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September 17, 2013

Feeeeeeeeeelings (Whoa, whoa, whoa)

OK, so we started this post last night and then pasted something new over it. The Editorial Staff have been thinking that it has been too long since we've stunned the assembled villainry senseless with a rambling post about our feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings.

Admit it, people: you have been sad about this, n'est pas?

Fortunately for you, the admirable Texan99 Grim has started an interesting discussion over at that manly abode known as The Hall. He links to an essay by Sarah Hoyt, and comments:

She manages to articulate something that I hadn't quite sorted out until I read it, which is contained here:
And yes, boys can be taught to act weak and much like the sob sisters. The problem is they aren’t. Not even when they’re raised to act that way. The end result is that they don’t know how to express their strength and they’ve never been taught to modulate it. Men who have only been taught to “act sensitive” but have no other discipline, no other moral, no other idea of what it means to be a man, will in fact hoist the pirate flag. Whenever a memoir surfaces from the sixties, the thing that always strikes me is how these men who were considered champions of women were in fact nasty little petulant creatures, taking advantage as much as possible. Say, the story of Ayers raping a girl and then making her sleep with someone she had no interest in, by bullying her with the idea that not to do so would be unenlightened.

This may well be true of some men, but the Editorial Staff have always seen the phenomenon slightly differently. Our quarrel with this formulation is that it rather makes it sound as though those horrid feminists and their unleavened sensitivity training are somehow causing men to treat women badly: that "acting sensitive" somehow leads to being selfish and manipulative. If this is so, we should expect there to be no real history of men abusing women (or raping them) before Betty Friedan and her testicle-shriveling ways came along to harsh the collective mellows of real, manly men.

But clearly that's not right. Though men like Ayers obviously exist, the stereotype that comes to mind when we think, "rapist" or "woman abuser" is anything but sensitive or enlightened. If Hoyt's criticism of teaching young men to be sensitive is correct (it's necessary, but not sufficient to produce men who treat women with respect), how can we not recognize that teaching young men to be overtly masculine (Is manly the opposite of sensitive? I don't think so) is likewise necessary - but not sufficient - to produce good men who treat women well.

Unleavened by self discipline, respect for others, and a strong moral code, both views of "how men really are/should behave" are problematic. Neither the politically correct aggression of radical feminism gone awry or the more direct/open aggression typical of raw, untempered masculinity is socially desirable. For civilization to endure, aggression (a valuable survival trait) must be channeled.

The same is true of women's traditional strengths. Used in the wrong way, our natural gifts can be enormously destructive. Thus, we teach our daughters not to use their verbal skills to bully or belittle others. Traditional culture encourages girls to use their innate sensitivity to resolve conflicts and strengthen family and societal bonds, not to emotionally manipulate others for selfish gain.

The danger of raising boys to be knockoff versions of girls is twofold. First, it leaves them defenseless against the natural aggression that comes with being a person of the testosterone-having persuasion. Having raised two sons, we've always been slightly amazed to hear so many conservatives describe men as inherently unemotional and rational. Men absolutely can be these things, but they don't get there naturally. The original Star Trek TV series presented a great metaphor for the need for strong curbs on normal and natural male emotions like lust, anger, dominance, aggression: the Vulcan race. Vulcans were trained from birth to be coldly logical and restrained: to feel shame at expressing strong emotion... or any kind of emotion at all, really.

Sound familiar? But then there were the times when the mask of impassivity slipped and the audience saw what lay beneath their calm exterior. It turned out their reverence for logic and emotional stoicism was a learned adaptation with enormous survival value. It was anything but natural. So I have always believed is the case with traditional male culture - it's a strong curb precisely because a strong curb is sorely needed.

And why do we work so hard to cultivate empathy and submissiveness in women and girls? Could it possibly be because these strong checks on female human nature are just as necessary as are strong checks on male human nature? Is it possible that the reason Islam spends so much time wringing its hands about female sexuality is that it actually exists (and can cause problems)? Or that the reason Western society stigmatizes female promiscuity and worships mansluts is the kind of wretched excess we saw on VMA a few weeks ago? Successful cultures find constructive ways for men and women to express what biology, hormones, and our sex drives impel us to. But we keep confusing culturally approved channels with raw instincts. They're related (they're designed to be), but not identical.

What horrifies me about radical feminism is the thought of teaching boys and men that their perfectly natural emotions are evil; somehow unnatural. That feeling lust or aggression at all is shameful (or exploitative); that these feelings are caused by outdated gender norms or artificial and divisive labels rather than by human nature.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that's just plain dumb. But even worse, it leaves them with no constructive way to deal with powerful feelings that can drive us all into decisions we'll later regret. Thinking those feelings are external, they drop their guard and never develop the self control and conscience needed to keep those feelings in check.

It's not any smarter to raise girls to think the only reason they are drawn to care for children and develop strong bonds with family members is warped social conditioning. To a greater or lesser degree, most women really do value the relationships in our lives over work. I love my career, but I can't imagine sacrificing my marriage for it.

I don't need to. I just need to accept that every choice has inherent costs and tradeoffs associated with it.

Like Grim, I'm deeply suspicious of attempts to elevate nature over nurture. Little of our modern world is natural: civilization is artifice. That cultural scaffolding can strengthen us or leave us at the mercy of our appetites. I suppose I just wish we could find a way to allow men and women the freedom to find their own balance without trying to force both sexes into a cage match fought from within a single, one-size-fits all straightjacket.

I don't really care whether a person is a good man or a good woman. Hormones have a way of making their presence known. I want a society full of good people, some of whom are male and some are female. And some are transgendered Arctic wolverines, because I'm inclusive like that. I'm pretty sure we need more support from the surrounding culture than we're getting now. Grim concludes his post by observing:

The young women, I think, will work themselves out in time.

The young men need to come back in under the weight of the -- well, 'patriarchy' isn't quite right. The Brotherhood. They need to fall back in under the mastery of better men than they are, so they might become brothers and better men themselves. The best of their nature does not come naturally. It is a product of long and ancient art.

I tend to agree with his prescription for young men, but I'm not as hopeful about young women figuring it all out by themselves because I'm not sure women are innately better than men. Culture shapes us both because we need shaping to become our best selves.

Still, I'm not convinced that the world will never be a good place until girls stick to their gender-appropriate Easy Bake ovens and boys play with Erector sets. Time for the grownups to butt out and let the kids choose their own toys. Morality is a different matter - that's a big wheel for each new generation to invent from scratch.

Posted by Cassandra at September 17, 2013 07:37 PM

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Comments

Yikes. How did I misread who wrote that post?

Sorry Grim - corrected now. I must have been punchier than I thought this morning.

Posted by: Cass at September 18, 2013 03:04 PM

I read that essay and something seemed both very right and very wrong about it that I still can't put my finger on.

The general gist on what is right, for me, is that one should not possess a tool one does not know how to use. There is very little more dangerous than that situation.

If you don't know how to use a circular saw, please don't pick it up anywhere around me. And when we are talking about bandsaws, chisels, sledgehammers and such one does have a choice about keeping them around. But when we are talking about the tendency for men to possess physical strength, speed, anger (even rage), competitiveness, and agression, and such, one doesn't really have the option to get rid of them. They are there, bolted into your body and soul.

It is incumbent then to teach our boys (and our girls) how to use, when to use, and for what purpose to use, these tools. To do otherwise is dangerous.

On the sensitivity side, it does seem a little like Hoyt is overselling the perils. At the same time, I'm thinking that "sensitivity" doesn't always mean the same thing.

That is one can teach sensitivity by corralling those other traits into the proper places or by trying to override them completely. If we think of physical strength and agression as a river, the first creates a lake with a well defined shore where the water can be contained to it's proper place and life can bloom and the nuturing of the land can be taught. The latter creates a flood destroying everything in it's path.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2013 04:40 PM

On the sensitivity side, it does seem a little like Hoyt is overselling the perils. At the same time, I'm thinking that "sensitivity" doesn't always mean the same thing.

I worked very hard to cultivate sensitivity in my sons. But I didn't teach them they needed to treat girls (or anyone in particular) with greater sensitivity - I just tried to teach them not to be self-absorbed jerks. That's a lesson a lot of girls could use too, frankly. I've never seen a whole lot of evidence that girls are any "nicer" than boys by nature.

That is one can teach sensitivity by corralling those other traits into the proper places or by trying to override them completely. If we think of physical strength and agression as a river, the first creates a lake with a well defined shore where the water can be contained to it's proper place and life can bloom and the nuturing of the land can be taught. The latter creates a flood destroying everything in it's path.

That latter is, I think, what I was grapping with - that you don't want to cause boys to deny their emotions (how is that better than the 'old way'). What they need is to recognize them and deal with them appropriately.

Same with other people' feelings.

We definitely socialize girls (or at least we used to) to be ashamed or feel guilty about aggression or competitiveness/ambition. I still HATE to get into any competitive situation with another woman. If I win, I feel even worse: like I've done something wrong or selfish. My Mom hates admitting that she's angry, even when she has reason to be.

To me, most of raising kids is teaching them basic situational awareness and consideration for other people. Taking turns, reciprocity, the Golden Rule. That sort of thing.

And a lot of reminding them the world doesn't revolve around them.

Posted by: Cass at September 18, 2013 05:15 PM

That latter is, I think, what I was grapping with - that you don't want to cause boys to deny their emotions (how is that better than the 'old way').

And in that, I think Hoyt has it right. Trying to teach out agressiveness, competitiveness, and anger out of men is destructive.

But, I think Hoyt has maybe gone to far in thinking that men don't need to be taught sensitivity. It's just that those things must be taught alongside each other and that male sensitivity will necessarily be different from female sensitivity.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2013 06:26 PM

...the stereotype that comes to mind when we think, "rapist" or "woman abuser" is anything but sensitive or enlightened.

I don't think she believes that the rapists are actually enlightened, but that their sensitivity ends up being rather sociopathic. Lacking the firm moral code, sensitivity to someone else's emotions is a great tool for sleazy manipulators.

But what I thought she got wrong -- I think she has written a pretty good piece overall -- was in universalizing her claim that men have a strong, long-bred anti-rape foundation. That's actually only true in some cultures, especially Western culture. It's not true, say, in Asia.

In fact, absolutely the most shocking thing to me about living in China was how women were treated. I, like Hoyt I suppose, had believed that a certain amount of male chivalry toward women was human nature. I learned that nothing could be further from the truth: chivalry toward women is a product of Western high culture, not human nature.

I tend to agree with his prescription for young men, but I'm not as hopeful about young women figuring it all out by themselves because I'm not sure women are innately better than men.

It isn't my claim that they are better innately! My claim is that these young women I was talking about are doing some hard work quite earnestly, and I expect it to pay off for them in actual enlightenment later.

What I mean is that they're going to figure out the truth about their history sooner or later, because they're working so hard on it. It only hasn't happened yet because their framing mythology for what they learn is very strong. But as they find absolutely endless examples contradicting the assumptions of the mythology, at some point their own earnestness and devotion to the method of history is going to force them to overturn that mythology.

You can see signs of it already. I've published links to a few good articles lately, which sometimes even push back against orthodoxies in medievalist feminism. Some still don't quite realize the implications of their work:

"It is intrinsic to the study of women in the later Medieval period that all sources available be utilised to graft a picture of the way women were able to lead their lives within the proscribed bounds of a dominantly paternalistic society, and many woman of the upper nobility such as the aforementioned women were able to manoeuvre independently, and while never completely free of influence from male family members, household members, or other leading members of the upper nobility if not royalty, such women were able to adequately govern their own property in their own right, make their own decisions both concerning their households and from where they would be run (if they had a large amount of land scattered over a great area), and sufficiently determine how best to extract the largest amount of profit from their holdings."

In other words, 100% of the women studied were able to craft nearly-complete exceptions for themselves from the assumed "dominantly paternalistic" rule. That's surprising... if our assumption about what the rules were is right.

There are legions of examples of articles like this, written by very earnest and hard-working young female scholars who are applying that method: "to graft a picture of the way women were able to lead their lives within the proscribed bounds of a dominantly paternalistic society." The picture is getting bigger and fuller all the time. This article is about four Irish aristocrats, and she assumes the reason they were able to be surprisingly free is that they were aristocrats. I could show you another one about women from the criminal class in France -- in fact I posted it at the Hall recently if you want to read it. I could show you another one about middle-class Englishwomen. I posted one recently about marriage and kidnapping that is also on point: many times the 'kidnap victim' who had been 'ravished' from her family told the court that she wanted to stay with her kidnapper and even marry him, and -- though the law didn't require the court to follow her wishes -- the courts did what the victims asked.

There are dozens of these, more all the time, finding another surprising exception to the assumed rules and theorizing about why that one (or those few) people could get away with it. If this is what you're looking for, it turns out to be everywhere you look.

Someday, someday when the time is right, one of them is going to put it all together. She's going to be famous, and probably not just among historians because it's going to be a thunderbolt to the academy. But if she does it right, her position will be nearly unassailable because it will be based on far more extensive evidence than has ever been produced on the subject before.

Posted by: Grim at September 18, 2013 07:50 PM

I don't think she believes that the rapists are actually enlightened, but that their sensitivity ends up being rather sociopathic.

I've seen several studies purporting to show that sociopaths actually show exceeding high scores on empathy measures. Despite the "unfeeling" stereotype, they're actually very good at putting themselves in your shoes. It's how they know what to say and do to you to get the reaction they want. That's part of my problem with the PUA crowd. It's not that they're wrong about the way a large segment of women think, it's that they are using it for their own selfish gratification and not for fostering a deeper relationship with the woman.

And maybe to this extent Hoyt has a point. We have a substantial number of men who are good at reading emotions but then have an agressive nature they have not the first clue how to control. This is a recipe for failure. But this is perhaps part of my misgivings about her article as well. It isn't the only recipe for failure and so it comes off as being overly focused on this one error and unconcerned for the many other types.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 18, 2013 09:42 PM

In other words, 100% of the women studied were able to craft nearly-complete exceptions for themselves from the assumed "dominantly paternalistic" rule. That's surprising... if our assumption about what the rules were is right.

I believe you are correct that some women were able to make a space for themselves in the medieval world. The real question here is, how common was that?

That's really what we don't know. Saying that 100% of the women studied were able to do so tells us exactly what? What's our sample size, and is it a random sample?

It does tell us that some women were able to work the system, and even thrive in it. But we already knew that (or at least I did). It doesn't mean the system was just, or even good - only that it was possible for some women to lead a certain type of life. It doesn't even tell us, frankly, what these women could have done under a system that allowed them more freedom. The answer, quite possibly, is "exactly the same thing". But an equally plausible answer is that they would have made different choices, given different options.

The reason some of your female readers push back when you raise this point, as you have several times, is that it seems to me that you are essentially saying, "See? The old ways weren't so bad because I can find examples of exceptional women who were able to do X, or Y". And following closely on that lurks the notion that we should go back to the old way because it was better.

I don't think it says much about any system that exceptional people will find a way to thrive in it. Some people thrived under Saddam Hussein, too. They had riches and relative freedom... so long as they didn't challenge him. That didn't make it a good system, though. Certainly it wasn't for the people who got fed into plastic shredders feet first, or the ones who ended up in mass graves or Saddam's torture chambers.

As a rebuttal to the notion that women were uniformly unhappy and oppressed in Medieval times, I find this scholarship extremely valuable. Now if these scholars were to prove through study that these women were not at all exceptional (that their lives were broadly representative of all women in these times), that would be a very different matter. And we would still need to ask, "Well, OK, is a system where women have a far smaller bundle of natural rights a just or good one?" Is it one we'd like to live under, or was it perhaps suited to those times and conditions, but not suited to the modern world?

That begs a second question: "Who gets to pick the bundle of women's natural rights women the government will choose to recognize?"

Men alone? Or women and men together? Would you be content to allow only women to decide what natural rights of men the government will choose to recognize?

It seems to me that that's the Mother of All Dangerous Questions :p

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 07:48 AM

...maybe to this extent Hoyt has a point. We have a substantial number of men who are good at reading emotions but then have an agressive nature they have not the first clue how to control. This is a recipe for failure. But this is perhaps part of my misgivings about her article as well. It isn't the only recipe for failure and so it comes off as being overly focused on this one error and unconcerned for the many other types.

That's why I decided to write about this after all. I didn't have time to do it justice - this post was tossed off rather hurriedly, and I wish I'd had more time and space to think.

What I saw in her essay is the same thing I see in a lot of conservative-leaning punditry: it's actually very similar to a major theme of progressive ideology.

In this way of thinking we don't blame problems on the more problematic aspects of human nature, but on the fact that the current system is somehow "flawed" - it's "making" or encouraging people to do bad things. Fix the system, fix the problem.

It's true that incentives affect our decisions, but they're not the only (or even the strongest) factor at work.

Blaming the system for age old human problems cuts directly against centuries of mainstream conservative thought that recognized man's fallen nature - the idea that we humans are very much a mixed bag; a bundle of rather weak laudable instincts that must be encouraged and rewarded and very strong base instincts that must be suppressed, channeled, or punished.

She's right to say that men have many natural protective instincts wrt to women. Men do enjoy the tenderer aspects of romantic relationships - I've often thought that men are actually more romantic in some ways than women.

But men also have some natural instincts that are downright horrifying. Look at the themes that run though porn - they're not gentle, or kind, or respectful, or anything good. If there weren't something in the male psyche that finds the idea of dominating/debasing women - of treating them like things rather than people - immensely pleasing, there would be no market for "entertainment" themes like gang rape, torture, sexual slavery.

And yet there's a huge market for those things. They're not fringe activities - they're mainstream.

And we certainly wouldn't be seeing the kind of thing that goes in in India these days. Or in Ohio, recently. I'm not really buying that Evil Feminists caused those low life criminals to attack that poor young woman on a bus and brutilize her, or that too much sensitivity caused that nutjob in Ohio to kidnap and torture young women and hold them captive for years.

I have no problem recognizing that men can be naturally gentle. I see that every day. But we're fools to minimize the flip side of human nature - the one that makes some men brutal and angry and makes some women deceitful and devious and spiteful. Culture and morality developed to encourage our better angels and discourage the demons.

I agree with Hoyt that New Age, faux sensitivity alone doesn't work. But then neither does old school stoicism or masculinity, really. Both are thin veneers that serve little purpose if the underlying structure they cover is weak and rotted.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 08:09 AM

That's part of my problem with the PUA crowd. It's not that they're wrong about the way a large segment of women think, it's that they are using it for their own selfish gratification and not for fostering a deeper relationship with the woman.

Are they, though, "right about the way a large number of women think"?

What things do you think they're right about? Most of PUArtistry, to me, seems to be about emotional manipulation. I've never seen anything in the PUA genre that views women as actual, thinking beings. Instead we get idiotic phrases like "rationalization hamster" (as they proceed to rationalize the glorification of amoral and anti-social behavior).

From the urban dictionary:

The rationalization hamster is a legendary creature dwelling deep in the minds of the self-delusional, and is particularly common among young liberal women. From birth, the rationalization hamster enters a symbiotic relation with its host, whereby whenever the host feels a craving to do something completely insane and malicious that will have horrible consequences for everyone in the long run, the rationalization hamster will jump on its wheel and run really, really fast, getting the magical hamster wheel to spin out a long sheet of paper full of neat rationalizations for the ultimately devastating action.

It's hard to imagine a more apt description of the PUA crowd. They're not bad men! They're forced to lie, cheat, manipulate because those darned women won't marry them, stay skinny and hot even after having 20 kids and turning 50. Or they're forced to sleep around because alpha males are getting laid more often and they have to keep up.

No wait! They're forced to behave that way because women are essentially irrational beings who, if not kept firmly under male control, will destroy the planet!

No wait! They're forced to behave that way because of their cave man ancestors! Evo-psych! Hard wiring!

Riiiiiiiiiiight...

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 08:39 AM

As a rebuttal to the notion that women were uniformly unhappy and oppressed in Medieval times, I find this scholarship extremely valuable. Now if these scholars were to prove through study that these women were not at all exceptional (that their lives were broadly representative of all women in these times), that would be a very different matter.

That's one of the conclusions I expect them to reach in the fullness of time, when they begin to put together all of the research they are doing. Each of these cases can be treated as exceptional; at some point, though, if it turns out that what you are treating as exceptional is always or usually the case, you've misunderstood the rules.

Recently you wrote an excellent piece that concluded:

If one truly sees women as intelligent beings with agency, it seems patronizing to assume that we are helpless bits of flotsam drifting aimlessly in a flood tide of patriarchal oppression. Why not give women some credit for having enough smarts to figure out what matters most to us and go after it. I suspect that's what most men do, too.

I agree with that entirely. My only additional belief is that, when we're ready to put all this together, we'll have to conclude the very same things about women who lived 500 years ago too.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 09:33 AM

As for natural rights, the question isn't really one of 'more' or 'fewer' but of which ones they are and why. There is an expansive literature from the Medieval period on natural rights; reading just what Aquinas wrote about it is a substantial undertaking.

I would submit that the question that may matter most isn't how many there are, but what grounds their existence.

The justification of our concept used to be 'The Creator endowed us with them,' until arguments like that became disallowed by our political system.

So now what justifies them? Only some sort of formalism about the law and what processes are legitimate or not. That is dangerous for two reasons: for one, it offers no guarantee as to the content of your rights, so long as the processes were followed. For another, it makes the very existence of rights questionable if you have an administration or a legislature or a judiciary that begins to cut corners on process (e.g., like we do right now).

The medieval tradition grounded natural rights on the Creator, as our system used to do (and indeed their work is the root of our system). They were unapologetic about referring to scripture, but scripture as interpreted by reason and science (which at the time was called 'natural philosophy,' especially physics and what they knew of biology). The sense was that the two things were both true, so it was the work of reason to figure out how they lined up. That served as a check on both unreasonable interpretations of scripture, and wild applications of science (like your complaints about the use of evo-psych to ground rights out of order with the moral claims of our civilization).

We seem to have lost a strong grounding for our ideas of rights. It's giving rise to problems of just the kind you're talking about. It's also removed the floor from our rights, so that we can't be sure of any of them anymore. That's one reason we fight so hard about things like Supreme Court nominations. The foundations are gone.

If you have a strong foundation, you can be less concerned about the individual who judges. But if you have no foundation, the individual becomes all-important: if he or she doesn't agree with you, you'll have no rights, but if you do, you will (until he or she is replaced by someone who doesn't). That's where we are now, and it should be frightening to people.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 09:42 AM

That's one of the conclusions I expect them to reach in the fullness of time, when they begin to put together all of the research they are doing. Each of these cases can be treated as exceptional; at some point, though, if it turns out that what you are treating as exceptional is always or usually the case, you've misunderstood the rules.

I think you need to be extremely careful about cherry picking your way through history using exceptional cases (the ones that are preserved, while the vast majority of ordinary lives are never recorded), Grim. You've already admitted that most of these women were aristocrats. Then you bring up one or two cases of women who weren't to suggest that doesn't matter.

There's a reason I'm objecting to this. On the Internet, I see a TON of argumentation by anecdote. Something bad happens, and it is widely covered and talked about. There's almost NO attempt to find out how common the Bad Thing is, and frankly the fact that it becomes a sensation suggests that it is, in fact, not common at all. If it were, it wouldn't be news because we'd be seeing the same thing all around us, 24/7.

Because we can easily think of several inflammatory and unusual incidents, we then conclude that they must be far more common than we had previously supposed. This is why we fear plane crashes or shark attacks or terrorist attacks but don't fear getting behind the wheel of a car and commuting to work.

Recently you wrote an excellent piece that concluded:

If one truly sees women as intelligent beings with agency, it seems patronizing to assume that we are helpless bits of flotsam drifting aimlessly in a flood tide of patriarchal oppression. Why not give women some credit for having enough smarts to figure out what matters most to us and go after it. I suspect that's what most men do, too.

I agree with that entirely. My only additional belief is that, when we're ready to put all this together, we'll have to conclude the very same things about women who lived 500 years ago too.

Except that women who lived 500 years ago did not have anywhere near the same choices as women living today. They couldn't even control the number of children they had, much less do all the things we take for granted today.

That's not a distinction without a difference. Comparing the two situations makes no sense because they're completely different.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 10:25 AM

I'm going to pose the same question to you I posed earlier (here, or at your place - can't recall which):

Would you trust women alone to decide what bundle of natural rights society will recognize and defend?

Let's not forget that formally excluding women from the decision process wasn't an accident (a bug) in older systems. It was intentional and by design, and we really shouldn't elide that or treat it as unimportant. When you have to make laws saying women explicitly are excluded from certain things, that's hard to defend.

You would never accept that, and I won't either. I am not sure why you would think I should, when you wouldn't acquiesce to such a system? I don't want sole control over men, and don't want men to have sole control over women.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 10:34 AM

Too, too much ado about much too little.

Inveigling men to act upon feelings approaches the lunatic fringe of all that assails men in this enlightened age. Feelings, in men, have their loci in their appetites. Asking them to go there in hopes of it being a civilizing influence is as asking the beast to ignore the delectation and note the nutrition and presentation.

Think it not better that men should have it pointed out to them that they have been made bigger and stronger for a reason? That they may consider it either the design of nature to take what they 'feel' like or the design of nature's God to protect and oversee. There is nothing that will so detach a man from his feelings as a duty – responsibility. Remove that and you leave him to stew in his 'feelings' from which we get not the word but the concept – barbarian. Note the antithesis, when men were still men, the - Greek, Roman, and Euro/Christian civilizations.

Posted by: George Pal at September 19, 2013 10:41 AM

You've already admitted that most of these women were aristocrats.

No, that's just what I didn't do. :) I said that the one study was about four Irish aristocrats, but that I could show you another about French criminal women, or another about English women of the middle class, or another... there's a huge number of studies coming online, about all sorts of women in various countries at various times. For the moment, we're treating each case as exceptional -- one could defy 'the patriarchy' because they were aristocrats, another by being criminal, another via religious associations, another using appeals at law, another...

My point is that this literature, as it grows, can only eventually challenge the assumed structure of society. What we are trying to read as exceptions may prove to be the rule, and it's evidence that they might be that we find them wherever we look.

Now let me offer you a caution about historiography, in return. You just offered two principles for interpretation that, taken together, completely undermine history as a discipline. They are:

1) We should not build our understanding out of anecdotes that might be exceptional, and,

2) Every surviving example is exceptional by definition, since the records being preserved by itself makes the case exceptional.

If that's right, then history can't really add anything to our understanding of the past. It might still be worth doing as a kind of amusement, or a source of literature for entertainment, but it loses any capacity to convey anything we can rely on about our past.

That seems like an extreme conclusion, especially since the sources that do survive -- though in a sense exceptional -- are both broad (i.e., they include things like court records and literature, personal letters and tax rolls, etc.) and random (it is an accident of fate that one set of records survives and not the other). If you wanted to do a statistical sample, broad and random are two things you'd look for as signs that the sample might really be representative.

Except that women who lived 500 years ago did not have anywhere near the same choices as women living today. They couldn't even control the number of children they had, much less do all the things we take for granted today. That's not a distinction without a difference. Comparing the two situations makes no sense because they're completely different.

They're not completely different. Your point -- a good one, I thought and still do think -- is that women were smart enough to figure out what vital powers they had available, and concentrate them where it mattered most. Some things are out of their power, but that's true for men too.

That they made tradeoffs, then, should be taken as a sign of their agency rather than a sign of their oppression.

Now that, I think, holds for our ancestors as well as our contemporaries. More things may have been outside their power -- but that's true for the men, too. What they elected to do, especially where we find them clearly making elections (as we do throughout this literature), should be taken, and respected, as a sign of their agency.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 10:45 AM

Lot's of good comments, Cass. I'll try to take them one at a time.

But men also have some natural instincts that are downright horrifying.

I wouldn't say that the instincts are horrifying. Those instincts are like an explosion. When put in the middle of a crowd, it can certainly be horrifying. But when put in the middle of a cylinder of an internal cumbustion engine, it can do wonderful work.

The dominance instinct is not, in and of itself, good or bad. It's use against women in that fashion certainly is horrifying. It's use to construct curbs against those misuses (in yourself or others) is beneficial.

I'm not really buying that Evil Feminists caused those low life criminals to attack that poor young woman on a bus and brutilize her, or that too much sensitivity caused that nutjob in Ohio to kidnap and torture young women and hold them captive for years.

And this is what I mean by having focused too much one that one particular failing. It makes it easy to argue that that one failing is supposed to account for everything, or even the majority of failings. It isn't. It's just one, of a vast panopoly of failings. And even then, within any given person, that may be only one of many failings which manifested in the summation.

And then, sometimes, some souls are just so broken that there is no possibility of "success" and the best that can be done is to remove said soul from the rest of the population. That happens too.

Are they, though, "right about the way a large number of women think"?

First, notice I did not say majority, or even plurality and certainly not "representative sample" of womankind.

What things do you think they're right about? Most of PUArtistry, to me, seems to be about emotional manipulation.

And to be sucessful at emotional manipulation you do have to be right about how those emotions work and/or are triggered. At least within their "prey" demographic. Their predatory success does suggest they've found fertile hunting grounds with those techniques.

And that's the problem, these techniques do work (at least on a subset of women) but they use them in the most predatory fashion possible. A man of good character could take that knowledge of emotional triggers, form genuine friendships and use those same skills to help the other person to recognize when someone is using those triggers as weapons against them.

And while the rationalization hamster is a silly metaphor, you've said yourself that most people (both men and women) don't reason their way into an action, they do want they want and rationalize it afterword. That the PUA crowd doesn't recognize that in themselves, well, I never said they understood men, even that small subset in their own skulls. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 19, 2013 10:51 AM

There is nothing that will so detach a man from his feelings as a duty – responsibility. Remove that and you leave him to stew in his 'feelings' from which we get not the word but the concept – barbarian.

George, your entire comment was marvelous (I mean that sincerely), but this in particular strikes me as so apt.

I hope I won't annoy you too much if I say that I believe the same to be true for women. I'm not saying men and women are exactly alike - clearly, we're not.

But any ideology or culture that encourages people to elevate their own pleasure or self interest above all else is toxic. Feminism does this with women - there's a lot of talk about self fulfillment and very little about our natural duty to the children we bear or the men we love. It turns partnership into a competition or bean counting contest.

I have to say that I have a problem with much of the modern brand of Internet conservatism, too, though. Some of us are making a cult of individualism and/or freedom, but freedom without responsibility is merely license.

So much of modern thought doesn't seem very firmly grounded in anything. Individuals are important, but so are societies, cultures, families, communities. I worry when the antidote to community organizing is barely checked individualism.

What's missing is duty.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 11:16 AM

Yu-Ain, as usual I can't find much to disagree with in your comments. I think maybe what I was objecting to is the (perceived) conflation of "thinking" with "emotions".

I don't argue that PUA have identified emotional levers that they proceed to exploit for their own ends. I guess I just want to make it plain that emotional levers aren't "thinking" - thinking to me is how we rise above the instincts/emotions these guys are manipulating.

So in that sense, I can't agree that they understand how women "think" because they really don't believe that women think at all.

Nuance-y, I realize, but I can be pedantic that way... :)

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 11:22 AM

To the charge that women got the short end of the stick in the past, politically, legally, and economically, there are at least two possible reactions in rebuttal. First: "Of course women did, and a good thing, too, because it's the natural and right way of the world for men to be in charge." Second: "Women didn't get any such thing, as we hope research some day will show." Of the two reactions, I prefer the second though I don't share the hope.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 19, 2013 11:30 AM

The dominance instinct is not, in and of itself, good or bad. It's use against women in that fashion certainly is horrifying. It's use to construct curbs against those misuses (in yourself or others) is beneficial.

I agree about the masculine need for dominance not being harmful per se. My husband tries to dominate me all the time (though he generally channels it appropriately - when he doesn't, we argue :p) and it doesn't bother me because that's the same quality that allows him to lead other men effectively. There are times when I'm determined to get my way too. I just go about it more indirectly because his way wouldn't work for me.

That's not really what distresses me so - it's the pleasure in being allowed to inflict pain, to debase, to control or use another human being.

I can't see that as anything other than deeply horrifying. The only female equivalent I can think of is when women publicly shame/humiliate men - belittling them, for instance.

I can't understand indifference to or pleasure in causing pain in anyone.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 11:40 AM

To the charge that women got the short end of the stick in the past, politically, legally, and economically, there are at least two possible reactions in rebuttal. First: "Of course women did, and a good thing, too, because it's the natural and right way of the world for men to be in charge." [And durnitall, women liked it that way and if any of them didn't, that's because they didn't know what's good for 'em!] Second: "Women didn't get any such thing, as we hope research some day will show." Of the two reactions, I prefer the second though I don't share the hope.

As usual, you said it far better than I could have, Tex.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 11:41 AM

"Women didn't get any such thing, as we hope research some day will show."

It's more that I believe research is already showing some part of it, but the picture is a bit more nuanced than that.

The mythology I object to is the idea of the patriarchy: this sort of global, eternal attempt by men worldwide to suppress women. I don't think that's supportable under the facts, but it remains the guiding frame even for the research that I'm talking about. These are feminist historians doing the work, and so they're assuming the truth of the patriarchy.

What I think is really true is that some cultures and societies are better than others in terms of establishing justice in the relationship between men and women -- and that Western Medieval Europe is generally one of the very best. The collapse into misogyny in Europe comes at the very end of the Middle Ages, under the influence of the harbingers of the modern age (such as the witch-burning that attended the German reformation, which undermined the authority of the church that had, for seven hundred years, forbidden belief in witches).

Likewise, in the 19th century in England and America there was a profound respect for the feminine and especially for motherhood. But it was undermined by the advent of Freudian psychology, which saw the mother as a pernicious influence on the development of young manhood. By the 1950s, both cultures had become quite repressive where they had been very different two generations before.

We're having this discussion about the medievals in an academy whose leadership came of age in the 1950s, and whose second-rank came of age as their direct students. They remember the misogyny of their youths very prominently and powerfully, and it's coloring the debate about what the past was like. I think it's literally unthinkable, for many of these scholars, that the myth of the patriarchy isn't a kind of universal truth. It makes sense to them to assume it when doing any kind of historical analysis. It feels so true to them that it just wouldn't make sense to doubt it, any more than you doubt the other evidence of your senses.

The younger generation of scholars, and especially the one rising now and the one that will follow it, won't have had that experience. Once the older generation of scholars retires, so that they are the ones with tenure who are free to make bold claims, I'll be surprised if they don't draw on their research to challenge the old way of thinking.

In the meantime, it's an exciting time in the field, and their work is -- I think -- enlightening and interesting on its own. Even if things don't develop as I believe they will, I'm glad they're doing it and I'm encouraged by their findings. They represent a real advance in our understanding of the period, because they're focusing on a subject that traditional historians (who were far fewer in number any way) have not always studied intently: not the great events, nor the leaders nor the wars, but the lives of ordinary people down the line from those things.

We may have too many people in graduate school, as is often charged, but at least here those people are producing something of worth. That's good in itself.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 12:18 PM

"I hope I won't annoy you too much if I say that I believe the same to be true for women. I'm not saying men and women are exactly alike - clearly, we're not."

Herein lies that pebble, boulder, or monolith – depending on your perspective – of our inexactness.

You have been solicitous of my feelings (I've found this to be true of many women) – that I should not be offended, annoyed, perturbed (hurt, etc.) - in several of your responses to my comments. I am certain it is because women feel more than men but I take it not as unreasoning but as a higher reasoning, the realization that men are not without feelings higher than the base.

So too, in my comments, especially when I am being provocatively edgy, I offer no exposition as to my precise meaning certain that though you (and women generally) have feelings upon which you rely, you can, nevertheless, reason it out.

I had been, just for a second, tempted to sprinkle in some smiley faces right about here but that would make a hash of my comment - wouldn't it?

BTW – I couldn't agree more with Grim's comment above @12:18

Posted by: George Pal at September 19, 2013 01:20 PM

Nuance-y, I realize, but I can be pedantic that way... :)

Well, I don't distiguish the two quite as strongly as you do because I think there is quite a lot of interaction between them. But I certainly wasn't going for an implication about something on the order of "How do you solve this Cost/Benefit Analysis" kind of thinking.

I can't see that as anything other than deeply horrifying.

Now it's my turn to be pedantic. :-)

This *usage* of the dominance instinct is deeply horrifying. Something has gone very wrong with those people. Either the curbs weren't built in them and it is spilling out (likely) in every facet of their lives, they were built in the wrong place and that instinct has been funneled at women, or their soul is so broken such that curbs cannot be built. Or some combination of the three.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 19, 2013 01:21 PM

The mythology I object to is the idea of the patriarchy: this sort of global, eternal attempt by men worldwide to suppress women. I don't think that's supportable under the facts, but it remains the guiding frame even for the research that I'm talking about. These are feminist historians doing the work, and so they're assuming the truth of the patriarchy.

Heh... I guess I think The Patriarchy is such a laughable construct that I dismiss it out of hand :p

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 01:30 PM

No, not a Patriarchy, just a systematic denigration of the political, legal, and economic rights of women. "Systematic" not, of course, being the same as "100% effective," so we shouldn't be surprised by anyone's ability to find exceptions.

The hope I don't share is that future, more thorough, unbiased research will demonstrate it was all a bad dream, and women really had equal political, legal, and economic rights all the time, though the silly creatures didn't realize it. On the other hand, as soon as they actually got something pretty close to equal rights, things went completely to pieces and we lost something priceless.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 19, 2013 01:50 PM

You have been solicitous of my feelings (I've found this to be true of many women) – that I should not be offended, annoyed, perturbed (hurt, etc.) - in several of your responses to my comments. I am certain it is because women feel more than men but I take it not as unreasoning but as a higher reasoning, the realization that men are not without feelings higher than the base.

I'm not at all sure that women feel more than men. We socialize men to discount/ignore/disassociate themselves from their feelings, and this influence is very strong. And in the right context it's healthy. Certainly I admire my husband's ability to compartmentalize. And I admire my male friends and coworkers for their ability to push through/ignore pain/discomfort/stress. It's definitely healthy and even admirable in some contexts. In the context of personal relationships, it can backfire.

I have to say that what gets shoved into a little box somewhere almost always "leaks out" in other facets of life. I can always tell when something is really bothering my husband. I rarely know what that "something" is. It could be work (but I interpret it as being directed at me, because Lord knows, I am the white hot burning center of the Multiverse). Or it could be genuinely something I have done. Or it could be heartburn :p

I sense it, but I can't always trace it back to its source. The odd thing is that he (like many men) will pretend nothing is bothering him, though from my perspective his body language and facial expressions and even sometimes his demeanor towards me loudly telegraphs danger signals.

[waving robot arms] DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!

This is the kind of thing men often label as women being "oversensitive" :p But what we're sensing really *is* there most of the time. It's real. Men may not want to talk about it (which is fine much of the time - there's nothing worse than having someone constantly ask if you're OK when you're trying to maintain a stiff upper lip). But even suppressed emotions affect the way they interact with others, especially at home b/c their guard is down in a safe environment... at least I hope home is a safe environment for most men! :)

I often get the sense that when I show concern for a man's feelings, he hears, "You think I'm weak, or that I can't handle it". But the opposite is true, at least for me. It's easy for me to be callous to people I don't respect or care for. Being solicitous of another person is mark of high regard, rather than the opposite. To me, it says, "You're important enough to me that I'm paying close attention to our relationship."

I realize guys don't think this way at all (well actually, they do during courtship, when they're afraid of losing you!), and that whole interpretation thing probably causes more problems between men and women than almost any other :p

So too, in my comments, especially when I am being provocatively edgy, I offer no exposition as to my precise meaning certain that though you (and women generally) have feelings upon which you rely, you can, nevertheless, reason it out.

From other things I've read about how men see things, that rings very true. Nonetheless, thank you for explaining it to me. I honestly wouldn't have understood that on my own.

FWIW, I generally trust that you are 'typing in good will', even when you're gleefully pushing every button on my control panel :p

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 01:59 PM

The hope I don't share is that future, more thorough, unbiased research will demonstrate it was all a bad dream, and women really had equal political, legal, and economic rights all the time, though the silly creatures didn't realize it.

OK, that made me laugh out loud :p What perplexes me in all of this is how so many conservative-leaning men can talk and write all day about the importance of freedom and government recognizing their rights (they're willing to die for it) and then turn right around and suggest that somehow, women shouldn't be terribly concerned if their government doesn't show the same respect for the same rights when it comes to our half of humanity?

I suspect this is why feminists push the idea that there are no differences between men and women - because those differences are so often used against women.

I'm not saying this to be nasty - I really don't understand this at all. The only way I can explain it is to imagine that to some men, women are some kind of exotic creatures who, because we're different don't rate the same... well, anything.

On the other hand, as soon as they actually got something pretty close to equal rights, things went completely to pieces and we lost something priceless.

Here, I'll note that we absolutely *did* lose some things. The real questions is, do we want them back badly enough that we're willing to betray every principle we claim to hold dear?

It's a question that troubles me a lot of late.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 02:10 PM

I'm not at all sure that women feel more than men.

I'm convince it's not a matter of more or less, really.

A humourous analogy would be that women's relationship with emotions tend be a river: a constant steady flow. Sometime's it's higher, sometimes it's lower, and yes, sometimes it floods it's banks.

Men are a dammed river. This does sacrifice some real estate behind the wall, but the outflow will be a bit more consistent and grants the ability to increase or decrease it when needed. It also allows you to harness the power that doing so creates. But heaven help you and everyone else should it break. You will *not* like the result.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 19, 2013 02:46 PM

That's an interesting analogy, Yu-Ain. I tend to think of women as being more open to feeling/expressing emotion than men are. That has its good and bad aspects. There's tremendous power in opening yourself to feeling, too. It's just a very different kind of power from the kind you're talking about.

I don't think women's emotions are actually any stronger than men's - it's just that there's no particular advantage for us in repressing them to the degree that men do. Yet women do suppress their emotions all the time.

We do it when we say, "Nothing's wrong" :p And women do that in confrontations with other women.

As a mother, you have to - it's not optional. And I suppress my emotions when I get into a "discussion" with the spouse, big time. Otherwise, I'd be crying or screaming instead of talking with him or negotiating a compromise.

I have to suppress my emotions at work, and I've been interested to see that men get angry or lose it all the time in a professional setting. I don't think I could get away with that - it would be viewed as unprofessional, but the same label doesn't seem to apply when the guys lose their tempers during arguments :p

In all fairness, there are other contexts where men would be denigrated for showing emotion, but we give women a free pass (crying, for instance, or feeling sad).

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 03:00 PM

The hope I don't share is that future, more thorough, unbiased research will demonstrate it was all a bad dream

I don't expect it to be a bad dream, but it would be nice to find it wasn't nearly as bad as we currently believe.

I am fond of saying that in theory there is no difference between practice and theory, but in practice there is a great deal of difference. It could be that laws were written denying ownership of land to women, but that most of the local constabulary ignored it. It's still a problem, but wouldn't be as pervasive as currently thought. I have no idea if this is actually the case, but I am amazed at how often we get history wrong.

Like how Columbus' contemporaries did not think the world was flat, and that their estimate for the diameter of the earth was much better than his.

Or that the "Christian Dark Ages" were neither particularly dark, nor Christian.

Or that Galileo was not convincted for contradicting the Bible by saying the earth revolved around the sun.

Medieval society may have been exactly what the prevailing opinion suggests with regards to the treatment of women, it may be worse, but it could also be better too.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 19, 2013 03:13 PM

Well, all analogies are imprecise. I don't mean to say that women don't have levers for controlling the amount and extent of their emotions.

Only that, despite the stereotype that women's emotions are stronger, just because you don't see men's emotions as much, doesn't mean they aren't there. They may, in fact, even be stronger and maybe that it's a good thing you don't see them.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 19, 2013 03:29 PM

FWIW, I liked your analogy - I meant "interesting" in the positive sense :p

I didn't take your analogy as implying a lack of control - I was mostly just musing.

Only that, despite the stereotype that women's emotions are stronger, just because you don't see men's emotions as much, doesn't mean they aren't there. They may, in fact, even be stronger and maybe that it's a good thing you don't see them.

IOW, my "Men are from Vulcan" theory! Which I'm not entirely convinced is correct, by the way. As you say, just because you don't see something doesn't mean it's not there. And dammed up emotions, when finally released, may seem stronger but doesn't say much about how strong the emotion was in the first place.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 03:54 PM

The hope I don't share is that future, more thorough, unbiased research will demonstrate it was all a bad dream, and women really had equal political, legal, and economic rights all the time, though the silly creatures didn't realize it.

I certainly don't share that hope either. "Equal rights" even for men is not a medieval concept, but a late-modern one.

What I hope is that we'll learn that history hasn't -- always and everywhere, in all times and all places -- been about an effort by men to suppress women. I hope, and sincerely believe, that we'll learn that there were some times and places where men really liked women, not just as individuals but in general. They took them seriously, at some times and in some places, and took care to try to be fair to them. They may not have interpreted 'fair' in the modern sense of 'equal,' but that doesn't mean they weren't seriously concerned about being fair.

If that's the case -- that there have been periods of friendship between men and women, instead of a tedious history of grinding misogyny -- then we have some models we can look to. And I think it is the case.

To give just one example at the risk of it being taken as an anecdote, Chaucer took fairness seriously enough that, in the Wife of Bath's prologue, he carefully records and forwards to his audience a whole laundry list of what he seems to have regarded as legitimate complaints by women. It's not mockery, it's good logical and theological argumentation. He's taking the complaints seriously, and trying to make sure strong arguments for them are made widely known.

The existence of the argument means, certainly, that women were not fully satisfied -- and that men, indeed, sometimes went too far in trying to assert privilege. But we have just these same arguments today, even you and I. And the reason you and I have them is, I submit, the same reason Chaucer was familiar enough to recite them carefully: because he cared about the issue enough to listen carefully and at length to the other side.

I don't know that we'll ever get to the point where men and women feel completely at ease with each other. I do think that we aren't the very first generation to try, sincerely, to be fair to each other and to hear each other's concerns with a sincere heart.

Indeed, I suspect other generations may have sometimes even done it better.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 04:47 PM

"On the other hand, as soon as they actually got something pretty close to equal rights, things went completely to pieces and we lost something priceless."

"Here, I'll note that we absolutely *did* lose some things. The real questions is, do we want them back badly enough that we're willing to betray every principle we claim to hold dear?"

--I agree that the change has had its disadvantages as well as its advantages. I just think it's funny to insist on the one hand that there never was that much disadvantage to being a woman (legally, politically, or economically) to begin with, but then, after the disadvantages were largely removed, the whole world turned upside down with the enormity of the change.

Grim, I agree with you that it would be silly to think that our male ancestors spent their lives thinking how to be beastly to women. No doubt many of them believed they were doing women a favor, protecting them from the terrible burdens of full citizenship. (Others were indulging in a natural desire to preserve their inherited privileges.)

But the benignity of their motives is not the point. People used to think it was a disservice to the lower classes to let them become educated above their stations, too. They meant well, but you won't find many of the former targets of their benevolence who want to return to that way of doing things, or who are prepared to gloss over the unintended condescension and tyranny inherent in the benevolence--not even if it could be demonstrated to them that they'd have been happier staying down on the farm after they'd seen Gay Paree.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 19, 2013 05:24 PM

I'm not talking about benevolence in the sense of doing nice things for people, but respect in the sense of taking them seriously, hearing them out, and making sure their best arguments are presented fairly and accurately to a wider audience. (Chaucer wasn't a citizen either, of course, but a subject; the ideal of citizenship existed in the middle ages, but it didn't mean the same thing.)

So it's more than 'not trying to be beastly,' and indeed more than 'trying to do something nice.' I mean they liked each other, and listened to each other. Like we do, they argued about things all the time, but they took each other seriously and tried to be respectful and fair.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 05:45 PM

In line with Grim and YAG @3:13.

Just a soupcon of evidence (it's all I have but I can't believe all I know is the full extent of all there is):

Marie de France accomplished poetess during the reign of King Arthur in the late 12th century

Juliana of Norwich, wrote on the devotional life; advisor to theologians and princes - 14th century.

Matilda of Tuscany, protector of Pope Gregory VII against his enemy, the German emperor Henry IV - 11th century
Catherine of Siena, advised and rebuked popes during the Great Western Schism - 14th century.
And of course Jeanne d'Arc.

And one of my favorites, Christine de Pizan – 15th century, who wrote poetry and entered the public square with her published Debate of the Romance of the Rose. In it she stood up for her sex, rhetorically and reasonably, against pop culture of the time and the men whose lubricious fictions had made of the entirety of her sex nothing but cats, and wenches, schemers, and whores. Men high and low came to her defense including high churchmen.

And even more to Grim's point - Sabina von Stenbach – probably legend – though:

Natalie Harris Bluestone, in her Double Vision: Perspectives on Gender and the Visual Arts (Associated University Presses, 1995:

The author disputes the existence of Sabina in detail, but she adds:
"The truth that inheres in this legend, however, consists in its example of a Western medieval tradition: the woman artist who learns her craft from an artist-father (or some other male relative, such as husband, brother or uncle). In these circumstances, the woman of the artisan class would have had access to such training. Should the male artist die, on occasion the daughter/wife/sister/niece would inherit and run his workshop. Guild records for the late Middle Ages repeatedly describe wives as business partners and specifically allow for them to inherit and take over their deceased husband’s craft or trade."

It's a shame history has been so corrupted to prove a point and ignore a lesson

Posted by: George Pal at September 19, 2013 06:17 PM

I'm going to ask this question one more time, and I really would like someone to answer it. The question is bolded below:

"Who gets to pick the bundle of women's natural rights women the government will choose to recognize?"

Men alone? Or women and men together? Would you be content to allow only women to decide what natural rights of men the government will choose to recognize?

I very much doubt the answer to that question is, "Yes".

Plucking short lists of accomplished women from literally centuries of history (and not comparing them to the far longer lists of accomplished men) is a sideways argument to an argument no one here is making.

Neither Tex nor I have said anywhere that no women, anywhere, were ever "allowed" to become accomplished. Or that no man, anywhere, ever listened to a woman or valued her opinion. Or that all men in the past hated and oppressed women (when they weren't raping us). So I'm confused about why we're spending time rebutting a thesis no one here believes?

That would be a very odd argument for a female blogger who has more male than female readers to make, would it not? It assumes that men are Evil, and there is absolutely no rational basis for thinking I believe that. It's contradicted by pretty much everything I've written over the past 10 years.

Where Grim tends to get our backs up is when he suggests that a past where women were utterly dependent on the generosity and good will of men because they had so few legal rights was somehow better than the present.

Sorry, but to me that sounds perilously like, "We'd get along so much better if you'd accept a place at the very bottom of the pecking order." I don't think that's what he means, but that's how it sounds to me. He's dismissing a condition he would find intolerable. But it's not intolerable for women because we're not men.

The past was different: different problems, different circumstances, different everything. Some of those laws probably made sense in that world. But we live in the present. Our task is to decide what kind of government and society is appropriate in these times. I have a very limited interest in rebutting arguments from feminist historians whose beliefs I don't even share.

I find the whole "patriarchy" thing risible. I make fun of it all the time, just as I make fun of men who claim that women have never done anything of note in all of history, or men who wring their hands about all this horrid edumacation of ladypart-having folk.

Stupid ideas don't deserve serious contemplation.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 07:15 PM

Yes, when I said men weren't trying to be beastly, I was adopting a humorous attitude toward what probably was the reality, which was that they were often trying to do something nice, within their way of looking at the world.

Which, again, doesn't make that much difference. Sterling motives only go so far. I don't blame them particularly for not knowing any better in their circumstances, but that's a far cry from saying that the way things weren't really so bad if you look at it properly. I'm talking about the impact on women, not on the culpability of men who had never imagined things being any different.

I'm just awfully glad I didn't have to live in that world.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 19, 2013 07:23 PM

Cass:

I'm going to ask this question one more time, and I really would like someone to answer it. The question is bolded below:... Would you be content to allow only women to decide what natural rights of men the government will choose to recognize? I very much doubt the answer to that question is, "Yes".

I thought I did answer this question, by talking about the matter of how rights are grounded. I might be willing to allow women to decide, if I knew they were committed to the right mode of grounding rights.

Once, not so long ago, legislatures elected only by men voted in supermajorities to dilute the power of their votes by extending the vote to women. I imagine women are capable of being as good as those men were.

Tex:

I'm talking about the impact on women, not on the culpability of men who had never imagined things being any different. I'm just awfully glad I didn't have to live in that world.

I wonder if you'd put the case to the women of the era if they'd have wanted to live in your world. Maybe. Maybe not.

But I trust that if you and I had been born in an earlier era -- that era -- we'd have been then much as we are now. If these articles are any evidence, then as now you'd have found a way to do what you want in spite of a world that wasn't quite aligned with your preferences. You'd have been giving me merry hell about slightly different things, since your concerns would have been the concerns of the day; and I'd have been listening to you and objecting here and there to certain points, in what I hope would have been a pleasant way, because our natures are different and it predisposes us to see different sides of questions. That's what's valuable about the difference. But we could have been friends, then as now.

Had we been born instead in Arabia, we couldn't be. Then as now. That's the difference I'm seeing.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 07:39 PM

If these articles are any evidence, then as now you'd have found a way to do what you want in spite of a world that wasn't quite aligned with your preferences.

"Not quite aligned with your preferences" is not an accurate description of a world in which women generally had far fewer rights than men.

That's just plain dismissive, Grim. And it makes me lose hope that you are even trying to understand.

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 09:28 PM

Does it? The world isn't aligned with my preferences either. Or haven't I made that clear?

It's the same for me. We're not different that way.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 09:38 PM

You're being dismissive.

"I live in a society where I'm bound by laws I don't always agree with. I (and every single other person of my sex) am prohibited by law from having a voice in what those laws may be" is categorically different from "I live in a society where I'm bound by laws I don't always agree with. But I have a legally enforceable right to have a voice in what those laws may be".

And pretending those two things are not different is both dismissive and insulting.

As I recall, this nation once fought a war over their natural right to representation in their government. Right when they did it, but women shouldn't worry about such matters?

Posted by: Cass at September 19, 2013 09:48 PM

Chaucer wasn't a citizen either, Cass. Having a voice in the law... what did that mean in those days? There was nothing like the kind of government you take as ordinary.

Our nation once did fight a war, but it wasn't over the right of women to do anything. That right came from something unexpected and remarkable, something that I might describe honestly as the greatest miracle in the whole history of human politics.

Think about what it cost for other kinds of men to get the vote, in terms of lives and violence. Women got it by asking for it, and then -- yes -- arguing for it. The process was contentious. Even many women didn't agree with the idea of extending votes to women. But it was done anyway, by legislatures filled with men who had to answer to an all-male electorate.

Insulting? I'm not questioning your rights, though you should be questioning them. You should question whether this system we rely on has any hope of defending any rights.

Dismissive? I hate aspects of the current system, hate them with my bones. But I don't rebel, in large part because I know they help others -- especially women. I could, but I don't. I'm not dismissive.

Come back to this tomorrow. We're friends, true friends, but you grow hot when we even approach this matter. Yet I don't think we're so different from Chaucer and his era. They were hot too. But they still loved each other.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 09:57 PM

Would the women in that world have wanted to trade places with me? I'd guess that some would have leapt at the chance they never got. Others would have weighed the choice and stuck with what they had. Still others might have objected even to having the freedom to choose something different, preferring to be trapped and safe.

They say there are zoo animals who won't leave the cages even if the doors are left open. Does that mean the doors should stay shut for everyone, in case it might turn out they'll be happier that way? The only way to know whether people are better off with choices is to give them choices. It doesn't guarantee they'll be happier, only that they'll be more free and responsible.

But once people have lived free, they have a hard time imagining being a zoo animal, even if zoo animals are quite content.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 19, 2013 11:11 PM

To live free... of what? How do you avoid living in a zoo?

Am I free of you? I doubt it. In fact, I'm sure I'm not. I've answered to "you" every time I've sought work: what about his shoulder-articulation, did he ever have a tumor if he wants to work for the military? What about his politics, if he wants to have a security clearance?

Why do you think I write under an incognito?

It's fine. I'm not angry. The point is, nobody is or has ever been free of the tyranny of the man or woman next to him (or her). Hell is other people. Got it.

I can love you anyway. You and Cass, and my wife: and men in general can vote for women in general to have the vote.

And you can be our friends in turn. Then and now. Here, and not there.

Posted by: Grim at September 19, 2013 11:29 PM

Interesting post & thread.
I don't think much of folks that emphasize how men need to 'feel' more, or spend more time analyzing their 'feelings.' For a very simple reason.
Men *are* more aggressive than women, and usually bigger and stronger. Much of what I regard as 'civilized' behavior has been the result of thousands of years of societal development in channeling male aggressiveness into 'productive' (or 'desireable') behaviours rather than destructive.
Appears to me that Arab/Muslim dominant societies have largely failed at this goal, with (from my point of view) awful results. The Middle East is still a cesspool, despite all those petro-dollars.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 20, 2013 03:33 AM

Where Grim tends to get our backs up is when he suggests that a past where women were utterly dependent on the generosity and good will of men because they had so few legal rights was somehow better than the present.

I may be misunderstanding Grim's point, but I thought his point was that during that time women were not, in fact, utterly dependent on the generosity and good will of men and they had many more legal rights than they are currently credited as having.

I didn't get from his argument that even if this should prove to be the case that that situation is superior to today, only that it would break the theory of the time immemorial "Patriarchy".

Am I wrong?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 20, 2013 09:07 AM

Grim is conflating notions of freedom in such a way as to obscure a situation he would find intolerable if applied to himself. No one in an interdependent society is free of everyone else, nor is that kind of "freedom" at issue in this discussion. We are discussing another kind of bondage or formalized disability: being consigned to a subordinate caste with the result that you are debarred even from attempting to do things you are quite good at and love doing. All from the best of motives and for your own protection and well-being. That is in no way "just like" the sort of bondage every adult with responsibilities experiences throughout his life, generally of his own free will.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 20, 2013 09:33 AM

But I don't see him advocating for a return to that system.

At least not in any fashion different than one where we might say that it would be an improvement if there were less rudeness even as we don't want to make being rude illegal.

Now, I may disagree with that, but I don't see where he's advocating that one group impose and enforce restrictions on another.

Again, my reading, which could very well be wrong, was that Grim's position is that the legal structures then were not as good as they are now, but they weren't nearly as bad as we commonly think either.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at September 20, 2013 10:50 AM

I was "free"once.
Didn't like it.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 20, 2013 12:39 PM

I've read through this thread and have no idea what this argument is about. I don't believe a thousand scholars working for a hundred years are going to find that Medieval Europe was not a patriarchy, defined in Wikipedia as:

Patriarchy (rule by fathers) is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage. The female equivalent is matriarchy.

Beyond that, I'll simply say that I agree with pretty much everything Cassandra and T99 have said in the comments. And anger is sometimes a perfectly appropriate response.

Posted by: Elise at September 20, 2013 01:21 PM

No, he's not advocating a return to that system, which would be impossible in any case. He's merely soft-pedaling its cost in the past, in the context of regretting the cost of its removal from the modern world. My response is the flipside: what I think is a more fair and realistic appraisal of the cost of that system in the past and the cost of the reversal of the system in the present. You might say I'm as cavalier about the cost in the present as Grim is about the cost in the past. I'm prepared to live without a few John Wayne movies if women can be doctors.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 20, 2013 01:28 PM

I have returned after a good night's sleep and a trip to the gymnasium, hopeful of engaging these matters again without (this time) accidentally infuriating my beloved friends.

Tex,

Thank you for your recent comments, which help me understand your perspective. I'm going to explain my perspective on these points, in the hope that you will see that I am not doing (or at least am not trying to do) the things that angered you.

Grim is conflating notions of freedom in such a way as to obscure a situation he would find intolerable if applied to himself.... We are discussing another kind of bondage or formalized disability: being consigned to a subordinate caste with the result that you are debarred even from attempting to do things you are quite good at and love doing.

This is actually just why I brought up the military service example. I was in fact "debarred even from attempting to do" things that -- I think I can honestly say, having made it out to the war as a civilian military adviser -- I loved doing and was quite good at. This debarring was for medical reasons, which is to say that it was for purely biological reasons -- exactly analogous, from my perspective, to debarring women from serving in the infantry based on biological reasons.

Did I like it? Not one bit. Did I understand it? Sure. And I found ways to do what I wanted anyway.

Now if that was what the middle ages were like for women, then yes -- it would have been unpleasant even if they were able to find ways to achieve their ends. However, as Y-A-G correctly understands, I really don't think that was what it was like. I honestly believe that women were agents then as now, and that the social structure reflected their interests and concerns as well as mens'. It was a society they helped to shape too.

That it looks unattractive to you has to do, I think, with your attachment to concepts they didn't share. They didn't believe in equality, not of rights nor of anything else except the dignity of each soul (male and female) in the eyes of God. The absence of formal legal equality wouldn't have struck them as unjust, but rather a just reflection of their reality.

I understand that for you, it is very important that your society not only formally recognizes you as an equal citizen in an enforceable way. I understand that means you could not be happy should you be forced to move to a society that was different.

But I don't think I agree that I would find legal inequality intolerable. First of all, I have tolerated it, as the example of military service was intended to show. But secondly, both of the two happiest times of my life have been in circumstances in which formal equality was absent. The first was when my son was newborn, and I was dealing with him as a father to son, and my wife as mother to son. In that intense period of my life, there was no formal equality, but biologically determined roles we each had to play. But I felt a kind of happiness there that I've never known elsewhere.

The second was at war in Iraq, the second trip out. The military is formally unequal, and as a civilian you stand in an unequal relationship to the unit you are traveling with and advising. But I was engaged with the problems of the war, with comrades I loved, at times exposed to genuine danger, and I was having a wonderful time. I don't think you're supposed to enjoy war, but (except for being away from my family) I really did.

So is that sense of formal equality a significant contributor to my happiness? I don't think it is. What made me happy (as Aristotle said would be the case) was flourishing as a human being, engaging those vital powers that accord with my nature (including my nature as a man) to the fullest degree.

I have strong Jeffersonian Democratic commitments, but they aren't because I think it makes people happy (or even that it's necessarily wise to treat people as equals when they plainly are not in reality). They come from my sense that this form of government is the least dangerous to the things that do make you happy. But I think I could be happy in another system, because my happiness doesn't come from being seen as an equal. It comes from other things.

Posted by: Grim at September 20, 2013 01:33 PM

"I don't believe a thousand scholars working for a hundred years are going to find that Medieval Europe was not a patriarchy,"

I don't think Grim's trying to argue that it wasn't a patriarchy, by definition. I think Grim's trying to argue that it wasn't The Patriarchy as some feminists appear to see it -- a conspiracy of all men to oppress women, started before recorded history when the religions we know or read about replaced goddess worship or whatever. I agree with Cass that everyone here finds that particular strawman ridiculous; I disagree with the view that it doesn't deserve serious discussion, since it seems to shape so much modern debate. Demonstrating that plenty of women in medieval times worked within the system to get what they wanted and were recognized for it without suffering legal repercussions suggests that the system was a product of a different (albeit flawed) concept of legal rights (centered on the household rather than the individual?) rather than coming from some testosterone-fuelled oppressive instinct that continues to this day and must be constantly guarded against with shrill, preemptive vigilance. Tearing down that strawman view of history with might help some people (both women fearing a return to oppression and men who feel they've somehow "lost" something) stop jumping at shadows and pointing fingers today, and allow them to work constructively with "the other side" to build a better future for men and women alike.

I wonder if it makes sense to view this in the context of political power moving to lower levels over time. At first all power rested with the sovereign, who was expected to take into account the needs of all his subjects and make the decision that was optimum for all of them. Then that same concept of power and rights shifted downwards to the nobility, who were similarly expected to act for the benefit of their subjects. After that, with the formation of elected legislatures, power, rights, and the vote passed to the smaller landowners and landlords, who were again expected to consider the needs of their tenants (upon whose well-being the landlord's own livelihood depended upon, after all) when casting a vote. Then the vote passed to all male citizens, whom (it was assumed) would cast their vote and exercise their legal rights considering the aggregate needs of their household rather than only their own. This having proven false far too often (as it had before for the sovereign, and the nobles, and the landlords), political and legal rights were granted to women to act as individuals, in their own interests.

Posted by: Matt at September 20, 2013 03:53 PM

Grim, the formal disability I cited was being consigned to a subordinate caste with the result that one is debarred even from things he is quite good at. I don't see the connection to being declared medically unfit for a physically grueling task according to the same objective standards that are applied to everyone who applies for a similar position. If the formal disabilities historically visited on women had been based on actual inabilities, we would not be having this discussion. Preventing women from voting, owning property, pursuing professional careers, and so on, was offensive precisely because it took no account whatever of women's ability to excel at these things.

It never bothered me that I couldn't bench-press as much as the average man. For that matter, though I regret not being able to sing in a range of three octaves, I reconcile myself to the disappointment without undue emotional stress. Reality-based limits on our ambition are not the problem we were discussing. The issue was pre-emptive disqualification without any regard for ability. The former is the cost of living in a real vs. a fantasy world, while the latter is dehumanizing contempt. Though it may have been understandable and excusable for people who didn't know any better and (often) meant no harm, there is no excuse for nostalgia today.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 21, 2013 02:01 AM

You and I have had this part of the discussion before, so you know that what you're asserting about the quality of the age is just what I don't believe to have been true about it -- at least as far as men and women are concerned. There certainly were clear classes (but not castes, which is an important distinction: castes are a far worse social structure without the mobility that is a significant character of medieval classes). But women belonged to all of them, from the highest to the lowest class. They weren't a separate caste, nor did they suffer disabilities as a sex (except for a very few, such as not being able to be priests; but men couldn't be nuns).

Your interpretation of the period is just what I don't share. I can't therefore accept your condemnation of it, or of the people who were part of it.

But all that we've discussed at length before, and I know your opinion on the interpretation is set. It's a place where we will have to disagree, because we cannot do otherwise.

Posted by: Grim at September 21, 2013 09:30 AM

Now you're drifting away from the inaccuracy of your own analogy to defend your medieval friends again, which is decidedly not the point.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 21, 2013 09:35 AM

I thought it was the whole point: I was going to let go your objection over the analogy as off-point, so we could focus on the question of the proper interpretation of history, which is what I thought we were discussing.

If you want to talk about the analogy, it is characteristic of analogies that they break down at some point. All analogies do this by nature, because A:B::B:C can only not break down if A and B and C are in fact identical. But they aren't; that's why you're constructing an analogy.

So I think it's fair to say that it's a good analogy, because it's an example of a disability based on a biological category over which I have no control. It's a category that would be applied evenly to all members of it (e.g., people who have X medical condition), even if they might as individuals be able to overcome it and do very well (as was in fact the case). Thus it seems to me to meet your criteria.

There are reasons why this makes sense for the military, which I accept even though it was a significant problem for me in my youth.

It is possible to say that this kind of biological category is different from that one, and in fact it is right to say that they are different. Analogies break down, always, at some point. The question is not whether the analogy breaks down at some level, because of course it does. The question would have to be whether it carries enough similarity to be telling or not. It seems to me that it does.

Posted by: Grim at September 21, 2013 10:14 AM

As for whether the categories are similar in being reasonable grounds for a declared disability, that's just what's been debated at such length for so many years. The grounds for the disability aimed at women wasn't just -- indeed, wasn't primarily -- that it would protect them from harm. It was that their presence would make the military's job more difficult. There were various reasons for that, as you remember: that the environment would become sexualized (which proved completely true and does in fact cause significant problems); that they would sometimes be pregnant when needed to deploy; that they would replace a man who would have been stronger and better able to handle the physical difficulties of the job; etc.

This kind of reasoning, whether you agree with it or not, is just the kind that was aimed at my category. It wasn't to protect me, but because it was possible with a degree of probability that someone else could do the job better; therefore, the whole class was disabled from participation.

Posted by: Grim at September 21, 2013 10:29 AM

Now I think your real objection may be something along the lines of: "It is absolutely offensive to the dignity of women to have any disabilities whatsoever tied to the mere fact of being female." That might be why it seems dis-analogous to you.

Remember the scene from 300, though, where the hunchback is denied the chance to find a way to serve and die with the Spartans because he would have made a weakness in the line. The audience could really feel for why he was making a noble offer, and could share his dismay at being told he wasn't good enough to die with them.

(He was still blameworthy for turning traitor against the society that had given him everything he had, of course. It wasn't the job of the 300 to find a way to include him, but to hold the line and die like warriors. He didn't choose to find another way to serve, but to betray, and for that was morally wicked.)

If it's an offense to dignity, it's an offense evenly to all biological categories. It may sometimes still be right to do it, but here too I think the analogy holds -- at least as much as analogies do.

Posted by: Grim at September 21, 2013 10:57 AM

Been ages since I last posted (or even lurked) here; I hope I'm still welcome...


Let's break it down the way I (and hopefully any given Christian, and maybe any given member of the Mosaic Covenant as well) see it:


The basis of our humans rights is God. We are created in His image as moral beings. We are created at the top of the creation pecking order, subject only to G-d Himself. Man (in the person of Adam) was created first, and was given the authority to name (and in a sense wield stewardship) over every other living thing. But no being comparable to Adam was found, and so G-d made Adam a helper. (Gen 2:18-24)


Let's note something here. The essential equality of Woman (in the person of Eve) is not in question. Like Man, Woman is elevated above the rest of Creation. And like Woman, it is not good for Man to be alone. But from a positional perspective, ah! Woman plays specific roles that Man cannot, and vice versa. Essentially equal, positionally complementary. So at the end of Gen 2, all is good. Man has roles to play in ruling creation (as the Steward of Gondor rules Gondor), Woman has roles to play in ruling creation, and they are not the same roles.


But take a good look at what happens in Gen 3, as a result. Most scholars agree that the hierarchical order as of Gen 2 was something like G-D >> Adam|Eve > Denizens (creation). At the Fall, an attempt was made to directly flip this order: Serpent (creation) > Eve|Adam >> G-D. So now the Lord pronounces this interesting curse:


"You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (Gen 3:16b)


Note the parallel verse, when He is speaking of Cain and sin:


"It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” (Gen 4:7b)


I love studying the Bible; it really does make very clear why things are the way they are. This entire debate that's happening, and has been happening for the past 6,500 years for all I know? It's a direct result of this curse. Adam as Eve's husband had the leadership role, and he abdicated it when he stayed quiet during her temptation - and worse, obeyed her instead of G-d.


Very quickly now, I just want to say this. The Fall, IMO, has caused the human heart to be inherently sinful. Men alone in charge of things will lead to a mess. Women alone in charge of things will lead to a different mess. Men and women together in charge of things will lead to 2 very bad messes interacting in horrific ways. There is a power struggle (and there's no point denying it) between the two sexes, and unless we are reconciled to each other in Christ, there's no way out.


Seeing as that is the case, when speaking of secular systems, where women are in charge, leave them in charge (this is usually domestic affairs). And where men are in charge (which is usually in politics and the workplace), leave them in charge. And where there is Christ, let the relationship between men and women mirror the relationship between Christ and His Church.


So, to answer your question, Cassandra (albeit in a rather belated fashion), I would say that we should let Holy Scripture and Christ (through His Apostles) decide what rights men AND women have. Because if we tried to do it on our own, we are screwed, blued and tattooed.

Posted by: Gregory Kong at September 21, 2013 11:53 AM

"'It is absolutely offensive to the dignity of women to have any disabilities whatsoever tied to the mere fact of being female.' That might be why it seems dis-analogous to you."

Not that or anything close. It is offensive to the dignity of women (or any other subordinated caste) to have a disability tied to something other than absence of ability. If their femininity in fact rendered them incapable of performing a function, I'd have no trouble barring women from the function. That would be like barring you from being pregnant, which would not shock my conscience in the least. But I assume that even you don't think that having two X chromosomes renders women inherently incapable of voting, owning property, or pursuing a profession medicine?

I'm not sure why the distinction between formal disabilities that reflect a natural lack of capacity, and those that take no account of capacity, is such a stumbling block in this discussion. It's as though you literally had no inkling what I was referring to.

I thought you were simply numb to the notion that such a state of affairs might be the anathema to women that it would be to you. ("Vivisection isn't so bad; animals don't feel pain the way we do.") Is the problem that you actually believe the formal disabilities were a rational reflection of women's helplessness and incompetence? Because, if so, I can see why you would find it strange that women might resent them--since, after all, we all suffer under restrictions in life.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 21, 2013 02:23 PM

Demonstrating that plenty of women in medieval times worked within the system to get what they wanted and were recognized for it without suffering legal repercussions suggests that the system was a product of a different (albeit flawed) concept of legal rights (centered on the household rather than the individual?) rather than coming from some testosterone-fuelled oppressive instinct that continues to this day and must be constantly guarded against with shrill, preemptive vigilance..

Matt, thanks for helping me understand this discussion.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read feminist historical scholarship seriously but back when I was reading it, the thesis was somewhat different than the one apparently being presumed by you and by Grim. The thesis was *not* “women have been so horribly oppressed throughout history that they played no part in society”. Rather the thesis was “women have always played a part in society but, because of sexism, their part has not been recorded by historians”. The finding by historians of specific examples of women playing their various parts in society supports rather than undercuts the latter thesis.

Using the fact that women have always played a role in society to argue against “shrill, preemptive vigilance” is problematic. Essentially, you are making the argument that legally, institutionally, and societally circumscribing rights and roles for women doesn’t mean they can’t still be agents in their own lives so it’s unnecessary for women to worry about a return of such circumscribed roles. In other words, it wasn’t that bad back then so don’t worry if we go back to that. This is not reassuring when women wonder whether a return to such circumscription is a possibility.

If I may use an analogy: In 1775, the roles and rights of people living in America were circumscribed by the fact that they lived under a monarch. Nonetheless, most of them managed to act, within those limits, as agents in their own lives. So why rebel? Moving forward in time, why do current day conservatives guard against the Left’s agenda with “shrill, preemptive vigilance”? Why worry about a return to a strong, intrusive, unrepresentative central government when living under one still allows us to work within the system to (try to) get what we want?

Your thoughts about concepts of rights and powers shifting downward is plausible but contains within it the idea that women - of all stations - stand “below” all men. I understand this is not your position but it is another sense in which women have stood outside history. While rights and powers were cascading through the classes, women were becalmed in a separate pool, sharing in the cascade through the men to whom they were attached rather than as direct beneficiaries.

The bottom line is that if we want women to stop worrying about a return to circumscribed roles, we need an explanation in the form:

Throughout history, women’s role has been limited. This happened because X. Women do not need to worry about such limitations being reimposed today because Y.

Equating X to “men believed they knew what was best for women” and Y to “it wouldn’t be that bad if it happened” is unlikely to allay women's concerns about this.

Posted by: Elise at September 21, 2013 03:23 PM

Exactly. "It wasn't so bad. You survived, didn't you? And look at the terrible things that happened when we changed things. Hmm. I wonder . . . ." It's not an approach that inspires me to relax my vigilance. A politician with this attitude cannot get my vote.

It's also why I'm sometimes struck almost dumb by the seemingly completely un-self-aware complaints of how tough it is for boys in a world in which many authority figures come from the other sex--and some of these authority figures even entertain heretical notions that the way women do things is superior to the way men do them. However will boys' young psyches withstand the stress? The same guys who widen their eyes at this intolerable state of affairs run a complete blank when asked to contemplate what it would be like to be raised in a world where women could not vote, hold office, or control their own property. "But that's different!"

I wish the controversy didn't so often devolve into which sex should get the automatic thumb on the scale. How about no thumb on the scale? Wouldn't it be nice to take down all the signs on the treehouses saying "No Boyz" and "Girlz Not Allowed"? We could approach each other like human beings, see each other for what we are. I promise not to try to sire any children as long as no one meddles in my life trying to obstruct me from doing what I happen to be good at, whether it's what I'm "supposed" to be good at or not.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 21, 2013 06:27 PM

Howdy Tex,
Guess I'm surprised at the anger.
I'd be very quite happy w/ no 'thumb on the scale.'

But, in the real world, sometimes men & women are different, both in general, and the specific. If there is no thumb on the scale, then for specific endeavors certain qualities are advantageous. My guess is that somewhat more often than men, women are better suited as nurses. In almost all cases, combat infantry suits only men . . . and not all men. It is high foolish stupid to think a woman could qualify as a SEAL, much less do the job.
I'm aok w/ with either gender serving in varying roles, but *only* if they are genuinely qualified.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 21, 2013 10:34 PM

Elise,

"In other words, it wasn’t that bad back then so don’t worry if we go back to that. This is not reassuring when women wonder whether a return to such circumscription is a possibility."

Not quite what I meant. What I meant was that the circumscription of women's roles in those times was an extension of the concept of rights that existed in that time (and is no longer considered reasonable in the modern time), rather than a reflection of some essential quality of men that desires to oppress women even today, as some commenters/pundits I've seen seem to believe. If the rules back then were explicitly about oppressing women for the sake of oppressing women, I'd expect them to function more like Jim Crow, where if you get ahead in spite of the rules, either the rules shift to exclude you again or the locals just go around the rules and hang you.

The proper "Y" to fit your example, as I see it, would be "because the concept of human rights that treated men and women as a single unit headed by the man was a product of a bygone time, and has been superseded by concepts that treat men and women as separate individuals with their own individual rights."

Posted by: Matt at September 22, 2013 09:37 AM

Capt. Mike, I agree with what you said. (Did my posts make you think I didn't?) It's an excellent idea to take people's real abilities into account in their jobs as elsewhere. It's not an excellent idea to exclude everyone with a Social Security number ending in "7" from jobs at the Post Office. Most formal disabilities fall somewhere in between, the question being whether a honest attempt is being made to take real abilities into account or whether people are closing doors on the basis of untested assumptions, often rooted in entrenched privilege, caste animus, or blind taboo.

If women can't get a tryout with the L.A. Raiders, I'm not concerned. If they can't vote, I am. One has to do with actual ability; the other doesn't--which is the point I'm having such difficulty getting across here. A case in point: it seems so odd to me to consider disqualification for the Seals in the same breath with disenfranchisement. That's why I was struggling with the possibility that the underlying concept was that women were inherently incompetent as citizens by virtue of being female. I'm picking up an undercurrent of "Sure, at one time women couldn't vote, control their own property, become doctors, etc., but you don't want them competing as Sumo wrestlers, right?--so we need some kind of sex-based restrictions. Things weren't really all that bad back then."

I'm also a little baffled that an angry response would come as a surprise. Is there no man here who could imagine being on the receiving end of this kind of intolerable nonsense? I'm not so much angry that it happened--people have done all kinds of horrible things to each other, and there's no reason women should have been exempt--but it does make me angry that a modern man would defend it.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 22, 2013 11:24 AM

The proper "Y" to fit your example, as I see it, would be "because the concept of human rights that treated men and women as a single unit headed by the man was a product of a bygone time, and has been superseded by concepts that treat men and women as separate individuals with their own individual rights."

That sounds like a good "Y" but we still need an "X". Why was it once considered reasonable to subsume women under their husbands' households? This would lead us to an explanation of why that is no longer considered reasonable and, therefore, why women need not be concerned that it will once again be considered reasonable - and safely ignore those who do still consider it reasonable.

I'd expect them to function more like Jim Crow, where if you get ahead in spite of the rules, either the rules shift to exclude you again or the locals just go around the rules and hang you.

It would be interesting to do the same types of analysis of the Jim Crow era that historians are doing of the Medieval Era. I suspect that such an analysis would find that African-Americans often managed to act as agents in their own lives despite the Jim Crow laws. The list of historically black colleges and universities, for example, indicates that even during the worst of this period, African-Americans were taking control of their own destinies to the greatest extent possible. That does not, of course, mean that Jim Crow laws were not a big deal, simply that people always strive to find a way to flourish within any system, however repressive.

Posted by: Elise at September 22, 2013 01:02 PM

We could approach each other like human beings, see each other for what we are. I promise not to try to sire any children as long as no one meddles in my life trying to obstruct me from doing what I happen to be good at, whether it's what I'm "supposed" to be good at or not.

That doesn't sound like a lot to ask, does it?

Posted by: Elise at September 22, 2013 01:03 PM

It is offensive to the dignity of women (or any other subordinated caste) to have a disability tied to something other than absence of ability.

I think you're at risk of a redundancy here, since you appear to define "a subordinated caste" as anyone who is under a disability of this sort. There appears to be no other definition for it; in fact, the term "caste" is really inappropriate to anything in our society (or Medieval Europe, if we are still talking about that -- I'm really not sure any more what the discussion is about). Since the laws change all the time, and are generally ignored by the government at its pleasure, there's no way in which a "caste" could come to exist or be sustained in existence.

In any case, the analogy starts with me personally -- if it's an insult, it's an insult because you might desire better than to be roped in with people like me. And you really and reasonably might, but at least I'm not trying to put you in a category I'm unwilling to share.

The point of dis-analogy -- the place where the analogy breaks down, as analogies do -- is that people like me (and, to the right of me, the hunchback) are potentially (or actually, in his case) defective; but there's nothing defective about women. So the objection, if an objection is valid, would be that it is reasonable to object to disability (or potential disability) but not to abilities of a different sort.

But I think the analogy holds, because the reason to disqualify these classes is to the left of the point of dis-analogy. The question isn't about whether women are disabled by being women, or about whether they are disabled at all. It's about whether the cost to the military of giving members of these classes 'a try' is out of line with the needs of the force to be effective. Just why the costs are higher, or different, isn't at issue: it could be disability or just complication (like adding sexuality to an infantry unit).

So I think it all holds together. I'm sorry that my thinking so makes you angry, because I don't wish to do so. I hope you (and Elise, and Cass) will take it as a mark of my respect for you that I tell you the truth about what I think even though it may make you angry, rather than lying to make you feel good or at ease. I may be wrong, and I may even be bad, but I am at least honest and direct with you about what I think and why I think it.

If it offends you, I can only offer my sincere friendship as an apology; and you will have it even if I can't keep yours. But I won't try to keep it by pretending insincerely. I think we both deserve better than that.

Posted by: Grim at September 22, 2013 04:02 PM

Hi Elise,
Meant no offense, and I probably got a little confused. Have no problem w/ womens' suffrage, and would be surprised if anyone would actually question that publicly nowadays.

Quite agree that *every* position ought to be filled on the basis of ability (plus motivation, etc), and not on the basis of color, gender, etc. Also oppose affirmative action* in hiring generally, as it violates that concept.

*have difficulty opposing affirmative action for undergraduate admissions.

Very Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at September 22, 2013 08:16 PM

Capt Mike, no offense taken but I suspect your response was actually for T99. :+)

Posted by: Elise at September 22, 2013 10:22 PM

Apparently I have a lot of catching up to do. Please be patient - I'm still recovering from an epic migraine.

Posted by: Cass at September 23, 2013 08:31 AM

Capt. Mike--no offense taken!

Grim, I hope you'll allow me a little leeway to use the term "caste" metaphorically. I wasn't suggesting that the West had been catapulted into India. I agree that I am roughly defining "caste" in this sense as "a group that is arbitrarily restricted from desirable aspirations on some basis other that the actual abilities of its members." I am not using the term to mean a permanent state of affairs that can never be changed by social evolution or legal reform, only a snapshot of what is, in fact, the effect at a particular time on a particular group subjected to arbitrary disabilities.

I didn't see that your analogy roped me in with you, or to be more accurate that it successfully roped in with you the women who were disenfranchised or otherwise formally disqualified from ordinary adult activities. If your analogy had successfully done so, it would not have been an insult. Instead, your analogy successfully roped in only women who might have been disqualified from voting, etc., as a result of objective and accurate judgments of their incompetence to pursue those activities. (Unless I'm misunderstanding you, and your medical disqualification was something you thought was arbitrary, erroneous, and irrelevant to your actual fitness for the position you were pursuing? That may be where I was going wrong.)

I do appreciate your candor (as well as value your friendship) and would never ask you to dissimulate in order to spare my feelings. I do wonder, though, if you'd be prepared to answer my question about whether you believe the formal disabilities visited on women (i.e., inability to vote, control their own property, or pursuing professions such as the medical one) were based on the women's actual incapacity. I may not like the answer, but it would help dispel some confusion about why you think your personal example is relevant to the caste system I was complaining about. Because from my point of view it was strictly apples and oranges.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 23, 2013 01:41 PM

I do wonder, though, if you'd be prepared to answer my question about whether you believe the formal disabilities visited on women (i.e., inability to vote, control their own property, or pursuing professions such as the medical one) were based on the women's actual incapacity.

One of the problems I have is that answering a question like this strikes me as a nearly impossible proposition: to give the kind of answer I would find satisfying, I would need to explore several different legal traditions across several hundred years, demonstrate that mostly they didn't impose anything like blanket restrictions on women, but then look at the occasional examples where they did in order to see how each of them was justified by the people who imposed it. When did medicine become a profession, as opposed to a practice that women and men both performed (the answer seems to have something to do with the formalization of the study after the 13th century; but St. Hildegard of Bingen, who died in the 12th, was one of the most famous physicians of the middle ages, as were many others).

So you'd get dozen answers, maybe, or twenty or sixty depending on how long we wanted to go after it and how many specific cases we uncovered.

(When it comes to voting rights, we'd have to look at how voting rights even came to exist at all, and where, and how they were extended to other classes, and how that was justified -- but this is quite late for me, largely outside my period of interest.)

I don't think that's at all what you're after, though. I'd like to give you the simple answer you'd probably prefer. In general I think women are just as competent as men to own property. I have increasing concern about voting and democracy in general, which compete with my deeply-felt and longstanding Jeffersonian commitments, but these concerns aren't related to women. I always choose a female doctor given the option, not because I think women are necessarily better at medicine but because I generally prefer their bedside manner. (This is a subjective justification, of course, but one I feel at liberty to make for myself.)

So I don't have any universal justifications that could be applied to all times and places that would suggest women ought to be under any disabilities in these areas you ask about. I don't, in general, wish that more disabilities existed for women, nor do I generally advocate for any.

(The area of military service is the sole exception, in which I think IN GENERAL that the needs of the force are of such paramount interest for the survival of our way of life that this concern outweighs the rights of any particular person to serve. That's why I think the analogy works to rope in people who are perfectly able -- as I was, as I assume the women may be -- but who carry risks or costs for the force that causes the force to reject them as a class. I find that perfectly legitimate because all the liberties we enjoy can be actualized only if we control a physical space for it, and the military is how we do that. Thus the needs of the force have a kind of priority -- over my interests and abilities, or anyone else's.)

What I do advocate for is a more nuanced and less ideological study of history, and a greater appreciation for the quality of our cultural ancestors and extraordinary heritage. I end up pushing back against words like "caste" and "zoo" chiefly because I don't think they are good ways of thinking about what was going on.

Posted by: Grim at September 23, 2013 02:56 PM

After reading this discussion, I find myself in much the same place I was in last week: in agreement with pretty much everything I've seen from Tex and Elise.

From the very beginning of the discussion and repeatedly throughout it, they (and I) have agreed that there is no evidence of a formal or coordinated conspiracy by men to oppress women. None of us has said that men and women hated each other in the past, or any of the other unopposed debating points that keep being thrown out. I don't know how many times or how many different ways the same thing can be said?

So why does that keep coming up?

Those points were conceded from the start. They are not being advanced or defended here. They may be elsewhere, and again none of us has said they aren't. But they're not, here.

I began by disagreeing with Grim about the strength of the anecdotal evidence raised to bolster his oft-advanced belief that women were generally (this is important) able to do what they wanted to even in times where the law explicitly recognized far fewer rights for women than it did for men.

Listing cases where some women were able to beat the system and then stating that 100% of the women he just listed were able to do this, therefore things must not have been all that bad is not a very sound argument. 100% of a biased sample will be .... surprise!... biased. It proves nothing. It suggests that possibly there may be more stories like this, but it proves nothing.

As Elise so aptly stated, it's easy to find similar stories about blacks under Jim Crow and even under slavery. I've linked to several here in the past. But success stories like that don't make slavery or Jim Crow laws any less offensive. It's a tribute to the human spirit that exceptional people (and even, sometimes, ordinary people) can find ways to thrive under adversity. And it's a tribute to the men in these women's lives that they often found ways to help the women they loved do so.

Again, the whole "men are evil/wrong/bad" thing hasn't been argued by any of us (and indeed has been *repeatedly* rejected, only to miraculously and repeatedly resurrect itself in the responses to their rejections). Continuing to argue a point that was conceded from the start is a bit mystifying.

Grim's historical anecdotes DO cast doubt on the thesis that women were uniformly oppressed by men and NEVER found ways around that oppression, but as Elise noted in her comment on September 21, 2013 03:23 PM, that's not at all what feminist scholarship has been arguing. So again, we're still debating a straw woman.

What is unarguable (because we can easily point to examples in the law as recently as the 1800s) is that it was common for the law to formally and explicitly bar women from doing things men were not barred from doing because they were women. It was common for the law to refuse to recognize or defend basic rights like property ownership, parental status, or representative government for women in ages when those rights WERE recognized and defended... but only for men.

Citing some bar not based on being male (Grim repeatedly tried to raise physical disability as a bar to FURTHER military service as being "like" being barred from serving altogether because you're female) is a non sequitur. I understand that he was trying to suggest that there may well have been good reasons for the law to treat women differently, but that very suggestion is what we've been trying to pin him down on throughout this discussion.

Finally, to a few other points.

Gregory (welcome back!) posits that we let the Christian Church settle this. Secular systems should "allow" women to be in charge of the home front and men to be in charge of the public sector. If by that he means noninterference in the private arrangements of citizens, hooray. I'm all for it. But if he's suggesting that the law should bar citizens from making their own determinations (so, women can't vote because their role is limited to managing their homes), I'm against it. I don't see how we can base a secular system on religious authority (and authority that doesn't speak with one voice on the subject, to boot).

The various Christian churches *don't* agree with each other on many things. So we're not even appealing to a single authority whose will we can discern with any finality.

Matt's comment, here, is worth highlighting (especially as it is what Grim has so often advocated):

I wonder if it makes sense to view this in the context of political power moving to lower levels over time. At first all power rested with the sovereign, who was expected to take into account the needs of all his subjects and make the decision that was optimum for all of them. Then that same concept of power and rights shifted downwards to the nobility, who were similarly expected to act for the benefit of their subjects. After that, with the formation of elected legislatures, power, rights, and the vote passed to the smaller landowners and landlords, who were again expected to consider the needs of their tenants (upon whose well-being the landlord's own livelihood depended upon, after all) when casting a vote. Then the vote passed to all male citizens, whom (it was assumed) would cast their vote and exercise their legal rights considering the aggregate needs of their household rather than only their own. This having proven false far too often (as it had before for the sovereign, and the nobles, and the landlords), political and legal rights were granted to women to act as individuals, in their own interests.

That's a more 'organic' way of looking at history, and aligns more closely with the way I see things. I'm reminded of this quote by Abigail Adams:

“...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”
― Abigail Adams

Replace "Men" with "Human Beings", and you have my position exactly. I will answer the question I posed to Grim earlier.

I would not accept that men alone should determine what rights are granted to women any more than I would accept the preposterous notion that women alone should get to determine what rights are granted to men because too much power corrupts us all.

I am no more sanguine about the benevolence of all women than I am about the benevolence of all men.

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 06:32 AM

Cass:

I'm not sure why what I wrote sounded like that to you, but OK. No doubt an argument that sounds like the one you just rejected ought to be rejected.

Maybe someday we'll try again. :) Perhaps we'll be able to get past whatever it is that keeps me from making my argument in ways you can hear and understand. It's probably my fault for not quite understanding how to put it correctly, but I did the best I can do for right now and apparently what I thought I said isn't very close to what you heard me say.

In any event, please note that I didn't raise Affirmative Action as an example because none of you were defending it. I didn't try to saddle you with it.

It is nevertheless the law of the land. The preference for women, given a small number of actual positions, is effectively a bar on equally-qualified men. (In fact, it's often high enough that it's a total bar on men who don't have preferences of some other kind -- race or, more understandably, things like preferences for disabled veterans).

I have been denied consideration for a number of Federal jobs since 9/11 because the law requires jobs of that type to be filled from those with preference points. I think we've discussed that in the past: the Navy jobs website used to ask about your qualifications, starting with your preferences, and for many jobs it just rejects you if you didn't have any -- before you actually entered any qualifications like education or experience.

So one of us has been denied jobs, even in the last ten years, based on sex -- based on being male and not female. I get that part of your argument. I tend to accept the discrimination without much complaint (just as I didn't complain about it in this discussion, and am only raising it now because I apparently appear to you to be completely incapable of entertaining it conceptually) because I understand the context of how the rules came about and what their purpose is. It's the same standard I'm applying elsewhere, for whatever that's worth.

Tex --

This question related to Hildegard of Bingen proves to be really interesting. I haven't had time to do enough research since you got me thinking about it yesterday to give a fully formed analysis, but maybe we'll talk about it sometime when I have.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 10:52 AM

Grim, I take your point that you believe scholarship will shown/has shown that the formal disabilities visited on women were not as uniform and airtight as they might have been. The reason that I don't engage on that subject is that I consider it essentially beside the point. No repressive system is ever 100% effective. I'm trying to discuss the impulse to repress, not the success that many of its targets enjoy in ameliorating the impact of the repression.

Our discussions often become confused when I try to address the grounds (vel non) for the repression, and you want to discuss in a more nuanced fashion whether the impact of the repression was as overwhelming as it might have been. I believe that leads you into characteristic errors such as imagining that you've experienced something similar, when what you describe yourself as having experienced could not possibly be similar unless one posits that women were inherently incompetent. I didn't really think you believed that, but I hoped by forcing the point I could induce you to work out what I believe to be a contradiction in your own head: the idea that it's possible to "respect" women and yet be entirely cavalier about what it means to soft-pedal the impact of things like disenfranchisement, merely because some or even many women found ways to enjoy entirely satisfactory lives under those needless and unjust disabilities. Anne Frank had some pretty good moments, too, and was properly grateful to God for her life.

In any case, my very dear fellow, though I will candidly admit that you persist in views I consider to be thoughtless and that make me angry, I hope you will never conclude that it lessens my regard for you. If you can believe that it's possible to respect women while entertaining the notions that you do, surely you can believe that my affection overcomes the many ways in which I believe you fall into error. Believe it or not, I'm capable of imagining that I am also sometimes in error! (Not on this topic, of course, but on others.) :-)

Posted by: Texan99 at September 24, 2013 11:18 AM

...one of us has been denied jobs, even in the last ten years, based on sex -- based on being male and not female. I get that part of your argument. I tend to accept the discrimination without much complaint (just as I didn't complain about it in this discussion, and am only raising it now because I apparently appear to you to be completely incapable of entertaining it conceptually) because I understand the context of how the rules came about and what their purpose is. It's the same standard I'm applying elsewhere, for whatever that's worth.

That's just the point, though. I don't accept that kind of discrimination for jobs funded with my tax dollars. And I'm not sure any of us should. I don't really care about the motives of those making such rules. Nor do I care whether those denied employment managed to live happy lives.

I doubt proponents of affirmative action ever sat down and said, "Let's see how we can hurt white males?" If, in fact, their rules end up hurting white males, their motives aren't much comfort. Whether the rulemakers are evil/bad folk or well meaning, stupid folk is pretty much irrelevant.

We could debate the merits of this statement:

The preference for women, given a small number of actual positions, is effectively a bar on equally-qualified men. (In fact, it's often high enough that it's a total bar on men who don't have preferences of some other kind -- race or, more understandably, things like preferences for disabled veterans).

There is no way to evaluate this assertion without knowing who got those jobs and the relative merits of the applicants. It's not the kind of thing we should take on faith.

If no men were hired, or very few men, or few men relative to the pool of equally qualified men, I think you'd have an excellent case for discrimination on the basis of sex. But the case would be very difficult to make without actually looking at both the applicant pool and the pool of successful applicants.

It's pretty rare for an employer to be up front about such things. That's why discrimination cases are so hard to win (and why disparate impact arguments are so popular). Either way, understanding the context of how such rules come about doesn't make them fair or just.

Posted by: Cass at September 24, 2013 11:43 AM

... you believe scholarship will shown/has shown that the formal disabilities visited on women were not as uniform and airtight as they might have been. The reason that I don't engage on that subject is that I consider it essentially beside the point. No repressive system is ever 100% effective. I'm trying to discuss the impulse to repress, not the success that many of its targets enjoy in ameliorating the impact of the repression. Our discussions often become confused when I try to address the grounds (vel non) for the repression, and you want to discuss in a more nuanced fashion whether the impact of the repression was as overwhelming as it might have been.

Thank you, Tex. This is a very clear summation of the argument I don't intend to be making, but that I don't know how to avoid sounding like I'm making. Of course this argument should be rejected, but it's not what I'm after.

What I'm after is a new concept of how these structures arise, one that isn't based on a widespread impulse to repress at all. I obviously haven't been able to explain that clearly, and maybe I can't now either.

Let me sketch the Hildegard matter just as a way of showing how I think these things happen -- at least, what I've understood of it since I became interested in it yesterday, so I may be wrong on important details. Forgive that, and just think about the model I'm trying to present as a paradigm for understanding these issues.

During the Middle Ages, medicine was understood in a much less formal way. There were physicians but not "doctors." Physicians had a small amount of formal knowledge, and a large amount of practical knowledge. They may have had very limited schooling (as did Hildegard herself -- not because she was a woman, as her family was quite rich and put her to school in good places, but because she was very sick as a child and was not able to attend to lessons well).

Men and women both served as healers, especially those attached to the Church. Monasteries and nunneries and abbeys were places of healing, and people who were respected as "leeches" or physicians were men and women both.

About the 12th century, the works of Aristotle began to come into the West. These represented a huge improvement in our medical knowledge. By the 13th century, the great universities began to analyze them carefully and construct formal courses in medicine. Now some of these were open to women (especially in Italy), but some of them (especially the University of Paris) were chiefly devoted to training priests, and so were male-only. Other centers of learning were female-only, but they were less interested (for their own reasons) in Aristotle.

So over the next couple of centuries, the practice of medicine was formalized. Still there are not 'doctors,' but now you could get a formal degree as a Master of Medicine. Women got them, sometimes, but relatively few because few women chose to go to universities in Italy, and because the Church's sponsored centers for female learning weren't as interested in pursuing the technical works of Aristotle.

So by the time the field of medicine began to issue credentials about who was or wasn't a "doctor" of medicine, the field had become almost universally male. This wasn't a decision anyone made; no impulse to repress was at work. It was a creation of the aggregate of different choices made by men and women.

Now women pushed back against this by the 19th century, demanding entry to the credentialed field. Sometimes they did this by founding their own colleges and demanding they be accredited on the same grounds as the older universities, and in fact several very important such colleges were founded in the 19th century. Sometimes they did it by demanding entry to older universities, and in fact they succeeded in overturning the male-only policies at many ancient places.

So by 1900, women had pushed into the field of medicine, and were widely being credentialed as doctors. But by 1950, there were fewer women doctors than there had been in 1900 -- not because of a new rise of repression, but because fewer women were making those choices.

On this model, what appears to be a repressive standard is actually a pure accident of history; the choices people freely made that led to the standard weren't imposed consciously for that reason at all. They just happened; and when and where women complained and pushed back, they succeeded at convincing men to overturn the old policies and admit them.

What I think happens is that some men who defend the old standards end up inventing ad hoc justifications about why women shouldn't do these things -- as if there had been this ancient and wise policy intentionally put into place by the Masters of Old. So we get these genuinely sexist (and usually philosophically suspect) universal arguments that really would be repressive if we agreed to them.

But that isn't how the situation came about. It's a kind of error being made by these men, who don't know how it happened and are making stuff up on the spot to rationalize a policy whose history they don't really know anyway.

That's what I think feminist scholarship will eventually decide. Not that the repressive instinct wasn't always effective, or that men helped women dodge it sometimes, but that we need to think about how these structures come about in a way that disposes of a repressive instinct as a cause. Insofar as we see a repressive instinct, it isn't in the cause of the structures but in the defense of them; it is, as it is said to be, a kind of ignorance.

But that still changes our reading of the history in important ways. We see our ancestors very differently if we seem them that way: they're more like us, more like agents, and more likely to really respect and care about each other than we've been giving them credit for being.

Now if what I just said still sounds like the argument you've been rejecting all along, forget I said it. :) I'm not trying to go around again on the same point, because we haven't understood each other very well. It's a very different way of thinking that I'm after than the one I sound to you like I'm advocating. Maybe someday it'll be clearer than I've been able to make it up until now.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 12:00 PM

"What I'm after is a new concept of how these structures arise, one that isn't based on a widespread impulse to repress at all. I obviously haven't been able to explain that clearly, and maybe I can't now either."

I doubt the formal disabilities of women were often based on a widespread impulse to repress. It might surprise you how little interest I often have in what motivated men to prevent women from doing things like voting. I accept that they often may have had sterling motives; I just don't find it answers the point I've been making, which is that it is both intolerable to be expected to live under that kind of disability (however well-intended) and exasperating to encounter nostalgia for the system in the present day. No doubt men didn't know any better then. They should now.

Whether or not it's the case that women early on were not exactly disqualified from medical careers and only later came to be disqualified, when men came to misconstrue the original explanation for the ranks of doctors having almost entirely been free of women, there is no such explanation for the formal disabilities of not having the franchise and not having the right to control property. (Yes, I know there were exceptions and that a few women in a few circumstances managed to maintain control of their property. My own great-grandmother managed to become a doctor against huge odds. Again, still not the point.) There is an elephant in the middle of this room, and you are in danger of being distracted by some of the hairs in his tail, out of what I consider a misguided (though well-intended) determination to preserve nuance. It makes you come out with long statements that fall on my ear very much like "Yes, taking everything into consideration, women were on the whole not incompetent to vote, although as you know I have real concerns about whether voting really works well for anyone, but mostly, yes, women are not what I would call inherently incapable of acting as adult citizens, though the real point is whether men can fairly be blamed for having treated them as though they were." It's like it hurts you to admit it! Which I know is not your intention at all, and I am teasing you here.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 24, 2013 05:35 PM

It is a difficulty that ignorant men who want to talk about relations between women and men can speak clearly and concisely, whereas men who have an opinion based on long study and evidence have to lay out a great deal of bothersome and boring text. I don't blame you for finding it numbing.

Still, it's worthwhile sometimes. Some of what we think we know about the past is just wrong.

I don't think it's true, for example, that most women couldn't own property in the Western Medieval tradition -- in fact I can't offhand think of any case in which it's true in that place and period. I often respond with stories about women who did, but that seems to leave you with the idea that it was rare or exceptional. The exception, if it exists, ought to run the other way: I really can't think of a law in which women of that time and place were forbidden to own things. I can think of many examples of women owning things, but I can't think of any example of women being told they couldn't own things.

It is true that British common law considered a married couple one person, with common property; and it is true that, well into the modern age in 1765, Blackstone explained this in a rather insulting way that suggested that the married woman was a non-person during the marriage. Nevertheless even in Blackstone's day property acquired during the marriage was divided in case of divorce, so that the truth is that the woman retained some ownership interest even in marriage. Furthermore, Blackstone's explanation is not viable in regions of Britain which had the dowry tradition, under which the woman specifically retained ownership of that part of their common wealth regardless of what else happened in the marriage. It had to be returned, not divided, on divorce.

So, when we find early American law codes that are dismissive of the property rights of married women, we have a clear culprit: Blackstone, whose writings on the law were so important to the formation of early American law.

And now, as Chesterton said in his parable of the law, we know enough to tear it down.

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 07:04 PM

Er... "as Chesterton said in his parable of the wall," that is. :)

Posted by: Grim at September 24, 2013 07:06 PM

Do you think you can explain the denial of the franchise, too, or that is that subject to nuance, too, if something that long study and evidence makes less clear?

Posted by: Texan99 at September 25, 2013 12:21 AM

I think you mean that as a rhetorical question, so it is with some trepidation that I attempt to answer it.

We have come to think of the franchise as a kind of natural right, but that isn't how people thought of it while it was first coming to be. For a long time it didn't exist at all, for anyone. When it first did, it was only the nobility who had it and just in a limited way (they could vote only on certain questions, like whether they would agree to pay new taxes).

The extension to that group, and then to other groups, and the broadening of what issues could be voted upon, is not just marked by warfare but grounded in warfare philosophically. The argument wasn't that the franchise was a natural right of noblemen, or later of the knighthood, or later of townsmen of certain towns, etc. It was that they had fought and won it, and would fight again if it wasn't respected. Often they did have to fight again.

It is therefore remarkable how peacefully happened the largest expansion of the franchise ever -- that is, the extension to women, which doubled the number of people who had it. Even after women got it, other groups of men who wanted it often paid a high price in blood.

The extension to women was both the single largest expansion of the franchise ever, and the most peaceful. You said a while ago that you thought I was in danger of being tread upon by the elephant in the room, but this is what strikes me as the elephant. This was a massive change in the social and political order, unprecedented in scale, and yet it was peacefully enacted by supermajorities of the class of people who had the most to lose by the change.

Let me ask you a question, in return. Can you think of any similar peaceful surrender of authority on a similar scale? We sometimes talk about how remarkable it was that George Washington gave up the offer to be king, or that he stepped down after two terms instead of staying on for life, or that Adams and Jefferson followed that precedent of accepting the results of elections in spite of the highly contentious arguments between their factions. We don't see things like this happening in human history very often.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2013 07:52 AM

Let me ask you a question, in return. Can you think of any similar peaceful surrender of authority on a similar scale?

The 15th Amendment? Which was passed a good 50 years before the 19th, if memory serves (I was too lazy to look it up).

In America, voting rights were usually tied to property ownership or class, not warfare or military service.

Begin excerpt:

Arguments for a white, male-only electorate focused on what the men of the era conceived of as the delicate nature of women and their inability to deal with the coarse realities of politics, as well as convictions about race and religion. African Americans and Native Americans were excluded, and, at different times and places, the Protestant majority denied the vote to Catholics and Jews. In some places, propertied women, free blacks, and Native Americans could vote, but those exceptions were just that. They were not signs of a popular belief in universal suffrage.

Property requirements were widespread. Some colonies required a voter to own a certain amount of land or land of a specified value. Others required personal property of a certain value, or payment of a certain amount of taxes. Examples from 1763 show the variety of these requirements. Delaware expected voters to own fifty acres of land or property worth £40. Rhode Island set the limit at land valued at £40 or worth an annual rent of £2. Connecticut required land worth an annual rent of £2 or livestock worth £40.

Such requirements tended to delay a male colonist's entry into the voter ranks until he was settled down and established. They reflected the belief that freeholders, as property owners were called, had a legitimate interest in a community's success and well-being, paid taxes and deserved a voice in public affairs, had demonstrated they were energetic and intelligent enough to be trusted with a role in governance, and had enough resources to be independent thinkers not beholden to the wealthiest class. English jurist William Blackstone wrote in the 1700s:

The true reason of requiring any qualification, with regard to property, in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a situation that they are esteemed to have no will of their own. If these persons had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other. This would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man, a larger share in elections than is consistent with general liberty.

Colonies also restricted opportunities to serve in their legislatures. Immediately before the Revolution, five insisted on significant property requirements for officeholders. But candidates tended to be wealthy anyway.

End excerpt.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2013 08:13 AM

The 15th Amendment was passed at the end of the bloodiest war in American history, though; and enforcing it was the work of another hundred and fifty years of (sometimes very serious) violence. (It is also different in that it wasn't enacted by the people who had most to lose by it, but was forced by military governments on the South; the authors of the law in the North hoped the extension of the franchise would weaken the losers in the late war, because black populations in the North at the time were negligible, whereas they approached 20% in the South).

So that's a case of extension by warfare, for the reasons of the victors. It's a case of the old type. The 19th Amendment represents something new: a genuinely peaceful transfer of power on a huge scale, won by an argument about what would be just and fair.

In America, voting rights were usually tied to property ownership or class, not warfare or military service.

That's just my point, but apparently once again I didn't say it the right way to make it clear. The American franchise came out of a war that very class -- propertied men -- fought and won. That's one of the lessons of the war of independence: it was a relatively small minority of Americans who fought the war, men of that very class.

So it's no surprise that the franchise went to men of that class. That's just how the extent of the franchise had always been determined. Their claimed justification was new -- this is where people started talking about democracy having something to do with natural and universal rights -- but even they didn't think of the vote itself that way. That's why the US Constitution doesn't originally say anything about voting rights for citizens. Only later generations amended it to talk about those things.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2013 08:30 AM

Motives again! I am focusing on the complete absence of any objective rationale for the disability, which suggests to me that, in the present, anyone should be willing to look at its past imposition and conclude, "That was a mistake, however understandable and benign it may have been. We should make it extremely clear that we would not wish to re-impose the disability, and that we are not nostalgic for the good old days in which it was imposed, because now we are aware of the cost of that sort of thing in terms of human dignity, women being people, too." Adopting that attitude would go a long way toward gaining the political confidence of voters who otherwise will try to keep people with ideas like yours from gaining office, for fear that they don't know any better than to continue imposing senseless disabilities on women.

Your natural tendency is to revert to an explanation of the benign motives for the imposition of the disability. I don't really care. If that doesn't work, your next natural tendency is to try to argue that the disability didn't really apply in full force to everyone and in all times and places. Again, I don't really care. I honestly don't see the relevance. I mentioned voting because I didn't think you could figure out a way to argue that the ostensible lack of the franchise somehow hid a deeper reality in which a few women here and there were managing to go to the polls and that further research would surely show that the practice was far more widespread than we have been led to believe.

It's no surprise that the franchise was limited? Of course it's not. There are few things about our forebears' social and political arrangements that come as a surprise. I hope I never suggested that they were the random results of throwing dice. I understand perfectly, for instance, how slavery naturally comes about. So what? I'm not suggesting that the disenfranchisement of women was surprising, only that its demise is not something to be wistful about. It's the "those were the days" aspect that gives offense. I honestly don't need help understanding how people could have gotten their societies into that state. Until we reached a point where physical prowess did not determine most conflicts, it was nearly inevitable.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 25, 2013 10:48 AM

I'm not running for office. :) These aren't political ideas for me anyway, they're ideas about the historical interpretation of history.

But, since you ask, I will say this in praise of the 19th Amendment:

What I find special (and, really, wonderful) about the 19th Amendment is that it happened peacefully, by reason and the consent of those who would lose power over it. It was the largest change to the franchise ever made, but unlike in the other cases, it happened through faith: faith in the power of reason, in the quality of the argument; faith in the men that they could be persuaded, and faith in the women to whom power was being transferred.

That's something very special.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2013 11:36 AM

"That was a mistake, however understandable and benign it may have been. We should make it extremely clear that we would not wish to re-impose the disability, and that we are not nostalgic for the good old days in which it was imposed, because now we are aware of the cost of that sort of thing in terms of human dignity, women being people, too."

Agreed entirely. The past is, as they say, a foreign country where they do things differently, and while to me it might be a quaint place to visit through history books or literature, I certainly wouldn't want to live there, not the least because of the sort of injustices you describe.

I do think the motives are important to understand, even beyond the desire not to unwittingly paint our own ancestors with a darker brush than they deserve. Understanding why something came to be, continued to be, and finally ceased to be, gives us a better idea of whether or not it might come back, and why. It's not enough, to me, simply to reject an injustice; I want to be able to say why it's an injustice and to know how such a thing came into being in the first place, so I can argue on rational grounds and first principles against its return.

I'm not sure about Grim, but my own practical interest in the motives involved comes down to debunking the false narratives of some of the demagogues and rabble-rousers on both sides of today's political scene -- both those who push the post-hoc rationalizations for repression Grim describes, and those who portray much of history as a conspiracy against their kind. Enlightening as the talks here are, the discussions and debates just among the Villainy here won't do much to mend our society. Discussions and debates outside the circle, that get people to question the narratives they've been sold and the political allegiances they've made based on those narratives, might help break the deadlock and get more folks on both sides of the aisle seeing each other as people with whom they can work in good faith again. To me, it makes sense to sound out such arguments in discussions with sensible people before venturing out into the madhouse.

Posted by: Matt at September 25, 2013 05:41 PM

I'm not suggesting that the disenfranchisement of women was surprising, only that its demise is not something to be wistful about. It's the "those were the days" aspect that gives offense. I honestly don't need help understanding how people could have gotten their societies into that state. Until we reached a point where physical prowess did not determine most conflicts, it was nearly inevitable.

Yes, yes, yes. Among the errors Matt refers to in his comment above is one conservatives are particularly prone to: romanticizing the past.

Anything that's not today was some Golden Era where men and women were uniformly ecstatic, comity and goodwill were everywhere and always in abundance, and ne'er a discouraging word was ever heard in all the land.

I can't tell you how much that annoys me. It's a categorical error of exactly the same kind as the one feminists and progressives make when they pretend that everyone in bygone times (except the victims) was Evil and Malevolent and life was always and everywhere nasty, brutish, and short.

Both are gross, gross oversimplifications, and I want no part of either.

I think it may have been Mike who said something a while back about no one seriously talking about denying the franchise to women nowadays - if I'm wrong, please excuse the memory lapse. One need go no farther back than the VC archives to know that's not the case. Or you could Google repeal + 19th Amendment.

I wouldn't describe myself as afraid of such suggestions, but before being exposed to some of the nuttier elements of the conservative blogosphere, I would have thought that was a fringe position.

I don't, anymore. And I have a lot more understanding for why so many women distrust conservatives. I don't agree with these women, but their position no longer seems at all unreasonable and I could not assure them with a straight face that there aren't a lot of conservative men who would do that in a heartbeat if they could.

I've seen too many of them in the comments sections and at the helms of conservative blogs, and not just the obscure ones.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 25, 2013 06:30 PM

Alas, I'm afraid I'm more at risk of drowning you in nuance than oversimplifying the debate! :) But let me venture a counterpoint to one of my own points, because I feel I may not have been completely fair to the Founders. I think Jefferson's ghost might object to some things I said above.

The Founders were well-educated and well-read, and debated these issues at length. They were particularly interested in Aristotle's Politics and in the Roman writings (both of which many of them could read in the original). They did invest a lot of serious thought to these questions, even if I don't believe they really followed that thought so much as political realities. But I think this is what they believed they were doing in structuring the franchise the way they did:

[O]ligarchs mistakenly think that those who are superior in wealth should also have superior political rights, whereas the democrats hold that those who are equal in free birth should also have equal political rights. Both of these conceptions of political justice are mistaken in Aristotle's view, because they assume a false conception of the ultimate end of the city-state. The city-state is neither a business enterprise to maximize wealth (as the oligarchs suppose) nor an association to promote liberty and equality (as the democrats maintain). Instead, Aristotle argues, “the good life is the end of the city-state,” that is, a life consisting of noble actions (1280b39–1281a4). Hence, the correct conception of justice is aristocratic, assigning political rights to those who make a full contribution to the political community, that is, to those with virtue as well as property and freedom (1281a4–8).

If you read the debates about it (which I know that you, Cass, have certainly done) they talk in more or less these terms. They want the democrats' end (a union to preserve liberty), but they also want to restrict the vote to the "virtuous and propertied" in order to ensure that the union has a good character. It's quite likely they themselves thought they were really following the wisdom of the ancients.

But the truth -- I think -- is that they ended up mapping the franchise to the class of the victors. Most likely they would have preferred a smaller class! Think about how contentious and hateful the debates were between the Jeffersonian faction and the other early factions.

The truth is that they didn't even trust each other with the vote. They certainly didn't want to extend it any further than they had to do. But they couldn't shrink the franchise any more without destroying the union, which was very fragile at first. A smaller franchise might have been desirable to the Founders, but the question of who got excluded was one that would have pulled the factions -- and the country -- apart.

So I take them to have done what I've called "the old thing," that is, assigning the franchise to the victors according to the necessities of war and its aftermath. But I suppose, since I've drowned us in historical nuance so far, I ought to include this defense of them too.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2013 07:07 PM

One need go no farther back than the VC archives to know that's not the case. Or you could Google repeal + 19th Amendment.

I wouldn't describe myself as afraid of such suggestions, but before being exposed to some of the nuttier elements of the conservative blogosphere, I would have thought that was a fringe position.

My suspicion is, if a movement ever came along that did have a serious chance of repealing the 19th amendment,

a.) some proportion of men would strongly support it
b.) some proportion of men would say something along the lines of "Well, of course I don't support this movement....but..." (what Lileks has termed the "damning 'but'")
c.) some proportion of men would shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, it doesn't affect me, so I don't care,"
d.) some proportion of men would unconditionally reject it.

I would like to think that Group D would be by far the largest. I fear that Group C would be.

There are some really scary corners of the web.

Posted by: colagirl at September 25, 2013 07:22 PM

I think Group D would be the largest by far, but I also think that there's no danger of a constitutional amendment of any kind coming along soon. We can't even pass a budget these days.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2013 07:31 PM

I don't mean that to sound in any way dismissive of your point, colagirl, which is that you're worried about it. In a way I'm worried about it too, but from a different angle.

What made the 19th special was the degree of trust and faith it showed, across interests and in each other. The point about the budget is that we've lost that. We've lost all that trust.

Your fear is reasonable, just because we can't pass a budget. America isn't what it was when the 19th passed. We don't have that faith anymore. I don't think there's any danger of an amendment, but I do think there's a danger of a collapse. In fact, I expect one.

So it's right to be thinking about what might come next.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2013 08:02 PM

There are some really scary corners of the web.

Yep. And I spend a lot of time reminding myself that paying too much attention to the noisier, more sensational, uber-outragey voices isn't much different from getting wrapped around the axle over every sensationalistic anecdote that hits the news.

It's hard to put such things in perspective. What scares me is not that there are so many guys willing to say things I keep hearing that no one's seriously saying.

It's the rest of the people who say nothing. It's not unreasonable to think that they (group C) clearly outnumber Group A by a large margin, but they're not inclined to stand up for anything that doesn't directly impact them.

FWIW, I don't think this is some special property of men. It's a human tendency. But still, I am a far more pessimistic person now than I once was, and it's because I had to have my nose rubbed in what I didn't want to see b/c it was unpleasant.

That's a pretty depressing insight, even if it's utterly unsurprising to someone who has never thought either party had a monopoly on virtue (just that one party's ideas were better than the other). But ideas are easily trumped by character and instinct.

Posted by: Cass at September 25, 2013 08:59 PM

There are two problems, at least, with the nuanced approach to looking with clear eyes at the fact that, until recently, most of the world thought it was a fine idea to exclude women from the franchise (and many areas--and political persuasions--still are fuzzy on why it's a problem).

One is that none of the nuance is particularly relevant. Obviously the franchise was never universal even among men, so you can spend pages describing how some men also suffered under this disability. The fact remains that ALL women were. If the franchise had been extended to some men and women, and withheld from others, then our discussion would be about whether it was a good idea to apply those distinctions. In our history, however, the distinctions among men were various and fuzzy, while the dividing line between men and women was crystal clear. And if we're discussing whether women should be expected to be offended and/or alarmed by nostalgia for such a system, that's the relevant point, not the many senses in which some fraction of men historically also were disenfranchised. The fact is, a man might lose the franchise by being too poor or too unlucky, but a woman lost it by being a woman from birth.

Second, in discussing whether we should pine for a return of the good old days when, among other important things, women could not vote, the most helpful and interesting aspect of the historical record is not the subjective experience of the men who happened to be involved. Were they probably OK guys? Yes, and I'm happy for them if they were nice to their dogs and paid their debts and otherwise were good people, but that's something of a distraction from the point of the discussion. It's a little like watching discussions of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. They were both wonderful, admirable men, and they both owned slaves. You can't reach any useful conclusions about whether it would be a good idea to return to the system of slavery by focusing on whether Jefferson or Washington should or could have done better in the system they were born into, or whether it's fair to harbor resentment against them.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 26, 2013 11:27 AM

There's something to your second point, although there's a way in which any person of accomplishment is likely to have had support from less-privileged workers. Still, we can make a division between slave and free (but low-status and badly-paid) workers that is strong enough to stand.

As to the first point, it's absolutely true in early America that, very quickly, sex replaced class as the major dividing line. It's not true elsewhere: a woman born into a noble house or even into the middle class had far more rights than a man born into a poor house. A woman who came into legal conflict with a man would be at an advantage or a disadvantage in the courts primarily based on their class status: a higher-class woman would be assumed to be in the right. Class is of much more importance in the earlier period than we are trained to think about.

Likewise, when we talk about the period before the franchise was widely shared at all, we really should look for other ways in which society was structured. Almost no one could change the law, but people could hold offices and build structures that had their own bylaws. There was a lot of delegation by the state to these corporate entities to control their members, so much so that the state would itself accept disabilities (for example, students at the University of Paris were exempt from secular law entirely).

So it's important to look at the ways women were in charge of their own structures, and we find many such ways. It may be reasonable to take that as the early analogue to the franchise -- the part where you can structure the rules that actually govern your life, even if you can't (as almost no one can) affect the laws that guide the broader state. If that's the case, then women had this power about the same time as men in Western Europe. We've talked in the past about some of the ways in which this power was exercised by women. Some medieval guilds admitted them on equal terms; and they set up institutions of their own, such as lay orders, which they governed on their own terms.

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2013 11:48 AM

Actually, let me amend one remark. What's really true in early America, especially the South, is that race was the most important division. Then sex, then class.

So you have the Hamiltonian and Adams factions pushing for a kind of aristocracy, whereby class would remain a kind of factor in American society. And you have the Jeffersonian faction pushing for a more democratic society, meaning that class would be pushed down as a factor. But they were able to do this in part because race was there to replace it, and provide the cheap labor that pre-industrial society depended on for any kind of civilization.

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2013 12:02 PM

By the way, if you're tempted to respond to the first argument, "But it's still true that women were treated unfairly, because in relations between social peers they would tend to lose," I don't think the facts will bear that out either.

Look at the study on kidnappings, for example. In these cases we have social peers -- the kidnappings were generally over the woman's inheritance, which, by the way, is property she owns that goes with her whether she stays with the family or marries another. In these cases her social peers in her family tended to lose in cases where the woman's interest was opposed to them: that is, the courts tended to follow the woman's interest. (Meaning, the alleged kidnapping wasn't really a kidnapping, but an elopement or otherwise according to her desire.)

So again, the picture is nuanced, and it's worth looking at the real cases we have. But though sex was definitely important in the earlier period, it wasn't the kind of monolithic factor that we Americans have often taken it to be. That's more our experience, and less theirs.

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2013 12:11 PM

I'm going to have to jump out of this conversation at this time, which is too bad because there's still very interesting ground to cover. Unfortunately, my wife just had a little accident, and I expect I'll be needed for a few days to attend to her interests.

We can always come back to it later!

Posted by: Grim at September 26, 2013 05:58 PM

Um, sorry if I wrote something easily misunderstood, Cassandra. I do NOT advocate that the Christian church form the basis of our rights, responsibilities and roles. I DO advocate that we let the Word of God do that for us.

All Mosaic Covenant followers (Jews, Samaritans and sundry others) and Christians can agree on one fundamental, basic thing: the Word of God is *the* authoritative basis upon which all of our lives are to be constructed. Sure, the RCs may quibble a bit and add papal bulls also as an authority, but that is in addition to the Bible and not in replacement (at least in theory).

I happen to agree wholeheartedly that Mankind's propensity to bugger things up is unparalleled; hence, if we started with something supernatural, we're more likely to get somewhere. I think it is critical that we recognise that men and women are very, very different - not just biologically, but also psychologically; that in general, we're suited to different roles, and that society accommodates to that recognition.

As for the franchise, I'm actually in agreement with a universal franchise... for everyone who pays taxes, owns tangible hard-to-move-or-liquidate assets in the country he's voting in, is willing to swear an oath of allegiance to the country's source of sovereignty, and demonstrates some knowledge of the socio-political system. What's the point of having the franchise if you don't exercise your right (Australia has mandatory voting and less than 80% effectively do so)? Moreover, and let's be honest here, how many people actually exercise their franchise wisely, considering the candidates' platforms (and the platform of their party if any), as opposed to (paraphrasing L.M. Montgomery) being born Grit or Tory, live Grit or Tory and die Grit or Tory?

I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because in my country, my franchise is being eroded by gerrymandering, wanton expenditure of taxpayer funds by the incumbents, and sheer malfeasance (votes by non-citizens ferried in by the busloads, all paid for by the incumbents).

And in my darker hours of suspicion, well, let's put it this way. I don't know how many of you know Muslim women. I can tell you right now that for the most part, a rich Muslim man does not have a single vote; he has 5, because his wives would never dream of voting against their husband's candidate. Possibly more, if they've given him a number of daughters (unmarried, because afterwards, they have to support *their* husbands' candidates). Nor do I make this up; a woman once justified her husband's predilections by saying that Allah gave men immense vitality, so of course they need many wives. You think she's then going to vote a candidate her husband disapproves of?

My point is, nobody (male or female) appreciates what they did not have to earn. We are not (in Malaysia, that is) taught how much the suffragettes suffered, bled or died, you know, in order to obtain for women the same right to determine their government representatives as men already had. Nor are we, for that matter, taught how much men had fought for the right to vote. I suspect that if this was taught, perhaps we would see more responsible voting.

As to the larger issues of whether women were systematically denied political power, ownership, practice of certain trades and so forth on the basis of their supposed incompetence, well, of course in various times and various places this was true. We know for a fact that a woman's testimonial was legally worth only half as much as a man's in 1st Century Judaea. Whether there were good and cogent reasons for that or not, I don't know; I alas am a poor historian. I do know that it was not always so - in ancient China, the imperial examinations were open to both men and women throughout many dynasties (not all, it must be said), and women have become very high officials, even ruling empresses. Many European guilds did close membership to women... but I suspect that was more out of greed than thinking women were incapable.

What I would like to ask is that women kindly get over it - or at least stop blaming us men in today's world for the way the world was in the past. You do not now suffer under these circumstances - and we are not at fault. Fine, stay vigilant - that's the price of liberty. But do not expect us to man the lines beside you if you keep heaping coals on our heads.

Posted by: Gregory Kong at September 27, 2013 04:59 AM

Gregory, I agree wholeheartedly with most of your comments. But I would like to address this one, because I see the same sentiment expressed frequently:

What I would like to ask is that women kindly get over it - or at least stop blaming us men in today's world for the way the world was in the past. You do not now suffer under these circumstances - and we are not at fault.

Well, first of all I haven't seen many women blaming today's men for the actions of yesterday's men. But I definitely get the impression that this is what a lot of men hear when the past is discussed. I think that feeling was a factor in this discussion, frankly.

But it's not reasonable to blame today's men for things they didn't do and I'd be shocked in anyone participating in this discussion didn't agree with that 100%.

So who gets to speak for "women" when we're trying to decide if "women" have "gotten over it" or not? Like men, we are individuals. Some of us (extremely few, from what I've seen) may blame today's men for the past. Certainly I've seen hateful rhetoric on feminist sites of the same kind I see on MRA and PUA sites.

But people who are extreme and unreasonable should not be viewed as "what women do" or as "all women" any more than men who rant about how utterly cool it would be if women couldn't vote or gloat about finding chaste, religious women and seducing then dropping them should be considered representative of all men. Clearly, they're not all men because I can look around and see good men everywhere I look.

Finally, people - whether male or female - should strive to do what is morally right. We don't always get rewarded for doing so (and in fact, doing the right thing can often be difficult and/or dangerous). To say, "I won't do what's morally right unless "women" (whoever that is) refrain from saying anything that upsets me" seems.... well, unreasonable.

Fine, stay vigilant - that's the price of liberty.

Yes, it is. And the way most people stay vigilant during good times is to remind themselves that things weren't always that good. To suggest that this is somehow unseemly or that women shouldn't speak of the past because it might make today's men feel bad seems contrary to what conservatism has generally stood for: reminding the electorate that public policy must account for both the good and the bad in human nature. And it must be designed to work in both good times and bad ones.

But do not expect us to man the lines beside you if you keep heaping coals on our heads.

Is having a voluntary discussion on a blog "heaping coals" on anyone's head? Or are women supposed to police the speech of other women so no one will say something unseemly, anywhere?

I have asked many times here in the comments (I don't write whole posts about this stuff) why it is that when a man says something extreme about women in the comments of conservative sites, he is almost never countered by other conservative men. The response - from men I respect and think of as my friends - has been that they dismiss such comments out of hand. They're essentially not worth replying to.

If I accept that logic, then women shouldn't bother to refute or counter anti-male comments, and yet I see women do this all the time.

I'm not saying this to be argumentative, Gregory, and I'm glad you commented because you've added a lot to the discussion. This is a serious question on my part, and it's something that has really bothered me for at least 6 years now.

Grim is one of the few - perhaps the only - male bloggers I've ever seen actually step up and say something about the rampant female bashing that goes on, online. He doesn't do it often and frankly I don't expect him to. Instapundit linked the other day to a new site called "women for men".

His wife just wrote a book about men's rights. I don't happen to agree with much of it because I oppose identity politics and disparate impact arguments on principle. I rejected both when they were employed by women and I'm not about to change stripes just because the shoe's on the other foot.

Should women start keeping score and only support men to the extent they reciprocate in kind?

Posted by: Cass at September 27, 2013 07:08 AM

Unfortunately, my wife just had a little accident, and I expect I'll be needed for a few days to attend to her interests.

Sorry, missed this before.

Hope she's OK, Grim!

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2013 10:27 AM

FWIW, I don't think this is some special property of men. It's a human tendency.

Yes, I completely agree with this--hope nobody took it otherwise. It's not a *male* tendency, it's a *human* tendency, unfortunately, to be less concerned about things that don't affect you directly. I would expect similar groupings to show up in response to suggestions the franchise be restricted by race, religion, region, city of birth, hair color, astrological sign, or whatever criteria have you. In each case, I would hope that group D--those who would completely reject such restrictions--would be the largest; but somewhere I have a sinking suspicion that Group C would be. Perhaps I'm just too cynical.

I'm sorry to hear about your wife, Grim--I hope she's all right.

Posted by: colagirl at September 27, 2013 10:56 AM

She's out of surgery now. It's going to be fine. I'd explain the accident, except DL Sly would mock her with a joke about it for ten or twelve years. Anyway, I may be off more than on for a while.

Grim is one of the few - perhaps the only - male bloggers I've ever seen actually step up and say something about the rampant female bashing that goes on, online. He doesn't do it often and frankly I don't expect him to.

Political friendship is what we've lost, between the 19th and now. Without going into the question of why we've lost it -- men and women, left and right -- it's important to note that we've lost it.

Aristotle took it to be one of the necessary conditions for a lasting state.

It is clear then that a state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange…. Hence arise in cities family connections, brotherhoods, common sacrifices, amusements which draw men together. But these are created by friendship, for the will to live together is friendship. The end of the state is the good life, and these are the means towards it. And the state is the union of families and villages in a perfect and self-sufficing life, by which we mean a happy and honorable life.

If we've lost that, and we can't repair it, if we can't find a way to renew friendship... well, it's one major reason why I've begun to think that we're moving toward a world without America.

Posted by: Grim at September 27, 2013 07:53 PM

"What I would like to ask is that women kindly get over it - or at least stop blaming us men in today's world for the way the world was in the past. You do not now suffer under these circumstances - and we are not at fault." -- and -- "Don't expect us to man the lines besides you if you continue to heap coals on our heads."

Two very interesting comments, because at a dozen or so places in this discussion the topic has veered into "but men meant well, so why are you accusing them of evil motives?" -- to which I and other women here consistently reply that we're not accusing them of evil motives or even exhibiting much interest in their motives at all. We then repeat that what bugs us is nostalgia for the old system IN THE PRESENT, by the men to whom we are directing our comments IN THE PRESENT. So the next complaint, which is about women expecting men to man the lines besides them while heaping coals on their heads seems particularly strange. If there is a continuing complaint, it is about the behavior of men in the present. Does it make sense to suggest that more men would man the lines if women didn't to some degree object to their failure to man the lines?

What I would like is for present-day men to stop pining for the days when women were disenfranchised and otherwise formally disabled from aspiring to things they were good at. That is very clearly nothing like assuming that the men of yore, let alone their male descendants, should have coals heaped on their heads. On the other hand, men who casually wax nostalgic about the days when women couldn't vote ought at least to be reminded how offensive that is (but not with real-live coals, just with reasonably civil words).

I think women are on the whole pretty "over" the days of disenfranchisement, and we only hope that men are equally "over" them. It's easier to understand how women might be wary about the unfortunate past experience than how men could be dewey-eyed about its lost advantages.

Posted by: Texan99 at September 28, 2013 10:23 AM

Well said, Tex.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 28, 2013 10:57 AM

Political friendship is what we've lost, between the 19th and now. Without going into the question of why we've lost it -- men and women, left and right -- it's important to note that we've lost it.

This is an assertion rather than a statement of fact, and frankly I'm not at all sure that I agree with it, Grim.

It's easy to look back at ages where it was very uncommon for women to speak publicly at all on matters political (it was uncommon for men to do so too, but it was far more uncommon for women to do so) and conclude that the absence of critiques from the distaff side somehow proves women were happy/satisfied or that there was actual agreement on these matters.

I've seen you assert this before, but I've never really seen you back that assertion up with anything more than anecdotal evidence. I know you believe this with all your heart, Grim. And frankly, I would like to believe it too. It's a far more comforting belief than the opposite view.

I'm just not sure why you interpret absence of evidence as evidence of absence?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 28, 2013 11:05 AM

Dear Cassandra:

Well, first of all I haven't seen many women blaming today's men for the actions of yesterday's men.
No? Well, I suspect it's the "empty vessel makes the most noise" bias at work here - I don't hear much from the women who aren't too fussed about the way things are now - obviously - and I hear far too much from that very, very vocal minority of women who wave their bras as a sign of entitlement.

I certainly hear all too much that men are at fault for just about everything, that the same sort of men who oppressed women back in the day are still the majority today, the "white male patriarchy" or "black male patriarchy" or "male dominance"... terms that may or may not sound familiar to you. Maybe I'm just hanging around the wrong part of the 'Net.

But it's not reasonable to blame today's men for things they didn't do and I'd be shocked in anyone participating in this discussion didn't agree with that 100%.
Indeed, and I do not implicate or impugn anyone on this blog, nor even any conservative woman, nor yet any Christian woman of such calumny. However... it is a fact that precisely such a viewpoint is pervasive throughout our modern society. Consider Australia's so-called "National Sorry Day". Or in Malaysia, where the British are still called "those damned imperialist colonisers" (loosely paraphrased). Or in Mexico, where they're *still* taught that Americans stole California. Given all this, and the fact that the
'liberals' control State education, you don't think little girls are taught from young that the boys are out to get them? Well, call me paranoid.

To suggest that this is somehow unseemly or that women shouldn't speak of the past because it might make today's men feel bad seems contrary to what conservatism has generally stood for
Oh, we are in agreement there, certainly. I just don't agree that "the past" is as bad as it's been painted, and I think Grim's arguing the same point.

I'm not arguing the point that women have been oppressed in various times and at various places - in fact, it's still going on now and in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, even here in Malaysia. (Bet you can guess what they all have in common.) But to me, the impression I get from reading the content of this particular thread is very similar to the impression I get from hearing "slavery is bad because look what happened to the black slaves in the US boo hoo hoo and therefore Christianity is bad and Paul is bad neener neener neener".

Yes. I am exaggerating my words for effect. But what is true is that the argument is made that because slavery in the USA was overwhelmingly based on race (and therefore can be construed as racist in nature), and because slavery in the USA was massively oppressive, and because Christianity's primary source document does not categorically condemn the practice, therefore X (where X could be "Christianity is bad"; "blacks should become Muslim instead"; "whites should abandon Christianity"; whatever). And we know that slavery is neither good nor evil in and of itself; the question is, rather, who is your Master? To be a slave to another man or your own appetites or to sin is suboptimal, to say the least. To be a slave to Christ is true freedom - and certainly the Negro slaves in the South understood that.

Sorry, I digress. But it is the sort of thing I think I'm hearing in this thread; that women, by and large, and generally speaking, and all over the world, have been pressed down by The Men and denied equal opportunities. Maybe I read it wrongly. I guess my point is, I don't think that's necessarily the case.

Is having a voluntary discussion on a blog "heaping coals" on anyone's head? Or are women supposed to police the speech of other women so no one will say something unseemly, anywhere?
Oh, I don't mean *that*. Your blog, your rules, your call. I'm boorish, sure, but I hope I remember enough manners to be an okay sort of guest on someone else's turf.

The response - from men I respect and think of as my friends - has been that they dismiss such comments out of hand. They're essentially not worth replying to.

If I accept that logic, then women shouldn't bother to refute or counter anti-male comments, and yet I see women do this all the time.
Ah, well, I don't want to comment on the women's side. Men are different, women are different, the way we react towards *the same situation* can vary wildly sometimes. And yet both sides can be acting completely according to their natures and have the very best interests of all parties in view.

I can this much from a man's perspectives; it's certainly true. I've caught myself so many times now clicking the reply button to some egregiously wrongheaded statement, start typing out a response, realise it's going to be major long, and deciding "Ah, you know what, stuff it, not worth the effort."

If you think my response right now is long, yeah, yeah it is. Because I think you are worth responding to.

I'm not saying this to be argumentative, Gregory, and I'm glad you commented because you've added a lot to the discussion. This is a serious question on my part, and it's something that has really bothered me for at least 6 years now.
Sure, I understand that. And again, maybe I visit the wrong parts of the 'Net. But I'm intimately familiar with the term "stop feeding the trolls" - which is what I feel I'd be doing when I respond to, well, idiocy. It's like, hold on, is this bozo *trying* to get our goats?

@Texan99: I don't know that this is true. It seems to me (and of course I'm admittedly biased in all sorts of ways) that whenever these sorts of debates crop up (not just here, but in general), the issue of how tardy women's suffrage is comes up. That implies to me that no, women haven't gotten over it. It would be as if during every US/UK diplomatic engagement, the matter of taxation without representation came up.

In a sense, this is only right - even today, not every country has suffragettes. And I understand that he who does not learn history is doomed to repeat it.

Personally though, whether women in the US have voting rights or not is immaterial to me - I don't have any skin in the game as it is played in America.

In Malaysia, hypothetically, I believe if women were to be denied the vote, it would level the playing field (but perhaps not enough, given the stacking the incumbents did). The cultural backstory is waayyy different here, though, and we should be fighting for greater education for *all* voters, rather than a repressive movement to *deny* voting rights already given.

And in any case, does it really matter in the American setting? Would not the denial of an *existing* right to vote be a case of government oppression? And would not the 2nd Amendment guarantee your right to, er, defend your rights? I'm almost tempted to suggest that this happen as a test case; to see whether in the final analysis, men and women will in fact literally man the lines together to defend - to the death - women's right to determine their government? But this would be calling for potential bloodshed - which is wrong.

Posted by: Gregory Kong at September 28, 2013 11:28 AM

I've seen you assert this before, but I've never really seen you back that assertion up with anything more than anecdotal evidence.

Part of the problem is that historical evidence is almost always of the kind you are calling anecdotal. The problem with dismissing anecdotal evidence in history is that history really is just the facts about individual cases. That's almost always the only kind of evidence there is from which to reason.

There are known issues with doing so, but attempting to craft statistics (especially in cases of 'absence of evidence') is to make inventions. There are only two ways to do it, anyway, both of which are more suspect than simply reporting the anecdotal facts: 1) Reason from the anecdotes to a trend, which is to assume facts not in evidence from facts which are; 2) Reason from a theory, which is either based on the anecdotes (and thus no more certain than (1)), or based on assumptions of your own about how things must or ought to have been, which don't date to the time and place you're talking about (and thus much less likely to be true).

Thus, except in rare cases where some kind of broad statistical evidence actually survives, a good historian looks at the individual facts first and foremost. The historian should always be returning to those facts to check any suppositions about trends or theories.

However! This is an exception case because there really is surviving statistical evidence: the voting record on passing and ratifying the 19th. It had to pass by supermajorities in both houses, by all-male legislators who were elected by men and would be re-elected only by men (if it didn't pass). Then it went out to the states, and a supermajority of state legislatures also agreed to ratify it.

We have reason to doubt a similar amendment could pass today (or any amendment, or even a basic budget). Therefore, it seems well-grounded to say that the friendship that underlies a successful state is not as strong as it was when the state could pass an amendment that benefited the disenfranchised at the expense of those voting for it.

Posted by: Grim at September 28, 2013 01:32 PM

I'm not sure what caused the 19th Amendment to pass was friendship, though.

I suspect it's more likely trust that institutions can help us bridge our differences? Maybe they're the same thing, but I thought you were talking about the friendship between men and women (or left and right) specifically?

I have been arguing for precisely that - compromise. But that seems to be off limits now, on our side as well as on the left. How can anyone bridge differences without compromise?

And if that damage exists, aren't we at fault when we try to turn politics into a zero sum game?

Posted by: Cass at September 28, 2013 02:02 PM

I just got my wife home from the hospital this minute, so I'm exhausted and hopefully this won't sound completely incoherent. :)

So when Aristotle talks about political friendship, it's really different from the way that he thinks about friendship the rest of the time. (He wrote a huge amount on the subject, which is interesting because subsequent philosophers have tended to play down or even ignore friendship. The modern tendency is to think of moral duties as having a kind of universal, such that friendship either shouldn't matter, or might even interfere in the universality by causing you to favor some people over others. Kant, at least, has room for what he calls 'imperfect duties' which are duties that you only have to do sometimes, with room to pick; so you could elect to do them for friends, say. But it might be even more praiseworthy to do it for someone whom you didn't like -- 'love your enemy.')

What Aristotle means by political friendship is a kind of consensus about the way of life that the polity is undertaking. So instead of 'common sacrifices and rituals' we can talk about the friends you know from church or attending the local high school football games; instead of 'brotherhoods' we can talk about knowing people from the Knights of Columbus or the Rotary Club or the Boy/Girl Scouts.

So in a way, yes, these are institutions that help us bridge our differences -- but more importantly, they give us a sense of being a community, or a people. That's what political friendship is about.

When we see things like 'the Big Sort' going on, we can see that kind of thing is breaking down. We don't go to the same schools, serve in the same army (most don't serve at all), live in the same neighborhoods, go to the same churches, even watch the same TV shows or movies (so many networks, they can now cater to conservatives or liberals), let alone news channels. We don't go to the same football games, even near the capital, because the liberals moved to Maryland and the conservatives moved to suburban Virginia. In other states, liberals live in the cities and conservatives move to the countryside.

Or, as you've pointed out, the biggest determining factor in conservative v. liberal is married status. Do men and women even share a house, child-rearing, eat together, sleep under the same roof, take care of each other when they're sick? Women who do vote for a more traditional America than women for whom men are only competitors in the workplace and occasional entertainment, and men who are married are more conservative than those for whom women are likewise just competitors (or entertainment).

Political friendship is a kind of necessary condition for compromise. You won't agree about everything, but there's a basic consensus about left and right limits of what would be legitimate. You have a sense of being part of something together, and so you can trust them enough to disagree with them (and let them win sometimes).

The reason compromise is so hard right now -- and not just for Republicans, but for everybody when the other side is in power -- is that collapse. I don't know how to get it back.

And again, I'm really tired, so I hope that all made sense. If I said anything that sounds like it's offensive, I assure you it's an accident. I don't think I just wrote anything that ought to be objectionable to anyone here (this time!). :) So if I did, assume I didn't quite mean it the way it looks on the page, and accept my apologies for being unclear.

Posted by: Grim at September 28, 2013 04:43 PM

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