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Is Testosterone to Blame?

By Barrington Brennen


Although this is the final article under the series "Male Leadership in Crisis," there will always be an intense discussion on the subject in society, church, and school. We are all disturbed about the direction in which many of our men are going today. We do have a shortage of responsible, educated, and dignified men in our society. In the past five articles I have discussed various reasons why there is a male leadership crisis. Centered in my discussion are these points:

  1. Male leadership is in crisis not because of the overwhelming increase of female leaders in our society, but because males have failed to become team players with females.
  2. Male leadership is in crisis because many males have not understood the basic principles of leadership. The focus has been on the exercise of power and control, management and administration, instead of motivation, nurture, and transformation. In many families the focus of male leadership has not been on sharing and caring, but on directing, manipulating, demanding, and controlling.
  3. Male leadership is in crisis because society has perpetuated the belief that males are automatic leaders. Thus, from birth boys have raised to be "in charge" of people instead of teaching them how to be in charge of their own lives and to be followers. Hence, we have a society of men who are filled with steam but have no power. This steam eventually cracks the males’ fragile ego walls and pours its heat into society in all kinds of abuse and illegal activity.


In most men there seems to be an unconscious drive to dominate, conquer, and control. We often think of men as aggressors. Is society alone to blame for this seemly built-in male phenomenon, or is there another answer for it? Why do boys play with fire trucks and girls play with dolls? Why does it seem so natural for men to dominate and women to submit? Is this the result of nature (how we are made) or is it the result of nurture (how we are raised)? Perhaps an answer to these questions may help us solve our male leadership crisis.

Although hormones and genetics influence human behavior and there are things that seem to be so natural to us to do, yet I believe that everything we do is learned–-even how to be men and women. When a male says "a man has to be a man," he is really speaking about his testicles. In the testicles is a hormone many call the "masculine hormone" or testosterone. It is what, many have argued, makes a male a man--an aggressive leader. Laboratory research has shown that injecting more testosterone into male and female rats make them more aggressive. Could it be that dominance in males is excusable and natural because their level of testosterone is higher than that of females? Let us examine a little closer the hormonal influence on male dominance.

Steven Goldberg, City University Sociologist, in his book ‘Why Men Rule – A Theory on Male Dominance," shines some light on the subject.

"I have suggested that the anthropological evidence forces us to claim that the sexual differentiation of dominance tendency is of central importance to an explanation of the universality of patriarchy, male attainment, and male dominance; and that both logic and anthropological evidence would seem to suggest very strongly indeed that sexual neuro-endocrinological differentiation is of central importance to the differentiation of dominance tendency itself even if we had no direct neuro-endocrinological evidence whatsoever . . . . There is an enormous amount of evidence which demonstrates beyond doubt that the testicularly-generated fetal hormonalization of the male central nervous system promotes earlier and more extensive maturation of the brain structure that mediates between male hormones and dominance behavior; this makes the male hypersensitive to the presence later of the hormone which energizes dominance, emotions and behavior, and results in his stronger tendency to respond to the environment with dominance behavior."

Let us not get too excited, men, by thinking that we cannot help dominating and that this theory implies that we are destined to be leaders. Dr. Goldberg states that he is "discussing only the directly specifiable, observable, and describable neuro-endocrinological differences between the sexes and the behavioral tendencies these neuro-endocrinological differences can be shown to engender. I am in no way implying that there is some law of nature which requires that the males of a species should dominate."

Let us reason this through. If the male’s ability to lead depends on physiology, then his intelligence level would be reduced to that of an animal. To understand this phenomenon further, it is important to know that boys and girls have roughly equal testosterone levels, although boys usually demonstrate a stronger dominance tendency, as well as a greater tendency for rough and tumble play, fighting, and other male behavior. Most sociologists agree that masculinization and feminization is not just an outgrowth of hormonal production, but also that of socialization. I believe that it takes a combination of effective parenting, individual personality, the community, and hormone production to create an individual. We cannot blame testosterone for all the evils in our society.

What should we blame? Who should we blame? I believe that the great force in character building is society itself. The most influential persons in society on character building are the "significant others" in our lives--usually our parents. Traditionally, the most influential parent has been the mother. Often this influence has not been a good one in the rearing of sons or daughters.


Almost thirty years ago, noted Bahamian psychiatrist, Dr. Timothy McCartney, in his book "Neuroses in the Sun" vividly described the conditions of the Bahamian family and the male dilemma. He strongly suggested then that the lack of male presence in the families was hindering the normal development of our boys into real men and increased their risk to become sexual perverts. He mentioned that the increase of the Bahamian dominant females in the single-parent family was problematic. In his own word:

"This is the reason for the careful cultivation of the "stud image"; because of his (the male) early submission to female dominance, the male feels compelled to establish his authority over woman in the most direct, elementary and instinctual way he knows: sex. His real satisfaction does not lie in the sexual act itself. The kick he gets out of promiscuity is that to him it represents a continual confirmation of his manhood; i.e., his dominance over woman, and the extra pleasure he finds is boasting about his sexual conquests to his male cronies further reaffirms his own image of self as he-man, as "one hell of a guy" and at the same time gives him the emotional satisfaction he only finds in all-male company and in all-male relationships"

Dr. McCartney expounds further on how the Bahamian male became corrupted:

"Thus, stripped of the false aura of "he-manism" and the irresistible virility, the Bahamian male presents as a deeply insecure individual, the product of a tragically inadequate family structure that denies him a healthy psychosexual development and drives him to constant reaffirmation of his sexual identity by engaging in indiscriminate and –I am firmly convinced–really rather joyless sex."

Isn’t it evident that male corruption is not the result of neuro-endocrinological differentiation but that of socialization? Isn’t it also evident that male leadership crisis is an outgrowth of a corrupt society where men have not learned how to be co-transformational leaders with their wives in their homes? I call on all men to reevaluate their philosophy of life, their passion for doing, and their reason for leading. If you do have the talent to lead in the community (not all men do), lead with a teachable spirit, a sensitive heart, and a compassionate mind. In the home, open your heart to the wisdom found in your female companion. Learn how to collaborate and cooperate with her. Testosterone is not to blame, WE ARE.    Your response  barringtonbrennen@gmail.com   



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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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