Silent Sirens

The Scarcity of Women Among the Scams

By Len Clements  ©2007, 2008

As told in Homer’s Odyssey, the song of the Sirens was so enticing that all those who sailed past their island’s shore would be compelled to dive into the sea, to their ultimate destruction. The great Ulysses himself had his men bind him to the mast of his ship and fill their own ears with wax to avoid the lethal temptation of the Siren’s song.

There are as many snakes within the MLM industry as there are atop the head of Medusa, and they sing their own alluring song leading us to believe our ship has come in – then once aboard, driving it straight into the rocks. But unlike Homer’s Sirens, this chorus is made up predominantly of men.

Literally hundreds of scams, money games and pyramid schemes have come and gone over the years, and I’m hard pressed to come up with a single one that was operated by a woman. Women certainly may have participated, but more from the perspective of victim than perpetrator.

Even the recently eradicated “Women Helping Women” pyramid scheme was, when it’s various incarnations are traced backwards to it’s origin, founded by a man. Based on the classic “Airplane Game”, this more feminine version was born in Canada in the late 1990s.  It was originally called “The Dinner Party” which morphed into “A Woman’s Project” only after a small group of women adopted the “gifting club” concept as a way to generate funds for local charities. Even when women do start pyramid schemes it’s to help other people make money! Yes, there were other women who later corrupted the scheme’s altruistic intentions by redistributing the monetary “gifts” among themselves, but this only begs the question; how many levels down from the apex of a pyramid does one stop becoming the perpetrator and become the victim? This scheme stretches back many years, and those women who were recently prosecuted were well down the chain.

Indeed, for every woman in a garish orange jump suit picking up trash along the interstate there are ten men to thump the scales of justice to the other side. And this applies to not just bunko and confidence games, but literally all types of unethical behaviors, illegal or otherwise. For example, researches found that 50% of all women have, at some point in their lives, cheated on their husbands or boyfriends. Not surprisingly, it was 70% for men. However, 80% of women fantasized about cheating on their significant other, while this was true for 98% of men. Women are even less likely than men to cheat in their imagination!

In a survey of almost 10,000 American high school students, 98.6% of girls agreed with the statement “It is important to be a person of good character.” Only 95.7% of boys said they agreed (or, more likely said “sure dude, whatever”). Cheat on a college entrance test? Two-and-a-half times as many guys “strongly agreed” it was okay. And more to the point: “People who are willing to lie, cheat or break the rules are more likely to succeed than people who are not.” Men who agreed: 28.2%.  Women who agreed: 16.0%.

There are myriad reasons why men are much more likely than women to commit a violent crime (eight times more likely in the case of murder) besides a divergence in ethics and honesty. But even the gentler, more cerebral white collar crimes are predominantly committed by men as well. For every one Martha Stewart there are 4.4 Michael Milkens, literally. Among the 1,016 prisoners held in federal penitentiaries in 2000 who were incarcerated for white collar crimes, only 230 (22.6%) of them are women. Of all consumer complaints filed with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center in 2001 where the gender of the perpetrator was defined, 82.3% of them were men.

For the record, women make up 51.1% of the U.S. population (140 million women, 134 million men, 6 million lonely pro-polygamists).

Research also reveals that the number of women committing white collar crimes (i.e. work place theft, embezzlement, fraud, forgery, etc.) has increased considerably over the past twenty years – by about 30%. One popular theory suggests that the increase in single-mother households (3 million in 1970, 10 million in 2000), and women’s increasing socioeconomic independence from men, have both contributed to women’s willingness to commit pecuniary crimes. On the surface this would seem to indicate the ethics edge women have over men might be eroding. But alas, even this apparent foible in the female favor is fallacious. While it is a statistical fact that the number of white collar crimes by women over the last 20 years has indeed risen by about 30%, over roughly the same period of time the number of women in full-time executive, administrative and managerial occupations has also increased considerably – by about 30%. More women are getting busted for white collar crimes simply because more women are now in a position to commit white collar crimes.

There’s just no two ways about it – most crooks are, were, and likely always will be, men.

This begs another question. Why?

Looking at this logically (I’m a man, I’m good at that), we can safely assume the perpetrator of an economic crime either sincerely believes they are doing no wrong, or they are acting with full knowledge that their scheme will cause harm to others. So if a woman starts a pyramid scheme believing it will cause no harm to others, she must be really horrible at math and be utterly void of any common sense. It’s pretty obvious, after all, that most people will lose money in a pyramid scheme. It takes a pocket calculator and third-grade level math to figure this out.

So going with the alternate assumption that those who start pyramid schemes, or any kind of monetary scam, do so with full knowledge they will cause harm to others, why are women so much less inclined to do so?

My theory? Empathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often, and incorrectly, used interchangeably. Although closely related, they are not synonymous. Sympathy is the feeling of compassion or sorrow for another’s pain. Empathy is when you feel the same pain.

So you see, us guys are fighting millions of years of evolution here. We are inherently wired to be the hunter, the provider, the taker. Even the taker of life, whether it be to defend one’s territory, or simply to provide food for the clan. Men had to get over how the poor deer would feel as we’re slaughtering it not long after the amphibious thing that would become a deer first stepped hoofed fin on dry land. We’ve had to learn to ignore the feelings of our enemies as we clubbed them to death or filled them full of spears, arrows, and eventually bullets. It’s hard to kill things you feel empathy for. This might explain, at least in part, why only 13% of those in the military, or 4.6% of licensed hunters are women. Or, why over three times as many men are diagnosed as psychopaths (the inability to feel empathy towards others). Not only are more psychopaths men, they’re also a lot better at it. The “Psycho Hall of Fame” includes such charmers as Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, Adolph Hitler, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and a long list of others. Arguably the most famous female psychopath would be Aileen Wuornos, which most folks would have never heard of had Charlize Theron not won an Oscar for playing her in a movie.

While men have spent the last million years killing and conquering, women have been back in the cave caring and nurturing their young. After tens-of-thousands of generations closely monitoring the state of babies and young children who can’t yet communicate verbally, you get pretty good at being empathetic. So, in general, it’s much easier for women to feel how the person they are about to swindle is going to feel once the dirty deed is done.

When it comes to scam artistry the statistics may certainly favor women proportionally, but even among men the pro (-ffessionals) vastly outnumber the con (-vics). The jerks just stand out. They’re more newsworthy. When was the last time you heard this promo: “Men who don’t cheat on their wives, work hard for their money, and raise well mannered children – next, on Oprah!” Unfortunately, being special just isn’t – special.

Having said all that, within the network marketing industry today the Siren song is still too often sung in a deep baritone. While instinct and genetics may be an explanation, it’s not an excuse. Perhaps empathy need be forced at first, but it is something that can be practiced and a greater sense of it can be acquired, and with no reduction in testosterone levels. You can still enjoy a Bud and a Bears game and be an empathizer. Try it, guys. Next time the nose tackle breaks his leg, try to feel his pain.

Don’t worry, ladies. We’ll get the hang of it.