Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Difference Between Male and Female Heroes

Nowadays, are real-life “action heroes”—the high-stakes physical interveners lauded in myths and movies—more likely to be men?

Possibly. One Northwestern University study reported that people who win Carnegie heroism medals by pulling off feats like saving someone from a burning house are disproportionately male. Though there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, heroes who take the most extreme risks are typically men—take New York City “Subway Superman” Wesley Autrey, who jumped in front of an oncoming train to save another commuter who’d fallen onto the tracks. Differences in size, muscle mass, and temperament may account for some of this gender imbalance; occupations that most often involve heroic rescue, such as firefighting and police work, tend to be heavily male-dominated.

But across a wider range of selfless activities, say social psychologists Selwyn Becker and Alice Eagly, women perform just as many heroic deeds as men, if not more. Living kidney donors, Peace Corps members, and overseas Doctors of the World volunteers are all more female than male. While women may be underrepresented as “action heroes,” they take plenty of risks on others’ behalf.

But they’re selective about which risks they take; Eagly notes that women tend to opt for those that support fellow human beings and enhance relationships. They engage in a complex mental calculus in which they weigh the perils of taking action against the benefits it provides to others.

Sometimes, this means putting their health or well-being at risk, as female kidney donors do. Other times, they put their lives on the line—as did young San Francisco mom Keenia Williams, who dragged a truck driver more than 65 feet to her car when the diesel fuel in his tank went up in flames after a crash. Williams was no adrenaline junkie or strength trainer, but she felt compelled to intervene because she saw a fellow human being in need of help.

From:  Greater Good

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