Why Men Need Women

I was the first girl in my family in six generations. My grandmother Ernestina Padua would tease that she had waited a long time for me.

Since as early as I can remember, she taught me that being a girl meant I had a little bit more of heaven inside me. She felt it was her job to teach me what it meant to be a great Padua woman.

One of my first lessons was this:

“Las mujeres hacen los hombres.”

The literal translation of this is “Women make men.”

At first I interpreted this lesson as a form of obligation: that the fulfillment of man was the burden and duty of woman.

But over the years, my understanding of this phrase evolved.

I watched my cousins grow up and change from raucous wild men into kind, patient, dedicated fathers.

I watched as girlfriends transformed bad boys into perfect husbands.

What force was at work here?

Was I merely an observer to the male aging process? Or was something more meaningful happening?

In his address at the American Psychological Association in 2007, Professor Roy Baumeister argues that across a wide range of attributes “men go to extremes more than women.” (1)

Wharton Professor and best-selling author of Give and Take Adam Grant adds:

“Men are responsible for the lion’s share of the worst acts of aggression and selfishness, but they also engage in some of the most extreme acts of helping and generosity.” (2)

As women, we often wonder: Where are all the good men? Is chivalry dead?

Yet perhaps the more relevant question is: What brings out this latent nobility and generosity that men possess?

A separate thread of research indicates that one of the forces that drives men toward generosity is — wait for it — women.

This is demonstrated across multiple arenas:

• Chief executives reduce the average pay in their companies when they become a father to a son, but not when they have a daughter (3)
• American legislators and British male voters with daughters vote more politically liberally (4,5)
• In a game-simulation study where respondents are asked to choose between (a) getting $25 and giving $10 to a partner and (b) getting $20 and giving $30 to a partner, those who chose the generous option were 40 percent more likely to have sisters (6)

Social psychology researchers assert that these cases point to the male tendency to take on the empathetic tendencies and preferences of women in their lives.

So when my grandmother says that Women make men, she means it quite literally:

A man’s behavior is directly and indirectly shaped by the requirements imposed on him by the women in his life.

Take Bill Gates’ example. In the early 1990s Gates was already on track to become the richest man in the world but rejected advice to set up a charitable foundation, saying he preferred to wait.

Yet three short years later he ranked third on Fortune’s list of the world’s most generous philanthropists. Gates credits the change to two women in his life — his wife and mother — who constantly encouraged him to give back. Incidentally, during the same time Gates became a father to his first child — a daughter.

So, while it may be true that the “good” men are gone or that chivalry is dead, women may have more to do with these trends than they realize.

Consider that women, not men, are the keepers of moral standards, the flag-bearers of generosity and service.

And thus when we require men to fulfill on their potential, we become the catalyst that brings out their best.

Therefore the test of a man is not whether he is already the king that you want him to be. Rather it is: when you set a higher standard, does he rise to the occasion?

1. Transcript from Roy Baumeister’s talk, Is There Anything Good About Men?
2. Adam Grant’s New York Times article, Why Men Need Women (we also credit Adam Grant for this article title, which is borrowed here)
3. Michael S. Dahl, Cristian L. Dezső and David Gaddis Ross, Fatherhood and Managerial Style.
4. Ebonya L. Washington, Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues
5. Andrew J. Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee, Daughters and Left-Wing Voting.
6. Van Lange, Paul A. M.; De Bruin, Ellen M. N.; Otten, Wilma; Joireman, Jeffrey A., Development of prosocial, individualistic, and competitive orientations: Theory and preliminary evidence.


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Tara Book CoverHi, I’m Tara
Padua, founder of NextFem. I help high-powered women master their relationships.

As a professional executive coach since 2003, I’ve accrued more than 7,000 client-coaching hours working with 400+ female leaders at organizations like Condé Nast, Cartier, Deutsche Bank, Diesel, Louis Vuitton, Siemens and many, many more.

Healthy relationships are the foundation of a life that works, and my life experiences have fueled my mission to help women get the love they deserve.


  • Hillary

    Reply Reply August 27, 2015

    This is beautiful.

  • Jennifer

    Reply Reply August 28, 2015

    Hi Tara,
    This is such a valuable perspective. I saw this play out with my brothers as well, and it’s something that I think we need to continue to explore as women. Great piece.

  • Rachel

    Reply Reply August 28, 2015

    Makes me think of the Odyssey – a story in which men are driven to both extremes in service of a woman!

    • Tara Padua

      Reply Reply August 28, 2015

      Hi Rachel – the odyssey is a great example of this phenomenon at work. xxtara

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