It's Actually a Little Annoying How Much Men Need Women

by Gena Kaufman


Bill and Melinda Gates; photo credit: Getty ImagesBill and Melinda Gates; photo credit: Getty ImagesThis weekend the New York Times took the old phrase, "Behind every great man stands a great woman" and updated it to be "Inside every great man is a selfish dude who won't do nice things for other people until he gets some ladies in his life who make him want to be a better man."

I'm exaggerating, but not that much. The article, entitled "Why Men Need Women," examined what makes some super-rich men, like Bill Gates, extremely philanthropic while others are basically swimming in their own money like Scrooge McDuck. And as you may have guessed from the title, the proposed answer is female presence in these men's lives.

A new study examined the habits of male chief executives at thousands of Danish companies, and found that after men became fathers, on average they actually paid their employees less. The exception: Men who had daughters didn't reduce their employees' wages. And it's not the first research of its kind. Previous studies have shown that men with daughters vote more liberally, and that people with more sisters are more likely to make choices to be generous to others, even at their own expense.

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Coming back to Bill Gates, the shining example of philanthropy used here, evidently he originally resisted setting up a charitable foundation, but three years later was ranked the third most generous philanthropist in America. He credits his mother and his wife as inspiration for his charitable giving, and he also had a daughter during that three year period.

While I'm all for men and women--or just, people generally--learning from each other and becoming better people, I had to ask the Smitten team if I was being unfair if my knee jerk reaction was annoyance that men need to feel an emotional tie to a woman to be compassionate people. A peek at the comments revealed that I wasn't the only one who took issue with it, and for a variety of reasons: Why does this seem to suppose all women are soft and nurturing? Is this generalization about men harmful? (I don't actually think all men are selfish misers! And for the record, I think plenty of men are good influences on others themselves.) And why should women be used as a good influence on men when men still get to be the ones in control of almost everything? (Are there even women chief executives at 10,000 Danish companies? I hope so, but I'm not so sure.) All good points.

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The old "You make me want to be a better man" thing has been used time and again in the world of romantic stories, and it's nice to think you could be an inspiration for good in someone's life. But is it really flattering, or would it just be better if a guy wanted to be better of his own accord, whether or not he had sisters or daughters or you, the perfect girlfriend? You decide and tell me what you think!

Does your guy have sisters/daughters/other close relationships with women in his life? Do you think it's made him a more compassionate person? What do you think about the studies on men's increased generosity when influenced by women? Do you think you've made your guy a better man, or has he made you better...or both?

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