Are Men All That Bad or Are Our Small Gametes to Blame?

Do you remember the Mother Goose nursery rhyme about little boys and girls? There are a number of variations. The one I grew up with went: “Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails.” Even as a child I always remember being uncomfortable with that rhyme. First, I was uncomfortable with “snip.” What is a snip anyway? I suspect that any boy who has been circumcised shivers a bit when he hears the word snip. I wondered why I couldn’t be sugar and spice and everything nice. It seemed a much nicer option.

And what am I supposed to be made of? I’m made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. It sounded yucky to me. And what happened to the cute puppy dogs? All I get are the snips and the tails. There seemed to be an implication that I had something to do with the lost tails. Did I snip them off?

Even as we’ve eliminated a good deal of sexist language in our society, those old memories remain. Sugar and spice still sounds pretty nice. In fact, there’s a website called Sugar and Spice that describes the sweet meeting of Kati, a Finish girl, and Hans, a Dutch boy.

The “sugar and spice” nursery rhyme was written by Robert Southey around 1800 and has survived through the centuries in defining the difference between boys (icky things) and girls (nice things). Over the course of time and in order to accommodate other countries, different nasties were used in place of snips. Some use snakes, others used frogs.

Whatever the language, the meaning was clear. There was something inherently good about girls and something nasty and destructive about boys. The feminist movement helped women break out of the constraints of having to be “nice.” Males still suffer from the belief that there is something wrong with being male.

A five-year-old boy is prosecuted for sexual harassment in grade school for kissing a female playmate. Older boys are mistakenly diagnosed as having ADD because they don’t want to sit still in a classroom that does not allow for their natural male exuberance. Recess and school sports are being dropped in many schools because they don’t provide any “real” educational value.

Some feminists believe that being male is itself some kind of disease. Natalie Angier, an influential voice in the public discourse on gender, wrote a piece in the New York Times called “The Debilitating Malady Called Boyhood: Is There A Cure?” Can you imagine what kind of an uproar would be created if the New York Times published an article titled “The Debilitating Malady Called Girlhood: Is There A Cure?.”

Well, if being a male is a disease, guess what the cure would be. Marilyn French is another prominent American writer, celebrated for her novel The Women’s Room.” In a New York Times interview she said, “I think men would be much happier if they behaved like women. I think they would get much more out of life and would have much more easier selves if they were like women.” Could anyone in the world today get away with suggesting that women would be happier if they were like men, or that Muslims would be happier if they behaved more like Jews, or Blacks happier if they behaved more like Whites?

There are some who believe that if men are going to be alive we should pay the price. June Stephenson wrote a book called Men Are Not Cost Effective in which she details the cost of crime to society and points out that most crime is committed by men. She proposes a gender tax that all males would pay to make up for what men cost the society. Her philosophy seems to be “if you play, you pay.” She doesn’t seem to recognize that crime is not just a gender issue, it results from many factors. For instance, we know that crime goes up when the unemployment rate increases and goes down when it drops. Boys who grow up in homes with single mothers are more likely to be involved in delinquent activities and crime as they get older than boys who grow up with both a father and mother at home.

The Dating and Mating Game: Small Sperm, Large Egg, Look Out.

Biologists have a very simple and useful definition of what is male and what is female, whether we are fish, ferns, or human beings. An individual can either make many small gametes (sex cells) or fewer but larger gametes. The individuals that produce smaller gametes are called "males" and the ones that produce larger gametes are called "females." Although the human egg is microscopic, it is large enough to house 250,000 sperm.

The small gametes are designed to fuse with a large one, and the large ones are designed to fuse with a small one. The female strategy produces gametes that are large, and have a high rate of survival and fertilization. The male strategy is to produce as many as possible, to increase the chances of finding a large one. About 400 eggs are ovulated in a woman's lifetime. A healthy male produces 500 million sperm per day.

An individual must either invest in a few large eggs or in millions of sperm. Thus, there will always be many times more sperm than there are eggs. Consequently, sperm must compete for access to those rare eggs. Although these basic facts of life may be obvious, the importance and implications may not be.

In fact, this difference in the size of our sex cells makes a huge difference in how we act as males. As we will see, it helps explain why men can become so irritable, why we die sooner than women, why we are involved in more violent arguments, and why we become more depressed. “The cellular imbalance is at the center of maleness,” says geneticist Dr. Steve Jones. “It confers on males a simpler sex life than their partners, together with a host of incidental idiosyncrasies, from more suicide, cancer and billionaires to rather less hair on the top of the head.”

Generally it is easier to move the smaller sperm to the larger egg than vice versa, and so it is the male that seeks out the female and the female who makes the selection from those males that come courting. “Males are in flux in almost every way: in how they look and how they behave, of course,” says Jones, “but, more important, in how they are made. From the greenest of algae to the most blue-blooded of aristocrats their restless state hints at an endless race in which males pursue but females escape.”

This is one of the reasons that there will always be more irritable and insecure men than women. Because they carry the larger, scarcer, and valuable eggs, women will always be more sought after than men. Men will always have to take the initiative and women will always get to choose the most attractive male from those who present themselves and reject the others. In the game of life, women hold more of the evolutionary valuable cards.

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy wealth. - Henry David Thoreau


Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of seven books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages and his latest book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at

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