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#196120 - 02/19/10 02:24 AM Insights and questions from the Donner party.
Art_in_FL Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 09/01/07
Posts: 2432
Some time ago I posted a recommendation for a PBS TV show about the Donner Party and their ordeal in 1846-7. Reading up on the event I came across an interesting question: Why is it that two-thirds of the men died and two-thirds of the women survived.

Quote:
Why did more women than men survive?

This is a complicated question with no simple answer, but here are some major factors:

1) Men led more dangerous lives. Some, like John Snyder, Mr. Wolfinger, William Pike, Luis, and Salvador died violently. Also, more men went out on snowshoes to get help; most of these men died.

2) The men had done heavy labor along the way -- clearing the road through the Wasatch Mountains, for instance -- and when they reached Donner Lake they set to work felling trees and building cabins. During the winter they were expected to continue doing "menís work," like shoveling snow and chopping firewood. Basically, the men started the winter in worse physical shape, and their customary activities further weakened them.

3) Women have less muscle and more body fat than men. They need less food, have more stored energy, and may have an advantage in some cold situations, although this last is by no means certain.

4) All the women traveled with at least one family member, which gave them not only a support system but also something to live for. Having a family was also a factor in menís survival; all the adult males who survived the entrapment were fathers, and all the bachelors (single men 21 and over) died.

5) When things get tough, men tend to want to go out and do something to fix the situation. The strongest men went with the Forlorn Hope snowshoers. The ones left behind couldnít do much but wait; they certainly couldnít fix the weather, and as they weakened from hunger they were less able to perform their expected tasks, like hunting, cutting firewood, or shoveling snow. I believe that the men were more likely to fall prey to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Milt Elliott returned from the Donners at Alder Creek reporting that "it was very sad down their & it made a man feel awful bad when he could not do any thing to fix them any better." Some of the men, like Jacob Donner and James Smith, seem to have just given up. James F. Reed wrote, "James Smith was about the first who died of the boys. He gave up, pined away, and died. He did not starve."

6) The women, on the other hand, still had their usual roles of keeping house and tending children. Women seem to be better at putting up with things, at accepting the fact that a situation isnít fixable and trying to make the best of it. This gives them a psychological advantage in scenarios like the Donner Party, when people are at the mercy of factors beyond their control. In addition, itís not as damaging to a womanís self-esteem to have to be rescued.

In the 1990s Donald K. Grayson, an anthropologist, and Stephen A. McCurdy, a physician, independently performed statistical studies of Donner Party mortality rates. The full length reports of their studies appear in professional journals but synopses are available on the Internet; see Jared Diamondís "Living Through the Donner Party" in Discover 3:13 (March 1992), p. 100-107, which describes Graysonís work, or the summary of McCurdy's study.

For Donner Party mortality/survival figures by gender, see the Statistics page.


Above from:
http://www.utahcrossroads.org/DonnerParty/FAQ.htm#women%20than%20men

It is interesting that familial support and sex roles, expectations of what it meant to be a man, and what it meant to be a man in a situation where your acculturated tendencies are thwarted, played a clear role in what risks were taken and who survived.

What do you think? Were the cultural roles helpful to the group, the individual? Or were they largely counterproductive?

Is there any way to have acculturation and sex roles benefit the group without sacrificing the individual? Are sex roles and expectations still a major consideration?

A question I have long wanted an answer to: why is it that pretty much every behavior that is futile, self-destructive, stupid, self-defeating, and foolish characterized and immediately identified as typically male?

Why is it that Darwin Award winners, across the board and historically, predominately male?

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#196122 - 02/19/10 03:41 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: Art_in_FL]
thseng Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 03/24/06
Posts: 899
Loc: NW NJ
Originally Posted By: Art_in_FL
A question I have long wanted an answer to: why is it that pretty much every behavior that is futile, self-destructive, stupid, self-defeating, and foolish characterized and immediately identified as typically male?

Why is it that Darwin Award winners, across the board and historically, predominately male?

Testosterone?

Men were designed to get up, kill something and drag it back to the cave. We're expendable.

I should probably recuse myself. Up until a year ago I was convinced I had two Y chromosomes.
_________________________
- Tom S.
Mora Knives & Adventurer Series Survival Gear

"Never trust and engineer who doesn't carry a pocketknife."

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#196126 - 02/19/10 05:00 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: Art_in_FL]
Susan Offline
Geezer

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
The women: I think they were right about "Women seem to be better at putting up with things, at accepting the fact that a situation isnít fixable and trying to make the best of it."
Most women who aren't rich (esp in those days) were used to extreme hardship and making do.

The men: "Having a family was also a factor in menís survival; all the adult males who survived the entrapment were fathers, and all the bachelors (single men 21 and over) died." It may have been a combination of the focus of surviving for the family, and that focus 'encouraging' them not to go out and do something pointless or dangerous.

Many young men seem to have a kind of knee-jerk reaction to many things, possibly testosterone-related, or maybe just an inability to think things through clearly, or a combination of the two.

Art "... why is it that pretty much every behavior that is futile, self-destructive, stupid, self-defeating, and foolish characterized and immediately identified as typically male?"

Are you familiar with stream-of-consciousness written interior dialogues? I would love to see some accurate ones from some different young men.

Just from what I've seen and heard, so many of them seem to be basically irrational. Not all, however... I'm not trying to be insulting here.

There seems to be two basic types of men/boys: those who can control their thinking and planning, and those who can't seem to think in a straight line.

The first group is what I think of as 'men', and they seem to be the ones who are good businessmen, who can create a military strategy, and draw reasonable conclusions from a set of facts. I've known very young men who fit in this group, so I suspect that age isn't the issue.

The second group is the 'boys', no matter what their age. They seem to be totally unable to follow a rational line of thinking to a reasonable conclusion. It's like their brains are seriously affected with a bad case of electrical static that interferes with adding 2 + 2 to get 4.

The boy gets mad at someone and starts punching holes in the wall and kicking furniture around; the man focuses on a plot for revenge (even though he doesn't necessarily follow through with it -- it's more of a form of keeping control).

I have three good friends of many years who are married to really excellent men. I have known many other men (and my older brother falls into this category) who simply react, with no plan, no focus, no conclusions on how/why something happened.

Put both of these two basic types of males in a survival situation, and everything else being equal, I would bet on which ones would survive: the ones with focus and rational thinking.

Okay, guys, how far off am I?

Sue

p.s. on the Darwin Awards. I believe it was in the second book where the author said that she received many queries as to why almost all the nominees and winners were male. IIRC, the Darwin Awards began as a sociological experiment at a CA university (Stanford?), and Wendy Northcutt took it over with a few other people when it had outlived it's original usefulness. She said that by the time of the second book came out, while there had been thousands of males nominated, only (I think) 14 females had been suggested. I forget what she offered as a possible reason, but that may have been where I first came across the term 'testosterone poisoning'. Or not.

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#196133 - 02/19/10 05:25 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: Susan]
scafool Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 1534
Loc: Muskoka
I think it is possible that the men tried to make sure the women and children ate better than they did.
_________________________
May set off to explore without any sense of direction or how to return.

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#196135 - 02/19/10 05:51 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: scafool]
Jeff_M Offline
Addict

Registered: 07/18/07
Posts: 665
Loc: Northwest Florida
Originally Posted By: scafool
I think it is possible that the men tried to make sure the women and children ate better than they did.


Yet the single men, who presumably would be disinclined to forgo food for women and children unrelated to themselves, suffered 100% mortality.

Women typically have higher body fat reserves and lower metabolic/caloric requirements than men.

I think both culture and biology likely played a role.

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#196142 - 02/19/10 07:43 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: scafool]
James_Van_Artsdalen Offline
Addict

Registered: 09/13/07
Posts: 449
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: scafool
I think it is possible that the men tried to make sure the women and children ate better than they did.

Probably not. Until recent times the man in the family ate first and got the best of the supplies, the wife next, then the children in order of decreasing age. This is strictly about survival - if the man died the entire family was doomed, whereas if a child died that's unfortunate but it happens and they move on.

I'm not sure when that changed, i.e. when it wasn't necessary any more. The turning point was probably when population density got high enough that a family that lost the father could count on support from the neighbors. The Donner parties' backgrounds would dictate how they approached the issue.

PS. I got a stiff lecture from some 80-90 year-olds last year on where the phrase "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" came from and how those things worked on isolated mid-western farms before the 1900s.

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#196143 - 02/19/10 08:30 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: Susan]
James_Van_Artsdalen Offline
Addict

Registered: 09/13/07
Posts: 449
Loc: Texas
Originally Posted By: Susan

The men: "Having a family was also a factor in menís survival; all the adult males who survived the entrapment were fathers, and all the bachelors (single men 21 and over) died." It may have been a combination of the focus of surviving for the family, and that focus 'encouraging' them not to go out and do something pointless or dangerous.

I would first look at what was physically required for survival. It may be that it was more likely that two (or more) people could do the work needed for that group to survive, but that one person had a hard time doing all the work needed for that one person to survive.

(i.e., you may need to have four hands for a task or especially be in two places at once - hunting and protecting the camp - difficult for bachelors)

There may also have been a subtle prejudice against men who were as old as 21 yet not married - bachelors would not have gotten much assistance from families barely able to survive themselves.

PS. The issue of men or women better at this or that didn't matter. Roles were dictated by the requirements of pregnancy in women, and every division of labor results from that. Gender roles etc were not abstractions to people in that era but supremely important matters of survival. Straying far from the women-at-home men-hunt model tended to win the entire family a Darwin award.

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#196193 - 02/20/10 02:17 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: James_Van_Artsdalen]
Tarzan Offline
Member

Registered: 02/02/08
Posts: 146
Loc: Washington
I definitely put a vote down for testosterone.

Until the age of women's lib, there used to be a thing called chivalry. Lifeboats would load "women and children first" then the older men and so on.
It is true that many cultures allowed the men to eat first, there is a good reason for that. The majority of heavy work is done by the male because of our sexual dimorphism. We require larger caloric intakes to compensate for our musculature as well as our increased activity out of doors. Much of womens work revolved around the hearth and homestead, places sheltered and warmer than the unforgiving wilds. It was mostly repetitious and monotonous, but rarely life-threatening to the extent that plowing, hunting, fishing, and fighting off intruders and raiders would be.

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#196194 - 02/20/10 02:18 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: James_Van_Artsdalen]
Susan Offline
Geezer

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
"Roles were dictated by the requirements of pregnancy in women, and every division of labor results from that."

You only mentioned half the issue. Men are stronger than women, and strength was usually seen as superiority. Many men outlived three or four wives -- if they didn't die in childbirth, they were worked to death.

In that time period and for centuries before it, women had few options: wife, mistress, maid or [censored]. Why do you think women literally put their lives on the line via being mail-order brides? Why do you think the early-days LDS women put up with multiple wives? Between lack of great physical strength and sociological conditioning, it was a matter of survival, period.

Why do you think women suffering from PMS or menopause were put in insane asylums? I'll bet it was because they had become less useful and it was the easiest way to 'trade them in' on a newer model. Women were chattel, property.

Sue

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#196262 - 02/21/10 03:16 AM Re: Insights and questions from the Donner party. [Re: James_Van_Artsdalen]
Hike4Fun Offline
Journeyman

Registered: 06/01/06
Posts: 80
Originally Posted By: James_Van_Artsdalen
[quote=Susan]

There may also have been a subtle prejudice against men who were as old as 21 yet not married - bachelors would not have gotten much assistance from families barely able to survive themselves.


I do believe there was an overt prejudice against bachelors,
but I have not seen the documentary in years. I seem to
remember, that on the assent, into the mountains, a bachelor
was dumped, i.e. abandoned.
My guess: bachelors were less likely to be the owner of a
wagon.

I kind of agree with Susan on the man-thinker and boy-thinker
analysis. Supplementing a man-thinker would almost always be
a (the) woman thinker so they would be thinking ahead on
political power, ownership, supplies etc.

In one film, I remember a member of the group shooting at
a friendly Indian, who was part of the group. Correct me
if I mis-remembered this.

On the other hand, it does not take deep thinking.
A man, seeing his 4-year old daughter on the verge of starvation,
could easily take advantage of a bachelor.
(My view of human nature, I suppose.)

If this group had recently arrived from a Norse culture, where
skiing and sledding was predominant, I think several of the
party would have skied over the pass and got help, early in
the year. A few bachelors would have been perfect for this.

I never understood their fatal Stay-together and Stay-put
philosophy.
They really lacked creativity, and a pro-active
approach.







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