Men, Women, and Intragender Relationships

While researching another post for this site, I came across something that bugged me.  It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, mind you, but that didn’t change anything.

I was looking into any studies done to describe why men rag one another so hard when we interact.  While reading one page, however, someone commented that men are essentially built for conflict and competition, while women are built around the idea of cooperation.

And all I can say to that is that it’s complete bull.

One advantage to not finding my way in life until a more seasoned age is that I was given a great many opportunities to work in numerous environments.  One of the more enlightening options happened to be when I worked in a mental health clinic where most of the staff I interacted with were female.

Backstabbing, gossip, and other stereotypical behaviors that paint women in a negative light were obvious.  What cooperation there existed only so the parties involved could keep their job.

Honestly, it was completely different than anywhere else I worked which had mostly consisted of either male-dominated workplaces or places with enough of a mix that it didn’t matter.

“But that’s just one place.  That doesn’t mean it’s the norm.”

No, it doesn’t.  However, I’m also married to a woman who has worked in more of those female dominated environments, and her experience looks awfully similar to mine.

To some extent, it makes sense that it’s really this way.

Take a look at how men have functioned for eons.  While we often compete with one another, we’re also incredibly cooperative.  Hunting mammoth with spears, for example, was a task that demanded it.  Building monuments, homes, and other structures did as well.  Fighting wars, even on a small tribal scale, also needed cooperation.

Men have always cooperated with one another, but because we also compete, it seems to boggle women’s minds.  “How can you compete and cooperate with the same people?”

It’s complicated, but to get a hint at how it works, watch two guys get into a fistfight.  They’ll throw down and try to kill one another in one minute, but once it’s over?  They’re fine.  They might go and get a beer together, even.

Men evolved to compete with one another within the tribe for various things such as the attentions of women, but we also evolved a mechanism to put all that away to deal with outside threats.  That same mechanism allows men to compete within the workplace, then work together on a project without the conflict.

Somewhere along the way, however, women were branded as the “cooperators” for some reason, and I’m still trying to figure out how that happened.  There’s remarkably little in our history that would account for that particular evolutionary trait developing, but the idea persists still today.

Obviously, women can cooperate, otherwise, there would be absolutely zero possibility that anyone would be fooled into thinking they could.  I’m not arguing that.  Not really.

What I’m arguing, however, is that women are not as naturally cooperative as some try to argue.  By that, I mean they’re not more cooperative than men, necessarily.

Take a look at the New York skyline.  Hell, take a look at the skyline of any major city.  You know who built all that?  Men who were cooperating with one another.

Now, take a look at the Great Pyramids of Giza.  That was also built by men who were cooperating with one another.

Admittedly, the reasons for that cooperating were different, but the essential truth is still there.  Men have always cooperated with one another.  The evidence is all around us.

So why does this perception continue to exist?

It’s possible that my original research topic hinted at the reason.

Men and women interact very differently.  For example, this cartoon illustrates the experiences of many people:


Now, this isn’t indicative of all friendships, but there are a couple of things to note.

First, guys are harsh with their friends.

Years ago, a friend of mine and his wife had their first child, a boy.  My wife and I went to visit them in the hospital.

The next day while I was at work, I emailed my friend.  “Good looking boy. He looks just like his daddy,” I told him.

“You think so?” he replied.

“Yep.  He’s got my eyes and everything.”

I’d just implied that I not only had sex with his wife but also fathered a child with her.  Had we not been friends, this would have been a call for blows to be thrown.

Instead, he simply replied, “That reminds me.  I need to get your ass on a street corner so you can start earning some child support.”

From the outside, we look incredibly uncooperative.  Nothing was further from the truth, however.  He and I had worked closely on projects previously and had worked with together, hence the friendship.

Meanwhile, from the outside, the female relationship may appear to be far more cooperative.  Especially if you know they don’t like each other, since we assume they put feelings aside for whatever tasks they were undertaking.

That cooperation, however, is a sham.  I’ve worked in these kinds of environments. More importantly, however, so has my wife.  She’s been neck deep in these kinds of places and seen the cattiness up close and personal.  The data gleaned from her experiences mirrors my own.

Additionally, a female friend of ours who now works in a male-dominated workplace has confided in me previously that she finds far less backstabbing and cattiness in her new environment.

Based on this admittedly anecdotal data, I can’t help but wonder if the reason women are perceived as being more cooperative is more an illusion than actual reality.