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The Morality Gap: Are Men Moral Bums?

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I'll admit it. I'm ticked off. Last November, I was holed up in bed with the flu, dying for a cup of chicken soup, and my boyfriend of three years, Tim, was no where to be found. I wouldn't think of calling and asking him to pick up some NyQuil©. He made it clear from the get-go that he wasn't interested in contributing much to the relationship. Like the time I asked him if he could massage my neck. "I don't enjoy doing things when I'm asked," he reprimanded me. Forget the fact that I grilled organic chicken dinners for him and massaged his back almost every day.

That night, two days before the Thanksgiving break, I knew he was at his favorite sports bar, Game, and he'd get to me when he was ready. Feeling a bit dizzy from fever, I sauntered down to my mailbox and picked up my new issue of The Atlantic. Kate Bolick's cover story stared up at me: "What Me, Marry? In Today's Economy Men are Falling Apart." Damn, another article like "The End of Men" by Hanna Rosin (published in the same magazine a year earlier). I was already scared shitless that eligible men my age (42) were a dying breed.

A glutton for punishment, I dug in. Midway through, anxiety gnawed at me. My deepest fear was confirmed yet again: The economic shift in America meant women now out-performed men in college and the work place rendering a potential partner -- an earning man -- extinct.

Stick it out with Tim, I coached myself. He was 42, charismatic and funny. He made a great living working at one of the top film studios in LA and we loved talking current events and Obama. Like me, he was an NPR junkie. He'll see what a great catch I am, eventually.

As I was finishing the article, my phone beeped with a text. "Come over now?" Tim asked. It was 12:35 a.m.. "Sure," I texted back, my resistance down. As he sauntered into my house and slipped under the sheets, I reminded myself about something I had known since the first week of meeting him: I'm dealing with a narcissist and he's not coming around. Where will I find a compatible partner?

Was it coming to OK Cupid or Match? I turned over, facing the wall, reviewing my boyfriends over the past 15 years -- the actor, the attorney, the chef -- and it hit me: I've never had a problem meeting bread winners. My challenge is meeting a wage earner who cares about something besides himself, his screenplays and Tim Tebow. Lying there that night listening to the Santa Ana's scorch Los Angeles, I had another revelation: The premise of Bolick's article (that women are surpassing men economically) only addresses part of the problem. I see a deeper crisis: a moral disparity.

It was irritating that Tim never offered to wash a dish or bring over take-out, but the bigger issue was that it never occurred to him to contribute to any group at all except himself. After inviting him numerous times to spend time with an amazing 14-year-old girl who I've been mentoring for nearly eight years, he managed to meet her once for frozen yogurt. When I asked him if he ever gave money to the Obama campaign or, say, NPR, he readily said no, almost baffled that I contributed to both, even though my income was diminishing. What did he, and others I dated, lack? A generosity of spirit and social consciousness.

While I may have a thing for narcissists, evidence suggests that women in general are more empathetic, altruistic and community-oriented than men. For instance, a 2002 study called "Helping Hands: A Study of Altruistic Behavior" by Elizabeth Monk-Turner found that even though men are socialized for chivalry, women were more likely than men to help a stranger in need. A 2009 study in the Journal of Economic Literature by Rachel Croson and Uri Gneezy found that women are more likely than men to reciprocate acts of kindness. Studies by Catherine Eckel and Philip Grossman from the Monash University Department of Economics show that women are more generous and sensitive than men.

What accounts for this break-down along gender lines? Socialization, says Dr. Jesse Prinz, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York Graduate Center and author of numerous books on the topic, including Beyond Human Nature. "Though things are changing now, 30-50 year-old males were still taught that being to be emotional is to be weak. Morality -- and feelings such as empathy and charity -- are grounded in emotion," explains Prinz, who happens to be a 41-year-old man. We grew up, he adds, at the tail end of the time when people still mourned the birth of a daughter. "It was still okay to treat boys as little princes, which leads to a huge sense of entitlement. People still do it, of course, but there is more consciousness about that form of sexism."

Prinz also asserts that we're inculcated in the value system of the political times. "We were raised in the Reagan generation -- a time of excess and hyper-capitalism. The younger generation had the Clinton years and two unpopular Bush presidents, so there may be moral improvements."

Bottom line: It's the worst of both worlds right now for women. "On the one hand, women have made great advances and there's been this economic shift, but there's cultural residue. Many men my age still feel entitled," Prinz said.

Liberalization of social and sexual mores has stopped providing women with payoffs, asserts Dr. Greta Kroeker, associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. "We can play in the same sandbox now, but we often only get the side with the cat piss." Kroeker adds that part of the challenge is the fact that the right has a vocabulary for talking about morality, though it misidentifies the sources of immorality (i.e. homosexuality, government, unwed mothers). As a result, when liberals want to respond, they either lack the vocabulary to argue about it in secular terms or they dismiss the issue of morality altogether because they find the religious agenda of the right distasteful. "Liberals need to develop a vocabulary to address these issues."

So can men be retrained? Yes, says Prinz. "The shift is already happening -- we're just at a cultural lag." As women continue to earn more and be the bread winners and as men continue to be more involved in child rearing and share house hold responsibilities, the two sides will meet in the middle."

Here's hoping.