Man Overboard

Can I just say that I was a Larry Summers defender? I want to put that out there. A lot of people (women, especially) were furious when he asked if innate mathematical ability might possibly be at least a partial explanation for the preponderance of senior male academic scientists.

I’m thinking of the Larry Summers imbroligo in the context of what I wrote on Tuesday at TIME.com. I am, frankly, stunned by how touchy and overwrought certain commenters have been. Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s just “lefties” who are flipping out over sex differences in human behavior. (He mentioned my column a couple days ago.) But it’s conservatives, too. It leaves me almost (but not quite) speechless.

Who knew so many people are convinced that men are too delicate to handle basic epidemiological data? Who knew men could be so easily aggrieved and offended?  From what I’m hearing, you’d think I was saying something really crazy, like 80 percent of murder victims are male and men are nine times more likely to commit murder than women. Oh, wait, I did say that.

I’m still puzzling over the furious response to Tuesday’s TIME.com column and my apparently scandalous suggestion that we take an honest look at the risk factors for murder. I am officially exhausted by this ‘discourse’ — though I do genuinely appreciate the people who chose to have a dialogue, even if they disagreed with me — and I know I should move on. Yet I can’t quite let it go because I keep thinking if people actually understood what I was trying to say, they would stop fighting with me and sending me Youtube videos and newspaper headlines about women who have murdered their children.

Yes: I get it, thank you. Women are sometimes violent. Men are not always, or even usually, violent. Check. And on a personal note, I’d like to add that I am a huge appreciator of male chivalry. Sexual dimorphism has always worked for me!  Of course I accept that gender roles are fluid and very few differences are set in stone. Yet I personally love traditional manliness and am married to a guy who really deeply believes that one of his essential roles is to protect me and our children. I’m mostly cool with testosterone, okay?

And who isn’t deeply moved by the stories of men who have sacrificed their lives for loved ones. (Women, of course, do this all the time, too, and have done so throughout history. Take maternal mortality, for example.  And it’s probably churlish of me to mention – but also true – that a lot of the “protecting” men do of their womenfolk and children involves protecting them from other men! But still… there is something beautiful and admirable about men who take their traditional role as providers/protectors seriously. I understand all of this. I like it quite a lot.

And, how, exactly, does any of that change this reality: Maleness is a major risk factor – not a determinant, but a risk factor – for being both a perpetrator and a victim of murder. And I didn’t even touch on the issue of other forms of violence, such as rape, but I’d love to hear the mental gymnastics that would be required to make the case that women are equally rapey. Please, enlighten me.

I’m not engaged in ‘gender-bashing,’, I’m not discounting the “vast majority of great guys.” I’m not pretending women aren’t capable of inflicting horror on others. I’m honoring the inexcusable number of senseless deaths each year by trying to understand how to prevent more of them. These aren’t sensationalist rare events. Murder is an everyday occurrence. Lesser forms of violence are even more frequent. Instead of being offended and self-righteous, how about figuring out how we can prevent this scourge?

Now I am ‘closed’ on this subject – for the immediate future, anyway.

Thanks for listening.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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5 Responses to Man Overboard

  1. ElleninNYC says:

    Being mentioned by Andrew Sullivan means you’ve touched a nerve. Bravo to you for writing about this – and please don’t stop.

    • Thanks so much. We need to keep the conversation moving forward!

      • I taught my daughter and home schooled her for a while so she would be successful. Now she is married and has a wonderful job as a software engineer. In college she won many awards for mathematics and engineering but she won awards in writing too. I spent most of my teaching efforts on teaching math and science. She excelled on own at most of the girl stuff like English. She got a 1540 on her SAT but to spite my training she still did better in language them math. My daughter blames the way classes are taught for the disparity in math. In most classes all the students are encouraged to share and discuss their ideas. In math it’s a competition where only one answer is right and the rest are wrong. The winner is the one who gets the right answer first. My daughter hated that and wished she could be in all girl classes. It’s not that she doesn’t like boys the problem is they are distracting and males and females have their own learning styles. Who knows if males have a genetic advantage but if there is it can be overcome by hard work like anything else. As for the highest level of achievement I think that it’s the male craziness that makes the difference. I believe far more men than women are willing waste 20 years trying to solve a problem that only offers a small chance of success.

  2. Peter says:

    The fact that the men are also the VICTIMS as well as the perpetrators is lost on many people. What I find especially disconcerting is that young men from *any* background–James Holmes was obviously white and well educated!–are likely to be perpetrators. In fact, one of the teenagers who committed the Columbine shootings drew hearts in his journals. Things like this need to be discussed and they aren’t!

    What I find especially saddening is that you clearly advocate for helping young men, but so few people pick up on it. I’m not sure how many advocates there are for the mental health and stability of young men, but there aren’t many.

    That said, I’m so sorry you’ve endured the abuse you’ve received from all of this. It’s deplorable that what should be an important and reasoned discussion is reduced to saying the cruelest things you can to a person who puts herself out there.

    If you’re open to discussing it, I’d be happy to do so. This is an important topic, and we’ll revisit it in the future the next time it happens anyway. I’d like to lend my insights. However, they shouldn’t be shared on the web. If you want to bury this topic for a longer time period, I understand.

    • Thanks very much for your comment. So important to recognize how much men suffer from our squeamishness about this topic. I’m a mother of sons and really do have a stake in this issue, as we all should. I might bury this for a while, as you say (because I’ve moved on to a more ‘neutral’ topic: the death penalty! LOL. But I’ll come back to it, for sure. Again, thank you.

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