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January 22, 2010

The Womanliness Project

I realize I've been rather quiet of late. There are several reasons for that.

Once again I've been struggling with the perennial urge to walk away from blogging entirely. It's been two years since my last break. I love writing, but after a while I begin to feel the pull of other endeavors in meat space and I wonder whether the time and energy I spend online is well spent?

I've been thinking a great deal lately about the anger and confusion with which both men and women have reacted to declining morality and blurred gender roles. Over the years I've come to believe that conservatives - though we ought to be part of the solution - are actually a big part of the problem. That statement will no doubt annoy and anger some of you, especially as I'm just going to throw it out there without trying to explain why I believe this. Please be assured I will pick it up again later.

I've also been going over some old debates with Grim. Grim and I agree about a lot of things but there are also some pretty fundamental differences in the way we see life. To me, that's a feature, not a bug. I enjoy finding out how he sees things because this challenges my own ideas. It helps me see things I might otherwise miss and the inevitable back-and-forth encourages me not to settle for one-sided or simplistic answers to thorny questions. But there's another benefit to our discussions. Often the juxtaposition of my thoughts with his helps me to distill a confusing rush of seemingly unrelated observations into a concentrated and coherent framework. That's the value of talking with people who don't agree with you - if you can do it without things getting nasty, you can learn a lot from them.

I don't mind admitting that I'm growing discouraged with blogging. It's upsetting to me that I seem to view the world differently than most other folks I know.

To me, disagreement is not an inherently adversarial process. I want my ideas to be challenged. Yet (like everyone else I know on the planet) I don't relish being personally attacked for the crime of questioning someone's arguments or examining their premises or evidence more closely. Sadly, personal attacks seem to constitute the majority of what passes for discussion on the Internet. People get defensive when they're questioned, seeing questions as a threat rather than as an opportunity to strengthen and improve their arguments.

The thing is, I'm not ready to give up just yet. And so I offer a proposal I'm very excited about. It's called The Womanliness Project.

Simply put, The Womanliness Project is a practical attempt to apply Grim's notion that what's needed to heal what's wrong with our society is a "vision of beauty"; an aesthetic that appeals on several levels: moral, intellectual, spiritual. Art is good at eliciting this kind of response. What got me thinking about this was the troubles of a friend whose husband went off the deep end and totally wrecked their marriage and finances. It struck me at some point that part of the problem was that his admittedly deplorable behavior completely shattered her faith in him.

But I think they could have recovered even from that. The problem was that once that faith was gone, he seemed to give up on being a decent human being. He quite literally seems to have decided that if he couldn't have the respect of the woman he loved, he might as well become the kind of person no one looks up to.

I don't condone this, but in a way I understand it. It's a phenomenon I've noticed many times. I was joking earlier today with a penis-having individual. I made a wisecrack about his being wrong simply b/c he was a man. He shot back with, "So what you're telling me is that I now have *no* incentive to behave."

There's a profound truth there. Often, we live up or down to the way we think others see us. The corollary here is that if we give up on one half of the human race, we have just removed one of the most powerful incentives for them to behave morally and responsibly.

So... you ask. What is this Womanliness Project all about? Well, it's pretty simple. I've asked several female bloggers whose writing I enjoy to guest post here at VC from time to time. I'll be throwing out a variety of questions for discussion and debate. Now before I am accused of being a sexist piglette, I don't want to exclude male bloggers. If you want to participate, let me know. If not, that's fine too. And regardless of whether you're a male or female blogger and of whether I've asked you, feel free to put your two cents in. The more voices, the merrier!

The first question I'd like to throw out for debate relates back to this old post in which we discussed the question, "What is a Real Woman/Real Man"?

In that post I essentially rejected rigid definitions of masculinity or femininity. But that doesn't mean I don't think men and women don't have unique strengths and weaknesses. I offered a more forgiving standard that I'd like to expand upon:

A man is strong, but how he exercises that strength is a function of his unique personality. A woman's essence is more that she is gentle and loving, but again, she chooses the application. But also men and women, if they are wise, respect each other.

What I want to examine this week is well expressed by a long ago comment that has haunted me for some time:

"Which part do you want to work on?"

The part where masculine characteristics are automatically assumed to be the kind that the lucky, superior half of the human race has, and feminine characteristics are automatically assumed to be the kind that the ridiculous, second-rate half of the human race has. A silly assumption to attribute to lots of my fellow human beings? I'd say that a lot of jokes we think are funny couldn't possibly be funny if these assumptions weren't nearly universal, though a bit covert nowadays.

I'm generalizing here, but I don't think I'm off-base to observe that the typical male virtues are considered generally admirable in our society. A woman who aspires to them may be ridiculed for getting in over her head, but if she should happen to succeed, we think the traits reflect rather admirably on her than otherwise. But the best that women's typical traits are likely to get is lip-service: "That's OK for women, but we expect better from a REAL person." The man who displays these traits isn't just aiming higher than his station; he's often considered to be devaluing himself. His female partner may be breathing a small sigh of relief at a sign that he can break out of the masculine mold for a moment, but his friends probably are all laughing at him.

I'm just suggesting that all this could be explained at least two ways. One, the masculine traits really are the best, and women are moderately failed human beings, outside a few carefully circumscribed areas where their femininity is valued. Or two, we've all internalized a lot of unexamined and possibly unsustainable assumptions about how terrific all those masculine virtues are, and how faintly ridiculous all those feminine virtues are. In other words, men are regular people, and women are a special case.

My view of feminism is that it challenges us to think about these assumptions. That remains true for me even though a lot of foolish women have latched onto the concept in order to create a grievance-mongering racket that's just one more flavor of the kind of nonsense Skippy Gates represents. At least I don't make my living cadging grants out of people so I can spout this stuff!
Texan99 | 07.28.09 - 10:24 am | #

I may not be a feminist, but I want to challenge you all to think about these assumptions too. I hear the same feelings coming from men and women these days. Men feel that they are ridiculed and devalued in popular culture, and that's true.

But we women feel the same way. Just as men feel that women don't value them for the qualities they want to be respected for - that they value in themselves - so women believe our strengths are mocked and belittled and ignored in favor of things we think are unimportant and even at times destructive.

And they are.

So as a first step in this project I'd like to ask you all a few questions:

1. Are there such things as "womanly virtues"; qualities typical of most women, though they may be exhibited to a greater or lesser degree by different individuals? Or should there be one standard that applies to both men and women (the "be a grownup" school of thought).

2. If so, list these qualities and explain why you think they're valuable.

3. How do we channel those qualities in a positive way in a world without traditional gender roles? How do we encourage women to take pride in their femininity rather than suppressing it - to use their strengths rather than becoming "Men Lite"?

The usual conservative answer to gender issues is to blame feminism and hark back to the good old days when women's choices were strictly limited. That's an odd prescription for a party that claims to be about freedom.

I think the answer lies in balancing our newfound freedoms with an equal dose of responsibility. I think it lies in the realization that both masculine and feminine qualities have enormous destructive potential, but are also powerful forces for good.

cassatt_breakfast_1897.jpg

We have all the right building blocks. They exist already in human nature. We just need to find the right tools and the right blueprint. This project is an attempt to create a working plan for moving forward without rancor and with respect for the differences as well as the similarities between men and women.

Posted by Cassandra at January 22, 2010 10:29 AM

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Comments

Well, this certainly is going to be a minefield. :)

I have a meeting in about 2 minutes that I have to lead, but I think (heh) that:
"We have all the right building blocks. They exist already in human nature. We just need to find the right tools and the right blueprint."

May be creating too high an expectation in people. We, as human beings, are pretty flawed, and are not necessarily perfectable or improvable by teaching and edumacashin, and such.
Some things can be instilled, others, not so much. The older I get, the more I realize that many of our tendencies and attitudes may be hardwired, and that the way we express them (outwardly) is the only thing that our culture or public morals/decency can control.

In other words, we're all pretty rotten, it's just that some of us have learned to behave better in public.
Gotta go.

Posted by: Don "runs with penis" Brouhaha at January 22, 2010 03:03 PM

Don, I think it matters whether we regard the vision or goal as a standard that, if it's not met in every regard, means we've failed?

I have high standards for myself, but I realize that they represent my ideal self, not my real self. So I aim high, but try not to beat myself up when I swing for the stars and miss. I don't worry too much about creating expectations that are too high in people. I think the real problem is that in many cases our expectations are too LOW.

Yeah, I think there's a lot of anger and meanness out there. I also happen to think modern attitudes towards women (and this is true of BOTH men and women) are pretty messed up. I think the frankly stupid images promoted by gender feminists in which women are right/good and men are wrong/bad didn't happen by accident. They're still misguided and wrong, but few things in life happen for no reason.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 03:13 PM

Interesting question. It is first, I think, a mental state you want to have; then what do you do on the physical plane to get there, so to speak?

Perfection is a process. My goal, six years ago, was to get our family to reconnect and readjust after a loss. One thing we did (courtesy of television, thanks, Food Network) was to start making meals with our children. First it was snacks for when they came home from school.

Now, we have a bigger focus; we eat healthier and cook mostly from what we have on hand.

But that was a point; a beginning. The next phase of rebuilding Chez Engineer/Cricket was to make sure home was 'home.' For all of us, that meant certain rituals and traditions, but then we wanted to keep home safe, and to be an example.

So, it is a process that begins with something smaller. The more you work with it, the more you see it as part of something bigger than yourself.

Another goal I had was to be pleasant. For those who know me really, really, well, I can be a tart-tongued harpy. I wanted to change that, so about 20 years ago, I decided to respond pleasantly.
Dulcet tones are not my forte. But over the years, something happened; my sons and daughter grew up being kindly spoken to one another and us.

Respectful? uhhhh...these are teenagers, yanno.
They are friends with each other and look out for each other. They took their cues for behavior from us.

All children do. Cassandra, it has been a theme
running through your blog about parental influence
and what you and your husband did to foster those
same attitudes in your children.

Well, you can't do it for society except to be an
example of what you believe. It will rub off on
others. Aren't you known as 'the client whisperer?'

Posted by: Cricket at January 22, 2010 03:27 PM

I've learned a lot from arguing with you over the years, too. And, in fact, it's changed my views on a number of things.

When we first started to discuss this particular matter, I felt strongly -- a view I think I must have inherited from my mother -- that men should speak of men's ethics, and leave women to sort out women's. It wasn't that I felt women shouldn't be held to an ethical standard, but that women should in a large part be free to define it for themselves.

That's what you're doing here, and I'm excited about it too.

On the other hand, one way my views have changed from our discussions is that I wonder now if it's possible to do that in the kind of semi-isolation I once imagined. I had a notion that men would teach boys how to become men, and then that women would ratify that decision by choosing these good men for husbands and fathers. Women, in turn, would teach girls how to become women; and men would ratify that decision by recognizing that these young women brought a new level of beauty and peace to their lives.

What we seem to be seeing, though, is a situation in which young men are very unhappy with the extant young women; and young women are very unhappy with the kind of man that is available when they get ready to marry and have children. I think we may need to have more cross-talk than I once thought was necessary, so that we conduct our development with a notion of what the other sex really wants from you.

This is not the anti-feminist position of: What defines a good woman is her performance of the role of wife and mother. Nor is it the position of: Men should be judged by how they support the women in their lives, materially and emotionally, without attempting to 'force' their wishes on those same women they are supporting.

Rather, it's a position that recognizes that we need to consider the whole picture. I think that picture looks roughly like this:

* Men need a period of adventure in their youth, to test themselves against reality, discover the depth and limit of their strength, and develop qualities of endurance as well as insight into the world. It is important to push young men out into such a life, because if they remain at home in comfort in their youth they become an unsuitable sort of 'man.'

In return, the good sort of man wants a woman who will love them and honor them for their sacrifices and support. They expect to offer her support, when she is with child and shortly thereafter; in return they expect a personal loyalty from her, as well as that she will not rely on their support more than is reasonable.

** Women want a period of self-exploration in their youth. This may not involve quite the same level of hardship as is necessary for the development of men. However, it is important for young women to have this period, in order that when they are ready to settle down for childhood and family, they don't feel like they have wasted their lives without a chance to develop whatever talents or genius they have inside.

What they want is a man who is ready and willing to support them when they are ready to have children. They want him to be loyal to them and their children so that they can have the security that produces the most stable family and most successful children.

*** Modern society seems to be underpreparing young men by not forcing them into the period of hardship and adventure. It seems to be underpreparing young women by emphasizing the importance of the self-exploratory period, and not preparing them adequately for the hardships and sacrifice of motherhood. Neither is it warning these young women how important motherhood is likely to be to them.

**** Neither young men nor young women seem to have benefitted from the focus on self-esteem. That is, self-esteem is very much present in both groups; but it doesn't look as though feeling good about themselves has made them happy.

***** We need to refocus our teaching in order to help the young learn what they will need to build successful families and social units. We should adequately prepare them to understand that they will probably not really be happy if they fail to do this successfully; biology lies at the back of that for both men and women.

Posted by: Grim at January 22, 2010 03:28 PM

Yup, there is a reason that you and Grim are two of my favorite writers on the intertubes.

WRT,

"He quite literally seems to have decided that if he couldn't have the respect of the woman he loved, he might as well become the kind of person no one looks up to."
I've never considered abandoning who you are, including who you want to be, for any reason. But the example you mention might be one of the best reasons for doing so, if you were so inclined as to abandon yourself. I say that from the perspective of having given some thoughts to living without the person I love and with whom I've spent most of my life. Age and serious injuries put the strangest notions in a person's head.

P.S. For the sake of maintaining a PG rating around here, I'll make no comments on running, hobbling, or even packin'...

Posted by: bt_walks-with-a-cane_hun at January 22, 2010 03:31 PM

I did mention one virtue was to be pleasant.
This doesn't mean a Pollyanna positive attitude, but one where losing one's temper or flaying someone for doing something isn't automatically the first thing that comes to my mind.

Addressing family (family is so important to this), associates and friends kindly and with
respect goes a long way toward making life beautiful.

Posted by: Cricket at January 22, 2010 03:37 PM

I've never considered abandoning who you are, including who you want to be, for any reason.

Yeah, me either. But in raising my kids and caring for other people's children I learned that some people are more inner directed (they are few) and others define nearly themselves in relation to others (the many).

Each type of child requires a different way of teaching. I think my friend's husband is weak in many ways. I think that explains much about what happened to their marriage. But I also think that at least initially, her love made him strive to be more than he is by nature. I don't "credit" her for this - most women put men on a pedestal, at least initially.

The problem was that he temporarily substituted her standards for his in order to win her instead of adopting them as his own and genuinely believing in them. Just shows to go ya that you can't pretend to be someone else.

But you can always become someone else. IMO, he did the right thing for the wrong reasons until he didn't see the value in doing the right thing any more.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 03:42 PM

Addressing family (family is so important to this), associates and friends kindly and with
respect goes a long way toward making life beautiful.

Amen, Cricket.

I have struggled all my life with sarcasm and an ascerbic wit. But it's so worth it when I succeed.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 03:43 PM

Grim --

Love your comments. I will be addressing them in a later post but need to get some work done now.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 03:44 PM

That's what you're doing here, and I'm excited about it too.

And I owe that in many ways to your influence, my friend :)

I initially resisted the idea of women defining our own role because I think these things arise organically. I think they start with who we are but are influenced by our interactions with men and by our attempts to get along and help each other. So I think men really do have a role to play here.

However, I am trying to think outside the box a bit.

Part of what I think we threw away when we abandoned traditional morality was the notion of shame or of living up to ideals. Defining ideals was wrong b/c it made us feeeeeel bad if we didn't live up to them.

Where that leaves us now, though, is with "realistic" role models who are no better than their basest instincts. The men are hapless schmucks or childish boy-men and the women are shrill harpies or silly, brainless twits. Yikes.

I think we need something to live up to, and we need to be mature enough to realize that if we try, some of us will fail from time to time.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 03:54 PM

Wow, this is going to be a great discussion. Thanks for taking this on. I really must put in some time to think about it.

Quickly, let me toss out one thing. We have pretty good scientific evidence now that, taking the average of large groups, the 50th-percentile woman's mind is more likely to be wired one way, and the 50th-percentile man's mind is more likely to be wired another way. In America's history, we've had an unfortunate tendency to extrapolate from here to near-ironclad rules. The bad thing about this is that the bell curves are pretty flat; there is a tremendous amount of variability from individual to individual. I work with quite a few female engineers, and many of them hold attitudes or opinions that one would not think of as typically female. However, I don't think any of them are trying to be "men lite"; what they are trying to be is different sorts of women. Instead of fighting their individual personality characteristics, they are trying to work with them to define their gender role as it fits them. If you think too rigidly in terms of traditional gender roles, some of these will be surprising.

However, we also do ourselves no favors when we pretend that the differences in the averages don't exist, and/or try to rebuild society based on that expectation. The law of averages is still going to apply; more women than men are going to choose role X, and more men are going to choose role Y. I do not expect there will ever be a day when most men are house-husbands. That does not meant that social services are excused from providing services for house-husbands, but ramping up services to accommodate hundreds of millions of them would be a waste of money.

The bit about structuring society to work with the averages, while not inhibiting the individual variation, is going to be one of the hardest parts of this.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at January 22, 2010 04:20 PM

The bit about structuring society to work with the averages, while not inhibiting the individual variation, is going to be one of the hardest parts of this.

Bingo. This is why I initially resisted a gender specific ideal/definition of virtue. I'm still not sure that's where I want to end up, but I think the trip should be interesting!

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 04:33 PM

It's an interesting place to start. One of the counterintuitive facts: the IQ curve of men is much more flat than that of women. So, we find that far more women are close to the center-point on IQ than men, who produce both more geniuses and more morons. Yet we also find that there is a pretty clear standard of behavior for men, whereas this kind of project for women is... well, somewhat radical.

Allowing individual variation among women is one of the reasons I wanted to endorse a women-define-women view. It seemed most likely to produce a consensus that would honor the wishes of all women, without forcing anything on women that 'all women' didn't want.

Actually, this may be one of the immediate bifurcations: it may be strongly beneficial to allow women a great deal of variation, but non-beneficial to support similar variation among men. The right kind of man can, I think, be fairly narrowly defined; I don't have a similar sense about 'the right kind of woman.'

Now, we might find that IQ is of no importance to ethics. Still, it's not the only area where women exhibit more variation than men: for example, consider the purely subjective area of fashion. Men's fashions change very slightly if at all from year to year, and women's much more, as is well know.

If we find that women are normally much more variant than men in behavior, we might reason that women's ethics must embrace a wider variety of behaviors. That would be consistent with my sense that we can define "the right kind of man" closely, but not "the right kind of woman." (Not, mind you, that it's important that things should adhere to my sense of how things are; just that it would explain something that seems intuitively right to me.)

Posted by: Grim at January 22, 2010 05:11 PM

My wife sometimes tells me that the reason that I get angry with other people is that I expect too much of them.
Reconciling Cousin Dave's view of the great variability from the mean (which is my anecdotal view of our society and the human race, generally) is perhaps, a little at odds with Grim's notion of defining a virtuous man or woman (or the characteristics that are to be aimed for).

Having seen something of the world outside these United States (as has Grim), it is interesting that even in a disparate culture, good manners and good behavior are not so alien as one might think, though there are aspects of "other" cultures' norms that are sometimes jarring.

In fact, the most jarring occurances seem to happen among those with the alleged "high" IQ.

This does seem to remind me of one of the premises of the book "The Bell Curve", in that as cultural norms were "leveled" and there was no negative social moral value placed on "bad behavior", those with average to below average IQ's seemed to suffer more from bad social pathologies than the more intelligent. The point being that "learned" social behaviors (or in the case of "not learned" social behaviors), can have very negative outcomes for people (especially women) that are not smart enough (high IQ) to figure out how to survive in a world where "everything goes".

In other words, where social cues (teaching right and wrong) and normalized behavior (teaching kids how to interact with others in a reasonable way) are missing from a child's upbringing, the odds of something going very wrong with their life increase dramatically (dropping out of school and illegitimacy are two of the most commonly observed pathologies).

Cricket,
You are so right about setting the right kind of example. Kids smell hypocrisy a mile away, and talking the talk without walking the walk, is a sure way to ruin their personalities. It's just I cannot imagine you not always being a nice person.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 22, 2010 05:35 PM

Well, I can tell you from long experience that what a woman thinks is "not nice" and what a man thinks is "not nice" are two very different things :p

I was talking about this the other day at the office with two men. We were talking about pay raises. Women, in general, think asking for a raise (even if they fully believe they deserve it) is "not nice".

It is immodest. And selfish. I think this is wrong, but on the other hand I totally act this way and I'm more confident and have a bigger ego than most women I know. Yet such a request conflicts with my idea of what a good woman does. With what I have been taught.

Good women are - above all - team players. We are loyal to a fault. We give freely to others with little thought of what we'll get in return.

So asking for a pay raise is "not nice". Talking the way men sometimes talk (with little regard for hurt feelings or the other person's amour propre) is "not nice". I feel obliged to be kind even when what I'm thinking is, "Dear God this person is SUCH an asshole."

But to me, being an asshole is a pitiable state. So I try to make allowances. And you know what? When you treat other people better than they deserve they have a funny way of acting better than you expected them to.

I've seen it over and over again in my life.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 22, 2010 05:49 PM

Interesting.

Just thinking out loud (so I may be way off base here): wrt to women being able to adapt typically masculine traits while the reverse is usually frowned upon does not necessarily imply that the masculine traits either are or are assumed to be superior.

I tend to think that each side is only half the human experience and that the typical masculine-feminine bonding helps each other have a more complete human experience. If you are a Christian this can be seen in Genesis as the only thing God did not proclaim was good was man's solitary existance. Man was incomplete and so He created Woman.

Building upon Grim's observation of variability, could it be that the tendency is that women who adopt typically masculine traits do so by adding to their Repertoire while the men who adopt typically feminine traits do so by substitution. That is, women not only gain the masculine trait but also retain the feminine trait while the men gain the feminine trait but lose a masculine trait in doing so.

For an example. Take the case of women being able to were both pants and dresses while men are restricted to pants. Men, being the physically larger and stronger, have been expected to take on the responsibilities of protecting and providing for the family while women, being the more skilled at social and interpersonal relationships, have been expected to take on the nuturing of the family. A Woman who chooses to wear pants is not (any longer) seen as having given up her role as a nuturer while a man who wears a dress will be seen as one who likely has abandoned his role as protector.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 22, 2010 06:58 PM

Don, you raise such a good point about example. I am always either pleasant, or I get really, really aggravated. The few times I have deteriorated into a shrewish harpy...well, they aren't times of which I am proud. Fortunately, it was only my husband who witnessed it and he just roared with laughter at me.

Something that resonates through scripture is the teaching of 'as a man/woman thinketh, so is he/she.' If we decide to live virtuous lives, we have to decide to think it and live it. In another scriptural passage is the admonition to let 'virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly.'

It sort of goes back to what I said earlier; that we had to be there mentally and then work the changes physically.

What motivated me to want to be nice to the core was that we were raising children who would have
to go out and earn a living or be gainfully self-employed, and who would possibly want families
of their own. Of course, love has a lot to do with it.

Cassandra, a point about pay raises from the Good Book: "The laborer is worthy of hys/hyr hire."

Posted by: Cricket at January 22, 2010 06:59 PM

Bravo, Cassandra and Company!

I don't think I have much of depth to offer here, so I'll just keep reading and thinking...

Posted by: FbL at January 22, 2010 07:11 PM

On the pay raise thing...my experience is different...the women who have worked for me over the years have by no means been shrinking violets about asking for more money, for promotions, etc.

Posted by: david foster at January 22, 2010 09:28 PM

I'm in the same boat as FuzzyBear...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 22, 2010 10:05 PM

I think that having two "X" chromosomes is an inherently unstable condition...rather like trying to place the "North" end of two magnets together.

Seriously though, I've been told by women that I'm in touch with my "feminine side", if you can imagine that. Presumably it is intended as a compliment... ;-)

Posted by: camojack at January 23, 2010 01:28 AM

If we look at the stories that humans have been telling for thousands of years, one common thread is that man or woman is unfulfilled without the love of the other.

AND that to gain/return/appreciate that love, both have to be 'complete' in themselves.

Now there's a catch-22 :-)

Posted by: Donna B. at January 23, 2010 02:35 AM

I didn't mean to say above that I was removing myself from the conversation, just that I needed time to read and absorb because at the moment I had nothing to offer to the fine commentary. Having absorbed a bit more... (don't know whether the following qualifies as "fine commentary," but it's comments, haha!)

Perhaps it is a generational difference, but I don't think I ever was taught (consciously or unconsciously) that the positive "feminine traits" were any less to be admired than the positive "masculine traits." Rather, I grew up thinking that we all (both individually and as gender groups) had our strengths and weaknesses.

So I guess I'm struggling a bit with why there is a concern over the 3rd closing point above. It seems to me that since there IS a continuum of characteristics within men and women, isn't it a matter of using the right characteristics in the right settings/time?

I mean, my father's job as a minister allowed him to pick up my sister and me from school each day when my mother took a job 45 minutes+ away. That meant he was house-husband every afternoon and evening. In that role he used different emotional skills than he did when he was out making a deal on the new car he bought one weekend or making friends over a card game on Saturday night (no gambling, haha!). And my mother used different skills in her office job than she did when my sister and I just wanted to cuddle after she got home.

Am I missing the point here, or is this really all about letting gender roles be flexible enough that we are free to be ourselves in a way that makes us truly happy and meshes successfully with both our personal and wider society?

Because of the individuality of people, theoretically there are well-adjusted men who are further on the feminine side of the scale than certain well-adjusted women (who are well onto the mascule side of the scale). In such cases, isn't it more about valuing the uniqueness of each person and how they contribute to the world than desciding which has the more "valuable" characteristics?

I don't know, I'm probably getting well into the weeds here, but it seems to be a bigger question that Cassandra has outlined here--it's not just about creating an image of what womanliness should be, but of valuing the entire spectrum of positive characteristics that humans bring to the table. If the world did value that entire spectrum, it wouldn't be a question of whether or not women are taking pride in "femininity," because there would be a recognition that each person is unique and the labels both do and don't apply.

(I guess this quote is a good example of my idealism crossed with my post-feminist generation, haha).

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 09:23 AM

I think that's a good description of how the world perhaps ought to be (although there are those who believe men and women have definite and defined roles and ought to stick to them).

But I'm not sure it's how the world is. It certainly doesn't match my experience of the world. I think we have certain expectations of how women will behave or how men will behave, and I don't think society is terribly accepting of women who act "too" masculine, nor men who act "too" feminine.

Yu-Ain made an interesting comment earlier about women being able to be more masculine without being perceived to be giving up their ability to be nurturers whereas men who show feminine traits are perceived to be incapable of being protectors.

I'm not sure that's true at all. A woman who displays few or no feminine qualities isn't generally seen as being nurturing.

I could be all wet here, but I think perhaps we just think that women's work is easier, or we value it less. Let's face it - people argue all the time (men and women!) that being a mother and homemaker is so easy that a person can do in 2 hours a day what takes a dedicated homemaker all day.

I can't imagine anyone saying, "I can be just as good an architect working only 2 hours a day as 8."

I can't even imagine them saying, "I can be a *good enough* architect working only 2 hours a day."

Men who have stayed home to fulfill this role generally have one of two reactions:

1. Hated it/bored out of their minds.

2. Surprised at how hard it was/can't wait to get back to real job.

I'm not sure being a homemaker is all that different from many jobs. You can give your job a lick and a promise and just do enough to get by or you can take it seriously and work hard. Being a homemaker is the same way - I've seen women do barely enough and watch soap operas and I've seen women who cook everything from scratch, home school their kids, volunteer in the community, sew their own clothes/curtains/etc. I did these things and I know Cricket is that kind of homemaker.

And it doesn't matter how many skills you have as a homemaker. It's not a job that is respected - even by other women.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 09:41 AM

Thought experiment:

"She thinks like a man" (she is calm, dispassionate, logical). It's a compliment.

"He thinks like a woman." (he is emotional and irrational). I've never heard that used as anything but an insult.

I think this is what Texan99 was talking about.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 09:45 AM

You're probably right about "as it is" vs. "as it should be."

The thing is that other than the anti-homemaker attitudes the FEMINISTS are perpetuating, I don't usually encounter the anti-female attitudes you're describing. I know they're out there, but my generation tends not to look at things that way. People who say such things are generally considered stupid/boorish. If anyone actually said that "Thinks like..." comparison aloud, they'd be pilloried, and rightly so. There is a recognition that those two types of ways of thinking exist, but I think that for educated people of my generation they have been separated from their gender identification.

But then again, as was drive home to me this week (in a positive manner, fortunately), my outlook on the world is anything but normal. :P

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 10:08 AM

"But the best that women's typical traits are likely to get is lip-service: "That's OK for women, but we expect better from a REAL person.""

A small counterexample...

When the Civil War hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was assisting some wounded on the battlefield, someone remarked, "You have the soul of the lion and the heart of the woman." Both parts of the statement were clearly intended as complements.

This is just one tiny piece of anecdotal evidence, of course: moreover, it took place in an all-male combat situation..and it seems clear that in an all-male or all-female situation, members of the sex that is present will usually, of necessity, have to adopt some of the characteristics typically associated with the other sex.

Anyhow, it came to mind so I thought I'd mention it.

Posted by: david foster at January 23, 2010 10:10 AM

I'm not saying that there AREN'T distinctly feminine and masculine characteristics (I'm a firm believer that there ARE innate differences between men and women), I'm just saying that in my generation they aren't seen in the light you describe.

In other words, it's not a matter of those characteristics being always bad or always good, it's a matter of time and place and results (as I alluded to in my first long comment).

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 10:12 AM

My small list is certianly not meant to be exhaustive. I base it on the interactions of men and women while raising children, not on interactions during courtship.

"1. Are there such things as "womanly virtues"; qualities typical of most women, though they may be exhibited to a greater or lesser degree by different individuals? Or should there be one standard that applies to both men and women (the "be a grownup" school of thought)."

Yes.


"2. If so, list these qualities and explain why you think they're valuable."

--nuturing

--protective

--caring (about others)

The first two are obviously necessary to raise children in a hostile world. I think that the efforts of women to achieve WORLD PEACE are in large part wishful thinking and a recognition that the world is a hostile place for their children.

The last one is not so much a virtue in itself as a recognition that if women reciprocate their caring attitude, their tiny part of the hostile world becomes less hostile.


"3. How do we channel those qualities in a positive way in a world without traditional gender roles? How do we encourage women to take pride in their femininity rather than suppressing it - to use their strengths rather than becoming 'Men Lite'?"

I'm not sure that you can. While protectiveness is a virtue when raising children, overprotectiveness is not. Overprotectiveness leads to catastrophe when the protected one finally has to face the hostile world. I see the father's role as counteracting/counterbalancing the mother's role. Most mothers get uptight when their young children climb and test their limits on trees and playgrounds. Fathers know that their offspring need to test themselves, and learn about themselves, in a slightly dangerous environment. Sure, it's possible that a kid can fall from a jungle jim and kill him/herself, but the odds are very very slim. From a father's point of view, it's much better to teach the kids how to climb a tree than forbid them from climbing.

My wife cringes when the grandkids climb ladders, but usually she tolerates it pretty well. I raised my kids (one girl and one boy) to climb ladders (and trees), and they both try to live by my viewpoint. Interestingly enough, both my daughter-in-law and my son-in-law don't like their kids to climb things. But my daughter-in-law is more accepting, what with having only sons and being married to a Marine. She personally blames her viewpoint of having been raised with only sisters.

So, short version: each gender brings something to the table, but the opposite gender is required (usually; there are always outliers) in order to provide a balance to the single-gender viewpoint.

Posted by: Rex at January 23, 2010 10:13 AM

Beautiful story, David. I think that's an example of what I was talking about--that we all need to be allowed to bring to the forefront the positive traits that are appropriate to the situations in which we find ourselves.

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 10:16 AM

That example, though, shows something important about what those injured in battle wanted: they wanted a woman to help them.

I strongly suspect you'll find that to be true -- as an emotional longing -- in men no matter where you look. For example, if you look at literature in which a character of The Warrior archetype is horribly wounded, who heals him so that he can go back up against The Evil at the end of the tale?

In Sir Thomas Malory, it is very often a lady who heals the knight; sometimes a monk, but most often a lady. I'm thinking here of Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat; or Isolde the Beautiful, and many others.

It does happen that a man can fill that place in our literature; but when he does, he is normally no more than a literary device. When a female character fills the place, she is normally of great importance. It may be that you would have trouble putting a woman in that place in one of our stories without creating a strong effect in the mind of the listener.

That may be a partial answer to the question of variation: not that we cannot do X, but that we have a special power when we do Y. That power comes from the vision of beauty that other people have: if what we are doing harmonizes with what they have in their hearts, they recognize and honor it.

If I'm right about the importance of stories and visions, it's not a bad place to look for guidance.

Posted by: Grim at January 23, 2010 10:23 AM

The reason why I at first hesitated to add a comment is because I am pulled in many directions on this topic. What Grim has written above resonates with me in a big way. But the generational forces I mentioned above pull me to the idea of being sure people have the room to "be who they are" without having to be forced into a certain gender role.

I totally agree that for most of us, it's "not that we cannot do X, but that we have a special power when we do Y."

While on one hand I am arguing here for an emphasis on the idea that masculine and feminine are each a continuum and overlap with each other, I just posted this at my website. So I am also in strong agreement with Rex's statement that "So, short version: each gender brings something to the table, but the opposite gender is required (usually; there are always outliers) in order to provide a balance to the single-gender viewpoint."

I'm not sure whether these multiple viewpoints are compatible, or I'm just being an illogical woman. :P

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 10:34 AM

Oops--forgot the link to what I was talking about on my own blog: http://fuzzilicious.blogspot.com/2010/01/tragic.html

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 10:35 AM

Now that I think about it, in fact, one of the common themes among the young women I was talking about -- the ones whose writing indicates such unhappiness with the mating choices available -- is a theme I would call 'the fairy tale was a lie.' The complaint is that they were raised to believe in a certain vision of beauty, but aren't able to make it real.

Now, what I find interesting is that 'the fairy tale was a lie' theme never has a problem with the fairy tale. It always has a problem with the lie. The complaint is never, in other words, that the fairy tale was ugly or bad, or not something they really wanted. The complaint is always that reality doesn't live up to the tale.

That seems important to me. What is wanted is not a new fairy tale: we like our fairy tales just fine. What is wanted is a way of making reality accord with our dreams more than it does.

So: do fairy tales pointed at boys tell a story that is not preparing them to live up to their role? Not traditional ones -- the princess or lady is just as important to the male version of fairy tales as the prince is to female ones.

Yet modern ones are really different. I think of the Conan stories, for example: not the movie, in which the old model is restored, but the books by Robert E. Howard. They're great books, but the women in them really mean quite little to Conan except for momentary conquests. I suspect we can point to a tradition of modern literature, for boys and young men, that views women as disposable as being part of the problem.

Posted by: Grim at January 23, 2010 10:42 AM

I suspect we can point to a tradition of modern literature, for boys and young men, that views women as disposable as being part of the problem.

That's an interesting point, because I'd love to have someone provide me with a convincing explanation of how/why feminists had any interest in fostering the view that women are disposable :p

I'm often puzzled by feminist cant because I see it as inherently unbalanced - an overreaction to very real problems, and the wrong solution to boot. It urges women to give up their power rather than harness it to address these problems. But I am no less disturbed at the Hefner/modern male cant that I see everywhere these days. It is contemptuous of women. I can't understand why that should be any better than the gender feminist view that men aren't necessary or are bad?

This is the problem I have with the "deal with it - that's the way I'm wired" nonsense that I hear conservative men throw out all the time. That's not a coherent or mature moral philosophy. It's more like what your 5 year old son tries to pull when he knows he is doing something wrong.

What if women said, "Deal with my emotional temper tantrums! That's the way I'm wired!" Would we accept this? I know I don't. Yes, women are more emotional but we still expect them to be adults (well, some feminists seem to excuse women from acting like adults but I don't buy that argument). It seems bizarre to hear conservative men who don't like feminism using the very arguments they've rejected from feminists (i.e., "that's just the way I am and I have no duty to control myself or exercise self discipline").

That's not a grownup attitude to me. When voiced by men, what it sounds like to me is, "It's OK for me to act any way I want because male attributes are OK. But it's not OK for women to act the way they're wired because female qualities are NOT OK."

My view is that grownups of either sex should be expected to exercise a little self discipline. I don't want to work with a 5 year old who thinks he or she is the center of the universe. I want to work with an adult who understands that we all have to work to get along with other people.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 11:05 AM

Well, Robert E. Howard was writing in the 1930s. People tend to over-focus on the 1960s, when these trends came into full flower; but Chesterton was writing against them in the 1900s. We should look for the source of these problems well earlier than the point where they became most evident.

Hefner, in other words, is given way too much credit. He just happened to be the guy who was ready to do this business at the particular moment that the culture was ready for it. It is Chesterton's foes who deserve the credit for Playboy; Hefner just happened to be the guy who showed up to fill the space they made.

Feminism's chief problem (in my view) is the notion of 'false consciousness' -- i.e., that people have to buy the basic tenets of feminism or they are dismissed from the discussion unconsidered. I don't have a problem with a view that says, "Women are important and we should be interested in their lives as well as men's lives." I do have a problem with a view that says, "No one who doesn't accept my basic point of view is a legitimate speaker."

That's a problem, even for someone (like me) who believes that women should have the chief role in determining their own destiny. It's just not a fair way to argue, and it's a mode of thinking that is certain to produce error.

Posted by: Grim at January 23, 2010 11:15 AM

Agreed :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 11:33 AM

FWIW, I don't want to give the impression that I blame Hefner for everything or think he was the only or even the first one.

I'm just using him as an example of other cultural influences who wanted to erode traditional gender roles and morals for their own reasons. I don't think anyone in their right mind thinks Hefner et al did what they did for women.

They had their own reasons, and as the article pointed out, Hefner in particular felt constricted by traditional male gender roles. That's my whole point - blaming women/feminists is really kind of silly when there have been plenty of men seeking the same changes for reasons that have nothing to do with helping women.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 11:38 AM

Someone - I think it was Cousin Dave - brought up the free love movement of the 70s and pointed out that women were treated as disposable rather than "empowered". Another example of what I'm talking about.

I have bashed the gender feminists for wanting freedom without responsibility. But I think many conservatives find it convenient to ignore the male half of the equation, who also very much wanted freedom without responsibility.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 11:40 AM

Fair enough.

Sorting out how men should be is not really part of the Womanliness Project, though, I guess; but maybe it's a useful sideline. Maybe it's an unavoidable sideline, since women and men need each other so much: talking about what makes a good woman may necessarily involve talking about what she needs in her partner.

Is that true in reverse? It should be, I think. Perhaps men need to spend more time thinking about being the right kind of man for women; and women, thinking about what it means to be the right kind of woman for men.

Posted by: Grim at January 23, 2010 12:20 PM

I think we will end up talking about men because so much of what women are is defined by men and our relationships with them. Not the main focus, as you say. But certainly helpful.

Sometimes it's easier to show how two things differ by looking at the qualities of both? Does that make sense?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 01:19 PM

I think homemaking is valued for what it is by those who KNOW how important it is. I think that is why chivalry exists.

In the game of chess, you have the king, technically the weakest piece on the board, but who can not be captured, by the rules of the game.
He can move one square in any direction and can even make captures.

But he is not in the same league as the queen.
One rook and two bishops have the power of a queen, but are no match for her.

I have often wondered why the queen was so empowered; I built whole strategies around her
and in her absence, the bishops and a rook, who
had her abilities combined. Still not as
powerful.

So, I decided to do a little research on the queen.

It turns out that the queen is fighting for her
home; her kingdom and her subjects. She symbolizes what do naturally, and what it takes
a whole army of chess pieces to protect.

I do not see my work as a mother or a wife under-valued except by those who are ignorant and who do
not know any better. I am perfectly happy and
content to be a homemaker; I delight in my role as a nurturer.

I also enjoy the fact that women have the choices
they do. I do not care if they choose to work
outside the home or inside, just don't belittle
my choice to stay home.

To be perfectly honest, Cassandra, you are someone
I tremendously admire and respect. In reading
your blog over the years, I have come to learn some excellent things from you and they have not
conflicted with my world view; they have enhanced
it.

In our faith, we have several sayings about women
like you. One of them, I think, fits you to a T.
You are an elect lady.

Posted by: Cricket at January 23, 2010 01:26 PM

When I was very young, I just assumed I would meet a guy, get married and be a housewife, like my mom (who met my father when they were both in HS). As I got older, into my high school years, I aspired to go to college, but I still expected I would be marrying relatively young and eventually having a family of my own. Daddy was always the breadwinner, exclusively, until his retirement from the Army when I was in college. So, I had a mother who cooked, volunteered at school, was a Cub Scout Den Mother (for my older brother) and a Girl Scout Troop leader for me.

As regular readers know, things didn't pan out the way I expected (but that's another discussion). Roughly twenty years later, I've had my time working. I've been "just an employee" and I've been in positions of greater responsibility (a dept manager, responsible for interviewing job candidates, evaluating employees, dealing with management and customers with escalated problems). While I had good experiences, I got to the point where I didn't want to continue climbing any "corporate ladder". I also came to the conclusion I may never have that husband & family I want so badly. That, along with other factors, caused me to make the decision to become a teacher. Although I've yet to have my own classroom, I get much more fulfillment from spending my workdays at school than I do at the office job (which I am grateful to have, to fill the employment gaps from being "just a sub"). I also find fulfillment in doing my part - however small - for troop support efforts. I know there's not a lot of money to be made in either endeavor - teaching doesn't pay much, and troop support is a volunteer effort, but those things important to me. Maybe it's that "traditional" nurturing trait we women are supposed to have, looking for an outlet, since I don't have a husband or children of my own to take care of?

I know not all women are the same. My best friend, who I've known since high school, is married. However, she and her husband don't wish to have children. She dotes on her nieces and nephews, though. She doesn't think there is anything wrong with those women who want to be follow the traditional role for women, but for her, that isn't the path to follow. My sisters, I think, are somewhere in between. I have the newlywed sister, and she does want to have children, but not yet. I've no idea what my youngest sister's "dream" is: while I expect she will eventually become engaged to her boyfriend, I've never talked to her about having children. My brother's girlfriend (common law wife?? - they've been living together for a long time) is pregnant again (and they are a family); she also recently earned her nursing degree, so she's not a stay-at-home mom.

As fro your questions?

1. Yes, there are such things as "womanly virtues". I also agree there is a kind of continuum, and we all fall somewhere along it. But, there are also standards that should be applied to both men and women.

2. I'm not ready to make the list - I need to give it more specific thought as to what they are, and why I think they are important/classified as such.

3. We need to highlight positive role models for girls & young women. This may be hard, given the current pop culture environment where the women who are spotlighted aren't generally what I would consider proper role models. When a positive role model appears, if she doesn't hold the "correct" views, she is often demonized in the media (a la Sarah Palin - mother, business woman & politician, generally successful at all of these roles, but still very much a "woman"). Most of the positive role models won't have a national audience, but they will have to compete with the national figures put forward by pop culture...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at January 23, 2010 01:26 PM

The powers of the Queen in chess are an innovation of Chivalric Europe, Cricket. They are not the traditional powers of the piece: the queen used to be able to move only as the king does. It was the Europeans of about 1300 that gave her the powers she has today: it was those, I mean to say, who were most in the grip of our ideas of chivalry and courtly love, who imagined a woman of such power as the queen of chess.

She grew more powerful through the age; but since the age of chivalry ended, no more has been added to her powers.

Posted by: Grim at January 23, 2010 01:49 PM

Cricket:

You are making me blush :)

I am very much fallible in so many ways. I constantly fail to live up to what I think I should be. I'm trying to learn to be a better person but the older I get, the larger my many flaws loom in my own eyes.

I'm not sure that's a bad thing. At any rate, I hope you know that I have always admired your incredible grace and strength. Tragedy can make a person or mar her forever. You seem to have taken a hard road and come out the better for it, though I realize what it has cost you.

When I see what you have done with the fate you were handed, I am humbled. And grateful that I've been privileged to know you, even if it's only online.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 01:53 PM

Anything I might say is a direct product of as much of my 64 years as I can remember, through three marriages and divorces, death of an infant child, 29 years of active duty in the US Naval Service, five years of pastoring a rural church, nine months of serving as a volunteer missionary in Ecuador, and death of my father at an early age. I would preface all remarks with the thought that my experience does not qualify me as an expert on any subject; even tho I may have the subjective and objective knowledge and understanding.

To begin, I believe God created humans for the purpose of being in fellowship: with each other, and with Him. I have studied psychology, in its many manifestations, and have seriously looked at Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. He coined the term "self-actualization" and placed it at the top to indicate a person becoming the very best they could be. Inherent in attaining self-actualization is the ability/availability of having met all the needs we understand humans have.

Being in fellowship with each other presents its own pantheon of road blocks and pot holes along the road of life. I have often thought how good it would be if God would just drop down a note saying where I am supposed to be, how I am supposed to live, and what I am supposed to do. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that doesn't happen. I do believe, however, that God has provided us with an "owner's manual" in the form of what we call the Bible, or Scripture. And sometimes, I just don't want to look into the manual to learn what I am supposed to do.
Probably, the most copacetic life I have lived was in the Marine Corps, and I am not surprised that the Corps' philosophy was "God, Country, and Corps"; with the motto "Semper Fidelis".

Multitudinous manuscripts could be penned regarding the Latin term "Semper Fidelis", Always Faithful! In this post-modern world we are living in, faithfulness is considered to be archaic, old-hat, part of an old paternalistic oppression. There was a time when the shaking of hands was considered to be good faith; today, we need a team of lawyers to decipher and translate small print, to make sure it is understood who is responsible.

Oh!, there is that inescapable word: "RESPONSIBLE". So much energy has been spent on making us understand that we do not have to be responsible for anything. We are told "guns kill people", "SUVs kill people", "its the environment that caused someone to do something", "my wife/husband doesn't understand me", "the Devil made me do it".

Something that has been nagging at the back of my mind is the idea that someone owes me something. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Roman Christians, entreated them to "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." It was Jesus who is quoted as saying, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."You know, I served 29 years in the naval service, basically laying my life down for: my friends, my family, my neighbors, but, also, every person who has ever breathed the air in the USA. Though I didn't know it at the time, my love was God, Country, and Corps. Had I been more oriented toward loving only myself I would have never put myself in the position of standing up to protect this country and the people who call it home. How do I qualify, or quantify, the fact that there are fifty thousand names on the Wall, and mine isn't there? I can't! Uhmm, while counseling, I learned that "I can't" is a cop-out; whenever I use it in a conversation, I need to replace it with, "I won't". In this case, both terms are effective. "I can't" explain why my name isn't on the Wall; and "I won't" even attempt to understand why.

Oooooppsssss! Kinda got off on a tangent.

When we accept the premise that God created us, and made us just the way we are, to be complementary to each other, in fellowship, we find the lines demarcating the separateness between us being blurred; and even eradicated. Something a friend of mine once told me, has had quite an impression on my outlook. A term we use for God, is Yahweh, or YHWH. Inherent in the understanding of Yahweh, is the understanding that God is both male and female. Now, isn't that a revelation? Feminists tell us that God is a male that has no understanding of female.

When I go back to the Bible and spend some time reading and studying, I find that, yes, God created us male and female, man and woman, but He also gave us the gifts we needed to be complementary. We need look no further than Jacob and Esau. We are told that Esau was a man of the earth, and Jacob was a man of the tents. Esau was the epitome of manliness...while Jacob was more domesticated. He liked to cook, and basically hated hunting. He preferred the safety of home, to the freedom of the open road. And guess what? Jacob became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Now, how can a reasonable person qualify, or quantify, why Jacob would be the "superior" one, and Esau would be in a secondary position? Basically goes against everything we are being taught in these days.

I have found, that my ability to cook, sew, wash clothes, iron, mend and do them domesticated kindsa things, has the propensity to bring out animosity from women. I look back on my most recent marriage and divorce, and realize that life would have been much different if both of us had accepted who we were, and were willing to learn from each other, and to help each other, rather than marginalize each other.

My ex has a beautiful singing voice, she plays musical instruments by reading notes, and "by ear"; and I am told she has perfect pitch. All my life I have wanted to be able to sing, and play an instrument. My father denigrated any effort telling me I was tone deaf. When I was participating in Barbershop quartet singing, I was given the opportunity to listen to the notes, and practice hitting those notes; sometimes pretty time consuming. How much different the relationship between my ex and I might have been, had she been willing to teach me some of the things she taught music students, rather than telling me I was hopeless.

I can see how the relationship might have been different if we had worked together in the kitchen, sharing cooking secrets, rather than feeling animosity because one was different than the other.

Seems to me, that if we will be comfortable with who we are, rather than striving to be someone we can never be, life would be so much better.
My mind has just told me, that what I am trying to say is, if we are willing to live in fellowship with each other; ready to learn from and teach to each other, life will be more copacetic, and livable. And we won't have any reason to demand respect or love from each other.

Posted by: GunnyPink at January 23, 2010 02:19 PM

I wonder if some of the problem with fairy tales is which ones children read today. I grew up on folk-tales, Bullfinch's Greek mythology and Andrew Lang's fairy books, as well as the Brothers Grimm and Perault (when I was old enough). I think those were/are rather different from the modern "re-tellings" and the popular children's books. Both the men and women are strong, both have roles to play, just in different ways that were equally important to the outcome of the story. I'm not so sure that more recent editions are as balanced. And not all the stories have really happy endings.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at January 23, 2010 02:47 PM

GunnyPink, I think it is because God wants us to have what He has. In Romans we are told that we are heirs and joint-heirs with the Son of God.
Nothing wrong with subduing the natural man/woman and striving to be like Him.

Grim, I appreciate the additional insight about the queen. I knew it was something medieval, because of the names of the pieces. One of my favorite television shows when I was a kid (as reruns; it went off the air when I was about three) was 'Have Gun, Will Travel.' It intrigued me that he used a knight chess piece as his trademark; the black clothing for anonymity and the name Paladin for being a knight.

That got me intrigued in the game, but it also got me wondering about the history.

It used to amuse me that a female was the most powerful, and it took three other pieces (male) to equal her power, which I took to be influence
rather than strength. In chivalry, it is the
influence of the maiden fair that inspires the
knight, not to mention the sacredness of home
(wife) and family (children).

So, even though it was a construct of medieval Europe, the idea has not died and the power of
the queen, through all these centuries, hasn't changed. Even with the pc crowd who is offended
at everything.

Cassie, it is a fair assessment and I treasure your friendship. I need to travel.

Posted by: Cricket at January 23, 2010 03:55 PM

Little Red, I grew up reading those same editions and fairy tales. My favorite was the Red Fairy Book. However, should you need to read the revised versions, I suggest the book of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

I almost had a heart attack. Especially when Foxy Loxy was a lawyer.

Posted by: Cricket at January 23, 2010 03:57 PM

Gunnypink said,

"When we accept the premise that God created us, and made us just the way we are, to be complementary to each other, in fellowship, we find the lines demarcating the separateness between us being blurred; and even eradicated."

I think that's part of where my attitude of letting each person be themselves and mesh with the people they choose to associate with comes from: my Christian upbringing made it seem perfectly natural to me. If two beings combine their strengths and weakness into something that is better than the sum of the parts, how can one of those beings be considered inferior to the other?

Posted by: FbL at January 23, 2010 06:16 PM

I think the problem arises, not so much once we're connected, but when we're gazing across that awful space that divides us.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 23, 2010 06:33 PM

The Queen is also your most vulnerable piece. Because she symbolizes not just raw combat power, but the ability to change the time line of the battle itself. By simply threatening squares or pieces, or being in a position that cannot be assailed, she is a presence on the battlefield that distorts the lines of what becomes the future.

A classic move is when the knight moves to attack and is in a position to attack both the King and the Queen. The rules of chess says that the King must be saved and in order to do that, you must move the King out of check. This means sacrificing the Queen. And even though the King is out of danger, for now, losing the Queen in such a fashion means you most likely have lost the game.

Because the Queen has such high value, it makes sense to use lesser pieces to attack in her place. Since the Queen also has an indirect influence in that she can reach far across the board, you can use the Queen to threaten or to protect several different pieces at various places. But that's all it is. It is a threat, but not an actual combat ability of raw force. Because you know and your enemy knows that there's no way you are going to put your Queen in danger to take out some pawn or even bishop, if it means placing her in a vise trap.

So what ends up happening is that your Queen is sitting pretty behind various layers of defensive formations and interlocking allies. When one of those allies starts to crumble from an enemy attack, you had better hope your defense is up to snuff. Vice a versa, if you are the one attacking, you had better make sure you have enough pieces to trade for the enemy's, or else you might end up with only your Queen vs the home defense.

In terms of metaphor, the Queen is the most powerful at the end game and the least powerful in the beginning. This seems to imply that biological reproduction is a military power in its own right. That motherhood and subtle influences scattered across a kingdom can be a country's salvation, even if the actual soldiers are doing the fighting and dying.

The classic end game of King, Queen, Rook vs King, Rook, Rook then becomes about entrapment. Instead of armies marching against each other and sacrificing pawns and pieces for strategic position and tactical initiative, the Queen and Rooks are trying to trap the enemy King while protecting their own King. The rules of the game ensures that the King must be preserved even at the cost of every other piece, including the Queen. A good King, thus, prevents the needless sacrifice of his allies, because once his allies are gone so is he. It may take a few more turns, but the end is nigh. If the King can prevent himself from being put into a position where the only way to safeguard himself is to preserve his own life at the expense of his allies, then he wins the moment his enemy makes the first mistake. If he can't do that, then he loses.

This is different from Chinese chess in that the King is only guarded by two pieces that can move around the King's palace. Every other piece is essentially part of the King's army. Because the King is restricted in his movement to the palace, once the outer defenses are breached by a superior enemy force, then it's all over except the dying.

It's an interesting dichotomy, once you juxtapose it against modern social standards.

On a different topic, the ability of combat leaders to raise the morale of their people can actually be viewed as a feminine trait. Except it isn't. The skills are not very different from the social skills used in socialization that women are often deemed superior at.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 24, 2010 01:36 AM

"He quite literally seems to have decided that if he couldn't have the respect of the woman he loved, he might as well become the kind of person no one looks up to."

Tell her not to lose heart. She'll get the chance to decide whether to keep him, or not. She should anticipate that decision, and choose wisely.

A man who feels that he has failed his wife will often go into a tailspin, and seek comfort in all sorts of inappropriate ways, usually through sex, drugs including alcohol, or gambling. If he doesn't do something irrevocable, he may pull out of it, and turn into the kind of husband and father he should be.

As for your other questions, I think there are womanly virtues, and if you try to define them, you will inevitably discuss manly virtues, as well. Because the difference in women and men is what makes people parents, I would suggest that womanly virtues are related to motherhood.

I agree there is a continuum of sex-related traits, and I suspect that all the great virtues are shared, but the way they are manifest tends to be focused differently in women and men. As a starting place, I offer two oversimplified images, or stereotypes: Catholic girls make the best mothers, and Jewish boys make the best fathers. These images are based on differences in emphasis in two very similar faiths.

Catholics honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. The great story about Mary is the wedding feast at Cana, where Mary didn't even ask Jesus to do anything: she told him there was no wine, and he gave her a borderline answer, and then she told the servants to do whatever he told them. That's how the Son of God, here to save the world from sin, wound up performing his first miracle, which was to help a newly married couple throw a party, and how Mary became known as the Divine Advocate. People who are diffident about asking God's help are often encouraged to ask May to intercede for them. Catholic girls are supposed to be uptight and repressed when they are young, and make fun-loving, nurturing, jealous wives. They are affectionate to their children, but do not coddle them, and raise them to be strong and charming.

The Catholic church, despite the male hierarchy, is run by women: women take care of the building, run the charities and schools, and attend church to a greater extent than the men.

In Judaism, the men are specifically instructed to teach their children. Worship is mainly in the home, the synagogue is where the men can be found. The burden of compliance with religious duties is placed mainly on the men, and women are excused if they are pregnant, preparing food, or taking care of the children. Stereotypical Jewish fathers are not necessarily athletes, but they are teachers. They are concerned about prosperity and posterity and tradition. They are wise counselors, of their own children and those of others (as in West Side Story - the Jewish shopkeeper). The funny thing about Judaism is that the Bible is full of praise for King David, the man after God's own heart, but the men yearn more to imitate Solomon. Jewish people so value teaching that their religious tradition has two parts: the text of the first five books of the Bible that they share with Christians, and a body of commentary from various rabbis (teachers).

I know from experience that men and women have different ways of teaching children, and that the different ways are complementary. Both are needed. When I was a single mom, I was careful to be sure my young son had opportunities to be around good men. This was not because I felt I was in any way incomplete or incompetent. However, the men I liked as role models handled all sorts of daily situations in a manner different from mine. I learned a lot from observing them, but I never directly imitated any of them.

Posted by: Valerie at January 24, 2010 01:40 AM

Because she symbolizes not just raw combat power, but the ability to change the time line of the battle itself.

That is because when we women begin to talk, time just seems to stand still ... :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 24, 2010 03:07 AM

Another issue is that the Queen's power is greater at the end game because all the pieces have been mostly cleared off the board. So there aren't any bishops or advisers getting in the way of the Queen.

Maybe they said that women needed protecting, so had artificially placed constraints upon the Queen simply by blocking her forward progression on the assumption that she won't destroy them utterly via friendly fire.

While it may make tactical sense to sacrifice the Queen in return for 2 rooks and a knight, even assuming that King wins the battle, all he'd be left with would be those cold stone fortresses and some horsies. Not to mention the fact that he had to figure out how to make 3 pieces work together to win, rather than just one.

Normally, women were involved in logistics and men were involved in the actual physical contest for food or security. Bring the meat home then give it to the women for them to prepare. The phases are very distinct. In modern civilization, logistics has translated to high level math and for some reason evolution did not prefer the female gender in this specific arena. Although managing the people who can do such things would not have changed overmuch.

The idealized relationship is that men are the armor that takes the damage while women provide all the support necessary for life outside of killing. This includes food, medicine, healing, education, and basically everything that frees a male to go learn, for 20 some odd years, the arts of war and of killing.

The shield and the sword. The horse and the lance. Overspecialization, however, was pointless. Nobody knows what will actually happen in a conflict, so preparing to a script would be unwise. That's why some cross-specialization skills are nice to get an edge. Thus a shield can be used through training to stun or attack. A sword can be used to protect, defend, and make fatal blows into less harmful blows. A horse is supposed to carry the weight of man and arms, but can also be taught to attack and defend itself.

Humans are supposed to be masters of invention and innovation, so too much specialization would defeat the purpose of our evolutionary status. Of course, maybe that already happened. With handguns, birth control, technology of both the spheres of war and social communication, the lines are being blurred past a point where biology may dictate our fate. If we have not defeated our biological constraints, then certainly we are challenging them far beyond what has been accomplished in the past. In the past, people were satisfied with human flight and ensuring that mechanical force could be utilized in excess of the sum total of the human musculature and skeleton system. Things that might be said to be an extension of human like ability or an adaptation of animal like ability.

I don't think guns and nukes were made based upon animal abilities. Nor birth control utilized to enhance basic human functions.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 24, 2010 05:31 PM

My respect and regard for Cassandra are very great, and the ideas she chose to highlight are very close to my heart, so imagine my delight on finding this thread. I had forgotten my old post. I found myself reading it and thinking, "Hey, this writer thinks very close to the way I do." I cracked up when I saw my name signed to the end.

Nothing's more fun than to read lots of thoughtful posts mulling over ideas I'm so interested in.

Recently my husband I heard from a very old friend who had decided, more or less, that he's a woman trapped in a man's body. Much as I wish him well, I'm totally perplexed and always have been by this particular dilemma. I'm not like any women I know, really. Nevertheless, I'm a woman, and it's the very core of my view of reality that whatever I am, is part of what women are. If someone considers me unwomanly, I just figure he or she is mistaken, or at least is unduly limited, in his or her views about what womanliness means. I really can't imagine what someone means by an internal conviction of being the other gender, despite the physical evidence. I have to wonder why my old friend doesn't see that whatever he is, by definition IS what a man is. It's not as though he ever seemed to be failing at the job of being a good man. He's honest, forthright, a reliable supporter of his wife and children, a kind, intelligent, decisive, competent man. These characteristics in a woman would please me equally. Very puzzling to me.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 24, 2010 09:24 PM

It may be that this is one of the ways that men and women are different. I mean, really, "male and female," because I'm talking about an observation of a number of different species of mammal that plays into the idea.

We talk about "real men" and seem to know what we mean; "real woman" seems like an odd concept. Yet I notice that among horses, for example, mares are a category; but male horses are divided sharply between stallions and geldings.

Now, you might rightly note that the gelding has had some assistance in achieving his state. However, even in the wild something similar is achieved through the fighting of the males. The unsuccessful males become quite a different type of creature than the successful male, with significant changes to their behavior. And this plays out to some degree in most herd/pack animals.

So it may be that "real woman" doesn't mean anything because it isn't echoing a biological category we feel at the subconscious level. Men, however, feel quite driven to be "real men," and have a clear idea about both what that means, and what the consequences of failure are.

I think we can dispense with the idea of "real women," though, without undermining the project that Cassandra is looking at here. If the question is not, "What is a real woman?" but "What is excellent or virtuous in women?", it could be a very fruitful discussion. I agree, though, that we don't have anything like the notion of "real women" alongside our notion of "real men," and that may be because it's only natural for us not to have that concept.

Posted by: Grim at January 24, 2010 10:48 PM

I have to wonder why my old friend doesn't see that whatever he is, by definition IS what a man is.

I took this (rightly or wrongly) as Cynthia's point when she defined being 'womanly' as simply being a woman, as in "my own kind of woman" - how can I help being anything but what I am?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 07:31 AM

Grim, are you thinking that what's bugging my friend is a sense of not being what his culture always has told him a "real man" is? I wonder. He's a brilliantly successful engineer. In youth, he did defense work, but he soured on that and became radically Buddhist and vegan. Though no one could call him aggressive, he's neither shy nor cowardly. I would call him very courageous, though always in a non-violent way -- a great deal of emotional courage, for instance. Maybe, somewhere from his upbringing, the idea has percolated up that it's most appropriate to be female if you have all these traits. Better female than beta male? Not because being female is a failure, but because it gets you outside the dichotomy altogether.

What mean is that women don't really have the "alpha female/beta female" thing much. Women may envy a wildly alluring sexpot, or a fantastically competent Martha Stewart homemaker, but unless they are carrying some unusual baggage from their families of origin they mostly feel they have quite a few paths that are legitimate to follow, none of which is automatically off the fast track. I can't really think of any women who suffer discomfort from the knowledge that they're not cut out to be the pack leader. We don't usually seem to feel that it reflects poorly on us, or that it degrades the pleasure of our interactions with others. Probably quite the opposite -- we get a lot of messages from our families and culture that being an alpha type will make us an outcast.

I get the impression that men often believe all women are looking for an alpha male. If so, we're less aware of it than you'd think we'd be. If you get women together talking about the ideal man, you'll hear more about what I think of as Grownup Men. That is, a man who's comfortable with his masculinity but has figured out how to master his alpha-wolf instincts enough to be honest about his feelings and do the right thing even when it's embarrassing, mushy, or not very thrilling. A man who, if he doesn't happen to be pack leader, isn't letting it eat out his insides and turn him into a drunk or a depressive. But also, in Grim's terms, a chivalrous man who is kind to old people and animals and wouldn't dream of letting down his family.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 09:28 AM

I get the impression that men often believe all women are looking for an alpha male. If so, we're less aware of it than you'd think we'd be. If you get women together talking about the ideal man, you'll hear more about what I think of as Grownup Men.

Men seem to be way obsessed with biology when biology isn't everything. Good example: men are almost uniformly more "attracted" to blue eyed blondes in the abstract (rating the attractiveness/hotness of a photo or woman). But when you ask them to describe their ideal mate she's far more likely to be a brunette.

*rolling eyes*

Clearly biology isn't everything. Sure women are instinctively attracted to the super aggressive alpha male type, yet I can tell you that I learned by age 14 that most of these guys don't treat women well and I wanted NOTHING to do with them. Those were the guys you sort of looked at out of the corner of your eye. They looked good but as soon as you talked to them, you found out that the porch light may have been on but no one was home :p

I've always thought that women want what I'd call a secure, confident man who isn't lopsided on either the male or female end of the spectrum. IOW, we want a complete adult who is happy to be who and what he is, who doesn't think he's the center of the freaking universe, who doesn't view women as conquests or bodies to be used and thrown away. The alpha stereotype espoused by those PUA sites is everything I loathe in a man - a little boy in grownup's clothing who is selfish, angry and controlling.

I'd no sooner date a guy like that than I would chew off my own right arm. Guys think this stuff matters to us because it matters to them. And aggressiveness does matter in the sense that we want a man to be able to protect his family.

But a smart man realizes there are many ways to do that, not all of them involving using his fists.

Sorry for the rant! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 09:49 AM

No, what I mean is not this: "what his culture always has told him..."

What I mean is something that arises before culture; the culture doesn't do it because the biology hasn't prepared us to have a culture that would do it. That probably also means that there is something whispering in his ear that is pre-cultural; something biological, or spiritual.

It's a kind of suicide, really, although one that has an interesting history associated with shamanism. They are destroying something, which in a sense is all they have ever been; but since they are not actually killing themselves physically, they find themselves with an ability to explore other paths. Sometimes interesting things have come of that.

This is one reason I have been wondering about the question of whether souls are male, because that would be one explanation (and one that would be highly sympathetic to such people as feel this way). I haven't been able to establish any reason to believe it is true, though, except perhaps the one Cricket cited; but even that is not positive, I don't think, because we don't know enough about how God thinks to say that he means the same thing by "I knew you" that we would mean.

You're right that this fails my test for chivalry, and virtuous manhood. Yet I'm not quite ready to condemn it outright, given its history and certain questions I have not yet answered to my own satisfaction.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 09:59 AM

I can't help but wonder whether perhaps the issue isn't that he doesn't think he's a 'real man' as it is who he's attracted to?

Think about it: if you're a woman who thinks you're trapped in a man's body and you have surgery, now you're a man.

OK. Are you a straight man? (i.e., attracted to women?) Or are you going to be a gay man (i.e., attracted to men?)

Is who you are attracted to inextricably intertwined with your gender? (IOW, if you're a man attracted to other men, you must really be a woman in a man's body?)

I don't think this is the case. But if I were looking for a reason this guy doesn't think he was meant to be a man, I'd certainly want to look at who he's attracted to, among other factors.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 10:09 AM

Again, I'll preface this with the statement that I haven't fully thought this out. I'm just thinking out loud, and my find myself completely off base.

I'm not sure that's true at all. A woman who displays few or no feminine qualities isn't generally seen as being nurturing.

Actually, I don't disagree with this at all. In some ways it actually supports my point.

That is, it's not a question of one set or qualities being superior to the other, but that one who is seen as abandoning their (stereo)typical expectations is seen in a negative light.

Women, however, can (or are assumed to be able to) adopt masculine traits without having to abandon their feminine traits as well. I agree that those who subsequently do, will be seen unfavorably. It just doesn't seem to be taken as a given.

Men, by contrast, cannot (or are assumed not to be able to) adopt feminine traits and still maintain their masculine traits as well. Those that subsequently can, will not be given credit for it. It is automatically taken as a given.

For example, which of the following would look unusual:
1) A woman wearing pants comforting her family
2) A man wearing a dress holding a gun on a burglar

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 10:36 AM

Let's approach that idea using symbolic logic.

Axy = A woman (x) who is attracted (A) to men (y).

Axx = A woman (x) who is attracted (A) to women (x).

Ayx is then a man who is attracted to women, and

Ayy is a man who is attracted to men.

I think we can reasonably assume that a transsexual will be an acceptable substitute for a biological male/female to almost all of these categories. Experience appears to confirm that.

So, a man who is attracted to women (Ayx) needs a woman who is attracted to men (Axy). There are plenty of those out there, right?

A man who 'becomes' a woman is Axx if he is attracted to women. So, he needs a lesbian who is either (a) attracted to transsexuals, or (b) will genuinely accept him as a woman.

That's a pretty small pool.

A man who likes men, Ayy, has a modestly sized pool of gay men to choose from; gays are not that large a percentage of the population, but even one percent of three hundred million isn't too bad. A man who becomes a Axy, though, now needs to attract a man-who-likes-women-but-will-accept-a-transsexual; and that, again, is going to be a very small pool.

Now, maybe there is someone out there who meets a lesbian who likes transsexuals, and he decides to go through the process as a way of winning her heart. And there may, of course, simply be a class of people who like transsexuals. Still, the pool is so much smaller in every case, it's hard to believe the decision is much motivated by attraction.

I'd have to believe that the business works the other way: that they're worried about themselves, first, and are willing to work out the issue of love (and/or sex) once they are who they want to be internally.

I mean, there are other solutions to the problem, and some of them quite unflattering; transsexuals could be mentally ill, or they could have some random mutation that is disasterous, or they could be an expression of excessive population density causing an instinctive reaction that drives some men out of the mating pool.

Having not known any myself, though, the comments from readers here lead me to believe that people generally have a highly negative impression of transsexuals -- even those people you might expect to be sympathetic. (The ones trying hardest to understand, actually, are the ones you'd expect to be least sympathetic: traditional, successfully married men.) So perhaps the issue is best resolved with an unsympathetic answer; if people in general come away with a highly negative impression, that may be informative.

I was only interested in the subject as a way of examining the deeper question of the nature of the soul. It seemed like one (positive) explanation could be a female soul somehow joining a male body. It could be that we should be looking for more negative explanations, though, given the near unity of opinion on the issue among people who have dealt with them directly.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 10:44 AM

I think you're focusing on clothing too much.

Let me give you another example that may support what you're saying (though I don't agree that assessment would be universal):

1. A man changing a diaper or feeding his baby a bottle.
2. A woman picking up a gun and wiping out a nest of snipers.

I don't think many women would assume that a man who is capable of being tender to his own kids is unmanly. Her assessment would depend on his other behaviors (does he "act manly" at other times?).

However, I do agree - strongly - that men are able to act the way they act (i.e., present an impassive, tough face to the world) b/c they're conditioned from birth to suppress emotion and signs of weakness.

Therefore, to the extent that a man is able to override this conditioning and show his tender side, I think you could argue that he's making it harder for himself not to show emotion.

When we were first married, my husband and I got into an argument. I was upset that he refused to talk about it when we had a problem in our relationship, and moreover I was upset that he acted as though he didn't care about me.

I was too young to understand that he was actually pretty upset, too. He just wasn't able to show it as easily as I do.

He told me that he has to keep his emotions in check all day long at work because people expect that of men. And that made it a LOT harder for him to just up and switch gears at the end of the day even though that might be the more appropriate response when dealing with the woman he loves.

I totally got that, and it was so helpful to me to have him explain. Suddenly I understood - it wasn't that he didn't care about me. It was just a matter of it being easier to control your emotions if you kept up a constant guard.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 10:50 AM

Let's approach that idea using symbolic logic.

AIEEEEE!!!! Symbolic logic!!! IT BURNS MY INFERIOR FEMALE BRAIN HOUSING GROUP!!!!

/channeling hattip

Seriously, that was kind of my point -- albeit with a different emphasis. I was assuming - and this may be a bad assumption - that unless who you were attracted to was a default "match" for your new physical gender, you were still sort of a fish out of water with a drastically reduced pool of potential mates.

Which makes surgery seem a LOT less attractive, unless it results in a situation where you're better off (i.e., your new gender matches your mating preference AND you have a larger ocean to fish in than you did formerly).

Posted by: hattip's bratty little sister at January 25, 2010 10:55 AM

Except that I apparently typed:

"...a transsexual will be an acceptable substitute..."

When I meant:

"...a transsexual will NOT be an acceptable substitute..."

That's what experience seems to confirm: Most Ayx men will not accept a "woman" who was born male; and most Ayy men are unlikely to accept a "man" who was born a woman. I think that holds true for both categories of women as well.

So really, you're drastically draining your pool on any occasion you attempt to make this switch.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 11:02 AM

OK -- everybody out of the gene pool! :)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Seriously, like Camo I can't even imagine how difficult this would be.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 11:26 AM

Axy, etc.: Well, I did SO NOT WANT TO KNOW the surgical details that I'm a little fuzzy on that part in re my friend. He didn't come right out and say that he was going to have surgery, other than superficial cosmetic surgery to the face. He remains happily married, to a woman, with fond, apparently happy children. I'm not at all sure he's changing his sexual orientation when he changes his gender orientation. He is changing his name, but to something androgynous.

Cassandra: you're so right about men's difficulty in changing gears and dropping the John Wayne face when that's needed. We need to remind ourselves what a stretch it is and be grateful when they can pull it off. On that subject, Yu-ain, I agree it seems to be easier, at least at present for women to take on masculine traits without forfeiting their feminine ones, than for a man to do the reverse. But in other times and cultures, I think women did suffer a loss of at least their perceived femininity if they did "male" things like earn a living, achieve independence, learn too much science, or get comfortable with physical aggression -- they became caricatures of tomboys who were excluded from the social norm for attractive women who could marry and reproduce. Sometimes I wonder, though, if what's going on isn't just that women can take on male traits without disaster because our culture values the male traits more highly. A man who takes on female traits is "marrying beneath himself," so to speak, and forfeits his presumptively superior status. In a healthier culture, perhaps he'd just be seen as demonstrating an admirable flexibility and depth, because he could pull off being aggressive when aggression was called for and a nurturing vulnerability when that was called for. Jesus Christ, for instance, could hardly be accused of flubbing His gender role, though He showed an extraordinary range of harsh and tender traits.

Grim, I hear you about the culture vs. innate issue. Let's just say I'm talking about something from very deep inside my friend that tells him whether he's measuring up to how he's supposed to be. I have no idea whether that's innate biologically or spiritually, or just so deeply conditioned culturally that it's jammed in there for good. You may be completely right that it's innate and God-given; you unquestionably have orthodoxy on your side, and I respect that. On the other hand, a lot of women think there are characteristics that are innate in themselves as women that I don't particularly share, so I'm skeptical. It may be that, in having an unshakeable alpha-male template, men really are inherently different from women. Or it may be that the male characteristics you believe are innate are just universal in the men you're most familiar with and tend to gravitate towards.

I suppose my friend's decision shocked me because I have to square my usual assumptions about transsexuals with this real, concrete person whom I know to be a whole person and a good guy all round. I'm really quite baffled.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 11:55 AM

Or it may be that the male characteristics you believe are innate are just universal in the men you're most familiar with and tend to gravitate towards.

I accept the possibility of that, but I would point out that it would be more likely if my model here was "men," rather than, "men, horses (both wild and captive), dogs and wolves, etc." The fact that we can observe the issue not only across human cultures, but outside of humanity entirely among mammals, suggests the biological difference is most probably real.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 12:09 PM

That's a true fact on the face of it.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 12:11 PM

I think you're focusing on clothing too much.

Perhaps. But my other analogy was going to be acceptable childrens toys (where girls can play with both boys and girls toys, but the boys can't), but I didn't want to get into that whole "G.I. Joe is a doll!/No, it's an action figure!" conundrum. :-)

Your examples do bring up a good point. There are areas of what I'll call "acceptable overlap" (Those things that tend towards the other gender's traits that are not seen as requiring the abandonment of your own gender's traits: Men changing diapers can still be seen as protectors, Women wearing pants can still be seen as nuturers) and "disqualifiers" (Those things that tend towards the other gender's traits that are seen as requiring the abandonment of your own gender's traits: Men wearing dresses are not seen as protectors, Women starting bar fights are not seen as nutures.)

Where I was heading before getting bogged down in clothing was whether the respective sizes for each of these areas were equally sized. To me it seems that women have a much larger area of acceptable overlap and smaller area of disqualifiers than men do, possibly because women seem to exhibit (are allowed to exhibit?) a larger variation of socialization than men do.

Per your example from The Unit: Men, because they are expected to keep their emotions in check when needed, need to keep their emotions in check almost constantly. Women have a greater freedom/ability?? to either express or suppress their emotions as the situation needs.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 12:16 PM

To me it seems that women have a much larger area of acceptable overlap and smaller area of disqualifiers than men do, possibly because women seem to exhibit (are allowed to exhibit?) a larger variation of socialization than men do.

I completely agree with you, but I also wonder whether part of this is that (as Texan99 observed) we tend to think of more traditionally masculine traits as virtuous but don't necessarily think of traditionally feminine traits the same way?

I also wonder whether part of the restrictions on men may have to do with the need to suppress parts of yourself in order to perform traditionally masculine jobs like fighting and protecting others?

Conversely, I know I grew up with the sense that certain emotions (anger, hostility) are "unfeminine". It isn't that I don't feel those feelings, but it's unacceptable for me to express them no matter how strong they are or even no matter how much the situation may warrant them?

Sexuality is a variant of this too for women. We're so often told it's not "natural" for us to be as interested in sex as men (and that we're sluts if we are) that we tend to suppress that part of ourselves.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 12:25 PM

Cassandra totally gets my point, one that I've despaired of ever making a single man understand -- the unequal assumptions about the admirability of male and female traits. What a relief to have found at least one human being who gets me! It makes it easier to relinquish the fantasy of finding a guy who will. I know I am and always will remain a mystery to my dear husband. (And I return the favor.) I think, when it comes to the subject of male superiority, perhaps it's too much to expect men to be able to be logical. :-)

On a slightly different subject, I'm not sure I buy "nurturing" as the female counterpart to male "aggression." For me, the counterpart to aggression is patience, endurance, and strategic indirection. The counterpart to nurturing probably is a willingness to let youngsters go and to let them experience risk, despite the terrible parental fear that they'll be hurt. It takes courage, and I've got to admit it seems to be in greater supply with dads than moms. I'm not even a mom, but I'm still terrible at it. Is that my xx chromosomes? Do my xx chromosomes cause me to be better suited to cure a problem without escalating it to violence, if delay, endurance, or strategy would work better?

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 12:47 PM

I don't know if this will help, but I think what I'm hearing the guys say is, "But we *do* value those traits ... in women!"

To which we respond, "Yeah, but you don't value those traits in other men. If they're really virtues, shouldn't they be valued regardless of who possesses them?

If you only value them in women, isn't that just another way of saying 'Well those lesser virtues fine for *women*, but I expect more from myself because I'm a man.'"

And I think there may be an uncomfortable truth there - until men truly respect these qualities, they won't seek to incorporate them into the view of what makes a good man. And yet I think they ARE part of being a good man - the proportions are just different b/c men and women are different.

I remember my Navy Dad holding me, reading me stories, and displaying great tenderness and affection for me. That was part of what I grew up to consider manly. He wasn't "soft" because he was - in addition to his more masculine qualities - also gentle and loving to a small child.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 01:08 PM

Exactly.

At some basic biological level, surely women are looking for a mate who not only can pass on good genes but can be trusted to hang around and do his duty while she is helpless with pregnancy and with the need to take care of young children. Doing his duty will entail a lot of the quick-on-the-draw drag-home-the-meat alpha male stuff, but that won't be much good to the woman if he can't stick it out and slog it through, using the traditionally female virtues of patience and endurance. Women can see they need a balanced mix of traits in a man, though it may not be the same mix that's ideal in a woman. But men seem to have a hard time valuing the softer traits in themselves. They tease each other if these traits appear. I don't see women teasing each other over "male" traits. I don't think they find them scary, and therefore they're not funny.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 01:20 PM

Sometimes I wonder, though, if what's going on isn't just that women can take on male traits without disaster because our culture values the male traits more highly. -Texan99

but I also wonder whether part of this is that (as Texan99 observed) we tend to think of more traditionally masculine traits as virtuous but don't necessarily think of traditionally feminine traits the same way? -Cass

I don't discount that possibility. I simply posit an additional one. That since each gender's experiences of life are not "complete" (that is, thinking that your gender's perception of life is the only one there is, is foolish) that there is value in retaining those gender normative traits.

A woman who adopts some masculine traits but retains her feminine ones still brings completeness to the male-female relationship. A woman who adopts masculine traits and abandons her feminine ones just doubles up on the masculine traits and the pairing remains incomplete.

The same is true in reverse. The difference is that women, for whatever reason, seem to have (or are assumed to have) a greater ability to do this. And thus adopting the other gender's traits is not seen as a negative as it still provides a complete union.

But in other times and cultures, I think women did suffer a loss of at least their perceived femininity if they did "male" things like earn a living, achieve independence, learn too much science, or get comfortable with physical aggression -- they became caricatures of tomboys who were excluded from the social norm for attractive women who could marry and reproduce. - Texan99

Great point. The area of "disqualifiers" have and will continue to change. Things are added, things are removed. Sometimes they get larger, and sometimes they get smaller. In general they are much smaller today than they ever have been in the past.

That suggests that at least part of this is due to nuture. It's not that the ability doesn't exist because people are doing it today, but that since society frowns upon it, those abilities are not expressed. But for others...

I also wonder whether part of the restrictions on men may have to do with the need to suppress parts of yourself in order to perform traditionally masculine jobs like fighting and protecting others? - Cass

It's kinda hard to put a bullet in the chest of the guy who just broke down your front door and may be interested in doing very nasty things to you, your wife, and your children if you are being empathetic with his wife, children, and mother that will be left behind. It requires a level of coldness in that situation that me and mine are the only people that matter. It isn't pretty. In fact, it's pretty ugly, but it's also what is required.

So it very well may be the case, at least in some contexts, that the two traits (empathy and violence) really are mutually disadvantageous.

We're so often told it's not "natural" for us to be as interested in sex as men (and that we're sluts if we are) that we tend to suppress that part of ourselves. - Cass

And millions of husbands are crying out "No, please don't! If you are addicted to sex, we're more than happy to be your 'dealer'". :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 01:27 PM

And millions of husbands are crying out "No, please don't! If you are addicted to sex, we're more than happy to be your 'dealer'". :-)

Heh :)

That's certainly the case around my house! But then that's just part of why I love my husband.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 01:33 PM

Ha -- if you get to be our exclusive dealer, maybe! Show me a guy who really values a woman with the kind of indiscriminate sexual drive toward men in general that men are commonly supposed to have toward women in general.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 01:37 PM

Bingo.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 01:40 PM

Show me a guy who really values a woman with the kind of indiscriminate sexual drive toward men in general that men are commonly supposed to have toward women in general.

Show me a woman who really values a man with the kind of indiscriminate sexual drive toward women in general that men are commonly supposed to have and I'll show you a woman who ought to marry that man and do us all a favor by removing themselves from the dating pool. :-)

If you think that men should suppress their sex drives to an exclusive dealer, you won't get an argument from me!

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 01:56 PM

Good grief, of course women don't value that in a man. It's men who typically assert that it's natural for men to be promiscuous and that they shouldn't have to apologize for it. My point is only that men stop thinking promiscuity is a fine thing when it comes to women adopting it as their own standard of behavior.

I don't know why women tend more to opt for an exclusive sexual partner, but that's the pattern I've always observed (pattern: not 100% behavior). Women also tend to demand that men observe the same pattern, but it doesn't seem to come as naturally to men. A man who can be faithful is an extraordinary jewel. A woman who can be faithful is a very good thing, but it's not difficult or unusual enough to qualify as an amazing achievement.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 02:12 PM

I didn't think I would, Yu-Ain :)

But there's a tangental point here. I've often wondered at how men would react if - for the space of one year only - women in general behaved exactly the same way men behave with regard to sex.

This would mean that married women would spent lots of time publicly ogling hot young Czech men with tight g-strings and surgically enhanced bulges :p

And on TV, everywhere men looked they'd see what women see everywhere we look.

When a nice looking man walked past a office full of women, they'd hoot and holler and whistle, and girls would grope boys in the hallways at school.

Men say they wouldn't mind these things, but I'm not sure that true. They've never lived in a world like that: what they're contemplating are one or two isolated instances rather than a 24/7 steady diet.

I suspect it would be a very different world. I also suspect we'd hear complaints from men that are quite similar to the ones we hear from women nowadays :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 02:13 PM

Texan, perhaps I was too subtle in my jest. I was agreeing with you. With the added poetic justice that those types of men should be paired with a woman just like them.

That way we're all better off.

I've often wondered at how men would react if - for the space of one year only - women in general behaved exactly the same way men behave with regard to sex.-Cass

My fear is that this is already happening and the result was the PUA "Game".

Instead of seeing the harm and fixing things it appears that a segment has embrased the downward spiral.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 03:03 PM

I remember my Navy Dad holding me, reading me stories, and displaying great tenderness and affection for me. That was part of what I grew up to consider manly. He wasn't "soft" because he was - in addition to his more masculine qualities - also gentle and loving to a small child.

Ah, that one I think I can answer. It's not that men don't value those traits in other men, it's that they're irrelevant to us.

Case in point, my friend who just had a baby is undoubtedly a good father. It's actually kind of immaterial to me. Not entirely of course. Were he a bad father, I'd think less of him of course. But were he merely adequate, I don't see that impacting our friendship. And yet, it would be more important to his wife (or were he single, a potential spouse).

Basically, in my thought process, a good father is fine, an adequate father is fine, a poor father is not. Why does it matter to me? First, a poor father raises poor children (and no, not in the economic sense, though that is possible as well I suppose). Second, much as I would hold a man who is cruel to animals in contempt (or worse), someone who is a poor father will cause me to treat them with contempt. But ultimately, the parenting skills of another man are largely meaningless to me. I'm not seeking male companions based on their nurturing skills. My criteria for "good men" is less to do with nurturing, and more to do with male companionship.

Clearly, good nurturing skills in a man are highly desirable for a woman, but she has different priorities when looking at a man than I will. And that's fine. But when you ask, why would that nurturing skill not be valued by other men... well... there you go. It's not, because it's not really relevant to our needs out of another man.

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 03:05 PM

Good point :p

But it's kind of interesting to me - to the extent that women are said to be acting "just like men", they aren't really.

IOW, women may act more sexual, but not in the sense of pursuing men - more in the sense of seducing men (which still involves the guy being more of the consumer/aggressor and the woman being more of the product/object of male desire).

You see it a bit with the whole cougar phenom or Cosmo when they occasionally feature semi-nekkid men, but it's still not the same. My point was more that in real life when I've seen men being pursued or objectified in the way they pursue and objectify women, they are turned off rather than titillated.

Also, when they see women acting the way they do, they don't like it one bit. They perceive such treatment as disrespectful. That's what interests me.

Do I think this means men are inconsiderate/insensitive? No, not really. I think it's perhaps more of a case where (having had things a certain way all their lives and not having any idea what it's like to on the receiving end of such behavior) men are often simply unconscious of how women feel. They don't identify with our reactions b/c they've never experienced what we experience and that's not surprising, really.

I think this can be compared in some ways to what afe said the other day about women who challenge their men in public. Women, I think, think they're treating the man as an equal b/c we're not as clued into status/dominance. Men, however, think they're being disrespected if we're not actively deferential.

I think to the extent that women are less likely to perceive ANY interaction as a contest for dominance (and to the extent that we aren't called upon to act as men do) we simply don't understand how our words are sometimes perceived by men whose day to day life includes a lot of such challenges. To us, we're not being disrespectful b/c we wouldn't mind the same treatment - or don't think we'd mind it :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 03:19 PM

It's not that men don't value those traits in other men, it's that they're irrelevant to us.

I think I know what you're going for, but I think it's stated inexactly.

It's not that it's irrelevant. Whether you do those things or not do matter to my opinion of you as a man (you better do it). It's just something that I could go my entire life knowing you and never once think to ask about. For most guys, I would just assume they did and leave it at that because, as you say, I'm not in need of another man to read me a bedtime story.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 03:23 PM

I'm not in need of another man to read me a bedtime story.

That. Whut he said. :)

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 03:45 PM

"Whether you do those things or not do matter to my opinion of you as a man (you better do it). It's just something that I could go my entire life knowing you and never once think to ask about. For most guys, I would just assume they did and leave it at that because, as you say, I'm not in need of another man to read me a bedtime story."
*keys up the ship to shore to add*

Indeed, and another facet might be that most fellows, ok, at least me, are not real interested in nose-poking into a friend's bid'ness, unless invited in. And then it's usually a step taken with more than a little trepidation.

*clears the channel and once again tacks towards blue water*

Posted by: bt_outta_his_depth_and_well_off_shore_hun at January 25, 2010 03:50 PM

I think to the extent that women are less likely to perceive ANY interaction as a contest for dominance (and to the extent that we aren't called upon to act as men do) we simply don't understand how our words are sometimes perceived by men whose day to day life includes a lot of such challenges. To us, we're not being disrespectful b/c we wouldn't mind the same treatment - or don't think we'd mind it :p

Well, yes and no. Women can get away with saying things that would earn a man a punch in the mouth, and sometimes without even generating hostile feelings. It's like you mentioned earlier about getting two men who had their backs up to work together. But I can also think of situations of the other type where men think a woman is presenting a challenge where none is meant.

The most frequent example I can think of is the, "I need a second opinion because my husband claimed X." And ladies, pay attention, because this is a bad one.

My brother called me up and asked me to help him build his first PC. I had built two or three of my own, so this sounded reasonable. I get to his place, and he proceeds to pick out components and never asks me a thing. He finishes, prints out the list and then my sister-in-law comes in the room. "Why do we need so much RAM?" she asks. He just looks at me and I suddenly know why I am there. He didn't need me to help him pick parts, he needed me to JUSTIFY them. Because she wouldn't believe the same answers from him.

Another example. I was configuring my home network. I do this professionally, mind you. My wife walks up and says, "Did you read the instructions?" I look at her quizzically and say, "No, I do this for a living, remember?" She responds, "Are you sure you don't need to read the instructions?" Now I'm starting to get angry. "No, I got this, I must have done this twice at work today." "Are you sure? I can download the instructions for you if you want them."

Ok, that's bad. Don't do that. I know that it's an attempt to be helpful, but in male communications, that's saying "You don't know what you're doing." The example of my brother and the computer is the same thing in a different form. The husband might be wrong, but an expert would be trusted implicitly. Never mind the husband would be considered an expert by anyone else.

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 03:55 PM

OK, I so don't get that :p

Probably b/c I'm a woman. I am not interested in poking my nose into my friends' business either, but to me that has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether (in the abstract) I view certain qualities as being virtuous or not.

It almost sounds as though if you all don't derive any personal benefit from something, it's not good. Or if saying you think something is a good quality and a virtue would cause you to have to confront the fact that maybe a friend isn't behaving virtuously, you'd rather punt on the question?

I can say - in the abstract - that I think a quality is virtuous without concluding a friend who lacks that virtue is a bad person, so to me the two issues are unrelated. But then this touches on an idea that has been voiced a few times here: that somehow we shouldn't identify several qualities we associate with being a good woman or try to put some kind of standard out there for fear not everyone will be able to live up to it/feel good about themselves (as though that were really the point of ideas/standards?).

/sinking into a well of confusion :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 04:00 PM

Ok, that's bad. Don't do that. I know that it's an attempt to be helpful, but in male communications, that's saying "You don't know what you're doing." The example of my brother and the computer is the same thing in a different form. The husband might be wrong, but an expert would be trusted implicitly. Never mind the husband would be considered an expert by anyone else.

Well, this - to me - is pretty straightforward and it would bother me too.

And I agree the woman should not do this!

By the same token, I see married men do so many things that seem disrespectful of their wives that I'm just stunned. To me it seems obvious. I want very badly to believe they are just clueless, as the alternative (as with your examples of the wife subtly disrespecting her husband) is to believe it's done on purpose. And to be honest, I don't think it is :)

Most times I think it's just people not thinking through the implications of their words/deeds. I think I've mentioned before that my husband reloads the dishwasher for me :p

We've learned to make a joke of it (we can laugh at both his inability to let my obviously inferior loading be and my obviously inferior loading skillz).

Sometimes you just have to let stuff go :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 04:09 PM

Perhaps more relevantly, I'm not in need of another man to read my children a bedtime story.

But if I am ever to actually have one, a woman might by required (/understatement) and knowing whether she posseses these nuturing qualities (I already know my own) might be of interest to me.

Perhaps this has to do with the public/private distinction for male/female virtues mentioned previously (maybe on a different post). That is a man's interactions with other men tend to be colored by his vast public interactions while his intereaction with other women tend to be colored by his private interactions especially with a girlfriend/wife.

Would the virtues looked for by a woman be similarly skewed such that the virtues they seek from other women tend to be based on their public interactions, where the virtues they seek from men tend to be based on the private interactions with their boyfriend/husband? Or do those public/private distinctions get really fuzzy for women?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 04:12 PM

Probably b/c I'm a woman. I am not interested in poking my nose into my friends' business either, but to me that has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether (in the abstract) I view certain qualities as being virtuous or not.

Well, what I was trying to get at is that while being a good nurturing father is indeed a virtue, it is not one that gets noticed except in the breach.

If I see that another man is a caring and nurturing father, I will think better of him, but it's not information I would ever seek out. Much as I would never inquire as to the chastity of another woman. I can value it, but for the most part, it is not my concern. Gentleness, honesty, integrity... these are virtues that are more relevant to me, as they can be external to a relationship between intimates.

Which then leads me to, gentleness is more of a feminine virtue. I would not hold a man who is gentle in contempt, but nor would I think it a particular virtue in his case. I cannot adequately explain why, I suppose. It might be because the virtues I seek in men are those which would help me fulfill my "duties" as a virtuous man. I.e. defending the greater community. A gentle man would not be a hindrance, but a rough and ready man would be an asset.

But please don't confuse the prior with being a "gentleman". That holds a different connotation for me than being a "gentle man".

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 04:15 PM

Sometimes you just have to let stuff go :)

Yes and no. I have changed my game plan when responding to this to one of "deep breath, she didn't mean it like that" and informing her that what she said was not how she wants to frame that discussion, because it comes off as belittling. I do so in order to prevent future misunderstandings in the same vein.

Simply letting communication gaps go can lead to repetitions in the future. The key difference for me seems to be the "calming down before responding" aspect. Because NO ONE, male nor female, will react to anger with anything resembling the correct mindset to receive good advice.

By the same token, I see married men do so many things that seem disrespectful of their wives that I'm just stunned. To me it seems obvious. I want very badly to believe they are just clueless, as the alternative (as with your examples of the wife subtly disrespecting her husband) is to believe it's done on purpose. And to be honest, I don't think it is :)

Were the discussion in public, it would have been a big deal and highly disrespectful. In private, there's more leeway. And I do honestly think she was trying to be helpful, but going about it completely wrong. More than one "are you sure?" is not good.

And I agree that I've seen men do similar things with their wives. And it angers me. When I see my friends falling into a clear miscommunication, I have stepped in and said, "I know you meant X, but the way you just said it, she heard Y." And diffused those situations. On occasion. With friends I trust. Because generally speaking, it's never good to get between two arguing spouses. :)

Posted by: MikeD at January 25, 2010 04:23 PM

I have changed my game plan when responding to this to one of "deep breath, she didn't mean it like that" and informing her that what she said was not how she wants to frame that discussion, because it comes off as belittling. I do so in order to prevent future misunderstandings in the same vein.

Oh trust me - I have done that w/the dishwasher thing.

And more importantly, this is just the kind of thing I don't think men do often enough - calmly object if they're not treated the way they expect and explain WHY they want to be treated differently. My husband does this with me and I am so thankful when he does.

Just as men can't read minds, women can't either. Sometimes (even though we're perceptive) men expect us to be downright clairvoyant :p

That's rarely a good tactic :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 04:32 PM

Perhaps this has to do with the public/private distinction for male/female virtues mentioned previously (maybe on a different post). That is a man's interactions with other men tend to be colored by his vast public interactions while his intereaction with other women tend to be colored by his private interactions especially with a girlfriend/wife.

That's very astute.

I think in general that men tend to err by applying "public rules" to their wives/loved ones. But loved ones have a right to expect more from you than the world at large does and the tactics you use to deal with adversaries and strangers are inappropriate for dealing with someone you love.

Women, OTOH, tend to err by thinking they can extend "private/family" rules to the world at large. But the world is not your family - there are people out there who will eat you for lunch.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 04:36 PM

It almost sounds as though if you all don't derive any personal benefit from something, it's not good.

It's not that we don't think it's good, but that we don't really think about it at all. It just never occurs to us until someone else brings it up.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2010 04:37 PM

Talk about not getting stuff...

Early on in my marriage, I discovered that the ladies share information of a quantity and of a nature that I, based on my gender specific play book, would have imagined confidential. Disturbing? Yes. But then I was not well versed in the ways of domesticity early in my marriage. Sharing of what I assumed to be personal information betwixt one spouse and the other? Abostively, posilutely. Betwixt one spouse and the Ladies Civil Defense Auxiliary and Metro Glee Club? Nope, not expected. Not only did I not get it, ah, stunning might be a better way to describe my state of mind at that revelation.

"/sinking into a well of confusion :p"
Why do you think I'm staying offshore? =8^]

Short summary: The virtues that I take for granted in the men I call friend, does not necessarily include my awareness of all such attributes.

I guess I just don't converse on domestic issues with my buds. As a rule, it never comes up... Other than when I was on the periphery of my brother's crumbling marriage, and a few years later when the same thing happened to a very close friend. Those two episodes reinforced in me a desire to never be in the inner circle of another's personal business.

And that may have been behind my blurting my comment over the ship to shore, when I should have just maintained radio silence, watched the telltales, and trimmed my sails according. =8^p

Posted by: bt_outta_his_depth_and_well_off_shore_hun at January 25, 2010 04:47 PM

Those two episodes reinforced in me a desire to never be in the inner circle of another's personal business.

That's a sentiment I've heard from many men, bthun. As for sharing with the ladies' auxiliary, I am not sure what to say about that.

I think men in general think that any admission that someone is struggling with a problem is akin to baring your throat to potential enemy or handing them a weapon they may use against you. I think women tend to assume everyone is struggling in one way or another and view the sharing of problems as a way to support each other.

Truly, the sexes are very different. Not a bad thing, even if we often don't understand each other. I imagine there are times when both ways are valuable.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2010 04:55 PM

"I imagine there are times when both ways are valuable."
The trick is in the knowing the when and the which.

Posted by: bt_outta_his_depth_and_well_off_shore_hun at January 25, 2010 06:01 PM

Yu-ain: "Perhaps this has to do with the public/private distinction for male/female virtues mentioned previously (maybe on a different post). That is a man's interactions with other men tend to be colored by his vast public interactions while his intereaction with other women tend to be colored by his private interactions especially with a girlfriend/wife."

Cassandra: "I think in general that men tend to err by applying "public rules" to their wives/loved ones. But loved ones have a right to expect more from you than the world at large does and the tactics you use to deal with adversaries and strangers are inappropriate for dealing with someone you love. . . .Women, OTOH, tend to err by thinking they can extend "private/family" rules to the world at large. But the world is not your family - there are people out there who will eat you for lunch."

Texan99: Bingo, bingo, bingo, on all counts. Yu-ain, I think your idea is awfully interesting. Cassandra, I think you couldn't be more right about a common pair of errors. More generally, I think that a major problem with excessively liberal politics is a tendency to believe the entire world can be run on the same principles that work between you and your most intimate circle. It's possible that an excessively conservative outlook leads people to treat their intimates too much as if they were strangers, as well.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 25, 2010 06:16 PM

Depends on the meaning of intimates...

*Sees mongo-rogue wave approaching, brings bow about, perpendicular to wave*

Posted by: bt_William-Jefferson_hun at January 25, 2010 06:28 PM

master his alpha-wolf instincts enough to be honest

Somebody (Grim I think) mentioned the biology related to how males affix their positions based upon rank, and that instinctual behavior changes for those that are leaders as opposed to those that failed at taking a leadership spot. The lack of height or advantage, then translates to a bio-chemical change in the body, changing the behavior or triggering different responses.

Every male or female wants to figure out the social hierarchy, but that's a general attribute rather than specifically related to alpha attributes.

The alpha stereotype espoused by those PUA sites is everything I loathe in a man - a little boy in grownup's clothing who is selfish, angry and controlling.

it's not a good idea to perpetuate the stereotype if you don't like their definitions of things. Calling what are normally beta traits, as if they were something else, perpetuates the myth that confuses the two.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 25, 2010 10:05 PM

A fair point. We might better call them "pups," following the formula that they are really acting more like children than men.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2010 10:58 PM

Once again, I guess I did not express myself well. I used the word stereotype (while pointing out that their behavior is, in fact, neither confident nor particularly adult) to suggest that I don't think it's a valid one.

But I don't like this whole "alpha/beta" nonsense anyway. Obviously we're supposed to think that alpha=good and beta=weak/bad.

What has never been satisfactorily explained to me is, "Why"?

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 12:56 PM

Because that is what leads to the greatest happiness for humanity.

Look, start with the premise that we have above:

We talk about "real men" and seem to know what we mean; "real woman" seems like an odd concept. Yet I notice that among horses, for example, mares are a category; but male horses are divided sharply between stallions and geldings.

Now, you might rightly note that the gelding has had some assistance in achieving his state. However, even in the wild something similar is achieved through the fighting of the males. The unsuccessful males become quite a different type of creature than the successful male, with significant changes to their behavior. And this plays out to some degree in most herd/pack animals.

So, the unsuccessful males become 'quite a different type of creature.' What type? You've identified it: less direct, more likely to attempt to accomplish things through stealth or manipulation than through action, etc.

Now, in men, the same is true. The men who learn to live virtuously (per Aristotle's vision) really do live happier lives; and they don't need to employ these techniques. Yet, at the same time, the society benefits from having more men of this type: the more honest, forthright and hard-working men we have, the stronger and more prosperous society is. Everything from a lack of crime to the economic success is improved if you have more men of this type than the 'unsuccessful' type It's better for the men, who are happier; it's better for the country, which is more secure and wealthier.

Now, you might say, "But we cannot all be leaders." That, though, is the innovation of liberty: we can all be our own leaders, within a certain sphere of action.

If you dig out the word for "free man" in any language that has such a word, you will find it is connected with these very virtues. There's a reason for that, and it isn't just that the upper classes insist on defining themselves as 'free' and lesser people as inferior. It is because a free man actually is more likely to adhere to these virtues. It creates in him that sense of responsibility that improves the character, because he is master of something and has a duty to guard it and raise it up.

Even in the military, where you voluntarily lay down some of your freedom of action, we have the principle at work. Our military is so successful in large part because we have learned to push 'ownership' down to the NCO, which (for example) the Iraqi army has not. Thus, our NCOs are leaders of men, and they are responsible. And so they are alphas, in their sphere; and the strength of the whole is improved, as is the happiness of the individual.

(For the same reason, we make a big deal about the taking of the oath of enlistment: because it is an act of a free man, who doesn't have to do it. It's his choice, and that makes it powerful.)

It's the same principle as the yeoman farmer Jefferson endorsed. He is more likely to exhibit the virtues that a free society depends upon -- because he is free himself.

That's why. Because both the men and their society benefit if we have more of these "free men" -- or alpha males, if you like. We should want to have more of them, whether yeoman farmers or small businessmen.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 04:56 PM

You are using "alpha" in a sense I don't recognize and which doesn't seem to fit the definition:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_%28biology%29

I don't think we're talking about the same thing at all.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 05:03 PM

What I'm saying is that we've integrated freedom into our biological model in order to create multiple levels at which one can be 'the alpha.' So, instead of it being one creature of 'the highest rank,' you have an area in which you are the creature of the highest rank -- say, your house, or on your property -- in a society that may not really know exactly how to rank its tens of millions of members.

Or, even in the military where there is a clear rank structure, you have an area in which you are a lower rank (i.e, I'm a Major, not the Colonel), but you are the highest rank in your section (I'm the Brigade S2; I direct the intelligence work for the brigade).

I then have several people who are below me in rank, but they are also given a space in which to be the alpha leader: the NCO is always a leader. The only soldiers who aren't leaders are the lowest-ranked ones, who are conscious that they are being groomed for a leadership role. So, even there, they have responsibility for themselves, and are aware that the hope is to give them greater leadership in the future.

Once in a while, you run into a soldier or even a Marine who really didn't make a good life decision in joining up. They know they won't ever achieve a leadership position, and so they begin to exhibit these 'beta' patterns you're talking about seeing in the PUA folks. They may begin to play games with dishonesty, or behave in manipulative ways, etc.

On the occasion that someone who has those qualities somehow gets into a leadership role, too, it's disasterous. That's the other point I'm making -- these 'alpha' qualities are the kind of thing that holds society together. You need to learn to be a leader and the kind of person who can take responsibility for your own sake (it will make you happier), but also for the sake of everyone (it will make us all stronger).

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 05:33 PM

If it makes it easier, read "alpha" as "leader" and "beta" as "someone who is unfit to be a leader."

There may be situations in which you may not really be leading much except yourself, but it is the qualities that make you a good leader that are also the qualities that make society stronger. Further, they happen also to be the qualities that make you capable of creating happiness in your own life.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 05:36 PM

There may be situations in which you may not really be leading much except yourself,

Again, Grim, I think you are changing the definition. Alpha has traditionally been relative to the rest of your group. Leading only yourself isn't being a leader with respect to your social group. It doesn't place you in the same place in the social hierarchy.

That is why I reject the alpha/good, beta/bad bit. I don't think it fits.

Society or social groups have few leaders but many followers. Unlike animals, marriage allows most men to mate rather than having a situation in which the leaders have a harem and everyone who isn't a leader does without.

I don't think a society full of alphas is a good thing. Alphas are normally aggressive and not particularly apt to cooperate. We need and can tolerate a certain number of these folks but if you look at the Tiger Woods/Spitzer/John Edwards model, they're hardly the ideal. And very powerful men don't tend to limit themselves. They take what they want no matter who gets hurt because they can.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2010 05:43 PM

I can see how you can make the argument that the expression among birds (say) is different from the expression among modern Americans. I think, though, that the whole project of freedom has been driven by the idea of creating a place where we can all be 'masters of our own domain,' to the greatest possible degree.

Who is 'the leader' in my social group if it isn't me? It isn't the government, with whom I consult perhaps twice a year, and who has more to fear from me than I have from it (so long as I obey the law, which I am normally quite happy to do). I'm in charge of myself and all I survey (as long as I stand in the right place and look a certain direction). So I'm happy; but I'm also responsible for these things, and have to behave accordingly.

Now, if some powerful man should come along and try to take these things away from me, he might find out that his powers are more limited than he realized. Perhaps the law would limit him; or if he tried to rob my home by force, perhaps I would. But I am not required to submit (i.e., as a beta would submit to an alpha). I have the right to defend what is mine, so long as I don't try to steal from anyone else.

Again, though, it may be that one of the things we've learned in this discussion is that this particular model is of core and central importance to mens' perception of the world and their place in it; if it doesn't seem to make sense to you, that may be one of those perceptual differences. To me, it seems that if I am not the alpha in my life, someone else is; and that being intolerable, I have to create and defend a space in which I am. To you, it may not seem that there needs to be an alpha at all -- but from my perspective, it is an absolute requirement of nature.

That seems like something we've discovered in this discussion: it may be a clear underlying difference in perception. As far as I'm concerned, that's OK: it's fine for me to accept that you have a different view, if you will accept that I have the view that I do, and that it seems clear and right to me that things should be this way.

Posted by: Grim at January 26, 2010 06:05 PM

but from my perspective, it is an absolute requirement of nature.

The world may shake if I agree with Grim here, so I can only say I mostly agree with this view.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 26, 2010 06:38 PM

But I don't like this whole "alpha/beta" nonsense anyway.

So even though you think their definitions and views are invalid, you have no alternative to offer to replace it. So long as they are the only ones that define these things and so long as you repeat their definitions as such, even if you criticize them, then that itself is a validation of their views.

In politics, it is not enough to simply dislike a policy. A better alternative must be provided. The same standard should optimally apply to this subject as well.

Of course, I speak from the position of having a better alternative.

Once again, I guess I did not express myself well.

It's impossible to express yourself fully in a vacuum absent context. Until you are challenged by another, fine details and points will not manifest. That's why I expect continual explorations and probes from others, if they are interested. So it is not that you did not express yourself well, it is that more exploration and context would complete the painting.

Society or social groups have few leaders but many followers.

That's because there are only a limited number of leadership positions in any place. And that is due to the fact that there doesn't need to be that many leaders. The larger the group and the more diversified their operations over a geographic locale or maybe an economic scalar, then the more leaders and sub-leaders are required, but if there is only one tribe and 20 people ready to be chiefs, how many chiefs do you think that tribe needs or can have?

Even if there is only one chief there, it just means everybody else that is ready to be chiefs, are still ready. They still have alpha characteristics, enough to lead if necessary. But since they aren't required, they're subordinate and trustworthy, but of a lesser degree because they don't have the authority which is given to the one that is trusted the most by most of the tribe. If a person needed to have command to be an alpha, then he ain't an alpha. Animals may need hormonal triggers after winning a fight, but humans can make do without that assistance.

Even though tribes are used here as a catch all, it does apply to modern society for we are built of different tribes. A social circle of the label "Hollywood" is a different tribe from the Southern climate of a military town, for example. There is a specific geographical differentiation there, which necessitates different hierarchies and different leadership slots.

Alphas are normally aggressive and not particularly apt to cooperate.

You're probably thinking of what is called the insecure alpha. A beta that has been thrust into a position that he knows he can't handle, so he is continually stressed out and starts to break down psychologically. This can be seen in dogs where the pack hierarchy is pretty much screwed up by human intervention. They start barking and growling and biting, because they're afraid... of you. But in the wild, a wolf pack can't devote all their time to fighting. Once a fight is done and over, there's no point in continuing things as it wastes resources that should otherwise be devoted to kinder and hunting food. There's no reason for an alpha wolf to be aggressive towards other wolves in the pack, unless defending one's territory from other packs or animals. When you see animals continually fighting each other, it's because they just can't solve the social hierarchy problem. The hierarchy must be established and accepted, and nature mostly does this quite well in the wild. But once accepted, there's actually no instinct to fight any more. Fighting was only just to establish the hierarchy so that cooperation could ensue, because so long as there isn't the Strongest title awarded, there's an incentive to try to get it from the betas. That's due to evolution as well. Human intervention disrupts the ability to establish a healthy hierarchy, which is another way of saying a secure hierarchy. A secure hierarchy makes the betas cooperate or leave, because they know they can't win. This creates cooperation and harmony. Something necessary for packs to survive.

The animals that continue to fight, will continue to be betas. Just cause somebody recognized them as leaders doesn't mean that they have alpha characteristics. It just means they have the rank of an alpha, but not the means to maintain it. Obama is a good example of a beta, though that might be insulting betas.


Obviously we're supposed to think that alpha=good and beta=weak/bad.

I don't think I portrayed it as such back in the Futurist post awhile ago. I know that some people view it that way, but I see it as insufficient. And if you don't like the good/bad view, why don't you pick a better one.

I don't think we're talking about the same thing at all.

I made note of this before, but perhaps it bears restating. What most of society, and that includes Wikipedia, have lost is what actually constitutes alpha or beta characteristics in both animal and human spheres. They have lost this because Amercans, specifically, have lost sight of their own traditions and lifestyles which required a greater communion with animals. But even if they had those traditions, like say Western cowboys or Great Depression era stoicism, they still wouldn't be able to intellectually spell out these characteristics. They could only acquire, use, or pass them on, but describing them in such a fashion as to be scientifically verifiable is another thing entirely. I've found pieces of such knowledge, but never aggregated together. Or perhaps nobody in the past had an interest in relating human dynamics to animal society.

So now we can't recognize alphas, because people seem to think Obama is one, and we can't say why we can't recognize alphas because few could ever put into words what constituted an alpha or a beta that a human could understand.

The problem isn't that such knowledge is non-existent. The knowledge exists, as of now, but the distribution is pretty poor.

It doesn't place you in the same place in the social hierarchy.

Put together a random group of people and the person with the most charisma, self-confidence, and drive is going to end up telling the rest of them what to do. Reference Flight 93. I say person cause it can be male or female, but incidentally for physical violence it is mostly males statistically.

Humans are capable of variable hierarchies, unlike the animal kingdom. We trade greater instability for greater ability to cooperate with more members. Thus we can merge packs and have hierarchies, alliances, that cooperate. That is a potential big risk, however, since it can also lead to grand alliances engaging in wars, WWI. I don't think wolves or dogs have this problem... yet.

For animals, it may not apply for alpha vs beta roles, but humans are a different breed altogether. An alpha will stay an alpha, regardless of how much authority or responsibility he has to a group. In point of fact, there were a lot of alphas that refused leadership responsibilities back in the Wild West. People who didn't like knowing that their word could send somebody to their deaths shunned human civilization. But they had all or most of the capabilities of an alpha already. They just lacked experience and a certain degree of emotional confidence. You can't be a leader without somebody following you. But you can still be an alpha without the responsibility of leadership. It's not very common, but still can happen.


For a rather precise and correct view of alphas, read this.

Link


And then comment on it.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 26, 2010 07:29 PM

If you want a textbook case of beta behavior, look up how Gates reacted to officer Crowley.

As I said before, if black Gates had done that to black gang bangers in Chicago (two by four), Gates would have ended up in a coffin, not the WHITE HOUSE.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 26, 2010 07:32 PM

What Grim is describing as "alpha" now sounds to me like what I think of as an inner-directed person. I'm all for it. In many, if not most, areas of my life I don't accept anyone's authority at all. I don't think that's incompatible with a willingness to let others be leaders of groups I may be a member of, without feeling a diminution of self. Often someone else is better suited to be in charge, because of available time, or training, or energy levels, or innate strength or skills or experience. Part of being an inner-directed person is that you can voluntarily defer to an appropriate leader in various areas -- which is not at all the same as acting like a cringing beta a la Skippy Gates.

But surely being "alpha" means more than being willing to step up, keep your word, act decisively, take responsibility for yourself at a minimum, and take responsibility for the group if there seems to be no better leader available. By that standard, I'm alpha, and I don't think I'm what we usually mean by the term.

I do agree, though, that being inner-directed (in my sense) is an ideal that makes for a better society the more widespread it becomes. Governments always behave better when they've got to deal with individuals who've got a strong sense that the citizens are the point, while the government is only a tool to prevent the waste or destruction of the citizens' work.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 11:38 AM

What Grim is describing as "alpha" now sounds to me like what I think of as an inner-directed person.

I agree. I think of alpha as morally neutral. I was talking with my husband last night and he said the same thing. People are willing to follow others for a variety of reasons and just being alpha doesn't necessarily mean you have your followers' best interests at heart.

Also, no large org or social group can tolerate a large number of true alphas. What Grim is describing sounds a lot more to me like a lone wolf - someone who's happy to interact with the pack but not necessarily to be "of" the pack.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 12:28 PM

Well, I'm not totally alone, you know. I do have a cub and a she-wolf. :)

Posted by: Grim at January 27, 2010 12:43 PM

I know that.

But "lone wolf" is, I think, a not-inaccurate metaphor :)

Your pack - the one to which you owe true allegiance - is your family. You also support the larger pack b/c the stability of society affects the welfare of your family. But you seem to want more independence than your average wolf :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 12:47 PM

Also, no large org or social group can tolerate a large number of true alphas. What Grim is describing sounds a lot more to me like a lone wolf - someone who's happy to interact with the pack but not necessarily to be "of" the pack.

Which is precisely how the British viewed the American Republic shortly after our Revolution. "It can't work with so many individuals. Without a wise and benevolent Monarch, how can they hold together." In fact, we do have a completely different mindset from that of the 18th century Englishman. We do NOT tug our forelock when a rich or noble man walks by. We don't bow and curtsy to those of higher social rank. The very idea of doing so strikes us as distasteful. We Americans have broken the mindset that the King is a better man than we simply because of blood. Sure, there are Americans who will be happy to bow and scrape for good treatment from another. And we generally disapprove of such people. Craven is a suitable word for such behavior.

And as you like to point out, humans are more than thinking animals. We are not bound by biology. There is nothing in our genetic makeup that makes Americans a better people, or more virtuous, or more willing to assume leadership. It's a matter of behavior and attitude. As humans, our social interactions can be and are more complex than a pack of wolves. Sure, as social animals they make a good human analogue (IF you're trying to simplify human behavior). But they are not a mirror of human society.

Oh, and on a different note, the concept of a "lone wolf", so popularized in fiction, is in reality a very different thing. A lone wolf is not a rugged individualist that operates outside of the pack except when it suits him. A lone wolf is normally an ill or ostracized animal that is shunned by a pack and normally leads an unhappy, hard, brutish and short life. The true human analogue for a lone wolf would not be the cowboy, but the mentally ill homeless person..

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 12:50 PM

I'm not sure I agree, Mike.

Human history is full of loners. They buy big parcels of land and live apart, but they're not ill or weak. In reality, they're often better suited to being self-sufficient (i.e., they're stronger/smarter) than the rest of humanity.

I think lone wolf is morally neutral too - one can remain apart for a variety of reasons (not the least of which might be the need for time alone).

I was very much this way in HS. My brother and friends seem to remember me as being "popular". I never thought of myself that way at all.

I belonged to no one group. I never had a group of close friends who all liked each other except for a brief time in my senior year. Instead, I had one friend from this group and another from that (but I didn't like the rest of the group and had zero desire to be a member or to be "one of them").

In college I ran into the same thing. Girls, especially, are big on belonging. People got hurt b/c I might enjoy A's company, but didn't want to spend all my time with A's group of friends.

I saw myself as very much a lone wolf. To a certain extent I'm still that way. I've never been a joiner. I am friendly to anyone but I have a very small group of close friends. I imagine that if I died tomorrow, there wouldn't be a huge number of folks at my funeral :p

That bothers me in one sense because connections to people are very important. But in another sense I've worried all my life about letting people I care about down, and as a result having too many friends isn't a comfort to me but actually pretty stressful.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2010 01:07 PM

Human history is full of loners. They buy big parcels of land and live apart, but they're not ill or weak. In reality, they're often better suited to being self-sufficient (i.e., they're stronger/smarter) than the rest of humanity.

Oh, I won't disagree with that at all. Human loners absolutely can be perfectly fine people. But they're not wolves. What I was getting at was that what we think of as a Lone Wolf (with capitalization to differentiate the mental ideal) does not exist amongst wolves. A real wolf without a pack is a miserable animal. It cannot hunt as effectively. It lacks social interaction that it needs in order to maintain mental stability. It is unhappy, hungry, more likely to die in harsh weather, and unlikely to mate.

But wolves are not people, and people are not wolves. The 'off topic' bit about actual wolves was more of an aside. My actual point (which does tie in to the idea that people are not wolves) is that alpha and beta really do not have true human equivalents. Sure, there are similar behaviors in humans, but basically what I (and I can only speak for myself) interpret a human alpha to be is one who takes responsibility for himself (or herself) and his (or her) actions. One who will take charge of the group when someone needs to, but doesn't bristle when someone more capable takes charge. A human beta is more than willing to make someone else responsible for themselves and their actions. They will lead only when forced to. They will complain endlessly about someone else's leadership, but are unwilling to do anything about it.

"Why won't someone help me?" is not an alpha question. "How can I help?" is not a beta's question. That's how I read it.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2010 01:20 PM

I think I'm with MikeD here, and not just because I was hopelessly charmed by the question he routinely asks his wife when there has been a misunderstanding. The alpha and beta he describes are things I recognize. I still think, though, that Grim is describing something else different, and important, having to do with a kind of natural aggression and high spirits and independence and positive bravery (as opposed to endurance-bravery) that we associate with a male hero and that seems to find its finest and purest expression there.

Cassandra, you can't possibly mean that about your funeral. Not only would anyone who's accustomed to communicate with you here come, but I can confidently assert that, given the way you obviously are, there must be many people around you in life to whom you're more important than you realize, even if you're not with them frequently. OK, I'm not saying the crowds would be filing past your body as you lay in state for days, but still.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 05:15 PM

Here is a quotation from Maggie's Farm that makes me think of what Grim was saying about the value of the alpha male to society:

"If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Samuel Adams

Posted by: Texan99 at January 27, 2010 06:15 PM

just being alpha doesn't necessarily mean you have your followers' best interests at heart.

If you use your definition or the PUA sites' definition of alpha, I don't think he would agree. But if you use my definition and the definition of the actual human behavioral model that you can use to check the great majority of human beings with, then it's an entirely different realm of feasibility. Why you chose to accept the premises of the popular view on male aggression or the PUA viewpoint, should be a topic of great interest.

But surely being "alpha" means more than being willing to step up, keep your word, act decisively, take responsibility for yourself at a minimum, and take responsibility for the group if there seems to be no better leader available. By that standard, I'm alpha, and I don't think I'm what we usually mean by the term.

That's very close to the true meaning of the state. The term is just something used by humans to describe something that already exists in nature. And humans have various reasons why they intentionally make something an inaccurate description of reality. Hope and Change as they say.

Also, no large org or social group can tolerate a large number of true alphas.

Let's not obfuscate the issue here. No large organization or social group can tolerate a large number of OBAMAS or Professor Gates (not to mention parasites like Gore, Soros, and Rev Wright/Jesse Jackson/Louis Farrakhan. To state the identity logic that true alphas are Obamas or Gates, is something that shouldn't be claimed as true just because it was stated. It must be verified as a true premise and not just accepted as true, while arguing about the conclusions.

All it takes to collapse the assumption behind your phrase 'true alpha' is to correlate the fact that true alphas aren't Obamas or Gates. That brings up the question of why nature produces Obamas and Gates as alphas. Simple answer. Nature didn't produce them as alphas and they aren't alphas. And there is no true alpha that can even be closely related to such people. They do not serve the evolutionary purpose of survival to begin with. "True alpha" as you use it simply means "what human groups such as misguided individuals in the modern Leftist climate thought up about human male aggression". Somehow this has infected the broad majority of how Americans, at least, view the subject. And not for particularly beneficial reasons.

There's no point calling betas 'true alphas'. An alpha is the A, at the top in terms of capability to ensure survival: a very simplified standard. To say that society can't tolerate a bunch of parasites just begs the question that all the better leaders simply don't exist. But they do exist. But if they exist, and aren't true alphas, then what makes better leaders better leaders. That raises too many questions, so it's better to discard erroneous premises before arguing about the conclusions and implications of those premises.


One can arrive at the theory of knowledge as it applies to alpha and beta in terms of human behavior through the biological pathway Grim mentioned but you can also arrive at the same location via a different route. Both are verifiable routes.

Now on to some primal causes of this distortion. Some foreigners didn't like how America was defended by strong protectors so they redefined what a man was into an aggressive bully that produced conclusions like "All hetereosexual sex is rape". What used to be a model for manhood in this nation turned into a model for either metrosexual fake liberals or a bunch of other wrecks in process. Only half of this nation can determine the qualities that make up a real leader. Only half of this nation, at the most optimistic projections, can determine the difference between an alpha or a beta, a con artist or a genuine businessman, a propagandist or a true believer. This is not a coincidence. This was engineered. It wasn't some random stroke of nature. It was human ingenuity that produced this state of awareness, or rather non-awareness.

If this was a less serious topic that had less critical ramifications, then it would just be sophistriy or personal taste as to what we call vanilla or chocolate. It wouldn't matter cause they would taste the same. But in human behavior modification, calling an alpha the equivalent of a beta, actually makes more betas, not alphas. That's a big problem politically and socially. It's not just coming up with a different name for Classic Coke.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 27, 2010 10:50 PM

"Why won't someone help me?" is not an alpha question. "How can I help?" is not a beta's question. That's how I read it.

Survival wise, it's not hard to figure out which tribe with what kind of mentality had better economic and war resources.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 27, 2010 10:58 PM

Ymar, I didn't really understand you. I genuinely think I'm not what people typically mean by alpha -- so all I'm trying to say is that we may not yet have put our finger on at least one of the truly distinguishing characteristics, as long as we're still talking about ones I possess.

One thing I think of is a difference in characteristic response to attack. I remember a shock of recognition when I first realized that an aggressive and successful combat team was very likely to fan out and go on the offensive immediately upon suffering an attack. That simply wouldn't have occurred to me until I witnessed it. My instinct would be to bunker up. Naturally this is in part a cultural or learned response: I expect to be at a physical disadvantage in a fight. But I'm sure it's more than that, because it extends to situations in which I might easily have equalized the fight by, say, possessing better weapons. It might even extend to purely abstract situations in which I don't expect to suffer any disadvantage at all.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 28, 2010 10:37 AM

so all I'm trying to say is that we may not yet have put our finger on at least one of the truly distinguishing characteristics

Given that people can't figure out the distinguishing characteristics, whether they mean you when they typically use the term alpha, would not really matter. The traits you describe, are in reality as in independently verified reality, alpha traits. What people call things doesn't change the basic nature of things, since quantum effects aren't active on this subject to a great degree. We can change many things about human behavior by calling some things good and some things bad, but human nature is pretty stable.

There's the people's truth, then the actual truth, then the actual truth as affected by the people's truth. The alpha is a concrete goal that can be achieved, but it is also a term people use to describe something that doesn't exist but which they would like to have. As all things having to do with the dreams of individuals, they don't get it right all the time.

That simply wouldn't have occurred to me until I witnessed it.

It seems counter-intuitive due to how human psychology works. There are inherent programming that exists for humans to warn them of danger. Humans in any social setting develop them whether they are aware of it or not. The only ones that don't are ferals or sociopathic individuals. There's an automatic assumption that while you should defend yourself, if you keep going on the attack you're eventually going to invite more danger rather than less. This assumption can be overridden by fear, but most of the time, while we are simply thinking about it, we think that to defend we must attempt to preserve our space rather than to go on and attack somebody else's space.

War exists because social standards between warring factions have already broken down, so there all that really exists is reality in terms of actuality. What actually can happen. And in actuality, threats come from the human mind. Stripped of social conventions, all that it takes to eliminate threat is to eliminate that mind from working or to eliminate the body from being able to obey the commands of the mind.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 29, 2010 04:31 AM

I like to know I belong to a group, but the one group I care about the most is my family.

I will do what it takes to ensure their survival.

I do have small groups of friends but I tend to select carefully because it is more important that I have ones who are similar to me in goals and desire for achievement, whatever that achievement is.

I don't care what group or status they have.
Being kind and pleasant to people doesn't automatically put someone in my circle; but it does mean that their life just might be a bit easier because of it, and they might look to something better. I don't know.

I do know, however, that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, unless they are fruit flies.

*goes off, howling at the full moon*

Posted by: Cricket at January 29, 2010 10:25 AM

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