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December 06, 2012

Nature, Nurture, or Perceived Benefit?

So the Blog Princess saw this yesterday and it amused her extremely:

Yesterday, a video asking "What if guys and girls swapped roles at the bar?" went viral, skewering every part of the club-going experience. In the video's world, girls, rather than guys, end up waiting in line forever to get past the doorman, pressure men into taking shots, and harass guys with low-cut tops. And guys don't know their limits when they drink, talk sloppily about commitment to women they've just met, and grind with each other on the dance floor. As far as pointing out bad/lame behavior via gender role reversal, the video's an equal-opportunity expose.

The video embedded in the article is pretty funny but we thought the one on dating/relationships was even better:

We showed both vids to the spousal unit over a pre-prandial libation and gained the oink seal of approval, so we thought you might enjoy them too. I was more than a little surprised at how differently I react to the same behavior depending on whether it is exhibited by the male or the female of the species.

During the inevitable marital "discussions", the blog princess has more than once been known to say, "Be honest here - if someone did that to you, how would you feel?" It's a question I've learned to ask myself over the years, because it's really hard to step outside your own skin and try to imagine the world as it looks to our better halves. But it's very much worth doing - I've had my mind changed more than once as a result of such exercises.

The videos reminded me of another thought I have fairly frequently: how many of the observable differences in male/female behavior and decision making have to do with biology, and how many have to do with the simple fact that the world doesn't work exactly the same for men and women? We are faced with many of the same decisions in life, but the risks and benefits attached to various decisions are profoundly different depending on whether one is male or female. Decrying these differences as "unfair" has become something of an equal opportunity sport on the Internet. So is the elaborate man- or woman-splaining often used to massage gender studies around until they neatly "prove" what various combatants in the battle of the sexes already believe:

Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Conley describes a series of experiments that refine the results of a seminal 1989 study widely cited in articles and textbooks. That study, by psychologists Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield, found that when a female college student introduced herself to a male colleague and asked if he wanted to have sex with her, 69 to 75 percent of the guys said yes. When the genders were reversed, not a single woman was interested. That huge difference has largely been explained in terms of Sexual Strategies Theory, an evolutionary approach that focuses on the desire, conscious or unconscious, to pass one’s genes to the next generation. If that’s our driving impulse, women need to be choosy about their sexual partners; they’re looking for men who are likely to stick around and provide support during their child-rearing years. Men, on the other hand, have an evolutionary incentive to spread their seed as widely as possible.

Setting aside for a moment the most glaring flaw in this analysis - that women are smaller and physically weaker than men, and therefore have more to fear from going home with a complete stranger - leaves several other differences in the risk/benefit calculation. One I almost never see cited when this study comes up occurred to me within seconds of reading it for the first time: society looks down on women who engage in casual sex. They are sluts, whereas promiscuous men are studs. So imagine my amusement upon reading this study:

... why did the young men and women in the 1989 study — and in a repeat of that experiment that Conley conducted — react so differently to the offer of casual sex? After conducting a series of follow-up experiments, in which she tweaked Clark and Hatfield’s sexual-invitation scenario in different ways, she came up with an answer sports-conscious men should be able to easily grasp: The playing field isn’t level. Men, after all, can almost be guaranteed a pleasurable sexual encounter if they’re with someone they find attractive. But Conley points to new, yet-to-be published research by sociologist Elizabeth Armstrong which finds “women orgasm only 35 percent as often as men in first-time sexual encounters.” “Women’s perception that their heterosexual casual sex partners will be unlikely to give them pleasure is not unwarranted,” Conley states. This lack of confidence in men as pleasure-givers was indirectly supported by another of Conley’s experiments, which focused on bisexual women. They were “significantly more likely to accept an offer (of a one-night stand) from a woman than from a man,” she reports.

On first glance, this explanation isn't exactly flattering to the male ego but once you take into account the fact that men have to do more to arouse/satisfy a woman than women do to arouse/satisfy men, it makes perfect sense. And it strikes me as far more plausible than attributing disparate willingness to have casual sex to abstract evolutionary theories about spreading one's seed (because guys are totally thinking, "Woo ha! An opportunity to spread my seed!" when they see an attractive female) or equally unsupported ones about men having vastly stronger sex drives. Positing - for a moment - equally strong sex drives but very unequal prospects of surviving or merely enjoying a casual one night stand, is it really surprising that women are less willing? How much sense does it make to construct elaborate rationalizations involving the survival of the species to explain spur of the moment decisions?

If a proposed activity has more risks and fewer benefits for a certain group, shouldn't we expect the decisions of that group to reflect the risk-to-benefit ratio? And if this is the case, shouldn't we expect the decisions of both sexes to change when the risk/benefit balance changes? The clear implication here is that humans of both sexes adapt to their circumstances. Though we may tend more or less in a particular direction, we are not completely hard-wired to choose commitment or casual sex. To a far larger degree than we may wish to believe, our choices reflect our circumstances: we weigh the perceived benefits against the perceived harms that may result from our decisions. Change the circumstances, and we can expect different reactions.

This argument, by the way, applies just as much to many male behaviors that women don't understand, like to criticize, or attribute to Evil Testosterone: change the incentives and you often change the behavior. If such behaviors were hard wired, they'd be incredibly difficult to change. If they change with the perceived benefits, incentives, or risks, then they're probably not as hard-wired as we thought they were.

Increasingly, I'm becoming convinced that we really have a very poor grasp of the degree to which various gender differences are caused by biology, culture, or more abstract considerations like opportunity, risk, benefit, and even perceived power. There has been a huge shift in the opportunities afforded to women, and they are making decisions that surprise a lot of folks in the biology-is-destiny crowd. They shouldn't.


Posted by Cassandra at December 6, 2012 07:21 PM

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And it strikes me as far more plausible than attributing disparate willingness to have casual sex to abstract evolutionary theories about spreading one's seed (because guys are totally thinking, "Woo ha! An opportunity to spread my seed!" when they see an attractive female)...

I just read The Devil's Delusion (a very funny, utterly charming, and remarkably vicious little book). In speaking of evolutionary psychology, the author says:

The significant features of human psychology first arose during the late Paleolithic era ... it was then that human beings devised their responsive strategies to the contingencies of life - getting food, getting by, and getting laid. These strategies have persisted to the present day.... [snip]

If sexual preferences are rooted in the late Paleolithic era, men worldwide should now be looking for stout muscular women with broad backs, sturdy legs, a high threshold to pain, and a welcome eagerness to resume foraging directly after parturition. It has not been widely documented that they do.

I gotta say that pretty much took the oomph out of evolutionary psychology explanations as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: Elise at December 7, 2012 12:06 PM

As you have no doubt surmised, I have a fairly low opinion of the evo-psych crowd. It would help if pretty much every theory I've seen them come up with didn't amount to an elaborate rationalization for irresponsibility and bad behavior :p

I guess it all comes down to whether or not one believes we've evolved at all over the last gazillion or so years (or whether humans have the capacity to model our lives on some higher principle than, "If it feels good to a Bonobo...", or the much ballyhoo'd, "If that's what it takes to spread my seed...")

*sigh*

As Herr Taranto is wont to say, where would we be without Scientists?

Posted by: Cass at December 7, 2012 12:31 PM

...the most glaring flaw in this analysis - that women are smaller and physically weaker than men, and therefore have more to fear from going home with a complete stranger....

The most glaring flaw in this objection is the tacit assumption that during the time this behavioral difference was evolving, a woman's relative size mattered--that the societies then--the troop structures then--made how the male treated her that much of a factor. Of course, a flaw in this comment is that those evolutionary pressures are today's evolutionary pressures, especially as expressed in the short term manifestation of social pressure.

[W]e really have a very poor grasp of the degree to which various gender differences are caused by biology, culture, or more abstract considerations like opportunity, risk, benefit, and even perceived power.

We also have a very poor understanding of the forces of evolution, and of evolution's role in the development of our behaviors. And of the distinction between instinct, and learned-to-the-point-of-automaticity responses. Underlying this is the unspoken assumption that evolution was yesterday. We're not evolving today.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 7, 2012 12:58 PM

I was more than a little surprised at how differently I react to the same behavior depending on whether it is exhibited by the male or the female of the species.

Now you've got me all curious as to which specific elements from the video struck you this way! I will say that a number of things done in that video don't require the world to be flipped around. I would be surprised if no man here ever caught a wife/girlfriend actively checking out another man. And the lack of interest in what the guy (who is clothes shopping) is doing only is swapped by virtue of the activity. When I'm excited about one of my interests my wife doesn't share, she has been known to feign interest (often unsuccessfully) just as the woman in this sketch did.

Posted by: MikeD at December 7, 2012 01:13 PM

...sex "taken by itself ... is a degradation of human nature."
- Immanuel Kant

Our society has lost most all notions of masculinity and femininity. Our most recent romance is with childishness that can never muster enough maturity to get past adolescence and so we take to reinventing the wheel. We have given ourselves over to the predominant Gnostic urge – we have become anti-nature.

Nature, or nature's God, if you prefer, has determined there be two sexes, that they differ in more than what appears under the fig leaf, and that all of it has not an insignificant purpose to which each sex has a primary genetic makeup, or gift, if you prefer, which they bring not only to the table, but the kitchen, the bedroom and all over the place. What was nature's doing is now a social construct; what is now a social construct, socio-sexual ambiguities, are now our real natures – or so each subsequent 'study' seems desperate to discover.

We keep discovering the same thing over and over again yet we keep making studies of the subject in the hopes that what... nature is more brittle than it has been letting on? The greatest attraction for a man – I'm speaking personally here, not for my sex (but I think it applies in that part of the male population that wonders about such things) – is a woman who does not 'undersand' men, finds them frustrating, and too often foolish, but who needs not much time thinking about it to conclude they ultimately find a charm in it all. I would be surprised if the greatest attraction for a woman was much different.

Posted by: George Pal at December 7, 2012 01:15 PM

I liked your last idea better: that it wasn't a good idea to talk about sex in economic terms. ("Maybe the idea that sex is a commodity to be bought, sold, or traded for is the problem.")

Evolutionary biology isn't the answer, or at least not the whole answer, but hyper-rational 'Economic Man' isn't either. If we try to explain these differences in terms of cost/benefit analyses, we're losing something very human and natural, something intimately related to what it means to be a man or a woman. By the same token, we lose the ability to talk about people having deeper reasons for doing things when we try to reduce it to biology: that doesn't leave us with any rationality beyond genetic survival, and it doesn't approach the deep reasons either.

I mentioned at the end of the last discussion that I had some concerns with the model you and Elise were proposing, with some variation between yourselves, that was based on 'self-interest' plus 'enlightened self-interest,' with thoughts about the importance of other people to your life located in that second sort of self-interest. I think we're on the same ground here. What's missing -- and, I think, indispensable -- is a sense of the sacred. There are things that are not to be bought and sold, or even bartered. How we treat people in these most intimate matters is not just about what will make us happy, even in an enlightened way.

I don't think you disagree with that. It's just so easy to lose sight of it. Contemporary America doesn't talk about the sacred in a healthy way, when it can bring itself to talk about it at all.

Posted by: Grim at December 7, 2012 02:52 PM

Our society has lost most all notions of masculinity and femininity.

Do you really think that's true, though? There's certainly more pushback against (or questioning of) traditional ideas of what's masculine or feminine - I completely agree there. In some cases it's kind of silly (the folks who want to pretend there are never any physical or emotional differences aren't any more reasonable than the ones who think there are no similarities between men and women).

On the other hand, walk down the toy aisles (or the clothing sections) at Target and you'll have no trouble whatsoever telling the boys toys or clothes from the girls' ones. The girl's toy aisle is - literally - solid pink from top to bottom.

That always seems funny to me, because as a little girl I didn't really like that sort of thing very much at all. Books? Yes - and both "girls" books (Little Women, or Jane Austen) and Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne and all the so-called "boy's" books too. My parents were very traditional but that's just where my natural interests lay.

Another article out there this week dealt with how kids view marriage proposals. Virtually no one likes the idea of women proposing. So I think a lot of the traditional ideas still run very strong.

Here's what bothers this wife and mother (and now FT worker and boss) about the way things used to be: I never liked being told, "You can't do that/read that/be interested in that - you're a girl." It wasn't true then and it still isn't true. Boys, of course, were also told "You can't do that/read that/be interested in that" when the "that" in question was deemed sufficiently unmasculine, so it's hardly a one way street. Yes, we're male or female but that's not the total sum of who we are. I'm not convinced being male or female was intended to be a straitjacket.

I love the way my oldest son is so involved in my grandson's lives. I think that's a great improvement on the distant Dad model I grew up with. But maybe that's because my father, while very much distant physically due to deployments and months spent at sea, was always very much present in spirit.

He always showed both my brother and I open affection. I was listening to a radio show on the way into work the other day. A male author was talking about how distant his father was - he literally could not show any affection to his son.

But his father was a survivor of the Bataan death march. So his survival literally depended on his ability to be stoic - on the strength that comes from being able to put aside emotion. At the end of the interview, the author described how badly he wanted to know that his dad was proud of him. His mother finally called him into his father's study, where he had clippings and reviews and most importantly, a framed letter from his son on the wall.

I can see where those of us who grew up with a different set of rules may fear that men will become weak/unmanly/overemotional or women will become cold/uncaring/overbearing if traditional roles are set aside or questioned. But nature gets a vote too - as much as we try to pretend there are *no* differences between men and women, reality steps in and say otherwise :)

Posted by: Cass at December 7, 2012 03:07 PM

What's missing -- and, I think, indispensable -- is a sense of the sacred. There are things that are not to be bought and sold, or even bartered. How we treat people in these most intimate matters is not just about what will make us happy, even in an enlightened way.

It was precisely this sense that led me to delete the post about prostitution, many moons ago my dear friend :)

I will never be able to understand what makes so many men think prostitution should be legal (or that treating/buying/selling women like chattel could ever be moral or justifiable). I get the "rational/logical" arguments libertarians and conservatives put forth - I just think they are trumped by other, more important considerations. And I can't even defend that sense to conservatives - that's the world we live in.

I know I offended Eric last week by saying I've only ever been able to make sense of such positions by wondering if maybe they're the result of not being able to put yourself in someone else's place - of a frame of reference that is so narrow that it is literally blind to how things seem to women? Certainly women are capable of equal blindness on some matters related to men. Our frame of reference makes us incapable of seeing some things through men's eyes.

Eric saw my comment as "dismissive" but it truly wasn't directed at him (or at least that's not what I meant for him to think). "Anguish" would be a better description for what prompted it. Unfortunately, I didn't do a very good job of expressing what was in my mind or heart - not uncommon when emotion gets in the way.

George alluded to, "...a woman who does not 'understand' men, finds them frustrating, and too often foolish, but who needs not much time thinking about it to conclude they ultimately find a charm in..." our differences. I loved that. And I do find men utterly captivating and always have in the main. But when it comes to certain topics - when it seems to me that our differences are being used to justify treating the other sex in ways we would *never* accept (and I've seen both men and women do this), I can't help thinking that maybe a little more questioning of pat theories, more effort to see the world through other eyes, a little less reliance on theories that put people in a one-size-fits-all box - is not a bad thing?

Posted by: Cass at December 7, 2012 03:33 PM

Usually I avoid commenting on "battle of the genders" posts because... well, I'm a guy. I'll believe anything about women because... well, how the hell would I know. Besides, as a husband and father to a platoon of women, I long ago surrendered what little opinion I had about gender roles to my instinct for self-preservation. What I don't already know about women either (1) I don't need to know, or (2) I really don't need to know.

That said, I don't see any trouble arising from my passing along a compliment on an excellent post, so I will bravely step out of character for a moment.

Excellent post, Cass.

Posted by: spd rdr at December 7, 2012 04:15 PM

BTW, I married a red head.
Case closed.

Posted by: spd rdr at December 7, 2012 05:03 PM

Thank you, mr rdr.

Your opinion means the world to me, even if you are a man :p

*running away*

Made the trip home from work in only an hour and half, despite leaving later than I wanted to. I'm off to nurture my evolved, cavewomanish desire to cook my cave-husband a roast chicken with roasted vegetables.

They had chickens back then. They just did not come pre-basted, plucked, and cleaned. I think I will make gravy, too.

Posted by: Cass at December 7, 2012 05:22 PM

I know I offended Eric last week....

A small correction, OT though it is: You didn't offend me. There was some minor irritation (because your phrasing did seem dismissive), but it's really hard to offend me when I'm hearing from folks I know to be well-meaning. Until we can read minds (a level of intimacy for which I'm not prepared), the potential for misunderstanding--or even merely imperfect understanding--is too great for offense to be allowed.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 7, 2012 05:45 PM

They had chickens back then. They just did not come pre-basted, plucked, and cleaned. I think I will make gravy, too.

I recall an incident from my small-boyhood in Dinkytown, IA. We had a live chicken in the backyard, and we fed him well for a year or two--or couple of weeks. Then Dad held it on a stump and chopped off its head. And lost his grip on the body, which then flopped enthusiastically all over the back yard spraying blood everywhere.

Then Mom had to defeather that sucker, clean it, gut it, and cook it up. Mom and Dad never did that again. Didn't even consider role reversals, even though Dad was a solid cook.

Despite being all of 5 years old at the time, I learned that lesson, too. Milk coalesces out of the æther in the dairy sections of stores. My wife likes to cook, and I'm happy to let her. I just don't bellyache about what she cooks, since she's doing the work. But I do my part, and do some of woman's work: every two-three days, I suck up and do the accumulated dishes. I commit ten whole minutes to loading the dishwasher and mashing the GO button.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 7, 2012 05:56 PM

Thank you for understanding, Eric.

You know that I worry about that sort of thing. I would never intentionally be dismissive toward anything you had to say, and I really was concerned that I had caused offense to you.

Until we can read minds (a level of intimacy for which I'm not prepared),

You and me both, Brother :p

Posted by: Cass at December 7, 2012 06:04 PM

I mentioned at the end of the last discussion that I had some concerns with the model you and Elise were proposing, with some variation between yourselves, that was based on 'self-interest' plus 'enlightened self-interest,' with thoughts about the importance of other people to your life located in that second sort of self-interest. I think we're on the same ground here. What's missing -- and, I think, indispensable -- is a sense of the sacred. There are things that are not to be bought and sold, or even bartered. How we treat people in these most intimate matters is not just about what will make us happy, even in an enlightened way.

I don't think you disagree with that. It's just so easy to lose sight of it. Contemporary America doesn't talk about the sacred in a healthy way, when it can bring itself to talk about it at all.

First, given that the quote I used came from a book about enclosed Benedictine nuns, I don’t think I can be said to have missed the sacred. :+)

I don’t think what I was describing is enlightened self-interested in the way enlightened self-interest is usually thought of. It’s not calculated. That is, it’s not like saying, “It would be better for me personally to lie and steal but I know that if everyone does that civilization breaks down and that would be bad for me and so I won’t do it.”

What I was describing is a realization that always trying to get is not the way to happiness but it doesn’t mean we therefore always try to give in order to find happiness. Instead, it means we realize we don’t know what the way to happiness is on the basis of cost/benefit analyses or “lower” instincts or evolutionary psychology or what secular society teaches us it should be, and we decide to try a different path which, for whatever reason, feels like the right thing to do. We don’t know that path is going to make us happy; we just believe it’s the right path - which may mean it does make us happy since to do the right thing always makes us happy in some sense of the word “happy”.

That “whatever reason” might be the voice of God or the (perhaps innate) desire for a higher purpose or an inborn morality or something else. But it can’t be touched or seen or tasted or analyzed and it is very, very, very easy to argue away, to cover with scorn, to dismiss as a metaphysical fantasy. And so few people talk about it and those who do are looked at askance, much as if an adult had stood up in a roomful of her friends and announced she believes in the Tooth Fairy.

Posted by: Elise at December 7, 2012 06:22 PM

... I have a fairly low opinion of the evo-psych crowd. It would help if pretty much every theory I've seen them come up with didn't amount to an elaborate rationalization for irresponsibility and bad behavior

Yeah, that does seem to be a theme with them. :+)

Posted by: Elise at December 7, 2012 06:25 PM

Cass,

"Do you really think that's true?" re ...lost most all notions of masculinity and femininity

Perhaps I'm just too damn old. Perhaps I'm too nostalgic. Perhaps I'm too whatever it is that militant feminists and quack sociologists say I'm too too.

There was a time, for though, when women liked having a door held open and men loved doing it. The gesture was so tiny an expression that it wouldn't have amounted to much on its own. But that gesture was just one of many and all together they were an expression of masculinity and were as inherently natural as the Y chromosome could make it. That masculinity was an essential trait of the male sex and was never ever a subliminal expression and reminder of weak/strong as it is made out today. Yes, women are as capable of opening the door as any man – but they've missed the point your mother got.

Women also have within them that natural femininity that is much more the result of her X than any social construct. There's, for example, the Feminine Dilemma – achieving the proper balance in the struggle to conceal, up to a point, what a woman obviously wishes to display, up to a point. Femininity must give way to modernity; my immodesty gives you no right to stare bub; another vain assault against nature.

Just a few days ago I noticed somewhere on the internet where two boys had been caught fighting. The principle, a man if I remember accurately, had the two boys spend the rest of the day holding hands. This, apparently, was done to dissuade the boys from resorting to being male lest they grow up exhibiting masculinity. Note that more than a half century ago, albeit in a movie, (Bells Of St Mary's), two boys caught fighting by a Nun had the fight broken up. The boy who had been getting the worst of it in the fight was then taken aside and instructed in the fine arts of pugilism by Sister Mary Benedict.

One may desire to keep boys from fighting; one may not desire to keep boys from being boys, nor men from being masculine, or women feminine.

Oh, and if ever you hear in the news of some guy having gone berserker in the men's maquillage department at Macy's... it might be me.

Posted by: George Pal at December 7, 2012 06:50 PM

There was a time, for though, when women liked having a door held open and men loved doing it.

I dated, briefly, a woman who was freshly divorced (she started out a bit of a feminist, but not in an offensive way IYKWIMAITYD). It seems her husband had grown tired of the marriage, wanted his freedom, blah, blah, served her with the divorce papers, and left. Part of this woman's reaction was, even more so, to assert, by God, her innate equality. On our first date, she literally pushed me away from the door to the restaurant I started to open for her, insisting that she was fully capable of opening her own d*med doors. Then she asked how I'd feel if she held the door for me. And was startled to hear me say that if she got there first, go for it.

The point of courtesy is making the other person comfortable. Even though my imperative was to hold every door for this (and any other who's with me) lady, she was more comfortable "sharing" that...duty. It made her feel equal, which let her feel comfortable. It was an easy thing for me to let her hold the door for me, even if she did bean count to get turn-taking equality into the mix.

Often demands for equality, or demands for the other to be equal, are compensatory behaviors.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 7, 2012 07:18 PM

First, given that the quote I used came from a book about enclosed Benedictine nuns, I don’t think I can be said to have missed the sacred. :+)

Nuns are interesting creatures. I have a good friend who is a nun. Her personal devotion to Jesus is without question, and her loving service to Mary is remarkable.

Still, she sometimes sends me clearly untrue urban legends about Christian beliefs and theology. I'm often surprised by what she receives uncritically, in spite of a life of devotion to a formal order, because it feels right to her. For example, she sent me a version of this story just this week.

She knows something I don't know, though, which is one of the roots of our friendship. I'm not sure just how she does see the sacred, except that I know she sees it in relationship. I know this because she defines Logos as "relationship," which isn't entirely wrong: but let me draw the issue. Logos is the Greek for 'word,' and is the term used in the opening of the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." So it's an important term.

Logos is related to our word for "logic," as well as being the actual word for "word," and in the Greek it has a strong connotation of order; but "relationship" is an interesting reading. And yet it's right, in a way. Logic is about ordering things correctly; and order is a kind of relationship, one to another, each in their place but in just the right 'relationship' to each other.

So I think she's on to something, here, but I can't quite see what it is yet. Her mind, and heart, work very differently from mine. But I can see that she knows a thing I do not know. I want to learn, as far as I can.

Posted by: Grim at December 7, 2012 09:14 PM

Re: the disparity in statistics between men and women who are approached for casual sex: I'm imagining the results you'd get from an experiment in which a man offers a woman a two-hour back massage while he listens respectfully and supportively to her talk about her day.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 7, 2012 09:54 PM

In response to George's comment about women liking to have doors held for them and men liking doing it, allow me to play quasi-Devil's Advocate for a moment and perhaps explain how things seem from one women's perspective?

First, I've never understood why anyone of either sex would be offended by having a door held open for them. It's simple, common courtesy as Eric so neatly pointed out. I automatically hold doors for anyone in the vicinity - it's just the polite thing to do.

Second, men hold doors open for me all the time. I even (once, and only once) had a young man stand up on a crowded rental car shuttle at the airport and offer me his seat. I was very surprised, and more than a little uncomfortable taking it for reasons that have little to do with women's lib. But I was also dressed up in a suit and high heels and it was manifestly clear that he was being gallant so I smiled and thanked him profusely. He had a big smile on his face for the rest of the ride, and so did I.

I wonder if this isn't one of those things where men and women see exactly the same incident differently?

As a woman, I never expect a man to hold a door open for me (just because I'm a woman). And as a woman, I have recently become painfully aware how many men really dislike women, assume the worst motives for anything a woman does, and are ready to take offense at the dumbest things. I am not saying George is that way because nothing in his comments gives me cause to think that. I don't think anyone here at VC is that way.

But I read so many diatribes against women. A lot of men seem to resent woman who are attractive. They feel entitled to have sex with them (the PUA mentality). I don't just see it on PUA sites - I saw it when Erin Andrews was stalked and secretly photographed. Instead of being outraged at the violation of an innocent woman's privacy, a shockingly common reaction was to link to the video ("Dang, this is HOT!")or make crass remarks like, "She should post for Playboy so we can see even more of her".

At the time, I noted that I wasn't seeing *any* men (or male bloggers, or even female bloggers, really) take other men to task for saying things like that, and I saw this reaction on a LOT of sites. That's why I wrote about it.

Another thing I have seen a fair amount of is the idea that women "expect" to have things done for them. I don't know a single woman who expects this, though I'm sure they exist (just as there are men who expect to be waited on hand and foot). People come in all varieties. Still, most women are very aware of the "spoiled princess" stereotype and the good ones go out of their way to avoid doing anything that smacks of it - something that can easily be misinterpreted.

I never subscribed to the women' lib equality thing when dating. I absolutely DID read many places that it was good manners for a woman not to just assume the guy would always pick up the tab - instead, she should offer to pay half from time to time.

It's one of those "damned if you do" scenarios, though. You don't know how a guy feels about this. I can easily see how such an offer might be seen as a rejection or women's-libbish by a guy with very traditional values. My husband appreciated the offer, as he appreciated the fact that I tried to find things for us to do on dates that didn't involve him spending tons of his hard earned money (which he was saving for college, something else I liked about him).

And in truth I never liked to have a guy spend a lot of money on me. I expected to be treated with consideration or respect, but the few guys I dated who showered me to gifts or took me on expensive dates left me feeling as though they were trying to buy my affection (or worse), when all I really wanted was a nice evening and the opportunity to get to know him as a person. I understand the value of dating - a guy who puts careful thought into planning a date is showing that he will treat you well. But I was always more impressed by the "planning" part of the date than the 'spending money" aspect. To me, boys weren't potential meal tickets, but rather potential partners, friends, maybe lovers.

Let's look at the door thing from a female perspective. Men hold doors for me every day in my office building (as I do for them). They do it in different ways. Some do it automatically, as I do. It has nothing to do with my being female - it's just a courtesy.

Some do it because I'm female and I can tell they were raised that way. There's a subtle difference in the way they do it: I can only describe it as "courtly". This is rarer, but always makes my day.

And some do it in such a way that you are aware they find you attractive. These typically make me a little uncomfortable, to be honest, unless they are socially adept enough to let me know it's harmless flirting. These days, that doesn't happen as often as it used to, but when I was younger it was something I was always aware of b/c I didn't want to get into a situation where I would be accosted or worse. Women have to be careful about who they get onto elevators with or who else is on the stairwell when they are heading to the bottom level of the parking garage, and having to fend off a man who believes "no thanks, I'm not interested" is a come-on is very unpleasant.

The garage entrance to my building has double doors. Often a man will hold the first door, I walk through, and get to the second door before him. Stopping there, and forcing him to scurry around me to open the second door feels rude and "princess-ish", so I usually thank him for opening the first door and return the favor on the second.

This has nothing to do with equality or women's lib - it's just practical and feels like the considerate thing to do. But remarks I've heard from guys have made me very aware of how often things women do are misinterpreted (and vice versa).

My husband has come home from work once or twice (mostly when he was at the Pentagon) miffed over some interaction with a female that rubbed him the wrong way. He was raised to treat women with deference. The thing is, almost every time this comes up I can see both sides. Yes, it's quite possible that the woman has a case of the a** and is being ungracious.

But I've almost always been able to see other likely explanations (she misinterpreted his actions or body language) because I know what it is like to be female and he doesn't. We don't know which men are decent and which are not in a hallway because men don't come with labels.

I don't know if this is helpful or not, but I just thought I'd offer another perspective.

Posted by: Cass at December 8, 2012 08:55 AM

I absolutely DID read many places that it was good manners for a woman...offer to pay half from time to time.

Only half? [g]

Another thing I have seen a fair amount of is the idea that women "expect" to have things done for them.

For good or ill, it's the rare, standout thing that sets the stereotype. I've known a number of breathtakingly beautiful women, a larger number of ordinary-looking women, and a smaller number who have to sneak up on a glass of water.... Most are independent, ambitious, intelligent. A small minority, though, do expect to be done for. And it's my experience that, of that last group, most are in the breathtakingly beautiful category. And it's only those beautiful that get noticed. In any circumstance.

Another stereotype: the lookers are trading on their looks, the plain-Janes are all Bra-Burners, and the remaining just feel helpless. Never mind any thought for what the real reasons might be for their expectations.

But those stereotypes hurt. I had a conversation with my GP after one of my IRANs--she's the type of doctor who actually talks with (and not to) her patients. She's also a fox and a black woman. In the course of our conversation, I could see the pain, 20 years later, from her Med school days. She was admitted because she was a two-fer for the school--both black and a female. And her success came from her beauty: she was sleeping with the right professors. Of course, none of her success could possibly have been from her intelligence, talent, and work ethic.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at December 8, 2012 11:40 AM

I knew I'd get it for the 'opening the door' thing, too broad (npi) a talking point. Nevertheless here's what I think – too much thinking has gone into it. It was once upon a time just a gesture, automatic, uncalculated, (though as you point out men could get calculating about it) but it was not so great a thing that it required the attention of anthropologists and sociologists and least of all Feminists.

Everything, and I mean even every little thing, is now subject to 'critical thinking' (I mean of the Frankfurt School type – not the good kind you do) and everything 'critically thought' about changes society to one degree or another - for the worse. We are told to see things in a new way. This is unfair, that is sexist, those as racist, and these phobic. What transpires between men and women has suffered immensely under this scrutiny. Diatribes against women are a result of diatribes against men are the result of...; the vicious circle has left the Algonquin and permeates the culture. It was a better world when the two sexes contended with each other individually and within the rules of their natures; we were made for that – not for gang warfare.

Posted by: George Pal at December 8, 2012 12:08 PM

My husband and I will get doors for each other all the time; that's just simple politeness, IMO. The only man I ever knew who *insisted* on holding doors for women and went out of his way to do so, was a condescending, patronizing creep of the "You silly girl, don't you trouble your pretty little head about such things while a big strong man is around to do your thinking for you" variety. (He was also extremely controlling in a way that set off flashing warning signals in my mind...though not in my best friend's, apparently, because she wound up marrying him. *sigh*) It's not the simple act of holding a door that's the problem...it's what may be going with it.

Posted by: colagirl at December 8, 2012 01:05 PM

That's not to say, of course, that *all* men who hold doors for women are like that; I'm sure the vast majority of them are not and see it as just good manners. But then there are some men for whom chivalric gestures seem to go hand in hand with an implicit assumption of women's inferiority, and that's something I have a problem with.

Posted by: colagirl at December 8, 2012 01:16 PM

As for me, I believe in chivalry with my whole heart. The important thing about it, if it is to be pursued rightly, is the understanding that it is a set of chains. Sometimes it is about things you must do. Sometimes it is about things you would never allow yourself to do.

It is a discipline, in other words, one that takes God-given strength and uses it not to dominate but to serve. If it is done this way, with an honest heart, it produces the best and noblest kind of man that humankind has ever learned to produce.

Posted by: Grim at December 8, 2012 05:06 PM

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