Actually, the physical and mental health benefits of social ties with women are experienced by men and women both — and for married men, these benefits occur even when the women are not present (85-86). As Taylor poetically notes, “women are heavily involved in stitching up all the little rips and tears in the social fabric” (100). The primary means of women’s sociality — their tending and befriending each other, if you will — are through cooking and sharing food, and shared discussion (97).
Further, women’s verbal skills are so consistently superior to men’s that sociologists must adjust their studies accordingly when comparing the networking capabilities of both women and men. Even more interesting, these women’s gatherings most often discuss social matters, and involve calming hormonal changes in everyone present (100). This also affects men in the presence of socializing women, and may explain why married women frequently end up managing the social requirements of both families, while married men simply opt out of the basic social demands of family (118).
Other studies on the effects of stress for women and men show that women, after (for example) a stressful day at work, tend to be closer and more physically affectionate with their children. Men, on the other hand, wish to be left alone after stress. When they must deal with their family regardless, they tend to be unpleasant, picking and sniping demandingly at their wife and children (23). While this may sound somewhat unbelievable, every study done on the subject reiterates this finding. As the author noted, this is as statistically constant a gender-based difference as giving birth (24).
This gender-related difference in reactions to stress is not simply because, say, men work harder than women — studies have shown that men actually work less hours overall than women do (115). Further, despite the selfish androcentric tradition of refusing to pay women for their labor within the family, nurturance is both hard and valuable work — as is shown by the fact that married men on average earn 12.4% more an hour than unmarried men. This statistic rises dramatically to 31% if the wives are stay-at-home, full-time tenders of their husbands (118-9).
However, this female nurturance of men is not only of financial benefit. Creepily, in times of great social upheaval when the tending system breaks down, those who die the most are the unmarried men (126). The reasons why are obvious when you know what to look for: men depend heavily on women for emotional sustenance, and do not have social networks of their own to provide access to basic life necessities. When deprived of women’s nurturance, the unmarried men not only often go short on things like food, meaningful work, and/or shelter, but they also turn for their social needs to each other. This does decrease the possibility of having their masculinity challenged and their self-esteem undermined by looking for work… but also increasing their often-drunken, terminal risk-taking behavior (128-129).
This powerful female networking holds true across most of the primates, as well: in times of great stress, female primates are amazingly effective at making sure everyone in their social group is protected, fed, babies are cared for and young females are properly socialized, and everyone is groomed and reassured (93-95). The importance of tending can be seen by the benefits it offers: close and comforting social ties can “hold off potent flu viruses or retard the progress of chronic diseases” (181), and well-fostered children can overcome even genetic risk factors (181, 198). As the author notes, tending is powerful enough that it “seems literally to hold society together, a fact made clear by the staggering death and disease rates of Eastern Europe” (181).
Tragically, our current prevailing social belief in an isolating “self-interest as a dominant human motivation has led to a self-fulfilling prophecy that is reflected in all our institutions… people think they should be selfish, they think other people are selfish, and so they construct social institutions that incorporate these assumptions” (182). The damaging effects of such beliefs are chilling: a study showed that something as simple as taking a regular economics course can transform ordinarily moderately altruistic people into astonishingly cynical individuals. “They came out of the course believing that an honest and forthright action, such as returning a lost wallet, was a fool’s errand, and that rational self-interest should lead them to keep the money!” (182).
Perhaps most fascinating was Taylor’s presentation of empirical data that actually proves a long-held belief of many feminist spiritualists: that the rigid hierarchy of most patriarchal cultures and social structures is incredibly damaging. As the author observes:
social class hierarchies unravel the social fabric. Every relationship is put under strain and suffers as a result… When people simply do not have what they need to get by — and, at least as important, observe that others do — then social institutions and relationships become yet another source of strain, rather than the supportive resources they would otherwise be. These problems worsen as the gap between rich and poor widens, and people pay a high price to live in a society that tolerates these gaps. … beyond a certain basic income, your health is influenced more by the gap between rich and poor than by your absolute income. (184)
What are the empirical results of such social structures? We have the data now, and it disturbingly describes modern US culture to a T: “Where income differences are large, people perceive the social environment to be more hostile, and tending suffers… The bigger the income gap, the more violent crime a state has, the higher the homicide rate, the higher the divorce rate, and the higher the infant mortality rate” (185). As Taylor also notes, the ways of reversing this are many: increasing people’s educational and income potential, refusing outrageous compensation packages, social policies that increase standards of living and/or personal autonomy at work… in fact, any time we act collectively to resolve issues as a community — such as drunk driving, environmental issues, or improved health care for all — we improve things for all of us (185).
Though this is not part of the book, I strongly believe we not only have the means to turn things around for the better… but we are also finally gaining the will to make it happen. Further, we have already have excellent examples of both countries and cultures which implement this tending mindset. I’ll cover some of them in future book reviews.