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March 12, 2010

Happily Never After

All government —
indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment,
every virtue and every prudent act —
is founded on compromise and barter.

- Edmund Burke

Recently while reading a friend's essay, I found myself pondering the wise words of Edmund Burke, not in their intended sphere, but as applies to men, women, and the holy state of matrimony:

This NSFW "Best Divorce Letter Ever" via the ever-contradictory Gerard, who writes so well at American Digest on more (to me) congenial topics, that one shouldn't get one's knickers in a twist about it.

I have to say, tho, that it left me feeling rather grimy. As all my friends and relatives know, I am the proverbial repressed WASP and proud. The more I read of such points of view (even when just internet froth) the more I appreciate my spouse, and think that it would be better to be celibate or live like a hermit than join the casual sex crowd. I found the letter both funny and appalling. Of course I read on...We are all voyeurs some of the time. It was a bit like reading National Geographic as a child: look at all those naked people, is that what people look like under their clothes?

"Is this how people really think? How awful."

That's a thought I find myself having more and more as I traverse the Internet. But I was bothered by the title of the essay. Since when did it become prissy or prudish to expect people not to behave reprehensibly? Like Retriever I fully realize the letter (along with the one she linked earlier) was meant to be a joke but if so, it's a bitter and barbed one. I've never thought of myself as a prude, but more and more these days those words seem to have become the ne plus ultra of argument enders. No need to acknowledge - much less respond to - the argument being advanced. The speaker can safely be dismissed. After all, he or she is a prude and who pays attention to those people? Their very refusal to acquiesce to your world view makes them - by definition - unreasonable.

But still, I wonder: when did it become unacceptable to have standards? To hold out hope for - to expect - not demand, not compel, but champion what we think is right? Let's face it - we're all adults. Few, if any of us possess the power to force others to our will. So why are we faintly ashamed of the weakly flickering impulse to virtue; as though to walk the walk as confidently as we talk the talk diminishes us in some way? Makes us chumps?

Laughable. Deluded, even. We're like little children afraid of doing something that isn't cool. The other kids might laugh at us.

I have a confession to make. I still cry at weddings. Yes, even at my age. I do so because even in this age of cynicism when the self is elevated over every other consideration, I've seen what can happen when two people willingly harness themselves in service to something larger than themselves. Yes, it's hard sometimes - and frustrating - but when I look at my parents, my in laws, my sons and their wives and my friends' marriages I see a circle of people who are better for having to consider someone other than themselves.

At some point in their lives, they saw a vision and grasped it tightly between their two hands and held on for dear life because that is what you do when you're married. It isn't always easy, nor is it painless. But then most things worth the having aren't easy or painless.

A year or so ago during one of our epic "discussions", my husband said something that really hurt me. Of course that's not why he said it - he didn't mean to hurt me and was taken aback at my reaction. But it did hurt. It hurt in a good way, because I learned I was doing something that bothered him a lot. And if I didn't want him to be unhappy, I'd have to change my behavior in ways I didn't want to.

Most of us, when the narrative of our lives is written, end up playing the starring role. We like feeling good about ourselves, and so somehow when things don't go well there is a tendency to look everywhere but in the mirror for the source of the trouble. What my husband had to say to me, though it made for unpleasant hearing, also made me look long and hard at the glowing self-portrait I'd painted. When I did, my halo looked distinctly dingy. His observation made me feel bad about myself - he spanked my inner child.

But he didn't crush me because human beings are not - or should not be - that emotionally fragile. Yes it hurt a bit, but the hurt prompted a much needed review of my standards. It made me want to change; to become a better person. And it seems to me that having aspirations, wishing to become a better person, is not such a bad thing. It's how great societies are built: as individuals strive to better themselves, they benefit not only themselves but those around them. Self restraint is contagious.

So is its opposite.
And that brings me to the subject that has been worrying me of late. I'm not the only one who has noticed. Tigerhawk dubbed it "the man problem". George Will calls it a refusal to grow up:

Current economic hardships have had what is called in constitutional law a "disparate impact": The crisis has not afflicted everyone equally. Although women are a majority of the workforce, perhaps as many as 80 percent of jobs lost were held by men. This injury to men is particularly unfortunate because it may exacerbate, and be exacerbated by, a culture of immaturity among the many young men who are reluctant to grow up.

Increasingly, they are defecting from the meritocracy. Women now receive almost 58 percent of bachelor's degrees. This is why many colleges admit men with qualifications inferior to those of women applicants—which is one reason men have higher dropout rates. The Pew Research Center reports that 28 percent of wives between ages 30 and 44 have more education than their husbands, whereas only 19 percent of husbands in the same age group have more education than their wives. Twenty-three percent of men with some college education earn less than their wives. In law, medical, and doctoral programs, women are majorities or, if trends continue, will be.

In 1956, the median age of men marrying was 22.5. But between 1980 and 2004, the percentage of men reaching age 40 without marrying increased from 6 to 16.5. A recent study found that 55 percent of men 18 to 24 are living in their parents' homes, as are 13 percent of men 25 to 34, compared to 8 percent of women.

Conservatives, mostly, blame feminism. But as I pointed out in the comments over TH's place, the arguments they put forth - men are fragile hothouse flowers; they are discouraged by misandry, the feminization of culture, female centric schools, a perceived "hostile climate" that makes it impossible for men to succeed - are precisely the same arguments conservatives rightly rejected when feminists advanced them Lo! these many years ago. Women were told, in effect, "So what if it's a man's world? If you want to get ahead, suck it up and compete like a man."

Which prompts the question: whatever happened to all this talk about sucking it up and competing like a man now that the shoe appears to be on the other foot? Certainly, the numbers are daunting. But they are no worse for men now than they were for women decades ago. It's just that now that the situations are reversed, what was once sauce for the goose is most definitely NOT sauce for the gander. Some conservatives are even trying to tell us that it doesn't matter whether boys finish school. Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of boys not finishing school (though that's bad enough). The long term educational trends are disturbing:

Degrees.jpg

They are disturbing because high paying manufacturing jobs have given way to white collar jobs and jobs in the service industries and jobs that require technical expertise. It is disturbing because not only are young men opting out of school - they aren't voting either. The percentage of adult men who vote has declined steadily over the past 4 or 5 decades:

turnout.jpg

In absolute terms that translates to a gap of almost 10 million votes - 10 million fewer men participating in decisions about who will lead this country:

turnout2.jpg

That's not a gender gap. It's a gender schism. Some conservatives and men's rights activists will tell you that the widespread defection of men from the meritocracy is "understandable" because life in an age where men must compete with women is "unfair".

It's too "hard". These are generally the same folks who will tell you that men are stronger than women. And smarter. And harder working. Having raised two sons and lived with a Marine for over three decades, I can tell you that men are not motivated by having excuses made for them, nor by the emasculating bigotry of low expectations.

They are motivated by challenge. And risk. And by older men who will not brook shiftless behavior.

And by women who won't tolerate it either: mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters. We don't need to berate or belittle our sons, but we do need to encourage them to act like men. What we don't need is conservatives who extol traditional masculine virtues but undermine any attempt to encourage responsibility and accountability.

Quite possibly the worst thing about feminism has been the notion that whatever young women do is right and good - that they need act no better than the basest of their instincts directs them to. Why are we repeating a formula we know doesn't work with our sons? Why are we creating victims instead of survivors? As emotionally satisfying as it is to cry "No Fair!", that's not the answer to what ails young men these days. We all - male or female - have a stake in the survival of our way of life. We don't get to take our balls and go home because losing hurts our feelings. The answer - just as it is in marriage - is not a refusal to participate. We need to help young men stay engaged, encourage them to go after what they want, challenge them to become better than they are today.

Anyone who has ever attended a graduation ceremony at Parris Island knows that men thrive on overcoming obstacles - that they need to believe in something greater than themselves. Our sons need the goad of high expectations, not the treacherous lure of inflated self esteem and self serving excuses.

The question is, do we love them enough to do what is right? Blaming feminism doesn't solve anyone's problems. The world has always been a competitive and unfair place, and men have always risen to the challenge. The truth is that it is far easier to survive and prosper now than it was for our parents and grandparents.

I very much fear it is our own softness that is the problem. The question is, will we accept what we see in the mirror and try to change? Will we take responsibility for our own part in this fiasco before it's too late?

Sometimes looking in the mirror is the hardest thing to do. I hope we'll find the courage to do it anyway.

Posted by Cassandra at March 12, 2010 07:54 AM

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Comments

The education disparity really has never bothered me, because it seems to me a very natural distribution. IQ curves suggest that more women than men cluster around the middle of the intelligence range; far more men than women are much less intelligent than average, and far more men than women are geniuses.

As a result, if college is now the 'standard' level of education -- meaning that a B.A. has been dumbed down enough for a person of average intelligence to get one -- we should expect to see notably more women than men getting one. If the types of job that requires such a degree are more appealing to women than men, being indoor office-type jobs, more women will pursue them: college professor, psychologist, office manager, whatever.

That doesn't mean that it becomes 'a woman's world,' because the very top of most of the important professions will probably remain male. Just as the disproportionate number of less-intelligent men mean fewer B.A.s among men, the disproportionate number of geniuses among men mean that more men than women will rise to the top. On the margins, the smartest men will out-number the smartest women, and they will normally be smarter than the smartest women.

If what was wanted was a rough equality between men and women in society, this is a good way to get it. Women will be disproportionately represented at the center; men at the extremes. Yet the extremes are where men want to be: far more men would prefer to be a cowboy or a forest ranger, or work on a farm or a ranch (at the low level), or the very top producer in their field (at the high level) than another office drone, high school teacher, or psychotherapist. Those center-level jobs pay better than the low-level jobs, but they're not better lives to live.

Now, the questions of voting and maturity are indeed problematic. That's something I'd need to write about separately, though. All I want to say here is that this educational picture is kind of how I'd expect things to shake out, and I don't necessarily see it as evidence of a problem. Women want the jobs that degrees bring more; and there are more middle-to-middle-high intelligence women than men. Between those two effects, this is a natural and expected result; but it probably frees men to live lives they prefer, and since men are likely to continue to dominate the upper ranks of most professions, it probably won't skew society against men. It will simply be the balance we always wanted -- not a pure equality of result, with equal numbers of male and female CEOs and Senators, but a balance between the center and the extremes.

Posted by: Grim at March 12, 2010 11:53 AM

Well, if education weren't the single best predictor of voter participation, I might agree with you Grim. The problem is, they're related.

I honestly don't care whether men USE their degrees but as dumbed down as HS has gotten, the logical implication of fewer men getting a degree that is EASIER to get than it was in the past means the mean level of education for men goes WAY down.

College used to be valued simply for broadening one's horizons and I still think it serves that function. I don't think all men should have to go at 18 (and as the mother of two sons I happen to believe most boys aren't ready).

But I do think boys who have academic aptitude ought to get at least an associate's.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 12:02 PM

I honestly don't care whether men USE their degrees but as dumbed down as HS has gotten, the logical implication of fewer men getting a degree that is EASIER to get than it was in the past means the mean level of education for men goes WAY down.

That's true for general education -- how well do you know the capitals of Europe? -- but not for education properly understood. A ranch hand will have a very developed knowledge of soil types, fertilizer chemistry, biology, etc., that he didn't get in school. And what there is to know today dwarfs what our ancestors knew even in the last generation -- even in the last ten years.

As a consequence, I suspect that these men are actually better educated on average -- but in a specialized way that may come from experience rather than schooling.

Not that I'm an enemy of education. Far from it! Yet who is better educated? The person with a bachelor's degree in sociology, who has no experience with the real world, or the person who spent those four years doing something practical and technical -- running his own business, say, even if it were a landscaping business, or a garbage-collecting business?

Posted by: Grim at March 12, 2010 12:08 PM

...to say nothing of those fields of collegiate study which actually diminish your knowledge of the real world! There are a few of those, these days.

Posted by: Grim at March 12, 2010 12:11 PM

Great post, Cassandra. And thanks for the link and a good series of questions. I find that knowing how far I fall short of my own ideals and being sympathetic to better people who have had more difficult marriages makes me afraid of being labelled prissy or a joyless Puritan for urging people to remember their vows, hang in there and try to love someone else more than themself. One often feels "there but for the grace of God go I" when hearing friends' tales of woe. I am not skittish about giving advice to my kids, tho!

I don't understand what's up with so many young men. The boys in my youth groups before, and my church now, are quite admirably hard working, altruistic and decent. I love my daughter's long time beau. but I don't understand a lot of the other kids (my coworkers' in particular) drinking their way thru Cs in college, zero patriotism or desire to do anything except make money however possible.

Posted by: Retriever at March 12, 2010 12:25 PM

Most of the young men of my acquaintance are doing fine, I'm happy to say. Frankly I was shocked when I began to look at the data on educational attainment and voting patterns by sex.

However, I did notice when my sons were growing up that many boys (I have little experience of girls and so can't comment) had a sense of entitlement that just blew my mind.

My husband coached soccer and these kids were really unruly and undisciplined. They expected everything to be handed to them on a silver platter and were arrogant and ill mannered. You know me - I love boys. I don't blame a child for not being raised correctly. I tend to blame their parents for not teaching them any better.

Boys can be harder to handle in some ways. They require a firmer hand than girls (though in general I've found girls to be mouthier) and it's hard for single moms in particular to handle a teenaged boy. But even a lot of fathers don't stand up to their own children any more, which is a bit scary. They seem to think that if their child ever makes a mistake or has to face a consequence, he will dry up and blow away! Or they say they don't want their child to face the hardships they faced, and so they smooth every obstacle from their child's path.

As for marriage, I don't know what I'd say to someone facing some of the problems you cited in your post. I guess I don't conflate supporting an ideal with hating or thinking badly of someone whose marriage doesn't work. I have a few friends who have gotten divorced and I don't look down upon them. I didn't have to deal with the hand they were dealt and my own life is flawed enough that I'm always very aware of my own imperfections :p

They're legion. But maybe that doesn't come across in my writing!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 12:35 PM

Yet who is better educated? The person with a bachelor's degree in sociology, who has no experience with the real world, or the person who spent those four years doing something practical and technical -- running his own business, say, even if it were a landscaping business, or a garbage-collecting business?

As you say, they're different types of education. I got my degrees in law, business and computer science but I still had to take history, foreign languages, algebra and calculus, stats, English, economics and other electives I never would have been exposed to in my own reading. The distributive requirement is a good thing, especially for a voter.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 12:38 PM

FWIW, I hope it didn't sound as though I were criticizing your use of "prissy" :)

My point was more, "Why do we - and particularly women - always apologize for standing up for what we think is right?"

Again, we have no real power of coercion and others these days certainly have no problem using pejorative labels on those whose sensibilities or mores differ from their own. I think I expressed myself poorly - it seems to me we're ashamed to assert a good standard as though the expected norm is behavior most of us would agree doesn't support our professed values or institutions like marriage.

What I was saying is that I didn't think you sounded at all prissy. Just a bit dismayed.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 12:43 PM

Where this post ended left me frankly shocked, given where it started. But I digress.

College used to be valued simply for broadening one's horizons and I still think it serves that function. I don't think all men should have to go at 18 (and as the mother of two sons I happen to believe most boys aren't ready).

Sadly, I don't believe college still serves that purpose. I took my GI Bill in 97 and went back to school (I was one of those boys who was not ready at 18, and I took a five year sabbatical with the Army to get my head on straight). I graduated in 01 with a BS in Computer Science. And I can honestly tell you, a couple of things. One, the modern degree is specialized to a level of ridiculousness. Yes, I was required to take a minor. Yes, I was required to take classes outside of my core curriculum. But I chose a minor that interested me (History) whereas most other students took the one that required the least additional coursework (Math for a CS degree). And two, as for the "rounding classes" like Humanities, they felt far less like opportunities to expand our horizons and more like ways to pad the final bill before graduation. I had already graduated Basic Combat Training, the Defense Language Institute, my Advanced Individual Training, and Primary Leadership Development Course long before it came time to walk for my diploma. I didn't even want to bother. It was another hundred dollars and three hours or so for a boring ceremony that meant nothing to me personally. My family wanted to see me walk though, so I did.

A degree no longer even says "you have the specialized training you need to perform a job in the marketplace." A BS in even a technical field like mine says "you are not stupid, and you can be trained to learn." Nothing more. I have had three employers since graduation. Not for a single one of them have I applied a single skill learned from a single class I took. And I graduated with a "hard science" technical degree. Imagine the poor History majors. Or English majors. What in the world (other than educating others in their chosen fields) are they qualified to do? The real answer (and real value to their degrees) is that they've proven they're not stupid and that they can be trained. Nothing more.

Were it not almost required for nearly every high paying job, I'd actually question the value of a four year degree anymore. And to say that it adds value to an individual's knowledge over that of a high school degree... that may be true, but so will any other four years of schooling. And honestly, what I learned in the Army still feels more valuable that anything I got out of college.

And that's true on a personal level as well. The friends I made in the Army I can still remember with a clarity unequaled in any other aspect of my life. I remember more about folks I served with than I do about anyone else, save my family and my current co-workers. I can't remember the names of 5% of the people I went to high school or college with. I can remember names, ranks, states they were born in, spouses, and so on of folks I served with. If I remember faces of people I went to college with, it's surprising.

I've gone on too long as it is, so I'll wrap it up. Cass, you are no scold, no cold humorless prude, no harridan. And I would have words with anyone stupid enough to think otherwise.

Posted by: MikeD at March 12, 2010 01:09 PM

All I can say is that education and experience should go hand in hand. Colleges used to recognize this with CLeP testing out of classes, and giving credit for life experiences. However, once I started my degree, I have seen how my classes were the foundation for what I am learning now.

Just today, we were over at a friend's, and we were talking about finances, taxes, debt, employment, etc. For once, I felt like I was in the presence of my peers, not my superiors. I like that feeling. Our son, just in doing the paperwork for his Eagle project, has matured amazingly in the past month. He will be 18 later on this spring. He got a rude awakening when he turned in his paperwork, only to have it rejected.

We warned him it wasn't good enough, but he insisted it was. So, we let him go ahead and get
disappointed. He very humbly asked us to teach him. When he was ready to learn, he soaked it up
like a sponge. He turned it in, it has been approved.

I am proud of him for taking his lumps and not giving up and saying it was too hard. Most of all, I am glad that he pocketed his pride and
realized that knowledge is hard-won, and takes
time and effort to achieve the rudiments and
mastery.

Posted by: Cricket at March 12, 2010 01:11 PM

Yet who is better educated? The person with a bachelor's degree in sociology, who has no experience with the real world, or the person who spent those four years doing something practical and technical...?

What constitutes education -- information memorized from a text or knowledge derived from experience?

Both. Unfortunately, an education consisting solely of book-larnin' may be a *bad* education, because the books may contain falsehoods or incomplete information -- and knowledge derived from experience is narrowed by the limitations of that experience.

That said, the world is full of people who have been educated beyond the level of their intelligence. There are an awful lot of damfool idjits with Ph.D.s and a lot of bright people with GEDs...

Posted by: BillT at March 12, 2010 01:15 PM

Well, this history and language major became a mechanic/flight instructor/charter pilot/historian, so there's one answer . . .

I really think we would see benefits for both individuals and society if we brought back skilled trade schools and apprenticeship programs. Some folks are just not "wired" for academics, be they male or female. Others are not mature enough. Some have skills that would be better channeled into the trades. For example, when I was tutoring a young man in a foreign language (required by the college-track program in his high school), it became evident that college just then was NOT a good fit. He felt best in a structured environment with set goals and demands. I suggested that perhaps he should at least consider a military career. His mother spotted me at the post office in my home town several years later - he'd gone Army, loved it, throve, served two tours in Iraq and was a very happy person with a wife and child, who was taking college classes as time permitted. He needed structure and a meaningful challenge, and the Army gave him those.

I also think that we need to bring back the old idea of the importance of vocations and the dignity of labor. A well built wall is a thing of beauty, as is well-run plumbing, as much as is tightly-written computer code or a productive farm. But then I'm a throw-back that way :)

Posted by: LittleRed1 at March 12, 2010 01:55 PM

Where this post ended left me frankly shocked, given where it started. But I digress.

You mean you're not used to my stream-of-unconsciousness essays yet??? :)

I expect I failed to make my intended point.

Which was that often people resent or bristle at any perceived criticism. They spend so much time being defensive that everything seems like an attack.

I have been very nervous about this post. It's important to me because I do think there's a bit of a problem here. If you love someone you want them to become the best person they can be. I never tried to get either of my sons to do any particular job. But I expected them to HAVE a job, to move out of my basement (so to speak), to improve themselves - however that played out.

To strive to be something better.

And had they not done so, they'd both have felt my husband's size 12 boot in their collective tuckii as well as my own. But that wasn't necessary.

I just have never believed that you help someone grow up by making excuses or setting low expectations. Every child has a different potential. What you want for them - hopefully - is for them to reach out for some goal.

Islam is sick because it has shut women out of any meaningful role in society. Allowing young men to "opt out" of our society would be tragic, and not good for *them*, either. If there are inequities, they need to fight for what they want like their fathers, grandfathers, and yes - mothers and grandmothers did. Not sit around feeling sorry for themselves.

That's a road to nowhwere good and enablers don't help them one bit.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 01:57 PM

I really think we would see benefits for both individuals and society if we brought back skilled trade schools and apprenticeship programs. Some folks are just not "wired" for academics, be they male or female. Others are not mature enough. Some have skills that would be better channeled into the trades.

Totally agree. I always thought we should have channeled some of that Katrina money into trades - training people to perform highly skilled labor. Two birds with one stone.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 01:58 PM

Oh, and BillT is right again.

THUD :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 02:01 PM

I've been a research scientist for 22 years now, and one of my early mentors was at Los Alamos Lab from 1952 to 1986. He worked on everything.

One day he said to me, "I want you to go to the community college and take 5 vocational classes for the semester, machining, welding, optical grinding, electrical, and plumbing." I must have had a funny look on my face because he then followed up with, "how the hell are you going to ask people in those professions to do things for you if you don't know how they actually do it?"

An education is one thing, accomplishing something is a whole different matter.

Posted by: Allen at March 12, 2010 02:59 PM

See Shopclass as Soulcraft

Posted by: Jim at March 12, 2010 03:54 PM

Looks interesting.

In Jr. High and HS I was the only girl in my shop class. Made all sorts of crazy things, from a pipe rack for my Dad to a set of pot racks (one is still in my Mom's kitchen) to one of those crazy curlicue band iron lamps.

Twice. I really enjoy making things. My Dad had a wonderful wood shop that he let me tool around in sometimes. It's one of the things I miss most now that I work f/time.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 04:15 PM

Oh, and BillT is right again.
THUD :p

Move over.

THUD

Posted by: BillT at March 12, 2010 04:42 PM

A degree no longer even says "you have the specialized training you need to perform a job in the marketplace."

That's partly due to the devaluation of the degree in the marketplace by making it a requirement for almost any job other than short-order cook, and the devaluation of the quality of the courses needed to attain one.

I earned my BA in English at a time when having one qualified me to teach English Literature, from the Beowulf saga to e.e. cummings, at the university level.

By 1995, it qualified me to be a guest lecturer at the county community college level.

These days, it qualifies me to comment on blogs without being snarked for my grammar...

Posted by: BillT at March 12, 2010 05:16 PM

Oh, and BillT is right again.
THUD :p-Cassandra

Move over.

THUD-BillT


Looks like they both have the floor.

Posted by: Cricket at March 12, 2010 07:15 PM

A well built wall is a thing of beauty,

I should take pictures of my stone wall some day.

It was built by immigrants from Central America. Legal immigrants. I don't think I've ever seen a team of men work that hard. They showed up as soon as it was light in the summer and rarely left until the sun had dipped below the horizon. And the wall - stacked stone - is a thing of beauty.

Last year I had several landscaping firms out to give me bids on re-doing my front yard. Every single one of them asked me: "Who did your wall? That's fine work."

And it is.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 12, 2010 07:31 PM

I happen to be one of those women who is married to a man with less education than her (I have an M.A. and am working on my Ph.D., my husband has nothing beyond a B.A.) We've discussed the so-called "education gap" a time or two, and personally, it doesn't really worry me. One of the main reasons it doesn't is because I suspect (though I haven't seen any stats on it), that many of the women who make up that statistic are getting essentially useless degrees in fields like English or (my own field, much to my grief) Anthropology. The menfolk in contrast, I suspect, are going out and getting jobs instead. For example, my husband's degree is also in Anthropology, but he walked out of college into a job in web design. He's holding it down on the basis of his software skills that he learned before he ever went to college, just from playing around with computers as a hobby, and he's earning more money than I've ever learned in my life (very important now that we're looking at starting a family in a year or so).


From my vantage point, I would say that two of the main problems with the system of higher education is that a.) too many people are going to college, for jobs that don't really require advanced degrees, and b.) too many people are going straight to college from high school instead of taking time to figure out what they want to do with their lives first. That's what I did, and if I had it to do over again, I would definitely have taken a few years off to try and get some direction. It might have helped me figure out what I wanted to do and how a college degree would fit into those plans. (I had a brief flirtation with the idea of going into the Air Force first that I dismissed, and I wonder now if a stint there would have helped me out.) I also totally agree with LittleRed1 that we should have more emphasis on vocational opportunities like skilled-trade apprenticeships. I've always felt the ability to make something with one's hands is incredibly valuable, and it's occurred to me a time or two to wonder if some of the jobs that we require college degrees for now might be taught just as well or perhaps better by the apprenticeship system.

Posted by: colagirl at March 12, 2010 10:09 PM

I should take pictures of my stone wall some day.

After I built mine, two contractors took pictures and asked me who built it. When I told them I had, one of them asked me to teach his son how to do it.

I did -- by having him help me build Waterfall v1.0 to aerate the koi pond. The lad got two week's worth of training and experience and I saved my spine from exploding out through my back...

Posted by: BillT at March 13, 2010 05:42 AM

I agree, colagirl.

I have never believed everyone should go to college and I *really* don't think a lot of 18 year olds are ready. I wasn't! Neither was one of my sons. I think there's a lot to be said for getting out in the world first.

At the same time I've seen what happens when a man (and it's usually a man) makes a living with his hands and then experiences an injury that prevents him from working. I think everyone should have a backup in place.

I worked with my hands before I went back to school in my 30s but I couldn't do that kind of work now in my 50s. My body is in good shape but I'm not a kid anymore. I don't have the strength and endurance of a 20 year old.

So I think it's not a bad idea at some point to make sure you have options. I didn't show the employment graph I meant to put in this post but it speaks volumes. It's OK for men to decide they want to concentrate on certain fields, but it's also smart policy to understand that there is flux in the job market and to be prepared to handle unemployment or a sudden drop in demand for your skill set. That's the downside of the specialization Grim spoke of - the more specialized you become, the fewer jobs will fit your particular set of skills and knowledge.

The point I should have made is that none of us is owed employment - it's our task to fit into the existing job market or find a way to market our skills on our own. A lot of these "men hardest hit" stories in the news illustrate the fact that conditions can and do change and it's smart policy to be prepared.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 13, 2010 11:44 AM

"I can tell you that men are not motivated by having excuses made for them, nor by the emasculating bigotry of low expectations. They are motivated by challenge. And risk. And by older men who will not brook shiftless behavior.

"And by women who won't tolerate it either: mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters. We don't need to berate or belittle our sons, but we do need to encourage them to act like men. What we don't need is conservatives who extol traditional masculine virtues but undermine any attempt to encourage responsibility and accountability.

"Quite possibly the worst thing about feminism has been the notion that whatever young women do is right and good - that they need act no better than the basest of their instincts directs them to. Why are we repeating a formula we know doesn't work with our sons? Why are we creating victims instead of survivors?"

YES YES YES!

Posted by: Texan99 at March 13, 2010 12:00 PM

One of the most amazing times in my life was being in recruit training at Parris Island for 3 years.

I loved graduations and I loved watching young men and women discover what they were capable of. I loved their pride in their bearing when they faced down challenges they didn't think they had the strength to overcome, and the amazing transformation in their whole demeanor when they felt good about themselves. That usually translates into treating others more respectfully and it has a ripple effect.

In many ways I think self respect is harder to earn than the approval of others, and more important too in the long run. We seem to have lost the notion that we don't build character and self confidence through avoiding hardship, but by overcoming it.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 13, 2010 12:10 PM

Allen -- it sounds like you were very lucky in your mentor.

My father went to the dinkiest college you can imagine, where by the senior year his chemistry prof ran the course like a seminar and learned along with his students, who were surpassing him. (He knew his limitations and was admirably flexible.) My father went on to a slightly better school for a masters and on to quite a good school, finally, to get his doctorate in chemistry. Like Allen's mentor, he worked at Los Alamos. I asked him once why he wasn't able to go to a better initial college. His brief explanation, that his family couldn't afford it, confused me, because I was used to believing that top students could get scholarships. He looked at me a little pityingly and explained that he couldn't afford to stop living at home with his brothers and sisters, all of whom had to work to keep the household in food.

None of that ever impeded his education. He was an autodidact who read extensively in a variety of fields throughout his life. He also had a broad knowledge of the physical sciences, from quantum mechanics to the practical workings of bleach, electronics, pumps, metallurgy, optics, and anything else you can think of, that I've rarely encountered in anyone else. What a treat it was to have him for a father as a kid! You could ask him about how absolutely anything worked -- as long as it was physical.

A lot of what college can do for us, I think, is expose us to the notion of broader learning. After that, we have to do it for ourselves. College helped me do that. Some are more inner-directed and can do it fine without college. A competitive spirit made me work like a dog in college and learn more than I would have done otherwise.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 13, 2010 12:23 PM

You know what college did for me?

It helped me to see the connectedness between ideas, the real world, everything. It's not so much that I came away with a lot of facts I could use.

It's not that at all.

What college did for me was teach me to solve problems, teach me to marshall the things I knew already - like tools in a toolbox - and then apply them to the problem at hand. Also, it forced me to pay attention to things that didn't interest me.

Eventually I would always see that things I'd discounted as "not important" or "boring" were, in fact both interesting and relevant once I discovered how they were related to (and affected) things I *was* interested in.

I agree with Bill - one can be educated in the real world or by academe and still come out ignorant and narrow minded. But the sheer breadth of a college education (and I went to both an Ivy League and so called "commuter schools") is hard to reproduce in the real world. Sure, it doesn't "take" on everyone.

But if you never experience it, you have a close-to-zero chance of being exposed to certain things. You may not learn them anyway, even with college. And for those people, perhaps there's a better way.

But like Texan99, when I was finally ready for college (in my 30s) I worked my butt off and learned so much more than I would have on my own (and I read 3-4 books a week on my own). I'm not a big fan of one-size-fits-all solutions but I do worry when I see a trend of young men disengaging from public life.

It's not just voting by the way. One of my links showed a decrease in civic engagement across the board. I prepared a lot of charts I decided not to use, but based on the research I did I'm convinced this phenomenon is real.

And it troubles me. We have lived in a world largely built by men. And I think women can step in and participate without it all falling to pieces.

But we need men. We need their contributions. And we need to find ways for men and women to work together. Having loved men as friends, coworkers, family and (obviously) romantic partners all my life, I know we can do it. We just need to adapt and overcome.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 13, 2010 12:46 PM

- the more specialized you become, the fewer jobs will fit your particular set of skills and knowledge.

The flip side (pun intended) is that when one comes open, you may be the *only* one qualified and available to fill it.

But I wouldn't recommend you base your job-hunting on that philosophy unless you're in my line of work...

Posted by: BillT at March 13, 2010 01:23 PM

Some conservatives and men's rights activists will tell you that the widespread defection of men from the meritocracy is "understandable" because life in an age where men must compete with women is "unfair".

I don't think it's that competing with women is unfair per se. But rather that having to compete in the 100 yard dash while having to carry a refrigerator on your back as a penalty for daring to have a penis is what isn't fair.

And it isn't fair, and I do "understand" why men give up. When you hear the constant barage that masculinity itself is oppressive, that competition is unhealthy, and that risk should be avoided at all costs, that Dad is an idiot to be laughed at while mom is superwoman who is always right, when everything that makes men men is scorned because it isn't the female way, eventually many men will succumb to the same learned helplessness that women in the Middle East and Blacks in the inner cities have.

All people are susceptible to the systematic beating of their ego if it's done long enough and with the right club.

And men are people, too. Who knew?

But the fact that this was entirely predictable result is by no means an excuse that we should just embrace the suck.

One of the things that make us American is a "Take that, you #*&^@!" attitude of defiance. It's be a shame to abandon it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 15, 2010 07:15 PM

When you hear the constant barage that masculinity itself is oppressive, that competition is unhealthy, and that risk should be avoided at all costs, that Dad is an idiot to be laughed at while mom is superwoman who is always right, when everything that makes men men is scorned because it isn't the female way, eventually many men will succumb to the same learned helplessness that women in the Middle East and Blacks in the inner cities have.

Good Lord. How is any of that different from what women faced?

"Can't trust a woman - when they get their period their brains shut off and they are controlled by PMS/hormones".

How is this different from the lines I still read on conservative blogs every day? I don't buy bias or bigotry as an excuse for not trying when men do it to women (and they still do it all the time). Why is it suddenly "understandable" for men to give up?

Posted by: Cassandra at March 15, 2010 07:22 PM

Good Lord. How is any of that different from what women faced?

I never said it was.

I don't buy bias or bigotry as an excuse for not trying when men do it to women (and they still do it all the time).

I think you missed the part where I said "But the fact that this was entirely predictable result is by no means an excuse that we should just embrace the suck."

Why is it suddenly "understandable" for men to give up?

For the same reason that it was understandable when women gave up and when blacks gave up and when any other disparaged group gives up.

But understanding that beating someone is generally not good for their health is not the same thing as saying one should just lie there and take it.

Understandable no more means appropriate than natural does.

There are two remedies. One societal and one personal. And that society has turned it's back on it's duty does not in any way absolve you from your duty to fight back yourself.

To some extent, if you don't think you are worth fighting for why should anyone else?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 16, 2010 10:40 AM

I think my point was that although I personally understand (don't approve, but understand) why some women or some men might give up in the face of bias or bigotry, it's hypocritical for the blame-feminism crowd to apply one standard to women who give up or complain and another to men.

What bothers me, Yu-Ain, is that the party that claims to be about principle is displaying just as much partiality and tribalism as the Dems. It's just that in general, progressives seem to want to blame everything on men, while conservatives employ the same simplistic "reasoning" when they blame women while absolving men.

I don't think you're guilty of this, but I do think this is a HUGE blind spot in our side. People always want simple answers and they love a scapegoat.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2010 10:50 AM

"People always want simple answers and they love a scapegoat."

Not me, I hate scapegoats! They're the sole cause of all of society's problems!

Posted by: MikeD at March 16, 2010 11:00 AM

OK, that was funny :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2010 11:04 AM

I never meant to imply that I was disagreeing with the main point.

There were just a couple of things that struck me the wrong way.

One was that there seemed to be an implication that if you understandood you also must approve. And while a great many people (even those on the conservative side) do make the mistake of conflating those two, it's not necessary that they do.

It's quite consistent to say that a person ought not react a certain way and to openly advocate for a better reaction while at the same time saying "Well, what did you expect?" when talking about the aggregate.

The second was the dismissal of complaints that the situation is not fair as basically BS. There is simply no way to claim that men's complaints that minorities get lower entrance standards to colleges is really a complaint that they think competing against minorities is itself unfair.

It *is* unfair. Objectively, factually unfair.

The response isn't to claim that it is fair, but that it's irrelevent.

Life isn't fair and if you wait around for it to be so before doing anything, you are an idiot. Get off your ass and get to work. So what if you work just as hard as a minority person and they get into an Ivy League school and you only get into a state college? Do you really think giving up and not being able to get into college at all is somehow better? How exactly does hurting yourself solve anything? It's about as stupid and childish as holding your breath when you don't get your way.

It doesn't work, it doesn't effect the other person and you look silly doing it.

Quit it and grow up.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 16, 2010 12:23 PM

I don't know what to say except that it seems bizarre to have someone think I'm unsympathetic to unfairness directed at men when I specifically wrote this post to point out that there appears to be a real problem here.

If I didn't care, why would I intentionally bring up a subject that usually results in me being pissed off and in tears for several days?

I have tried very hard to be consistent in my writing. I try to apply the same principles as evenly as I can regardless of the subject. Being only human (not to mention female) I am not perfect.

I don't think I said the complaints were BS - that would contradict the many, many posts where I've highlighted those complaints and agreed that certain laws and attitudes are unfair to men.

I said the standard applied to those complaints was hypocritical.

But you know I've been writing for over 6 years. In all that time do you know how many times someone has taken me to task for being unsympathetic to/too hard on women?

Once. One time. And it wasn't a man who did it.

Every time I even try to point out that life is often unfair to women too, I get deluged with complaints about feminists and women sucking and basically being at fault for pretty much everything wrong in the world since Adam bit into that apple.

There has been NO similar reaction from women to my writing posts sympathetic to men.

Why is that, I wonder? And I do wonder.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2010 01:24 PM

I don't think you are unsympethetic, I think you were unclear and the new people that show up and wouldn't have the benefit of those 6 years of history might see 'life in an age where men must compete with women is "unfair".' as implying that the complaints are without merit.

It also could be misconstrued to imply that if the complaints actually did have merit then they might have a point.

I think the argument *improves* by taking any sort of fairness construct out of it because fairness is completely beside the point.

Why is that, I wonder? And I do wonder.

It probably the combination of a couple of different factors.

1) As a women you are more attuned to the feminine perspective and can more easily avoid the pitfalls of inadvertantly stepping on women's toes.

It's the male equivalent of "What? What did I say?" when in male-speak the comment would have been completely innocuous.

Men tend to accidentally step on women's toes more than they do men's and I'm sure the reverse is just as true.

2) As you pointed out, people like to see themselves in the starring role, and hence focus more on offenses received than given and even less to offenses given to others by others.

3) Right or wrong, there are many more male commentors than female ones.

4) Men are more likely to perceive slights (even when it's not there) because we tend to view things from a competitive vice cooperative perspective.

5) Men are also more likely to take umbrage at said slights (real or perceived) as we tend to view our ego and reputation as being on the line (which, given our competivive perspective, we tend to guard zealously).

It ain't right, but I do understand. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 16, 2010 04:01 PM

I seem to have been unclear a lot lately. My fault.

Thanks for understanding.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 16, 2010 05:18 PM

Not a fault at all. I always thought improving ideas and increasing their clarity was the entire point of having the discussion in the first place.

I certainly know it helps mine.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 16, 2010 06:32 PM

"...to say nothing of those fields of collegiate study which actually diminish your knowledge of the real world! There are a few of those, these days."

Make that into a weapon and patent it and you'd be golden.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 20, 2010 01:23 PM

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