It’s generally quite accepted, even among the most ardent egalitarians, that men are risk takers and women are risk averse. It plays out everywhere, from women not asking for promotions right down to teenage boys dying more regularly from stunts gone wrong. There are all sorts of explanations as to how this comes about: hormone profiles, socialization, neural pathways and rewards. But there is an obvious reason why these behaviours are selected for, and knowing it benefits men women alike.
Make take the risks in society. They do this to surpass other men. Whether they’re starting their own business or doing a backflip off a tree into a pool, men want to become better than other men and be seen doing it. This is generally positioned by women as men wanting to show off and get social points. But the reality runs deeper.
The reason why men “peacock” like this, rather than by dressing in bright clothes or singing as they walk down the street, is because humans are brainy, social animals. And taking risks advances society. Why does the guy who starts his own business get rewarded with wealth and status? Because he provides a necessary service, a tribal environment, a product, employment, etc. He is actively creating wealth. Why does the guy who backflips off the tree get attention and praise? Because he is illustrating his physical prowess and confidence in his body, two valuable genetic traits. Both men are adding something of value to the world they live in, actively or passively.
The major disadvantage to this behaviour is quite obvious: death, resource depletion, ostracization, general failure. When a man takes a risk and it backfires, at best he is humiliated, at worst he is dead. A society of inefficient risk takers is a dead society. Therefore, as men mature and see the downsides of risks, their own risks become more calculated, preserving the older, more skilled men of the tribe to pass their wisdom down and ensure greater survival of the next generation.
On the other hand, women are naturally incredibly risk averse. We do this to survive. Women are the weaker sex, a necessity for the raising of children and socially dependent. We are unlikely to take any risks, even in our reckless teen years. Generally, men assume this is due to frailty or cowardice.
The reasons women avoid risks are also due to our brainy, social nature. Our babies need a very long time being protected and fed to grow their big brains and learn how to be adults. They need our care and attention. Possibly as a luxury given to us by men, possibly to encourage men to treat us kindly, we have got weaker from our primitive days and our bodies are gradually better and better adapted for nurturing, feeding and caring in general. This is not a flaw: by raising smart, healthy children in a safe environment we also add value to the world we live in.
The major disadvantage to this is less obvious, but is there: women’s low risk taking is a net loss. Look at how many great male inventors, leaders and artists there have been through history. Or, if you doubt the veracity of history, look at the great male explorers, inventors and investors, the risk takers of our generation. Imagine if the number of great women equalled that. Society would speed along over twice as fast from the sheer levels of innovation.
So men take risks, which is good because it pushes society forwards and bad because it endagers their lives and tribes. And women do not take risks, which is good because it provides care and safety and bad because it limits the progress of human society.
And therein lies a key compatibility.
Men’s strength lies in their ability to make calculated risks.
Women’s strength lies in our ability to accept calculated risks.
Any internal restriction on a man’s risk taking is a negative. If men always stopped at the safe line then society’s progress would be slow and staggered. But if men never knew when to stop or give in, or never paused for thought, then most men would be dead. Enter women: from his mother’s overbearing eyes during his childhood, to his scaredy cat girlfriends in his teens and twenties, to his wary wife in his thirties onwards, men have benefitted from the slightly paranoid voice of risk aversion. They will brush it off and often take the risk anyway, but always with a steadier foot, a more careful eye or an extra protective measure.
Any amount of spontaneous risk taking in women is also a negative. If women always toed the line of danger then society would be many mothers and babies short, drawing our growth to a halt. But if women never permitted a risk to be taken, then men would either become too weak to bring progress or exit society as a whole (reminds me of something, that…). Enter men: by making calculated risks and undertaking dangerous work on her behalf, the men in a woman’s life show her that risks can be taken in a relatively safe manner. Women will brush it off and still hide from danger, but always with a greater sense of security, that we can rely on men and trust their reason.
In a relationship, any relationship, be it parent-child, teacher-student, romantic, brother-sister or even work, we can make these facts play to our and everyone’s advantages.
- Take whatever risks you need to.
- Listen to women’s paranoias.
- Pause and assess which fears stem from a natural perspective.
- Ease her fears whenever possible.
- Take the risks she ought to take when her fear holds her back…
- …or at least make her feel safe and supported as she takes the risk herself.
- Make sure your life is safely guarded against unnecessary risks.
- Observe men’s risk taking.
- Urge caution and try and phrase advice so they will understand.
- Accept when he is going to do it anyway.
- Do not be afraid to demand comfort or exclusion from an activity if the risk bothers you.
- Reward successful risks, and do not blame or nag when the reward falls short.
After all, we want neither a society where women throw themselves blindly screaming into activities that terrify them, or feel pressured to take big risks to “look mature”, nor a society where men pussyfoot around their troubles and choke back the risks they want to take for fear of female retribution. We want a society where women calculate risks and men take them, with both considering the other’s perspective.
We are not broken, unequivalent or stupid. We do not need to be fixed. We are two perfectly compatible sexes and our roles serve a distinct purpose.
TTFN and Happy Hunting!