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05 August 2018

The Board Race: Gender and Cooperation

My wife shared this video with me from Facebook:

Her analysis was spot-on sociologically so I wanted to share that as well. The women are much more successful at this game than the men are, but it might not be immediately obvious why. My wife pointed out that, while the men and women seem to be equally coordinated in their steps, the women start with their hands on each other's shoulders, giving them superior stability. The men refuse to touch each other at all. My first guess was that it was about homophobia, in that men are more reluctant to make physical contact with other men for fear that they will be judged as gay (and, per heteronormative/hegemonic/toxic masculinity, weak). My wife suggested that it might be broader. Women are allowed and even taught to make physical contact with each other. Part of this probably relates to the emotion work we demand of women (but not men). Traditional definitions of femininity allow for behavior that is otherwise socially sanctioned by traditional definitions of masculinity.

It's important to remember that even as we recognize (correctly) that men are generally given a structural advantage over women (see the pay gap), men are in some ways hamstrung by the very culture that otherwise privileges them. Just imagine all of the other, more consequential ways that gender stifles cooperation.

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