Women and Aggression
Aggression is often considered in common parlance to be the opposite of dependence, passivity, and failure to make it. This juxtaposition makes it abundantly clear that aggression is at the "good" end of the pole. In their comprehensive review of psychological studies on gender differences in children, Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin find girls to be less aggressive than boys. Although
Maccoby and Jacklin generally consider there to be fewer gender differences than many other psychologists, they argue that there is a clear-cut difference with respect to aggressiveness. They contend that males are more aggressive than females, both physically and verbally, directly and indirectly, and in a wide variety of settings. Does this mean women are doomed to passivity? Not in the least. Maccoby and Jacklin define aggression as action with the intent to hurt. It is not constructive and it is not the opposite of passivity.
It is true that girls have more anxiety about aggression than boys. Some have interpreted this to mean that girls have aggressive tendencies equal to those of boys but repress them out of fear of punishment or retaliation. Maccoby and Jacklin suggest, however, that if this were so, surely the aggression would come out in some attentuated form. What happens, though, is that boys act out aggressive impulses in play as well as in reality. In addition, boys are more likely than girls to aggress in the presence of weakness in another male. Girls do not respond to weakness in either boys or girls with aggression.
We know that women account for slightly more child abuse than men, but when one takes "opportunity" into account, that is, the time women spend with children compared to the time men spend, this tendency is reversed. A review of the experimental literature on aggression argues that women may act as aggressively as men under certain experimental conditions. These conditions involve a situation where the women do not empathize with the victim and in which they feel the aggression is justified. Over all situations, of all the traits discussed in the review, aggressiveness does appear to be most clearly a generalized trait that characterizes males far more than females.
It is important that readers be aware of their own biases about the value of aggressiveness. In a society governed by a masculine paradigm, aggression is likely to have desirable connotations. In the public mind, it is often associated with competitiveness, single-mindedness, or strong will. But why? Maccoby and Jacklin do not define aggression as a desirable characteristic and argue that it is as likely to interfere with constructive activity as it is to underlie it. Their definition of aggression as the intent to hurt emphasizes its antisocial nature. While our measure of expressiveness was only a tiny aspect of the whole picture, male aggressiveness may be re-
flected in the lesser amount of positive expressiveness males attributed to themselves in our study.
Like aggression, the term dominance tends to have a positive meaning in a society controlled by a masculine paradigm, which tends to define many situations in terms of "dominate or be dominated." A female paradigm, on the other hand, might deny the necessity for either dominance or submission. Resistance to domination would be desirable, but domination would not be. Male aggression could play into dominance-striving, but as Finigan's work suggests, dominance is not at all the same as constructive leadership.
In an article published after their book, Maccoby and Jacklin examine the question of male aggression cross-culturally and conclude that in other societies too, boys between three and six years old are more likely to initiate aggression than girls in the same age range. This initial difference may be either maintained or eliminated or even reversed by subsequent socialization experiences. Maccoby and Jacklin note that one type of socialization experience that has been found to moderate aggressiveness in boys is being assigned to child care. There are forms of aggression in which no gender differences are found, such as self-defense, quarreling over desirable resources, or even effecting a swift, silent kill. Maccoby and Jacklin suggest that future research on aggression will need to pay more attention to the particular interpersonal setting in which aggression takes place and also to differing types of aggression. Much aggression among boys occurs in male-male pairs in noisy contests over dominance. Girls may fight with each other but not in order to establish dominance.
When Maccoby and Jacklin speak of aggression, they clearly distinguish it from both activity and competition. Confusion over this issue has led Sarah Hrdy in her book The Woman That Never Evolved to argue against "maternal" feminists because she assumes that they envision women as passive and noncompetitive. Hrdy contends that studies of female primates show them to be highly competitive with each other and that "competition among females is one of the major determinants of primate social organization, and has contributed to the organisms women are today" (p. 189). In part Hrdy's stress on female competitiveness seems merely to be reiterating "the logic" of the sociobiological argument in its crudest form, namely, that whatever exists must have gotten there by having
won out in some sort of competitive struggle. In other words, a passive, noncompetitive woman could never have evolved. Hrdy envisions females' mothering as being the basis for their competition with other females. "Throughout millions of years of evolution, mammalian mothers have differed from one another in two important ways: in their capacity to produce and care for offspring and in their ability to enlist the support of males, or at least to forestall them from damaging their infants" (p. 189). In their efforts to secure resources for themselves and their offspring, mammalian mothers engaged in subtle competition with one another, which sometimes involved simply nonconfrontation and keeping out of the way. Hrdy is not saying females behaved as aggressively as males; her concern is to show that females had dominance hierarchies and were not politically insignificant or passive. This does not directly contradict the thesis that females are less likely than males to initiate aggression and make direct dominance attempts.
Indeed, the significance of Hrdy's descriptions of female primate behavior and speculations about early female human behavior is that only among humans do females become clearly subordinated to males. This subordination has to do with human cultural institutions. Hrdy speaks of various means to control women's sexuality, including clitoridectomy and castration of daughters and wives as well as those marital residence rules that separate women from their kin.
This picture of animal mothers that Hrdy draws has been systematically denied by the cultural image of women that defines them not as active mothers but as passive sideliners, cheering on their men. Niles Newton has argued that since the industrial revolution there has been a sharp conflict between what she calls a woman's "cultural femininity" and her "biological femininity." Newton says that although "cultural femininity . . . decrees that women should be passive," actually "the woman in her female biological role must be active, productive, and capable of concerted effort." Newton points out that not only is bearing and nursing a child physically and emotionally demanding, but the care of a child is not a matter of passively providing comfort; it involves active and sometimes aggressive interventions on behalf of the child in the physical and social environment. In sum, there is nothing passive about maternal emotions.
Finally, in addition to distinguishing expressiveness from emo-
tionality, dependence, ineptitude, and inability to aggress, it is also important to emphasize that the term must always be defined at a very general level. Only when expressiveness is thought of as a mode of personality organization or as a generalized stance rather than in terms of specific traits can it make sense to claim that expressiveness can differentiate women from men cross-culturally. Although we used descriptive adjectives defining expressiveness in our research, these are far from ideal measures because they are too narrowly confined to an empathetic dimension and also because they inevitably become intertwined with a very specific cultural and social structural context.
For example, these adjectives may be class or race bound. Consider, for example, the popularity of "interpersonal sensitivity." This term may mean nothing more than a style of interacting in which one listens to others and tries to assess their needs and agendas as a means of selling oneself or selling something else. It may simply be an expressive overlay to instrumental action—a style, not an orientation. "Interpersonal sensitivity" has become something that middle-class whites value highly, and it is a stance that the so-called new man is readily adopting. This is not what I want to convey by the idea that women are more relational, and I do not believe it is what women mean when they say they wish men could be more relational. Relationality is a stance that takes others into account not as "other" but as important in themselves. The forms that a relational orientation could take would vary greatly in terms of class and race or culture.
Some of the most interesting work now on gender similarity and difference focuses on interaction patterns rather than on personality orientations. Thus, for example, Marjorie Goodwin and Charles Goodwin have analyzed the "conversational procedures" used by preadolescent girls and boys in informal arguments. Their main finding was that both boys and girls engage in argumentation and generally in quite similar ways. They found, however, that girls argued in a more complex manner than boys. Girls used what the researchers call a "he-said-she-said" structure unknown among boys. This structure allows for extended and complex debate that nevertheless saves the faces of both accuser and accused by reference to third and fourth parties, thus avoiding direct confrontations of the "I win, you lose" variety. Such a method avoids direct aggression, while still getting the job done.