Where are all the men?
September 24, 2020 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm a man who participates in maybe what I'll call "extracurricular activities": going to museums, concerts(when they did them), picnicking in parks, doing zoom classes, book readings, volunteering with organizations, even online political activism. When I do these, nearly always are majority or nearly all women who are participating. Is this confirmation bias, something because I live in NYC, or actually a thing? If it is a thing, what are men doing? Are there any studies or articles that discuss this or talk about this?
posted by sandmanwv to Society & Culture (38 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Concerts with no men? Depending on the musical genre, there can be concerts, exercise, and volunteering that is just men, nearly no women.

I think it is confirmation bias, or maybe you are doing them at weird hours.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:22 AM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

This article says women are 30% more likely to volunteer than men, and I've seen additional breakdowns that that ratio can be higher if the volunteering event doesn't work as networking for men.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:25 AM on September 24, 2020 [12 favorites]

Here is an article about gender imbalances working in a museum, best as I can tell museum attendance is balanced.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:28 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I read it, but ISTR this being one of the concerns raised in Bowling Alone: that men were less likely to make friends and socialize now (where "now" was 2+ decades ago for the book) than before. The book also raised concerns about isolated widowers whose entire social network was developed and maintained through the emotional labour of their late partners.
posted by scruss at 8:38 AM on September 24, 2020 [22 favorites]

Bike collectives/community bike shops are typically extremely male.
posted by aniola at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't have as much experience with maker spaces, but I would strongly expect those to skew male, too.
posted by aniola at 8:52 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

less so year over year but the improv world skews male.
posted by mmascolino at 8:57 AM on September 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Men could be in sports or something like Habitat for Humanity.
posted by NotLost at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2020

Back in the before times I was a frequent opera, symphony, and museum goer. Plenty of men, generally older (50+) at the opera and symphony. But judging by how many ex boyfriends I've run into at the Field over the years, museum attendance is more diversely age mixed. Art museums skew younger in general (students of all genders).

I've done most of my volunteering with the Girl Scouts which, no surprise, skews heavily toward women volunteers.
posted by phunniemee at 8:59 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also I once read a stat that people in general perceive a group that is 30% women as "mostly women," so you might be interpreting the groups through this unconscious filter.
posted by phunniemee at 9:01 AM on September 24, 2020 [57 favorites]

It's hard to say without more information, because specific things are gender-coded. The audience at an Indigo Girls concert is going to be a lot different, demographically, than the audience at an Avenged Sevenfold one. A Zoom class about sewing is going to draw different people than one about woodworking. If you're going to metal shows and taking Ron Swanson Zoom classes, :shrug:

Time matters, too. Museum attendance might be balanced overall, but probably not on autumn Sundays.

The fact that men tend to work longer hours probably also plays a part, especially in New York.

There's a big participation gap in recreational sports, which is also something that's pretty time-intensive. You can go on a picnic, visit a museum, and take a Zoom class all in the same day, but playing hockey is probably going to be the only thing you do. You'll have to drive to and from the rink, get dressed and undressed, warm up, and probably go out for beers after, in addition to the actual 60 minutes of game time.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:06 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

On average, men in the US work longer hours, drink more alcohol, and have smaller social circles (you'll find a lot of research on potential links between social isolation, loneliness, and mortality for older men if you look).

The particular extracurricular activities that you've listed sound like they'd be attractive to highly educated professionals. That's a demographic where men specifically are pushed to work more and more hours; I found this case study of the way one particular workplace's culture of long hours hurt both men and women thought-provoking.
posted by yarntheory at 9:08 AM on September 24, 2020 [12 favorites]

These are all formal, organized activities. Art activities that are not as formal like loft galleries are much more diverse.
posted by geoff. at 9:16 AM on September 24, 2020

Concerts with no men?

Yeah. This one is a headscratcher for me. There have been plenty of times (even somewhat recently in Beforetimes) when I felt like I was one of a handful of women at a show, and one of the only ones there "with" a man.

But genre/artist matters, for sure.
posted by thivaia at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't remember my source, but I've heard it suggested that for the elderly population in nursing homes, men are much more likely to stay in their rooms and avoid the common spaces. (Maybe my source is Metafilter.)
posted by puddledork at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding Phunniemee's answer: I once read a stat that people in general perceive a group that is 30% women as "mostly women," so you might be interpreting the groups through this unconscious filter.

Like all of us, you're so used to being in male-dominated spaces and being exposed to male-dominated media that a more proportional number of women participating in activities around you feels like "whoa so many women everywhere." I know I have often had that visceral reaction. We have been led all our lives to expect women to be invisible so it's jarring when they aren't.
posted by MiraK at 10:02 AM on September 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

Article describing the abovementioned cognitive bias with links to studies supporting the theory. A telling quote from one of those links:
"The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women." In other words, if women talk at all, this may be perceived as ‘too much’ by men who expect them to provide a silent, decorative background in many social contexts ... [Their reaction is similar to] when precocious children 'dominate' the talk at an adult party.
posted by MiraK at 10:17 AM on September 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: This is absolutely a thing, in my experience. The thoughts around cognitive bias are good ones and may be the case for you but personally as a single queer man I, shall we say, do pay a lot of active attention to how many other men are present :), and generally in any given public "activity" I participate in there will be something like 0-3 men out of 10 people.

I have two theories:

1. Men are socialized to be less social, less interested in being connected to the community, and in particular as for volunteering/activism we are heavily socialized to avoid non-physical grunt work. I've been really struck by how overwhelmingly the groundwork for anything happening in the community from mainstream to radical is carried out by women and NB people.

2. This may sound obvious but one tends to think of the activities they participate in as just "the normal type of things that people do" when in fact, your actual interests do steer you towards activities that are gender-coded in various ways. For example I have never gone to a poker night, a pickup basketball game, or an engineering meetup-- if I were interested in these things, my experience of gender skew might be less that men are nowhere to be seen and more that activities are heavily gender divided.
posted by dusty potato at 10:22 AM on September 24, 2020 [19 favorites]

Concerts really depend on the act in question. I took my wife to Lady Gaga and I was certainly one of the few men in the arena that evening. On the other hand, a Drive By Truckers concert was probably 60-40 men. Radiohead was also much more male.
posted by octothorpe at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2020

Best answer: YES! From my years dating cis hetro men as a cis hetro woman, I 100% concur with your observations and also have the same question.

My anecdata: In my footloose and fancy-free days (i.e. before I had a kid) I liked trying out random, fun, hobby-like activities, and they were nearly all female dominated. Singing, learning instruments, language classes, museum or art gallery visits, dance classes, art workshops... men were always rare.

I spent a lot of time wondering what the dudes were doing for fun. But then, from my dating experiences, I came to understand that white hetro cis men have only two hobbies: 1) they are 'in a band', 2) they watch some kind of sports. And this being Chicago, the really really adventurous ones would 3) do Improve classes.

Alas, most of the guys I encountered had zero curiosity about expanding that repertoire of interests. Which is why we rarely had more than one date! But it also made me feel kinda sad for them. Imagine how fragile your sense of masculinity must be, or how stunted your curiosity, that you can't even imagine taking a tango class or a pottery class or whatever... They are missing out on so much! Doing random stuff is fun!

(for the record, my now-husband has lots of hobbies, and is an all-round awesome person who has curiosity and humility to try things that he might not be an expert at. If you're reading this, hi honey, I love you :-)
posted by EllaEm at 10:58 AM on September 24, 2020 [23 favorites]

I'm sure if you walked through a Home Depot or similar shop on the weekend you'd see a lot more men than women. A lot of my free time is taken up by projects for stuff around the house. Could be maintenance stuff, building things that I want/need or fulfilling requests from the rest of the family. If you've got a home and access to tools then there's always stuff to be done.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

^ In addition to home repair, (young) men are in their basements gaming. Also, they’re in their living rooms, watching sports. When I used to go to the ice rink (sigh) the gender mix was always about 50-50.
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:19 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's a mix of NYC demographics (fewer adult men than adult women), confirmation bias, and actually a thing.
[Local group activities not yet mentioned, with men usually outnumbering women: birdwatching, fencing, chess.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:26 PM on September 24, 2020

Response by poster: EllaEm expressed what I was trying to describe exactly: "trying out random, fun, hobby-like activities" to a t.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:32 PM on September 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

In my experience, men are playing pub trivia -- I (female) did that for years in different cities, and it definitely skews more heavily male. So a good opportunity to make some male friends, if that's what you're after -- there are usually at least a few teams that are looking for extra players.
posted by jabes at 12:43 PM on September 24, 2020

I will add, I only once met a guy in a dance class. (As it happens, Jazz Dance.) He had joined because he was really into improve and his improve teacher told it would help him get a better sense of his body. He started off (like all of us) really clumsy and not knowing how to do anything. But he stuck with it, and improved enormously. More to the point - he had a lot of fun. It was a small class and we all became buddies. We were all pretty bad at dance, but that wasn't the goal really.

I think the key thing I realized was that the guy in my Jazz class was prepared to look foolish in the name of trying something new and meeting new people. Not many men are able or willing to look foolish, or even just not-super-competent. It's notable that lots of the suggestions above for 'manly' hobbies, like trivia or being very into certain bands, are hobbies based on showing off your existing knowledge.

But... if you always have to be the expert in the room, how can you ever learn new things? Or just find out what else you might enjoy?
posted by EllaEm at 1:14 PM on September 24, 2020 [17 favorites]

I feel that in the beginning archery classes I've taught are mostly women, but the archery competitions I go to are definitely mostly men. Are men less into dabbling than women are? (I love dabbling, this is not an insult.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:31 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Some activities are gendered for cultural reasons that seem baffling to an outsider. As someone who grew up in India, I've always found it strange that yoga participation in the US is so strongly skewed by gender. Apparently this instance of strange gender skew doesn't seem strange to most Americans though.
posted by splitpeasoup at 1:48 PM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think I gravitate towards male-dominated hobbies/activities. All of the "extracurriculars" that you mention in your post are activities that I rarely do. A list of some activities or meetups I've tried over the years that seem to be male-dominated:

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
programming meetups
internet discussion forums on lifting or calisthenics
gun ranges
shooting competitions
bouldering (although much less so than some of the above, maybe 30% to 45% women)
olympic weightlifting (also less so than some of the above)
videogame tournaments
videogame conventions

It sounds like it's more likely to be the choice of hobby that you pick for yourself, and perhaps some confirmation bias. I have a friend who had the opposite issue you've noticed, who felt that all his interests were in areas that were nearly 100% men and he wanted to meet more women who shared his hobbies.
posted by Iron Carbide at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Not many men are able or willing to look foolish, or even just not-super-competent.

not being happy about it is a world away from not being able to do it. men look foolish all the time, they can't help themselves any more than we can. the fantasy of super-competence may or may not exist for men the way it does for women, but men walk around being blithely and publicly incompetent everywhere on earth. they don't even seem to mind very much. would that they sometimes did.

a factor that is definitely real -- though only a small and partial explanation-- is the reasonable man's worry that if he is the only man in a group, he will be perceived as a creep of some kind, or just not know how to start talking to people as he might do if he were another woman among women. I do not blame them because people will not stop telling single men to do this kind of amateur-humanities-club stuff if they want to meet women, because of the gender numbers...so of course the kind of men who are genuinely interested but inexperienced will worry about looking like they're there to get a date. so there are probably more men who are interested in this stuff than there are men who are SO interested that they don't mind being the only guy there.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:35 PM on September 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

One question might be when are you going to these events? Many events are held at times that are difficult for people who hold typical day jobs to attend and thus are attended by retirees or stay at-home moms. (I once took advance of my work's volunteer time off policy to go in and volunteer once a week -- I had to constantly remind the org I volunteered with that, yes, I had a job!) Likewise, child-friendly events that encourage or allow people to bring kids are more likely to attract women.

Book clubs are definitely a gendered activity, but picnics are very popular in my city and I have noticed no disproportionate number of women picnickers. If you see a gender skew in picnics that suggests to me this might something about your perception, when you're going out, or the particular place you're going rather than a universal phenomenon.
posted by phoenixy at 7:31 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have the exact same line-up of interests, and I have not noticed that there are disproportionately more women than men at any of the events I attend. What I have noticed is that many social activities in the U.S. revolve around alcohol. A friend of mine has pointed out that there are plenty of single men at the symphony who I could meet, but since I don't drink, and therefore do not hang around the bar during intermission, they don't have any real opportunity to strike up a conversation with me.
posted by LilithSilver at 7:44 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Many of the men I know in NYC pursued some of the hobbies listed here in very individual ways, even if they also could take place in a group setting:
- Language lessons with a private tour hired online (instead of with an in-person class)
- Making music solo (guy + guitar) or with 1-2 friends at one of their apartments (instead of jamming in a park/public place)
- Studying some topic (philosophy? comparative politics?) through online research, streaming recordings, and reading books (instead of attending lectures in person)

I've also found that for some hobbies, the gender balance really varies regionally. I used to be a social dancer - mostly lindy hop/swing/blues and occasionally salsa/waltz - which is a great way to meet people. In San Francisco/Seattle there are more men than women in the scene, in NYC/Houston there are more women than men, and Pittsburgh is pretty balanced. The prevailing theory in the community was that usually interest in dance skews female, but since swing dance is relatively formulaic, it appeals to engineers - a field that skews male with overrepresentation in San Francisco/Seattle.
posted by A Blue Moon at 9:28 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have the opposite problem as a woman whose interests happen to be in traditionally male-dominated spaces. So purely anecdotally, based on my experiences and the men in my life, they are likely:

- Playing sports
- Watching sports
- At a bar
- At a bar watching sports
- Playing video games at home
- Tinkering in the garage or around the home
- Golfing
- Fishing
- Cycling
- Running
- Working out at the gym

A lot of these activities are either solo or done within the confines of already established friend groups. It seems to me that men tend to avoid scheduled activities that involve socializing with new and unknown people unless they are professional networking events.

My beer league softball team and friends' teams are often scrambling to roster the requisite number of female players. It's not uncommon for us women to sub for each other's teams regularly so they don't have to forfeit. My coed hockey league has just given up - most teams have only one woman or no women at all. I'm the only woman on my team. None of my female friends golf (or are not yet competent enough to play a round on an 18-hole course) so I tag along with my dad or my fiance and their (male) golf buddies. Women are also scarcely found in motorsports, mainly because the men are so intimidating and unwelcoming to women, or outright creepy towards us.

Activities I've done that had a fairly even mix of genders include volleyball. I hear from friends that dodgeball and ultimate are some other good ones. Essentially any co-rec sport where physical strength and speed are less dominant factors. Even floor hockey tends to be less gendered than ice hockey, possibly also because there's little equipment required to try it out. I've also come across hiking meetup groups that seemed to be pretty evenly mixed. So these might be activities worth trying out that aren't too overly macho, nor do men tend to stay away because it's too girly or they're worried about looking like creepers.
posted by keep it under cover at 9:56 PM on September 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think the big blind spot might be how many smart men (and your activities are mostly 'smart person' activities) are nerds. The listed activities definitely seem f-coded to me, particularly if the political activities are liberal. If I look at how me and my (nerdy, male) roommates spend our spare time, it's:

Playing MTG in person and online
Playing Tennis
Studying Maths
Cryptic Crosswords

I think the things these 'male-coded' activities have in common are:
There's an emphasis on developing mastery and getting better at something.
They're nerdy.
They are self-directed - there's no (painful!) need to adopt a subordinate position to another person.

Correspondingly, there's less emphasis on:
Appreciating the work of others (art, book groups)
Sensuality and sensual pleasure

(I don't know what to think re: concerts - I like minimalism and post-rock drone stuff, and the audiences skew very, very male)
posted by wattle at 5:46 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

For volunteering in particular, women and AFAB people are socialized to believe that we have no worth unless we take a nurturing role in our community. That has two effects: one, that women are more likely to volunteer; two, that volunteering is seen as unmasculine unless it’s also “leadership”.
posted by capricorn at 7:42 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

> the feeling of telling yourself you're "mastering" this and part of some tiresome identity group, the self-congratulatory pleasure of the nerd, is the pleasure of the book club.

Every book group I've been part of has been primarily about the social connection. Even the serious, nonfiction-only, meet-in-a-Unitarian-church book club took the social bonding as seriously as the educational aspect.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:56 AM on September 25, 2020

Middle-age lower-ish middle class white Ohioan male here.

concerts(when they did them)

As a professional concert-worker I'd say this depends very heavily on act and genre and some of the established race & class & cultural signifiers related to that - an obscure metal band in a 500-capacity club could easily be 90% white male audience, a new hip hop act in the same club might be a more even gender & racial split, while a classical chamber orchestra concert might be like 75% white women 50-75 years old (classical has long had a problem attracting younger audiences, and older white middle and upper-class women have often spent their lives in a culture with fairly strict gender roles where they worked outside the home only part-time, if at all, and have thus put their time and energy into doing things like supporting artistic endeavors as volunteers, organization staff, donors, fund-raisers, or board members (and there is very definitely a prevalent white class assumption that things like classical music & museums are "good for you" in a vague unspecified way, likely tied in with capricorn's point about being socialized to be "nurturing for the community"), so women are invested in the classical chamber concert in a way that men of their generations aren't.)

Singing, learning instruments, language classes, museum or art gallery visits, dance classes, art workshops... men were always rare.

EllaEm expressed what I was trying to describe exactly: "trying out random, fun, hobby-like activities" to a t.

I'll note here that to me EllaEm's list strikes me quite a bit as potentially or largely group activities - and I do think there's a noticeable gender division in hobbies & leisure activities where men tend to gravitate to things that can be done solo or in small groups, especially with trying out new things. Like, my super-generalized vague & hand-wavey analogy would be, "When they decide to "get fit", women will join an exercise class, men will go to a gym and look for a personal trainer."

The how and why of this are more than I want to dig into in this comment, but 1) it is definitely a Thing, and not just an NYC Thing, and 2) I think how you are trying out fun new potential hobbies may be affecting your observations.

2 personal examples: as a musician who knows LOTS of other musicians, I'd say it's a fairly safe bet that nearly all of the male musicians I know got inspired to get started either from direct contact with a friend or family member or from watching or hearing someone already publicly known as a musician, and their early attempts were either with private teachers or just DIY'ing it in their own rooms; trying out an instrument by joining a 20-person "Guitar 101" class at the local community college just wasn't even on their radar. And I go to museums, even ones I haven't been to before, all the time - by myself. Some of it is undoubtedly because I'm some degree of introvert, but there's no denying that there's some level of socialization happening where going to a museum at random just because I feel like it is fine, signing up for a guided group tour is "No."

So the corpse in the library's observation of archery classes are, I think, pretty relevant - women definitely seem more comfortable trying things out in a group situation, while the actual hobby (as a whole) may be more gender balanced or even male-dominated. If you're trying things out by group activities, I'm not all that surprised that participation skews female.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:54 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

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