Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Male Social Matrix: Back To The Sandbox

There's been a lot of talk around the Manosphere lately about the differences between how men and women relate to each other, socially.  They all dovetail nicely to my Female Social Matrix/Male Social Matrix theory nicely, so I'm going to cover them and expound upon them because I do that sort of thing.  Let's talk about the Sandbox, and what happens when a girl gets in...and why.

First, from the venerable Badger Hut, where Badger made the astute observation in his post Being An Emotional Man Does Not Equal “Talking About Your Feelings”:

Note where the only female has been stationed...
Male social dynamics have two major parts: the first in which men are tested for their fitness for membership, and the second in which having passed the test they are accepted into the group almost wholesale. I don’t see this in female social groups (in fact I see the opposite – immediate superficial acceptance, followed by an undercurrent of obfuscated and passive-aggressive challenges from the inside).

Cool, huh?  The next day, Athol did a piece about Why The Wannabe Other Man Tests You First, in which he recounts a tale of a man whose masculinity was repeatedly challenged in front of a group of friends, including his wife, and how it was handled.

Both posts bear examination, and both touch on a very sensitive subject that we don't discuss often enough.  How we socialize as men has a great deal to do with how we act and react around women, and vice versa.

As Badger says, you don't get included in the "Man Club" -- the Male Social Matrix -- just by having a penis.  If you recall my other posts about the subject, you know that men test each other at the outset of meeting each other in order to establish a dominance hierarchy.  It may be a high-order hierarchy, like a corporation or an army, or it may be a low-order hierarchy, like four guys on a fishing trip, but regardless of the situation you can't get into the sandbox until you've proven your value to everyone.

That can take many forms, depending on the men and the situation -- but once you pass the test then you get into the sandbox and follow the leader of the pack like the other boys, and everyone has a good time.  If you play particularly well, your status goes up.  If you're kind of an asshole, your status goes down -- but you aren't tossed from the group.  You just become the group's Asshole.  That role comes with certain expectations, but we'll get into that another time.

In the case of Athol's story, the social interloper made several very public, very nasty emasculating marks that were clearly a challenge to the other man, an overt play to intimidate him and impress his wife.  The man dealt with it with a subtle threat of physical violence, which countered the interloper's threat nicely.  It was followed up with yet another confrontation with a third party who reiterated the threat.  Because, y'know, sometimes someone just needs to hear that they will get their ass righteously kicked if they continue interloping with designs on another man's woman.  As it should be.

The aspect I want to address is the test-and-bonding ritual, and the role that Alpha and Beta play in the Male Social Matrix.  In essence, the interloper violated the tacit rules of the Sandbox by dickishly emasculating the married man, and severe consequences resulted.  He was attempting to be a Bull Alpha and make a move -- or at least test the waters -- on a woman who was clearly already claimed by another man.  Worse, he chose emasculation in a public venue to make his challenge, an arena where an overt display of confrontation would have been problematic due to the mixed nature of the event.

You see, had the party been men-only, then the dynamic would have changed dramatically.  If you attempt to verbally emasculate another man in a group of men, then it's either teasing banter between old friends or a direct challenge to be handled directly -- and knowing the difference between the two is an exclusion criteria for most groups of men.

But if a dude is that much of an asshole as to call you "girly" in front of a bunch of other guys, then direct confrontation is required to counter the Asshole's play for dominance.  Since it was done in mixed company, the husband had to consider the ramifications of his actions not just on the Sandbox, but what it would have meant to his wife over on the Swing-set.  Women don't like direct confrontations, they like nice, pleasant little gatherings where gossip can flourish and they can stab each other in the back like civilized women.

This Social Testing for admission to the Sandbox can take many forms, of course, but there's always an implied challenge, response, and resolution.  Think of it as the "Prison Yard Play", where a demand on a new inmate by an old inmate has to be met with violence, or you're going to be someone's bitch by evening.  If someone calls you out in front of a bunch of dudes, then either a demand for a retraction or a confrontation is in order.  And even if the Asshole in question is much, much bigger than you, and you do have a high chance of getting your ass kicked, the Alpha thing to do is to go ahead and get your ass kicked.  Because if you don't, then you tacitly admit his (admittedly assholish) emasculation of you and accept the consequences.

There's good news, though: if you do take on the Asshole and lose, you haven't really lost.  Losing to the AMOG may not be great, but it doesn't send you to the bottom of the pyramid.  Your challenge made you a "contender" for AMOG, even if the odds were long.  The reward you get is the respect from the other men in the Matrix, who have witnessed your response to the challenge and your bravery for taking it on, and who don't count your loss against you.  You might get your ass kicked, but no one else is going to say shit about you, knowing that you're willing to defend your territory.  Bull Alpha bullies depend on dudes backing down when they make a dominance play, and when that doesn't happen, more often than not they back down themselves and find something better to do.  That's life in the Sandbox.

Add just one woman into that mix, however, and the entire dynamic changes.

I'll shift sideways a little to illustrate my point.  I live in the Land O' Cotton, the glorious South, and I know a lot of black people.  I'm not a racist, most of my black friends aren't racists, and 95% of the time our cultural memes are exactly the same, even if our perspectives and presentatinos are slightly different.

I bring this up because that other 5% can trip you up if you don't understand it.  A group of black folks in the South will act one way when it's only black people within earshot.  Introduce a single white face and their entire presentation subtly changes.  It's not a negative thing -- it's not like they sneer or make negative comments or anything -- it's merely the fact that a white person is present changes the rules of social dynamics among my African-American friends.  

They're just as polite to me as each other, just as ready to engage in discussion or debate, just as likely to include me in the event . . . but there's no doubt in my mind that my presence has interrupted or interfered in the all-black social group dynamics that was there before I arrived.  It's a subtle thing, and most white people don't even realize it's there -- I didn't, really, until a white friend of mine wanted to go see a step show at a local historically black college, and I discouraged him -- because, as I told him, sometimes black folks just need the space to "be black" without any white people around.  It's not a racist thing, it's a cultural thing.

Similarly, one woman in an all-male group radically alters the dynamic.  Some women who seem determined to be included as "one of the guys" find it highly frustrating when despite their best efforts they just don't make the cut.  I knew one in college who was determined to be accepted as "one of the guys" in Tech Crew for a play, and she did everything she could to de-feminize herself (she was straight, and I think she was after one of the other dudes, but I digress . . .) in that pursuit.

But one night after rehearsal, the rest of the dudes went to an off-campus house to watch porn and play videogames . . . without her.  She was heartbroken and angry, and the next practice she demanded that they include her next time, even threatened to complain of discrimination if they didn't.  She was unsatisfied.  They were dudes, she was a chick, and no matter how much they respected her abilities, she still wasn't a dude.  She ended up quitting the next week, citing "an increased academic load", but we all knew she left because she wasn't included in the Sandbox.

A single woman attempting to infiltrate the Sandbox will sometimes understand the situation well enough to demand a male-style challenge herself.  Depending upon the males in question, they may or may not humor her.  And if she does succeed in the challenge, she will get a little grudging respect, and she will be "included" in the next "all-guys" night.  But "being included" often means "being ignored", just like you'd mostly ignore a low-status Gamma or Delta.  A woman's successful challenge to gain entry to the Sandbox usually means that she's low-status to no-status...but the dynamic in the Sandbox shifts anyway, because she's still a chick, they're still dudes, and even if she watches porn and plays videogames she's still a chick and they're still dudes.

Inclusion in an all-male group is rarely the prize that some women make it out to be.  The key difference is the amount of respect given to a woman, compared to a man, when she makes the challenge. A group of men will cede respect to the challenger, if he's male, in accordance with his style and success.  A group of men will almost never cede their respect to a female challenger, because they all realize the innate differences in approach and perspective between men and women, and they understand at a basic level how allowing her to accept the challenge is a serious compromise.  She gets just enough respect to remain in the Sandbox, but will never rise any higher in the hierarchy than the lowest Beta.

 Here's what Susan Walsh at the venerable HUS has observed:

It is my contention that most human social groups have a male domination hierarchy of some sort, with the more self-confident males near the top and the less self-confident nearer the bottom. Mind you, they don’t butt heads or beat each other up; the more dominant ones lead the group, guide the conversation, are the ones that others look up to, etc. The less dominant ones are followers, and in pathological situations, are ridiculed and taken advantage of.

Exactly.  And when a woman is present, that screws up all that beautiful male conflict resolution.  Because suddenly the dudes stop trying to impress each other and rise in the hierarchy through achievement and start trying to impress the girl, whether they're into her or not.  They can't help it.  That's their genetic programming.  Unless they're gay enough to warrant a fabulous pair of designer beach sandals and matching swimsuit/swimrobe combination, you and your buds are going to start focusing on her, not the success of the group.

Susan also helpfully points this out:

"Self-esteem theory says that we always want to maximize our self-esteem and that we derive self-esteem from two sources: achievement and affiliations (friends, groups, lovers). "
That is, MEN usually gain their self-esteem through achievement ("how good am I?") while WOMEN traditionally gain their self-esteem through affiliation ("how popular am I?").  So while the men in the Sandbox see the woman attempting to prove herself through achievement in tackling whatever fitness challenge they've come up with, the woman is focused far more on her inclusion than her success.  If success is the only way to gain inclusion into an exclusive group (which is as good as money in the Female Social Matrix), then the woman will pursue success to that end.  Men, on the other hand, will focus on the achievement and be less concerned about affiliation.  They might join a group in order to achieve something, but the focus is almost always on the achievement, not the affiliation.

I think we men understand this at a basic level.  When a girl tries to do something that usually only boys do, the natural hesitancy on the part of men isn't -- as many women, particularly feminists, contend -- because they don't want their social group to be exclusive.  That's a chick thing.  Men resent women who intrude into the Sandbox because they're usually doing it as a matter of social positioning, not because they have the same drive toward achievement that men do.  To men, what you do matters, and why you do what you do matters a whole lot.  Not so much over at the Swingset, where it's what you say, not what you do, that counts.

And then there's this other thing: the tendency of those first "female pioneers" in the Sandbox to attempt to re-write the social rules after they were grudgingly included.  In most Sandboxes that means dialing down the achievement bar to make the initiatory challenge easier . . . for other girls.  That's because they're playing by Swingset rules, which mandate that everyone strive for consensus and equality, and not by Sandbox rules that mandate that everyone be judged by their individual achievements and their individual contributions to the group.  So when that first girl comes in, after she's been around for a while and you just start to forget she's there, she'll often suggest that next time you change the challenge criteria to make it "easier", "simpler", and "more fun and fair for everyone".

And boys naturally resent that, because the point is that the Sandbox isn't supposed to be easy, simple, fair or fun for everyone.  It's serious business where boys are competing against each other, and the harder the competition the greater the respect and glory to the boy who wins.  Setting the bar lower just means giving up an individual achievement in favor of consensus and "fun".  And before you know it, another girl is in the Sandbox.  And that's when the trouble really starts.

A single woman alters the group dynamic of a previously all-male Sandbox.

TWO women destroy it utterly.

Why?  Because it only takes two women to form a node of the Female Social Matrix.  Two girls in the Sandbox are almost always going to agree with each other over the boys, regardless of the issue.  Women turn to each other for support and inspiration when things get tough, whereas men tend to buckle down or fold -- by themselves.  While that sounds like a VERY GOOD THING to those allergic to honest competition, the fact is that de-emphasizing achievement in favor of simple affiliation is disaster for how the Sandbox works.  

Two intractable figures within the group who always agree with each other and almost always suggest alternatives to leadership's dictates (because offering "helpful suggestions" to the group leadership is prized on the Swingset, but despised in the Sandbox) become a serious problem -- especially when they start using their micro-consensus as a point of leverage to change the direction of the group. More Swingset stuff, because over there the focus isn't being the Alpha Female and leading -- no one really wants that, because of the danger it attracts -- it's to be able to influence the consensus of the group while avoiding personal risks to position, without appearing to.

So when there is a two-girl FSM node in the middle of the Sandbox stubbornly insisting that the group listen to their direction and suggestions, not those of the designated-and-vetted AMOG, then it's rightly seen as a challenge to their loyalty to the group, their willingness to submit to group leadership in exchange for their respect, and their willingness to put aside their personal issues and sense of independence in order to further the goals of the group.  And that's how the group dynamic of the Sandbox gets screwed up.  Because with two women, it isn't an all-male Sandbox anymore, it's a piece of the Swingset that has gotten out of control.

That is, the male/female dynamic often overwhelms the ability of the leadership to handle it.  That's because the leadership was developed under the Sandbox rules with a mission in mind, and the Swingset isn't mission-driven -- it's process driven.  When you start trying to promote the process over the mission, you dilute the commitment and the determination of the entire group to achieve. The point isn't to make sure everyone has a good time or has a fair chance -- the point is to build the bridge, win the war, get to the top of the mountain, beat the record, win the championship, that is, to actually achieve something.

Making the entry challenge and conditions easier might actually be "more fun and more fair", even for the boys -- but you don't get the bridge built.  With two or more girls in the mix, you can bet that they will make a scene about how the bridge is getting built and not let anyone get anything done until their concerns are met, they've been listened to, their opinions have been debated and discussed, and a decision that they approve of has been made.

That's also why men, when confronted with the invasion of all-male space by women, often retreat and re-form their group instead of trying to contend with "equalizing" the Sandbox.  They want a group dynamic where achievement, not consensus and affiliation, are important.  They want to get the bridge built, not have fun -- building the bridge IS the fun.  Socializing along the way is often a pointless indulgence of lower-status Betas and Gammas, so making things "easier and more fun" (more feminine) is anathema to the all-male power structure. It's not that men "fear" women invading their spaces because they want to keep them exclusive just for the sake of exclusivity -- that's a female thing -- they want to keep them exclusive because including women into the group dynamic often, if not always, deters the group from its stated mission.  You just can't build a sandcastle at the Swingset, you have to do it at the if you want a sandcastle, you need to follow the Sandbox rules.

Consider Badger's observations of how the Swingset operates: "immediate superficial acceptance, followed by an undercurrent of obfuscated and passive-aggressive challenges from the inside".  That is, the New Girl will be enthusiastically invited to take the last swing . . . and then be immediately bullied by the other girls through subtle and snide comments, secrets between the original group, and used as a pawn between the power centers of the consensus.

When you bring that obfuscatory impulse and passive-aggressive behavior into the usually straight-forward Sandbox, Ladies, you are essentially taking a nasty dump right in the middle of everything the boys have been working on.  It's the moral equivalent of having a man show up to an all-girl group and start ordering everyone around.  Or inviting a boy to give you a push on the swingset, only to have him push you off suddenly and painfully.


  1. So very true. Ian, I just want to say 'thank you', _so_ much, for all your observations in the recent CH threads, and here on your blog. Yours is one of my few 'must-reads' of the day, and I've learned so much about myself and the way the world around me works from absorbing and applying your insights. Much gratitude to you, sir.

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  3. This is really good, like your recent postings. Have you read "Self Made Man" by Nora Vincent? She is a lesbian who spent a year pretending to be a man, joining a men's bowling team, etc.

  4. Fantastic article, Ian. I love it, and I'm sharing with The Guys.

  5. This was an interesting read, because my previous position was in an all-male gang unit (and I'm female). I don't agree with all of your conclusions, but I do agree that the primary currency for acceptance is competence. My advice to young women has been that if you want to go into a male-dominated field, do your job extremely well and learn how to dish shit back with a smile. Don't go in thinking that you are going to change the culture, because you aren't. Just play your role on the team exceptionally well and grow a thick skin and a sense of humor.

    It always seemed to me, though, that women in my field don't tend to play very well with each other. Either they are very focused on the mission and don't want to mess with the swingset nonsense, or they are very focused on getting male attention for their assets, which tends to annoy the mission-oriented women.

    Women who enjoy the swingset culture don't tend to seek out the law enforcement sandbox all that frequently.

    Frankly, there aren't many male alphas in these groups, either. There are usually only a couple of guys who are able to win and maintain the respect of the entire group. The issue is to be competent enough at handling your business and the social challenges to avoid being the goat or the asshole.

  6. verry good. It puts some light on my super beta/feminized friend who acts like a women in terms of friendships: he tries to be buddy with everyone he meets, and be accepted automatically. When it doesn't work with one guy he start to worries and ask himself why this guy doesn't accepts his friendship. I try to explain that it doesn't matter because you dont even know the guy well and anyway it doesn't work that way, you have to earn his respect and friendship, but he doesn't seem to understand. He wants to please everyone, and when teasing one member in the sandbox occurs he doesn't like it. Oh well...

  7. This article is an excellent description of Conservatives and Liberals, as well as men and women.

  8. Being one of those who plays by feminine rules by default, this is eye-opening. I'm married to a woman, but I grew up with LGBT-circles and traditional male-socialization has always been foreing ground to me. This clears up why it seems to be hard to make friends with most men.
    *Shrug* I'm not gonna change my ways, as how it is works for me and I'm not interested in parttaking in competitive hierarchies. But to each to their own.

    Though makes me wonder once I have kids, how I will teach them to compete in this kind of system if the choose to. Maybe being able to fake/act the role could be of benefit.

    1. You can't fake it. Not over the long term. If you're process rather than product motivated, it shows, and quickly.

  9. So, why go into the sandbox as a pioneer?

    1) Power play: advance one's own agenda, thereby gaining social dominance. This is the classic feminist tack. If you get in, you can a) steer the group, or b) destroy the group. Either shows power.

    2) Social play: gain allies and gain respect. a) entrance gains allies = N members of group. b) understanding that respect is portioned out by men, not women, male affirmation accords more respect. In effect, trying to score by flanking the main FSM.

  10. This is incidentally the reason why i got laid off from my latest job last week. I was working under a manager who was a typical feminist and in turn a line manager who was also a 'geezer bird'.
    I was told to go not because i was doing my job as i was told to do, but because i was simply 'not liked' in the group didn't 'fit in'.

    In reality, none of this matters. All that matters is whether or not you get the job done.

    I knew there was something wrong with my dismissal and wasn't evident until you wrote this article. So thank you.

    I will make sure not to accept roles controlled by women from this point forwards.

  11. Fantastic article. I wouldn't say men NEVER build consensus, the best leaders seek some input from their subordinates, and you need everyone's support in order to get them all to work towards the goal, but there has to be a leader with a vision or goal in mind who takes that information and executes the plan. I've seen guys who don't doubt themselves or seek input and they roll along great for awhile, then they train-wreck.

  12. "because, as I told him, sometimes black folks just need the space to "be black" without any white people around. It's not a racist thing, it's a cultural thing."

    Really now? And suppose whites wanted to "be white" without any negros around, would that be hateful oppression and racial bigotry?

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