Maslow On Dominance

“A Streetcar named desire” by Tennessee Williams (1947) interpreted masculinity as aggression, control, physical dominance, and violence.

Dominance-Feeling, Behaviour and Status

One of his earlier papers from 1937 “Dominance-feeling, behaviour and status” referred to his study of the behaviour of a group of men and women through interviews, dream analysis, hypnosis, questionnaires, etc., that allowed him to divide the group in 3 types according to their exhibited level of dominance: high-dominance, low-dominance, and middle-dominance. This division was relevant to both sexes but according to Maslow referred to the US culture alone, “and even then there are many indications that there exist many broad sectional-cultural differences within the US alone” (Maslow, A.H., Dominance-Feeling, Behavior, and Status, 1937, Psychological Review).

Maslow acknowledged that “dominance behaviour may not be expressed by a woman as freely as by a man. The very definite training that most women in our culture get in being “lady-like” (non-dominant) exerts its effects forever afterwards” (Ibid.,). He is fully aware of the social conditioning imposed on women by the voices of tradition and the patriarchal society in which they lived. In Friedan’s words “experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children, how to buy a dishwasher, bake bread, how to dress, look, act more feminine..They were taught to pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights…” (Friedan, 1963).

Women as a minority group

Amongst the women studied, 8 exhibited “compensation” behavior, or “subjects that feel weak but wish to appear strong” (Maslow, 1937). All of them were Jewish, a group defined by Maslow as a “minority”, and their compensation behaviour explained by not feeling completely wanted or respected.

For authors like Millett or Greer, women in a patriarchal society are for the most part marginal citizens and their situation is like that of other minorities, if not by number, by status. “A minority group is any group of people who because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment” (Millett, 1977 quoting Louis Wirth, “Problems of Minority Groups“, in the Science of Man in the World Crisis). “Wirth stipulates that the group see itself as discriminated against,…but many women do not recognize themselves as discriminated against; no better proof could be found of the totality of their conditioning” (Millett, 1977).  Maslow also failed to identify women as a minority, however he did identify female as “the weak, the exploited” later in his journals.

Dominance by sexual aggression

He also observed that in the expression of dominance by sexual aggression (rape or forced marriage) it is the female who is the object, and the male who is the dominant, but “there seems to be no reason why the case should not have been quite otherwise” (Maslow, 1937).

Maslow fails to notice that in patriarchies violence against women has been common. There was and there still is clitoroidectomy, clitoral incision, the sale and enslavement of women, involuntary child marriages, prostitution. “Force itself is restricted to the male who alone is psychologically and technically equipped to perpetrate physical violence. Where differences in physical strength have become immaterial through the use of arms, the female is rendered innocuous by her socialization. Before assault she is almost universally defenseless both by her physical and emotional training”. (Millett, 1977)

Dominance by sexual potency

Sexual potency is also a sign of domination for the man “in no case is a less sexually potent man regarded as dominant over the more potent and virile man. Quite as interesting as this is the fact that this is not true for the women.” (Maslow, 1937) Maslow’s comments came before the 1961 Master and Johnson study on female sexuality that proved that the female is capable of multiple orgasms in quick succession. “While the male’s sexual potency is limited, the female’s appears to be biologically nearly inexhaustible” (Millett, 1977). This belief in the higher sexual potency of the male is part of the patriarchal myth “which lent sanction to the double standard” (Millett, 1977).


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