hardly believed my eyes: Here we had a leading WRF complaining about many of the same misconceptions that drive modern feminism and pointing to differences between men and women that feminists and the Swedish school system deny, but which I have myself observed or deduced later in life.

Among the many points she make, we have:

  1. The strong influence of Evolution on human behaviour and differences in behaviour between the sexes.

  2. That many WRFs are prone to excesses (as are today’s feminists); and that they have often have problems even with comprehending the arguments of their opponents. (Note the very significant difference between not comprehending and comprehending but disagreeing—the former being a major problem with many feminists.)

  3. That women cannot “have it all” without a substantial extra effort and that the price of juggling both a family and a career is often too high.

  4. That women (as a group) are inferior to men where “genius” is concerned.

  5. That individual variation does not eliminate the importance of group differences.

  6. That women are very keen on believing preconceptions and bending the facts to fit the preconceptions.

  7. That equal opportunity does not automatically bring equal outcomes; in particular, that women should have the right to make “traditionally male” life and career choices, but in no way be obliged to do so. Further that those who do follow a male path are usually likely to be less happy than in a more “traditionally female” role. (More generally, I believe that the differences between modern life and what humans were built to do is problematically large.)

  8. Men tend more towards creating things in the world (buildings, art, science, companies, …); women are more focused on the reproduction of the species.

  9. Women are better at being industrious; men have an edge when thinking enters the arena.

To give a number of specific quotes:

(The high complexity is present in the original, although the translation may be a tad worse due to issues of idiom, and I urge for a careful reading, lest her intentions be misunderstood. References to e.g. “the woman” are literal translations and should be taken as generic, not specific.)

Men om å ena sidan icke ett enda starkt skäl finnes för hoppet att den könsliga differentieringen på det psykiska området allt mer skall kunna utplånas och kvinnan bliva jämnhög med mannen i materiell och andlig produktion; om tvärtom varje stöd, man i detta fall brukar, visar sig svagt som ett rö i naturens starka hand — så ger å andra sidan ett enda undantagsfall av kvinnlig överlägsenhet ett obrytligt stöd åt yrkandet på full frihet för varje kvinna att följa sin individualitet, att utan hinder från samhällets sida själv söka finna vad naturen menat just med henne.

(If, on the one hand, there is not one single strong reason to hope for the elimination of sex differences in the mental area and that the woman would become equal to the man in material and spiritual production; if, on the contrary, every support that is used turns out to be as week as a straw in the strong hand of nature — so does, on the other hand, every exceptional case of female superiority give an indestructible support for the demand for full freedom for every woman to follow her individuality, to without obstacles from society’s side herself find what nature has meant for [with?] her.

Close to the modern anti-feminist view that men and women are equal but (as science confirms) different, and that society should not get in the way of the individual. (Note that the quote should not necessarily be read to indicate a male superiority overall. Other parts of the book point to areas with a perceived female superiority.)

En fördomsfri prövning av alla dessa fakta synes mig berättiga till den slutsatsen: att det icke endast varit det yttre trycket, som i forna tider hämmade utvecklingen av de kvinnliga snillena.

(An unprejudiced examination of all these facts seem to me to justify the conclusion: that it has not only been the external pressure that in the days of yore limited the development of female geniuses.)

Equal opportunity does not necessarily yield equal outcome and men do appear to more often reach the highest levels in various areas.

Kvinnorna minnas alltför sällan, att det icke endast är kvinnokraften som varit hämmad.

(Women remember far too seldom, that it is not only the female power that has been limited.)

One of the greatest errors in feminist argumentation: Comparing a small minority of fortunate men with the broad masses of women, leaving the broad masses of men at the wayside.

Nu syftar hela skolan, studentexamen och allt examensväsende, endast att frambringa kopior. Särskilt lyckas detta väl med flickorna, emedan dessa vanligen ha ett mindre utpräglat intellektuellt skaplynne; emedan de äro mer mottagliga, mer smidiga, och skolan således ännu bättre kan lyckas utplatta dem än gossarna.

(Now the purpose of school, high-school graduation, and all [“examination business”], is only to create copies. This is particularly successful with the girls, because these usually have a less developed intellectual wish to create; because they are more receptive, more agile, and school therefore succeeds even better in making them flat [as with dough and a rolling-pin] than boys.)

Highly interesting with an eye on the current criticisms against the good-for-girls/bad-for-boys school systems of today, which often points to similar differences.

Det är mig ofattligt att framhållandet av några »naturenliga» arbetsområden för kvinnan, kunnat anses innebära syftet att inskränka henne till dessa områden; att betonandet av det nuvarande undervisningsväsendets brister, kunnat anses innebära att jag påyrkar att kvinnor ej böra studera, eller att, när jag talar om dem som läkarinnor, lärarinnor o. s. v. då menar jag, att de skola bli allt detta utan studier!

(It is incomprehensible to me that pointing to some “natural” areas of work for the woman could be interpreted as wishing to limit her to these areas; that emphasizing the defects of the current school systems, could be taken to mean that I urge that women do not study, or that, when I speak of them as physicians, teachers, etc., I imply that they should become all this without studies!)

A typical example of feminist distortion or incomprehension of others opinions.

Under dessa 18 år har ett enda fall — m:me Curie — bestyrkt mina motståndares hopp om kvinnans vetenskapliga framtidsmöjligheter.

Bekräftelser i fråga om de av mina påståenden, som blevo allra mest angripna, ha däremot varit talrikare.

(During these 18 years [the time-span between the 1st and 4th editions; the latter being my source] only one case—m:me Curie—strengthened my opponents hopes of the woman’s scientific future possibilities.

The confirmations concerning those of my claims that were the most attacked, on the contrary, have been more numerous.)

Looking at female Nobel-Prize winners in physics and chemistry, the picture is just as bleak today. Indeed, since Curie’s days there have only been one (!) other female winner of the physics prize—and that in 1963! The chemistry prize has an additional three winners—one of which Curie’s daughter…

Lika litet behöver man betona huru rik på framgång kvinnoemancipationen varit. Såväl ideellt som materiellt har kvinnosaken gått från seger till seger. Kraven på rätt till full individuell utveckling och full laglig likställighet med mannen, liksom till full arbetsfrihet, ha åt kvinnan öppnat den ena banan efter den andra, vunnit den ena lagliga rätten efter den andra. Visserligen fattas ännu viktiga rättigheter, bland dem den mest oavisliga, den gifta kvinnans myndighet över sin person, sin egendom och sina barn. Men ingen tänkande människa betvivlar, att icke vid nästa sekelslut allt skall vara vunnet;

(Just as little does one need to emphasize how rich on success the women’s emancipation has been. Both ideally [as opposite of “materially”] and materially, the women’s cause has gone from victory to victory. The demands for the right to full individual development and full legal equality with the man, likewise to full freedom to work, has opened one road [read “door”] after the other, won one legal right after the other. Certainly, some important rights are still missing, among them the most undeniable, the married woman’s authority [presumably in a sense of “legal capacity”, “with the rights of an adult”] over her own person, her property, and her children. But no thinking human doubts that all this shall be won by the end of the next [20th] century;)

Key considers emancipation a success a century ago; the feminists of today eternally complain about how far we allegedly would still be from equality, despite the missing rights already being present. (Yes, equality and emancipation are not the same; however, extrapolating, it would be highly surprising if the latter had not followed by now—and there is no evidence to the contrary, except for unlikely interpretations of differences in outcome.)

Och dock är det ofta just ur underklassen, världens »övermänniskor» framträtt, sedan de genombrutit mycket svårare hinder än dem, den snillrika kvinnan i överklassen samtidigt hade måst besegra för att få följa sin väsensbestämmelse. Även dessa manliga snillen ha saknat arvet från »flera generationers utveckling i frihet». Men de ha dock nått den högsta andliga höjden i sin samtid.

(And still it is often just from the lower class that the worlds’ “Übermenschen” have appeared, after breaking through much more difficult obstacles than those that brilliant women in the upper class have had to conqueror in order to follow their destiny of being. These male geniuses too have lacked the heritage of “several generations of development in freedom”. Still they have reached the highest mental heights in their time.)

One popular argument among feminists (and the PC crowd in the US) is that changes over several generations are needed to create reasonably equal opportunity. (If we look at perfection, they are likely correct; however, they fail to consider that the individual and his or her abilities and actions become a more important factor far earlier.)

Man kan redan under skolåren se en skillnad mellan flickans och gossens sätt att arbeta. Flickan är plikttrognare i arbetet med de föresatta uppgifterna, men hon lämnar intresset för själva ämnet kvar i skolan, medan gossen på ett helt annat sätt är upptagen av ämnet själv. Det har under flera år roat mig att lyssna till samtalen mellan den skolungdom från flera enskilda skolor, som korsat mina egna vägar. I nio fall av tio ha flickorna talat om någon »han» eller »hon», om nöjen eller om kläder; i nio fall av tio hava gossarna talat om sport eller om sina studier — från multiplikationstabellen till helvetesläran!

(Already during the school years, one can observe a difference between the girl’s and the boy’s manner of work: The girl is more diligent in work with the prescribed exercises [tasks?], but she leaves the topic as such in school, while the boy is occupied with the topic as such in a completely different manner. For several years, it has amused me to listen to the conversations of school-youth from several individual schools that have crossed my own ways. In nine cases out of ten, the girls have spoken about a “he” or “she” [i.e. gossiped], about amusements or about clothes; in nine cases out of ten, the boys have talked about sport or their studies—from the table of multiplication to [teachings about the nature of hell]!)

School again. Further, a good characterization of male and female interests.

Medan mannen från en underordnad plats ofta lyfter sig till en högre genom sin vakenhet, sin i viss mån skapande drift, förblir kvinnan vanligen på den underordnade platsen, emedan hon saknar denna drivkraft. Av tio unga män, som erhölle valet mellan tvenne lika högt lönade platser, men av vilka den ena vore ansvarsfullare och mödosammare, den andra mindre arbetsam men även mindre betydelsefull, torde sålunda nio välja den förra, men av tio unga kvinnor de nio välja den senare.

(While the man often raises himself from a subordinate position to a higher through his wakefulness, his to some degree [in some sense?] creative drive, the woman usually remains in the subordinate position, while she lacks this drive. Of ten young men, who were given the choice between two equally payed positions, but of which the one brings more responsibility and labor, the other being less laborious but also less important, nine would thus choose the former, but of ten young women, nine the latter.)

Exactly different interests and/or abilities are the true explanation for the mythical glass ceiling (and related phenomena).

Kvinnan åter är ofta platonisk i kärleken till sitt verk, emedan hon är så fullt aktiv i sina personliga förhållanden.

(The woman, again, is often platonic in the love for her work [possibly in the “oeuvre” sense], while she is fully active in her personal relationships.


De bekräfta därigenom en ypperlig manlig definition av begreppet »kvinna»: »En varelse, som när mannen säger ’två gånger två är fyra’, svarar honom: Det tror jag inte och huru ni än bevisar, behåller jag min tanke om saken.»

(They [women] thus confirm an excellent male definition of the concept “woman”: “A being who, when the man says ‘two times two is four’, answers him: I do not believe that and no matter how you prove it, I will keep my opinion on the issue.”)

Women in general; feminists in particular.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 3, 2011 at 3:32 pm