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April 05, 2013

Situational Awareness Is Not All That Complicated

Sensible take on the kerfuffle over the President's recent comments on AttyGen. Harris' looks:

... this is the point when guys complain that they are cursed if they do and cursed if they don’t, and you wind up with scenarios like this, where a “post-gender-normative” man is rejected by a woman in a bar and concludes by saying “I thank you for your time, which was equal to mine.”

“You are creating a hideous nightmare dystopia,” they say, “where I am confronted with a beautiful woman in a very fetching black dress and I have to stare at her and say, ‘What a great Thursday! I have never felt more strongly that you were my intellectual equal!’”

Well, maybe.

I think we need a variant of the comic-book Hawkeye Initiative. How about the McCain rule? If you wouldn’t say it about John McCain — don’t say it about Hillary or Michele or Michelle or Kamala. “And before we finish introducing war hero and veteran public servant Senator McCain, allow me a moment to comment on his raw physical magnetism. Hottie with a legislative body, right there!” “Senator McCain, looking especially fetching in a variant on his usual two-piece suit ensemble, bestowed smiles on all around him.” “Senator McCain’s Haircut: Three Tips To Achieve The Look.”

Certain compliments are worse than insults. It’s not just the back-handed– “You look so much healthier now” — or my favorite that I’ve actually heard someone deliver, “Oh my gosh, that shirt. It’s — it’s so you.” It’s like the beginning of that New York Times obituary for a female rocket scientist that first complimented her skills in the kitchen. True, sure. And I’m sure it took effort. But it seems like a waste of time spending years studying and working hard, just to get the exact caliber of compliment you would have gotten if you had just stood on the street corner in sweatpants near a construction site. “Oh, hey, you’re a nationally respected [Blank]!” these compliments say. “Here is a compliment on your looks, over which you have comparatively limited control and into which you did not put years of effort! You’re welcome!” Remember all the chatter about John Edwards’ hair? It’s dismissive — whether intentionally or not.

“So what should he have said? Nothing?” Yes.

Setting aside the usual howling about (and often by) feminists, this really isn't all that big a deal.

But it's not really appropriate, either. Over the years, I can think of several co-workers of the male persuasion that I have found attractive. What I can't imagine, under any circumstance, would be my voicing that opinion.

It's simply not appropriate. It has nothing to do with the work we do, and it's out of place in a professional setting for all the same reasons low cut tops, tight skirts, and manscaped, shirtless guys in assless leather chaps are inappropriate.

Adults are supposed to understand these things. And leaders are expected to set a higher standard.

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

***************

Oh for Pete's sake:

President Obama called California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday to apologize for his comments about her appearance that have drawn a storm of criticism.

"He called her to apologize for the distraction created by his comments," White House press secretary Jay Carney said during his briefing Friday, later adding that the president had also "apologized for the remark."

The distraction??? If he didn't think it was inappropriate, why is he apologizing?

"I'm really sorry those mean spirited poopy heads made such a big deal about nothing. Umm.... I'm also sorry for what I said." Never waste an opportunity to take a swipe at your critics. If you can combine it with an act of humble contrition, so much the better :p

Before we bid adieu to this fascinating news story forever, allow us to unequivocally and strongly condemn this EXTREMELY INAPPROPRIATE AND DEEPLY INSULTING DISPLAY OF... err.... sexistpiggery.

We want anyone who just clicked that link to know that we just lost all respect for you as a human being.

Posted by Cassandra at April 5, 2013 04:47 AM

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Comments

I feel much the same way about it as you do, but it's worth remembering that you and I have been married during the whole time we've spent in these professional environments. Some sympathy for the human longings of the single might be appropriate, given the massive amount of time we spend at work. Our laws governing sexual harassment now extend to extra-office hours insofar as they have 'spillover' into the office, so you have to separate sex entirely from everyone you know at the office.

This, though, is problematic. Especially if sexuality is linked to emotional bonds, and not just something you can hang on some stranger you met at the bar, the healthiest kind of sexuality takes time to flourish. If you're working typical professional hours, which are much greater than 40 per week, and assuming you sleep a normal amount, the time you've got available for nurturing emotional bonds is small. The one exception is the people you know at the office, with whom you will be spending lots of time.

So a hard-and-fast rule against sexuality at the office may be inhumane. That doesn't help the married man here! But it might be necessary to carve out some space for the unmarried man and woman to appreciate each other, even in a professional environment.

Posted by: Grim at April 5, 2013 11:11 AM

I just can't get past the "John McCain" rule. I remember the Press being terrible in their lack of awareness about Mr. McCain's crippled, tortured frame, and other health problems. For the Post to push this "rule" now (now that Mr. McCain is no longer a political threat) would seem the worse "Certain compliments are worse than insults." I have seen. Why would you use that example? We are left with stupid or Evil, neither of which bodes well for this new "rule".....

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at April 5, 2013 11:20 AM

The {alleged} President's comment was wrong for one reason, and one reason alone: he is an {ostensibly} married {ostensible} man. Married men are not to be making comments on the appearance of any female other than their wife. Period.

Posted by: Jeff H at April 5, 2013 11:20 AM

A few observations:

I feel much the same way about it as you do, but it's worth remembering that you and I have been married during the whole time we've spent in these professional environments. Some sympathy for the human longings of the single might be appropriate, given the massive amount of time we spend at work. Our laws governing sexual harassment now extend to extra-office hours insofar as they have 'spillover' into the office, so you have to separate sex entirely from everyone you know at the office.

I realize this really dates me (pun not intended) but I was brought up to believe that office romances are rarely a good idea. Do they happen? Sure - people are people. But they are also fraught with traps and pitfalls and awkwardness... especially now that everyone jumps into bed on the first date.

To me, nothing seems more natural than being attracted to someone you work with. You see them every day, yada yada yada. But I think that if I were single, I would still tend to approach romantic involvements with co-workers as warily as I do financial entanglements with friends (which is to say with EXTREME caution and a presumption going in that it will not end well).

But that's just me. I sympathize, but I also wouldn't want to work with my husband (as much as I love him). Too distracting and the romantic relationship gets in the way. This is why the military has rules against fraternization and I mostly think those rules are well advised.


Posted by: Cassandra at April 5, 2013 12:46 PM

For the Post to push this "rule" now (now that Mr. McCain is no longer a political threat) would seem the worse "Certain compliments are worse than insults." I have seen.

Well, FWIW I think she used John McCain for comic effect - her column is usually more lighthearted fun than serious op-ed material :)

I do agree that the media in general treat Dem politicians with far greater deference than Rethug ones, but I didn't take her point to be that it's OK to talk about McCain's body. More that it's inappropriate (or should be) and the same standard ought to be applied across the board.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 5, 2013 12:49 PM

assless leather chaps are inappropriate

WHAT?!?!?! Since when? I've NEVER gotten anything but compliments when I wear mine in the office! :P

I was brought up to believe that office romances are rarely a good idea

Well, if that's "dating yourself" then you and I are in the same range. Of course, when I was single, the idea was stated a bit more earthily. "Don't [defecate] where you eat, don't date where you work" was the phrase I most often heard. As a young sojer, I tried to keep my "social activities" restrained to ladies either not in the service, not in my branch of service, or at least not in my unit. Or, if they were in my unit, at least not in my squad or shift. So there would always be that separation of work/private lives.

Posted by: MikeD at April 5, 2013 01:24 PM

Jeff H. probably knows this, but I will add it, anyway, just for completeness

A married man should compliment his wife, and must compliment his daughters, if he has any. He may compliment his mother, his mother-in-law, his sisters, and his aunts.

And, of course, combinations often work well. For example: "I'm so glad my daughters take after their beautiful mother, instead of me."

It's is probably OK to compliment grand daughters, too.

(Interestingly, the rules seem to be different in France, but I don't know enough to say for sure.

And for those in the critic business, it is OK to compliment actresses.)

Posted by: Jim Miller at April 5, 2013 01:57 PM

Married men are not to be making comments on the appearance of any female other than their wife. Period.

Jeff, I totally agree that his being married makes the comment even more cringe worthy. But I still think commenting on her looks would be inappropriate in that setting, even if he were single. He's introducing her, presumably, as a professional and her looks are not really relevant to the time, place, and circumstance.

It's hard to imagine a woman introducing a man that way to a crowd: "Dr. Jones is not just a world famous brain surgeon - he's the best looking doctor at Johns Hopkins". Not a terrible thing to do - just kind of a non-sequitur.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 5, 2013 02:30 PM

You closed by saying:
"Adults are supposed to understand these things. And leaders are expected to set a higher standard."

You of course expect that our leaders are adults capable of leading but all evidence points to the contrary, thus we are having this discussion about what adults and leaders should be doing.

Let me know how this goes once we have adults back in leadership positions, at any level, in this country.

Posted by: David M at April 5, 2013 02:34 PM

I couldn't agree with you more. But it would appear that the left is far more capable of getting away with that kind of behavior than the right with those double standards and all. When I was a young man you could compliment a lady for her appearance, today you risk a sexual harassment charge. Best to always keep it professional in my opinion.

Posted by: William Stout at April 5, 2013 03:24 PM

Let me know how this goes once we have adults back in leadership positions, at any level, in this country.

*snort* :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 5, 2013 04:50 PM

William, I wanted to comment on this earlier but this is one of those areas where women often feel that anything we say will backfire. Kind of a "Does this dress make my butt look big?" moment, turned on its head - there's no right answer. :p

I think there's a time and place for personal comments. If a date is picking you up for the prom or for a dinner date and says, "You look lovely/pretty", that's totally appropriate because:

1. You wouldn't be going out with him unless you were at least somewhat attracted/interested. If you're not, shame on you!

2. You probably spent a lot of time/effort on looking your best and it's always nice to have that effort recognized.

3. The nature of your association is social, personal, and (hopefully at some point) headed towards intimacy.

Attraction is the whole point of a romantic relationship and the time, place, relationship, and context make letting the other person know you find them attractive very appropriate. I can see a woman complimenting her date in the same fashion: "You look very handsome tonight". It just makes sense.

In the office or in a professional setting, it's very different. You're getting paid to keep your mind on your to-do list and professional goals and you're supposed to be rated, not on whether Joe from Accounting thinks you're a 6 or a 9 1/2, but on the quality of your work.

Responding to advances or open admiration from a co-worker is far MORE awkward than doing so in a bar or in a social setting. I've had guys hit on me at work or in a professional setting and it made what should have been a professional relationship awkward going forward.

The problem is never the nice guys (and most men *are* nice). The problem is that not all men are polite. There is a small but very annoying group of men who interpret everything from gentle brushoffs to outright rejections as invitations.

There are also - sadly - guys who use remarks about your looks to subtly put you in your place.
When I was 18, one of my first bosses used to say things like, "A pretty girl like you doesn't need to go to college." I was never sure how I was supposed to react to that, and it made me very uncomfortable around him. I didn't take offense, but it sure made me think twice about being alone with him. It introduced a note of tension into an otherwise impersonal relationship.

Relationships between the sexes are subject to misinterpretations and misunderstandings at the best of times, so I think it's hard to go wrong by erring on the side of propriety.

If it's a work relationship, keep it professional and leave sex and personal remarks/confidences out of it.

Dating situations are more personal and intimate, so there's more latitude. I will freely admit that not being a man probably makes it hard for me to understand the male point of view.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 5, 2013 05:31 PM

I didn't read it that way either, Cassandra. It seemed to be an attempt at rewriting history, to make it look like the Democrats had not abused Senator McCain in this fashion. At the least, a willful denial of their actions, "You guys shouldn't talk about people that way! You wouldn't like it if we talked about McCain that way, would you?". Sounds almost reasonable, if you don't remember that they did talk about McCain that way, we didn't like it, and they didn't care.........

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at April 5, 2013 11:27 PM

It seemed to be an attempt at rewriting history, to make it look like the Democrats had not abused Senator McCain in this fashion. At the least, a willful denial of their actions...

Well, you definitely have a point, there. I usually find Ms. Petri to be fairly even handed though. I enjoy her writing.

At least thus far, she doesn't seem to have been infected with the rancor that underlies most punditry. I hope she manages to stay that way.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 08:03 AM

Well, just saying that when I saw the video of John Edwards doing his hair before an interview I was immediately convinced that he was (and is) a narcissistic jerk.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at April 6, 2013 08:28 AM

...just saying that when I saw the video of John Edwards doing his hair before an interview I was immediately convinced that he was (and is) a narcissistic jerk.

We have kind of a strange attitude about physical attractiveness. For a politician, being good looking is money in the bank. You can't tell me that if Sarah Palin had looked like Helen Thomas, she would have generated quite the same enthusiasm :p

I think that's also true of male politicians, just in a different way. I think John Kerry's looks worked against him (remember all the Treebeard jokes?). Any politician who isn't aware of this isn't playing with a full deck.

To some extent, we want our leaders to be attractive but if they pay too much attention to their looks, we also hold it against them. That's the aspect of public service that I don't think I could tolerate.

That said, something about John Edwards always bugged me. Of the Kedwards duo, I thought Edwards was the more skilled politician, and he was also wicked smart.

But he was definitely self absorbed - it's just that his charm hid that to some degree.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 09:34 AM

Speaking of hair....

Wasn't the kerfuffle about Mitt Romney's hair odd? The press and pundits were all over him about his 'plastic'/too perfect hair, but the few times they caught him with his hair mussed, they went ballistic.

It kind of became a metaphor for his image as a candidate. I almost started a joke blog that would have been written by his haircut but I was so busy at work that I never posted anything.

But I was rather proud of the "look" :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 09:40 AM

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize. Or even compliment in ways they don't approve."

Posted by: Voltaire at April 6, 2013 09:45 AM

Hmmmm. So government isn't supposed to tell anyone what to do. And now apparently even society isn't allowed to criticize anything because if they do, they're "ruling over" people?

That doesn't make any sense. We all have the right to say whatever we wish. And others have the right to criticize or object to what we say. Only children think that they have some mystical right to be free from the expectations of others. Such expectations and standards are the social glue that bonds people and institutions together.

I'm really sick of subtle suggestions that commentary and/or criticism are somehow tantamount to force or compulsion.

If Obama honestly didn't think he did anything wrong, he should have refused to apologize. Lord knows, he's done that before. The idea that no one's "allowed" to criticize or compliment women is borderline delusional. People do it all the time, and other people have the same right to push back.

That's normal and healthy.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 10:23 AM

Society, if that is the right word for the professional commentating class, could merely be an enforcement arm, as much under the control of the rulership as anyone else. Voltaire's point is interesting because it assumes that power relationships are often hidden, and revealed by interactions -- a point that has often been central to feminist critiques of society. Here we see that the power relationship has developed far enough that even criticism isn't necessary to trigger the response: an honestly-intended compliment can do it, if it is out of line with the kind of compliment wanted.

So what does it mean that this power relationship apparently exists? I would think you'd be happy with it, for two reasons. The first is that it conclusively demonstrates that we needn't worry about living in a 'patriarchy,' since at least this core interest of women is capable of bringing even the President of the United States to heel. And the second is that the rule is being universally applied, without deference to the power of office or the popularity of the man. Normally you seem inclined to like rules that are true universals: that seems to accord with your sense of what it means for a rule to be fair, or just.

Whether it is good or bad, though, it's surely there: it's a real power at work in (or possibly on) our society. That's worth noticing, even if you notice it to celebrate it.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 10:40 AM

One more thought: we live in a country where we can criticize anyone we want to, up to and including the President, feminists, women, men, gays, Blacks, Jews, you name it and it has been criticized - often harshly - in the media, online, in real life, on TV and radio.

So being "allowed" to be critical isn't the issue.

The real issue is whether the speaker is willing to accept that other people have the right to criticize him/her right back :p

If people allow themselves to be ruled by fear of criticism, then they have voluntarily abdicated their freedoms. The world has never been a place where there were no consequences for violating whatever the social norms of the time happen to be. In the past, those consequences often took the form of violence, complete ostracism, or even imprisonment.

People may not know this, but Voltaire was jailed for verbally criticizing powerful people and his work was burned by the government. So in his case, there's a little more behind "allowed to" than is the case in our time.

Enjoy: http://www.visitvoltaire.com/voltaire_bio.htm

11 Months in the Bastille
In 1717, Voltaire was arrested and sent to the Bastille for insults to the regent, Philippe II D'Orleans. He was freed eleven months later when it was found that he was wrongly accused. While in prison, he wrote his first play, "Oedipe," which won him great recognition when it was staged following his release from prison. Voltaire continued to write for the theater and believed he would be able to gain both fame and wealth in his chosen career.

2nd Time in Bastille Prison
In 1726, while at the theater, Voltaire made a clever remark to the Chevalier de Rohan, a young nobleman, who resented that Voltaire made him look like a fool. To get even, Rohan had several men give Voltaire a beating, while he watched the assault from his carriage. Though he was not the athletic type, Voltaire took fencing lessons and planned to challenge Rohan to a duel. To avoid a problem, the powerful Rohan family had a lettre de cachet issued and Voltaire was arrested and taken to the Bastille. He was released from prison by promising that he would leave the country and go to England.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 10:43 AM

The first is that it conclusively demonstrates that we needn't worry about living in a 'patriarchy,' since at least this core interest of women is capable of bringing even the President of the United States to heel.

Well, FWIW I can't honestly say I've spent any time at all worrying about The Patriarchy :p

Women have far more legal rights than they did when I was growing up. In some cases, I think the pendulum has swung a bit too far, but I also think that the same forces that gained women their newfound rights can be applied to reverse the less sound ones.

And the second is that the rule is being universally applied, without deference to the power of office or the popularity of the man. Normally you seem inclined to like rules that are true universals: that seems to accord with your sense of what it means for a rule to be fair, or just.

If universal > inflexible, you're right. The rule of law should be as evenhanded as possible. I don't like the creation of legally protected classes of people, whether they are rich or poor.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 10:47 AM

"If universal does not mean inflexible, you're right."

Lost a symbol!

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 10:50 AM

Well, there's two things that we could call "a legally protected class." The first one is a case in which we're making special privileges for people because they are wealthy, powerful, a democratically significant voting bloc, etc. This is surely bad.

However, as a society we sometimes have a hard time distinguishing this from cases in which there's a real difference between classes that needs some legal recognition. This can look like "a legally protected class," but really it's just the law conforming to reality.

An example from a recent discussion: we talked about how Georgia treats the power of arrest as being essentially the same for all citizens, not reserved to police. Now there are reasons I think that is a wise policy, and reasons you think it is a foolish one. But I don't have a problem with the distinction between the police and the citizenry being recognized in the law in some sense: that doesn't create "a legally protected class," but rather stands as a recognition of a real difference between kinds of people.

It could be the case that those two classes benefit from the same laws, or from different laws. Even if they benefited from being subject to exactly the same laws, though, in principle there's nothing wrong with distinguishing the classes in the law. ("For all X, if X then Y. For all Z, if Z then also Y.") This is wise because it may later become the case that a new law is necessary that does distinguish between the classes, and you can't do it if you have forbidden the law from making the distinction.

All of which is to say that I prefer Aristotelian systems of justice, which distinguish between relevant differences as well as establishing relevant similarities. I tend to object to systems that pursue the universal as if it were a good in itself, trying to collapse distinctions in order to ensure that the same rule applies to everyone.

In addition to which I agree that flexibility is important: pardons and juries are both wise precautions to help us keep the law as a servant rather than a master. There's an important distinction between "No king, but the law" and "No king but the Law." The latter is even less desirable than a human king, because it is merciless.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 11:05 AM

All of which is to say that I prefer Aristotelian systems of justice, which distinguish between relevant differences as well as establishing relevant similarities. I tend to object to systems that pursue the universal as if it were a good in itself, trying to collapse distinctions in order to ensure that the same rule applies to everyone.

Well, for what it's worth I think that's both an oversimplification and an exaggeration of what I think.

Law is not a collection of inviolable bright lines. It's a system that usually creates one general rule that applies to most of us, yet also allows for exceptions to the general rule when that is warranted.

You keep trying to put me into the same box with Kant, but I suspect it's not where my beliefs belong on the spectrum.

My problem with your formulation of distinguishing between relevant differences is that you believe, for instance, that there are a whole lot of "relevant differences" between men and women than I do.

Physical strength or aggression? Sure, I'll buy that. But you have also argued a great many things over the past few years that both I and Tex know from our own experience as women are really not true.

Men have all sorts of beliefs about women that don't match reality. I suspect we women have all sorts of beliefs about men that are likewise deluded and self serving. We don't see life entirely objectively, which is why I have a big problem with laws that want to treat individuals differently when they belong to certain classes.

The burden of proof required for such legal discrimination ought to be steep and difficult to surmount because self interest and human nature both lead us to meekly accept all sorts of restraints on other people that we would never tolerate for ourselves. We justify that by saying, "But they're not like *us*".

We can always find reasons for doing to others what, if applied to us, we would unequivocally condemn as unjust and unfair.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 11:24 AM

I think child custody laws are a good example here.

The actual laws on the books are almost uniformly gender-neutral, yet those laws (for reasons having more to do with gender roles and society and biology) disparately impact men in a way they consider unjust, despite having uniformly rejected disparate impact arguments made by feminists in the same type of situations.

My emphasis on striving for a uniform rule that can be applied fairly doesn't, in fact, result in equal outcomes for everyone. What it absolutely *should* do is shape the law so that it doesn't favor one sex or the other just because they are male or female.

Because society and/or biology lead women to take a bigger role in child care and day to day parenting, women ask for - and get - custody more often. Because there are still forces at work outside the law that cause women to make less money (and I've argued that these are mostly voluntary decisions women make to prioritize family over career), women are generally worse off after divorce, as are children.

But we're seeing men win custody when they meet the legal standard of having demonstrated willingness to be there for their kids (and in so doing, making exactly the same sacrifices women make). And we're seeing men get alimony too, when they are the lower earners.

The results aren't equally balanced by sex, because they weren't equally balanced by sex before divorce. And yet very large numbers of conservative continue to believe they are being discriminated against by law -- despite a gender neutral standard and despite their own professed belief that women are naturally better suited to parenting.

Go figure.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 11:32 AM

Well, for what it's worth I think that's both an oversimplification and an exaggeration of what I think.

Well, it wasn't intended as a description of what you think. It was intended as a generality about two schools of thought, which is of course an oversimplification -- even two Aristotelian thinkers may have critical differences between them (take my own view and Aquinas', for instance).

I think your teachers were Kantians, based on how you frame arguments. That doesn't mean you are, or that even if you were you couldn't make important distinctions between his position and yours.

As for the main debate: One good reason for a hard distinction between men and women is the one you make here: "Men have all sorts of beliefs about women that don't match reality. I suspect we women have all sorts of beliefs about men that are likewise deluded and self serving."

I don't think we understand each other well enough to make rules that collapse the distinction. We couldn't know if we were being fair or not. I've done my best to understand across the sex divide, in what is now more than a decade of conversation with you, Tex, Elise, and many others. We still don't understand each other. My impression is that you don't even understand what you don't understand about how the world seems to me -- which is to say, that you don't live in the world I live in. I suspect that is true for me and you as well.

That's a real problem. Imagine trying to write rules from Earth that apply to conditions on a planet you can't visit nor do better than try to imagine from the descriptions you occasionally receive. You might be able to come up with some good ones... but the exercise is obviously problematic.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 11:47 AM

To put that another way, Tex recently said that she was sure she wouldn't want to live in a world in which I got to write the rules for her. She and I have no problem there, as I have never wanted the power to write the rules for anyone but myself. I accept the obligations that come with fatherhood, but I will be relieved when even my son is old enough to do right on his own -- I just try to do my duty to construct rules for him now that will train him toward that end.

Also, though, she's right to say that she probably wouldn't like the rules I wrote if I were tasked with writing them. They wouldn't mean to be burdens, and in fact probably wouldn't be very burdensome -- you know how much I love meddlesome authority, and being that authority means I have to spend even more of my time doing things I don't like instead of things I'd rather do. (Fatherhood, again.) So it's beneficial to her and to me both that she is left to legislate for herself.

I think the reverse is also true. You probably could write a few good rules for me, just as you could for the world you can't visit (but only must imagine by description). Not all your rules would be good rules, though, for reasons that you probably can't imagine. And that's OK; I certainly mean no insult in saying that you probably couldn't do better than I could do.

Of course, Tex might not prefer your rules to mine: clearly what she really wants is her own rules (as indeed I want her to have them). But I suspect she would prefer yours to mine if she had to choose one of us, simply because you can understand her in ways I can't. And vice versa.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 12:09 PM

Well, it wasn't intended as a description of what you think. It was intended as a generality about two schools of thought..

and...

I think your teachers were Kantians, based on how you frame arguments.

First, thanks for the clarification - I misunderstood what you were saying. FWIW, I'm not sure my teachers were Kantians (if by teachers, you mean my parents). My mother was a huge moral influence on me, yet we have very difference ideas about justice, for instance.

I have a theory about how we form values or make moral judgments, and it is very influenced by something Jonathan Haidt writes about - morality as an aesthetic, or "sense".

My emphasis on universality (which I would probably frame more as an attempt to step outside our subjective viewpoints) absolutely does resemble Kant's categorical imperative, but then it's also basically grounded in the Golden Rule - treat others as you would be treated. That can't be inflexible, because we don't actually all want to be treated the same way. But when it comes to the law, it's a framework that helps reduce self serving laws, at least to some extent. It's a test - before you prescribe or proscribe this or that, would you accept such treatment? And if you wouldn't accept it, why would you expect others to?

I don't think we understand each other well enough to make rules that collapse the distinction. We couldn't know if we were being fair or not. I've done my best to understand across the sex divide, in what is now more than a decade of conversation with you, Tex, Elise, and many others. We still don't understand each other. My impression is that you don't even understand what you don't understand about how the world seems to me -- which is to say, that you don't live in the world I live in. I suspect that is true for me and you as well.

I don't know that it's all that big a divide, though. We both see the divide, but you see it as larger than I do. I'm not sure why.

I really don't see men (or women, for that matter) as monolithic. One of the things I often don't get about men is that they describe men as some uniform group who all react the same. But my personal experience tells me that's not accurate.

My two sons see life very differently from each other, and where women are concerned, differently from my husband who is of a different generation.

My husband is really different from things I hear men say all the time about themselves. He definitely has some viewpoints and traits that I think of as traditionally masculine, but in other ways he's as different as can be from what men are always describing as, "just how men are".

And we have both changed quite a bit over the last 10 or 15 years, mostly because our children grew up and left home, I entered the workplace, and he began to be more involved with our home affairs and family than he had ever been before.

Experiences form a large part of our framework.

They affect us and change us. I never really understood a lot of ways my husband reacts to certain things until I had experienced some of the things he's experienced for years. So my inability to understand had nothing to do with being female, but rather with the fact that my life conformed to traditional female gender roles (wife, mother) for several decades before I left home and began to work... at which point, many things about how my husband sees the world became easier to understand.

I believe the two sexes are far closer than we think they are, and I think - because I have seen this in my own life and with my sons' marriages - that the more crossover there is between traditional gender roles exists, the narrower that divide becomes.

Does this mean I think there are NO differences between men and women in the aggregate? No. Do I think traditional gender roles should be destroyed before they kill us all and destroy the planet? No, I think there is much that is beautiful and good in traditional male/female roles.

But I also see quite a bit of good in trying to reach across that gap. In fact, I think that is probably the single best argument for marriage I can think of.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 12:27 PM

I accept the obligations that come with fatherhood, but I will be relieved when even my son is old enough to do right on his own -- I just try to do my duty to construct rules for him now that will train him toward that end.

Heh :) Wait until he's a teenager!

You're already a philosopher - the teen years will present you will so many interesting philosophical questions that your head will spin!

I never understood how anyone could think motherhood boring. The things I was forced to think about would have been challenging to anyone, no matter how smart or well educated. The tension between protecting children and allowing them to experiment and make mistakes can seem like a heavy burden at times.

But children bring such joy into our lives :) Enjoy your young man while you have him, burdens and all. In the blink of an eye, they're grown and off on their own.

Where does the time go?

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 12:42 PM

Kant's third critique, the Critique of Judgment, is easily read as an extended analogy between aesthetics and the moral sense. (Of course, as you say, at least the first formulation of the CI is really a rationalist interpretation of the Golden Rule.) I would recommend you read him, except that I wouldn't do that to someone I quite like. (Or really anyone I particularly liked at all. :)

I really don't see men (or women, for that matter) as monolithic.

Well, and neither do I. That would be universalist!

No, but I'm impressed over and over by differences in perception. I don't mean that in the minimal sense of the word "perception" -- that is, what I don't mean to say is 'We agree on the facts, we just perceive them differently.' I mean it in the much stronger sense that the world we live in is created by us from our perceptions, combined with how we combine and interpret those perceptions into the world that we inhabit. (Here's Kant's phrase denoting the combination-and-interpretation function of the mind: "Transcendental apperception.")

I observe that there are significant differences all the way from sense perception (e.g., men seem to see blues as stronger than reds compared to women, leaving us in a world that is cooler in color) to interpretation (e.g., the vastly higher levels of testosterone in men lead to construction of a world that has much higher background levels of competition and violence inherent in it). There also appear to be details about the kinds of objects that inhabit these worlds (men see motion better than women, who see details better than men).

These are a few examples only, each perhaps only mildly significant in itself. Combine all the myriad differences, though, and we really find ourselves in different worlds.

Now you might ask which of our constructed worlds better fits the real world outside of our minds. The answer may well be "neither one," since one good argument for the evolution of such strongly bifurcated sexes would be the benefit you get from two different visions of the world. (You can imagine an analogy to the benefit of having binocular vision: you don't just get a wider range of vision, you get depth perception.)

It certainly strikes me when I am out walking with my wife, as we like to do. Especially this time of year, every few feet she'll say, "Ooh!" and point at something. I can never tell what it is until she explains: usually it is some little flower that I really can't see until she has not only pointed it out but described what I should be looking for. It's a small difference, in a way. In another way, it's an indication of how much her world and mine just are not the same at all.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 01:04 PM

Two things in your last comment leap out at me.

1. ...the vastly higher levels of testosterone in men lead to construction of a world that has much higher background levels of competition and violence inherent in it

That's probably a two edged sword - men perceive more things as aggression because they have been in more direct competition with other men who are aggressive. It's a justifiable perception.

But that perception can also cause conflicts to escalate unnecessarily. There's a bit of a feedback loop there. I can see where fighting over trivial things might help avoid fighting over bigger things, but it can also be *exhausting*!

When pondering why women are so often submissive and self-effacing even when every natural instinct we possess is telling us to stand up for ourselves and fight for what we believe in, the survival value of submissiveness has often struck me. Thankfully, it only did so metaphorically. The other alternative would be downright painful. :p

Men seem far more likely to interpret any conflict between human beings as open aggression or an attempt to dominate them (and they resist almost reflexively), yet they seem utterly baffled on those occasions when women interpret their actions the same way and react similarly.

I listen to men describing some encounter with a woman and they are describing an attack, where I see something quite different: an attempt to negotiate a compromise. This is one reason women tend to be indirect. Men like to say of women, "Why won't they just come out and tell us what they want?"

But doing that doesn't work terribly well for us, in much the same way that "Just tell me what you're thinking honey - I promise I won't get upset" doesn't work out too well for guys. There's a way to do both things (be more direct with the opposite sex) but it requires effort, so we take the easy way. And that can backfire too.

I can never tell what it is until she explains: usually it is some little flower that I really can't see until she has not only pointed it out but described what I should be looking for. It's a small difference, in a way. In another way, it's an indication of how much her world and mine just are not the same at all.

I think this works both ways to some extent, at least when it comes to perception (as opposed to vision). The details my husband notices are completely different from the ones I notice. When he's interested and engaged, he notices the tiniest things. So I wonder if the difference isn't more a difference in focus?

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 02:32 PM

Here we see that the power relationship has developed far enough that even criticism isn't necessary to trigger the response: an honestly-intended compliment can do it, if it is out of line with the kind of compliment wanted.

Speaking of differing perceptions: I'm not convinced that Obama's line was an honestly-intended compliment nor do I think the only problem with it was that is was out of line with the kind of compliment "wanted".

Posted by: Elise at April 6, 2013 02:32 PM

Speaking of differing perceptions: I'm not convinced that Obama's line was an honestly-intended compliment nor do I think the only problem with it was that is was out of line with the kind of compliment "wanted".

I suspect we interpreted that whole thing the same way :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2013 02:35 PM

What do you think, Elise? I'm always interested in your opinion of these things. Just because I have decided that I can't fully understand you (or Cass, or Tex, or others) doesn't mean I don't want to understand, or that I'm not willing to make a good try at it. :)

To be clear about my own reading: I read it as an attempt at his usual superficial charm attempts toward women, very similar to the remark he made about himself: 'I'm just here as eye candy.' I figure he probably meant that he really does find her attractive, and assumed she'd be a little pleased (or even a little thrilled) to know it.

Cass:

I think you're right here. It's also true that sometimes we make things more the way we want them, so that at least our corner of the world better approximates our perceptions of what the world ought to be like.

My mother, for example, will not watch movies that have sad or scary parts. Even if there is a happy ending promised, she won't accept the pretend sadness or scariness into her world at all. She finds more in the world than she wants, and so by excluding dramas (or even comedies) that add to that aspect, she can be more comfortable.

I, on the other hand, ride motorcycles. It's not just me, either. Every successive generation of veterans since the invention of the motorcycle has disproportionately ridden motorcycles. That's why a huge subset of the biker community rides in military or veteran clubs, and probably a majority of male bikers (who are by far the majority of bikers) are veterans of one sort or another.

Now riding a motorcycle introduces real danger of death and dismemberment into every day of your life. That sounds like an irrational thing to do, if you don't have to do it, until you factor in the mental world we live in. Now my world really does accord with the world my mind is prepared for. I can be comfortable. Things make sense. I have a place to put the sense of danger and alertness that would otherwise be out of place, and would make me out of place in our common world. Because I have the bike, I can sit and talk comfortably in a cafe. I can take all that stuff and put it in a place where it really belongs, where it does me good and where it isn't an illusion or a game.

Now somebody might come along with an actuarial chart and tell me -- Bloomberg style -- that my decision is irrational and bad for me, and that freedom needs to be taken away for my own good. There's an objective sense in which that might be right, but it's a bad, bad idea for a whole lot of reasons. It doesn't take into account my world, which is different from the actuary's world in so many ways he can never see. And that's a mistake.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 02:56 PM

What do you think, Elise?

The "compliment" Obama paid on Kamala Harris' appearance makes her (and everyone else) conscious of her sex. It sets her apart from the group labelled "State Attorneys General" and slides her into the group labelled "Female State Attorneys General". It categorizes her as The Other. It reminds me of the Samuel Johnson statement that:

Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

The framing for his comment makes this worse: he says "you have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant," dedicated, tough etc. This makes it clear he realizes his comment on her appearance may be inappropriate. The "you have to be careful" also sounds like his referring to her as brilliant, dedicated, tough, etc., may be mere lip service - what's really true (and what is the point of his statement) is that she's good-looking.

There is also (and I'm less able to articulate this) an element of sitting in judgement here. Some of this is a problem specific to male-female relationships: the idea that men judge women's appearance and judge women on appearance; and the idea that failing to receive a good judgement is damning to a woman (she is worthless unless she is physically attractive) but receiving a good judgement makes her an object of predation (what Obama said is a cleaned-up form of calling a professional woman a MILF). There is an assumption of a power imbalance in the man's favor.

There is also an aspect of sitting in judgement that isn't about male-female dynamics but has to do (I think) with whether a compliment is about the person being complimented or the person doing the complimenting. Let's say I have a good friend (I'll say male but it could equally well be female) and the last time I saw him, he was having a tough time: he'd gained weight, was lethargic and somewhat poorly groomed. Now it's a few weeks later and I run into him at a party and he's back to his usual self. I go up to him, take his hands, kiss his cheek, and say quietly, "It's so good to see you again. You look great." That's an honest compliment.

Imagine, instead, that I go up to him, take his hands, kiss his cheek, and say in a voice loud enough to carry to a dozen other people, "You look great. I can't believe how great you look. Doesn't he look great? That's wonderful." That's not a compliment. That's a power play.

Is all this a lot to hang on what may, after all, be just another example of Obama's ham-fisted (ham-mouthed?) behavior when he's separated from his teleprompter and/or attempting to be jocular? It could be. However, Obama is a sexist pig, in that particularly Democratic Party porcine way, so I'm not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

(By way of contrast, when Brent Musburger went on and on about how gorgeous the Alabama quarterback's girlfriend was, I found that a little uncomfortable but not particularly inappropriate. Part of that, of course, is because the girlfriend was not there to try to do a job, was not in a professional environment. Had Musburger made the same comments about a fellow commentator or about any other woman who was there to do a job, it would have been out of line. Why it didn't set off my "sitting in judgement" radar I'm not sure but I suspect it's because Musburger is old enough to (as Agatha Christie puts it) be just a little silly about a pretty girl. Which also means, perhaps, that he did not have the power in that interaction - hence my feeling uncomfortable because he was making a bit of a fool of himself.)

Posted by: Elise at April 6, 2013 06:10 PM

Now, you've said a great deal here -- as you said, you're hanging a lot on it, though I think you have the right to consider the matter as seriously as you wish. But I wonder about this:

It categorizes her as The Other.

This is the kind of language I hear from feminists a lot, and I'm not sure I understand what is meant by it. Of course she is other, in the sense of being not male and not unattractive. I get that in a professional environment that these things ought not (usually, reserving a possible humane exception as per my first comment above) to come up.

But recognizing otherness is sometimes treated as harmful-in-itself. Is there something about recognizing it that necessarily provokes the 'dog walking on its hind legs' response? Couldn't one mean to say something like, "Not only is she a better attorney general than most of you, she's also beautiful"? In that case, in a sense the male attorneys general would be the ones being handled unfairly -- they never had the chance to beautiful, after all. It's a standard toward which they cannot apply.

"Otherness" is a kind of complaint I don't quite know how to take, here as elsewhere. I'm "Other" too -- I'm a Southerner, for one thing, and a man with a philosophical bent that is neither common nor very welcome in most of America. Just today I went to the grocery store and picked out the smallest cart they had, only to have a woman laugh and point me out to her mother. "A big man with a little cart!" she laughed. But she meant no insult; she was just pointing to an actual fact. I explained that the small cart was a better guide for figuring out how much I could fit in the saddle-bags of my motorcycle, and she smiled, and we went on about our lives.

All that's about recognizing Other-ness, but is it harmful per se? I do the best I can to live so that I can be proud of what I am; presumably this attorney general does likewise, and if she is beautiful it's in part because she means to be. That is a distinction, but surely being distinguished (especially if you've worked for it) isn't necessarily a bad thing?

I would recognize the problem as being the professional environment, combined with Obama's own status as a married man. Perhaps there is a certain condescending attitude in assuming women would be flattered by your public attention. But it sounds like you see a much bigger problem, and I'd like to hear more about it.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 06:36 PM

It may be that the "Other" thing is the ultimate universalism. "Treating X as Other" seams just to mean recognizing some difference. If that's unjust in itself, I find the standard very difficult to apply.

Posted by: Grim at April 6, 2013 07:30 PM

Couldn't one mean to say something like, "Not only is she a better attorney general than most of you, she's also beautiful"? In that case, in a sense the male attorneys general would be the ones being handled unfairly -- they never had the chance to beautiful, after all. It's a standard toward which they cannot apply.

Unusually pretty women who are successful already have to deal with suspicions and even insinuations that they slept their way to the top or got special favors because they're easy on the eyes, as old 'Bam put it. In what universe would it be appropriate for the President of the United States to deliberately rub the noses of male attorneys in the fact that she has some extra advantage (if indeed it is one) that they don't?

And how helpful is it to remind a woman who has probably been hit on more times that she can count that her colleagues are probably imagining her in various states of undress? I understand that for reasons I will never understand, it seems to be considered part of The New Masculinity to publicly reveal things best left private. I've never been sure what such comments are meant to prove, but they generally leave me with exactly the opposite impression from the one they seem designed to produce.

I haven't been introduced before speaking at a public forum all that often, but on 4-5 occasions I have been, I would have been dumbfounded had the prior speaker chosen to comment upon my looks as he or she was summing up the short form of my CV for the audience.

Not for any feminist reasons, but simply because it would be weird and out of place. This may be shocking news, but not all women enjoy having their beauty/sex appeal trotted out for public comment or notice. I have no idea why so many men seem to think we do, but I can assure you that a good many of us don't (and not because we fear we'll be rated too low).

Comments like that are weird and embarrassing - the kind of thing that makes a person feel self conscious, regardless of their own opinion of their relative pulchritude. It's not a nice thing to say, no matter how you interpret it.

At any rate, here's the difference between what Obama said and what Brent Musburger said:

AG Harris is not a beauty pageant contestant. That is not her claim to fame, nor is it her profession. She is the top legal advisor to one of America's largest and most powerful states. Unless we believe that she slept her way to the top, as opposed to working hard to get there, her looks form no meaningful part of her professional accomplishments or reputation.

I have neither the time or energy to get all uber-outragey about some aging sportscaster gushing like a teenager about a woman who is probably far too young to be his daughter. Personally, I found it off putting, and the whole episode definitely made me think less of Musburger. Reading what he said didn't bother me all that much - it wasn't until I saw the tape that I got creeped out.

Unlike Ms. Harris, Miss Alabama is famous because of her beauty, so it's hardly off limits to comment upon (or even praise) what she herself has chosen to make the central part of her public image.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 7, 2013 11:51 AM

"Otherness" is a kind of complaint I don't quite know how to take, here as elsewhere.

It's been 40 years since I read Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex but you can check the Wikipedia article on her for a brief discussion. I actually think the discussion on Wikipedia at "Other" is more useful in our context:

De Beauvoir calls the Other the minority, the least favored one and often a woman, when compared to a man, "for a man represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity"

The idea that a man represents the neutral is (I think) the one in which I use it in this discussion:

A man who is an Attorney General is an Attorney General.

A woman who is an Attorney General is a female Attorney General.

(As a side note, I now have a great desire to read Sarojini Sahoo, an Indian feminist writer mentioned in the Wikipedia discussion.)

The "being other" that you discuss, Grim, is about you being "other than" as an individual. In that sense we are all other than each other. The "being other" that De Beauvoir discusses is about being other as a group; by definition, it ignores individuality to lump all women together.

Posted by: Elise at April 7, 2013 01:24 PM

Unlike Ms. Harris, Miss Alabama is famous because of her beauty, so it's hardly off limits to comment upon (or even praise) what she herself has chosen to make the central part of her public image.

Excellently said. I heard Bill Richardson this morning on NBC saying that objecting to Obama's remarks about Ms. Harris was ridiculous and asking if he would be castigated for saying that Scarlet Johannsen was a beautiful woman. Apparently he truly does not understand the difference. I think your characterizing this as a deficit in situational awareness is perfect. And, perhaps, this is because some men see women always in only one situation. :+)

Posted by: Elise at April 7, 2013 02:05 PM

Elise:

Is there a solution available by which you could see a woman's woman-ness as one of the many things that differentiates her as an individual? If the offense is merely in treating a category of people as outsiders in a given context, and not a suggestion that we should stop recognizing real differences, that might be a solvable problem in some cases.

This could even be true in cases where it is actually necessary to take notice of the woman's sex in order to ensure proper treatment. An all-male office might, precisely in order to help her feel included and welcome, alter its demeanor in certain respects in recognition that there is now a lady present. Once we would have said they ought to do so; perhaps now we can't say that anymore, and are left with something like 'it is a shame that they have to do so.' But if they don't recognize her as 'other' as an individual, they'll cement her feeling of being 'Other' as a member of an excluded group.

Posted by: Grim at April 7, 2013 06:37 PM

This could even be true in cases where it is actually necessary to take notice of the woman's sex in order to ensure proper treatment. An all-male office might, precisely in order to help her feel included and welcome, alter its demeanor in certain respects in recognition that there is now a lady present.

What type of alteration do you have in mind here?

Posted by: Elise at April 7, 2013 10:32 PM

Well, for example, I've mentioned in the past the occasion in Iraq when our all-male operation was joined by a female Civil Affairs specialist. Now, these being soldiers and long deployed, something of a locker-room environment had prevailed in terms of banter and decorations. Both of these had to be altered in order to include her as a respected member of the team.

It wouldn't have to be as obvious as that, though. Not every environment is made up of soldiers long away from wives and girlfriends. Still, it is this sort of thing I mean.

Posted by: Grim at April 7, 2013 10:39 PM

...these being soldiers and long deployed, something of a locker-room environment had prevailed in terms of banter and decorations. Both of these had to be altered in order to include her as a respected member of the team.

When I read things like this, I begin to think the gulf between the sexes is so wide that it will never be bridged. In fact, it makes me despair.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 07:35 AM

When I read things like this, I begin to think the gulf between the sexes is so wide that it will never be bridged. In fact, it makes me despair.

I'm not so sure it's that wide, Cass. "Locker room talk" is not a male only phenomenon. I distinctly remember the time I walked in on two female soldiers engaged in "locker room talk" while I was on duty. What they said is not something they would have said had they known I was in the room, and it's not something I feel comfortable saying (or typing) in polite company. Now, does the fact that they had to alter their conversation and words to "include me as a respected member of the team" represent a failure, or just a reflection of realities of interpersonal relationships?

I, for one, speak to my wife in private in ways that I wouldn't speak to her in public and I'm not talking about "bedroom talk" (though, of course that would apply too). If we have friends over, we alter our conversation to include them and not make them uncomfortable, and gender isn't even a factor there. Is that something that should cause distress?

Posted by: MikeD at April 8, 2013 09:57 AM

"Locker room talk" is not a male only phenomenon. I distinctly remember the time I walked in on two female soldiers engaged in "locker room talk" while I was on duty. What they said is not something they would have said had they known I was in the room, and it's not something I feel comfortable saying (or typing) in polite company. Now, does the fact that they had to alter their conversation and words to "include me as a respected member of the team" represent a failure, or just a reflection of realities of interpersonal relationships?

I don't think we're talking about the same thing, Mike.

I think there's a vast difference between an instance where two women, talking in the office but (?) unaware of your presence, said something sexual that they would not have said, had they known you were in the room and a workplace environment where the overall atmosphere and decorations, as Grim put it, had to change in order "to include her as a respected member of the team".

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 10:13 AM

One more point - I've said many times that locker room-type talk isn't only something men do.

I think the difference is that I don't see women vociferously arguing that they ought to be able to engage in that kind of talk (or post nude centerfolds of men) at the office or misandry has occurred.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 10:15 AM

I think this is right: "I read it as an attempt at his usual superficial charm attempts toward women, very similar to the remark he made about himself: 'I'm just here as eye candy.' I figure he probably meant that he really does find her attractive, and assumed she'd be a little pleased (or even a little thrilled) to know it."

As for treating her as "Other," the point is not that anyone can't see that he's a man and she's a woman. What he is emphasizing is that there are public figures of enormous competence who deserve respect, and then there are chicks who somehow made their way into the corridors of power, but what he's really interested in is whether they're hot. Whew! Thank goodness she's pretty! And I'm sure she's good at some other things, too. Now what was the purpose for us all gathering here today, with a press conference and all? Look, a pretty woman!

Sometimes I wonder if guys who reflexively make remarks like that in a non-romantic setting have any idea how little interest a woman probably has in what any man thinks of her looks, other than a man with whom she has an immediate interest in pursuing a romantic relationship. It's like dealing with a guy who's obsessed with stamp-collecting. "I'd like to present this Nobel Prize to Jane Smith, but before I address the achievements for which she is justly famous, let me air my preoccupations with her encyclopedic knowledge of perforation gauges. And she makes a mean Stroganoff." If she's being honored, it would be nice to talk about what's important to her. She may not be thrilled to hear about the extremely narrow aperture through which the male commentator views her worth as a human being ("nice headlights").

Posted by: Texan99 at April 8, 2013 10:33 AM

When I read things like this, I begin to think the gulf between the sexes is so wide that it will never be bridged.

That's been my point all along! :) But I don't think it's cause for despair. It's just worth remembering how differently men behave in the company of women than when no women are around. Insofar as this is done as a willing sacrifice to make women feel welcome and comfortable, it's a demonstration of how important the women are to us. Nobody had to crack any whips or extend any NJP to get it cleaned up when the female moved in; it was enough that everyone recognized that things needed to change and agreed to make the changes.

That said, if she'd been transferred, I don't doubt things would have gone right back to how they were. It's what they really wanted, not as an insult to women, but just because that's what they liked. It was a fun environment, too. We used to debate ideas for how to tackle tactical or operational problems while throwing a football back and forth across the room, only rarely knocking the light fixtures about. (That part, in fact, continued unabated during her tenure, although she didn't elect to join us when invited.)

Perhaps a point to be made is this: what we call "a professional environment" isn't just one kind of thing, but can be many kinds of thing depending on who is involved. What makes it professional is that the work that needs to be done gets done in good order, and that there is an atmosphere of mutual respect for the others involved in the work. Since people were willing to make adjustments so that the newcomer was able to feel welcome and included, I'm OK with the idea that they might have done otherwise before she came, and might have really preferred to do otherwise if she had happened to leave again. What makes them good people is that they were willing to set aside their preferences out of respect for her while she was there.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2013 11:10 AM

something of a locker-room environment had prevailed in terms of banter and decorations. Both of these had to be altered in order to include her as a respected member of the team.

That's pretty vague. Seriously. Are we talking about general bad language: taking the Lord's name in vain; the variations on damn; the words that refer to excretion; the words that refer to fornication? Or are we talking about using slang terms for female anatomy as pejoratives? Or are we talking about spending a lot time talking about interactions with prostitutes? Are we talking about taping Miss July inside lockers or are we talking about S&M posters on the common room walls?

Did you ask the female Civil Affairs specialist what, if anything, she wanted you to change or did you assume you knew? Story I read long ago, possibly apocryphal:

Woman becomes first female in an all-male group (sales, I think, don't remember for sure). In her first meeting, one senior guy is talking and every sentence contains some type of general bad language. After each bad word, he turns to her and apologizes. After about a dozen iterations of this, he turns to her and says, "Well, G-d dammit, if you're going to be in this group you're just going to have to learn to put up with some rough language!"

The woman hadn't said a word.

Posted by: Elise at April 8, 2013 11:18 AM

Perfect summation, T99.

(Although I actually liked the obit with the stroganoff. As far as I'm concerned, it met the "could I say the same thing about a man" test.)

Posted by: Elise at April 8, 2013 11:21 AM

It's just worth remembering how differently men behave in the company of women than when no women are around. Insofar as this is done as a willing sacrifice to make women feel welcome and comfortable, it's a demonstration of how important the women are to us. Nobody had to crack any whips or extend any NJP to get it cleaned up when the female moved in; it was enough that everyone recognized that things needed to change and agreed to make the changes.

Grim, I think this may be more than a bit naïve. The military are bombarded with sexual harassment classes and seminars. I vividly remember my husband having to attend them. And there are tons of regulations on the books too - you have complained about them. Recently he attended a seminar (OK, I won't go there) about "What not to say to a woman who comes to you with a sexual assault/harassment complaint." They were that far down in the weeds of micromanaging relations between the sexes.

It's not like the military has no position on standards of behavior in the workplace. To the contrary, the command has set the standard out there with excruciating specificity. It's a known quantity.

On the otter heiny, I remember what it was like working before sexual harassment laws because I remember just how (*&^ annoying it was to have to physically remove some idiot's hand off my fanny on more than one occasion.

And yes, I dealt with it without a law and even without filing a complaint. But I should not have to have dealt with it, just as a man shouldn't have to deal with being physically harassed at work. Somehow I highly doubt any of you has ever had a female subordinate utter these words to your face:

"I'm not taking orders from some *man*".

Things have changed so much, and you seem entirely willing to attribute all these changes to the innate respect men have for women. I don't even know where to start with that one, but as someone who has loved and enjoyed men all her life, allow me to call BS on that one.

After each bad word, he turns to her and apologizes. After about a dozen iterations of this, he turns to her and says, "Well, G-d dammit, if you're going to be in this group you're just going to have to learn to put up with some rough language!" The woman hadn't said a word.

That made my day, Elise :p

In general, I tend to cringe at terms like "the Other" even though I do think they describe a real phenomenon (though I am extremely skeptical that it has quite as much influence as progressives would have us believe). It's something every single group of people on the planet does - blacks do it to whites when we're in the minority: they assume things about us because we're white (and as we all know, "they" aren't like "us"). And whites do the same, as do women, men, and very likely transgendered Arctic wolves.

Stereotypes are a sort of cultural shorthand we employ when dealing with the unknown. Sometimes they're useful. Often they're not.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 11:37 AM

Just to clarify: I liked the stroganoff obit but the same approach would have been totally inappropriate for an introduction in a professional setting.

Posted by: Elise at April 8, 2013 11:42 AM

I'm talking about lots of posters, yes; I don't remember if there was S&M in them, but there was certainly a lot of strong sexual content deployed for humorous effect. There were ribald jokes, the content of which I can't recall beyond that they were as constant as you might expect young men long deprived of any sexual outlet to employ. It was highly charged. I thought the way in which they were able to wrestle it down and behave decently was noteworthy.

And yes, actually, they did ask the female specialist, and she asserted that no changes would be necessary at all. The problem, of course, is that she was (a) the only female, and (b) the lowest-ranking person in the room. I think it was both necessary and appropriate to go beyond what she said she was prepared to accept, given that there were good reasons to believe that she might not feel free to make a real objection.

Grim, I think this may be more than a bit naïve. The military are bombarded with sexual harassment classes and seminars.

So they are. A constant with sexual harassment, though, is that conduct becomes 'harassment' if it is unwelcome. Insofar as these young men all enjoyed it, and no women were around who might find it unwelcome, it wasn't harassment by definition.

Now, maybe training helped them in some sense of 'knowing what the right thing to do' would be when a woman was introduced to the environment. I don't discount that. But I don't think anyone needed to be threatened to do what was right.

In any case, the XO and others were in and out of there all the time, and the room had several officers who worked in it. If the chain of command had any problem with the environment, they didn't voice it. (The S3's office was far worse, for one thing.) They were very quick to enforce uniform standards -- don't put your hands in your pockets when it is cold, do wear a boonie cap rather than a patrol cap as a hedge against skin cancer -- so it's not like this was an undisciplined unit.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2013 11:53 AM

The stroganoff thing had a lot in common with the kerfuffle over that Princeton alumna who wrote a letter exhorting Princeton women not to waste the valuable opportunity to shop for a husband while she's there :p

There's actually nothing wrong with that advice, but as the writer herself noted, she would never think to offer such advice to her sons. I nearly choked laughing when I read that: so she's willing to write to a bunch of young women she's never met to give them unsolicited relationship advice, but she'd never *dream* of offering such advice to her sons?

It's good advice, by the way. If marriage is one of your priorities in life, you probably shouldn't leave it to chance. And it's not wrong to say so.

What is more than a little weird is why, thinking marriage to be important and a good thing, this woman wouldn't *dream* of offering the same advice to her sons?

My sons are both excellent cooks, and Lord knows that's not attributable to anything I did. I did teach both of them to cook because that's something any human being should be able to do.

But they actively enjoy cooking. I don't, probably because it was my job for too many years (as opposed to a creative outlet). There's no inherent conflict between being a parent or a good cook and being an aerospace engineer - not a "rocket scientist", as Brill was incorrectly described. But on the other hand, men in particular seem to consider a healthy work/life balance as an indicator of professional unseriousness.

It's an attitude that I've never understood. The number of hours one spends at work is rather poorly correlated with achievement. Certainly in Brill's case, her cooking skills didn't seem to hold her back :p

I think it's that attitude some of the critics were pushing back against.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 11:59 AM

In any case, the XO and others were in and out of there all the time, and the room had several officers who worked in it. If the chain of command had any problem with the environment, they didn't voice it. (The S3's office was far worse, for one thing.)

Explains a lot.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 12:00 PM

Explains a lot.

Sure. But remember what we're talking about here. This was a unit who came in as part of the Surge. Over the course of their 15-month deployment, the second one in short order for the brigade, they ended up replacing not one but three brigades from the outright desert in the east to the triangle of death. They lost friends, they worked 18 hour days for more than a year, and they were under constant threat even when they were on base. They did everything their nation asked them to do, and succeeded at it all.

When it became important, they could behave the way you want them to behave. And they did, without having to be told, out of respect for the woman who came to join them. I think that's worthy of praise and emulation, not criticism.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2013 12:12 PM

I think that's worthy of praise and emulation, not criticism.

Had I declined to praise them (or had I actually criticized them, for that matter) you might have a point :p But as it is, I'm not sure who you are defending them from?

You don't have to explain the military to me, or conditions in Iraq or Afghanistan, Grim.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 12:36 PM

I may have misunderstood the intended inflection of your laconic remark. I just want to make sure that we understand that I'm not holding these men up for criticism, but as a model of what right looks like. These are some of the best men there are, albeit captured at a moment in their life when they are both young and in circumstances that vastly increased the tension in their lives (sexual and otherwise).

I thought they handled it well. When appropriate, they were able to help each other blow off steam and reduce tension in a certain way; when it was no longer appropriate, they were able to adjust themselves out of respect for the woman who came to join them.

She was, by the way, a wonderful person and an effective soldier. The frame of our discussion has cast her in the role of a catalyst for change. It's worth mentioning that she was also a well-trained medic, a civil affairs professional who went outside the wire on occasion, and that she received two well-deserved promotions while I knew her: a lateral promotion to corporal in recognition of her leadership in her own Reserve unit, and a promotion to sergeant a few months later.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2013 12:57 PM

Grim, I don't have any problem with your unit changing their behavior if that's what they felt was appropriate even though the woman in question had indicated no change was needed. The problem arises when that type of change is used to exclude women; the chain that goes "if we let women in here then we'll have to change and that will undermine morale or cohesiveness (or just we don't wanna) and so women should be kept out". The "then we'll have to change" is assumed rather than being asked about. Perhaps (some) women would rather put up with (some) raunchy behavior in order to be included in (some) professions.

Posted by: Elise at April 8, 2013 01:09 PM

men in particular seem to consider a healthy work/life balance as an indicator of professional unseriousness. [snip]

I think it's that attitude some of the critics were pushing back against.

I can see that point but I don't see why men should get to define the term of reference here. It's not my problem that a woman who can manage a brilliant STEM career *and* be a great wife, mother, and cook makes them feel inadequate. :+)

Posted by: Elise at April 8, 2013 01:20 PM

I think the difference is that I don't see women vociferously arguing that they ought to be able to engage in that kind of talk (or post nude centerfolds of men) at the office or misandry has occurred.

Nor do I, but by the same token, I'd also point out that no one was saying that those soldiers should have been able to engage in that kind of talk at the office just because a female was there. She showed up and they altered the talk and decorations accordingly. Is that not what should have happened?

Or is it that they should have been conducting themselves in a manner where nothing would have changed if a woman were to become present? And if that were the case, would it not be just to demand the same from the two female soldier's I encountered on CQ? Personally, I was only mildly embarrassed by what they said and would swear under oath that I was not harassed, but I can also see where a third party could (somewhat) reasonably determine that I had been. My lack of taking offense could have been ruled immaterial.

Yes, there are workplace standards that should be enforced, and I actively agree that no one should be sexually harassed or intimidated. But just as conversations my wife and I have (and honestly, it can be something as innocuous as asking if my nose hairs need to be trimmed... just not appropriate for public conversation, but not inappropriate between us) may not be suitable for having in public, are there no exceptions to be made for different work environments? Should the employees of a Curves gym (a women only establishment) not be allowed to have conversations in their workplace that would not be appropriate in a mixed gender workplace?

And for the record, my objections to women in combat arms is NOT related to limiting the conversations infantrymen can have in the field, but are entirely related to physical standards which WILL be lowered to accommodate females into the infantry (and if you doubt it, just wait... it is coming). And lastly, for the record, my entire service was in MI with mixed genders and even the other three services. So women being in the unit was not an issue for me at any point in my experience.

Posted by: MikeD at April 8, 2013 02:52 PM

Somehow I highly doubt any of you has ever had a female subordinate utter these words to your face:

"I'm not taking orders from some *man*".

One of the first jobs my dad ever had was as a library aide. The library staff was mostly female, and he said that during the interview process they asked him specifically in so many words if he would have a problem with taking orders from a woman. Times have definitely changed.

Posted by: colagirl at April 8, 2013 03:54 PM

"I'm not taking orders from some *man*".

Personally, I draw the line at squirrels. Damn things need to learn their place.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 8, 2013 04:17 PM

Or is it that they should have been conducting themselves in a manner where nothing would have changed if a woman were to become present?

That would be my take, Mike - it shouldn't have happened in the first place. I understand that from time to time, everyone lapses into conversations and/or things that should not be happening in the office. But that shouldn't be the expectation or the standard, and when that line is crossed it's not unreasonable to expect people to exercise a little self-restraint.

And if that were the case, would it not be just to demand the same from the two female soldier's I encountered on CQ?

Of course. Though once again, please allow me to distinguish between what Grim described (day to day locker room atmosphere that includes what he delicately called "decoration") and you walking in on a single conversation. What he describes is more like you walking into an office space plastered with nude male centerfolds... another experience I'm guessing that most men have never experienced :p

More's the pity.

Personally, I was only mildly embarrassed by what they said and would swear under oath that I was not harassed, but I can also see where a third party could (somewhat) reasonably determine that I had been. My lack of taking offense could have been ruled immaterial.

And it really is immaterial, in a way. I can easily imagine a boss who would not be in the least offended should you wear leather, assless chaps to the office.

That wouldn't, however, make them appropriate office wear for the vast majority of offices (obvious exception for Chippendales, Inc., which I also imagine doesn't make its office staff dress like the stage talent).

...just as conversations my wife and I have (and honestly, it can be something as innocuous as asking if my nose hairs need to be trimmed... just not appropriate for public conversation, but not inappropriate between us) may not be suitable for having in public, are there no exceptions to be made for different work environments?

Such a conversation would be very appropriate at a salon or at the barbershop.

Should the employees of a Curves gym (a women only establishment) not be allowed to have conversations in their workplace that would not be appropriate in a mixed gender workplace?

I think maybe you're assuming something you should not be assuming here: that all men/all women think alike, or that sex determines what's appropriate at the office. Some men *are* bothered by swearing or crude sexual content at the office. If they say so, other men will call them gay or pussies, so they don't say so. Some women *aren't* offended (or may even join in). FWIW, I wouldn't be any less irritated by women engaging in open locker room talk in a business setting than I would by men doing so. Not that this has ever happened, mind you.

It's still not appropriate. I get it - I'm old fashioned, or a prude, or whatever other names apply to people who think there ought to be different standards in public vs. in private (or furthermore, that the rules I grew up with were better ones than today's anything-goes-so-long-as-no-one-sues-or-complains ethic).

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 04:47 PM

I just want to make sure that we understand that I'm not holding these men up for criticism, but as a model of what right looks like. These are some of the best men there are, albeit captured at a moment in their life when they are both young and in circumstances that vastly increased the tension in their lives (sexual and otherwise).

I imagine their wives and girlfriends may have experienced some of that tension (sexual and otherwise) as well. Having lived without my husband for literally years at a time (4 one year deployments and innumerable shorter ones), I am familiar with both extended celibacy and fear of death.

And no, it's not the same. Some of the wives I've known were far more afraid that their husbands would die than their husbands were. I'm willing to stipulate that lots of experiences carry unequal and different stresses and strains.

But "What right looks like" is not some monolithic notion where, if you perform well in one area or under great stress, nothing you do can ever be wrong.

What each of us considers wrong (or respectful, for that matter) is open to debate. But the idea that there can be no debate about what is right or where the line should be drawn (at least where certain groups of people are concerned) is pretty perverse, and best met with some suspicion.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 05:15 PM

And for the record, my objections to women in combat arms is NOT related to limiting the conversations infantrymen can have in the field, but are entirely related to physical standards

I'm not sure if that was in response to my comment but if so I want to clarify that I wasn't really thinking about combat units (or even necessarily military units) but about the more general spectrum of male-dominated professions. I certainly understand that certain jobs require certain physical standards and that few if any women may meet those standards.

What I was talking about was cases where men decide that women wouldn't possibly tolerate the way an all-male group behaves and uses that decision to argue women shouldn't be allowed in. It seems to me that a woman who wants to be included should get to decide for herself if the prevailing group standards are acceptable to her or not.

I do understand that things are not always that simple. To me, there's a clear difference between a work environment where general bad language is common and a work environment where guys feel free to grab a female co-worker's fanny. I would find the former livable and the latter not and trust that very, very few men would think that was unreasonable of me. But there's a lot of gray area in between.

The way to sort out that gray area is to talk about it but that sometimes seems impossible to do. As much as it pains me to do so, I'll concede that some of the impossibility may arise because some women sometimes expect men to see situations the way women do and that just doesn't happen. But some of the impossibility also arises because, as Cassandra says, some men sometimes get bent out of shape at suggestions that they modify their behavior so as not to make female co-workers feel uncomfortable.

This reminds me in some ways of the whole anti-smoking thing. Once upon a time, it was understood that smokers smoked away from non-smokers. Then some and eventually most smokers started smoking everywhere. Non-smokers who were bothered asked them not to. Most smokers agreed but some didn't and got snippy about it. Then some non-smokers started getting cranky and so smokers got cranky. Then people on both sides started feeling put-upon and hard-done-by and misunderstood and beat up and decided that everyone on the other side was a totally unreasonable spawn of Satan. And now we have non-smoking laws that stretch from here to Kansas. That doesn't seem very adult to me.

Posted by: Elise at April 8, 2013 06:19 PM

Cass:

I haven't said anything about not debating anything at all. And, actually, I also didn't say anything that justifies your concluding this:

But "What right looks like" is not some monolithic notion where, if you perform well in one area or under great stress, nothing you do can ever be wrong.

I'm limiting the claim that this is "what right looks like" precisely to the sexual aspects under discussion. I am not arguing that they were so right elsewhere that they cannot be wrong here. I think they're right exactly here. They took care of each other -- by blowing off steam and tension when they could, and by treating the female addition respectfully at a personal sacrifice when that became necessary. In all cases, they were looking out for the soldier next to them.

I don't see any reason to believe that an all-male environment should conduct itself -- as you have just proposed in your comment to Mike -- exactly as they would if women were present. I understood that was your real position all along, which is why we began with the long discussion of universalism. This is the standard you think ought to apply to places classified as "public," and so it ought to apply to every such place at all times regardless of who is there.

I want to propose a more Aristotelian solution whereby relevant differences are relevant to the question of what standard prevails. One such difference is that a place's classification doesn't stop with "public" or "private." It's relevant whether it's an all-male environment or not; if it were, whether those males are younger or older (or whether they are soldiers or priests); whether it's an office or a bar; whether...

I think an almost endless set of standards could be appropriate in spaces that are nevertheless all "public." As long as respect is being shown by all parties present in and party to that environment, to all other such members, they're defining the rules between them in a way that I think is wholesome.

Notice I haven't accused you of prudery or anything else. This is just a particular example of the formal problem of Kantian universalism versus Aristotelian approaches. I think the universalist is wrong, not just in this case, but across the board. Universalism is the wrong approach to human problems, here as elsewhere.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2013 06:52 PM

Universalism is the wrong approach to human problems, here as elsewhere.

I suspect most priests would disagree with you, Grim :p

As would most Protestant ministers and most followers of other faiths (at least in the abstract, and so long as we didn't try to tie that precept to their own behavior). Yours is an entirely human standard, and as such is almost infinitely malleable and elastic: bending and twisting to accommodate any need or perceived need.

Our society was once grounded in another standard, but that standard has been replaced by the one you advocate for - one in which people agree among themselves what is right or wrong. There are definite advantages to such an approach, not the least of them being that all one need do to be 'in the right' is to hang out with the right group of people.

I don't see any reason to believe that an all-male environment should conduct itself -- as you have just proposed in your comment to Mike -- exactly as they would if women were present.

And yet that is precisely the standard most Christian churches would maintain is the right one. The Bible, last time I checked, doesn't put forth one standard of right and wrong when women are around and another when only men are around (or vice versa).

What you are proposing is a standard of relative morality. And you can certainly propose (and defend) that standard here, though you'll not get me to agree to it.

Relative morality says that actions aren't right or wrong in and of themselves, but only right (or wrong) in certain circumstances. I think the difference between your view and mine may well be that I don't believe that whether I do (or enjoy) things - whether they make me feel good, or help me "blow off steam" - has any bearing on whether they are right or wrong. I believe the Christian faith sets forth the right standard, but I'm not really willing to conform my own behavior to it with my whole heart.

That doesn't keep me from thinking it's the right one, though.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2013 09:10 PM

I suspect most priests would disagree with you, Grim :p

I don't think so. I think that's what confession is for. The priest doesn't think that any human standard of behavior is acceptable, but instead recognizes that all human standard -- even yours -- are flawed.

The Christian standard is both absolute and relative. But it's absolute in Christ's statement that one ought never even to lust in one's heart; it's relative in that he was willing to find a way to forgive and accept the woman who went as far as to fulfill the act of adultery. It's relative in that he cautions the judgmental that their sins are just as bad as hers.

So you can go wrong by thinking adulterous thoughts, and you can go wrong by judging people for thinking -- or even acting on -- adulterous thoughts. Either way, you're going wrong. The business of the priest is to hear your confession and determine what kind of penance will help you do better in the future. It isn't to punish you -- you don't say the prayers as a punishment, but to refocus your life on the divine. The absolution is free.

Now Protestant ministers aren't always like that. Some of them are, especially Anglicans. Some of them aren't, especially Baptists and Lutherans. But that's just to reinvoke the philosophical dispute in the guise of theology: the Church is Aristotelian, and Luther was very much the forerunner of Kant, Hegel, and the other German philosophers.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2013 09:32 PM

Grim, you are mixing ideas.

There's no real ambiguity about whether sin is wrong or not. That's one idea.

The second idea is whether people can be forgiven when they've done wrong.

I'm discussing what "right" is, and you are maintaining, for instance, that "what right looks like" is when a bunch of men, many of whom are married (and were married in church, and who say they are Christians) are "right" whether or not they follow what the Church says is right.

It's not my business to judge anyone, nor to set rules for them. But by that standard, the behavior you describe is absolutely NOT "what right looks like". If you adopt a different standard (the one you mentioned earlier, which is to let humans agree upon what is right), then they may very well be "right" because after all, they've gotten a bunch of people who all want to do the same thing to agree that it's "right". It's morality by consensus, not by principle, and it blows with whatever wind you wish to call up.

It's an interesting standard, but not one I'm willing to adopt.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 08:15 AM

We've had this discussion before, and it goes 'round and 'round because you seem to think that if I say whether an action is right or not according to the standard I have adopted (which, as I mentioned, is NOT the human standard), then somehow I'm saying that anyone who does something I consider to be wrong is to be shunned or condemned.

I say that a particular act is wrong by my (and the Church's) moral standard and you counter with "These are the best men" (which is beside the point) or "They should be allowed to do whatever they want so long as no one's around to be offended", which elides a whole lot of moral issues that have nothing to do with whether women are there or not.

We're not talking about the same thing at all.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 08:30 AM

One more point:

It's relative in that he cautions the judgmental that their sins are just as bad as hers.

There's an old saying: hate the sin, not the sinner.

You keep inferring (without cause) that I hate the sinner, or possibly that I feel superior to the sinner. But there's really no grounding for such a conclusion in anything I've said.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 08:32 AM

I haven't said anything inferring that you hate the sinner, or even that you're wrong for being judgmental. What I said was that your standard can't be right as a universal, because all human standards are wrong.

These men strike me as right because they acted out of love for each other -- a love they were willing to extend to the woman who appeared. That's what Christ talked about, much more than he talked about adherence to sexual mores or rules.

Now I didn't myself hang up any pictures more sexy than the calendar of paintings my wife sent me. I don't excuse their behavior because it is what I prefer for myself. I don't, in fact, excuse their behavior at all. I proclaim that their behavior was right, because it was based on that love for each other that is the real root of righteousness.

I don't think you'll find anything in Christian teaching that very much contradicts that.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 09:07 AM

Once again, Grim, you're talking about a human standard and I'm talking about God's standard. They are NOT the same thing at all.

I don't, in fact, excuse their behavior at all. I proclaim that their behavior was right, because it was based on that love for each other that is the real root of righteousness.

That's your human standard, but the church would not agree that if people do something the Church maintains is wrong or sinful, it somehow becomes right if they did it out of love for each other.

That's human rationalization, not Church doctrine.

People can be engaged in all kinds of activities that they enjoy together, and love each other while they're doing it (adultery, for one; fornication for another). The Church doesn't approve either act no matter how much the parties involved may love each other.


Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 09:16 AM

I get it - I'm old fashioned, or a prude, or whatever other names apply to people who think there ought to be different standards in public vs. in private (or furthermore, that the rules I grew up with were better ones than today's anything-goes-so-long-as-no-one-sues-or-complains ethic).

I don't believe that at all. I just wanted to get a feel for where the boundaries were. Believe it or else, I'm actually ok with the idea that a workplace is for work and should be treated as such. And I'm also ok with the concept of "safe for work" and "not safe for work" regardless of who's in the room RIGHT NOW. I honestly wanted to know where you felt the boundaries are. The only way I know how to do that is to set up situations and get responses to them.

Such a conversation would be very appropriate at a salon or at the barbershop.

Ok, bad example then. Basically, I was going for a "correct time and place" thing here. Biological functions of the eliminatory nature shall we say? Not discussions for public, but ones you could safely have in the appropriate setting.

"I'm not taking orders from some *[wo]man*".

And I'd not give you a plug nickle for a man who would say that. Nor if he'd say it based on race or creed or religion or national origin nor any of the other discriminators OTHER than those which are attributed to a particular individual. There were some NCOs I knew that I'd only have followed into combat out of curiosity. But it wasn't because of any of that nonsense, but because they were crap leaders.

I'm not sure if that was in response to my comment but if so I want to clarify that I wasn't really thinking about combat units (or even necessarily military units) but about the more general spectrum of male-dominated professions.

It wasn't aimed, per se. More of thrown out there because I was getting the sense that it could be interpreted that I thought women were incompatible with combat arms because of some "mystical brotherhood of men" bulldookie. So I wanted to nip that in the bud. I am POSITIVE there are women who could meet the standards that a man can for service in combat arms. No doubt in my mind. But it will be the rare woman who could, and the question for me is, is it for the benefit of the defense of the United States that we make accommodations for women in combat (even just in garrison, this would necessitate separate latrines and barracks rooms for the female soldiers that combat arms units currently do not have)? Or is it to satisfy the ambitions of individual female soldiers. Because I'll tell you, I don't believe for an instant that the Department of Defense is a jobs program, nor is it a place to go for personal fulfillment. So if it's currently unfair that to get the choice jobs at the end of your career you must have been combat arms... CHANGE THAT! But to spend that kind of time and money for a handful of individuals is a bit silly, especially if combat arms is not understaffed.

Posted by: MikeD at April 9, 2013 09:40 AM

Mike darlin' :)

Please forgive any testiness in the tone of my comment yesterday. It truly wasn't directed at you, or at anyone for that matter.

I had a very long and frustrating day at work, and few ideas in life upset me more than the notion that the dividing line between right and wrong is determined by who's around to witness an action, or whether the witness happens to be male or female, or whether or not other people agree it's wrong.

If that's true, then identity politics makes total sense and my entire moral frame of reference is hopelessly wrong. And that may well prove to be the case.

I'm perfectly willing to concede that I don't have a lock on where the line should be drawn, nor do I think I have any right to tell others where they should draw it. Like most people, I spent years wrestling with that question and put a stake in the ground, even though where I drew the line often makes me very uncomfortable and even though I am not always able to align my behavior and thoughts with the right side of that line.

I'm actually ok with the idea that a workplace is for work and should be treated as such. And I'm also ok with the concept of "safe for work" and "not safe for work" regardless of who's in the room RIGHT NOW. I honestly wanted to know where you felt the boundaries are.

That's really about as good a summary of what I was trying to get across as I can think of :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 09:53 AM

...to spend that kind of time and money for a handful of individuals is a bit silly, especially if combat arms is not understaffed.

This may be one of those times when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or The Won.

*running away whilst doing that 'live long & prosper' thingy with my fingers*

Posted by: Spock at April 9, 2013 09:56 AM

So if it's currently unfair that to get the choice jobs at the end of your career you must have been combat arms... CHANGE THAT! But to spend that kind of time and money for a handful of individuals is a bit silly, especially if combat arms is not understaffed.

Interesting - and good - point, and one I had not considered. I suspect, though, that we have become very, hmm, not sure what the word is, absolutist maybe, in thinking about these things. Everyone must have the same, even when that doesn't make sense, even when that makes us poorer as a whole, even when the expense is objectively ridiculous. So even if we changed the combat arms requirement for choice jobs the push to get women into combat arms would still exist, regardless of how few women qualified and regardless of the associated expense, simply because everyone must have the same.

There is a part of me that understands that push because I believe people have talents and ambitions that they are driven to fulfill and I can believe that some women may be so-suited to combat arms. But I also think that such considerations shouldn't automatically trump dollars and cents (especially when it's my money) nor should they automatically trump more universal considerations (spending military dollars where they are needed most).

Posted by: Elise at April 9, 2013 10:06 AM

Once again, Grim, you're talking about a human standard and I'm talking about God's standard. They are NOT the same thing at all.... That's your human standard, but the church would not agree that if people do something the Church maintains is wrong or sinful, it somehow becomes right if they did it out of love for each other.

You're speaking for God now? That's a heavy responsibility. I don't know how to do it, but I can tell you what I've read.

You want to say these men were wrong for not being perfect, but they're original sinners. I've read they can't be perfect. What they can do is love each other. Where ribald jokes and pictures of beauty brought ease to each other, they did those things.

I have also read that pleasure is no reason to think that you are wrong. God says to love each other as you love yourself: and that means you're supposed to love yourself as welll. There is nothing wrong with finding pleasure in the things you do to please others. That's friendship, which Aristotle makes a lot of in the Nicomachean Ethics.

Now if they had refused to change when it might have hurt another, that would have been wrong according to what I have read. But they didn't: they changed for her. And that was right too.

I don't think God is mad at these men for being what they were. I think he loves them. Jesus spent a lot of time drinking and making merry. Matthew 11:19: "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children."

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 10:18 AM

And yet, premarital sex was still a sin. Even if it brought love and comfort to each other.

Love does not excuse sin or make it not sin.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 9, 2013 10:31 AM

Sin is inevitable. It is love that answers the inevitable sin. Luke 6:35-6; or, if you prefer the more judgmental Paul, Romans 13:10. "Love is the fulfillment of the law."

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 10:49 AM

Love may be the fulfillment of the law, but that doesn't mean that illegal acts are legal.

While Jesus did not exact punishment for the woman at the well, He *did* admonish her and tell her to "sin no more". He didn't say "That's OK, it is right that you did that because it demonstrated love".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 9, 2013 11:00 AM

A parent that sheilds their child from all consequences of that child's poor decisions may be acting out of love, but that in no way renders that parent's actions as correct.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 9, 2013 11:06 AM

Did the adulteress act out of love? We do not know that; it does not enter the story.

What we see as justification is faith and love. Faith we see directly, as in the centurion (Mathew 8:8) and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42-3). Now faith I can attest to in these men. We went to midnight services together on Christmas, some of them and me; it was a candlelight service, and at the end of the service, the preacher said, "Now it is time to blow out the candles. Perhaps we should sing 'Happy Birthday.'" And so we did.

Love we hear about, in many places. It is said to be greater than faith (1 Cor. 13:13). So how could it not justify where faith does?

No, I don't agree. There's a sense in which we can never be right; but there's a sense in which love, even more than faith, makes us right.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 11:09 AM

...there's a sense in which love, even more than faith, makes us right.

We're not talking about people, but actions. You can continue to talk about people being right, but that's a different discussion and a subject about which I have expressed no opinion.

I don't even believe that people can be "right" or "wrong". It's kind of a silly notion, because all people are a mixed bag.

You seem to be under the impression that wrong actions (in God's eyes or the Church's) somehow magically become right if love is involved somehow. You are conflating two very different things - sin, and forgiveness.

Forgiveness (or love) does not make sin "not sinful". It's still sin, it's still wrong, and we may choose to forgive the sinner or love him regardless of having sinned without changing the fact that certain actions are considered to be sinful by the Church, period, exclamation point.

I refer you to the Vatican on this topic. Their guidance sounds nothing like what you assert:

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 11:36 AM

Elise, re the "how would it sound with a man" test: http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2013/04/01/guest-post-physicist-dies-made-great-chili/

Grim, re this: "Of course, Tex might not prefer your rules to mine: clearly what she really wants is her own rules (as indeed I want her to have them). But I suspect she would prefer yours to mine if she had to choose one of us, simply because you can understand her in ways I can't. And vice versa." -- what divides us is the very idea that it would be a good idea to make one set of rules for men and another for women. I'd let the characteristics of each person guide his or her development and opportunities. I never spend any time figuring out how men and women are basically different and what different, generalized rule will work best for each group. I take each man and woman for what he or she actually is, and deal with him or her on that basis.

Which isn't to say that I haven't noticed patterns that enable me to make an educated guess in advance, but I don't let the guess confuse me about what I notice when I have the real person in front of me. The battle plan doesn't survive contact with the enemy, so to speak.

The reason I'd have trouble with the world with you as architect is not so much that you'd choose awful rules for me as that you'd let your preconceptions of me as a woman guide your thinking at all. I'm not determined to live all of life by my own rules; I consider myself bound by a million restrictions. They just aren't a special pink variety.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 9, 2013 12:35 PM

Never did I say that you could avoid sin. I said sin was inevitable. That's true enough.

It's bold of you to refer me to the catechism, when you haven't finished reading Aquinas. It turns out that there's something behind the catechism, and what it is happens to be Aristotelian philosophy. You might find it more helpful to read Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, Part III supplemental, which deals with these issues at length. Unlike the catechism, which merely offers guidance, Aquinas offers arguments and the foundations for the arguments.

Now I said above that I don't accept Aquinas' reasoning, and I can tell you why I don't. Aquinas argues that there are three goods related to matrimony, of which one -- procreation -- is the primary good. But the other two are also great goods, namely, the unification of two souls across the sex divide (you refer to this yourself, above, as the main justification you can see for marriage), and the pleasure two people can give each other.

If these are all goods, why wouldn't adultery (which brings pleasure, at least, and possibly unification and procreation) be a good? There's an answer to that, which has to do with the harm done to the offspring (by being a bastard) and the unity (by being incomplete, as it must be done secretly).

So all this sorts out, if you understand the philosophy. It doesn't sort out as universals, though. It sorts out as conditions for understanding particular cases and evaluating relevant differences.

If you stick with mere universals, you'll be blind. It's the wrong way to approach human matters. It's not even the right way to approach divine matters, if it turns out -- as we are told -- that God loves sinners and wine-bibbers as much, and perhaps even more, than he loves the ones who are more readily named righteous. It wasn't those he spent his time with. Maybe he thought they didn't need the help, but maybe that's not quite right either: those were the ones first in line to hang him on the cross.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 12:46 PM

But Tex,

The reason I'd have trouble with the world with you as architect is not so much that you'd choose awful rules for me as that you'd let your preconceptions of me as a woman guide your thinking at all.

If you asked me for rules, I'd tell you to think about it and come back to me with what you'd come up with on your own. We'd talk about it, and eventually sort out rules you'd constructed and agreed to define.

I'd take you as you. I would never think of imposing rules on you that were constructed in abstract. I'd only agree to impose rules at all if you insisted that I do so, and if you then legislated and blessed each one.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 12:50 PM

And the only reason I'd agree to do it even with your blessing is that I understand the need for chains. I have rules myself, things I impose ruthlessly, because otherwise I would come apart.

I need my chains. I understand that others do too. But I don't presume to tell you what chains you need to forge for yourself. I assume you know what they are.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 01:00 PM

We do not know that; it does not enter the story.

Perhaps, because it is not relevant. The action was improper regardless.

Love, in these cases is not about the motivations of the person committing the act of sin, but rather the love of those around that person in the act of forgiveness of that sin. But forgiveness does not require the forgiver to accept that an action is right.

The Bible, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Protestant Church, pretty much the entire catholic Church is firmly rooted in the belief that sex outside of holy marriage is sinful, period, full stop. I know of no mainstream Christian Church that states that sex outside of marriage is sinful only if you don't love the person you are having sex with.

There were 4 laws that the gentiles were to keep (Acts 15:20): Idolotry, Sexual immorality, meat from strangled animals, and blood. I see nothing to suggest that there is an "unless it's done out of love" exception.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 9, 2013 01:03 PM

...that sex outside of holy marriage is sinful, period, full stop.

We aren't talking about sex outside of marriage. That was banned by General Order #1, even if it hadn't been an offense against faith.

What we're talking about is jokes and posters on the wall. That might apply to Jesus' comment that lusting in your heart is a sin; but if so, we must take on board also his admonition against judgment in precisely these cases.

Where actual sex outside of marriage was acted upon, the military unlike Christ imposed a judgment. I saw that too.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 01:08 PM

I'm dealing with the principal that love converts wrong actions to right actions. Not with the specificities of whether sex is punished in the military.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 9, 2013 01:21 PM

OK. Let's deal with that, then.

What was it that converted the life of the thief of the cross into actions that might merit paradise -- and that "today," and not after some period in Purgatory? It was his faith alone, right?

So if love is greater than faith, what precisely is your objection? The actions were still wrong, but... but what? These things are totally set aside. It turns out love or faith is all that really matters.

Not that you shouldn't do your best. Of course you should. But the reason you should is that doing your best is an expression of love and faith.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 01:25 PM

I'd take you as you. I'm relieved to discover that I'm an exception to your normal formulations about women. :-)

When I made the remark you're remembering, I believe I was responding to your impassioned defense of the medieval prescriptions for women, which you considered to have been the subject of unfair attacks that didn't take full account of the apparent comfort of the women of that time with the life that had been ordained for them. I was mostly expressing the view that I'm glad I didn't have to live in a world that you would assume was not really that bad for someone like me, if only I could get my head right.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 9, 2013 01:30 PM

Now you might want to say, "Grim, you're not being a good Catholic here. It's the Protestants who argue for justification by faith alone."

But I'm not arguing that. I'm arguing that you should do your best... whatever that is, given who you are. It'll be different for a young soldier, versus an old priest. The universal -- "Do your best" -- turns out to be relative in any practical sense.

God loves you. Do your best. You're right -- as right as anyone can be -- if you take care of your brothers next to you, and sacrifice of yourself to help them out. That's what I believe. If you've got a strong argument against that, bring it on.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 01:30 PM

Tex:

...that didn't take full account of the apparent comfort of the women of that time with the life that had been ordained for them...

It's the same standard, isn't it? Let's say they asked me for rules. Let's say I told them in turn I wanted to know what rules they thought they needed.

It's likely they'd come up with different rules from you, isn't it? Maybe they'd bring things in from their generation or their understanding that were different. Maybe they think they need different chains.

The point is, I'd let them have what they want, just as I'd let you have what you want -- and that, in each case, only if you insist on me blessing your rules. I do understand, though, that they might want different things. I don't think that makes them wrong. It just makes them different. Before we say that they are wrong -- or that their age was wrong, insofar as it might be involved in suggesting different chains to them -- we ought to take time to hear what they have to say for themselves. From what I have seen, they have a lot to say. We don't usually hear them out, but assume them to be victims of their circumstances... somehow, more than we are.

Posted by: Grim at April 9, 2013 01:34 PM

What was it that converted the life of the thief of the cross into actions that might merit paradise - emphasis mine.

His actions did not merit paradise. His actions were wrong. And Jesus never said otherwise. His love/faith in Christ did not redeem his actions and make them proper. Salvation is in spite of our actions, not because of them.

The actions were still wrong, but... but what?

But we should not be telling the next theif that their actions are proper so long as they have love in their hearts. They are not. And we should not be afraid to tell them so. Had that thief not been executed, I seriously doubt Jesus would have told him "Go on stealing, it's OK, you are going to Heaven anyway". He would have told him, "Go and..." (here's the important part) "...sin no more".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at April 9, 2013 02:48 PM

Elise, re the "how would it sound with a man" test: http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2013/04/01/guest-post-physicist-dies-made-great-chili/

Well, no. The Brill obituary originally began:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.

The lastword piece begins:

He made sure he shopped for groceries every night on the way home from work, took the garbage out, and hand washed the antimacassars. But to his step daughters he was just Dad. ”He was always there for us,” said his step daughter and first cousin once removed Margo.

Albert Einstein, who died on Tuesday, had another life at work, where he sometimes slipped away to peck at projects like showing that atoms really exist. His discovery of something called the photoelectric effect won him a coveted Nobel Prize.

Not really parallel. To me, a parallel obit (which BTW would be wildly inaccurate about his domestic life, his marriage, and his parenting) would read:

He made a mean beef stroganoff, followed his wife from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best dad,” his son Hans said.

But Albert Einstein, who died on Wednesday at 76 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant theoretical physicist who in the middle 1910s developed the general theory of relativity one of the two pillars of modern physics.

If that's objectionable, fine, but the lastword site has stacked the deck with their version.

As I said before, I would find the Times focus on Mrs. Brill's personal life unacceptable in an introduction in a professional setting but I tend to think that obituaries are more about the family than the profession and I find quoting her son a touching note. Perhaps that's not the case with Times obits, in which case I stand corrected.

Posted by: Elise at April 9, 2013 03:34 PM

And just for the record, I don't think learning to prepare meals for ones family, sacrificing to keep a marriage together, and raising children is equivalent to grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, and washing antimacassars.

Posted by: Elise at April 9, 2013 03:58 PM

We aren't talking about sex outside of marriage. That was banned by General Order #1...

As was the possession or display of sexually explicit materials, Grim. Which was what my "laconic", "That explains a lot" was directed at.

Whether or not they enjoy doing so, an officer's job is precisely to ensure that orders are carried out. That's what officers get paid to do and it's why everyone else hates their guts and livers.

Now an officer might exercise personal discretion as to the punishment/remedy for a breach of a command order but generally, openly and ostentatiously flouting the orders you're being paid to enforce is not an option:

If the chain of command had any problem with the environment, they didn't voice it. (The S3's office was far worse, for one thing.)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 05:29 PM

It's bold of you to refer me to the catechism, when you haven't finished reading Aquinas. It turns out that there's something behind the catechism, and what it is happens to be Aristotelian philosophy. You might find it more helpful to read Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, Part III supplemental, which deals with these issues at length. Unlike the catechism, which merely offers guidance, Aquinas offers arguments and the foundations for the arguments.

It's not bold at all. None of this is germane to the fact that the Vatican came down where they came down, with exactly zero talk of love making the sinful, not sinful. You don't get to put words in their mouths (unless of course you can show me that it was actually Aristotle who carved the 10 commandments - not polite requests, but commandments - into those stone tablets). Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas trumps God.

What I asserted is that the Church would disagree with you. Acquinas isn't running the church and as Yu-ain already pointed out, all the major Christian churches are in violent agreement on this point.

Sins are sinful and the actions we're talking about are defined as sinful. Plus there's that whole inconvenient 6th ... err...7th [I knew I should have looked that one up] commandment, which contains no wiggle room for people loving each other. Nor do philosophers trump Jesus saying, "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart". Your Living Bible (nothing means what it says it means but is open to endless interpretation) doctrine isn't flying.

What we're talking about is jokes and posters on the wall. That might apply to Jesus' comment that lusting in your heart is a sin; but if so, we must take on board also his admonition against judgment in precisely these cases.

Nice attempt at tu quoque, but that dog won't hunt either. Two sins don't make the original one right :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 05:40 PM

"Two sins..."

True, but three rights do make a left.

Posted by: Allen at April 9, 2013 06:51 PM

Nothin' but net :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2013 08:20 PM

Maybe they think they need different chains.

It may be that the biggest difference between my view of the plight of women in the middle ages and yours has to do with our differing perceptions of the extent to which they could be said to have chosen their chains, rather than having had them imposed. I have no problem with any chains another person elects to place on himself, as long as the chains don't automatically apply to me as well just because we share a trait, whether it's a double-x chromosome, a hair color, or anything else.

In the case of the medieval women, though, it strikes me that the restrictions were not entirely self-imposed, and that the guys doing the enforcing were not very concerned with whether their efforts were welcomed as an aid to the women's self-discipline.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 10, 2013 12:08 AM

Elise -- an obit posted by family members might naturally take emphasizing fond personal memories, to be followed later by more formal recognition of professional attainments. It's odder to see that approach in a NY Times obit, which is usually more like a news item. There, I'd at least expect to see "Jane Smith, Nobel Prize Winner who, etc. Friends and family perhaps remember her better for the summers she spent with her 25 grandchildren, teaching them to sail, and for her legendary tomato patch and banjo skills."

I'd be surprised if it occurred to the NY Times to adopt the chatty personal approach in an introduction to the obit of a prominent man, but maybe they do that all the time now and I just haven't noticed the change in fashion. Or maybe the NY Times went with the family's preference rather than impose their own more usual style in this case. In most local newspapers, the family's version is run verbatim, but I thought the NY Times insisted on its own thing for those relatively rare cases where it agrees to do an obit at all.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 10, 2013 12:17 AM

I have to say that the strogonoff thing didn't really bother me for some reason.

Perhaps I was so amused and entertained by seeing the Times subjected to the full monty treatment usually reserved for those nasty, bigoted Rethugs whose slightest utterance or word choice is taken to reveal deep, psychological pathologies and Hatred of The Other that I couldn't help but laugh.

I do think the critics had a point, but to me the even stronger point was that the media has spent so much time and energy scrutinizing the remarks of conservative politicos and whipping up hate and discontent amongst the proletariat that said proletariat are now holding the press to the [difficult to live up to] standard they set for conservatives.

It's even funnier when you see the same thing happen to Obama, because he has made a career of demonizing Republicans for things he does all the time (and expects to get a free pass for).

Be careful what you wish for! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2013 02:55 AM

It's not bold at all. None of this is germane to the fact that the Vatican came down where they came down...

It is germane, because I'm not sure you understand just where they did come down. The Church believes in freedom of conscience, and really believes in it. The arguments are there, if you know where to look, and you are free -- indeed you are invited -- to evaluate them and consider them anew. The right thing to do is to engage the philosophical tradition behind the words in a prayerful way. The wrong thing to do is to treat the words as if they are carvings in stone that mean whatever they seem to mean on the surface.

I could try it at my next confession, but I'm pretty sure that if I told my priest that I had once enjoyed the company of men who told jokes that were sexual in nature, he'd tell me that didn't really qualify as a sin. Sin has to do with what removes you from the presence of God. Insofar as you are making each other joyful, in an environment that is loving, you are as much in the presence of God as we know how to be. We look for God in each other.

That's what is at issue. It's not the words in the catechism, but how they are understood.

Nice attempt at tu quoque, but that dog won't hunt either.

This is not a tu quoque, it's a genuine problem. We have to take that issue on board in order to understand what Jesus is saying. If it were as easy as saying, "We are right, you are wrong, you're a sinner, we'll enforce a standard," we'd be in the same camp as the people ready to stone the adulteress. They thought they were right, and she was wrong. What's interesting is that they were just as wrong.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 03:24 AM

Tex:

In the case of the medieval women, though, it strikes me that the restrictions were not entirely self-imposed, and that the guys doing the enforcing were not very concerned with whether their efforts were welcomed as an aid to the women's self-discipline.

The context of our previous discussion was those women who were being helped by Meister Eckhart and others to set up their own lay orders. Now in that way, they were doing exactly what you say here: they were establishing their own rules, having sought his advice but freely.

We're none of us quite free to establish all of our own rules, perhaps sadly; but they were being treated as free to establish rules of their own in the 1300s. If they had instead chosen to live within existing institutions -- marriage, say, or an existing and genuinely religious order -- they would have had to abide by those rules. But this too would, in a way, be freely chosen. In marriage one doesn't just volunteer for the restrictions, one gets to pick a partner whose sense of those restrictions aligns with yours.

Were women free to choose their marital partners, you might ask? The answer seems to be yes, after about 1000 in Spain and spreading north.

A worthy text -- late 1300s, so the right time for Eckhart -- is "The Wife of Bath's Prologue." You'll see her doing just what I'm suggesting to Cass, above, that the Church invites us to do -- investigating the Bible in a prayerful way, and coming to her own mind about what the rules ought to be.

What sharp words, for the nonce,
Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,
Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:
'For thou hast had five husbands,' thus said He,
'And he whom thou hast now to be with thee
Is not thine husband.' Thus He said that day,
But what He meant thereby I cannot say;
And I would ask now why that same fifth man
Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have, then, in marriage?
For I have never heard, in all my age,
Clear exposition of this number shown,
Though men may guess and argue up and down.
But well I know and say, and do not lie,
God bade us to increase and multiply;
That worthy text can I well understand.
And well I know He said, too, my husband
Should father leave, and mother, and cleave to me;
But no specific number mentioned He...

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 03:36 AM

It is germane, because I'm not sure you understand just where they did come down.

Oh, I understand quite well. I don't think you understand it, though. Or at least you want with all your heart to convince yourself that it's OK for people to commit sins so long as they enjoy it.

The Church believes in freedom of conscience, and really believes in it. The arguments are there, if you know where to look, and you are free -- indeed you are invited -- to evaluate them and consider them anew. The right thing to do is to engage the philosophical tradition behind the words in a prayerful way. The wrong thing to do is to treat the words as if they are carvings in stone that mean whatever they seem to mean on the surface.

Says who? You? What qualifies you to interpret Church doctrine for me - especially in a way that conflicts with pretty much everything the church teaches (or Jesus said, for that matter)?

Are we talking about God's philosophical tradition, Grim? Or yours? Or Aristotle's, that known church father? FWIW I do know where to look, and the Catholic teaching on freedom of conscience clearly states that God's laws (not humanist post hoc rationalization) are the foundation of conscience.

I could try it at my next confession, but I'm pretty sure that if I told my priest that I had once enjoyed the company of men who told jokes that were sexual in nature, he'd tell me that didn't really qualify as a sin. Sin has to do with what removes you from the presence of God. Insofar as you are making each other joyful, in an environment that is loving, you are as much in the presence of God as we know how to be. We look for God in each other.

First of all, no one is arguing that enjoying the company of men who tell dirty jokes is a sin, so that's the mother of all straw man arguments. I really, really wish you would respond to the points I have made and not to ones you have invented.

What we have been arguing about is whether the Church considers posting sexually explicit "decorations" to be sinful. And there's really no question that it does. Moving the goalposts to a far less serious act (and also moving the focus from their conduct to yours) is a tactic that makes it nearly impossible to have a discussion. I take the time to respond to your points, and you ignore mine, throw out a straw man, and then demolish it.

That's not a discussion, Grim.

Finally, what one individual priest tells you (assuming he would respond as you say he would) does nothing to change the fact that the official doctrine of the Church is quite clear on this matter. Your priest may (like your S-3), choose to openly flout the teachings of the Church he belongs to. That doesn't change the Church's position any more than your S-3 choosing to ignore provisions he doesn't care for changed the content of General Order 1.

I can admit that I have done things that are wrong and sinful. What I don't understand is why you seem unable to admit that acts the Church *clearly and unequivocally* says are wrong and sinful - grave offenses, as a matter of fact are wrong in the Church's eyes. No one's attacking you, and no one's attacking these men.

We're discussing actions, not men. And that's my last word on this to you because we're not moving the ball forward here.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2013 05:08 AM

Or at least you want with all your heart to convince yourself that it's OK for people to commit sins so long as they enjoy it.... so that's the mother of all straw man arguments. I really, really wish you would respond to the points I have made and not to ones you have invented.

Your straw men are pretty impressive, actually. I haven't argued that your enjoyment of sin might be make it OK to commit sin. What I've argued about is acts of love -- which is to say that your enjoyment is not really relevant. The fact that it helps your companions was the point I was making. You're the one who has consistently conflated my arguments about love for another with someone's personal enjoyment.

I don't think you understand it, though.... What qualifies you to interpret Church doctrine for me - especially in a way that conflicts with pretty much everything the church teaches (or Jesus said, for that matter)?

Since I was just mentioning Eckhart, in his defense to charges of heresy he said that he could be in error, but not a heretic, because heresy is an act of the will. He did his best to interpret Church doctrine, and scripture, and if he was wrong he was prepared to be corrected.

But I'm not interpreting Church doctrine for you, but for myself. Freedom of conscience doesn't permit me to tell you what's right, but to decide for myself. I claim no right to do that. I'm just telling you what I think.

Sins are sinful and the actions we're talking about are defined as sinful. Plus there's that whole inconvenient 6th ... err...7th [I knew I should have looked that one up] commandment, which contains no wiggle room for people loving each other. Nor do philosophers trump Jesus saying, "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart". Your Living Bible (nothing means what it says it means but is open to endless interpretation) doctrine isn't flying.

I've not argued that anyone isn't sinning. What I said was that there was a sense in which we're always wrong, so we're wrong here as we're wrong everywhere. But there's another sense in which you can be as right as you can be, and that involves learning to love each other.

Jesus spoke about commandments, too: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Mt. 22:35-40)

If all the law hangs from that, then it is right to interpret all the law in that light. That doesn't mean you can avoid sin, but that you will live as well as you can if you live in love. You still need forgiveness -- for looking, for lusting, for laughing, for actually committing adultery, or for being ready to throw stones at those who have when you aren't without sin yourself. Love fulfills the law, and love is how we ought to interpret the law.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 07:15 AM

And that's my last word on this to you because we're not moving the ball forward here.

Fair enough. It's an old debate -- there's no reason to think it will be resolved this afternoon. Martin Luther wrote about it, speaking of Protestants -- I always thought it was one of his best moments. (See paragraph 13.)

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 07:30 AM

Grim, go back and read your prior comments. I talked about wrong ACTS and you continually countered with "But they're not bad people" even though I stipulated at the very beginning that that was so.

The one doesn't imply the other.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2013 07:59 AM

I did say that these were some of the best men that there are, but I've been trying to defend actions as well as people. I think that the act of taking care of each other -- by, for example, helping each other blow off steam in a tense environment -- is a good action.

The fact that a good action can also be a sin is (I started by saying) the reason for confession. It may be surprising to think that such an action could be both good and sinful, but we can name actions like this: stealing, if it were the only way to feed a starving child, would be both wrong (stealing is a sin) and right (an act of love for the child). Willing not to steal, though it meant the child starving, would be both right (avoiding the temptation to steal) and wrong (loving yourself, and in particular your sinlessness, above the child's life).

Drunkeness is a sin; but getting drunk with your friends once in a while, if allows them to express pains they wouldn't be able to talk about when sober, can be good. You still get the hangover, and you still need to confess the sin. But the action is both right and wrong. It's really wrong! But it's also really right: it's just the kind of thing we ought to do for each other, even though it's a sin. It's a violation of God's will in one way, and yet in another way, it is the fulfillment of his will.

That's my point about the actions.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 08:31 AM

OK, that's the first time I got anything like that from reading what you've been saying.

I'm not quite sold on the notion that posting sexually explicit stuff in the workplace is the best (or only, or even a particularly good) way to "blow off steam", as you so quaintly but it :p I'm not sold on that being the motivation, either. But guys do a lot of stuff that seems very weird to me and frankly I long ago stopped trying to make sense of that whole deal.

But I think you've glossed over some of the damage to a marriage that can come from that sort of work atmosphere. Temptation is hard enough at the best of times - it's harder if you spent a lot of time dwelling on what you can't have or surround yourself with people who pull you in the wrong direction. To use a non-sexual example (b/c it's less controversial), when my oldest son was up here in DC, his department socialized a lot after work.

They weren't doing anything wrong in any sense of the word and he and sometimes his wife used to drive in to DC when the group went out to bars.

But most of the cops were single (and a lot of his co-workers were female) and his friends didn't really understand wanting to have your wife with you on the weekend, or why it might not be the greatest thing for your marriage to pal around with a bunch of single folks in bars until 1 or 2 am. They were young and they weren't mean to my DIL, but they didn't exactly go out their way to befriend her or make her welcome, either.

After interviewing with the dept. he now works for in Georgia, he told me that he was happy that most of the cops there were married and had children. Their wives were friendly with each other and social gatherings included families most of the time. And that's fine - I think it's good to go out with the guys or gals occasionally too. I always encouraged the Spousal Unit to attend office happy hours. If I showed up, I did so later to allow him some time to relax with other Marines.

My son enjoyed his friends up here, but he was also aware that the mismatch in lifestyles and some of the flirty atmosphere was putting a bit of strain on his marriage. It was one of those "wow" moments when you think, "Dang - he is a man now, and a very fine one, too."

People, and especially young people, are very vulnerable to peer pressure. I knew plenty of wives who hung out in bars during deployments, flirting with guys, drinking way too much, yada yada yada. It was like high school or college again.

And I'm about 99% sure I could have gone out with them regularly without ever violating my marriage vows or doing anything I would be ashamed to admit to my husband when he got back. But it wasn't just about me anymore. I was married, and so I needed to consider both the effect on my husband and the effect on my own attitudes.

There's a great phrase I've heard on one or two family radio shows - it talks about guarding your heart against threats to your marriage. It's not just your heart that needs guarding, though. That extends below the waist as well. I've had to comfort more than one young wife who found her husband came back from even non-combat deployments with some very warped expectations and attitudes that caused great pain and damage to their relationship.

There but for the grace of God go I. We no longer seem to understand or respect just how easy it is to go wrong. I know myself well enough to know where the line should be drawn, and I've got better self control than most. And I've seen too many otherwise good people screw up their marriages to think there's no danger and it's all sweetness and butterflies and unicorns.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2013 09:32 AM

I guess it was worth going one more round after all. :) Good! I'm glad that this time I was able to make my point in a way that was clearer.

Your example doesn't strike me as problematic, but as wise. I do note, though, that it's an example of almost the inverse case: Instead of being a case in which you do something that is a sin because it is also a good action, it's a case in which you are not doing a thing that isn't even a sin in order to avoid temptations toward sin.

In many cases, of course, that's just the right thing to do! Your son is quite right. I find my life is always better with my wife around, anyway. I depend on her more than I mean to do, because she is strong and good in places where I am not. I expect, though, that she would say the same, so perhaps it is fair after all.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 02:04 PM

I guess it was worth going one more round after all. :) Good! I'm glad that this time I was able to make my point in a way that was clearer.

And I appreciate your willingness to keep slugging away :p

I have a thick skull, but mostly these days I have the attention span of a hyperactive pygmy gnat. Too much to do, too little time to do it in.

Hopefully I'll get a post up tonite or tomorrow. Thanks for hanging in there!

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2013 04:34 PM

Your example doesn't strike me as problematic, but as wise. I do note, though, that it's an example of almost the inverse case: Instead of being a case in which you do something that is a sin because it is also a good action, it's a case in which you are not doing a thing that isn't even a sin in order to avoid temptations toward sin.

That was "on porpoise", as my oldest used to say when he was small :p

I wanted to get away from sin because I'm not really comfortable discussing my own issues much less discussing things other people do that I don't care for. It's not a comfortable place to be, but then I also think we lost something when we became persuaded that judging an act to be good/bad was somehow the same as judging an actor (person) as good/bad.

That idea has a lot to do with why I don't attend church regularly. I liked that it made me confront the existence of a higher standard than the world urges on us. But I didn't like realizing how woefully short I fall short of that standard, or how unwilling I can be even at my age to suck it up and do what I know is right.

We're not talking big things, mostly. It's the small ones that accumulate. Oh well, enough navel gazing...

Back on my head, as Herr Brouhaha is wont to say :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2013 04:42 PM

The context of our previous discussion was those women who were being helped by Meister Eckhart and others to set up their own lay orders.

I don't think I realized that's what we were talking about. I thought we were talking about the routine denial of basic rights to women in general during the Middle Ages. Maybe that's why we were talking past each other, if you thought we were talking only about women who were subjecting themselves to extraordinary disabilities as part of belonging to a religious order. I don't have any problem with how restricted women were in that special context. It's the ordinary women whose lives I wouldn't have wanted to be trapped in.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 10, 2013 08:29 PM

Well, a lay order. There was at the time a significant rise in women who wanted to come together to live a structured life, in part because the wars had bled the society of many men. Thus, there were fewer potential husbands to choose from; but also, people took religion quite seriously at the time, and the idea of structuring your life accordingly was very attractive to many people (men and women). That is why there was such a flourishing of orders of various kinds in this era.

There wasn't really a concept of "rights" in the sense you mean it in the Middle Ages, neither for men nor for women. The closest thing you get are kind of corporate statuses -- for example, the status you get by becoming religious! And as you can see, there was a lot of opportunity to change your corporate status: you could move to a town and become free, or you could move to Spain and become a knight simply by showing up with a horse and being willing to fight the Muslims. You could join or found an order, and if you were setting one up (as these women were), you had substantial freedom to set the rules.

That entitled you to privileges, which were somewhat like rights in that you had a legally enforceable right to them, but not quite like rights, because you had to perform the service to get the privileges.

Historian Sidney Painter has written about how the decoupling of feudal rights (i.e., privileges) became the rights of Englishmen (i.e., rights in our sense to which all Englishmen were entitled). You may prefer the modern concept, which certainly has advantages. But it has disadvantages, too, especially when coupled with democratic tendencies to find "rights" to positive benefits. I'm not sure the model is really sustainable.

One reason to prefer a system like the old way is that it tied your rights to some function you perform for the benefit of society. A religious order is a good thing: it benefits the whole society in many ways. The protectors of the realm have certain rights tied to the fact that they sacrifice of themselves for the defense of the realm. The tradesman who is free of his guild has his rights because he is doing something very useful for the whole society.

There's something good about that. It's similar to the positive contribution of capitalism, which promotes the useful so that they have more privileges -- because they can pay for them -- than those who do not find a way to be useful to others. That's just what our society's current ideas about rights is undermining, of course. I think we agree about that, more or less.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 09:30 PM

It occurs to me, though, that this is a separate topic from the issues Cass was raising. Maybe we should move it to the Hall, if you want to discuss it again. My interest in the question is chiefly about what comes after the collapse we as a society seem to be intent on steering towards. We probably want to retain some notion of basic rights, but we might want to limit it to the most basic ones (for example, only ones that impose any obligation on others to provide them for you).

The rest maybe has to be earned. Capitalism is one way to do that, and service in some of these other kinds of institutions -- religious orders, the military, and so fort -- is another. I think that's one lesson we can perhaps learn from our ancestors.

Posted by: Grim at April 10, 2013 09:40 PM

There wasn't really a concept of "rights" in the sense you mean it in the Middle Ages, neither for men nor for women.

No doubt! But there definitely was a concept of being more or less repressed depending on which caste you were unlucky enough to be trapped in. So maybe men didn't have any rights, but somehow they still managed to have a heck of a lot more of them than women did.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 11, 2013 10:46 PM

That depends on what you mean by repressed. Insofar as you choose your own rules, you may be less repressed that someone who hasn't the power. So a question worth asking might be whether men or women found it easier to change their station -- to join a lay order, or a religious order, or to move to town, or become an innkeeper (these are surprisingly often female in the histories, for reasons I don't quite understand, but it isn't treated as exceptional whenever it comes up -- here's a wonderful song that mentions one such case, and though it's a bit late at the 17th century I'm including it because I think you'll like it), or what have you.

One thing you'll find in the history is that men have more formal duties in the law -- indeed, such legal duties attach almost exclusively to men -- which often makes them less free to move. Now that means more privileges, too, because privileges and duties were linked. But it also means less freedom in the absolute sense: choosing a different set of rules might be less often available.

It's an interesting field. I've mentioned before that I think even most of the work in the field may be being done by women now, who are interested in these questions. I expect that we will see over time a very large revision in our understanding of these issues, as indeed we have begun to do already in the academic journals. The appreciation of the volume of women's writings in the Middle Ages has not yet filtered down to popular histories, but there's quite a literature developing on it. The popular sense, I think, is that women writers were exceptional in the Middle Ages (and safe to ignore, excepting a few special cases); the new sense will be that women produced a vast literature, but to and for each other. These worlds that women created for themselves, in literature and things like lay orders, were their real world. In the freedom to create their own world and its rules, there's a freedom we often don't see with the men. The men defined rules for each other, but rarely were free to write rules for themselves.

Posted by: Grim at April 11, 2013 11:15 PM

It may be possible to argue that men were burdened with more duties than women were. It wouldn't change my argument. It's hard to see how it would be relevant unless women were eligible to shoulder the same duties but shirked them, which clearly wasn't the case. (For the same reason, it's irrelevant that men weren't burdened with the duty to risk death in childbirth.)

I'm not totally clear, either, on the notion that the repressions visited on women could be escaped by voluntary means. It would have been a cold comfort to someone who had even fewer non-rights than her right-less male companion -- regarding property, ability to testify in court, ability to earn a living, ability to hold public office, ability to avoid being beheaded for infidelity while her husband was exposed no such risk, etc. -- to learn that she could escape the consequences of some of these disabilities by joining a very strict and repressive religious community.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 13, 2013 12:41 PM

...regarding property, ability to testify in court, ability to earn a living, ability to hold public office, ability to avoid being beheaded for infidelity while her husband was exposed no such risk, etc...

I'm tempted to write a long post exploring counter-examples to these disabilities: women very often did own property (and not just as widows, but see the innkeepers mentioned above), earned a fine living independently (and not just innkeepers), were capable of testimony (there are some highly interesting examples), etc. I'm not aware of the case you are thinking of in terms of beheadings (though ancient law often made adultery a capital crime, theoretically for both parties, Medieval English law only did so in the case of the queen because it threw the succession into doubt, which could lead to civil war).

But on the other hand, that's not really your point, so I won't do it. Your point is that women had it worse regardless: on any system, you could find some way in which they got the short end of the stick. What I guess I'm arguing in return is that this is true only on the assumption that what it means to get the short end of the stick has to do with these public offices (being Sheriff of Nottingham or the Guildmaster or whatever). If it is measured in terms of having some capacity to order your own life the way you want it, I'm not sure that it's really true at all. Women seem to have had a vast power in the private space, where they lived and breathed.

The last time we discussed this I pointed to the strong female opposition to suffrage for women in the 19th century. It was often opposed by women who thought it would undermine their mastery of the private space to have public concerns. Now, we tend to treat that argument dismissively -- which is to say that we tend to dismiss the concerns of the women, often in terms of 'false consciousness' or some similar manner. But for a moment entertain the suggestion that they were right: that there was something valuable they were protecting, a status that they felt was a privilege worth preserving over and above the right to vote.

Now, you of course have every right to think they were idiots to believe that. All I am saying is that I think they really did believe it. And if that attitude was the traditional attitude, the one the modern age was disrupting in the 19th century, it's just as easy to believe that women before them tended to believe it. If that is what they believed, then codes that gave men more public responsibilities (and therefore privileges) are reflective of the desires of both men and women in that period.

That probably sounds like a radical view, but at the very least it is a view that treats the women of the period with respect. I don't think you can encounter them in their writings without seeing them as strong, proud, and vibrant -- very much the kind of woman that you are yourself. I believe the world was of their making too, because they wouldn't have settled for anything else, no more than you would.

Posted by: Grim at April 13, 2013 07:04 PM

It's possible to treat women with respect without blinding ourselves to the fact that they had no choice but to remain within the sphere in which you believe they found "vast power" or where they "lived and breathed." You assume that the good thing about their situation was that they could order their lives the way they wanted. That's exactly what they couldn't do. No assumption on the part of other people (men of their their, or men and women of other times) that they were better off where they were stuck can change the fact that they were stuck there. When that happens to men it's known as demeaning. I can't accept that when it happens to women it's so benevolent that we can't even bring ourselves to recognize it for what it was: a cage, and not a voluntary one.

Posted by: Texan99 at April 14, 2013 01:09 AM

I'm not arguing that there was a great deal of freedom to move from status to status in the Middle Ages, not for anyone at all. Often choices were irrevocable, as for example in final religious vows, or marriages that really were until death. Other times that wasn't true, but in general there was less alteration of social position for everyone than today. There are a few places, like Spain during the Reconquest, where there is a very exciting degree of freedom on offer; there are other places, like the Holy Roman Empire, where there are so many competing sets of rules that if you could just arrange to move you could almost select for yourself the rules you wanted. Social mobility was greatest for those who had the most to gain, too: freedom from slavery, a trade from being without one, and so forth. The less you had, the less you had to risk, which made the options more available.

What I'm arguing is that what you see as a cage was often seen by others before you as a castle. Medieval gardens had walls, and within the walls the space was carefully ordered to maximize both beauty and function. I think -- I do honestly think -- that medieval women often viewed the private space in just the same way. We don't tend to like walls around our gardens, but want to be free to pass from space to space, and cast our eyes from our garden to the trees and mountains on the horizon. But they liked walls. They liked to shut out a world that was often chaotic and violent, and to have a space that was protected, and where their will could rule and order things as they wished it.

I think that is what the women were protecting even as late as the 19th century. Seeing them as caged slaves is to misunderstand the case, I believe. They helped to build the walls, and they defended the walls like soldiers. That is not to say that castle walls couldn't become prison walls, as indeed they did literally for many people in the period -- not just women, either. But the fact that this happened did not stop them from wanting castles.

Posted by: Grim at April 14, 2013 09:33 AM

Pardon me; I don't think the first paragraph was very clear. I did say that it was worth asking whether men or women were freer to change their station, which I think is an open question (and indeed, I think there are different answers to it at different times and places). But it's a way of inquiring into how free people were.

However, I meant to say here, it's surely true that no one was as free to do so as we are now. The mechanisms we might look to often allowed you to make a choice, but the choice was for life -- yours or, at least, your partner's.

Separately, then, I think we ought to look at how free people were to construct their own duties and the order of their personal lives. And that is where I think the private space may have been a space of freedom much akin to a Medieval garden.

Posted by: Grim at April 14, 2013 10:00 AM

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