The Blogs & the Coffeeroom

Most of my freshmen rhetoric students choose current topics – off-shoring, CAFTA, privatized social security, the 10% rule–for their series of argumentative papers. (I’ve given up on legalizing drugs; I never got one that was coherent. While I’m sympathetic with the positions expressed on this blog, reading these made me doubt their authors had time or brain cells to waste on recreational drugs. Indeed, their lives seemed pretty much recreational.)

This semester, I added another option. They could choose among some controversial books, read the book, and analyze one of its major arguments. Rhoads, Hayek, Pinker, Lomberg challenge orthodoxies; only a couple of ambitious students chose to do this, but they are becoming quite engaged. Of course, I have an agenda, but since they have to neutrally define the controversy, then write papers both for & against, the goal is less which side than increased understanding.

One girl chose Steven Rhoads’ Taking Sex Differences Seriously, but has been having trouble finding arguments or reviews. This is her first semester in college, but I suspect this is not just her lack of research skills. Some studies are best left unreviewed. Last week, I approached one of my colleagues from psych and asked if she knew of any work specifically countering his arguments. She hadn’t heard of it.

Well, I’m not in the field. On C-span, the panel seemed headed for an all-out fight, but maybe nothing much is in writing. Unfortunately, I segued this into my rote rant: my students often see history through ideology. For example, the patriarchal Puritan wouldn’t let his wife work outside the home.

Of course, I knew (and somehow ignored) this was not likely to be a sympathetic audience. With remarkable good humor, my colleague laughed and said, ah, I guess I’m as stupid as your students. But still I raved on (as I am wont to do); finally, she said, “But, Ginny, surely you don’t believe that life is equal for men and women.” By this time we were in the relatively enclosed elevator space – perhaps too small for the anger of my snap: Of course not. If our culture were equal then probably 135 women wouldn’t be graduating from college to every 100 men who do. By now, she was getting exasperated; I had to admit we suffer from stereotypes. For instance, she said, aren’t men still expected to be the breadwinners? In a quite stupid moment, I said, neither my mother nor I nor my daughters saw men as the breadwinners. I didn’t say the obvious: this stereotype leaves women freer than men in career choices.

Quiet and embarrassed, back in my office, I realized that I hadn’t been honest, the women in my family did indeed consider their men the breadwinners – especially when we wanted to have our children. Then, we wanted our husbands to take on more of the external responsibility as we took on more of the domestic. And, calmer, I recognized an old problem: Anger speaking is seldom thought speaking. And thought was clear: what better argument than the juxtaposition of our remarks. A society which expects men to support its households and shortchanges their education is not, well, fair. Men’s roles as father and husband are linked, perhaps not inextricably but loosely, with those of provider and protector. (A society which defines men as studs is not likely to be productive – nor happy. See Dalrymple’s plaint in bitter essay after bitter essay.) When we don’t value men for broad supportive & protective skills, we are setting up an uneven relationship. Women still have babies – one of our many not small contributions. We bring our bodies & minds – our role as helpmates, our interest in nesting and nurturing, working & learning. We expect our mates to complement us, indeed, to complete us as we do them.

The statistic I quoted above (135 women to 100 men) was reinforced as I read through Dr. Helen’s blog. Her observations on how our current culture treats men are perceptive. Interwoven throughout her arguments for the last few weeks has been proof our society is badly failing boys. Anyone that teaches at an open admissions junior college sees these boys – uncertain, a bit belligerent, a bit flakey: many a bit sad. One of the least fluffy women I know remarked that she felt a tenderness toward them. Perhaps some use ideology to harden themselves against that tenderness, but I doubt that is wise. Of course, the boys (more often but not exclusively) who are taught with soft expectations of conduct as well as of scholarship also push our school systems into chaos. (See Oh, Snap. Thanks to Photon Courier).

But I suspect my gut-level anger is also from mothering; assumptions “the man” oppresses my daughters (if they bought them) are guaranteed to make them screw up their futures. One of the unhappiest women I’ve known confessed that she hated the subject she taught. I wasn’t surprised – she hadn’t seemed to like it. But she explained a college counselor had suggested she prepare herself to teach English when she had voiced a longing to be an architect. English and teaching, he said, were good things for a woman to do. She could marry and the seasons of teaching would work well with her family. She never married, but did go on for a graduate degree. She hated those classes, hated the books she taught, hated the students who sat in front of her, hated her life. When she told me this, she was in her fifties, more than thirty years after that counselor had uttered those fateful words. But, I thought, people make observations, they make suggestions: some useful, some stupid. We choose from among them and add our own notions and make our lives. In thirty years, with no personal nor financial commitments to others, she had remained in thrall to an idle idea, thrown out with little thought and less knowledge of her, thirty years before. The problem lay little in the words the man spoke and much in a fatalism that accepted that definition, that saw the world embodied in that man. (Rebellion & anger is not practical, either; when a boyfriend remarked I should stop at a master’s, since he would have the Ph.D. in our family, I headed out—eventually hitchhiking through southern Italy & Greece. There are many ways to be stupid.)

Rejoicing in our autonomy, taking responsibility for our lives, looking backwards with wry amusement and sometimes with pride at what we were, what we intend – that is a life from which we can learn. So, I want my daughters to feel responsibile – from the grocery store to discipline to job to husband. I want them to look at marriage as it was among the Puritans and their forbears who settled the plains — a partnership. Both worked hard and if their domains were generally separate, this was not always so. I do not want them to see marriage as a power relationship in which each is constantly on guard lest the other usurp some prerogative, on watch for any implication that the other is dissing them.

I think Dr. Helen is right to draw our attention to this, to worry us with it. The twenty-first century, like the nineteenth, may lead to an even more intense feminization of American culture. And if that is true, won’t we all be worse off? My lit classes are heavily female; my daughter described her upper level language classes as being totally so. About every man I ever cared about deeply was in Arts & Science. I believe what we studied had merit, long talks about books and history (& love & life) helped me find out who I was – and who they were. Many of those friends were gay, which gave them useful insights. In the liberal arts we appear in danger of losing another perspective, the straight guy. And the complaint that traditionally it was overvalued is no reason to undervalue it now. If education continues to be inhospitable to men, our culture will lose something important—increasingly becoming but one of the blind men describing the elephant.

Separating the sexes in the middle grades seems sensible -– they grow at such different rates. But what we find now isn’t separate but equal – it is marginalization, diminution, and, in the end, discrimination. We know enough about that to know it is bad. Of course, I doubt very much that the sex with the testosterone is likely to be docile & guilt-ridden long. They have hormones but also energy and good sense, potential and ability. I suspect they won’t long take school seriously – at least school as described in another Dr. Helen post. (Another describes the effect of a campus defined by women’s values; source). I suspect they will find other worlds to conquer – and if they have to learn something to get there, they will teach themselves. And, because they want to make money and women want them to make money, our system may be changed in ways that by-pass an increasingly hostile establishment.

In the nineteenth century, as churches were feminized, men tamed the west. I don’t understand how the net works, so perhaps I misunderstand Ralf. His attitude seems reasonable. Sure, some of the UN desire to take over the internet comes from distrust of America, but some comes from distrust of its openness. We are fallen creatures and are as likely to spread pornography as recipes, bomb plans as constitutions. But, we Americans are likely to say, what the hey, that’s life. We put up with irritating pornography so we can read, say, Belmont Club; we put up with ads for fireplace sets so we can google around & find ones we want. So someone finds bomb instructions, we find out how to unclog a drain.

In another sense, blogs are the model of a world where we don’t need certification and place, sex, age, race, status don’t matter. UPS commercials brag of globalization, but the open marketplace the web offers spawned many of those businesses: with it, we need less initial capital, bend less to the model of the establishment – masculine or feminine, business or academic. I suspect potential chaos is the reason more tradition-laden societies are uneasy at the sprawling world of the net—and, of course, they are leery of the American cowboys already out there. Indeed, in the BBC report Ralf links to that very image is used:

It {America’s position] is seen as arrogant and determined to remain the sheriff of the world wide web, regardless of whatever the rest of the world may think.

It has even lost the support of the European Union. It stands alone as the divisive battle over who runs the internet heads for a showdown at a key UN summit in Tunisia next month.

Actually, it seems to me asking someone to give up what they have is more arrogant than keeping it – but that may just be my misunderstanding of this whole thing.

I am sure, however, that we’ve got models we haven’t forgotten – we see frontiers & homesteading. Those guys, restless in our classes, are itching to explore new frontiers. And frontiers are where sheriffs bring minimal order. It isn’t that we are blindly optimistic but, in general, we believe “God helps them that help themselves.” We see potential. On the other hand, older & more laden cultures (and even more ones that want to keep their people poor & barefoot & unconnected) see barbarians at the gate.

28 thoughts on “The Blogs & the Coffeeroom”

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  2. “I want them to look at marriage as it was among the Puritans and their forbears who settled the plains — a partnership.”

    Sorry, but that jars. The descendants of the Puritans, not their forbears, settled the plains.

    In all other respects, this is a cogent and I think correct post which I hope is widely read.

    Thank you, Tom Perkins
    molon labe, montani semper liberi, & para fides paternae patria

  3. We remember the good ole corrupt Tammany Hall of Boss Tweed and his immigrant-exploiting minions in New York City during the 1870s – ’80’s (brought down by, among others, Nast’s caricatures). Came the 1970s, liberalistas were agog that Tammany’s Democrats had become enthralled by a black Councilman. Realists, however, saw this as a sign that Tammany had sunk to a level where Tweed’s successors –dark shades and all– were no more than symbolic foci of the Bad Old Days.

    Females are verbalizers; academia is a clerisy, “liberal” education a thing of words– mere words. Like Boss Tweed, once the reality of an overweening, invariably corrupt, ingrown-toenail culture passes, it does not matter who exemplifies it. The feministical celebration of Academic Dominance reflects not the triumph of bra-less wonders but the decline of “liberal arts” into an ignorant, self-serving scholasticism which in fact contributes nothing, only takes. Quite soon, since this parasitic super-stratum adds nothing of value, it will ossify and blow away in little dust-devils of feminist ferocity which interest no-one. Sisterhood will not be “defeated” as such, because no-one will waste time opposing it… after all, who needs endless shouting matches with Nast-cartoonish shrikes?

    Male rejection of vicious four-year rants, billed to feminist hate-objects at vast expense, is gathering noticeable force. Within a generation, one predicts that we as a culture will have reverted to pre-WWII models, whereby “college” will interest only 10 – 15% or so of the economy’s truly productive, entrepreneurial, technologically literate class –that is, of males– while the gender-based teachifiers will fall back overwhelmingly on catechistic “literature” and what their verbalizers amusingly tout as “law”.

    Throughout the developed world, a looming demographic catastrophe is due to put high premiums on actual accomplishment, not mere mouthings of outworn entitlement slogans from 50 – 60 years before. Who knows what form the reaction is going to take?– but be assured, that feministical academia will become so marginalized that any surviving pockets will dispose all the power and prestige of Boss Tweed’s successors, once the societal hissy-fit that gave rise to them has passed.

  4. About a year ago I watched an interview with Camille Paglia. One of the early, 1960’s era feminists, she was quite critical of the culture of male-bashing that has taken hold in feminism since the 1970’s. She said that women in this new leadership were no longer seeking to establish equality with men, but seeking a position of superiority. She was also quite critical of positions that betrayed complete hypocrisy; their defending an antiquated notion of the right to alimony after divorce while arguing for legal equality – both in the same breath!

    Another voice in the wilderness, heard (where else?) only on C-SPAN , is Christina Sommers, a self described feminist who has become increasingly angered by the increasing hostility towards males being institutionalized by the school system and the larger society, echong many of Ginny’s own words. Sommers essay, The War Against Boys, is especially worth reading.

  5. “It {America’s position re the Internet] is seen as arrogant and determined to remain the sheriff of the world wide web, regardless of whatever the rest of the world may think”…use of the word “sheriff” implies governmental control by the US; actually, what irks these governments is *absence* of government control by anybody. The idea of unlicensed free expression is still alien in many parts of the world.

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  7. Ginny wrote: “Anyone that teaches at an open admissions junior college sees these boys – uncertain, a bit belligerent, a bit flakey: many a bit sad. One of the least fluffy women I know remarked that she felt a tenderness toward them. Perhaps some use ideology to harden themselves against that tenderness, but I doubt that is wise. Of course, the boys (more often but not exclusively) who are taught with soft expectations of conduct as well as of scholarship also push our school systems into chaos.”

    Ginny: Your text conveys a sincere concern for these boys but also seems to convey a distance from them. You understand their predicament, yet from a distance.

    Have you ever sat down and talked to these boys, individually or in a group, about these issues? Just have some meeting with them–no other female students around who might object to boys getting any special consideration?

    I don’t think you can wait for the boys to approach you; it won’t happen because males, by nature, will be the last to admit they have a problem they can’t cope with. That’s just how men are. You are going to have to take some initiative, be proactive in reaching out to them.

  8. I still think it misses the mark to define these complementary ways of approaching life as “male” and “female,” and one branch of feminism sought to free individuals from having their personalities defined by their genitals. At its extreme, this ideology denies any biological difference between the genders, but the truth is that there IS much variation within gender, and the critics of this ideology often overcompensate in the other direction, by insisting on more differences between genders and less variation within gender than really exists.

    I say this as a woman who usually finds myself identifying more with the “male” personality gestalt than the “female” one. (Ex: I am good at reading maps, like to argue my point of view, am not very nurturing, etc.) I find myself cheering your critique of female-dominated liberal arts because that attitude alienates ME. But I am no less a female because I identify more with the boys on these things.

    So I would hate to see a reaction to feminism lead to a renewed insistance on deterministic gender roles, or the equally pernicious idea that I am immature unless I give up my tomboyism and become a conventional feminine female.

    I disagree with much of Jung, but his “anima” and “animus” concepts are useful in that they allow one to consider mental/emotional predispositions separately from biological gender.

  9. “One of the early, 1960’s era feminists, she was quite critical of the culture of male-bashing that has taken hold in feminism since the 1970’s.”

    Paglia didn’t write any of her books until the late 70s, and the “second wave” feminism didn’t gather steam until the early 70s, so if she was an “early 60s feminist” then she was an anomaly and is much older than I thought.

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  11. Camille, born in 1947, is approaching 60. She described herself as being a feminist in the 60’s, though she wasn’t published yet.

    I often find myself in disagreement with her to one degree or another, but I admire her intellect. I loved listening to her talk. She has a brilliant and wide ranging mind.

  12. Things change. In ye olde dais, students did not need classes in composition and rhetoric. They were to know such things before being admitted.
    Paglia a fake poseur: her thing is to take a tack opposite a prevailing one to seem different and controversial. Her latest book piss poor.
    More women than men in colleges makes it easier to get scholarship help for men and easier for them to score on weekends.
    Note: why must those in academe cite this or that one to make a point rather than simply saying I believe; we should…etc etc

  13. The “male” persona has an itch for adventure and risk-taking, which translates in such activities as dropping out of college to start dot.coms or or joining the military or hitchhiking around the world (an activity which males can do much more safely than females, and some places females simply can’t go unless they disguise themselves as males).

    The “female” persona wants to create a safe nurturing environment, based on group consensus and stability. This translates into teaching liberal arts and staffing social service agencies. Sometimes into being physicians and lawyers, but pediatricians rather than surgeons.

    Some women have more “male” in their makeup and some men have more “female.” In each case a small percentage of the population, but in absolute numbers, many individuals whose stories aren’t told when sweeping generalizations or public policy are made about gender roles.

    Whether there are more women than men in college isn’t that relevant. Math and science are still overwhelmingly male, CEOs are still overwhelmingly male, PhDs are still mostly male. Professions which command high salaries are still mostly male. The “pink-collar ghetto” still exists. Women in the US have only been equal before the law for about 30 years. The Biblical Exodus from Egypt teaches us that it takes at least a generation for emancipated groups to internalize their new status.

    I agree that liberal arts isn’t a great environment for the male persona, but was it ever? The stereotypes of the man of action vs the long-haired sensitive poet have been around for awhile.

  14. John Blake’s comment about liberal education being mainly “a thing of words” is, for the most part, probably true. Verbal skills are highly emphasized.

    So, why are so many college graduates so lousy at writing and speaking?

    I recently read a joint press release issued by two well-known companies. The use of language was, to put it politely, suboptimal, and I think the writing seriously detracted from what could have been a fairly powerful marketing document. (And this wasn’t an exception–I’ve seen much, much worse)

    I’m sure that just about everyone involved with this press release–the internal PR and MarCom people, the agencies, the line executives who reviewed an approved it–was a college grad, many probably from “elite” colleges and some with advanced degrees.

    Is there something about the way in which verbal skills are now taught that tends to inhibit rather than enhance actual human communication?

  15. RE: “I am sure, however, that we’ve got models we haven’t forgotten – we see frontiers & homesteading. Those guys, restless in our classes, are itching to explore new frontiers.”

    IIRC, in “Myths to Live By”, Joseph Campbell compared the mythologies of jungle tribes versus plains tribes. In highly productive ecosystems, a little slash and burn farming by the women was sufficient to support the tribe while the men, with little responsibility, tended toward secret societies and mythologies supporting ritual slaughter. In less productive ecosystems, the mythologies supported a more egalitarian appreciation of the contributions of all members of the society, including the vital role of hunters.

    As described by Theodore Dalrymple in “Life at the Bottom”, the common elements of underclass culture in welfare societies around the world echo the traditional cultures of highly productive ecosystems where men have little responsibility.

    I agree that “we’ve got the models” for explorers and homesteading, but I believe we also have inherent psychological models where peer status is achieved through gratuitous bravery via gang-style violence at best; grievance mongered violence at worst.

    I fear intolerance for boisterous behavior in our classes repels too many males from exploring, shunning them aside before they can find their own frontiers.

  16. Is there something about the way in which verbal skills are now taught that tends to inhibit rather than enhance actual human communication?

    I’ve seen various essays on ed-blogs lamenting the decline of grammar as a scholastic subject. I would have to agree that if people are not taught what the components of speech are, they will have trouble assembling them.

  17. If school administrators weren’t scared of lawsuits, not to mention pre-pubescent testosterone, some rough-and-tumble recess play might both settle boys down and give them an outlet for some of the conflict, large-muscle, high-impact fun they like.

    The marginal cases need encouragement from society to become full men. Less encouragement, more aging boys.

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  19. Yehudit,

    USA TODAY article

    If you check out that article it’ll explain that the males not in college aren’t going into the fields that you suggest and in the numbers I infer from your statement.

    Also, sciences and Ph.D.’s I believe are at about 50/50 for males and females. Unfortunately I cannot recall if that was just at my university or a nationwide figure.

  20. I suspect (no facts to back it up) that problems with writing arise from the fact that even good students do less reading. I’m not a big basher of television, video games, etc. – reading Peyton Place (and similar) in junior high, as I did, was little better culturally than watching some television. Nonetheless, even reading schlock fiction meant we saw words on the page, increased our vocabularies, and had some sense of the options in syntax, etc. And dissing the canon ended up with books that not only were not likely to appeal to guys but meant that there are few shared works. Allusions, etc. fall flat.

    But, also, the more ambitious a school the less likely are freshmen to have a regular comp class and certainly they are likely to get a harried grad student who hasn’t taught before.

    And I think David Foster’s point can’t be emphasized enough – though I don’t know tbe solution. For one thing, criticism in English is often impenetrable. If this is the model held up for the teachers, what do we expect them to teach?

    I’m a big fan of Bush’s speechwriter, who seems to me to truly write in the context of our history – to feel it and understand it. But that’s Bush’s speech writer. I am, indeed, generally a fan of Bush. But in a country where the majority of younger people seem enthusiastic about privatized insurance (and they are the ones that will be affected), Bush’s lack of the rhetorical skills & p.r. power to get this through seems to me tragic. It is so clearly a step on the way to a stronger and broader middle class – and it appears to be stagnating in part because his communication skills weren’t up to pushing it. (I’ll grant that getting a good press is pretty much impossible, but what bigger and bullier pulpit is there than his?)

    I agree rough and tumble play would probably cut down on classroom restlessness. And, Michael, it won’t surprise you that Sommers’ reviewed Rhoads quite favorably. Obviously, we can feed ourselves – now let’s get guys working on taking us to the moon, etc. etc.

  21. “If school administrators weren’t scared of lawsuits, not to mention pre-pubescent testosterone, some rough-and-tumble recess play might both settle boys down and give them an outlet for some of the conflict, large-muscle, high-impact fun they like.”

    Well, some of them like. Others wish that the rough-and-tumble recess players would drop off the face of the Earth and stop roughly tormenting them so they can read and study in peace.

    While boys are generally different from girls, let’s not forget that they’re also noticeably different from each other. An institution that respects people as individuals, that maintains order and insists that the necessary work be done to specifications but otherwise leaves people free to pursue their own interests and activities would be a better fit for the motley collection of actual humans that it must deal with.

  22. I think institutionalized schooling in the primary and secondary grades has hurt both women and men. It doesn’t have to be this way.

    In our own family, I have a daughter, who is a senior in college, being courted by her professors for a Masters/PHD program in Economics. In at least two of her classes, she is the only girl among 20 to 30 men. She discovered this “talent” only in the last couple of years and said, cool. I’m really, really good at this. She’s decided she wants to become an economics professor.

    I have a son who is a sophomore in college who wants to be a coach, but his other passion is Literature. He’s thinking liberal arts degree and he also wants to teach, not only young boys who need a strong role model on the field of sports, but also to pass on his passion for the written word.

    Neither of them, however, were crammed in a gender box by attending public or private school. I think that is the key to their choices. They went with the things they enjoyed because they didn’t know girls don’t do well in math and boys don’t read books.

    They both, however, had the same reaction upon attending college. We really, really need to be in the teaching profession. These poor kids, male and female, are not well served by the current environment.

  23. I think that the issue isn’t so much forcing everyone back into the gender stereotype box, so to speak, but allowing the “boy centered” behaviors to exist without pathologizing them.

    Whether it’s a boyish boy or a tomboy-ish girl, physicaly active, intellectually aggressive behavior needs to be channeled, not crushed.

    Having said that, I’m happy to see your mention of the Feminization of American Culture. Several international friends of mine are of the opinion that America is a matriarchy and think AMerican women are “masculine” acting yet possesed of many of the Paglia-described double-standards regarding gender roles.

    These friends are both male and female, by the way,, and are all involved in the arts.

  24. Male/Female behavior is in the mass biologically determined.

    In our welfare culture we have designed a system that excludes males. i.e. female heads of households can get welfare easily. Households with a male head have more difficulty. The results can be predicted by demographics almost exclusively.

  25. If you’re really trying to learn the differences between the male and female worlds, ask people who’ve lived in both – transsexuals. (We go in both directions: male to female, female to male. The experiences are, as one might suspect, both different and enlightening.)

    One thing most of us will tell you is that estrogen is a MUCH gentler ride than testosterone. After you’ve tried them both, there is no way you can completely fall for “social programming” rhetoric.

    Beyond that, my personal experience is that men and women are both fenced in. For men, there’s a lot more area inside the fence – but the fence is electrified. Your mileage may vary.


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