Note: This article is also available in Romanian.
Last month, a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) declared all men to be idiots. More recently, a new study claims that men have no empathy toward others except for themselves. You can almost set your clock to the steady stream of literature aimed to cast all men as uncaring, inferior beasts of nature.
The “idiot” study
The BMJ “idiot study” had little to do with real science and more to do with perpetuating the gynocentric social agenda to cast all men as inferior and to project women as superior.
In reality, men conform to a bimodal distribution of intelligence rather than the Gaussian distribution displayed by women. Men and women will have equal intelligence when you average everything out. When you analyze the distributions, you find, however, that there are more men who make up the lower distribution of the intelligence scale than there are women, but there are also more men on the higher intelligence scale than there are women. Some have argued that this distribution explains why you have more male geniuses but also have more male idiots. The (male) authors of this study conveniently left out this important former piece of evidence. But please don’t blame them—they probably fall into the lower spectrum of male intelligence.
For more information, I direct you to an excellent interview with Camille Paglia.
As mentioned, a more recent study concludes that women are more empathetic than men. Researchers used data from 20,000 people across Australia involved in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey to analyze how the mental health of individuals changed when something happened to their partner. One of the researchers, Dr. Cindy Mervin, stated:
It is not that men are unemotional or uncaring, since they are quite strongly affected by what happens to themselves, but they simply are not very emotional when it comes to the feelings of their partner.
This is a strong statement because it assumes that men are inferior when it comes to thinking about their partners and it claims that men are self-centered. I’d like to tell that to the three girls who lost their boyfriends during the James Holmes “Dark Knight” Aurora Massacre, when in a last act of heroism the boys covered their girlfriends with their own bodies—shielding and protecting them from gunfire. I bring this up because of the statistic: if one boy did this, it would be an anomaly, but that three young men acted independently to do this at one time speaks more to the nature of how men feel about others.
As someone accustomed to reviewing peer-reviewed research papers, I was, however, intrigued and wanted to get my hands on a copy of the analysis. Specifically I was interested to see how the HILDA study would have dealt with the rather difficult job of calibrating perceptions of empathy between the sexes? Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It is different from “sympathy” in one crucial detail—that is, for someone to be empathetic, you had to have experienced the ordeal before you can relate intimately with the other person.
If, for instance, a friend’s pet—let’s say his dog dies—you can sympathize with him, especially if you had your pet hamster die. However, unless you had a dog and experienced the dog’s death, you couldn’t empathize with your friend. Personally, I recall the day a friend called me up to say he was going to miss our previously scheduled engagement because his pet German shepherd had died. He fell into depression, and I recall meeting him a few days later and he cried his eyeballs out. I remember thinking, “Wow, Pete’s a really sensitive guy. It was just a dog … it’s not as if it were a human.” It wasn’t until a decade later when my wife and I decided to get a dog and then I lost “Buddy” to cancer a few years after that I was truly in a position to empathize with my friend and his loss. Even many years later, I still mourn the loss of Buddy—anyone who has experienced the loss of a dog knows what I’m talking about.
So having experienced the same traumatic event brings you that much closer to understanding the other person. But empathy gets more complicated because there are physical as well as psychological aspects—both which differ between the sexes. I can never empathize with a girl who is experiencing menstrual cramps, just like she’ll never know what it feels like to get kicked in the nuts. If researchers wanted to demonstrate that getting kicked in the balls was more painful, they would have to first find a way of quantifying the experience of pain. You would also have to control for any of the many factors that can influence your results. For instance, circumcised men tend to be more sensitive to pain than women.
I can’t comment on the study since I haven’t seen it yet; however, by the statement released from the researchers it appears that one measure was to determine how the mental health of individuals changed when something happened to their partner. Feeling depressed because your husband lost his job doesn’t necessarily mean you are depressed because you feel for him. It could also mean that you are concerned for your own livelihood. So I am eager to get a copy of the study and look at the types of questions that were asked in the study … and to determine how they analyzed the data. I hope I’ll have a follow-up article.
“What we’ve known all along”
In the pursuit to determine which sex is more empathetic, researchers often have to account for the fact that women appear to be able to assess the emotional states of others more accurately than men. That is something that science has determined now for some time. In particular, girls and women have an advantage over boys and men for accuracy in judging emotional cues based on facial expressions, body posture, and vocal intonation. A quick scan of the extensive number of articles that are covering this latest empathy study are also making the assertion that “it’s something we’ve known all along.” Intuitively, we make the (false) assertion that women must be more empathetic because they have this skill of reading emotions.
But does the ability to “read” emotions in people make you more empathetic?
Interestingly, it has been shown that psychopaths are often remarkably good at assessing the emotions of others. It has also been shown that psychopaths completely lack empathy. Now, the purpose here is not to make the assertion that women are psychopaths(!), but it illustrates an important point: that the ability to read emotions is separate from the ability to be empathetic. Psychopaths use the ability to read emotions for one reason and one reason only—for their own personal benefit.
Instead of trying to superficially describe the differences between men and women and make straw man assumptions that purport a “win” in the tally of male/female differences, we should really focus on how our differences complement each other. And in the unlikely event that men are shown to be less empathetic, the data from these studies should be used to find ways to help improve the disadvantaged group—not to make them feel less valued as human beings.