Let’s talk about male hormones

Testosterone

Ladies, have I got a protip for you! Do not Google any topic that includes the words female, leadership, and hormones. Don’t do it because you will see pages and pages of articles like this and this and this, leading you to assault your own computer, and repairs will be expensive. Also, “hormones” will be blamed for the tech-assault.

Since the dawn of time, men have splained why female biology is a disqualifier for BIG JOBS. You know, the kinds of jobs requiring rational thought, steady nerves, and unwavering emotional control. Some women (see the first “this” hyperlink above, or just conjure up Phyllis Schlafly in your mind) are so hoodwinked by patriarchy, so self-loathing, and so intent on defending their captors from inside a bank vault in Sweden that they aid and abet male gaslighting of women over their menstrual cycles or their menopause, and then collect some good-girl cookies.

It’s as if females, from the time of their first period until they are dead, just can’t be trusted because they have ovaries. And those ovaries (and other glands) produce — or stop producing — female hormones. These opposite things are somehow simultaneously baaaad! Have some estrogen and progesterone cycling around in your body? Go lie down with a heating pad. Getting older and experiencing a decrease in those hormones? Just go lie down — your erotic capital is all used up, batty old girl. Breastfeeding a baby? Now you’ve got an artisanal cocktail of oxytocin and prolactin making magic in your boobies and killing your brain cells at the same time. It’s a wonder you can get the shopping done.

I puzzle over what it’s like to evade such extreme cognitive dissonance. Does one essentially have to reroute the normal thinking process to arrive at the preordained conclusion through some neural wormhole? Wait, don’t answer that. I have a better idea.

Let’s talk about male hormones! They’re the best kind, am I right? The smart kind. The leadership kind. Male hormones have never caused any problematic emotions or behaviors in men, have they? Testosterone = The Good Stuff. It’s so good, let’s review some male leaders from history who have paved the way to a better world with their testosterone:

Caligula

Attila the Hun

Genghis Khan

Pol Pot

Ivan the Terrible (really terrible guy)

Adolf Hitler

Vlad the Impaler (don’t read about him)

The Josef’s—Stalin and Mengele

Joseph Kony (spelled the right way)

Muammar Gaddafi (however you spell it)

Everyone in ISIS

Everyone in Boko Haram

Idi Amin Dada

Kim Jong-il & un (I scratched them off because I’m kind of worried now)

Osama Bin Laden

Saddam Hussein

Nero

Ayaytollah Khomeini

Mao Zedong

Hosni Mubarak

The names of all other committers of genocide I (shamefully) can’t remember (Rwandan, Serbo-Croation, Armenian, Native American, etc.)

Such a misleadingly short list, but it’s off the top of my head, so cut me some slack. There must be a better list somewhere on the Internet of 1500 of the world’s most evil, cruel, and corrupt leader types, and there’s probably 1489 men on it and 11 women. Oh, and I forgot to add Wayne LaPierre. Shoot.

What’s that you say? Women have a little testosterone too, and men have a little estrogen? You can’t just blame testosterone for men people who exercise poor judgment and do violent things? “Women are violent too?” I know, I know. I look around the world and all I see is female violence. “What about how society shapes what it means to be a man and how men are viewed?” Great point! Kind of the same point for all those women judged incompetent for leadership.

Back to male hormones. There are good things about testosterone, like the way it builds strong bones and muscles, or makes guys grow sexy chest hair. But I’m seeing a pattern to violence and aggression and the clouded judgment that unleashes that angry poison onto the world, namely that it is usually male. In fact, we’ve kind of got a history of problematic male leadership because of their… shhhhh… h o r m o n e s.

I’ve got an idea. How about if all hormone-having humans get to be leaders, and no penis-having humans make a red herring issue out of the hormones of vagina-having humans? Because that might be a tad hypocritical, and also, dickish. We could also ask vagina-having humans not to do the men’s dirty work for them by also hyperbolizing about female hormones. It’s a small request, really, not much to ask at all.

It’s all settled then! So glad.

Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. She is the author of Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, and speaks on the topic of raising confident girls in a disempowering marketing and media culture. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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  • Huffy Snappy

    About seeing male violence and stupidity:

    To Lori’s list of staggeringly evil male leaders….IMO, one of the problems with there having been so many of these guys, is that our society’s collective knowledge of their crimes sets such a low standard (that’s an inadequate descriptor, I know) for male behaviour, that it seems to enable society to be blind to everyday male evil behaviours in the public and domestic spheres.

    1-2 women murdered every week in Australia by a male intimate partner? Tony Abbott as Australian Prime Minister, with his cabinet almost entirely full of men, of the calibre of Joe Hockey, George Brandis, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison et al? *No worries, mate.* Sure, there’s *some* awareness and discussion that these are perhaps not good things. But where is the widespread public outrage even approaching that of what Julia Gillard faced simply for being in charge (PM) while female?

    I think it would be great if we could flip the gender ratio of our current government to be predominantly female – but not only for the reasons that I’ve heard suggested previously. Because I predict that if it were almost all women in charge (not just one or two – and no a female PM is not equivalent to a male PM with an almost all male cabinet, despite how threatening and new she may seemed to some men), the amount of crappy and downright evil policy being passed by the government would slow to a trickle, simply because the amount of scrutiny and suspicion on these women would allow people to *see* bad policy when it was introduced to parliament.

    My point, clumsily made, is that men in power do stupid, self-interested, incompetent, cruel and sometimes downright evil things all the time, and yet because of the comfortable familiarity of having a bunch of white guys in charge, we so often let them get away with it, almost as if we don’t *see* the full awfulness and consequences of it. We grumble, but it all seems inevitable and not too bad really unless we are personally substantially materially affected by the policy within the election cycle when the policy is made. Whereas if a woman does practically anything at all, we scrutinise and complain and judge and doubt. If we had a bunch of women in charge of our country, the electorate might feel more motivated to get involved in shaping public policy again, even if it would be ugly to start with and would probably result in a backlash against women even more hideous that what we are experiencing right now.

    Of course, I don’t *know* any of this. But really, could any woman get away with being Federal Treasurer while being as economically illiterate (and whiny-sounding) as good old Joe Hockey?

  • While I am no fan of North Korea or Gaddafi, the list does seem to have a bit of a pro-capitalist, pro-West bias. It lists all the people that the West considers to be “bad guys”, though to be fair, a lot of these people clearly are. Though I certainly have no love for ISIS, Hitler and the like, I cannot help but notice that Christopher Columbus (who almost wiped out the native population of the Latin American island he landed on, Honduras, I believe), Cortes (another Spanish conqueror), Franco (fascist dictator who ruled Spain), Mussolini, Pinochet (fascist dictator who ruled Chile after coming to power through a coup in which 20,000 people were tortured and killed), the Israeli generals responsible for the continuing occupation of Palestine and the white men who almost wiped out the Aboriginal population of Australia are all notably absent from the list.

    The regimes of Stalin and Mao were somewhat more nuanced than Western culture and education make them out to be. For one thing, many people living under these rulers genuinely admired them and some Russian and Chinese people still do. Liberals will insist that prostitution is acceptable because a minority of women in it, enjoy it. By the same reasoning, they should support these leaders, but of course standard liberal, relativist reasoning gets tossed out the window when discussing self-proclaimed socialist regimes. All of a sudden it becomes okay to ignore people who feel “empowered” by a regime, or accuse these people of being brainwashed and imply that the cultural expressions of these nations are without a doubt boring/oppressive/inferior, because they are “too political”.

    While I do not deny that these leaders exercised dictatorial rule and that their policies lead to starvation and death, there are some pretty impressive accomplishments associated with their rule as well. Life expectancy rose dramatically under both leaders. This means that while millions of people died because of them, there are millions more that would have died young, but did not, because of the economic development that they brought about.

    Is this enough to justify putting them in charge? I don’t think so, since a good leader should do their best to reduce the number of people who die from their policies, even if other people are benefiting, but given all the emphasis that liberal academics like to put on “nuance” and “complexity” and how nobody is “pure evil” (nobody the left opposes at least) you think they would acknowledge this fact, on occasion. Along with the fact that the status of women in China was greatly improved under Mao’s rule.

    I have seen a liberal academic claim that when women entered the workplace in Maoist China (including entering into traditionally-male jobs) it did not really count as “women’s liberation”, because these women did not bring their high heels, lipstick (and other symbols of Western feminity, which are suddenly obligatory everywhere, inspite of the insistance on “cultural relativism” in other contexts) with them, thus in the eyes of this academic women had not really entered these workplaces. I must admit, I laughed when I read it, because it is so absurd and insulting. Whatever you think about Mao, women are human being, not a means of transporting femininity into male-dominated situations.

    Though Mao used somewhat authoritarian means to discourage harmful practices and failed to subject masculinity to the same critique that he applied to femininity (a common issue among male-dominated radical left movements), I think he generally had the right idea when it came to opposing (both Western and traditional Chinese) beauty practices. Now that Mao and his “femmephobia” are gone, women in China have the “freedom” to whiten their skin, surgerically alter their faces, jam silicon into their chests and break their legs bones (literally) for the sake of looking like pornified Westerners. How empowering, NOT! China did not even become democratic once it opened itself up to Western capitalism. When is the mainstream culture going to learn that capitalism does equal democracy? Probably around the same time that they learn that “woman” does not equal “high-heel wearing, make-up plastering, nuturing ass shaker”.

    Academics would no doubt accuse me of being a fanatical supporter of Stalin and Mao (even though I do not view myself as a supporter of these men and would prefer it if revolutionary socialism and gender abolition had been implemented in a more democratic manner), but my approach to them is far more “complex” and two-sided than the garbage they come up with. I actually acknowledge that these leaders had good and bad sides to them, an acknowledge which, in modern day academia, is only okay when applied to fascists, like Pinochet.

    Where these men (and others on the list) did go wrong, I do not think it was fundamentally because of their hormones. In fact a person’s hormone level can actually be influenced by their situation. For example, if a person is placed in a dominant position or behaves in a dominant manner, their body responds by producing dominance related hormones (see this talk for more information https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc).

    I think that violent dictators are generally raised in environments that encourage authoritarianism and they carry that through into their political practice, even if they reject the particular authoritarian ideology that they were raised with. For example, Stalin was raised in an extremely religious environment and later applied the authoritarian thinking associated with Christianity to socialism (though authoritarianism is contrary to the true spirit of revolutionary socialism in my view). Of course masculinity (i.e. the behaviours that are shoved down boys throats, with the aim of turning into “real men”) has a lot to do with it too. I do not think it is a coincidence that almost all authoritarian rulers are men, though if a women ever made it into such a position it will probably be because she took on traits labelled as “masculine” by society (e.g. aggression, dominance, selfishness, etc.) This is why we need to abolish authoritarian structures, not just put different people in charge.

    It is great to be back on Feminist Current, though I personally find the new look a little odd. I will take some time for me to get used to it.

    • Rotifer

      I don’t think interpretations of these leaders should be subject to relativism. If you read “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin” the reign of terror of the latter becomes quite evident. What revolution has really benefited women. The Russian revolution. There was a lot of gender-based discrimination in the USSR. Feminism was considered bourgeois and counterrevolutionary by Russian revolutionaries. There were benefits during the height of the revolutionary period. But were those retained moving forward? You look at most revolutions and though women participate actively they are rarely rewarded for their contributions as men are. Look at the American revolution, the French revolution. Even the changes made to status of women in China didn’t outlast Mao. If you are depending on a charismatic leader to carry the day, what happens when the leader dies. I can see males supporting violent revolution. I still see many problems for women in such cases. Interestinglyan article on communist China talks about women being recruited into prostitution/forced marriage with the promise of a factory job. Instead they are beaten, and raped making them unmarriageable, and trapping them. They were sold as brides to highest bidder. Female infanticide also re-emerged after it was outlawed in 1949. Sex selective abortions (ultrasound tech facilitated) has led to skewing of male/female sex ratios in China in modern times.

      https://www.iusb.edu/ugr-journal/static/2000/pdf/fulton.pdf

      I don’t think it is simplistic to say that women should be cautious about joining revolutionary movements, especially movements run by men. I wouldn’t ever depend on the kindness of men, stranger or no.

      • polina

        Yes all movements which include men eventually subordinate women, unfortunately. Even so called socialists.

        About relativism, it really depends which source you read. There is a book which DEFINITELY PROVES that communism is the most murderous system in history. And there are other books that disprove it. You can’t trust either side, really.

        It’s just that the USA currently has better PR.

    • polina

      I don’t really think all these men in power need defending either. But let’s at least be fair in condemning the ruling class of men. USA’s lies and manipulations are just too much for me to bear at the moment.

      But I also have some other reservations on this article, “ladies”. I think it’s very simplistic.

      So, did we conclude that testosterone is the original cause for patriarcy? If that’s so, there’s not much we can do about it!

      Male supremacists accuse feminists of assuming that all men are automatically violent, and at the same time explain that men “can’t control themselves” and that they need sex or they will rape. Just as men trying to disqualify women by talking about our hormones is absurd, so is chalking up male supremacy to male hormones.

      Research has not yet confirmed any definite causal relation between testosterone and agression, contrary to general opinion.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2029601
      http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/cognoculture/testosterone_and_human_aggression_or_180520

      Engels and later socialists, also Simone de Beauvoir, had a theory that the origin of patriarchy lies in the start of private ownership.

      http://discovermagazine.com/1995/aug/apesofwrath548
      This article says that men suceeded to subordinate women by sticking together.

      I’m actually confused by some radical separatist feminists which claim men are inherently evil and are not able to change, and simultaneously agree with the criticism of patriarchy. Which says that opression of women was socially constructed. What now? And it is also very essentialist, because from that conclusion it follows, that women are in turn inherently good. Which was always an excuse to subordinate us – because we are supposedly nurturing and pacifistic. I think men are just ENCOURAGED to use their strenght and be agressive, and taught that they own and control women. In capitalism, if it is not stopped, women will just increasingly be viewed as a property and men will be increasingly violent and power-hungry.

      • If hormones are tied to genetics, we can alter the genetics of male babies prior to birth (not encouraging this option, just pointing out that exists, I would prefer to end women’s oppression to social change).

        Yeah, male liberal and MRA arguments (which, honestly are more or less the same) are very contradictory. They accuse feminists of hating men while attributing all sorts of characters to themselves which I see as negative (e.g. violent, aggression and inability to survive without sex). I guess they want these behaviours to be seen as positive, because they are supposedly natural. How totally psychopathic, right?

        I would not be at all surprised if testosterone (I’m not qualified to say whether it is or not) did cause aggression, since I do not believe in any kind of mystical soul that inhabits the human body, so all thoughts and actions must be associated with some kind of biological trait (e.g. a hormone or a physical brain characteristic.) However, for some reason people assume that biological means innate/genetic. This is not the case. Just because we have grouped the study of hormones and the study of genetics are the common category of “biology” in order to enable scientists to study these phenomena better, does not mean that hormones are completely controlled by genetics. They could be controlled by external social phenomena (see the video in my previous comment). I think that social and cognitive psychology are somewhat undervalued by those researching the biological side of psychology and that these areas might be more closely linked than we think.

        The idea that male domination is socially constructed is not strictly incompatible with the idea that men cannot be changed. There was a time when society was seen as malleable and human bodies were seen as unchanging. Now things have kind of reversed. Modern capitalism and patriarchy is seen as permanent (I think the insistance that alternatives to capitalism, such socialism and anarchism, are completely evil plays a role in creating this impression) and people are encouraged to change their bodies (which have recently become highly malleable, though at a profound economic and health-related cost) and attitudes to match the system.

        I have not seen many instances of radical feminists expressing such cynical thinking with regard to patriarchy, but it is understable considering that powerful social forces are stacked against them and proponents of the dominant ideology (liberalism, within the context of academia) have almost erased radical feminism from the minds of students are made it seem like everyone is against it. Liberals make radicals feel demoralised and then attack them for feeling demoralised, it’s really infuriating. But support for radical feminism is out there, you just have to look outside the box a little and try to bypass any kind of communication which is directly regulated by universities (or other capitalist enterprises). I have found that participating in research studies has been a great way to find support, since university ethics dictate that the contents of such studies remain confidential. Of course, your experiences may vary.

        You’re totally right about how the idea that women are inherently good and altruistic has been used to control them. The same is true for native people’s. White conquerers sometimes said that indigenous peoples were all nice, sweet and gentle to suggest that they wouldn’t mind having their land taken from them and if they put up even the slightest bit of resistance that meant they were savages. There really is no such thing as a “positive stereotype”.

        As for applying relativism to self-proclaimed socialist regimes, I do not endorse relativism with regard to either reality or morality, ever. Liberals are the ones preaching relativism and then casting it aside when they want to condemn some socialist or radical feminist. However, I think there is merit to recognising that human beings are generally not purely good or purely evil (which is different from relativism, the position that no human actions can ever be labelled good or evil, because everything is a matter of opinion.)

        Just because there are contradictory viewpoints being presented, does not mean there is “no real truth”. It just means that discovering the truth will require effort. I think the most accurate way to describe Stalin and Mao would be to say that they were powerful men who were able to bring about very dramatic changes in their respective countries because of their power and some of these changes were extremely good and others were extremely bad. Having the economy under the control of a conscious entity enables that entity to do a lot more than they otherwise would (both good things and bad things), which is why I would prefer it if the economy was under the control of a conscious entity which was also democratic (i.e. one which was elected by and represented the workers of particular country). The problem with the Soviet Union and Maoist China was not the existance of planned economies, but the lack of democracy.

  • Samantha

    That list really could be a whole.

    lot.

    longer.

    Heh. Great post.This is such a great point and I don’t know why I don’t remember these things when sexist men (like my coworker who has an office adjoining mine…) make sexist comments about Hilary Clinton not being competent because hormones.

    An aside: Right wing coworker also said that if a trans woman wanted to be more convincing as a woman, she should shave her armpits. I was thankful I could point to my sister, who he has hit on, and say, “Well ____________ doesn’t shave her armpits. You know women grow hair there, right?” Sighs.

  • Tobysgirl

    Yes, I would remind the author that there were more women professors at the university in Baghdad in the 1990s than there are currently at Princeton. Before authors write such stuff, they really need to do serious research or confine themselves to obvious baddies such as Hitler and American presidents.

  • Sarah Slamen

    I was disappointed in this piece but would rather email the author directly.

  • Rotifer

    “The names of all other committers of genocide I (shamefully) can’t
    remember (Rwandan, Serbo-Croation, Armenian, Native American, etc.)”

    There are no “fluffy bunny” peoples, just people (well males in a community) so bereft that they don’t have the ability to respond violently to their neighbors. Violence between Indigenous groups also occurred – frequently. Spinning history is never a good thing.

    From Richard Wyman’s lecture entitled “From Ape to Human”

    Archaeological analysis of an Indigenous North American settlement from 1325 AD (200 years before contact) – remains of 500 men, women and children. Victims were scalped, mutilated and left exposed to animal scavengers as a form of punishment for the victims. Archaeology documents warfare in every well-documented region for last 10,000 years. Wyman asks the question ‘how many extant people/groups currently living in small scale societies are truly peaceful?’ Anthropologists have found that 90-95% of known societies have been involved in war. Out of 50 societies, 45 engaged in war frequently, 4 of them did not engage in war because they had been driven into isolated regions (so just no possibility for). Example he gives is of the Aymara Indians on an island in Lake Titicaca in Peru. The peaceful group, the Monachie, who live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California are called peaceful because they only rarely go to war. No inherently peaceful peoples exist.

    He also talks about a book entitled “War before Civilization” (Lawrence Keeley), really a meta-analysis of all data on the subject. On percent of male deaths by warfare, 50-60% due to war. CIvilized or state-based warfare (Aztecs, Napoleonic wars, US/Europe in 20th century), fraction of deaths caused by war decreasing. States depend on identifying in- and out-groups. Very different morals towards in- and out-groups. In-groups can grow due to modern communication methods.

    I don’t agree that women are peaceful, they too often play the role
    of cheerleaders for war. And shamers of those who refuse to participate –
    conscientious objectors (my uncle was one in WW2, but in lieu of a work
    camp he enlisted as a medic). Look at WW1. Some women sent all of
    their sons to war. Their beliefs (Christian) were very similar to those
    of the mothers of modern day suicide bombers, that their sons’ sacrifice was a noble sacrifice.
    In some cases all of their sons died – they maintained their party line
    of the nobility of the sacrifice.

    http://oyc.yale.edu/molecular-cellular-and-developmental-biology/mcdb-150