Although changing social and cultural contexts mean guilt has less power today than it once did, a new study has shown that in the West this emotion is “significantly higher” among women. The main problem, according to the experts, is not that women feel a lot of guilt (which they do), but rather that many males feel “too little”.
[ ]…The authors also found gender differences — similar to those noted for habitual guilt — in the two indices of interpersonal sensitivity, although in the 40-50 age bracket the men’s levels came closer to women’s.
The interpersonal sensitivity of men (especially those aged between 25-33) is “comparatively low”. The experts say a lack of sensitivity could lead to absence or excessive weakness of certain kinds of guilt, such as empathetic guilt, which could be beneficial for interpersonal relationships and for the individual.
Types of guilt
The most common forms of guilt are related to situations where we cause harm to others. Stemming from this, it is normal that this arouses feelings of empathy for the people we may have harmed, which tend to turn into feelings of guilt when we recognise that we are responsible for their suffering.
A previous study, also headed by Itziar Etxebarria, analyses people’s experiences of guilt, differentiating two components ? one of these being empathetic (sorrow for the person we have harmed in some way) and the other anxious-aggressive (unease and contained aggression).
The anxious-aggressive kind of guilt is more common in people who have been raised in a more blame-imposing environment, and who are governed by stricter rules about behaviour in general and aggression in particular. “It seems obvious that this component will be more intense among women, and especially in older women”, says Etxebarria.
The greater presence of this component among women, above all those aged between 40 and 50, explains the marked differences in the intensity of habitual guilt in this age group, “just at the age when males move towards females in the two indices of interpersonal sensitivity analysed”, she explains.
This study had a rather small sample size so it will probably not be the last word on the subject. In Western culture, while its no longer the land of Father Knows Best, we still have a patriarchal centered society. That it takes men so long to catch up with women in terms of connecting individual actions and their consequences has implications in terms of child rearing and a child’s expectations of the world. It seems to reinforce a lower level of empathy in men, yet women remain about the same. The authors think women would feel less unjustified guilt if educational practices did not still contain some biases. While they also speculate that men’s tipping point for guilt would be lower if not for our society’s tendency to in some ways reward such feelings/behavior.
A good example of being crippled in regards to empathy, Bauer: Furor over comments won’t change stance
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Saturday he could have chosen his words more carefully when he compared people who take public assistance to stray animals Friday.
[ ]…Friday, Bauer said giving food to needy people means encouraging dependence. It also gives the recipients a license to have children who will also be dependent on public aid, he said.
“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals,” Bauer told a Greenville-area crowd. “You know why? Because they breed.
“You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”
When those people that receive some kind of public assistance did work or earned more they paid taxes of some kind – federal withholding, sales taxes etc. So they paid for the benefits they get. This socio-political version of survival of the fittest or luckiest is not just a political idiosyncrasy, its displays a an inherent lack of the ability to empathize with those having problems. In addition to a tremendous ignorance about about social policy.
`I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge. `Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned — they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.’
`Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’
`If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, `they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.’
`But you might know it,’ observed the gentleman.
`It’s not my business,’ Scrooge returned. `It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!’
from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Stave 1: Marley’s Ghost