Women Do Not Benefit: The Science

The most basic gender role in our society is this:

Men act; women are acted upon.

This paradigm is old; it is also vast. It shows up in every culture on Earth and during every time period. We may, ourselves, have inherited this essentially patriarchal construct of reality from our cultural ancestors, the Romans. C J Cherry writes, in her primer on Latin:

First of all, not every human born thinks in the same order. […] Let me show you the Latin thought pattern.


Right there. That’s it. Which sex do you think Roman’s saw as naturally ‘acted upon’ and which as natural ‘actors’?

Modern science has also identified this deep dichotomy. Gray and Wegner write in Moral Typecasting: Divergent Perceptions of Moral Agents and Moral Patients:

Moral agency is the capacity to do right or wrong, whereas moral patiency is the capacity to be a target of right or wrong. [...] Across a range of targets and situations, good- and evil-doers (moral agents) were perceived to be less vulnerable to having good and evil done to them. The recipients of good and evil (moral patients), in turn, were perceived as less capable of performing good or evil actio

Across a range of targets and situations, good- and evil-doers (moral agents) were perceived to be less vulnerable to having good and evil done to them. The recipients of good and evil (moral patients), in turn, were perceived as less capable of performing good or evil actions. Moral typecasting stems from the dyadic nature of morality and explains curious effects such as people’s willingness to inflict greater pain on those who do good than those who do nothing.

People are type cast into moral agents and moral patients. Moral agents do things, moral patients have things done to them. What’s really important to note is that we think people are one or the other, not both. Also important is that a villain is typecast in the same ‘classification’ as a hero, they’re both moral actors. In fact we see villains as closer to heroes then either are to victims.

Now that we’ve taken a quick look at just how deep and pervasive this paradigm is, what are its effects?

Let’s look at some findings about smart girls. Heidi Grant in The Trouble With Bright Girls[1] writes about Carol Dweck who studied fifth graders in the 1980s and how they approached new and difficult material.

She found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.


At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty — what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.


Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

Notice how the boys Carol Dweck describe believe their actions are what count, not their current level of abilities. They know if they work at it, they’ll achieve results. The girls, on the other hand, are convinced that their actions are meaningless.

This phenomena is just another reflection of moral typecasting. The girls see themselves as passive, unchanging moral patients whose actions have no effect; the boys recognize themselves as dynamic moral actors whose actions have results.

Remember again that moral actors are not villains or heroes, but both. Both villains and heroes capable of doing bad and good.

Ms. Grant continues:

We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because Bright Girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves — women who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.

Women have been taught their actions have no real consequence either to their lives or anyone else’s. They’ve internalized the gender role that women don’t act, instead they are acted upon. Because of that when women encounter something challenging, say, inventing a new type of music, trying to understand calculus, negotiating a raise, they simply give up.

As a species we really love this particular dichotomy and there are some benefits to women in engaging in excising their own agency (it’s all in the finding that people prefer to cause moral agents suffering then moral patients) but when it comes to achievement, women will always find themselves on the short end of the stick.

The wage gap? Yep. The last female getting a nobel prize for theoretical physics in 1963? You bet. The lack of women in STEM fields? Better believe this is why.[4]

Promoting the moral typecasting of women as victims diminishes their ability to rise to a challenge and overcome it. It chains them to a system in which they always must appeal to their betters, oops, I mean moral agents to save them. It excises their agency, and with it much of their belief in their own potency and self worth.

Moral typecasting women as victims is toxic.

Every time we knee-jerk seeing women as ‘acted upon’ absence evidence or in the presence of evidence that refutes it, we are engaging in furthering this archaic gender socialization that limits and belittles women. Every ‘but women are hurt more’ or ‘women are the real victims’ or ‘women and children first!’

Traditions are very hard to change and this tradition is carved deep into our collective psyche, so deep that the people who defy it are very few. The people who promote it, on the other hand, are loud, powerful and many.

[1] Latin 1: The Easy Way.

[2] Moral Typecasting: Divergent Perceptions of Moral Agents and Moral Patients.

[3] The Trouble With Bright Girls. Bright Girls and Math.

[4] Yes there may also be biological causes, however until we live in a society that doesn’t engage in these particular shenanigans, we won’t know for sure.

36 thoughts on “Women Do Not Benefit: The Science

  1. Much the same as casting women as “innately” victims is toxic, the same could be argued of many mainstream archetypes of feminine empowerment. Often, the focus is on women who are “innately” empowered, because they have “girl power” or are “strong/independent/empowering adjective women”. The emphasis is still on women who possess empowering traits, as opposed to women who do empowering things.

  2. Fascinating post TB.

    I wonder to what extent the moral agent/moral patient dichotomy is related to perceptions of power. Consider the following two hypothetical:

    1) A group of people beats up a fit athlete.
    2) A group of people beats up a frail librarian.

    There seems (to me at least) to be some sort of drive to label the second incident as more repugnant than the first, solely on the basis of the perceived ability (not moral agency) of the victim. This is despite the fact that a bit of strength or athletic ability isn’t going to help much when significantly outnumbered. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see that anyone who is a moral agent (i.e someone who has enacted their will onto someone else) could be assumed to have a certain amount of power or ability, which would lead to them being seen as less significant moral patients/victims.

    This would mean that seeing women as victims is likely tied to the assumption that in society men hold more power than women. Seeing men as having significant privilege will lead to them being consistently cast as the moral agents, and women as the moral patients.

  3. I really appreciate most of your views but you are way off base with your frequent claims that women don’t benefit from this stuff.

    Untold billions of dollars are going to women’s groups to alleviate their perceived victimhood.

    Female criminals literally get a “get out of jail free” card.

    Women get to enlist State enforcers to brutalize any man she points a finger at and cries “rape.”

    Women are treated with kid gloves in many workplaces, on account of her victimhood, while men (especially single men) are perceived as expendable beasts of burden.

    These are just a few examples.

    I agree that Feminism harms women in some ways, but it also benefits them way more. Which is why women will never give it up, and would rather see their male loved ones sacrificed rather than give it up.

    Frankly, you just seem naive and disingenuous to keep claiming that women don’t benefit from this stuff.

  4. “First of all, not every human born thinks in the same order. […] Let me show you the Latin thought pattern.

    Latin is not the most obvious example of what oyu are tlaking about, although oddly it does preserve some traces in fossil form of another sytem that explicitly takes agency/non-agency into account.

    Active-stative languages, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active%E2%80%93stative_language, build their case systems of marking noun arguements on this agent/acted upon distinction. A lot of North American languages work(ed) this way. Something similar is going on in Salashan languages with the contrl suffixes – verbs are lexically either volitional or not and you have suffixes to add to switch that, and you are required to mark the switch.

    Not that the putative ancestor of Latin appears to have been organized like this also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active%E2%80%93stative_language#Reconstructed_Languages.

    And even in historical Latin there were traces of this in the case and gender system. The suffix fo masculine accusative (the acted upon argument) is very similar to that for the neuter nominative (actor) which suggets that neuter nouns at one time could not really be actors.

    Here’s the thing: the disctinction was not masculine/feminine, it was anaimate/inanimate. Oh. Well that doesn’t defeat Typhon’s argument, because you have to factor in the cultural values informing that langauge and its grammatical system. In Latin and Greek cultures women were considered animate of course but not fully human – not quite rational and not self-disciplined enough to act on reason and override their emotions. This put them on the level of barbarians.

  5. @ Ginko

    The whole Roman language thing was just flavouring. The meat of my article is the findings about moral actors/moral patients.

  6. @ Yes, Women Do Benefit

    “Untold billions of dollars are going to women’s groups to alleviate their perceived victimhood.”

    And you’re assuming that people who are invested in keeping women victims are the same people who are going to help them stop being victims. We also pour billions into keeping cattle alive, but it’s not really to be benefit of cows.

    “Women get to enlist State enforcers to brutalize any man she points a finger at and cries “rape.””

    Let me put it this way. Me having the ‘rape finger’ power is not a benefit to me because I’m not a sociopath who gets her rocks off in destroying other people. It’s only a benefit to female sociopaths, who, incidentally, often get carte blanche to make my life miserable too. (Even if they can’t point the ‘rape finger’ at me.) Also, it scares the bejeezus out of me the idea that any of my male family members can get the ‘rape finger’ pointed at them.

    “Female criminals literally get a “get out of jail free” card.”

    Again, this only benefits female sociopaths. Women who aren’t evil don’t benefit and, in fact, are hurt by the invisibility of the female sociopath. Ask any three year old daughter of a father she loves and never gets to see. Or a woman raped by another woman. Or a child turned into an emotional shit can by her mother.

    Now I’m not saying that women are hurt *more* then men by the invisibility of female sociopathy. But you also have to add in the equation the fact that the normal woman is subject to socialization that reduces her agency so that society can enable the female sociopath in her sociopathy.

    “Women are treated with kid gloves in many workplaces, on account of her victimhood, while men (especially single men) are perceived as expendable beasts of burden.”

    Yep. And they also never learn to stand on their own two feet and deal. This kind of lesson is essential if you ever want to stare down your own demons and achieve anything.

    As for ‘treating men as expendable beasts of burden’… my husband is, bare none, the most important person in my life. Luckily he’s too old to be drafted and he spends most of his time with me so I don’t have to worry about conscription or false accusations, but whenever I see the gaping lack of empathy and care for men it scares the living beejezus out of me. Because that gun is aimed at my husband’s head.

    Any woman who truly loves a man will understand what I’m talking about.

    Let me give an illustration. In Africa there was a village that was raided by the army who were trying to forcibly conscript(or kill) the men. In western media only the female deaths were reported with any concern, but what’s interesting is that the women only died if they attempted _to protect their male relatives_.

    As westerners, we don’t really care about why those women were killed we just care that women died. If we really cared about what the women cared about, we would have also been concerned about the death of their male relatives and be trying to reduce war death overall.

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Our society uses women as talking points and sees them as valuable objects.

    Women, themselves, may not agree. Obviously a woman who sacrifices her life to try to save her husband or son or brother does not agree with the idea that a woman’s life is more important then a man’s.

    (And, no, I don’t blame this on men, because there are benefits to women. I’m not denying that and I actually mentioned it in my post.)

  7. “The whole Roman language thing was just flavouring. The meat of my article is the findings about moral actors/moral patients.”

    Yep. that’s why I dug out that other stuff, because it is a major parameter in the grammars of a lot of languages. That reflects how significant an organizing principle it is.

  8. “Now I’m not saying that women are hurt *more* then men by the invisibility of female sociopathy.”

    1. Yes, because it doesn’t matter what the numbers are, all the victims matter in their own right.
    2. However I bet female sociopaths do in fact have more female than male victims.

  9. I recall the many discussions on the lack of women in Science Technology Engineering & Medicine (STEM) and that my own reaction–too dangerous to ever actually state aloud–was not “What’s wrong with science?”, but rather “What’s wrong with women that they’re not interested in science?”

    I had the same experience in the more recent “not enough women in skepticism” debate. Again, the reaction was “how can we fix skepticism to attract more women?”, as though it was skepticism that was to blame for the disparity. But what if it weren’t? What if it’s the way women and girls are raised and educated in our culture that’s causing them to stay away from the noble endeavors of reason and critical thinking?

    I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t even know if it’s _part_ of the full and complete answer. But I DO know that it’s worth discussing AND totally off-limits to even mention when feminists are in the room.

  10. The more I read of your theory, TB, the more I become convinced that you’re getting closer and closer to a “Unified Grand Theory of Relativity” for the gender world.

    Seriously, this is profound on an Eisensteinian level.

  11. The thing about the meme about women are acted upon is something i have been thinking about. You see stats that show 80% of borderline personality diagnoses are women and I am wondering how the socialization of women is causing this or not causing this. The expectation of women being the ultimate damsel in distress may make taking control of their own lives a daunting task. A sort of angry “why won’t they fix my life for me” stance that ends in self harm. Defining themselves in a sort of perfect little girl who suddenly at 18 to 25 are faced with being responsible for themselves and being the perfect girl doesn’t fix everything. The suppression of any sort of perceived “defect” in their own personality because they want to be seen as the perfect girl because that is how everyone saw them. And its how they have defined themselves. Not defining themselves as individuals.

    I don’t know its not a fully thought out theory its just i have come in to contact with a few women who behaved quite similarly. They seem happy on the outside but feel empty inside. They smile when they talk, one even when she was discussing thing that were the opposite of happy. Suicidal idealization stuff.

    From my perspective seeing this it wasn’t that great for them.
    And yeah even though it would be hard to trace who im talking about at all i don’t entirely feel comfortable talking about them…..

  12. Typhonblue- We need to keep in mind that in every case, the victim mythology allows women to blame her problems on the men and gain more sympathy and privilege.

    You and I would agree that Feminism helps women avoid becoming self-actualized adults. And in the grand scheme of things, this is detrimental. But in the day-by-day analysis, she benefits from the privilege, attention, and government cheese bestowed on her.

    Also, I apologize for implying that all women are man-hatred and false accusers. I’m poking on my iPhone and should have specified that all women have the option, rather than all women are.

  13. What works for women* in the short-run may work against them in the long-run.

    This is to be balanced against the fact that in the long run, you’re dead.

    *Or men.

  14. “…[certain aspects of] Feminism helps [some] women avoid becoming self-actualized adults. ”

    I’ve been looking for a way to express what I am thinking but this sentence sums up my thoughts very well. Thanks. And I’m not here to cast aspersions or make blanket statements so please note that I added some qualifier words.

    But on a personal level my family was and is very much dominated by strong women. So I find the permanent childlike state some women opt into (or are forced into) very irksome and not a concept that comes easily to my mind. I had to mull this over for a months (I think TB posted something similar on another blog).

    Anyway this blog is awesome. Keep it up. I don’t post much because, heck, there’s too much I agree with to say much of anything. /agree posts are boring!

  15. debaser71: “I don’t post much because, heck, there’s too much I agree with to say much of anything. /agree posts are boring!”

    Right on. You go girl!!!

  16. “But on a personal level my family was and is very much dominated by strong women. So I find the permanent childlike state some women opt into (or are forced into) very irksome and not a concept that comes easily to my mind.”

    Bingo! Me too, and then later it was the same in the Army. If ind it not just irksome but contemptaible. I despise weak women the way i despise weak men, Unfortunately the gendered insult we use on men for that doesn’t work on women, and it sounds straight up stupid in light of the strong women we all know.

    Here’s the fix – more women i positions of power. i wathced this proces sin the Army, as women sarted to get rank. In the beginning there was a whole lot of daddy’s-little-girl games women were running. Eventually all that shit stopped when Mommy’s eagle eye would pick up on it.

    Something else good came of it too – women stopped having to prove that women could be strong. I had women working for me and I was in constant fear of one of them overdoing it and getting hurt or falling ill because she felt she had to outdo the men. Hopefully that dragon has been killed finally.

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  18. Fantastic article and gets to the inner workings of so many of our biases. When thought of in this way it starts to make sense of a number of things that simply don’t make sense otherwise.

    I do wonder about the connection of our biology to this. Reading it made me think of the split noticed by evolutionary biologists who tell us that 85% of mammals and primates are split by sex into two categories: Choosers and Competers. The competers are the ones who are usually larger, more violent, more competitive, more aggressive, have a shorter lifespan, and compete for the other sex to choose them as a reproductive partner. The competers remind me of the “actors” and the choosers (who are more focused on child care and child birth) remind me of the “acted upon.” Interesting that the biologists inform us that males are not always the competers. Populations such as the Seahorse and Sandpiper show the opposite. In those populations it is the females who are the competers and the males who are the choosers. Yes, the female seahorses are larger, more aggressive, etc. What it boils down to is not so much sex but whether you are a competer or a chooser and biology plays a role in those.

    Here’s a short youtube on this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPPcp7EXriw

  19. @ Hackberry,

    I don’t think humans are really meant to be separated into choosers/competers based on gender. I think, if the biologists who believe canids are a better model for our early behaviour then primates, then men and women compete for mates about equally.

    Something along the line changed that. (Although women still compete for mates in ways that female animals don’t through social status displays otherwise known as ‘beauty’.)

  20. Yes indeed. The complexity of competition skyrockets with humans. Our consciousness insures that. However, the majority of the dynamic maintains itself. Men compete and women choose. It gets tricky since women do play a part in competing for males. This is partly understood by the idea of a woman’s dominance hierarchy based on attractiveness. Women compete with each other on their attractiveness and this is the basic lure for which men then compete.

    Now what about this thing with wolves? Better model for our early behavior? What are you saying? Can you give me a link to understand this?

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  24. Here by way of Danny’s blog!

    Women are harmed by this since females grow up not knowing how to do the “acting” ourselves. They wait to be rescued like Sleeping Beauty, which is like the most Freudian story ever.

    To the fellas: If you want women to stop saying “Ohh that guy is hot! I hope he calls me!” –then understand we need to get women to see that, oh yeah, YOU *CAN* CALL. (This would also take the stigma off of us girls who DO act and DO call.)

    Sitting here watching Law and Order SVU and the parade of endless victims is bothering me. How many years of victims? A whole generation of women has been indoctrinated by this TV-victim bullshit! ARHGHGHGHG.

    Love talkin bout the animals; I am fascinated.

    TB, Jane Goodall thought chimps have “fitness” standards, than “appearance” standards. (I wonder if the male chimps think, wow, look at the way she leaps from tree to tree, must have! LOL) There ARE some kind of standards that make chimps choose and prefer certain other chimps, but we don’t seem to be able to decipher what they are.

  25. PS: Since I have been run out of Feminist Blogdonia, I guess I have to come over here now.

    I blame Bill W. (you’ll either get that joke or you won’t)

  26. “PS: Since I have been run out of Feminist Blogdonia, I guess I have to come over here now. ”

    Their loss and our very great gain. And by the way, I may work up the nerve to ask you to find that excellent post of yours that got you into so much crap with the femisphere about how white feminists so often call on patriarchal authority because they can, their experience is they can trust it.

  27. Sigh:
    I can’t speak for the mods here, Daisy, and trust me, I’d initially give you a chance (and probably never out and out ban you, I’ve read you enough to know you are a good person )but it’s a fact that Feminist Critics couldn’t have you (though they have never banned you, you hold yourself as too good to show up there) and I would hope you have learned enough to try to not let some things upset y ou that have upset you in the past. I want to go ahead and state that I have never and will never make fun of you for y our age or your lack of FORMAL (It’s not everything, it’s mostly important in a few professional and scientific fields) education – it’s quite obvious you have a brain on your shoulders , y ou read a lot, and you’ve “been around the block” and have practical experience in terms of political organizations.

    All that being said, and the fact that I’m willing to forget a certain accusation you hurled my way at Feminist Critics I would hope you would extend the same courtesy to me as I intend to extend to you and that you will find you like it here.

  28. PS: Since I have been run out of Feminist Blogdonia, I guess I have to come over here now.

    I sympathize. Sincerely.

    I mean, Mary Daly? She wouldn’t have been kicked-out because her feminist bona fides were beyond reproach, despite evincing blatant hatred and actually discriminating against people upon the basis of their sex.

    You? You asked too many of the wrong kinds of questions. Such crimes can simply not be forgiven.

    Nice to see you on the dark side. Have a drink.

  29. Daisy, in case you didn’t recognize me by my bad spelling, Ginkgo is Jim. Remember me?

    I’m going to make you as welcome here as I know how. The way the modding works each that each blogger mods his or her own posts. There are three bloggers here – Xakudo, who is basically on hiatus while he clears a lot of work, the ever fabulous Miss Typhonia, whose non-drag name is Typhonblue, and then there’s me.

    There is acommunity f blogs emerging that wants to shed light rather than generate heat, to get to the root of these things rather than just moralizing and complaining.

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  31. Yeah ! I love “Spot the dichotomy!”-game. In-group/out-group, Chaos/Order, oppressor/oppressed, zero-sum/nonzero-sum, and now actor/acted upon. I love it so much that I sometimes overdo it, but this one seems promising enough.
    This dichotomy(with allies in-group/out-group and oppressor/oppressed) makes it hard for men to feel true empathy for [oh, I dunno, RAPED!] women by putting them in a different moral category, denying their common humanity. Instead, men are forced to identify with the murderer, rapist, batterer on the virtue of residing on the same side of the moral agency criteria (“more in common with the villain than with the victim”). Hence, we feel guilty and eat our socks trying to “better ourselves”. Because the “I wouldn’t hurt a fly”-defense doesn’t “fly” when you’ve got moral agency in common with the criminal (After all, I could hurt that fly if I wanted to, it’s not like the fly’s going to hurt me).
    Aside : I can’t remember the last time I heard a woman say “I wouldn’t hurt a fly”. As flies, they just don’t want to be hurt.
    And men are arbitrarily seen as being just the actors/responsible for war despite also being the acted upon/primary victims of war(sorry Hillary).
    But I’m making it about teh menz, when the point was feminism hurts women too.
    In my mind at least, it was always about dichotomies, and how they fly around, gayly enlightening the world and long winter evenings with friends around the fire…

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  33. By today’s politically correct climate the default assumption is always: “nurture” is to blame. Women need be raised to be struggling more.

    Seems men don’t need to be raised to like challenges.

    Well, maybe this is the gender difference.

    Women don’t waste too much time on potentially unsolvable problems. And men obsess about unsolvable problems. If they succeed, they make it into the top 30% of men that actually procreate in the EEA.

    If they fail, well they wasted their time, but most men are failures anyway and don’t make it to the top, do not rear offspring.

    Read Roy Baumeister, Stephen Pinker, …..

  34. I read this and your Manufacturing Victimhood articles, and they just gutted me. It was a combination of outrage that such utter bullshit could be spread as truth by the media for so long, and heartbreak at knowing that we could all benefit so much if we’d just realize it and _stop_.

    The part about the Bright Girls was particularly sad for me. I’m someone who relishes a challenge. I’m someone who always wants to be better. I’m someone who believes that nothing can keep me from my goals if I truly commit myself. The thought of someone with ability just *giving up* because they believe it’s useless to try, I feel incredibly bad for them. Especially kids. I couldn’t help but picturing myself giving those girls a hug and cheering them on to fight harder and succeed.

    I want everyone to have the chance to fulfill their potential. I wrote in an essay once that ‘victimhood should be a garment you wear temporarily until you outgrow it, not something you tattoo yourself with permanently.’ Victimhood is like quicksand. Everyone should be encouraged and helped to pull themselves out of it. The reaction to victimhood we should teach is, ‘How can I get myself back to normal? How can I stop the person or thing who hurt me from hurting anyone else?’ It just makes me heartsick that so much of our culture romanticizes victimhood, makes victims into saints, and rewards those who revel in it. Victimhood should not be shamed, but it should also never be desired.

    Also, your reply to “Yes, women do benefit” was magnificent. As someone who was raised by, and abused by, a female sociopath, thank you.

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