The Lie of Socialization Creating our Differences: Part One Testosterone
Men and boys live in a world dissimilar to that of women and girls and very few see this difference. Most people reading this will scoff and say there are no differences or if there are they are minimal. This view is understandable since this is what has been taught in schools, popularized by our media and sadly reinforced by our mental health professionals as well. Recent peer-reviewed research is building a strong body of evidence in support of these critical differences.
Despite growing evidence, the media and mental health professions continue to perpetuate the same misleading claims. This can only go on for so long before the pubic begins to learn they have omitted important information. Research in the last 10 to 15 years clearly shows the powerfully different worlds we live in. The current messaging that all of our differences are due solely to socialization is falling apart before our eyes and it is scientific research that is largely evaporating those myths.
There are four factors that are instrumental in making boys’ and girls’ worlds exceedingly different. It is unlikely you can understand men and boys without understanding these four things.
The factors are:
- The Male Hierarchy
- Precarious Manhood
- Moral Typecasting
We will look at each of these four factors one by one and give a short synopsis of how each impacts boys and men.
For too many years the cultural assumption about testosterone was that it was some sort of evil juice that pushed men to hostility and violence. Some continue to think this is fact. However, we know now this is far from the truth. With improved research techniques scientists have now begun to understand that testosterone is not about violence, it is instead about striving for status. Testosterone literally pushes men, young men, and to a lesser degree, boys, to strive for status. You can see this play out with boys and men wanting to come in first, to be on top, to be associated with a winning team and so on. Women will usually observe this and not understand. They are left perplexed about why this sort of thing is so important to men and boys: why does he have to win all the time? Since women and girls have only a fraction of the testosterone of boys and men we wouldn’t expect them to understand the experience and impact of this hormone. Nor would we expect them to understand the other things that testosterone does.
What do we now know it does? Testosterone lowers fear. This gives men an advantage in competitions. Testosterone also increases their willingness to take risks. Put those two together and you have a powerful duo that again aids in competitive situations. Testosterone also offers a built-in stress reducer. Didn’t win that time, don’t worry, you can do it, just get up and try again (Think Edison and the light bulb). And finally, testosterone offers a natural tendency towards threat vigilance. This means that testosterone pushes men to defend their status. If someone challenges a man’s status testosterone is there telling him to not let that pass, to defend his status. This is all very different from the female default. And this tendency to defend one’s status is yet another area where women tend to be confused about men and boys. She thinks to herself, “Hey, why can’t he just let that go?”
Sadly, our boys are also clueless about the impact of testosterone. They have never been taught that they have a natural tendency to defend their status or that they are pushed by their biology to strive for status. Most boys know what comes naturally to them but they don’t know that it is sometimes related to their hormones. They have never been taught that they are prone to take more risks or that their fear is likely less than girls’ fear. These sorts of things need to be taught to our boys. They both deserve and need to know their uniqueness. Having this sort of knowledge makes it one step simpler to deal with our nature and to understand that our hormones play a role in our daily lives and adjust accordingly. It is a huge disservice to our boys to consistently tell them that they need to act more like the girls, as our media and mental health professionals do. Boys are good as they are, and need to hear the uniqueness and the positives about their sex and for adults to help them understand themselves.
So the first factor in boys and men living in a different world is that hormones impact their daily life. Testosterone pushes him to strive for status, gives him resiliency, lowers his fear and raises his risk taking while it increases his tendency to defend his status. These are not small differences.
Next up will be the impact on men and boys of living in the male hierarchy.
To learn more about the impact of testosterone and related research, see Eisenegger’s work.