June 17, 2007

Boys Will Be Boys

Fathers Day.

It's still early morning. The woods are quiet and my daughter in law hasn't woken up yet so I have the house all to myself. I slip silently down the stairs to the basement to let Sausage out of his house. He explodes from the door as though giant springs were attached to his butt and thunders up the stairs and down the hall to my office, ears flying madly, sounding like a herd of buffalo.

I am never sure how one tiny miniature dachshund can make so much noise. Does he have lead in his paws?

He is eleven years old. This makes him 77 in dog years - the same age as my Dad. I wonder if my father gets out of bed the same way every morning? Dear God, I hope not.

I open the kitchen door and struggle to contain his brown wriggling body while I attach his line so he can take care of the urgent business of elimination and regulating squirrels and passersby who are insufficiently impressed by his ferocity. He is the first male dog we have ever had and let me tell you, they are different.

With a husband, two sons, and a male dog, I have been under siege in my own house for decades. But I accept my fate with equanimity. You see, I have always loved men, ever since I was a little girl:

Speaking of Cassandra, she really does like guys. Responsible guys, mind you.

You can blame that on my father. In my eyes, my Dad was everything a man should be. A dashing Navy man, he stood six foot four with curly black hair, and brown eyes a girl could lose her soul in. He loved to do man things like camping and fishing and building things and messing with power tools and carburetors. Because of him, I knew what a butterfly valve was in junior high, and what to do if one got stuck and how to do a perfect figure 8 paddle manoever in a canoe, and I could beat anyone in my 6th grade class, including the boys, in the flexed arm hang. Of course that was before the testosterone kicked in but it compensated somewhat for the teasing about having to wear a bra so early to hide my budding breasts, which unfortunately failed to live up to their early promise and mushroom into Pamela Andersonesque monuments to our national motto, "More is more".

Dad used to take me to the hardware store - it was one of my favorite places in the universe. I could wander around Hechinger's for hours just looking at hinges and lumber and wondering what various oddly shaped metal doohickies in the plumbing section were for. Because of him, I wasn't afraid to try and fix things myself, years later when my husband was deployed and everything I owned seemed to break at once. It didn't always work, but then it didn't always work for my male neighbors either, I soon found out.

The thing was to try, and not to get too discouraged.

Somewhere in the bunch of slides my Mom has in her house, there is one of my Dad lying on the floor watching TV. And sitting on his chest is a chubby eighteen month old baby girl with curly blonde hair and brown eyes like dinner plates. His eyes. That's me, his firstborn. My Dad was pleased as punch to have a daughter. He was my biggest fan. When I was about 14 or 15 I used to argue with him so much he had one of those office signs made up and posted it over my door. It had my full name, and underneath the words "Attorney at Law". I think I disappointed him very much when I decided to leave college. He had high hopes for me but even though I didn't finish school or get a law degree, he never gave up on me. He accepted my stubbornness, even if he didn't like it.

And it was because of my Dad that the first time I talked to a young man who lived two doors down from me in Navy housing I realized he was something special, someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and on the day my Father gave my hand to his in marriage, a lifelong journey of discovery continued seamlessly. For to me the most wonderful thing about marriage has been the opportunity to walk side by side, neither expecting we could change the other but quietly posing a challenge to become more than we were alone. The chance to gaze into the utterly foreign landscape of the male mind has been endlessly fascinating to me, if at times mind boggling and confusicating: a breathtaking thrill ride I still can't believe I've been allowed to take for free. I can't imagine why anyone would want to change men when they are so completely, infuriatingly delightful the way they are.

Fausta, who has a great interview with the author, pointed me a few days ago to this great essay in the Wall Street Journal. In it, Tony Woodlief (also a blogger) echoes thoughts I've had often, oddly enough, as a mother of two sons and as a wife to a strong willed Marine:

The trick is not to squash the essence of boys, but to channel their natural wildness into manliness. And this is what keeps me awake at night, because it's going to take a miracle for someone like me, who grew up without meaningful male influence, who would be an embarrassment to Teddy Roosevelt, to raise three men. Along with learning what makes a good father, I face an added dilemma: How do I raise my sons to be better than their father?

What I'm discovering is that as I try to guide these ornery, wild-hearted little boys toward manhood, they are helping me become a better man, too. I love my sons without measure, and I want them to have the father I did not. As I stumble and sometimes fail, as I feign an interest in camping and construction and bugs, I become something better than I was.

Men are, for me, the undiscovered country. For all my life I have thoroughly enjoyed loving them, talking with them, being friends with them, arguing with them, just being confused by them.

But I don't really want to change them, even when I don't understand them and even when, sometimes, I am confronted with things in their nature that, as a woman, terrify and sadden me. For me, everything I don't understand and sometimes fear is bound up in what I most admire and have learned from over the course of my life. To change a thing is to destroy it, and when you love something with your whole heart how can one even entertain such a path? I did, however, love this, from Woodlief:

I can't shake the sense that boys are supposed to become manly. Rather than neutering their aggression, confidence and desire for danger, we should channel these instincts into honor, gentlemanliness and courage. Instead of inculcating timidity in our sons, it seems wiser to train them to face down bullies, which by necessity means teaching them how to throw a good uppercut. In his book "Manliness," Harvey Mansfield writes that a person manifesting this quality "not only knows what justice requires, but he acts on his knowledge, making and executing the decision that the rest of us trembled even to define." You can't build a civilization and defend it against barbarians, fascists and playground bullies, in other words, with a nation of Phil Donahues.

Maybe the problem isn't that boys are aggressive, but that we've neglected their moral education. As Teddy Roosevelt wrote to one of his sons: "I would rather have a boy of mine stand high in his studies than high in athletics, but I would a great deal rather have him show true manliness of character than show either intellectual or physical prowess." Manliness, then, is not the ability to survive in the wilderness, or wield a rifle. But having such skills increases the odds that one's manly actions--which Roosevelt and others believed flow from a moral quality--will be successful.

The good father, then, needs to nurture his son's moral and spiritual core, and equip him with the skills he'll need to act on the moral impulse that we call courage. A real man, in other words, is someone who doesn't run from an Osama bin Laden. But he may also need the ability to hit a target from three miles out with a .50 caliber M88 if he wants to finish the job.

Yes, yes, and yes. This is what I tried so hard to accomplish with my small sons, now grown - not to crush their maleness but to add to it a strong moral fiber that would allow them to channel that uniquely masculine force properly.

I also, though I keep reading that men hate to talk, tried to teach them to talk to women, to be friends with the other half of humanity. Not to be women, but to be comfortable with women.

This is why we marry, why we refer to our spouses as our better halves. There is something that happens to us when we find the right person. We are exposed to another way of thinking, of seeing the universe, and if we open ourselves to it, we do become better people.

More than ourselves. I think, whether we are male or female, each of us has much to learn from the other half of the human race and on this day we salute fathers, who give us life and teach us to face it squarely, with our heads held high and a can-do spirit.

It is a good lesson.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:31 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 21, 2007

Pandora's Box

The words, read several months ago but never forgotten, lie unquietly in the back of my mind. Though I never wrote about them, they refuse to go away:

Some of my best friends are women--heck, I am a woman--but I've come to the conclusion that we've seen too much of the fairer sex. For me, the final straw came last month when Britney Spears jauntily revealed her waxed nether-regions to waiting photographers as she exited her limo. Britney's stunt made her the Internet smash of the season. But in providing America's workers with this cubicle distraction, Britney was doing a lot more than making her own privates public.

In fact, Britney was following to its logical end what has become the first rule of contemporary American girlhood: to show that you are liberated, take it off. Liberty means responsibility . . . to disrobe. Paris Hilton, Britney's BFF (Best Friend Forever), taped her sexual escapades with an ex-boyfriend, though even she was tactful enough to pretend that she hadn't meant for the video to go public. Courtney Love, Lindsay Lohan and Tara Reid have also staged their own wardrobe malfunctions. But flashing is hardly limited to celebrities. The girls-next-door who migrate to Florida during spring break happily lift their blouses and snap their thongs for the producers of "Girls Gone Wild," who sell their DVDs to an eager public.

Nor is it just young female flashers who are driven to expose themselves to the masses. Older women, whether because of lingering traces of reticence or doubts about the camera-readiness of their intimate anatomy, use the written word to bare all. There are legions of women bloggers who write about last night's bed tricks, their underwear preferences and their menstrual cycles (yes, Virginia, there is a tamponblog.com). More sophisticated exhibitionists turn to tasteful erotic memoirs. In "A Round Heeled Woman," Jane Juksa gives us a detailed description of her varied sexual adventures after, at age 66, she advertised for sex in the personals of the New York Review of Books. In "Surrender," the ex-Balanchine dancer Toni Bentley tells of the spiritual transcendence she experienced during the 298 times she had anal sex with a former lover--making this the first transcendent sex ever to involve a calculator.

Now, this is the point at which the enlightened always begin grumbling: What's wrong with women showing that they are "sexual beings"? In this vein, the show-or-tell-all is an act of bravery, demonstrating a woman's determination to throw off society's taboos against full expression of her sexuality.

...But this Puritans-are-coming! stance, validating, as it does, someone as cracked as Paris Hilton, finally implodes. The problem with a Britney or a Bentley is not that they are floozies. It is rather that they are, paradoxical as it might seem, naive. They underestimate the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violate the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age. People in the public eye always risk becoming objectified; they are watched by hordes of strangers who have only fragmentary information about them. When that information includes details that only their Brazilian waxers should know for sure, it's inevitable that, humans being the perverse creatures that they are, all other facts of identity will fall away. Instead of becoming freer, the exhibitionist becomes an object defined primarily by a narrow sexual datum.

It is perhaps the crowning irony of my short life that, though I heartily share Ms. Hymowitz's distaste for Britney's Brazilian moment, I can't help but wonder why it is we women love to go picnicking on each other? Is this really the best argument we as conservatives can make against such displays; that the acts of today's new age sexual Fem-Warriors should be judged by the reactions of the madding crowd, that where they erred was in making themselves 'too available'?

Would not a better argument be that these women have, perhaps, betrayed their own values? Or even just values worth upholding?

Oddly enough, the fact that Ms. Spears soon depilitated another part of her anatomy in a gesture oddly reminiscent of the ritual humiliation meted out to whores suggests she may not have been too proud of her own actions. Why, then, do Ms. Hymowitz's words continue to fill me with such disquiet? My mind drifts back to a balmy evening under the stars. It seems almost a lifetime ago.

I am lying on my back in the cool grass on the campus green in Hanover, NH, staring at the night sky. Beside me is a young man from my karate class. The day before he broke a tiny bone in my foot as we sparred in the gym. Since then, I've been hobbling around gamely on crutches which I'll soon throw away in irritation. He's been hovering over me contritely (after initially telling me the whole incident was 'my fault', a remark which set off a characteristic bout of eye-rolling on my part and which, I suspect, also caused the mildly annoying behavior of the last two days).

We are talking about the future, about having children. I say I want sons. This is not surprising for I like men very much. Most of my friends are male.

He wants daughters.

This does surprise me, for he freely admits he neither likes nor trusts women (present company excluded, he magnanimously allows). He thinks women are manipulative, meaner than men, and spoiled rotten. So... I ask, not really wanting to hear the answer: why does he want a little girl?

So he can spoil her.

I stare at the sky quietly, feeling intensely sorry for his future wife. And they say women are illogical? Finally, I ask him, "So, how do you think these girls you dislike so much get that way?" He cheerfully admits men like him cause the problem when they raise spoiled, self-centered daughters. But let someone else worry about that. He had to put up with it, now he is going to get "his".

I left college not long after that, stunned by the collision between my somewhat rose colored view of the world and harsh reality. Then, too, I realized I simply was not ready to buckle down and work hard at my studies. I lacked direction, and the temptations of 24/7 Animal House hedonism were not something I cared to abandon myself to. Even at eighteen, if I was going to destroy myself I needed a better reason than a wild streak and way too much time on my hands.

A short three years later I was a young wife, married with a small son while my friends were still in college. The Virginia belle who used to go out partying every night of the week now stayed up late every night working on various projects.

She sometimes didn't see a beer for ages. She didn't even talk to other men, or look at them, or frankly, even miss all that male attention most of the time. She was just too busy making a home for her family, taking care of her children, welcoming her husband back home when he got back late at night after months away, smelling of sweat and dirt and the unfamiliar world of men and big guns. Life was good. Anyway, she was busy.

Every now and then the Spring winds would blow and she would feel restless for a moment, remembering those heady girlish days, some crazy midnight escapade. But in those days life moved at a slower pace. The outside world didn't press in so insistently from every conceivable angle: the 24/7 news cycle, the Internet, cable TV, movies on demand. The world was immediate, limited to what was around you: your family. Your neighbors, friends, perhaps a trip to the mall on Sunday or a leisurely drive down to the city to see what the Other Half were up to, what you might aspire to if you worked hard enough and were patient and diligent.

In such a world, the actions of one person had a limited effect on others because communication was slower, more limited, less instant. Now Britney Spears bares her privates and half the world instantly has access to live Britney-cam. Do we really need to see this? To discuss it? To blame Britney for giving us what we so desperately want?

Because that is what bothers me so much about Kay Hymowitz's essay.

Like my friend under the stars that night, for months I have listened to conservatives berate women young and old for exercising their newfound sexual freedoms, for doing what good old mother nature programmed them to do: seduce men who like to look at pretty, half-clothed women. I listen to them hypothesize that young women who play the field (as young men have done for centuries) are, by definition, "low in self esteem". No one ever seems to worry about the self esteem of the young men they sleep with - multiple conquests being an esteem-enhancing thing for men, you see. I hear them weep and wail over the shameless dress of today's women, yet don't you dare suggest that advertising, or cable TV pornography, or any of the myriad cultural influences one might logically expect (and show marked correlation over time with the rise of such behaviors) have anything to do with such phenomena. Apparently young women dream these things up on their own from some natural desire (heretofore undiscovered) to impress other women, who for some odd reason must be titillated by fake DD breasts and skimpy clothing. The same people who shake their heads at Britney will scream like banshees at the mere suggestion that perhaps - just perhaps - their disapprobation might be equally well trained on the hordes of men who flocked like lemmings to leer at her.

Why on earth do they think she did what she did? This is, after all, a two-sided coin. Why I wonder, is the age-old answer, whether you are a conservative American from the National Review or a Muslim scholar from Islamabad to tell women we have "seen enough" of them? Does it never occur to these people that if flashing her privates were truly considered a shameful act, she would not have done it; that if she'd garned no attention for exposing herself, there would have been no reason to go there? That society sees nothing really wrong with what she did, though we don't want our family, our daughters to do it. But the same man who would punch you right in the mouth for looking sideways at his daughter doesn't think twice about looking up Britney's beaver shot. Offensive, isn't it?

The truth is, Britney gave America what we wanted to see and in classic American style, we despise her - and ourselves - for it. Like my friend on the green that night, we don't really respect women who give too freely of themselves, but we reward them anyway because they give us exactly what we want to see. And the really despicable thing is this: we tell ourselves that men are just being men. That they're programmed by nature to enjoy looking at women. And this is true.

But there is a darker truth we don't really want to face. We women are programmed by nature too: the Madonna-whore complex wasn't made up from whole cloth. Except it's not really an either-or proposition.

Not long ago I found myself again fighting back tears of fury after reading the comments over at Ace of Spades. I can't remember the post. I liked what Ace wrote, but then I often find him to be unusually, incisively, even bitterly thoughtful. Some of his commenters, however, made me want to scream. They are what reminded me so sharply of that young man thirty years ago on that balmy evening.

Sometimes I read remarks from married men to the effect that women stop liking or wanting sex as soon as they are married. I invariably wonder what planet they are from? To me, the glorious freedom to enjoy - nay, wallow, even - in that aspect of life in an atmosphere of trust has been the most wonderful thing about marriage. I often think such men don't really like women much, don't want to know them as people. A women doesn't want to give herself to a man unless she trusts him. I don't think most men appreciate how much, even though we may feel perfectly independent and capable in our own right, we want and need someone strong and masculine to shelter and protect us? Someone who, in turn, we would die for. Someone to "belong" to. I think this need is deeply ingrained in both sexes, albeit in very different ways, and all the modern thinking in the world can't train it out of us.

If try to ignore these needs and remove the cultural traditions developed over centuries of human experience to fulfill them, our bodies propel us in the same age old directions but this time with no purpose. Is it any wonder we end up feeling empty and betrayed?

Proof that the sex lives of college women remain an object of intense cultural fascination can be found in a book like Laura Sessions Stepp's Unhooked which documents the semi-anonymous "hooking up" that is now the norm. Stepp's intention was to study this phenomenon open-mindedly, "hoping to understand rather than intending to censure." But journalistic objectivity was soon replaced by alarm and even horror. She found girls who were "exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually" by the practice. The girls' behavior is starkly contemporary, but the adult's characterization of it -- and of the specific ways that sexuality can deplete a woman -- could have been lifted from a 19th-century tract. In placing the blame for these developments on three forces ("the ethic of female empowerment; parental expectations for academic and professional achievement; and reluctance on the part of authorities on campus to intervene in students' social lives"), Stepp occupies the squishy middle ground where many progressive women unhappily find themselves: Yes, yes, yes to female freedom and empowerment, but Jesus Christ, why are these girls giving blow jobs to guys they hardly know?

She pulls herself together long enough to conclude the book with a "Dear Daughters" letter. It's the kind of "sex is a beautiful thing, when it's between two loving people" lecture that has been making young girls want to jump out of the nearest window from sheer embarrassment since the early 1970s. (My lecture arrived, in my mother's Palmer Method handwriting, on my bedside table midway through 12th grade, and the extent to which it mortified me -- my mother was a nurse and knew how to draw a fairly precise medical illustration -- cannot be overstated.)

I'm sure that lectures from Mom on how to have super great sex don't always fall on deaf ears. But Mom's voice becomes a distant whisper once a young woman arrives at college, where she will no longer be regarded as a cosseted girl-child in need of protection and limit setting. It is impossible to imagine nonreligious colleges involving themselves in the kind of sexual decision making that concerns Stepp, because to be an undergraduate today is to be treated as a fully independent adult, as even a cursory glance at the admissions materials of most schools demonstrates. (I would never have attended a college that monitored my sleeping arrangements; like most of my friends in the women's dorm, I often spent the night at a boyfriend's apartment.) Obviously, the young women Stepp describes in her book were almost all nice girls raised by nice parents in nice neighborhoods. But just as obviously, they changed in some ugly ways when left on their own. Given the coarsening of the culture, the intense peer pressure and corresponding desire to fit in that have always marked college life, and the way very young women are defined today as at once independent and exploitable, the bitter pill for many parents sending their daughters to college is that there is no possible way to protect them from what they will encounter once they have been dropped off at the freshman dorm.

That last line, the part about protecting girls, is what rankles. Why protect girls, and not boys? Do they have no needs worth protecting? And why should women need protecting from our own sexual desires? There is something a bit dishonest is this prescription, this black-and-white view of men and women. Despite my lifelong distrust of feminism, there has always been more than a grain of truth in the feminist message. It's just that like many movements, feminists only tell us half the truth

Yes, society has always tried to repress and control women. But society has always tried to channel the natural desires of men, too. As I commented long ago, society rightly fears unbridled masculinity; thumos or male aggression and adventurism. So, too, we instinctively fear and seek to limit the unrestricted hedonism and sensuality that lie in the hearts of women. We do this by cherishing and reinforcing the ideal of female purity with morality laws, church, with corsets and layers of restrictive undergarments, purity rituals, debutante balls and symbols of chastity, white wedding dresses, quinceaneros parties. When a woman marries, we bury her in yards of white organza and baby clothes and mounds of household appliances. And so we lull entire parts of her being to sleep, and then we wonder why she doesn't feel like doing the Dance of the Seven Veils after running the kids to soccer practice and cooking a three course dinner? The final insult comes when we accuse our wives of being joyless scolds who don't like sex, when inside each of them is that same young girl, dying to get out, who slipped into the back seat of that Chevrolet on a summer night years ago and made your heart explode inside your chest. She never went away.

You just stopped calling her name.

We can't protect our girls against their natural desires any more than we can protect our boys and it is insulting to them to try. We would do better to recognize that they are driven by ancient forces no less powerful than those which drive our sons. A better response is to teach both our sons and our daughters to couple their desires to moral ends; that sex is fun, but it is even richer and better when there is love and trust and commitment between two people. That like anything else in life, you get out of your sex life what you put into it - perhaps if you're bored, you're not working hard enough. That if you cherish her, she will do anything for you. That it is wrong to bring an innocent child into the world without two loving, committed parents. That sex and feelings cannot always be divorced from each other, even for young men.

We would do better to teach our young that we open Pandora' box when we think we can do whatever we please with no rules. There have always been rules and there have always been consequences. Adults know this. And adults know that the rules apply to both sides and not just to women.

Looking at the clash between Islam and the free West, it is not hard to see why the jihadists fear unrestrained democracy. We are rapidly dismantling age old human institutions with nothing to replace them. They rightly wonder what will become of society when the stabilizing forces of marriage, of religion, of public morality, of respect for law and civil authority are gone and there is nothing to restrain our darker natures?

Posted by Cassandra at 02:06 PM | Comments (69) | TrackBack

March 24, 2007

Stop Oppressing Me With Your Exuberant Floweriness!

Oh! The humanity!

Friday concluded a grueling work week, during which we got little sleep and our productivity quotient was defined by a rather disturbing ability to churn out a depressing number of PowerPoint slides just chock full of delightfully mindnumbing insights like this:

Variables x and y were correlated. Variable x was greatest on projects with more y and z:

- Type A projects experienced 3-16% higher average values for var. x than Type B projects.

- However, even for projects with 90% z, the avg. value of x was 12% for Type A projects and 8% for Type B projects!!!!

Unsurprisingly, the editorial staff spent Friday night in a state of shell shocked stupor. Not knowing any better, we succumbed to our baser instincts and spent the evening wallowing in the sybaritic delights of chick-flickdom with The Daughter in law, who'd given us a version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for Christmas. Even worse, we reverted to our longstanding weekend ritual of the home pedicure complete with hot, scented water and an assortment of to die for creams and scrubs that left our skin feeling velvety smooth and us purring with contentment.

All in all it was a most satisfactory evening. We finally got a chance to relax, the hot water was heavenly, and after a week spent neglecting our inner diva we positively luxuriated in lining up all our nice things and surveying the results; all while watching the dashing Mr. Darcy stride across the TV screen in his frock coat and a gratifyingly snug set of breeches. What fun to indulge our feminine side, we thought! We should do this more often.

If only we'd read the Wall Street Journal first:

In her corporate bio photo, Karen Firestone's dark blue Akris suit is trim but not snug. Her dark sweater displays her collar bones but no décolletage. She is the image of a successful woman in finance, whose clothes venture neither too far nor too near.

Ms. Firestone is one of the chief rainmakers for Aureus Asset Management, an independent Boston money manager that is responsible for investing $250 million of other people's cash. So when she steps out in public she knows that what she wears becomes the embodiment of her company. "I feel that I have a responsibility to project the right image," Ms. Firestone says.

In an age where the rules of professional dressing are constantly shifting, and women have much more freedom than in decades past, there is still one area where there are more unspoken rules than ever: finance. While their male counterparts may sport "business casual" khakis, many women on Wall Street feel they must toe a careful and conservative line. They often feel obliged to dress up in order to command authority. These women still struggle not to be defined by traditionally feminine pastimes, like dressing well.

The result: They don't talk about fashion openly, for fear of appearing frivolous.

Ms. Firestone, for instance, was nervous about discussing her wardrobe because it might distract attention from her firm's accomplishments. Several women in financial services flatly declined to discuss what they wear to work. (It's worth noting, though, that all of the men I approached spoke eagerly about their wardrobes.)

These women have leapt many hurdles, the least of which is getting dressed in the morning. But the old, scripted uniform of dark suits and high collars isn't quite sufficient for handling today's wide range of clients, in far-flung locales, on any given day of the week. It's tricky to adopt a varied wardrobe while still commanding the respect of hedge-fund managers and major investors. Just try shopping for a power evening gown.

Casual events often call for chinos and an Izod for men. But women who arrive in golf clothes are likely to strike the wrong note. This came home for Lisa Tames, a banker at Citigroup in New York who favors practical looks from Ellen Tracy and Ann Taylor, when she recently attended a conference. The dress code was casual, but a female colleague raised a few eyebrows by wearing slim green capri pants. "It wasn't projecting her ability in her field," recalls Ms. Tames, who says she rarely dresses down.

It isn't clear to me that a guy in khakis looks any more accomplished than a woman in capri pants. But I understand, as Ms. Tames did, the unspoken rule that a woman in finance should be more dressed up than the men she works with -- especially when those men report to her.

Suddenly, the corporate world slammed down on us like an Iron Curtain, stomping all over our inner mellow with the jackboots of patriarchal oppression. We stared down at our toes and they wiggled back at us, looking vaguely hoyden-ish in a sassy shade of Tuscan red nail polish.

4998-341071-d.jpg Sure, they looked cute. But could toes like that ever be taken seriously? Did they look authoritative? Feeling suitably chastened, we imagined them winking up at us out of a pair of flirty spring sandals...

Stern duty prompted us to firmly renounce the alluring wiles of the patriarchal hegemistic power structure. "Noooooooo! Stop oppressing me with your exuberant floweriness!" we shouted, compulsively clutching a boring but dependable pair of Aigner pumps to our heaving bosom.

This was no time for faintheartedness or equivocation, for shilly-shallying or indecisiveness. Only the woman who projected a serious image would grab the brass ring, could hope to succeed in a dog-eat-dog, man's world.

The nail polish would have to go. We'd show them. The editorial staff could be just as calm, rational, and decisive as any man.

You can see that, can't you?

But as we regretfully rubbed the last vestiges of Tuscan sun from our toes, we ruefully reflected that the Patriarchy had us coming and going. Even getting dressed in the morning was rife with sexual traps. Should we succumb to men's inner fantasies and dress like Marilyn Monroe? Or toe the corporate line and end up looking like Helen Thomas? It was all so unfair - no matter what we did, we ran the risk of unwittingly doing what THEY wanted while MEN had the glorious freedom to run about all day in silk cravats and pinstripe suits! They didn't have a care in the world!

Why were women always the victims?

Posted by Cassandra at 11:33 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 16, 2007

Now Women Want It Both Ways On Child Support

Family law is becoming increasingly byzantine and illogical as courts struggle to reconcile age-old social problems with the new reality that women supposedly have rights (but apparently, still not responsibilities) that equal those of men. Witness this bizarre decision:

Sixteen months after his divorce, Richard Parker made a devastating discovery. A DNA test revealed that his 3-year-old son had been fathered by someone else.

Mr. Parker immediately filed a lawsuit claiming fraud by his apparently unfaithful ex-wife. He took his case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Last week, the Florida justices ruled 7-0 against him. They said that Parker must continue to pay $1,200 a month in child support because he had missed the one-year postdivorce deadline for filing his lawsuit. His court-ordered payments would total more than $200,000 over 15 years to support another man's child.

"We find that the balance of policy considerations favors protecting the best interests of the child over protecting the interests of one parent defrauded by the other parent in the midst of a divorce proceeding," writes Justice Kenneth Bell for the court.

"We recognize that the former husband in this case may feel victimized," he writes. He then quotes a scholar to explain the ruling: "While some individuals are innocent victims of deceptive partners, adults are aware of the high incidence of infidelity and only they, not the children, are able to act to ensure that the biological ties they may deem essential are present."

In effect, the high court is saying it's partly Parker's fault for trusting his wife.

The Parker case illustrates an increasingly contentious debate over the rights and responsibilities of divorced fathers who have been duped and don't challenge paternity at or near the time of divorce. But it also raises fundamental questions about the nature of fatherhood and the legal responsibilities that can attach to a father-child relationship – even when that relationship is the result of fraud and deception by a wife and mother.

Most states have laws that permit courts to order men who have been deceived to continue to make child- support payments even when they have no biological connection to the child. The idea is to minimize any disruption in the life of the child. In recent years, some states have begun passing laws that give deceived dads some ways to fight back.

Parker's main crime, in this case, appears to have been not being smart enough to have hired Miss Cleo as divorce counsel.

In the area of so-called reproductive rights, the legal standard as it currently stands makes absolutely no sense. As this case clearly shows, men have no reproductive rights, even when they try to do the right thing:

As we are constantly reminded, the abortion debate is all about something called reproductive choice. Of what does this reproductive choice consist? If a man and a woman, married or unmarried, conceive a child together, both are on the hook financially to support that child until he or she is grown. But there are rules. If the woman decides to rid herself of a fetus that she does not want, but the man does, she may kill it and this is perfectly legal. If the man decides to rid herself of a fetus that he does not want (perhaps by slipping her an abortifact that does not otherwise harm her), but the woman does, this is murder and he will go to jail.

Thus, two utterly contradictory things occur at the moment of conception:

Legally, from the point of view of a woman: the fetus is a lump of tissue which may be excised at will if she subsequently regrets having conceived a child. It imposes no obligation or legal duty unless she chooses to accept it.

Legally, from the point of view of the man: the fetus is a human being which must be allowed to live, even if he subsequently regrets having conceived a child. It imposes an absolute and irrevocable legal duty, regardless of his wishes in the matter.

In other words, if you have a y chromosome you have no reproductive choice. Except, of course, to pay at least a half-share of whatever "choices" your sexual partner may make, whether you are married or single - it makes no difference. When one considers that women can have multiple orgasms (and that ours generally last longer), something tells me men are getting the short end of the stick.

Now we find that even if the woman lies, even if a child is not his, the man must pay.

The mother is the one at fault here. She broke up the marriage, and she caused the child to be in a single-parent home. Why is the court penalizing Parker for her irresponsible and immoral actions? Has she no affirmative duty to disclose the name of the real father to the court, much less seek him out and collect child support from him? This infantilizes the woman and effectively absolves her from all responsibility for her own reproductive choices while putting intrusive nanny state laws all over an innocent man's body, who did nothing to incur a lifetime financial penalty.

Perhaps someone can explain to me how this is right, because as a woman I find it not only insulting but morally indefensible.

Via ze Amazing Bashman.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:12 AM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

February 15, 2007

*Snort*

Lines like this are why I married my husband:

I think the pickax was a bit over the top.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:01 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 14, 2007

Someone's Watching You Back

Interesting, watching the reaction to the outbreak of 'revenge' sites on the Internet:

She ain't your baby, and no, she doesn't want to take a ride with you.

But she does want your picture.

A new generation of female bloggers -- armed with camera phones -- has started an Internet site to post pictures and videos of guys who harass them in public.

Under the motto "If you can't slap 'em, snap 'em!", HollaBack is based on the same sort of camera phone vigilantism that has been used to shame bad drivers, litterbugs and rude sales clerks.

In September, San Francisco joined more than a dozen other cities and states that have HollaBack blogs. Women fill the sites with pictures of men they say verbally, and sometimes physically, harass them on the street.

"Some men assume they have a right to comment out loud about a woman, and we're supposed to just shrug it off," said Jessica, 22, who started HollaBack-SF out of frustration over the catcalls and kissing noises she heard whenever she left her San Francisco apartment. She asked that her last name not be used to avoid being harassed. The point of HollaBack, she said, is to shift the power dynamic so women have an alternative to simply hanging their heads and walking away.

"I don't necessarily think the men who are photographed are going to stop because of HollaBack, but this could start a discussion among women and their male friends about what is appropriate and what isn't," Jessica said.

HollaBack started in New York a year ago, when a woman posted a cell-phone picture of a raw-food restaurateur masturbating while he looked at her on the subway. She uploaded the photo to the girl-power Web site Laundromatic.net.

Within a week, 45,000 people saw the photo, including seven young Brooklyners, who then created HollaBacknyc.blogspot.com. Word spread fast through feminist media outlets such as BUST and Ms. magazines, feministing.com and Girls Against Cat Calls on the MySpace social networking site.

Today, HollaBackNYC can receive 75,000 daily hits. Europe has HollaBackEU.

Women use screen names to post to the blog. One of the first submissions in San Francisco came from someone using the screen name Pamela, who wrote about a man grabbing her arm on Haight Street and saying, "I just like to touch pretty ladies."

In October, Erica posted an item after a man ran his hand up her skirt while crossing the street at Market and Ninth.

While in general the editorial staff is not a huge fan of hanging out one's romantic laundry over the Internet, we find the faux outrage of some folks over having their tawdry peccadillos exposed on such sites as "HollaBack" and "Don't Date Him Girl.com" rather amusing. The rules aren't really all that hard to figure out.

Don't act like a jerk.

If you're married, don't cheat.

If you're sleeping around, or catting about with someone whose doesn't seem to have the most upright moral standards, you probably shouldn't be too surprised to see the details of your penchant for spanking, handcuffs and submission splashed all over the 'Net.

And for Pete's sake, while few women mind a brief flattering glance or having a man check them out surreptitiously, there are limits. It is not acceptable to grope people, to expose yourself to them, or to utter rude sexual insults. It just isn't.

In other words, if you feel embarrassed when your photo is posted on the Internet, you might consider whether perhaps it is your behavior that caused the problem and not the posting of your image.

We completely agree that many workplace sexual harassment laws are poorly written, with their emphasis on defining actionable offenses not by an objective reasonable person standard, but by what is perceived as offensive or threatening by the subjective offendee bringing the complaint:

The law is on the woman's side, at least in the office, said San Francisco attorney Philip Kay, who specializes in sexual harassment and employment law.

"What's considered an offensive comment in the workplace is defined by the person on the receiving end, not the person who said it," he said. "There are no similar laws about the streets outdoors, but that's an interesting new area."

Jessica doesn't filter submissions to HollaBack -- if a woman is offended, it gets posted, she said. But she hasn't come across any stories that seem like simple misunderstandings between two people. Instead, women tell of being cussed at, touched, followed or sexually propositioned. Some encounters are so frightening that women say they feared they could have been raped.

Unfortunately this is still a very common experience for women.

Via MensNewsDaily

Posted by Cassandra at 08:30 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

February 11, 2007

First Things First

First of all, having but lately returned from an extremely sensitive boondoggle fact-finding mission to an undisclosed location underwritten by the prestigious Ebb & Flow Institute, the Editorial Staff are still having trouble getting our liver cells little grey cells back on the job.

This will have to be quick because we have to go to dinner. However, we would like to extend our deepest thanks to Grim for covering for us during this extremely important research trip. We didn't give him a whole lot of advance notice, yet he bravely stepped up to the plate knowing that sacrifices must be made to bring about the kind of groundbreaking research the Institute has long been known for. Secondly, he didn't *really* think he was going to get away with this just because we were gone, did he?

...women do terrible things to themselves in pursuit of beauty. Are they doing it for men (the bastards), or for themselves and other women?

The answer: it's not for men.

In a word: horse hockey.

OK, that's two words, but who's counting? The only thing this settles is that men will do anything to try and win an argument.

Women want to be beautiful for one reason and one reason only: because for women (unlike men) simply being beautiful is the easiest and surest avenue to everything we want in life.

If a woman is at all intelligent, that is perhaps the most profoundly depressing realization possible. There are no words for how unbelievably angry that undeniable truth makes some of us, or how hard we struggle to live with that knowledge every day. For how depressing it is to women as human beings; to know that of all our qualities, that should (after all these centuries) still be the single thing about us that is prized more highly than our learning, our wit, our character.

That knowledge, especially in the modern era, presents women with a terrible decision: take the quick and easy path, or stick to your principles and pay the price? A recent article - enticingly entitled "The Democriticization of Beauty" outlined the sometimes heartbreaking choices involved:

In a free society, why should anyone stand in the way of another person’s transformation from tatterdemalion to goddess? Isn’t this simply the laudable and democratic pursuit of happiness? If opponents of cosmetic surgery are too quick to dismiss those who claim great psychological benefits, boosters are far too willing to dismiss those who raise concerns.

Cosmetic surgery might make individual people happier, but in the aggregate it makes life worse for everyone. By defining beauty up—fifty is literally the new forty if a critical mass of people are getting face-lifted and Botoxed—the pressure to conform to these elevated standards increases. So, too, does the amount of time and money we spend on what is ultimately a futile goal: cheating time. Even for men and women who have objectively achieved success— the award-winning novelist, the highflying CEO—the refusal to meet these beauty standards will brand you as uncompetitive, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

The risk is not a society of beautiful but homogeneous mannequins. “Most of my patients want to look more like themselves than they’ve looked in a long time,” Dr. Weston told me. “They don’t want to look like someone else.” The danger is a growing intolerance for what we would naturally look like without constant nipping, tucking, peeling, and liposuctioning.

Now *that* is a depressing subject, and one the editorial staff just spent several days contemplating in our rare sober moments. We don't want to go into another of our post-feminist rants, but a few weeks ago we read something that really made us think:


I was reading a post over at WebMD on why men don't want sex. The expert gave a number of reasons for the lack of interest--medications, turn-off to aspects of the sex, hormones etc. that all sounded reasonable but I was struck by some of the anger, frustration and downright despair of the male commenters writing in about their lack of desire.

So it's not just women who don't want sex a lot of the time.

And trust us on this one - after spending 25+ years talking (but mostly listening) to other women and talking to our own lawfully wedded spouse, his first comment was, "Wow. Men don't talk about sex half as much - or half as frankly - as you women do to each other. We just don't." For a group of people who - supposedly - are "uninterested" in sex, we sure spend a lot of time talking about it.

All women. Everywhere we've been, in every state we've lived in, in every community. And if you look at the comments on both linked articles from Dr. Helen's post, there are 100+ comments on the "Why Men Don't Want Sex" post - many of them from women.

There are 400+ comments on the "Why Women Don't Want Sex" article. Again, if women aren't interested in sex, why bother to comment? And when one reads the comments (which we did, a few weeks ago) what came through loud and clear was that even in fairly good relationship, if there was no sex, there was a deep sense of hurt.

In other words, something was missing: she didn't really feel loved.

We will never believe that men and women are the same. We are wired differently; we do things for different reasons and respond to different stimuli in ways that often confuse our partners if we expect them to react the same way we do. But another thing that kept coming through in the comments of both linked articles was what seemed to us a mistaken focus on just one side of the marital equation.

Marriage is, always and forever, a partnership; almost a delicate dance in which many things are exchanged, not always of equal value. And we risk exposing ourselves to a great deal of hurt during that exchange. Kim Du Toit puts it well, oddly enough, for what women want from this dance:

I think it’s probably true that a lot of men don’t know what women want, or need, to make them sexually responsive. It’s a problem that’s not going to go away until—[gasp!]—boys are taught by their fathers to respect and cherish women. I learned this from my father, and I know the answer to making a woman satisfied: it’s called intimacy. If a man is always intimate with his wife: touching, kissing, stroking, talking, she will respond in kind and, surprise surprise, she’ll be available for sex.

How hard is it for men to understand that during sex a man (or at least the kind of man worth having) demands of a woman that she yield herself completely to him?

And how hard is it for him to understand that because he is larger, stronger, and physically more intimidating than she, that this type of surrender is difficult (if not impossible) for any intelligent woman absent an enormous degree of trust? What kind of woman would give anything of value to a man who doesn't value her in return?

But in return, women ought to spend some time learning what it is that pleases the men in their lives, and (big secret here ladies) it isn't spending two hours talking about their feelings. Men tend to be visual and physical beings and if you want to please them, (though they do enjoy a bit of romance) you may need to first address their needs. This is only fair. The best thing about marriage is that the partnership it creates affords both men and women the opportunity to develop another side of their nature a bit. Through loving each other, we grow as people.

This is not to say that men should become more like women or women like men.

But in a good marriage, both partners learn and take strength from each other. Though we never fully give up our independence, there is a third entity, the marriage and the family, that in many ways becomes more important and far stronger than either person was alone.

Reading the comments at WebMD and on Dr. Helen's post, one thing struck us over and over again: marriage is work. It all comes back to our "Idiot" post - we make promises, not to "feel" love for each other 'til death do us part, but to practice love.

And it does, sometimes take an awful lot of practice to get love right. Sometimes we have to go through the motions when the feelings aren't there at that moment in time, trusting that if we 'show up' dressed to play, the rest will work itself out in time.

Guess what? It generally works out that way. Funny, that. Maybe 99% of life really is just showing up.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:47 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

February 08, 2007

Beauty And Women And Men -- Well, Mostly Women

Here follows my entry in a long-running series of posts on the subject of how women shouldn't be altering themselves to please men.

FbL was kind enough to send along this story showing that women will gladly forgo sex in exchange for a new wardrobe:

For most women, the choice between sex and a new wardrobe is simple — they go for the clothes.

Women on average say they would be willing to give up sex for 15 months for a closet full of new apparel, with 2 percent ready to abstain from sex for three years in exchange for new duds, according to a new survey of about 1,000 women in 10 U.S. cities.

This should settle forever the debate Cassandra began and I joined against my better judgment.

For those keeping score, the question was: women do terrible things to themselves in pursuit of beauty. Are they doing it for men (the bastards), or for themselves and other women?

The answer: it's not for men.

On the same topic: Virginia Postrel's article in the Atlantic Online argues that beauty is beauty, period. It is a short two page article, with a neat video from Dove cosmetics' viral marketing showing just how much prepping and actual video editing goes into making a model a model.

I'll leave aside my amusement at Dove's marketing gimmick, by which they are attempting to sell you cosmetics by accusing other cosmetic companies of suggesting you need cosmetics. I'll also set aside my even deeper amusement that this baldly manipulative campaign is so wildly successful. Dove is actually managing to sell cosmetics by telling women that cosmetics manufacturers are immoral. Help every woman feel beautiful without makeup! Buy Dove!

The point of the article is that every woman is not conventionally beautiful; even babies, male and especially female, look longer at pictures of those accounted beautiful by adults. But every woman wants to feel beautiful, for reasons evolution has implanted deep in her core.

Men aren't the source of this longing in women, and for those who can't ever quite satisfy it, it's not male expectations that are to blame. It was there when you got here, in that common human genetic code, and it's not going anywhere.

Those of us who love you, however, will accept that this is part of you and try to help you feel the way you want to feel. For example, we'll wait thirty more minutes while you get ready, before we go out to the grocery store to get some baking soda and milk. We'll tell you that you're beautiful, and indeed, to us you are. No one I've loved has failed to be beautiful to me.

The fact that this answer has never been satisfying -- your own eyes still judge you against that genetic standard, whatever we say, and however we feel -- goes to show that it's never really been about us at all.

That's no condemnation; I'm as much a prisoner of the genetics as anyone. But it is the truth.

UPDATE: "And then finally, everyone will be able to see the real me."

Posted by at 09:28 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

I Just Know Cass Would Want To Blog This

If she only had the time, there is no doubt she would have brought this up:

Mozart, an iguana with an erection that has lasted for over a week, will have his penis amputated in the next couple of days.

Veterinarians at Antwerp's Aquatopia had sought to treat the animal's problem, but decided removal was the only solution because of the risk of infection. The good news for Mozart and his mates is that male iguanas have two penises.

Mozart, sitting on the shoulders of his keeper as camera crews focused on his red, swollen erection, seemed unperturbed by the news.

"It doesn't bother him. He doesn't know what amputation means," said vet Luc Lambrecht, adding that Mozart's sexual activity should be undimmed by the operation.

"I don't think so. That's all in his head."

So let's have a contest. If she were here, what would Our Hostess have said about all this?

Posted by at 01:58 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

January 06, 2007

What A Hoot

First it was the mancation, which the half vast editorial staff was all over some months ago. Then came the scourge of mandals. Now, the uber-in thing for the retrosexual in your life?

Kumpscars.jpgManspace. Savor the luxury, the sheer power of the word. It should be spoken deliberately, the syllables first rolled around the mouth like the smoke from a fine cigar before being released smoothly into the air to linger richly, introducing an air of discrete decadence to the room:

Graceland. The Bat Cave. Archie Bunker's chair. The Playboy mansion.

The simple but undeniable truth about these four spaces is that they are — deeply and unequivocally — male. They're special spots where well-known guys have gone to, uh, exercise a certain slice of their identity.

A new book, Manspace: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory, embraces this premise and runs with it. Houston-born author Sam Martin takes a thoughtful yet spirited look at spaces ordinary guys have created, or reclaimed, in their own homes. The recording studios, drinking sheds, attics, lean-tos and home offices in these pages, Martin says, help express the natures of the men who inhabit them.

"Guys have always gravitated toward the garages and basements of the world," says Martin, who recently built his own manspace, a 165-square-foot shed/office in the backyard of his Austin home. "But guys have gotten tired of those spaces. Guys are coming out of the corners."

Whoa, now. In a country where men still earn more and a woman has yet to warm the big chair at the Oval Office, isn't every space a manspace?

No, says Martin, whose introduction is quite clear on that point:

"At one time men really were kings of their castles — literally. Of course, that was more for security reasons than the need to invite friends over for the World Series. Still, those men didn't have anyone telling them to drain the moat or suggesting that they move their thrones to a less visible section of the house. Somewhere along the way, control changed hands."

Martin found during his research and travels that guys with great manspaces all have an activity around which the space takes shape. His chapters are divided into sections on collecting, entertaining, playing, sporting and working.

The manspaces he features are startlingly diverse, from a finished attic filled with 18th- and 19th-century nautical antiques, to a backyard Celtic labyrinth, to an Adirondack-style lean-to in the Colorado Rockies.

"Manspace is a place for a guy to establish his identity," Martin says. "When we lost the battle for the house, it coincided with a sort of wandering in the woods, searching for an identity. Claiming a space of your own is really a way to express yourself."

What an incredible hoot. The spousal unit, despite the fact that we always dutifully set aside a room for him in whatever often-cramped temporary home we've lived in over the past twenty-five years of military life, is always bi.... err... complaining that he doesn't have his own space. There is just one problem with this: the man is never home. If we bust our pretty little buns, therefore, trying to fix it up for him, we are "taking over", even if we stay out of it after trying to at least make it habitable.

If on the other hand, we do nothing (our preferred course after several failed attempts to "help") then he never goes in there because it is unpleasant and it ends up being a repository for junk. We, of course, have found it wise to have no opinion on the subject.

The editorial staff have added an item to our list of "must-haves" in our ongoing search for a dream house: a manspace.

Right after we send him on a mancation with a brand new pair of mandals.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:13 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January 05, 2007

Sex in Suburbia

This is a reprise of a piece I wrote last year on a private site. I rediscovered it thanks to TigerHawk, who was kind enough to include it in his list of 2006's favorite posts.

I've always been unaccountably fond of it too. Over the holiday my youngest son shocked me by asking me to gather up my favorite posts. I was shocked - and touched - because my children don't read my writing. Neither does my husband. So over the next few weeks I will be going over about 2000 posts in my archives. I'm not sure I'm a terribly good judge of what my 'best' work is. I only know which posts I am fondest of and for some inexplicable reason, this is one. I hope you will forgive me for bringing it home to VC.

At any rate, do check out TigerHawk's year-end list. TigerHawk is one of the few blogs I consider a must read, and I was honored to have the chance to post there for a while in such distinguished company.

newrule.gifnewrule.gif

"Keep thinking of yourself as a soft, mysterious cat.. . .Men are fascinated by bright, shiny objects, by lots of curls, lots of hair on the head . . . by bows, ribbons, ruffles and bright colors.. . .Sarcasm is dangerous. Avoid it altogether."
Oh dear...more advice I've never followed.

I suppose I got the first part right. The "soft, mysterious cat" part.

I once asked my husband why he fell in love with me. I hoped, I think, to hear something like, "You have an interesting mind", or "You never bore me", or words to that effect. His answer crushed me. He said, after much reflection, "You are unfailingly kind."

Wunderbar. That sounds like a recipe for someone who gets replaced at 46 by someone with far fewer miles on the old odometer. Very likely less kind, too. Not that he would do that sort of thing, but that's the sort of thought that pops unbidden into my head all the time, prompting that wry little half-smile that makes him ask in mock exasperation, "All right... what are you laughing about now?". In high school a guy I dated used to call me Mona Lisa. He said when we broke up he used to fear I was laughing at him, each time he saw that smile flit across my face.

I told him him was mistaken. I was almost always laughing at myself.

Maureen Dowd is musing about sex and feminism in the NYT Magazine. I like her so much better when she's apolitical. When she's not trying to be a man in a man's world. I think, sometimes, that this is where the hysterical brittleness comes from. She's so much more relaxed, when she is just herself:

Throughout the long, dark ages of undisputed patriarchy, women connived to trade beauty and sex for affluence and status. In the first flush of feminism, women offered to pay half the check with "woman money" as a way to show that these crass calculations - that a woman's worth in society was determined by her looks, that she was an ornament up for sale to the highest bidder - no longer applied.
You have got to be kidding me. In a world where everywhere you look - magazines, television, movies, billboards, newspapers, even adverts we get in our junk mail, is sex -- how on earth could any woman fail to get the message? Women now have money, education, and some measure of power, yet the predominant images of us are not ones that reflect this 'new reality', whatever that may be, but an increasingly retrograde vision of femininity. One that is airbrushed, perfectly made up, surgically-enhanced, scantily-clad, and eternally hovering at an impossibly delectable nineteen years old. One that no woman with a job, a brain, or any adult responsibilities at all can possibly compete with. Not that this stops us from trying. Or from feeling inadequate when we fail.
At a party for the Broadway opening of "Sweet Smell of Success," a top New York producer gave me a lecture on the price of female success that was anything but sweet. He confessed that he had wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages but nixed the idea because my job as a Times columnist made me too intimidating. Men, he explained, prefer women who seem malleable and awed. He predicted that I would never find a mate because if there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything, even his manhood?

He had hit on a primal fear of single successful women: that the aroma of male power is an aphrodisiac for women, but the perfume of female power is a turnoff for men. It took women a few decades to realize that everything they were doing to advance themselves in the boardroom could be sabotaging their chances in the bedroom, that evolution was lagging behind equality.


I wonder about this a lot. My daughter in law is extremely smart. So is my son, and she managed to snag him neatly. But the thing about her is this: she's a blonde and when you first meet her, her intelligence is not immediately apparent. She has a rather kittenish manner. It's something I recognized about her right away: she conceals her intelligence in social situations. I recognized it because from the time I was in second grade I quickly learned to do the same thing if I wanted to get along with people. I put myself down. A lot.

I've often thought that was why I was so successful with boys. I think women who never learn to moderate that quality are at a huge disadvantage in life. The same qualities that come across positively in men: keen intelligence, initiative, aggressiveness, are generally perceived negatively in a woman.

We don't want those things from girls. We want softness, fluffyness, giggles. What my mother-in-law calls (and I detest) "perkiness". Good God. The only place I want to see perkiness at my age is when I look at my breasts, thank you very much.

On the other hand, I look at my younger son and his girlfriend. Though she doesn't look a bit like me, personality-wise we're a lot alike. She's ferociously intelligent, a PhD candidate right now at a very good school, easily his intellectual equal and that is obviously one reason he's interested in her. But like me, she's a bit of a child-woman. Fiercely independent in some ways - she'll just take off without him, which causes fights - she's also incredibly loyal and soft-hearted and he's every bit as protective of her as my husband is of me because in many ways she needs protecting. Like me, she's not always clued in to the real world.

Mo Dowd asks: So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?

I'm not sure it's that simple. I think men have a very basic desire to be needed. Who wants to be in a relationship where you feel superfluous - whether you're a man, or a woman?

Women often leave relationships because men can't, or won't, tell them they are loved. They need to hear it said. Men often think it's enough that they come home every night, that they don't cheat, that they put food on the table; but women want to hear the words. A man thinks, "I wouldn't do those things if I didn't care." But a woman wants, needs to hear the words, "I still love you". "You are still beautiful to me, even after all these years." She wants the tangible demonstrations of affection: flowers, a card, or sometimes just a phone call in the middle of the day or a email, or to see his eyes watching her face during a football game when she has taken special care with her appearance, just for him. These things matter.

And men need to feel needed too. They need to know that what they provide: the security of a home and a future for the family, is noticed and cherished. All those hours of overtime, and planning, and promotions: they are worth something. I tried, for a few years, to get my husband to consider retiring to a less stressful job, using my income as a supplement. It took me a while to realize, and I still don't understand it, that he takes great pride in the fact that he is able to support me. And he does it better than I could - I don't dispute that fact. Although he welcomes my income and he is proud of my acheivements, I don't think he wants that role taken away. That's not why I married him. But it seems necessary to him. It grieves me considerably. He is more to me than some meal ticket.

But I can understand it in a way, because I feel the same way about our home. It has been my domain for over 25 years, and I tend to get downright territorial about changes to my little decorating schemes. I was absurdly pleased, a month ago, when a neighbor came to my door selling chocolates and said, "Are you an interior decorator?". I'm proud of what I've done with our house. That is "my contribution" to the marital equation, and I tend to resent it when he dares to opine. I've gotten much better. He chose the oriental rug in our living room, which would have been sacrilege a few years ago because I have to redo the entire color scheme around it. We're both getting more flexible. We have to be - we fight more too, now that the kids are gone. We do a lot of things more now.

So funny, the difference between the Washington Post Magazine and the NYT. As I was sitting on the sofa watching the Giants crush my Redskins (not wholly unexpected) my husband wryly handed me this piece. Skimming through it, I almost inhaled my Bloody Mary at this line:

At 14, I was visiting my great-aunt -- Jackie's aunt -- Ellen, when a cousin stopped by to say that she was moving to Washington to live with her boyfriend, the father of her baby. Aunt Ellen was livid. "You move in with a man, you ain't nothing but an unpaid ho," Aunt Ellen told her. "Hell, the only time you a paid ho is when you get married."
"I thought you'd like that", he laughed. And later...
From an early age, I began to understand (abstractly) that sex was currency. Legal tender. Negotiable for all debts public and private. Still, it didn't become personal until later.
Well no kidding. My amusement became more pronounced as I read on. The author began to describe 'trading' sex for vacuum cleaners, nights out with the girls, the loan of a generator from her spousal unit... Jesus Christ.

I wouldn't put it that baldly. No wonder men think women are mercenary. No wonder women think sex is all men want from us, when it's so easy to get what we want by just giving it up. My God, what a tangle.

I once read somewhere that if men and women really ever understood each other, it would profoundly sadden us. Maybe I look at the world through rose-colored glasses. It wouldn't surprise me to find that was so. The thought often occurs to me. But it's hard enough for two adults to get along in a marriage. Especially in today's world. Especially if the woman is working. It places strains on your relationship. But if you screen out all the race and class BS from the WaPo piece, could it not be that sex is just how we come together again as people? The one place where everything isn't a battleground (except, perhaps, in play)? Where we let go of what society expects of us for a space and become something much more basic; more primitive? Lowering for a brief time the barriers so carefully erected against an insane world and allowing ourselves to be carried away?

It is that last that is so intoxicating, but also what I instinctively still fear. There is something in me that understands Maureen Dowd, strangely enough. Something in me that secretly sympathizes with her when she's being bitter. Yes women use sex as currency, oftentimes, because it often is all we have to barter. It is, often, all that is valued about us. That's what causes all the feminist angst, the anger and the bitterness. We have so much more to offer as people. Why doesn't that count for more?

Unfortunately, bitterness is such a turnoff. Men don't like it. It's really not Ms. Dowd's intelligence that is offputting, I suspect, but her sharpness and her anger. People (and men are people) like people who like them. But she is proud. She wants to be liked - and admired - for her better qualities. Not for her perkiness. I understand this feeling. It's not as though I haven't had those thoughts. It's just that they are pointless.

She hasn't learned to hide her feelings. But more importantly, I think, she hasn't learned to compromise. In the battle of the sexes, men tend to want to be on top. At least sexually. And there is something primal in women that finds this quality very attractive. But at the same time, there is something in me that doesn't want to submit, which was my first thought when reading this comment from a prior post:

To me, what's sexy during sex is feeling vulnerable, being able to yield, let the walls down...
I agree, but I'll be damned if I don't fight it every single time. Why is that? Subliminated post-feminist anger? Heh... I'm smiling again. If you can laugh at yourself, you never lack for amusement. The thing is, I sympathize with Maureen Dowd, but lack of moderation is her downfall. Because I can see the other side too. I can see a man's point of view, and that precludes the kind of sullen, bitter rage that is such a buzz kill. That is why we come together. To remind us that neither side has a monopoly on rightness, I think.

We women get so angry that we are, more often than not, the ones to yield. I get angry, sometimes. But someone has to yield in the battle of the sexes. Maybe we do it because we can. Or because we secretly want to. Or because we enjoy pleasing.

Who knows? I certainly don't. I do know that the process is, more often than not, enjoyable, and that a bit of a struggle certainly makes it more entertaining. And sometimes we get angry just because someone is telling us we are supposed to keep score. And I think that is misguided. The truth is that we often want different things, and the even more unpleasant truth is that for women, what we want often includes making those we care about happy. Which means, in the end, that if we are keeping score by men's rules, as Ms. Dowd seems to want to do, we will always lose.

Perhaps what we need to do is throw the scorecard away and go by what makes us happy. And stop worrying about what other people think. Now there's a radical concept. Revolutionary, almost. Call it post, post-feminist.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:29 PM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

January 03, 2007

A Question Of Balance

Yesterday over at the Cotillion this post raised quite a few hackles:

Instead of getting frustrated by men, and accusing your son of having 'ADD,' perhaps women could simply try to understand them. It seems to me that we live in a world where, increasingly, manliness is considered to be some sort of disorder, and something we need to crush.

It's no wonder so many men are depressed and confused about their role. It's no wonder divorce rates are high. It's no wonder men cheat on their wives or become addicted to a fantasy world of pornography (a world where images of women who are gorgeous and adoring are easy to find).

We live in a world where being a man is frowned upon. Oh, you can have a penis, that's okay... Just so long as you shut up and play the game. Work hard, smile a lot, talk softly and shave daily. Get your MBA. Drive a sedan (a safe sedan). Wear khakis to work. These things are okay.

Buy a motorcycle. Spend a week hiking. Grow a beard. Shoot a gun. Cuss. Become alive... These things are a little too risky. We (women) don't like it. Heck, the neutered men don't like it too much either. No, just stop all that and play the game. Put the khakis back on, and make sure they've been ironed!

This is where the trouble started, yet there's an undeniable grain of truth to the author's complaints about the feminization of modern society; our aversion to risk taking, thrill seeking behavior, or anything remotely smacking of competition, aggression, and the noisy, often brash physicality more commonly found in little boys than girls. I found myself wincing a bit at the description of the mother chiding her son for turning a stick into a gun.

But in the end, that anecdote caused me to think of the issues involved in a different light. I stayed out of the discussion yesterday, mostly because I found myself growing unaccountably angry at the strong reaction to the author's words.

I took something entirely different from his essay. My first reaction was that while no parent should force a boy to act like a girl or a girl to act like a boy, it is a vital part of socialization to teach boys to channel their aggression (and girls to use their not inconsiderable people skills) in socially acceptable ways. There is nothing inherently good about unbridled masculinity or femininity. Without proper guidance, boys can become disruptive bullies and girls whiny, manipulative tyrants who make everyone around them miserable. Like raw femininity, unbridled maleness or thumos is a double-edged sword of which society is rightly wary:

"Most good things, like French wine, are mostly good and accidentally bad. Manliness, however, seems to be about fifty-fifty good and bad. . . . This is what I mean by a modest defense."

"Manliness," he says, "is a quality that causes individuals to stand for something." The Greeks used the term thumos to denote the bristling, spirited element shared by human beings and animals that makes them fight back when threatened. It causes dogs to defend their turf; it makes human beings stand up for their kin, their religion, their country, their principles. "Just as a dog defends its master," writes Mansfield, "so the doggish part of the human soul defends human ends higher than itself."

Every human being possesses thumos. But those who are manly possess it in abundance, and sometimes in excess. The manly man is not satisfied to let things be as they are, and he makes sure everyone knows it. He invests his perception of injustice with cosmic importance.

Manliness can be noble and heroic, like the men on the Titanic; but it can also be foolish, stubborn, and violent. Achilles, Brutus, and Sir Lancelot exemplify the glory of manliness, but also its darker sides. Theodore Roosevelt was manly; so was Harry "The Buck Stops Here" Truman. Manly men are confident in risky situations. Manliness can be pathological, as in gangsters and terrorists.

Manliness, says Mansfield, thrives on drama, conflict, risk, and exploits: "War is hell but men like it." Manliness is often aggressive, but when the aggression is tied to the concept of honor, it transcends mere animal spiritedness. Allied with reason, as in Socrates, manliness finds its highest expression.

Marine Corps training doesn't crush thumos. It finds a proper outlet for that energy and aggression and channels them. And it's no accident that a warrior culture is a highly structured and disciplined one beset with rules and regulations. Only in such a well regulated environment can so many highly charged individuals get along without killing each other. They co-exist peacefully because they willingly submit to authority and yet few, looking at a base full of Marines, would describe them as wimpy or feminized. This is why society bids men shave, wear neckties, and follow seemingly meaningless social conventions. These things are symbols; tokens of conformity - a voluntary willingness to submit to the often capricious dictates of the social contract; to harness that boundless energy and aggression in service to something larger than themselves. Yet, in just the last few decades a fairly remarkable thing has happened.

Women, whose similarly bridled femininity had been tightly constrained by a stifling set of societal mores, discovered feminism. And suddenly all bets were off.

Now, in the workplace and in the home both men and women are getting mixed messages. In many offices men are still being told they must wear ties and watch their language for signs of sexist thoughts or pronouns. Yet when I open up a fashion magazine, I see women who are definitely not typing pool material wearing low cut tops and extremely short or revealing skirts to the office. Years ago, such attire would have violated any number of office dress codes, not to mention torpedoing ones chances of promotion. Now such unbridled feminine sexuality in the workplace is considered "sophisticated". What kind of message is that sending to men: "Here I am, but don't you dare notice me as a sexual being because if you do, you're objectifying me?" O-kay.

Suddenly it's acceptable for women to indulge their sexuality in the workplace, but not for men? In society's headlong rush to free women of the supposed shackles of home and family the wrecking ball seems to have swung somewhat unevenly, shattering the conventions which formerly constrained women and imposing a new set of restrictions upon men without pausing to consider the important question of balance.

Arguably, much of this change was both needed and welcome. As Raven argues, the old equation was unfairly lopsided. Women really had few, if any, choices in life and after all, men and women do want many of the same things even if I don't quite agree with her that we want them to see them expressed in the same way:

Mistake number one: A wife is a partner…she is the other half of what should be a lifelong relationship full of love, admiration, respect and honor. A wife is not a domestic supporter. If she is viewed as such, the marriage is doomed. I hate to tell it like it is: The 50’s are gone. It may be due to feminism, it may not be. Women are stronger now, better educated and are able to fend for themselves. THIS IS WHAT TICKS MEN OFF. It’s the price society pays, for allowing men who think like this idiOt - to rule the nest without regard or respect to the gifts women bring into the relationship. In other words, I think men took advantage of the woman who chose to stay at home and raise the kids. Women got fed up with it and wanted change.

In the now famous book His Needs, Her Needs, Willam Harley wrote of the following emotional needs of women:
-Affection
-Conversation
-Honesty and Openness
-Financial Support
-Family Commitment

And the following emotional needs for men:
-Sexual Fulfillment
-Recreational Companionship
-Physical Attractiveness
-Domestic Support
-Admiration

I don’t agree with this list at all, for women. What’s missing from these lists?? LOVE. Without it, a relationship will never last.

In my world, women need:
Love and affection
Sexual fulfillment
Loyalty/Fidelity
and the bag of other important things:
An honest, articulate, smart, intelligent, attractive, fun loving, hard working, hard playing and MATURE MAN.

Many women DO place more value on man’s earning power; on the baggage he comes with. Women, when seeking a future husband, do look at the income, the job and career prospects, the reputation, the looks and feel of a man. Most have a list of acceptable and unacceptable traits. Every man must pass a litmus test before a woman would consider him a serious contender.

While Raven is entitled to her opinion, I found myself disagreeing with her. I thought the list presented by FTM meshed quite well with my experience of what both men and women really want from a relationship. I think love in both cases is a given, but the real question is: given that love exists, how do men vs. women prefer to have that love expressed?

It was something of a shocker for me later in life to realize that by and large, men and women are fundamentally different. When we are in love, in other words, I have observed that while women most definitely enjoy sex, most women want and need affection. Something in us dies if the person we love doesn't tell us we are are loved, doesn't show us tangible signs of affection, doesn't demonstrate that he cares about us. For us, giving and receiving affection is programmed into us and communication and words are extremely important in a way men cannot fully understand. We need words.

And for men it is almost the opposite. Men are doers, not talkers. Something in them dies if the sexual side of them is not wanted, needed and most of all, appreciated by the woman they love and often the things that make them feel most loved are not words, but tangible things you do for them. If you watch a man, you will see that when he wants to show you he cares, he instinctively does something for you rather than talking. So in a very real way, the removal of women from the home removed one of the most visible signs (to men) that they were loved. And the often strident insistence of feminists that women maintain independence "I don't need a man for anything" took away another critical need, the desire to hear that they were needed and that their role as providers was appreciated. If you stop to consider that this is how men want to be loved by nature, this is profoundly sad. It doesn't mean women have no right to want to do things outside of the home. It simply means we have to find better ways to show that we love and appreciate the men in our lives, in ways that are meaningful to them, not us. This is, after all, what you do when you love someone.

But the saddest thing in FTM's post, the one which seemed to set everyone off the most, and the one I (typically) agreed with, was this - all the way at the end. It was this which led me, finally, to write about his essay, because I found it an interesting idea:

I'm saddened by what modern feminism has done to men. I'm even more saddened by what it has done to several generations of women--women who really do want to love and care for their male companions, but are desperately confused by what it means to sacrifice and submit of oneself in the name of love.

Submission, on the part of both men and women, is a key ingredient to marriage. Any marriage without a healthy amount of submission is doomed to fail.

Submission. What a stale, moldy, outdated, concept. I cringe, even while I'm typing it because I'm sure it will bring the wrath of God down on my poor head for daring even to suggest that I agree wholeheartedly, unreservedly, with the author on this score. Marriage is a parnership meant to last a lifetime, and it's not easy making a marriage work. It's a serious promise, not just a few silly words you toss off unadvisedly, thinking in the back of your mind, "Well gosh, now I kinda sorta love her, but if the feeling passess I can always get a divorce."

I believe you are promising, not to feel love, but to practice it, and that is an entirely different matter when you are looking at a four or five decade time horizon. On the day you marry, if both a man and wife aren't willing to put their marriage ahead of their careers, their children, and most importantly their own private selfish interests: if they aren't willing to submerge at least a part of themselves into this larger thing called "the marriage", it won't survive.

Does that mean you lose yourself? Of course not.

I fight with my husband all the time. I stood up to him when I was "just a housewife", I was ornery then and I am ornery now. He is crotchety with me. We both know the places where neither will compromise (which are few) and the ones where we will (which are many). There are things he does - man things - that made me furious when I was 18, and he still does them. He will probably be doing them when I am 90.

I hope so, so I can kick his skinny old butt.

We also know that neither of us will do anything to endanger our relationship, and that trust is fundamental. But in the end, it all comes down to a question of balance: as society has changed and I've moved from being a full-time homemaker to a career woman, we've had to renegotiate the balance between our respective roles. It has often been difficult and often painful. I have seen, firsthand, all the issues FTM describes play out in our relationship, so part of me wonders at some of the reaction his post endengered.

I'm not sure what he was trying to say. I only know what I took from it, and I don't believe submission in marriage is a bad thing at all. In fact, I think it is a vital and all too often missing element that is, as he observes, contributing to the rising divorce rate. Whether feminism is partially or completely to blame for that is debatable. I believe he has a point, insofar as I hear women putting down the role of homemaker as boring or demeaning, or consisting solely of housework. I believe such women either haven't fully explored the job or perhaps are being unfairly condescending.

Having filled both roles, I beg to differ. Running a home well is both demanding and rewarding. Homemakers, in addition to keeping the home running smoothly, also provide the underpinning for a plethora of community efforts like the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, a volunteer group started by Marine Wives that has given away over 7.5 MILLION DOLLARS to families of gravely injured combat vets since the war started. That is raw woman power from a bunch of 'bored little housewives' who are, in their rare non-bored moments, doing casework for amputees at Walter Reed and Bethesda. Such grassroots volunteer efforts would quickly die on the vine if all women demanded a paycheck.

Perhaps a slightly more nuanced view of the relationship between the sexes is in order. No one is trying to shackle women to the kitchen stove. We have choices now, and rights under law, and if we freely choose to live with a man who oppresses us we have only our own poor judgment to blame. We should also, objectively, be able to recognize double standards when we see them, and the loonier advocates of feminism are rife with them. If we as women truly seek equality, we must mete out equal accountability along with our new equal rights, and this means not asking men to suppress their masculinity while demanding the right to assert ourselves without restraint.

This is childishness, not equality. Men can and do restrain their own behavior and submit to society in highly visible and tangible ways, and we should both recognize and value this. And what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose - what we ask men to do, we should not scruple to do ourselves. The standard is, and always should be, balance and reasonableness; a settling of the pendulum squarely in the center rather than a reckless swing to one side to redress centuries-old wrongs to people long dead.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:00 AM | Comments (69) | TrackBack

December 27, 2006

Throbbing Sex Kitten Alert!

We must say we find this extremely disturbing:

A common parasite can increase a women's attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says.

There are times when it is best not to comment.

About 40 per cent of the world's population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including about eight million Australians.

Human infection generally occurs when people eat raw or undercooked meat that has cysts containing the parasite, or accidentally ingest some of the parasite's eggs excreted by an infected cat.

...and lines like this, in a nutshell, are why we do not own a cat.

"Infected men have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women.

"On the other hand, infected women tend to be more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.

"In short, it can make men behave like alley cats and women behave like sex kittens".

Dr Boulter said the recent Czech Republic research was not conclusive, but was backed up by animal studies that found infection also changes the behaviour of mice.

The mice were more likely to take risks that increased their chance of being eaten by cats, which would allow the parasite to continue its life cycle.

Rodents treated with drugs that killed the parasites reversed their behaviour, Dr Boulter said.

chest.pngIs it just us, or does this all sound like a particularly badly-written episode of the original Star Trek? We keep desperately yearning for expecting William Shatner to burst onto the scene, shirtless and glistening with sweat in those tight little Starfleet trousers of his.... ummm... well...

Yeah. Never mind.

Via annlee, who should know better than to stuff our mailbox with this kind of frivolous fare. Really, we only posted it to make her happy.

Because the editorial staff are all about giving this holiday season.


Posted by Cassandra at 06:22 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

December 21, 2006

We Are Speechless

Since tomorrow is the big day, this seemed a topical bit of reading for a Thursday afternoon:

The best that modern science can say for abstinence is that it's harmless when practiced in moderation. "Saving yourself" before the big game, the big business deal, the big hoe-down or the big bakeoff may indeed confer some moral advantage; but physiologically it does zip.

Having regular and enthusiastic sex, by contrast, confers a host of measurable physiological advantages, be you male or female. (This assumes that you are engaging in sex without contracting a sexually transmitted disease.)

In one of the most credible studies correlating overall health with sexual frequency, Queens University in Belfast tracked the mortality of about 1,000 middle-aged men over the course of a decade. The study was designed to compare people of similar age and health. Its findings, published in 1997 in the British Medical Journal, were that men who reported the highest frequency of orgasm enjoyed a death rate half that of the laggards.

British researchers have determined that the equivalent of six Big Macs can be worked off by having sex three times a week for a year. Muscular contractions during intercourse work the pelvis, thighs, buttocks, arms, neck and thorax. Sex also boosts production of testosterone, which leads to stronger bones and muscles. Men's Health magazine has gone so far as to call the bed the single greatest piece of exercise equipment ever invented.

Oh, we are *so* relieved! The HVES haven't been pestering the weary Unit on those long winter's nights.

We're simply looking after his health, which by the way has never been better. Speaking of which, what in the name of all is Holy is up with this 'gentleman' (and we use the term advisedly)?

We belong to a consortium of over 40 conservative female bloggers, none of whom even remotely fit the description this gentleman ascribes to American women. In fact, somehow the Blog Princess has inexplicably managed to endure 27 years of marriage, raise two sons to adulthood, move cross country four times, survive several one year unaccompanied tours and countless shorter deployments all without ever having experienced the joys of a maid, a nanny, a manicure, a pedicure, watching Oprah or Ricki Lake or any of the other "necessities" he seems to think American women can't live without. We didn't even have a diamond ring until last year, not that this discommoded us in the least. We got a diamond pendant for our 18th anniversary. It came while the Unit was out in the field blowing things to Kingdom Come.

It was really nice, and it sparkles a lot, but the biggest thrill was just knowing he was thinking of us.

Getting back to the subject at hand, how *did* we manage to subliminate our uniquely American bitchiness for almost three decades? Frankly we will never know. The poor Unit sleeps with one eye open constantly. The man lives in a state of fear.

We only know that the Spousal Unit, after thirty years with the same horrid harridan, seems to come home early from work every chance he gets. And he still calls us every night on the way home, just to let us know where he is. Not that we ever once asked him to, or that he would be in trouble if he didn't.

He just knows we like to hear his voice. So we kind of figure we must be doing something right, not that we have the least idea what that might be.

Judging from the daily banter over at the Cotillion, our experience isn't all that unique. Something tells us our friend at American Feminist Women Suck has been looking for love in all the wrong places.

We are still trying, for instance, to reconcile these two "statements":

1. From the man's viewpoint:

Feel free to use me for immediate pleasure...I won't assume it's permanent by any measure.

By no means is this to be viewed as "sluttish".

2. 10) Vain - believing that they are irresistible to everything in pants and therefore are allowed to behave sluttish and without any honor

Because you understand, females who enjoy immediate sexual gratification without commitment are sluttish and dishonorable, but those who can't enjoy sex without commitment are manipulative and demanding.

Got it.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:09 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

December 12, 2006

Idiot...

How many seconds does it take to figure out that this woman isn't playing with a full deck?

You say that the way to revive a boring marriage is to invest energy and interest in each other, not in a different partner. What if there is no desire to invest in your husband?

I haven't been in a terrible marriage by any means. I'm 36 and have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, but met someone who provides me most things lacking in my marriage: Desire, passion, communication, happiness, fun, respectfulness, maturity, responsibility, etc.

Don't get me wrong — my husband is a nice guy and a good dad. I just find that my communication with him is nil. It's pleasant enough, for the most part, but not challenging or interesting. Perhaps I've married the wrong man? Is it ever right to leave a spouse for another person?

Wow. Why did you get married in the first place?

Keeping your love alive is a two-way street honey, and it's awfully hard with a one and a three year old around.

When was the last time you packed the kids off to a friends' house for a few hours and met your husband at the door wearing nothing but a naughty grin?

When was the last time you woke him in the middle of the night for no reason and did something that made his hottest dreams pale by comparison?

When was the last time you even told him you love him, or how much you appreciate all he does for you? Or even that he stays around at all? Because the truth is that even though he did promise to love, cherish and protect you, most men feel slightly trapped when they have their first child. It never hurts to acknowledge that fact and let them know you honor the fact that they love you enough to stick around, just as you don't go running off into the sunset on those days when it all seems too much to handle. Marriage takes commitment.

People get tired, and they get into ruts when they have too much to do. Did you ever stop to think that he might be boring because he's bored with you too? Maybe he has closed off parts of himself so he won't be tempted to do things that will get him in trouble now that he has new responsibilities.

Maybe if you show him ways he can have fun within his marriage, you might find him more exciting. If you want a challenge, why don't you challenge yourself to wake up the parts of him that made you fall in love with him in the first place? Why don't you challenge yourself to be the woman of his dreams?

Via MensNewsDaily

Posted by Cassandra at 08:40 AM | Comments (112) | TrackBack

December 05, 2006

I Guess There Is Something Wrong With Me

Well, this makes two articles in a row. Yesterday there was another, but this one (via Raven) is even better. File under "I really hate to harsh your mellow, but...":

You're a successful woman with a job to die for, a fabulous home and a supportive husband, but do you ever get the urge to check his mobile phone for love messages? Or his bank statements for intimate meals a deux that you didn't share? And do you lie awake at night worrying how you'll cope if the worst happens, your fears are proved and your husband walks out?

In a word, no, no, and... ummm.... no. I can't imagine opening my husband's bank statements, which in any event are joint but I still stay out of them unless specifically asked, looking at his email, or wasting my valuable time trying to decypher anything on his cell phone. There is a word for all of these things: NONE OF MY BUSINESS.

Don't worry. Your suspicion is only natural. At the risk of sounding extraordinarily sexist, I'm convinced that women, even in the happiest of relationships, are programmed to worry their men are going to abandon them.

And I'm convinced you have a guilty conscience and your wife has something to be worried about.

And they're terrified - in a way that most men find it frankly impossible to imagine. What's more, if their forebodings come true, women are more inclined to forgive an affair than a man if the shoe is on the other foot. That's not because they're nicer, more easygoing individuals. It's simply because their primeval urge to hang onto a male provider is so strong.

Actually, women are, perhaps, more likely to understand why you had an affair but less likely to forgive it. I can understand, intellectually, why people have affairs and unlike most men, I'm not terribly possessive. I have never been under the illusion that loving someone makes one immune to temptation - that's a silly idea. And ironically, I could understand an affair where my husband became emotionally attached to another woman more easily than one where he merely had sex, because we have spent a lot of time apart and I can easily see that over a lifetime, someone could come to care deeply for more than one person.

What I would find extremely difficult to forgive would be his jeopardizing our marriage to satisfy a transitory urge for casual sex. The hurt and distrust that would cause would be extremely difficult for me to overcome. Understanding and forgiving are two entirely different things.

Quite simply, women are preprogrammed to feel dependent on men. Even today women may be richer and enjoy all the trappings of success but, deep down in their psyche, they fear they can't survive alone.

O-kay. What does he think military wives do when our husbands just take off for a year at a time - shrivel up and die like the fragile flowers we are? Why does he think more women file for divorce than men? Fear of abandonment?

I would never pretend that I don't need my husband, that he doesn't make my life one thousand times better than it would be if he weren't there, that I don't say a little prayer every night just before I drop off to sleep for sending him my way. I don't pretend that I don't absolutely adore my male friends, that I'm not constantly delighted and mystified by the myriad ways that men are different than we are.

I admire men for their strength, I enjoy their directness and enjoyment of the simple things in life. I sometimes envy their refusal to get wrapped around the axle by the emotional storms that ensnare me from time to time.

I become extremely annoyed with them when they act passive-aggressive.

But a healthy appreciation for what a relationship adds to your life and dependency on another human being are two completely different things. During the childbearing years, women are in many ways somewhat dependent on men; not totally, but it is an economic reality that being a single parent to small children makes it harder for us to make a go of it in the world. However, I can't honestly say that I ever gave a single thought to how much money my husband would make when I fell in love with him.

It was important to me that I could talk to him for hours on end, that his mind interested me and that he made me laugh. That just looking at him made me go weak in the knees probably didn't hurt either.

It was important to me, probably more important than any other consideration, that he was honorable and dependable and reliable; that we could work together as a team. I always trusted that if those things were true we would be able to overcome anything that life threw at us. I never worried about how much money we would have as a couple, or how nice our home would be. I always trusted it would be enough, and that we would be happy.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:33 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

November 12, 2006

A Man's A Man For A' That... Sometimes

And it saves so much money too...

Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery.

Applicants would have to have changed their name and shown that they had lived in their adopted gender for at least two years, but there would be no explicit medical requirements.

“Surgery versus nonsurgery can be arbitrary,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner. “Somebody with a beard may have had breast-implant surgery. It’s the permanence of the transition that matters most.”

But some warned of potential problems:

“I’ve already heard of a ‘transgendered’ man who claimed at work to be ‘a woman in a man’s body but a lesbian’ and who had to be expelled from the ladies’ restroom because he was propositioning women there,” Dr. Paul McHugh, a member of the President’s Council of Bioethics and chairman of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an e-mail message on the subject. “He saw this as a great injustice in that his behavior was justified in his mind by the idea that the categories he claimed for himself were all ‘official’ and had legal rights attached to them.”

The move to ease the requirements for altering one’s gender identity comes after New York has adopted other measures aimed at blurring the lines of gender identification. For instance, a new shelter policy approved in January now allows beds to be distributed according to appearance, applying equally to postoperative transsexuals, cross-dressers and “persons perceived to be androgynous.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority also agreed last month to let people define their own gender when deciding whether to use the men’s or women’s bathrooms.

Joann Prinzivalli, 52, a lawyer for the New York Transgender Rights Organization, a man who has lived as a woman since 2000, without surgery, said the changes amount to progress, a move away from American culture’s misguided fixation on genitals as the basis for one’s gender identity.

“It’s based on an arbitrary distinction that says there are two and only two sexes,” she said. “In reality the diversity of nature is such that there are more than just two, and people who seem to belong to one of the designated sexes may really belong to the other.”

It's so refreshing when people can make reasonable compromises:

“If they wanted to change the gender for all the compelling reasons that they’ve given, it should be done perhaps with an asterisk.”

Now was that so hard?

Via mensnewsdaily

Posted by Cassandra at 07:29 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

November 07, 2006

Surrendering The Things Of Youth

The post was an oasis of sanity in a world that all too often seems to have gone freaking insane. It was the comments that depressed me more than I could say.

Sitting in my chair at the hair salon a few weeks ago, I picked up a fashion mag to pass the time. I forget which one it was, but then they are all eminently forgettable.

I started reading an article about a woman who had started down the slippery slope to cosmetic surgery. It began with very minor procedures: dermabrasion and filling a few wrinkles, a bit here and there, always very conservative. It ended with having her derriere lipo-sucked, a very painful procedure that had her curled up on the bathroom floor in tears, drugged to the gills and stunned that she had been willing to hurt herself so very badly when there really was nothing all that wrong with the way she looked.

But like childbirth, the pain was quickly forgotten and soon she was smugly contemplating her next procedure by the side of the pool in her bikini. Until a friend's 8 year old boy wandered over and said, "Oh! You've had your fanny sucked like Mommy! You have the dimples!".

She was shamed. Even a small boy had noticed the tiny scars she'd thought were invisible. Why are women so afraid of aging? Why do we treat it as a disease instead of a journey to somewhere we've never been before?

The job of the plastic surgeon, Tagliacozzi writes, was “to restore, repair, and make whole those parts of the face which nature has given but which fortune has taken away, not so much that they might delight the eye but that they may buoy up the spirits and help the mind of the afflicted.”

Restoration and repair do not much characterize the surgery with which Kuczynski is most concerned: she makes a distinction between plastic surgery, a term that may refer to the repair of a cleft lip or a face disfigured by an accident, and cosmetic surgery, which refers to an elective procedure that is medically unnecessary. Kuczynski’s interest lies in this more recent development. If Tagliacozzi’s purpose was to restore a semblance of normality to a face ravaged by disease or by swordplay (one of his patients had lost his nose in a duel), so that its bearer might go through the world somewhat less stigmatized, what is the purpose and meaning of cosmetic surgery today?

I'm not sure it is even youth we are pursuing. It is perfection, and that is an unattainable ideal.

And it troubles me.

I have never been beautiful, but on the other hand I have found that it doesn't take perfection to attract most men, who are far more forgiving than we give them credit for. There is a vast reservoir of pain and insecurity out there that is being exploited and it angers me greatly.

Beauty confers a kind of power over men, but it isn't the kind of power that can ever last. It has always seemed to me that placing your trust in it is the kind of thing that can easily backfire. I worry about a society that places so much value on externalities.

As a young girl, I remember reading some Greek philosopher or another, who said that any young girl with a modicum of effort can present a pleasing face to the world for at least a few years. What she should strive to do therefore is develop a ready wit, pleasing conversation, a sterling character, and a mind that is clever and protean; thus she will be able to delight men well into her seventies.

As with so many things in American culture, I sometimes wonder if we are not sacrificing things of worth for things that are shallow and meretricious, much to the detriment of our daughters.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:34 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

November 02, 2006

Thank You Captain Obvious

File under "duh":

Researchers also found that married people have the most sex, and that there has been a gradual shift to delay marriage, even in developing countries.

And double duh...

The swinging-singles stereotype has been oversold – a global survey of sexual behaviour shows married people have more sex.

A Lancet medical journal analysis of sex in 55 countries, published online today, found that married people had the most sex.

Fewer than half of unmarried non-virgins reported having sex in the past month. The study did not consider New Zealand.

Along with other industrialised countries, Australia was one in which having two or more sexual partners in the past year was comparatively common.

In what researchers said was proof the sexual double standard was still strong, more men than women reported having more than one partner.

*crickets chirping*

"These findings beg the question of who the men are having sex with," they wrote.

If they hadn't excluded New Zealand, we might have been tempted to ask the sheep.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:17 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

Adultery: Plan B For The PoMo Female?

I suppose nothing should shock me anymore; even that in the post-feminist era the once forbidden thrill of adultery has become just another lifestyle choice likened to treating oneself to that yummy household cleaner down at the local Piggly Wiggly:

"I was talking with my therapist today," my girlfriend tells me. "I deny myself pleasure," she says, with wistful resignation.

Midforties, attractive, relationships but never the white dress ("divorces without the wedding," she calls them), my girlfriend has enticing men circling the nest—the Elvis look-alike Yugoslavian sailor, the Richard Gere look-alike Italian ("former") porn star. Doesn't she sleep with them? Or at least masturbate?

"So," I venture innocently, "like, er, what would be an example of depriving yourself of pleasure?"

"Well," she says, "like the other day, I was in the supermarket and I bought the $2.19 toilet cleaner instead of the $2.99 one that I really like that smells like lavender." After making a quick mental note of the name of the good stuff, I offer my sympathies.

Toilets, cleaning, and female pleasure: My friend is in Laura Kipnis territory.

Kipnis is the feisty author of Against Love: A Polemic (2003), a witty, well-argued rant against the trials, tribulations, and—lest one forget—virtual impossibility of monogamy. Kipnis covered the ins and outs—social, emotional, biological, ethical—of adultery. Her conclusion? Go for it. Besides, you probably will anyway. We are, after all, not one of the 3 percent of mammal species that are naturally monogamous, and now, with genetic testing, it looks like even female birds can be two-nesting sluts. Tweet-tweet.

Kipnis doesn't think much of love either, calling it "both intoxicating and delusional, but in the end, toxic: an extended exercise in self-deception." On the other hand, she suggests, "a citizenry who fucked in lieu of shopping would soon bring the entire economy grinding to a standstill." Such a society does in fact exist: the lascivious little bonobos of the Congo. Genetically, we are 98 percent like the bonobos—and now we know what that 2 percent discrepancy entails: Retail. (And tails.)

Though breezy and enjoyably written, the article leaves me with a downright post coital sense of tristesse. After four and a half decades of earnest post feminist navel gazing, we have the answer to all our unfulfilled yearnings; we should, we're told, blithely make promises we have no intention of honoring? Follow your bliss!

After all, someone will no doubt be around to pick up the pieces. Very likely an attorney.

This appears to be what LBJ's Great Society and forty years of liberal legislation intended to help women have wrought: the paradoxical notion that promises aren't worth the paper they're written on: entirely optional, unilaterally rescindable, and nonbinding. All of which begs the question, why even bother to get married anymore? What's the point?

Of course humans aren't naturally monogamous. If they were we wouldn't need marriage vows. They would have no significance. There would be no consideration to support the marriage contract, nothing given up by either party to support those supposedly sacred promises, that so fragile illusion of trust.

I am always amused by supposedly knowledgable sources who argue that women don't ever think about sex or cheating; that marriage is a one-way street, an unfair bargain in which women give up nothing and men give up everything. Nonsense.

There is a reason for the Muslim fear of female sexuality.

There is also a great deal of truth to the notion that many women suppress the sexual side of their personalities, especially during the childbearing years. Not only is it a distraction, but we often find a certain amount of societal ambivalence to that part of our nature, even in America, even in this supposedly open society. People want to classify women. She's a career woman. She's a lady. She's a mother. She's a slut. She's religious. She's a bookish type. God forbid a woman be more than one of those things at once - we find it almost unbearably annoying. It confounds people's expectations. Witness Michael Noer's recent foray into psychoanalyzing women: "Stay away from career types - they'll just cheat on you."

The other reason a career can hurt a marriage will be obvious to anyone who has seen his or her mate run off with a co-worker: When your spouse works outside the home, chances increase that he or she will meet someone more likable than you. "The work environment provides a host of potential partners," researcher Adrian J. Blow reported in The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, "and individuals frequently find themselves spending a great deal of time with these individuals."

There's more: According to a wide-ranging review of the published literature, highly educated people are more likely to have had extramarital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 times more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas). Additionally, individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.

Aside from displaying an amusing distain for the fact that both of these observations apply equally (if not more so) to the male side of the house, (Should the little homemaker avoid marrying a well-educated man who makes over $30,000? Good heavens - who will bring home the bacon?) Noer's entire essay ignores the fact that no one marries a demographic. We marry individuals, and hopefully individuals we have come to know well over the course of several months or years, with whom we share common goals, morals, values, dreams.

But male or female, there is nothing more depressing than someone who has abandoned hope. A while back, sitting on the ocean in Islamorada, I sat sipping some rum-laced concoction while the ocean breezes playfully lifted tendrils of hair off the nape of my neck. Unfortunately, they also carried strains of conversation from the next table over to where I sat, eyes closed in bliss.

"American women are the worst", he said. "I never date them anymore. You can't beat Latin women. They'll do anything for you. Anything, man..."

Dear. Sweet. Jesus. Take me now.

I must have done something really awful in a previous life, and I'm being punished for it. That's it, isn't it?

"Yeah. You're totally right about that. American women, they are so arrogant. Latin women know their place. They know how to make you feel like a man."

I open one eye and glance over at the next table, expecting a bevy of young Adonises. Surely I am about to feast my aging perimenopausal eyeballs on a veritable buffet of manliness. I'd better hurry before the Spousal Unit gets back. After all, it would be bad form to let him catch me ogling the local "eye candy", such as it is. But then I don't tend to look at other men - had he not chosen to enlighten us all with the Mysteries of the Latin World, I wouldn't be looking at him at all.

Batchelor #1, from what I can see through my squinty eyeball, is in his early 20s and already has what can only be termed "ze handles of love". He is also completely sloshed. It is 10:30 in the morning. I do not hold this against him since I am already idly working on my second drink, but unlike him, I am not holding forth at the top of my lungs about my sexual exploits in a bar. At some point, I am reminded of a Ron White joke from You Can't Fix Stupid.

Apparently he was visiting Ft. Polk, where there are about 30,000 Army guys stationed. And after he mentioned that fact, a very nicely dressed women yelled out, "Yeah, and every one of 'em's a bad f*ck!".

To which he replied something to the effect of, "Wow. After the first 20,000 or so, I might start to wonder if *I* might be part of the problem. After all, you seem to be the only common denominator in that little equation of love..."

Like these guys, our adulterous author is disappointed, cynical, and afraid of taking chances and now she wants to hedge her bets, to indulge in a little pre-emptive cheating on the theory that nice gals finish unsatisfied.

It's an interesting theory. But as so often happens when I read such "post-feminist" works, I end up thinking that they only confirm so-called "outdated" stereotypes about the inability of women to think logically, for even if feminists don't always want to admit the obvious biological disadvantages our ability to bear children confer upon us, they have ever been ready to remind the patriarchy of the many other ways in which women are not 'empowered' in a male dominated society. How well do they really expect women to fare in a dog eat dog world where commitment means nothing, promises are not honored, and we can trust no one?

Female masochism again raises its head with the curious current practice of "hooking up," where girls claim sexual "freedom," while the boys enjoy a waking wet dream. As for this new romance—more accurately described as the blowjob-in-the-toilet encounter—Kipnis writes, "at least under the old femininity, you got taken to dinner." Indeed, if this is female liberation, then give me death—or at least some decent "pompous and deliberate" digital subjugation. Wouldn't feminism dictate just the opposite: the eat-me-then-get-out-of-my-bedroom romance? I'll sign everyone up.

In "Envy," Kipnis updates the eternal mystery of what women want (Freud, Freud everywhere, so much for our despair). There is always, she explains, something "invariably missing," hence, the "underlying sense of female inadequacy." The "Feisty Feminist," she writes, "wanted to have what men have, without stopping to consider whether it was worth having."

It was never lack of interest that kept me from cheating during those long years when my husband was overseas, or in the field. Nor was it some spellbound sense of female submission, or pleasure avoidance.

It was the knowledge that something precious would have been violated, even if I got away with it (and I almost certainly would have - I never got caught as a teen, when leading my friends through this or that crazy scheme). I would have known that the promise had been broken, even if no one else ever knew. And aside from all the other very good reasons not to do an obviously wrong and destructive thing, aside from not wanting to lose something I valued, there was simply this: I would never look at myself or my husband in the same way again. I would become, like Laura Kipnis, one of the disappointed who settle for illusory promises they don't believe in, then find themselves feeling unsatisfied because they have ignored one of the oldest truths in human existence.

Everyone wants to believe. But belief comes with a price tag, the risk of being disappointed or betrayed. No guts, no glory. It's so much easier to be cynical. Cynics certainly write more books. And the disappointed buy them, and follow their advice.

And a few deluded Pollyannas will undoubtedly continue to put their stock in outdated things like promises and commitment, even if sometimes it doesn't work out so well, because if you look beyond the
individual case, these are the building blocks on which societies are built. To use a well worn cliche, you can't build a house on shifting sand, even if you're an author of an entertaining book about love, orgasm, and female masochism. Perhaps especially not then.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:41 AM | Comments (49)

September 20, 2006

More Regrettable Post-Feminist Navel Gazing

It will be interesting to see if the half vast editorial staff can write this post without eliciting what seem to be de rigeur accusations of being ugly/a leftist/a Lebanese/a Rad Feminista (and before you go there gentlemen, do save yourself some grief - go here first). Or conversely, a toady to the Vast Oinkitudinous Reich Wing Conspiracy. Our underpaid staff of itinerant Eskimo typists have helpfully provided a few time-saving hints for those who need help making up their minds what the editorial staff think about Modern Gender Issues:

Women seem determined to prove every moronic stereotype about the female sex. Instead of calmly poking holes in Noer's thesis (which is easy enough to do) they start waving their Lee press-ons about like a bunch of deranged harpies on crack.

Or this:

Brooks' observation begs an interesting question I often ask of feminists who deride choice. Is it really in society's best interest for only uneducated and stupid women to raise children? And why do feminists like Hirshman value selling one's talents to the highest bidder over selflessly using them to enrich the lives of our loved ones and, inevitably, society? Is she so quick to dismiss the paid "helping" professions: social work, teaching, psychology?

Or this:

I realize the subject is distasteful, but I think there is a larger question here, and it is simply this, "Why, after all this time, do women not feel comfortable standing up and saying, 'Enough'?" I read article after article and the same comment came through. "I thought I was normal until I watched the porn channel".

Honey, you are normal. There is nothing wrong with you. It breaks my heart that women have reduced themselves to nothing more than sexual appliances. And I wonder how much honesty is going into these decisions?

Confused yet? We know we are. Or perhaps we are just normal, and it's the world that has gone mad.

What is it about these battles of the boobies that brings out the worst in even the nicest people? We understand it's an emotional issue. What we don't understand is why both sides can't try just a bit harder to see the other side's point of view. We know this post is going to make some people angry, and very likely will make no one happy - on either side. But the HVES write to figure out what we think about things. That is what we do. To be honest, we would really like to duck this one entirely.

But we have been trying to ignore it for weeks now and it simply refuses to go away, and it does raise a few interesting philosophical questions (aside from the admittedly saliva-inducing prospect of Pamela Atlas' breasts).

The argument that John Hawkins made yesterday (and that Masked Menace advanced somewhat more lucently in the comments section) essentially amounts to this:

Life isn't fair, and we all have different advantages when competing for that big brass ring. Why shouldn't a woman be able to use her appearance to jump her to the front of the line?

Wow. That's an interesting argument. I'd love to see that one fly in the workplace. Should women be promoted, not based on the quality of their work, but because they flash the boss a little skin on the side or better yet put out after working hours? If I knew that was the standard I'd be showing up at the office a lot more and putting in far fewer hours in front of the old PC. Maybe it's time to consider those breast implants after all. It would seem good old fashioned hard work has become a thing of the past.

It is undoubtedly true that women can and do get ahead by taking advantage of "assets" which are, to put it mildly, unrelated to the actual quality of their work product, just as it is true that men can and do get ahead by sucking up to their bosses, taking credit for work actually performed by subordinates, and other tactics which do them no real credit. Being underhanded or unscrupulous is also an "advantage" when competing with co-workers who are above such tactics, just as being willing to flash some skin is an advantage when competing with other bloggers who are unwilling to take off their clothes to get traffic.

Just to clarify, we are not saying that women who choose to bikini vlog are underhanded or unscrupulous. But John's argument is tantamount to saying that women ought not to mind how the race is won; essentially, that they have no vested interest in the standards by which they will be judged. This is a frankly silly argument, and one he himself would never be willing to submit to if the tables were turned; a point Vinnie tried to make in a hyperbolic and satirical post that I think John completely misunderstood.

To be honest, we agreed with much of John's initial thesis, if not his conclusions. Boob blogging does bring increased traffic, men do enjoy looking at hot photos of women, and this is a free country. We are not really sure what either side wants out of this. In our view, freedom means that boobie bloggers are entitled to wave their mammaries about with complete abandon, those find that sort of 'political commentary' immensely thought-provoking are free to tune in, and those who find it disturbing, distressing, or just plain stupid beyond words are free to complain, discuss, or snark away. What on earth is bothering John so much about the brouhaha? That people in the blogosphere are bitching about something?

Helloooooooooooo. John darlin'. You know I love you dearly, but this is the blogosphere. People are always bitching about something. If it wasn't Pammie's boobs it would be something else. This is a subject, just like any other subject, which people are free to discuss. Boobs aren't sacred.

Well OK. Maybe to you. But to us, they're just body parts.

In a follow up post, John says some things that I do think need addressing from a feminine perspective, the assumption being that John is Not A Woman, and therefore is perhaps not Best Qualified To Comment On The Female Perspective. His post is just rife with non-sequiturs. Here's the first one:

Of course, one of the great things about the talk radio, the blogosphere, and for that matter, the internet as a whole, is that you don't have to be an 8 on a 10 scale or better to make it.

Actually, that's only true if you're a man.

And this may well be the real reason women resent boobie-vlogging. John admits, over and over again (and his commenters reinforce this point) that they are going to choose a female blogger who is good-looking - and shows some skin - over the alternative every time.

And then there's this comment from Beth's site:

... I’m a lot more interested in what an attractive woman has to say than I am in what an unattractive woman has to say.

... I don’t have time to check out very many new blogs. So Hawkins has it exactly right that while it might take me months or years to eventually get familiar with an interesting blogger I’m not currently aware of, if I follow a link to an interesting post, and I happen to see the poster is also an attractive female, that blog is getting added to my favorites.

Grim made an excellent point in the comments section yesterday, and it's one that I think doesn't get enough attention:

I think that Michelle Malkin, for example, has been hurt by the fact that a lot of her commenters are drawn by her looks. Her ideas therefore don't get the kind of challenge they would if they were there for the ideas only. As a consequence, the ideas aren't as good -- they don't get polished by adversity. She writes books, and they get torn apart where they are weak.

They didn't have to be that weak, but people tend to say fewer challenging things to beautiful women. Worst boss I ever had was a beautiful woman. She was accustomed to fealty from man and woman alike, and was therefore totally unprepared for dealing with serious challenges to her authority. She got them from me, though, because we were working on a military contract, and she wasn't being ethical. I think she'll hate me to the grave. Truth is, though, she was accustomed to getting away with things because people wanted to be on her good side (men and women both did).

Being pretty hurt her. Not only did it lead her to do bad things because she thought no one would call her on it -- she also really, truly did not know how to deal with someone who wouldn't let her get away with it. She didn't know how to defend herself, because she had never had to do so.

So go ahead, if that's what you want. If you want to learn to fight for what your beliefs -- or, for that matter, if you want to find out for sure if your beliefs are worth fighting for -- you've got the option of not doing it. If you're a beautiful woman, blogging may be the first time in your life to see for sure if your ideas really are right, and whether you can really defend them.

We believe this is very true. Beauty is, in many ways, a double edged sword - it draws admirers but it also arouses jealousy and pettiness from the envious. John goes on to skewer Raven, and again, we believe he really failed to understand her point:

Also, we're back to this strange little quirk of feminism:
"The rule is: You're not supposed to acknowledge in any way, shape, or form that you admire a woman's looks. If you do, it somehow means that what she says is valueless and that you think of her as some sort of gutter trawling prostitute."

Beyond saying that's just completely irrational -- and it is -- there's not too much to add. But, it's still amazing that in this day and age, you have women who seem to be scandalized by the idea that a man might be interested in looking at a beautiful woman and that, shockingly, he might be able to think she's attractive AND also think she's talented.

First of all, responding to both Beth's and Raven's posts by calling them "furious" and "completely irrational" seems a bit dismissive. This is the kind of response that is just calculated to raise hackles. Why not simply respond to their arguments? Admittedly both posts were not gentle with John either. But "completely irrational"? Doesn't that seem a bit extreme?

Raven made several excellent points, albeit in a way John may have found unpalatable. What he ignores about her "cleavage" example is that it was done on a private site with no promotion. Yet her traffic still spiked. But it didn't "do" her any good, so were her "principles" really compromised? We don't think so. Interestingly enough, another female blogger we know does a similar feature as satire, using what we think look like obviously photoshopped photos of outrageously large-breasted women who look painfully engorged.

Her traffic goes through the roof every. single. time.

A year ago, one of my commenters posted a link to a photoshopped pic of a woman whose boobs look absolutely deformed. I get daily hits on it from places like Saudi Arabia and China. This is the kind of thing women find absolutely mystifying. But then there are many areas where men and women don't always think alike. Menace, in the comments yesterday, said something very perceptive:

If your reason for blogging is traffic: pure hits, then, well, John's right. Those are the rules of the game. Like 'em, hate 'em, doesn't matter. They are what they are and if you want to win then you're going to have to play with them.

Every good athlete knows the rules and loopholes to their sport. The successful ones will use them against you to win. In baseball, if a pitcher has demonstrated he can be accurate with his pitches you can guarantee that with 2 strikes the catcher will set up 6 inches off the plate. If the pitcher can place the pitch so that the catcher never has to move the glove, 90% of the time it will be called a strike. This may violate the strict "written rules" as the ball didn't cross over the plate, but everyone that plays the game knows what will happen. If you don't like it, deal or quit playing the game. Playing and then complaining about it makes you look like an ass.

Which begs the other side of the question: Is this really the game you want to play? Traffic is not respect (nor is it influence). Don't get the cause and effect relationship bacwards. Respect and influence may bring traffic, but if traffic was the real measure of power and respect, the last few presidential elections would have been decided by the internet p*rn industry.

Those that receive the "coveted" insta-lanche usually find that after a couple of days they can't tell a difference in readership from before. It's like it never happened. Posting provacative pictures may increase your traffic today, but to keep up the traffic you'll have to keep up the provacative pictures. But then, like Playboy, do you think anyone's really reading the articles? Not on your life.

They are merely dancing monkeys. Don't get me wrong, I like dancing monkeys, but I don't go to them when I'm looking for serious discussion.

To sum up. If you are an attractive female and your only goal is to drive more traffic your way. Boobie blogging will work. My recommendation, however, is not to play that game.

That said, I don't get upset at those who make use of rules that benefit them at their game, because it would harm them in mine. I just note they're playing a different game and move on. Why should I be angry about it?

John makes a similar case:

I know that the response to that will probably be something like, "I don't want that kind of traffic." But, that's about as genuine a statement from a blogger as a pro-athlete in the middle of heated contract negotiations who says, "It's not all about the money." Obviously, if you didn't care how many people read your blog, you wouldn't be blogging, you'd be writing in a journal that you left in a drawer at home.

But it's not that simple. Case in point: VC could easily have twice or even three times the traffic it does if we would do some very simple things. But we decided long ago that traffic was not our primary goal. Boobie-vlogging, however, does bother us from an aesthetic point of view.

It is not that we have any real desire to stomp it out of existence.

But on any given day, if there are worthy posts out there (and they don't have to be ours) and someone happens to be waving their mammaries about, the herd is going to rush over to gawp at boobs instead of reading what could, perhaps, be something really worthwhile. The valuable gets drowned out by the tawdry. And so, in the larger scheme of things, from our view, something is lost. We think that is regrettable. John thinks it's nifty.

That's America.

And in the crap shoot that is the blogosphere, where influence is determined by who can send the most traffic your way and not (sadly) by what you have to say, if (as John and his commenters freely admit) they are always going to listen to someone who is hot and shows some skin over someone who is not hot/refuses to post a pic, then female bloggers who don't do these things are at a decided disadvantage. They have admitted it. Pamela's traffic has shot through the roof since she started boobie-blogging.

Personally, this doesn't bother us a whole lot because, as Menace so adroitly observed, that doesn't happen to be the game we are playing. Except for one thing, which we observed earlier. John stated that the great thing about the blogosphere was that you didn't have to be an 8 or a 10 to succeed.

And that used to be true. The great thing about the Internet was that it truly was a "faceless" medium: one where women thought that, perhaps for the first time, we could compete solely on the merits in the marketplace of ideas. And with the advent of vlogging, that has changed. You can't turn back time, nor stop the relentless march of technology. But we can't help wishing, in a sense, that this hadn't happened.

We are not a big fan of vlogging, to be honest, for the same reason we prefer newspapers to TV newscasts. Some, like Mary Katherine, do it fairly well. But we think it is a shallow replacement for blogging. It can't convey complex ideas well, and we are old fashioned. We like to click on links, and we like to read - to cross-check and reread passages.

We think a lot of women object to the dumbing down aspect of vlogging as much as anything else. In a medium where women are already struggling to be taken seriously, it's discouraging to turn on the TV and see the same old roster of "successful female bloggers": Wonkette (an attractive redhead best known for blogging about anal sex and the size of John Kerry's schlong), the undeniably attractive Pamela Atlas (umm... boobie blogging), and Michelle Malkin, who has always had a prominent photo of herself on the front page of her site and is an undeniably lovely woman - hardly a refutation of John's "you don't have to be an 8 or a 10 or post a photo of yourself to succeed" thesis.

When John comes up with a successful Helen Thomas lookalike in the top ranks of conservative female bloggers, perhaps we can talk. In the meantime, we've seen photos of a few of the top male bloggers and trust us, they are engaging and intelligent but we do not fantasize about them at night.

So we're afraid his 'equality of opportunity' thesis is looking a bit shabby. Perhaps women really do have something to worry about; like the idea that in this day and age, how we look continues to trump what we have to say for a very large part of the blogosphere, most of which is composed of men. What Beth and much of the Cotillion are saying is that in what they thought was a marketplace of ideas, they'd like to compete on merit. What John seems to be saying, at least to me, is "Merit is all fine and dandy honey, but if you throw in some skin I'm your huckleberry."

He then proceeds to object to the idea that what has been proposed isn't, somehow, some form of transaction: that something hasn't been bought and sold.

Am I the only one who sees a bit of a mixed message here?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:21 AM | Comments (50)

September 01, 2006

Through A Child's Eyes

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO TO MARRY?

(1) You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you

like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should

keep the chips and dip coming. -- Alan, age 10

(2) No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to

marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later

who you're stuck with. -- Kristen, age 10


WHAT IS THE RIGHT AGE TO GET MARRIED?

(1) Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER

by then. -- Camille, age 10

(2) No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get

married. -- Freddie, age 6 (very wise for his age)


HOW CAN A STRANGER TELL IF TWO PEOPLE ARE MARRIED?


(1) You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling

at the same kids. -- Derrick, age 8


WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR MOM AND DAD HAVE IN COMMON?

(1) Both don't want any more kids. -- Lori, age 8


WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE DO ON A DATE?

(1) Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to

know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long

enough. -- Lynnette, age 8 (isn't she a treasure)


(2) On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that Usually

gets them interested enough to go for a second date. -- Martin, age

10!


WHAT WOULD YOU DO ON A FIRST DATE THAT WAS TURNING SOUR?


(1) I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the

newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.

-- Craig, age 9


WHEN IS IT OKAY TO KISS SOMEONE?

(9) When they're rich. -- Pam, age 7


(2) The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn't want to mess

with that - - Curt, age 7

(3 ) The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should

marry them and have kids with them. It's the right thing to do. --

Howard, age 8


IS IT BETTER TO BE SINGLE OR MARRIED?

(1 ) I don't know which is better, but I'll tell you one thing. I'm

never going to have sex with my wife. I don't want to be all grossed

out. -- Theodore, age 8

(2 ) It's better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need

someone to clean up after them. -- Anita, age 9 (bless you child)


HOW WOULD THE WORLD BE DIFFERENT IF PEOPLE DIDN'T GET MARRIED?

(1 ) There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn't there? --

Kelvin, age 8


And the #1 Favorite is........

HOW WOULD YOU MAKE A MARRIAGE WORK?

(1 ) Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a

truck. -- Ricky, age 10

Regarding that last one, remind me to buy the Unit a case of beer.... and break that mirror in the bathroom.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:34 AM | Comments (8)

August 29, 2006

Don't Marry A Career Woman?

Reading Michael Noer's recent article, Don't Marry a Career Women, was something of a mixed bag:

Guys: a word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat and less likely to have children. And, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women--even those with a "feminist" outlook--are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.

Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many men, particularly successful men, are attracted to women with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career girl is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure … at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful she is, the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?

Pieces like this, like Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey's snidely petulant exposition on the tiresome need to perpetuate her own species, are always amusing, if only to see just how far the author will go to get attention:

Why women “pretend” to love their children:
And I’m sure a big part of it is evolutionary instinct to prevent mothers from murdering their children. That’s why so many mothers are completely deluded about how great their babies and children are, too. Everyone thinks their kids are the best, even when they are ugly, stupid, horrible brats. These delusions may serve a functional purpose, but they’re still delusions. Whenever I hear a news story about a mother murdering her children I always wonder why we don’t hear these news stories a lot more often.

The funny thing was not so much the weak way in which Noer made his argument, which I'll get to in a moment, but the reaction to it. Noer's piece initially caused such a ruckus that Forbes actually deleted it from their website, only reinstating the article once its strident testosterone laced message had been muted by a bracing companion piece from Elizabeth Corcoran, a bizarre bit of online PC warm-and-fuzzyness that boggles the mind. Apparently we strong, capable, bodacious new age feminists can't handle too much of that old tyme chauvinism without a filter. You go, grrrrrl!

In a pitiless essay that had me howling, Slate's Jack Shafer came closest to my view of the matter. And we thought women were cruel!

The nine slide-show entries appear to be a holding pen for crap Noer couldn't shoehorn into his overstuffed thesis. The headline to the first one, "You are less likely to get married to her," is a non sequitur. That you are less likely to marry her can't be a reason for not marrying her. The literature cited in the second slide, which is about divorce, refers only to the number of hours women work—not their education levels—and hence doesn't seem to apply to Forbes' definition of "career women." The fourth slide, "You are much less likely to have kids," doesn't allow that many "career women" don't have kids by design. If you don't want kids and don't have them, there's no tragedy, right? The fifth slide seems to be playing fast and loose with the facts. Its headline asserts, "If you do have kids, your wife is more likely to be unhappy." The item is footnoted to an academic study and a USA Today story about the academic study. According to USA Today, the study found that affluent parents experience reduced marital happiness after spawning compared with middle-class parents. If this observation is about joint income, not a woman's career, what's it doing in the story about not marrying career women?

I won't quarrel with the seventh slide, which tells men, "You'll be unhappy if she makes more than you," or the eighth, "She will be unhappy if she makes more than you." If you find yourself in the predicament of being unhappy about the income disparity within your marriage, take my advice: You're going to be unhappy about something, and if you're unhappy about this please shut up and go buy yourself a Fiji vacation.

Before my female readers break their nails pounding out angry e-mails to me, they should consider the piece's fundamental weakness. Forbes' definition of a career woman is extraordinarily broad, including any woman who has a college education, works 35 hours a week, and makes more than $30,000. So, if you define non-career women as all the "undereducated" who work part-time and make less than $30K, it becomes painfully obvious why female careerists are more likely to divorce than non-careerists: They can better afford to get out of an unhappy marriage than their sisters.

That may be bad news for all the schmoes getting dumped, but it's great news for the gals. So, go ahead, young ladies. Get your degree. Even go to grad school. Gun for that corner office if you want to and get the guy. If you divorce, make sure to stick him with the shared subscription to Forbes.

By the time I got to "bore me with your fury" it was too late. I had spit out most of my coffee. Shafer has a point. Women seem determined to prove every moronic stereotype about the female sex. Instead of calmly poking holes in Noer's thesis (which is easy enough to do) they start waving their Lee press-ons about like a bunch of deranged harpies on crack.

The awful, awful truth is that to a certain extent, Noer is right. There are only so many hours in the day and having a clean home, well-reared children, and a healthy emotional and sexual life is far more difficult when both husband and wife have full time careers. In the early seventies, feminists were famous for telling young women they could have it all. What many women are finding out now, however, is that we may not be able to have all these things at once. Life is full of trade-offs.

What Noer glosses over is while statistics are useful for making decisions in the aggregate: in hiring, for instance, when you have to screen large groups of people you don't know much about, they are not as useful when dealing with individuals about whom we have independent knowledge.

The important thing to realize is that it isn't the aggregate characteristics of the group (i.e., career women vs. homemakers) that matter in the marriage market but the individual qualities of the person you marry. The single most important thing any man or woman brings to a marriage is the belief that the marriage comes first: before the children, before their career, before friends, parents, or any other relationship. If you put your marriage first, it will survive.

So many people put the cart before the horse. They spend months or even years planning their wedding day or their honeymoon, they spend thousands of dollars on a dress or an exotic location or a ceremony that puts them in debt for years and never give any thought to the words they speak that day. But those words are truly the only thing that matter: they are what bind the two of you together for the rest of your life. They last perhaps 60 seconds, and yet they last a lifetime. Or should.

You could throw the whole rest of the ceremony out and lose nothing, really, of value.

I often wonder how many people realize that? Perhaps that is why so many marriages fail. It has nothing to do with women, or careers, and everything to do with being focused on the wrong things.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:12 AM | Comments (11)

August 07, 2006

Father Knows Breast...

As much as I hate to admit it, I rather see the irony in the outcry over the cover art on the August issue of BabyTalk. As I mentioned in my earlier piece on Grrrrrrl mags, the covers of even mainstream women's magazines have begun to resemble soft-core porn: a veritable feast of surgically-enhanced boobies and butts served up with sexxxx quizzes and endless lists of 100 Things You Man Can't Wait For You To Do To Him In Bed!!!! As I've observed on more than one occasion, the West loves to deride Islamic cultures for what we view as barbaric practices like female circumcision and breast ironing. There the onus seems to be on young women to avoid male sexual attention by slicing away bits and pieces of themselves. Yet here in America perfectly healthy and desireable young women with no visible deformities go under the knife to compete for male attention. It is surprising that despite women's liberation and the feminist revolution (which was supposed to even the scales) American women so lack self-worth that they feel they must surgically alter themselves to evoke a physical response nature provides in abundance. And lest you doubt it's a self-worth issue, ask yourself why female plastic surgery patients outnumber males by a ratio of 9 to 1?

The half vast editorial staff does not condone the wanton waving about of mammaries while nursing an infant. We feel it is both possible and desireable to feed children in public with discretion and modesty; we ourselves found a blanket to be most useful in this regard. The skillful mother can feed an infant beneath a blanket without offending the sensibilities of innocent passersby; no one need be any the wiser. On the otter heiny, we find the outcry over the cover of BabyTalk rather amusing in light of the constant parade of proudly pumped-up pectorals on display on television, billboards, movie screens, and magazines everywhere one goes these days.

Why the selective outrage? We find ourselves weary of being assaulted by Pamela Anderson's oversized pecs. Frankly, it hurts us to look at them, but we don't hear anyone shouting the rafters down each time the camera lingers lovingly on her somewhat overripe charms, as it does with nauseating frequency.

Could it be the real offense here is that the breast in question is... [shudder] a natural one? Or that, heaven forbid, it is being used for its intended purpose?

We cannot say. The chorus of the outraged will know breast what moves them to a fury of denunciation. All we can say is that some people might want to take a good long look in the mirror. If they're just as outraged about the decline in modern morals, we're inclined to give them a pass.

Our guess is, however, that most of them aren't and that there's a bit of a double standard being applied here.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:30 AM | Comments (29)

August 04, 2006

What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been, Baby

Late yesterday evening, after yet another thrilling day of manipulating software data - which isn't nearly as titillating as it sounds - I entered the Belly of the Beast, also known as the spacious master bedroom suite at villa Cassandranita. Kneeling beside my carry on suitcase, I lifted out a hefty stack of magazines from a trip we'd taken weeks ago. This was a task I'd been dreading. The suitcase had been propped in a corner while I took care of more important things. But I couldn't put it off any longer.

Sorting through magazines and catalogs (always the multi-tasker, I'd thought to pick out some Fall clothes while I was stuck on the plane) my mind drifted back to the airport kiosk where I'd dithered over what I laughingly call some Grrrrrrrl-mags.

This was something of a departure for me. I can go years - literally - without reading that sort of thing. For some reason I find women's magazines faintly embarrassing. Oh, I'll casually peruse the titles in the supermarket checkout line like most people do with the National Enquirer: "Chicken With Seventeen Heads Found In Nebraska Corn Field".

But I would never do anything so plebian as actually buying one of them. I'm too ashamed to. So I suffer in silence, tantalized by the thought of what the "Six Things Your Husband Wishes You'd Do In Bed" could possibly be, or wondering if I ought to at least peek at "Perfect Jeans: How They'll Make Your Ass Look Awesome". And doesn't every woman want to "Look 20 Years Younger in Only Six Weeks"? Well of course we do.

Sadly though, since I refuse to part with $3.99 to discover the path to a flawless tuckus, or how to drive men stark raving mad with lust, I've yet to be mistaken for a 27 year-old... at least in the last two decades.

But there's always the September issue. I live in hope.

After our plane was delayed for the second hour, the Spousal Unit turned to me and said, "Why don't you get something fun to read for once?" I'd brought my usual thrilling fare: Foreign Affairs, National Journal, the Weekly Standard, more catalogs for home decorating stuff, ludicrously expensive Peruvian sweaters, the Territory Ahead, Sundance, Boston Proper (which I can somehow never resist thinking of as Whores Quarterly, though that very likely won't stop me from ordering something dishy from it) and Levenger. Catalog shopping is always somewhat frustrating as it generally takes about twenty seconds of desultory page flipping to figure out there's a vast disconnect between what I want and what I'm willing to pay for; the marginal utility of a pair of four hundred and fifty dollar distressed leather boots I'll wear only a few times a year being fairly unclear to me. Of course, they do look really yummy on that twenty-something supermodel. But even so, I'm fairly certain that extra three hundred and fifty dollars isn't going to make me look twenty-five years younger; nor will it make my aging derriere look as saucy and insouciant as hers does in those tight little jeans. But I suppose miracles are possible, even in the wilds of western Maryland.

At any rate, standing in the airport kiosk staring at that magazine rack I was overcome with my usual panic attack when dealing with anything "woman-y". I don't know why I get this way. I can't even venture into large women's department stores without feeling the same creepy feeling wash over me. I found myself eyeing other women, who were avidly eyeing the fashion mags as they surreptitiously checked me out in return. Looking down at my sandaled feet, I awarded myself major brownie points for my toenail polish. They didn't even look like my toes. This week's color: Tuscan Sun, the product of 15 minutes of my life I will never get back spent prowling the aisles of our local CVS for that divine shade of red that isn't too blue or too orange-y - sort of plumlike with just a hint of... well, Tuscan sunshine to warm it up so it won't clash with my skin color, which has peach rather than pink undertones. Cripes. Women are sick creatures.

Since my birthday in May, I decided to turn over a new leaf. Now before I get going, you have to realize this is coming from a woman who only used to don nail polish once a year for the Marine Corps Ball. And fake nails have never, and I mean never graced either my fingers or my toes and never will so long as God gives me strength. I generously forebear from judging other women, but I do have my principles.

I have been working really, really hard on making sure my toes are picture-perfect every week because it is summer and I don't wear shoes most of the time. Even my daughter in law approves, so I know this is impressive. And I catch women looking at each other's feet wherever they go. I do it. Other women do it. And there is nothing I hate worse than to see someone with toenail polish that is all raggedy - especially if it is bright red. I'd rather see bare toes, the way the Almighty made them. Proudly wearing nothing at all. Women do this kind of stupid stuff all the time.

ANYWAY...standing at the magazine rack, I stared at the bewildering array of women's magazines and tried to make a decision. And the first thing that struck me, because I haven't bought a women's magazine for quite some time, was how much they have changed. Even the more mainstream fashion mags seem to have become "Cosmo-ized". I may joke around a lot online, but I was getting embarrassed just reading the magazine covers. We've come a long way, baby, and I think I may be lost in this strange new world.

The first thing that struck me was that even though I tried to stay away from the steamier grrrrl mags (I won't buy Cosmo, for instance) even the more mainstream fashion mags sound more like Maxim or Playboy than Vogue. When did we become so trashy? Whoever said sex sells wasn't kidding:

12 little tricks to steam up your sex life The Man Issue: Men, Guys, Dudes, & Naked actors inside???? what the...??? Psssst! 100 secrets men are begging you to read... about their bodies, their hang-ups, & what feels good, better, best Hookers at the 'Gate: Washington's Sleaziest Scandal Yet

Yikes! Whatever happened to fall clothes and make-up tips? To work-out and diet stuff? To relationship advice and career tips? Stories about friendships, people solving problems, overcoming hardships? Medical articles? Family and psychology related pieces? You know, the staples you're used to seeing in a women's magazine? The focus seems to have shifted a bit.

goodwife.jpgA few days ago I was looking for something funny to write about and I ran across a little reprint from a 1955 article in Housekeeping Monthly called The Good Wife's Guide, and it really blew my mind, because although the young lady who linked it meant to be humorous, I am just old enough to remember doing an awful lot of those things in the earlier days of my marriage. Reading it struck me rather forcefully for several reasons.

The first was the strong negative (and scornful) reaction the women on that site had to the article. In a way, I can understand that, but in a way that really saddens me because I had a very different reaction.

I had a sense of something lost, of the passing of an age. I know that most women these days (even if they work in the home) would consider that kind of behavior completely inexplicable. Yet for most of our early marriage that was what I tried to do and it seemed to work pretty darned well. And I never once felt subservient or stifled. In fact, my husband almost never made major decisions without consulting me and almost always asked my opinion, though in many cases I wouldn't have been all that upset if he hadn't. Oddly enough, he used to complain (mostly jokingly, but not always) about the fact that most of the decisions ended up being made by me, or that he ended up doing what I wanted, though I didn't really insert myself into most matters or demand that I get my way.

I always figured he was busy at work and in a lot of cases it was just easier for him not to have to think about trivial matters, so he asked me what I thought and ended up taking my advice. And what he didn't really realize was that I asked his advice all the time and often took it, too because it was usually a lot better thought-out than what I'd originally planned to do - he just never noticed that when it happened. Either way, I found was that by showing him respect, I got respect in return. We had very clearly defined areas of responsibility in our marriage where each of us had the final say, but that didn't mean we didn't ask each other for help. It's just that once a decision was made, neither of us questioned the other person's judgment, even if we disagreed with it (and we sometimes did, since we are both strong willed people). And we didn't criticize. Whoever was in charge of an area was in charge. End of story.

The whole idea of people having (or aspiring to) defined roles in society, much less being willing to limit themselves in any way in service of any large goal, seems to have fallen by the wayside. People seem to feel that if they can't express their inner self to the fullest extent possible twenty four hours a day, they are somehow being diminished, marginalized, and treated as the Other. j-lo.jpgThere is a larger idea I've been struggling with that can perhaps better be conveyed with pictures than words. Mike at Cold Fury sent me a great picture essay a few weeks ago. I've been thinking about it ever since but haven't been sure what I wanted to say about it. He juxtaposed sex symbols from the past with the pop tarts of today. The contrast between what we thought was attractive then vs. now could not be more striking. It is a question of seedy excess versus understated elegance. One group seems desperate for attention, each upping the ante for the most garish or tasteless ensemble. The first, more modern group are extremely attractive people, but somehow they've managed to make themselves seem almost freakish.

The older group could be someone you know, only better. More confident, more attractive, more what you expect from a movie star. In other words, they're really not trying to stand out from the crowd. They're simply comfortable in their own skin. If I had to apply adjectives to the two groups, I'd call the first one unrestrained and the second, collected. Or if you want to put it in more psychological terms, the first is the id and the second the superego (though if someone wants to argue with me and say it ought to be the ego, I'm fine with that, too).

Over the past few weeks I've become fascinated by the thought that technology has had a powerful and very much mixed effect on our lives. On the one hand, it has freed us from want to a degree that is really unprecedented in history. Because of productivity gains, we are experiencing a degree of affluence that our parents and grandparents could never have dreamed of. But our new prosperity is not an unmixed blessing. At a recent party, a well-off DC woman solemnly informed me that the new generation would be the "first generation that didn't do as well as their parents". I had a hard time choking back my indignation. Both my children make more, even in constant dollars, than we did at their age. My basement is full of furniture and household goods we carefully saved for the time when they would start a new home. Some of it they have taken with them. Much of it we will be getting rid of. The truth is that unlike us, they can afford to buy new things. I remember going off to college in the 1970's. I didn't take much. Kids these days load up as though they were traveling to Bali Hai - even my youngest son, who had far less than his roommates - came home with a futon sofa, phone, rug, coffee maker, and a small refridgerator (most of which is still sitting in my basement). But what comes so easily to this new generation, they don't really appreciate. Easy come, easy go.

And the ties that bound our parents and grandparents together no longer seem to bind us as closely. Our children seem to struggle against societal expectations. When the world was still a hostile place, cooperation with other people was a precious survival tool. It allowed us to pool our resources and overcome the challenges posed by our environment. Specialization of roles in society ensured that things were done efficiently. But now that technology has eliminated many of the challenges we used to face, we can all afford to be generalists.

At work, many of us do our own typing and billing now. In the home, many domestic and parenting tasks are shared by husband and wife. My husband, for instance, now does a lot of his own laundry. I'd happily do it for him, but he got into the habit of doing it five years ago when he was in Japan for a year and I went to work full time and he decided that would be his contribution since I was taking on a new career. And to be honest, I do most of the rest of the housework, though he does pitch in from time to time.

I often wonder when my husband comes home late at night and I see his shoulders slumped with care after a long day, whether it would be possible, or even desireable, to turn back the clock? Whether I could ever be happy again busily rushing around the house plumping pillows, dabbing a bit of cologne behind my ears and some lip gloss on my lips, adding a splash of wine and some fresh cream to the chicken fricassee as I check the fresh flowers on the table? Being the one who ran the house, while he was the one who made sure I had a house to run?

I used to do all those things. No, not all the time. There were odd days when he came home and the beagle was throwing up and the boys had let the gerbils out in the den. But I do remember a time when my whole life revolved around that moment when he would walk through the door at the end of the day and I spent the hour or so before then making sure everything was ready for him - making sure the boys' hair was combed and their faces were scrubbed, making sure nothing was noisy or jarring, opening the windows so the house would smell fresh and clean, maybe lighting a candle or two in the window so he'd see it as he drove up.

Now I wait for his call every night at seven or eight. The stupid jazz ringtone on my cell phone still makes my heart beat happily every time I hear it. He won't talk much. He never does. And I'll run around the house and plump a pillow or two, and gaze stupidly inside the fridge to see what is for dinner if I haven't already decided. And the call means I can quit work and desperately try to pick up my house and turn on the front porch light so he doesn't trip and kill himself.

And I will try to remind myself not to talk about politics, or bring up subjects that I know irritate him because he's tired. It's really not that much to ask. And I will probably forget again tonight because I'm so happy to see him and we only have an hour before it will be time to go to bed. And there are so many times when I ask myself if it wouldn't be better to go back to the way things used to be, when I wasn't so damned assertive all the time. When I didn't do everything he did, when I had my own sphere and my own interests. When I wasn't so busy that I didn't have time for him, didn't have time to notice things anymore. When I wasn't so tired and cranky at the end of the day that it took a conscious effort to stop and think about his lousy day and what he might need, instead of mine. When seeing things from another person's point of view was no longer second nature but almost a foreign way of life? When did I stop being a woman?

My husband says I am too hard on myself, but that is only because he is a very forgiving man. He puts up with a lot. The odd - and the sad - thing is that in between that Good Wife and where I am there is the right balance. I just have never been smart enough to find it. I am not entirely sure that he would like it if the clock were turned back. I frustrate and aggravate him now, but he gets bored easily too.

Whenever I write something like this, I get accused of railing against feminism. And that's annoying because that's not my intent. I just think that we've lost something - a thing intelligent feminists should be able to recognize. Women used to be the glue that held families and society together. We were the guardians of morals, of family traditions, of relationships. We were the caretakers of so many things. Because we didn't have full-time jobs outside the home, we had time to focus on uniquely human endeavors that tend to be important to women in a way that I don't think they really matter to men until they vanish beyond remembrance or recall.

But now that we live in a world of two-career couples, I don't see extended families getting together for those endless, two-week summer vacations so much anymore. It's simply too hard to schedule all those work breaks. It's sad, because we are losing something precious.

And when my husband comes home from work, we don't have the peace I remember from those more leisurely days when I was a stay at home wife and mother. I miss that. I wish I could give them back to him. He's certainly not working any less hard, at least not that I have noticed. Oh, there are compensations. He tells me that even though I make him crazy sometimes, he can't wait to get home from work every night.

After twenty seven years of marriage, that's not a bad legacy. But still, sometimes I wonder...

Posted by Cassandra at 05:26 AM | Comments (29)

August 02, 2006

The Princess Reads This Stuff So You Don't Have To...

Bark like a dog, baby....

No, really. I mean it. It turns me on.

In other news, the half vast editorial staff noted with some interest a rather snarky question posed in a trashy women's mag we somewhat shamefacedly purchased in some shabby airport kiosk as an antidote to Foreign Affairs and the WSJ. Apparently a recent study looked at whether hubbies who balanced work and home responsibilities or workaholic spouses made better lovers.

What say you, gentle readers?

And in still other news, people just don't appreciate Great Art these days. (via MensNewsDaily)

Of course, if Art isn't your bag, you can always occupy your frontal lobe with truly pressing legal issues, like whether Congress should pass more legislation to protect Joe SixPack from the pernicious effects of kiss-and-tell blogging in the workplace. Clearly this is the kind of tragic social problem that warrants immediate government intervention at the federal level. We must stop this sort of abuse in our lifetime.

Do it now. For the children.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:41 AM | Comments (32)

July 17, 2006

DimWittery Alert, Supermodel Edition

naomi.jpg Because sometimes fashion is hard:

NAOMI Campbell, the supermodel, wrecked her boyfriend's brand new yacht after a row with an Italian chef, it was reported yesterday.

Campbell, known for her outbursts, flew into a violent rage after an argument with the unidentified chef over antipasti on a menu and his choice of wine.

She is said to have smashed up furniture and fittings on the £1.5 million yacht, Nasma, belonging to her new boyfriend, Dubai-born Prince Badr Jafar.

Reports in the Italian press said that relations with the chef broke down as Campbell planned a romantic meal with his help aboard the yacht, which was anchored off Viareggio on the Tuscan Riviera.

News reports estimated the damage to be more than £30,0000.

Staff on the yacht dived for cover as Campbell lashed out at furniture, including priceless antiques, light fittings and cushions, as well as smashing china plates and crystal glasses.

The half-vast editorial staff understands. Ms. Campbell undoubtedly has been the victim of a random, but completely understandable breakdown**.

Dieting can make a grrrrl so cranky.

**select Premade, Random Breakdown

Posted by Cassandra at 08:50 AM | Comments (11)

July 15, 2006

The HVES Issues A Fatwa...Heh

You know, the problem with women is that they never, ever forget.

Make one little remark, and before you know it, she's blown it all out of proportion and you have full-scale jihad on your hands.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:45 AM | Comments (5)

June 26, 2006

Surprise! The Sexes Are Different

One of my favorite bloggers takes exception to this essay by 'some devil-shrew named Amy Sutherland':

"I love my husband. He's well read, adventurous and does a hysterical rendition of a northern Vermont accent that still cracks me up after 12 years of marriage.

But he also tends to be forgetful, and is often tardy and mercurial. He hovers around me in the kitchen asking if I read this or that piece in The New Yorker when I'm trying to concentrate on the simmering pans. He leaves wadded tissues in his wake. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness but never fails to hear me when I mutter to myself on the other side of the house. "What did you say?" he'll shout.

These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

...Then something magical happened. For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

John's reaction could not more perfectly illustrate the differences between men and women. While I completely understand his objection to Ms. Sutherland's seemingly contemptuous attitude toward her husband, I have to say that the author isn't doing anything smart mothers haven't been doing with their children (or more accurately, primarily with their sons) for centuries. Little girls are, for the most part different. Where small boys respond best to decisive action, a firm "No" is often sufficient to get the attention of the average little girl.

What many men don't understand is that women are more responsive to words and men to actions. While I don't quite see the need to indulge in disrespectful comparisons to the animal kingdom (even in jest), one of the first things I noticed about the time my first son became mobile at six months of age was that it was a complete waste of time talking to him. If I wanted to get his attention, I needed to act: pick him up and move him away from the houseplant he was munching on, remove the ash tray he was banging on my side table instead of putting it back where it belongs and explaining why we don't bang ashtrays, even (though this would probably get me arrested nowadays) bite his arm gently to demonstrate how much he was hurting me when he suddenly (at 18 months) decided that employing his new fangs got a highly gratifying reaction from his Mother.

Previously I'd tried explaining, "That hurts Mommy". No reaction. All my pleas were in vain. It wasn't until one day when he bit me really hard that I finally, in desperation, bit him back. And then I said, as I soothed his tears, "See? That's how Mommy feels every time you bite her." I will never forget the look on his face as understanding finally dawned. I even got a hug.

But more importantly, he never bit me (or anyone else) again - not once. All my words had not meant nearly as much to him as a single object demonstration.

I employed the same tactic when my young husband did things that upset me. Instead of nagging, I simply let him experience the same things he was doing to me. Since he is an extremely intelligent guy, he got the point right away.

Of course, this doesn't work quite as well on women. We prize words: they're our way of communicating. A man assumes you know he loves you because he's still there, because he does things to please you. But women need to hear the words, because words are our preferred mode of communication. They matter to us in ways men often find hard to understand. Women store words away like a treasured gift, turning them over and over in our minds. This has good and bad consequences.

If nagging is the worst mistake women make, one of the worst mistakes men make in their relationships with women is stalling or ignoring them. Often when problems arise, a woman tries to talk them out. And all too often men respond to that admittedly unpleasant stimulus by denying anything is going on or waiting for it to blow over.

It's hard to think of a worse response from the woman's point of view. In the language she was programmed by nature to understand and respond to, you have just told her you don't care that she's upset and you're not interested in solving the problem. By extension, in her eyes, you don't care about her. She has become invisible.

Whether that's a fair inference or not is debatable. What's undeniable, however, is that both men and women tend to interpret each other's actions according to their own frame of reference: women assume men don't care because we know that if we did the same things, that would be an indication that we didn't care. The problem with this line of thinking is that men don't always do things for the same reasons women do, so using a female frame of reference to interpret male behavior is risky at best. Many women know this, but when you're hurt, reason and objectivity are the first things to fly out the window.

Likewise, men tend to assume women are nagging or trying to control them, when often all we're trying to do is communicate. If our initial attempt to clear something up or express frustration hits a stone wall, we try, and try, and try again, hoping something we've said will eventually get through the smokescreen. Unfortunately, if the man is ignoring the issue hoping it will go away, that tactic backfires.

One of John's readers who almost always has something insightful to say commented:

I don't know...think about this. Who wouldn't want a woman that simply ignored all your bad behavior, but rewarded you when you did something good?

You: Hey hon, gonna play World of Warcraft all weekend!
Her: ...

You: Hey hon, using all my vacation to go on a monthlong ballpark tour with my drinking buddies!
Her: ...

You: Hey hon, I swept the floor.
Her: Oh why thank you, let me get you a beer and some steaks!

And some of you are complaining about this?

I laughed out loud when I read this. It explains why, despite the fact that most women long ago figured out that positive reinforcement works better than nagging, we don't substitute action for talk more often. Part of us, deep down inside, can't help thinking, "If he cared, he'd listen to what I'm saying."

A female reader expressed the female viewpoint perfectly:

When you and your wife have one of those days where you just start out wrong, what do you do to turn it around? You know what I mean... one of those days where you say some smartass thing that pisses her off first thing in the morning, or vice versa.

I know this wasn't directed at me, but we've been married a long time and a female perspective might be helpful.

If you were truly at fault and you know it, how about a sincere, "Hon, I was really crabby with you for absolutely no reason, and I'm really sorry. I love you, and I don't want to fight with you. Please forgive me." A hug might help, too, but check body language first.

And if you were REALLY crabby and she feels the need to say, "Well you really hurt my feelings..." Don't pick the argument back up. Agreeing with someone when they speak the truth diffuses a lot of arguments.

And no excuses about men not being verbal. There's not a one of you on this site who cannot express himself just fine in words.

Women require verbal reassurance that the men in our lives care - for us, silence is the worst possible response. And we should pay more attention to the male need for a break from non-stop relationship talk by not trying to have it all our way, by understanding that sometimes to men, a gesture is far more important than all the words in the Merriam-Webster deluxe dictionary. Some fights don't need to be followed up by endless discussion of who was at fault - a quick hug (or something more likely to appeal to the average oinker) speaks volumes. And perhaps if we talk less and show our appreciation more, the men in our lives will listen to those things we do say.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:57 PM | Comments (5)

June 25, 2006

"this kind of bias makes me physically ill..."

These folks obviously don't have a Harvard education...

There is clear evidence that men perform better at spatial tasks and women outpace men on tests of verbal usage and perceptual speed, according to research conducted by Wendy Johnson, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Minnesota, and Thomas Bouchard, director of the Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research. The findings, which will be published in the journal Intelligence, indicate that there is little difference in how the genders fare as far as general intelligence, however. But since engineering positions are overwhelmingly filled by men, this further supports the theory that spatial abilities are key to success in the field.


The researchers examined three dimensions of intelligence:


• Rotation-verbal--higher spatial (mental rotation) abilities vs. higher verbal abilities;


• Focus-diffusion--problem solving by focusing on details in a linear fashion, vs. problem solving from many different perspectives at once, synergistically; and


• Memory--information retention independent of general intelligence.


Johnson and Bouchard found that there are substantial differences in how men and women approach these dimensions. Men are more likely to be geared toward the rotation and focus dimensions, while women tend to be more verbal, diffuse, and able to excel in the memory dimension. They also learned that "general intelligence [or IQ] serves as an all-purpose problem-solving ability that masks sex differences in more specialized abilities." This underscores the need to measure the individual dimensions, not just IQ, to deliver a more holistic view of a person's intelligence.

Sensible folks realize that aptitude testing only leads to the reinforcement of outdated gender stereotypes.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:48 AM | Comments (4)

June 24, 2006

Proof That Women (Other Than MoDope) Can Do Math

Finally, scientific proof that women are evil.

Proof that girls are absolute evil:

First we state the fact that girls require time and money:

GIRLS = TIME X MONEY

And as we all know, time is money:

TIME = MONEY

Therefore, GIRLS = (MONEY X MONEY) = MONEY 2

And because money is the root of all evil:

MONEY = EVIL 1/2

Therefore, GIRLS = (EVIL 1/2)2

And we are forced to calculate that:

GIRLS = EVIL

As it follows from the proof, EVIL is nonnegative (pretty strange to our usual assumptions about it). And since every nonnegative number is equal to its absolute value, we can state that:

GIRLS = |EVIL|

Thus,

Girls are absolute evil.

On the other hand, men are far worse.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:55 AM | Comments (12)

June 20, 2006

Meet The New Boss...Same As The Old Boss

Reading this passage from Linda Hirshman's essay in the Washington Post on Sunday, I had several reactions:

When I set out to write a book about how the first generation of women to grow up with feminism managed their marriages, I never dreamed I'd wind up the subject of a Web article called "Everybody Hates Linda."

Everybody started hating Linda, apparently, when I published an article in the progressive magazine the American Prospect last December, saying that women who quit their jobs to stay home with their children were making a mistake. Worse, I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings. Oh, and by the way, where were the dads when all this household labor was being distributed? Maybe the thickest glass ceiling, I wrote, is at home.

The first was puzzlement. I had, somewhat naively, always thought one of the smarter tenets of mainstream feminism involved Hirshman's bete noir: the freedom to choose. Choice feminism affirms the right and the ability of women to make rational choices regarding their time, their talent, their very lives. For those who think in economic terms, the word "choice" brings to mind two related concepts: tradeoffs (the idea that it is rarely possible to choose one thing - at least in the real world where resources are finite - without giving up other things) and the weighing of opportunity costs, which recognizes that intelligent decision making requires the evaluation of the most valuable forgone alternative.

My second thought was that Hirshman has an incredibly parochial view of work; notably, the long decried notion that only traditionally male occupations have value. In her much longer American Prospect article, the author rails against what she views as the demeaning choices made by educated professional women who "opt out" of the working world to raise their children:

Half the wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females in the country stay home with their babies rather than work in the market economy. When in September The New York Times featured an article exploring a piece of this story, “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” the blogosphere went ballistic, countering with anecdotes and sarcasm. Slate’s Jack Shafer accused the Times of “weasel-words” and of publishing the same story -- essentially, “The Opt-Out Revolution” -- every few years, and, recently, every few weeks. (A month after the flap, the Times’ only female columnist, Maureen Dowd, invoked the elite-college article in her contribution to the Times’ running soap, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?” about how women must forgo feminism even to get laid.) The colleges article provoked such fury that the Times had to post an explanation of the then–student journalist’s methodology on its Web site.

There’s only one problem: There is important truth in the dropout story. Even though it appeared in The New York Times.

I stumbled across the news three years ago when researching a book on marriage after feminism. I found that among the educated elite, who are the logical heirs of the agenda of empowering women, feminism has largely failed in its goals. There are few women in the corridors of power, and marriage is essentially unchanged. The number of women at universities exceeds the number of men. But, more than a generation after feminism, the number of women in elite jobs doesn’t come close.

Why did this happen? The answer I discovered -- an answer neither feminist leaders nor women themselves want to face -- is that while the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home.

The disturbing (to Ms. Hirschman) implication of the opt-out phenomenon is that, while women now have the option of competing with men in the workplace, a substantial number of them choose, at least temporarily, their children over the rat race. Again, in the presence of scarcity this choice is not without consequences in terms of lost wages, diminished resumes, and a still lagging presence in America's boardrooms and to a lesser extent, academia.

Interestingly, underlying the author's heartburn with women who opt out are her unsupported assumptions that only traditionally male occupations have value and that the choice to stay home with the kids is somehow (she never bothers to explain why) a coerced one:

Here’s the feminist moral analysis that choice avoided: The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, “A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read.”

I greeted Hirshman's first statement with mixed emotions:

The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government.

I chose to stay at home for most of the twenty or so years my two sons spent growing up. On the one hand, one could argue this choice was not entirely freely made and additionally that the consequences - periodic bouts of feeling trapped, impatience with routine, repetitive tasks, a wish for more intellectual stimulation, and the desire to take more risks with my life - at times gave me heartburn too.

But now that my sons are grown and I've been in the working world for seven years, I know these feelings are hardly unique to stay at home Moms. The heady rush of acquiring competence and credibility in a foreign and highly technical field, of taking on sometimes daunting challenges has been replaced by (quelle surprise!) periodic bouts of feeling trapped, impatience with routine, repetitive tasks, a wish for more intellectual stimulation, and the desire to take more risks with my life. Nor are these feelings uniquely female. My husband, an extremely intelligent and competent man capable of succeeding in any sphere in which he chose to exert himself, often feels these emotions too; arguably to a greater degree than I do.

The reason is simple. Looked at objectively, my husband's life has been in many ways less well-rounded and balanced than my own. He has never carried a child to term, nor been intimately engaged in the decades long dance that is child rearing. I, on the other hand, have both raised children and established myself in my career. Hirshman looks at stay at home moms and sees only drudgery and repetitive chores. Those elements are undoubtably part and parcel of homemaking unless one has the luxury of domestic help. But she misses what I found most stimulating and challenging about staying at home: the luxurious freedom to think and read and the intellectual challenge of constantly re-evaluating applying the moral precepts with which both my husband and I were raised to a constantly changing set of circumstances.

How much freedom should I give my children? Should I "cover" for them when they make mistakes, or stand back and let them suffer unpleasant consequences in hopes that experience is the best teacher? What if, owing to immaturity and lack of context, they draw different or even destructive conclusions from those experiences? How should I teach them to handle conflict and adversity? What values should I seek to instill in them? These are choices presented to any leader, but Motherhood is very nearly unique in the sense that no healthy adult relationship compares in intensity to the raising of tiny beings who start off completely dependent on their parents and gradually, over the years, must make their own way in the world using the tools their parents have given them. Motherhood, in many ways, is a pure form of leadership as well as a teaching profession. The curriculum involves teaching not just practical knowledge but abstract concepts like honor, civic duty, and ethics to students who see life through an entirely different prism.

Raising children requires the ability to step outside your own experiences and frame of reference; to view the world again through a child's eyes. Simply answering the thousand ubiquitous "Mommy, why does..." questions posed by one's offspring forces one to reexamine virtually every experience and moral teaching in life. It forces one to think about human societies, how they evolve, and what our goals are (and should be) both as individuals and members of a larger social construct.

As a returning 4.0 college student in my early thirties (an eloquent refutation to the notion that the sacrifices associated with child rearing are of necessity permanent ones), I found myself applying what I had learned about human nature and how the world works to subjects like economics, law, and political science. Working both case law and calculus problems, I quickly outpaced my classmates using the same problem-solving process I'd used at home for over a decade: assess the facts, find the applicable abstract principles or rules, and apply them to the problem.

But the ease with which I made the transition from full-time Mommy to college student did not surprise me. Even when I still filled part of my days with uninspiring tasks like scrubbing the toilet bowl or de-fleaing our pet beagle, my husband often remarked that I thought - and talked about - about subjects he hadn't addressed since college. It is impossible to be a good mother without also being something of a philosopher. Moreover I would argue the influence of a good mother's moral, ethical, and intellectual tutelage literally shapes the lives of her children and often by extension, those of future generations.

David Brooks, in an essay Hirshman thinks "attacks" her and relegates women to the realm of the sub-human, mirrors my own views:

When you look back over the essays of 2005, you find many that dealt with the big foreign policy issues of the year, but also an amazing number that dealt with domesticity. That's because the deeper you get into economic or social problems -- national competitiveness, poverty, school performance, incarceration -- the more you realize the answers lie with good parenting and good homes.

Hirshman has it exactly backward. Power is in the kitchen. The big problem is not the women who stay there but the men who leave.

Brooks' observation begs an interesting question I often ask of feminists who deride choice. Is it really in society's best interest for only uneducated and stupid women to raise children? And why do feminists like Hirshman value selling one's talents to the highest bidder over selflessly using them to enrich the lives of our loved ones and, inevitably, society? Is she so quick to dismiss the paid "helping" professions: social work, teaching, psychology?

The secret of Hirshman's discontent appears to lie in the equitable distribution of power:

If women’s flourishing does matter, feminists must acknowledge that the family is to 2005 what the workplace was to 1964 and the vote to 1920. Like the right to work and the right to vote, the right to have a flourishing life that includes but is not limited to family cannot be addressed with language of choice.

Women who want to have sex and children with men as well as good work in interesting jobs where they may occasionally wield real social power need guidance, and they need it early. Step one is simply to begin talking about flourishing. In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots. This may anger some, but it should sound the alarm before the next generation winds up in the same situation. Next, feminists will have to start offering young women not choices and not utopian dreams but solutions they can enact on their own. Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy. It will require rules -- rules like those in the widely derided book The Rules, which was never about dating but about behavior modification.

There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

But the interesting thing is that the women who most upset her: those "wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated females" who start out in the working world but later decide they'd rather be at home with their children, are extremely well qualified to work. And demographics suggest (as most educated white women, at least, tend to marry men with a similar background) these women were not in "a position of unequal resources" when they married. It was only after being out in the workplace that these women chose to barter the benefits of the working world for those of hearth and home. Finally, there is little to suggest these women did not take their careers seriously. It is more likely that a significant number of them also take their families very seriously.

What Hirshman cannot accept is that these women, much like men who often remain in financially secure but unrewarding jobs rather than trading in their pinstriped suits for the life of a starving artist, have made different (and apparently unacceptable) judgments about the relative value of work and home life:

During the ’90s, I taught a course in sexual bargaining at a very good college. Each year, after the class reviewed the low rewards for child-care work, I asked how the students anticipated combining work with child-rearing. At least half the female students described lives of part-time or home-based work. Guys expected their female partners to care for the children. When I asked the young men how they reconciled that prospect with the manifest low regard the market has for child care, they were mystified. Turning to the women who had spoken before, they said, uniformly, “But she chose it.”

Hirshman's attitude towards women's choice smacks of, dare I say it? the very paternalism rightly rejected by mainstream feminists decades ago. It is undoubtably true that if more men were willing to pitch in around the house and to share parenting tasks, some women would spend more time in the workplace. But conversely, if more women forced this choice on the men in their lives, many men would opt to spend time at home rather than face the breakup of their marriages. Not content with limiting womens' choices, Hirshman wants to limit mens' choices as well.

But Hirshman neglects to examine the role of free will in all of this. The truth is that women don't have to fulfill the expectations of their male partners. It is also true that no one is forcing them to stay home. They can always park the kids in day care and head off to work without so much as a backward glance. That they do not do this more often reflects the reality that for many women, the happiness and welfare of their husbands and children is inextricably intertwined with their own. In that context one could argue the decision to stay home is as much a selfish as a self-sacrificing one. Women are simply happier when their lives include both family and work, and if men take advantage of this to some degree that doesn't change the fundamental truth Hirshman so detests; namely that women now have freedoms that were unthinkable in the 1960's. Abortion and birth control have given us the same advantage men possessed for centuries: the ability to enjoy sex without bearing children. Workplace legislation and the women's movement have opened the doors to the executive washroom. If women choose to forgo these benefits for the privilege of having children, it is not for women like Hirshman to tell them they've made a "mistake".

Second-guessing the voluntary decisions of women who are, for the first time in human history, truly free to choose infantilizes women and robs them of responsibility for their own behavior. If they are unhappy and unfulfilled at home, they have chosen to be. No prison bars block the exit door. In her quest to free women from what she views as outdated patriarchal notions, Hirshman has merely traded the old boss (rigidly defined gender roles) for an equally tyrannical new boss which demands women adopt traditionally male criteria for what matters most in life: competition, money, and power.

Is it really a surprise that so many women haven't rushed to embrace Hirshman's world view? Perhaps a new generation of working women has simply decided they won't get fooled again.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:58 AM | Comments (32)

June 14, 2006

Un-Freaking Believable

You've got to love it. Now "experts" are more concerned about the feelings of American women than the health of their infants. Never mind the evidence:

Public health leaders say the weight of the scientific evidence for breast-feeding has grown so overwhelming that it is appropriate to recast their message to make clear that it is risky not to breast-feed.

Ample scientific evidence supports the contention that breast-fed babies are less vulnerable to acute infectious diseases, including respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, experts say. Some studies also suggest that breast-fed babies are at lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome and serious chronic diseases later in life, including asthma, diabetes, leukemia and some forms of lymphoma, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Research on premature babies has even found that those given breast milk scored higher on I.Q. tests than those who were bottle-fed.

But hey, what's the health of your baby when weighed against those all-important feelings of inadequacy?

...critics say the new campaign has taken things too far and will make mothers who cannot breast-feed, or choose not to, feel guilty and inadequate.

"I desperately wanted to breast-feed," said Karen Petrone, an associate professor of history at University of Kentucky in Lexington.

When her two babies failed to gain weight and her pediatrician insisted that she supplement her breast milk with formula, Ms. Petrone said, "I felt so guilty."

"I thought I was doing something wrong," she added. "Nobody ever told me that some women just can't produce enough milk."

As a twenty year old first-time mother in 1979, I was well aware that not everyone can breast-feed. I was also aware (because I took the extraordinary step of reading up on the subject) that many women aren't able to nurse due to easily-remedied factors like inadequate hydration or nervous tension/fear that can be allayed by instruction and support.

If a woman is physically unable to nurse, is feeling guilty a rational response? It might be understandable, but this is why we have brains: to prevent unreasonable emotions from taking on undue importance.

Of course, many women simply choose not to nurse their babies. But apparently shielding them from the consequences of their own freely-made decisions is far more important than the health of a baby:

Moreover, urging women to breast-feed exclusively is a tall order in a country where more than 60 percent of mothers of very young children work, federal law requires large companies to provide only 12 weeks' unpaid maternity leave and lactation leave is unheard of. Only a third of large companies provide a private, secure area where women can express breast milk during the workday [Ed. note: are the women's rooms all out of order?], and only 7 percent offer on-site or near-site child care, according to a 2005 national study of employers by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute.

"I'm concerned about the guilt that mothers will feel," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the center. "It's hard enough going back to work."

To underscore the unbearable hardship associated with nursing one's own child, the Times helpfully quotes an extreme example:

For women, breast-feeding can be an emotionally charged issue, and a very personal one. Even its most ardent supporters acknowledge that they have made sacrifices.

"It's a whole lifestyle," said Kymberlie Stefanski, a 34-year-old mother of three from Villa Park, Ill., who has not been apart from her children except for one night when she gave birth. "My life revolves around my kids, basically." Ms. Stefanski quit working when her first child was born almost six years ago, nursed that child until she was 4 years old, and is nursing an infant now.

You see? Once you look at the facts, it's really an impossible choice.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (31)

June 12, 2006

Mugged By Reality

Boy is this guy in trouble:

A POLICE chief sparks controversy today by suggesting the number of rapes in Scotland could be substantially reduced if women drank less.

Neil Richardson, assistant chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, bases his claim on new research which identified victims' alcohol consumption as significant in a third of attacks.

The senior officer said "a lot" of the 1,100 rapes a year could be prevented "by people not allowing themselves to be in a vulnerable position".

Richardson - who stressed he was not blaming women - spoke out after a study of more than 120 rapes revealed alcohol intake was a major factor in 40 cases.

Detectives concluded that the women were more likely to be targeted in the first place and less able to prevent the attack.

Richardson said: "In many cases the women reported being victims of date rape drugs but analysis shows it was far more likely they have just fallen victim to alcohol."

He added: "We know that drink reduces inhibitions and we take more chances, therefore we can make an assumption about the vulnerability that goes with that.

"I do think a lot of these attacks could be prevented by people not allowing themselves to be in a vulnerable position.

"People need to be sensible and take precautions. If there's a suggestion that people might not have been victims if they'd had their wits about them or had friends with them, that's significant.

"We are doing a lot of work to ensure that the services we deliver to the victims are the best they can be. That should not be mistaken for blame going towards the victim. We do not tolerate crimes of this nature."

And then the non-sequiturs began:

But rape support and alcohol workers insist women should be able to drink without fear of being attacked.

Women should be able to drink and not worry about being raped. Far too often reports of rapes focus on the woman's behaviour and the perpetrator becomes invisible."

And people should be able to leave their home and car doors unlocked without worrying about being robbed, but experience shows they can't.

A spokeswoman for Alcohol Focus Scotland added: "Men are also drinking too much and this can lead to them pushing further than they would normally go as their inhibitions are down and there may be more bravado."

Gee. Do you think? Could there possibly be some relationship between men being less inhibited, women being less able to defend themselves, and the risk of rape? Naaaah:

Experts fear that the growing binge-drinking culture amongst Scottish women is now making it easier for sexual predators to find victims.

Around 10% of women drink more than 35 units of alcohol per week, more than twice the accepted safe limit of 14 units. Nearly two-thirds of young adults have got so drunk that they suffered memory loss during the past fortnight.

Elsewhere in the city, a 25-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, told how last year a friend woke to find a man she met in a nightclub sexually assaulting her.

Although the friend had taken the man back to her flat, she had refused to have sex with him before passing out from too much drink. When she came to, she found she was being raped but was too afraid to stop it, unable to recall if she had consented while intoxicated.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:35 AM | Comments (4)

June 11, 2006

Feeling Good All Under

Boxers, or briefs? Is thong underwear a device of Satan or manna from Heaven? How do you find the Perfect Bra? These and other weighty questions have been occupying the otherwise-idle mind of the half-vast editorial staff this Sunday morning. You may wonder what set us off?

It's come to my attention that there are some men out there—even a few friends of mine—who've not yet switched to boxer briefs. These are otherwise intelligent fellows who, either through ignorance or recalcitrance, begin each day by pulling on (shudder) traditional boxers or (double-shudder) briefs. I feel great pity for these men. Because the irrefutable truth is that boxer briefs—a knit, mid-thigh-length compromise between boxer and brief—are the ultimate male netherwear. The sooner you accept this, the happier your crotch will be.

AG92zz.jpg O-kay. That may have been more information than we truly needed on this important subject.

The HVES admit to a sneaking fondness for boxer briefs, but we're something of a purist in that regard. A subdued black, grey, or even white are fine, but no one wants to see psychadelic parrot-wing green on their favorite manly-man. And button-fly boxer briefs, which we are earnestly trying to forget we ever saw this morning, are just plain idiotic.

V05L1.jpg The underwear world, which one might suppose to be the last bastion of personal choice, a veritable haven of Tolerance and respect for Diversity, is in reality a seething hotbed of controversy. Men have the immortal boxers-vs-briefs debate.

For women, life gets even more complex. Wear a bra, or go braless? Thongs, bikinis, tangas, or the classic full-coverage cotton panty? And what about sports bras, which some women love but others (yours truly included) deplore for their tendency to smash your liquid assets into a flat, unappealling Uni-Boob?

After a lifetime of being more or less indifferent on subject of u-trau, the HVES recently became a big fan of beautiful lingerie. But there are limits, even to our newfound addiction. We cannot, for instance, quite bring ourselves (despite our appreciation for a well-made garment and the undeniable aesthetic appeal of French lace) to spend $140 on a single brassiere (at least just yet), much less the up to $2500 versions peddled to women with more money than sense.

Somehow we think the growing prevalence of pricey designer u-trau makes an ironic counterpoint to ubiquitous anecdotes about the growing numbers of the vanishing American middle class who've had to sell off their first-born children to afford a tank of gas. Who buys this stuff? Does the average American really sit around, thinking, "Should I pay the mortgage this month, or buy that divine La Perla tanga-and-demibra set?"

But the real burning question in our minds is this: how many of the men who extol the many splendors of thong underwear actually wear it themselves?

We thought so.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:04 AM | Comments (8)

June 08, 2006

Nice Girls Don't Do That

Yet another thing I am probably going to hell for finding amusing. Christopher Hitchens weighs in on America's national pastime:

"The magic and might of her own soft mouth … " Erotic poets have hymned it down the ages, though often substituting the word "his." The menu of brothel offerings in ancient Pompeii, preserved through centuries of volcanic burial, features it in the frescoes. It was considered, as poor Humbert well knew, to be worth paying for. The temple carvings of India and the Kamasutra make rather a lavish point of it, and Sigmund Freud wondered if a passage in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks might not betray an early attachment to that "which in respectable society is considered a loathsome perversion." Da Vinci may have chosen to write in "code" and Nabokov may have chosen to dissolve into French, as he usually did when touching on the risqué, but the well-known word "fellatio" comes from the Latin verb "to suck."

Well, which is it—blow or suck? (Old joke: "No, darling. Suck it. 'Blow' is a mere figure of speech." Imagine the stress that gave rise to that gag.) Moreover, why has the blowjob had a dual existence for so long, sometimes subterranean and sometimes flaunted, before bursting into plain view as the specifically American sex act? My friend David Aaronovitch, a columnist in London, wrote of his embarrassment at being in the same room as his young daughter when the TV blared the news that the president of the United States had received oral sex in an Oval Office vestibule. He felt crucially better, but still shy, when the little girl asked him, "Daddy, what's a vestibule?"

...Through the 1950s, then, the burgeoning secret of the blowjob was still contained, like a spark of Promethean fire, inside a secret reed. (In France and Greece, to my certain knowledge, the slang term used to involve "pipe smoking" or "cigar action." I don't mind the association with incandescence, but for Christ's sake, sweetie, don't be smoking it. I would even rather that you just blew.) If you got hold of Henry Miller's Sexus or Pauline Réage's Story of O (both published by Maurice Girodias, the same Parisian daredevil who printed Lolita), you could read about oral and other engagements, but that was France for you.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (7)

June 06, 2006

Hoist, Meet Petard

I'm sorry but I find this amusing:

In a case that could have repercussions for single-sex fitness clubs, a Sonoma County judge has ordered a Santa Rosa women's health club to open its doors to men.

Judge Knoel Owen said Body Central must provide showers and lockers for men and stop advertising itself as a women-only health club.

He ruled in favor of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which sued Body Central last year for allegedly violating California's anti-discrimination law.

The state agency filed the suit after Phillip Kottle of Santa Rosa complained he was denied membership at the downtown fitness center in 2003 because of his gender.

And wouldja believe it, instead of welcoming all this diversity, those nasty wenches still marginalized him and treated him as Other!

Female patrons at Body Central let him know he wasn't welcome, Kottle said.

"The first month or so I had some nasty comments," he said. "I haven't been cursed at recently."

Kottle said he ignores the barbs because he likes Body Central's exercise facility.

"It's convenient and it's never crowded," he said. "The equipment is almost brand new."

I am shocked... shocked I tell you.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:57 PM | Comments (9)

June 05, 2006

Revenge Of The Republican Feminist

When was the last time the man of the house checked in for a little intimate depilitation? Eyebrow tweezing? Surgery? Bikini wax? Maybe a Wonder Jock?

Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you....

Via Fisty Rethuglican Whore

Posted by Cassandra at 07:26 AM | Comments (7)

May 08, 2006

Oopsie! I Did It Again!

What is the common thread in these stories?

Duke woman drinks all afternoon, then attends frat party where she inhales marijuana smoke from a vaporizer. She then files rape charges after waking the next morning with the feeling "something had happened".

Police had no trouble tracking down the "perpetrator". The accused rapist helpfully left his contact information on her computer after walking her home.

Rich Gorman is currently serving 5 years for sexual battery:

For the past six months, I've been staring at a 30-pound box filled with court documents and what's left of a young man's life following one college night and a 5- to 15-second disputed sex act.

That is, 5 to 15 seconds into the act of sexual intercourse, she said, "Stop."

He stopped immediately.

She claimed rape.

The "victim," whom we'll call Chastity, contradicted herself and changed her story several times ... She was drinking and making out with Gorman earlier in the evening.

She also went willingly into his apartment on the night in question, and this is key. She initially told police that she was pulled struggling from the car and dragged into his apartment, where she was raped. When she was told that parking lot cameras might have captured her going into the apartment, she changed her story, admitted that she wasn't forced, and that she walked voluntarily into the apartment.

My suspension of skepticism ends right there, but there's much more, including a prior rape claim by the "victim" at another college a few years earlier. Same victim, same scenario, except that she recanted in that case, saying she wasn't sure it was a rape because she was drunk. All the preceding was ruled inadmissible during Gorman's trial thanks to rape shield laws.

21 year-old "victim" of exploitation is suing Best Buy, Anheuser-Busch, Playboy, and Deslin Hotels:

Monica, 16 at the time, went to Daytona Beach for spring break. She decided to go watch a wet t-shirt contest one night. The next night she decided to participate in a wet t-shirt contest. She admits that she lied to promoters about her age in order to participate. She even paid them $5 in order to participate in the wet t-shirt contest. She voluntarily got up on stage in bikini bottoms and a cut off tshirt and allowed men to pour water all over her body. She even admits that she made a conscious decision to allow men to rub against her and do whatever it took to win the contest. She performed for the cameras she saw in the audience. She even won $100 for her voluntary performance that required her to lie to join.

"Now she’s upset that those materials are being distributed as part of a Playboy video because she didn’t realize her voluntary participation in the filmed wet t-shirt contest that she both lied and paid to enter would end up on tv and be seen by her neighbor who would call and tell her parents.

"Poor little Monica later says, ’I think it makes me look like some kind of prostitute or porn movie star, almost like I am trying to show my body to the camera, which I was not.’ Considering she’s already confessed that a) she voluntarily participated after attending the night before, b) she paid to show off her nearly naked body to strangers for money, c) she lied to show off her nearly naked body to strangers for money and d) she was willing to do anything to win the money reserved for the girl who showed her nearly naked body on stage in front of strangers and cameras in the most exciting manner, I would like to believe she doesn’t actually have a case. However, stupid people who can’t take responsibility for their actions always seem to get something by abusing the court system."

I'm just curious: if willingly becoming intoxicated constitutes an excuse, why can't any of the men in these incidents claim that as a defense?

Oh. Because that excuse only works for thoroughly modern women who demand complete equality and freedom while reserving the right to claim victim status later on when they are confronted with the consequences of their actions.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (36)

April 27, 2006

The Real Burning Question of Our Time

OK ladies and gentlemen... time for a real thought-provoker.

What do you find sexy?

FAKE breasts are a turnoff, men say, and wrinkles beat Botox. Lumberjacks are hot, women believe, but men who cry at the movies are not. Cooking, meanwhile, is sexier than fixing a transmission. These are among the findings of a new poll by Zogby International, which asked 1,000 men and an equal number of women what they find sexy. The poll was commissioned by NBC's "Today" show, which will air the results tomorrow and Friday.

And only 30 percent of men prefer makeup on their mates; 50 percent would rather they ditch the lipstick and go unadorned.

The message for women: "From wearing makeup to Botox, it ain't what you think it is," said John Zogby, president of the polling firm.

Younger men are much more likely to find cosmetics a turn-off, and women who ask them out a turn-on - among a number of signs that definitions of what's sexy are steadily changing, said Zogby.

"What we see is a slow and steady redefinition" of what's sexy, he says. "The old stereotypes seem to be breaking down, and the definition of what guys look for is changing."

My guess is that the answers will be intriguing - and individual. Mine were.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:14 PM | Comments (38)

April 25, 2006

Hmmm....

And here I always thought it made them easier to get along with...

Maybe if they'd given the money to the woman.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:15 PM | Comments (11)

April 19, 2006

Nancy Hopkins' Revenge?

Reading this, I "felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow....I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill.'':

On March 25, National Journal reported that the Bush administration planned an unprecedented expansion of Title IX enforcement into the math and science departments of the nation's leading research universities. In interviews with several publications, Assistant Secretary of Education Stephanie Monroe announced that the Department of Education would be teaming up with the National Science Foundation to investigate the sex disparities in hard sciences--particularly engineering, physics, and computer science--that got former Harvard University president Larry Summers into so much trouble when he broached the subject in an academic meeting last year.

Monroe said that, beginning this summer, Education's Office of Civil Rights--which she heads--would conduct intensive investigations of colleges and universities to determine if they are complying with Title IX in their treatment of women as undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. Unlike investigations that arise as the result of a specific allegation of discrimination, these investigations, called compliance reviews, are initiated by the government, often take months, and usually result in a new policy that all colleges and universities must follow. In the past eleven years, only three Title IX compliance reviews in math and science have been conducted by the Education Department. This summer, Monroe said, she planned to do six.

She told Inside Higher Education, for example, that because the discrimination faced by women in math and science is often "subtle," the government would investigate policies that result in women "feeling unwelcome" in their pursuit of advanced degrees or tenured positions in the hard sciences. Although Monroe promised to "not simply look at the numbers," the unwelcoming environments for women she intended to investigate were in fact schools where a relatively small number of women pursue postgraduate work or where relatively few women are hired as faculty in math and science.

This was not the first time that Monroe, who was confirmed by the Senate last December, had shown a propensity for expansive interpretation of Title IX. In February, she earned praise from groups like the Feminist Majority Foundation for her first act in office: putting school districts on notice that the Bush Department of Education will enforce Clinton-era rules on sexual harassment in schools--including grade schools. These rules made schools responsible for harassment of students by other students--a sweeping expansion of liability for schools, which now have to worry about "inappropriate sexual behavior" between six year olds.

But the expansion of Title IX into federal oversight of math and science programs would have bested even the most aggressive enforcement schemes of Monroe's Clinton-era predecessor, Norma Cantu, who was dubbed, along with Lani Guinier, one of Clinton's "Quota Queens."

So on March 29--four days after Monroe's announcement appeared in National Journal--the White House quietly forced a retraction. On Department of Education letterhead, a statement was released over Monroe's signature promising that "the Department of Education is not expanding Title IX enforcement beyond its regular activities to combat unlawful discrimination. Further, the Department is not implementing any quota system or new enforcement program to advance study opportunities in math and science." And then Monroe promptly went on "travel," according to an Education Department spokesman, and has since been unavailable for interviews.

Well thank Gaia for small miracles. For a moment there, I thought I was going to have to "either black out or throw up".

Posted by Cassandra at 12:54 PM | Comments (3)

April 14, 2006

Star-Crossed Lovers

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.

Romeo and Juliet, it ain't:

"She was a lady with a plan -- and that plan wasn't marriage," Mirabelli said. "He trusted her. Why?

Because she said 'I don't want anything from you. I just want your semen.'"

Suddenly I have a headache...

Love takes another turn most tragical

Both via The Amazing Bashman

Posted by Cassandra at 08:51 AM | Comments (8)

March 31, 2006

Another Mystery Solved

This is supposed to be a mystery?

This phenomenon cuts across all demographics. You'll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian and Hispanic; urban, suburban and rural. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents -- a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?

My friend and colleague Judy Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska, has spent many years studying this growing phenomenon. She points out that many young women are living at home nowadays as well. But those young women usually have a definite plan. They're working toward a college degree, or they're saving money to open their own business. And when you come back three or four years later, you'll find that in most cases those young women have achieved their goal, or something like it. They've earned that degree. They've opened their business.

But not the boys. "The girls are driven; the boys have no direction," is the way Kleinfeld summarizes her findings. Kleinfeld is organizing a national Boys Project, with a board composed of leading researchers and writers such as Sandra Stotsky, Michael Thompson and Richard Whitmire, to figure out what's going wrong with boys....

...In Ayn Rand's humorless apocalyptic novel "Atlas Shrugged," the central characters ask: What would happen if someone turned off the motor that drives the world? We may be living in such a time, a time when the motor that drives the world is running down or stuck in neutral -- but only for boys.

We have turned off the motor that drives America. Boys (and men) need to be needed, to have a role; to build, to discover, to support, to defend, to explore. If we emasculate them, if we tell them that the very qualities which make them essentially masculine are somehow anti-social and need to be suppressed, should we be surprised if they opt out of the race? Who wants to run it dressed like a girl?

If we treat them like overgown children, should we be surprised when they fail to grow up?

This isn't rocket science.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:35 AM | Comments (31)

March 27, 2006

Perverse Individualism

Recently I read two articles which profoundly saddened me. I sensed they were connected in some way beyond the obvious one; they both involved dysfunctional black families. But though the problems they identify are endemic in the black community, to a certain extent they typify attitudes spreading thoughout American culture regardless of race.

The first one, in the NY Times last week, took on stubborn gaps in educational achievement for young black men. Why, after all the time, money, and attention lavished on this "problem", aren't they doing better? Why can't we "save them" from themselves?

Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University and a co-author of one of the recent studies, typifies this attitude. Joblessness, he feels, is due to largely weak schooling, a lack of reading and math skills at a time when such skills are increasingly required even for blue-collar jobs, and the poverty of black neighborhoods. Unable to find jobs, he claims, black males turn to illegal activities, especially the drug trade and chronic drug use, and often end up in prison. He also criticizes the practice of withholding child-support payments from the wages of absentee fathers who do find jobs, telling The Times that to these men, such levies "amount to a tax on earnings."

This is all standard explanatory fare. And, as usual, it fails to answer the important questions. Why are young black men doing so poorly in school that they lack basic literacy and math skills? These scholars must know that countless studies by educational experts, going all the way back to the landmark report by James Coleman of Johns Hopkins University in 1966, have found that poor schools, per se, do not explain why after 10 years of education a young man remains illiterate.

Nor have studies explained why, if someone cannot get a job, he turns to crime and drug abuse. One does not imply the other. Joblessness is rampant in Latin America and India, but the mass of the populations does not turn to crime.

And why do so many young unemployed black men have children — several of them — which they have no resources or intention to support? And why, finally, do they murder each other at nine times the rate of white youths?

The Clinton administration achieved exactly what policy analysts had long said would pull black men out of their torpor: the economy grew at a rapid pace, providing millions of new jobs at all levels. Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The interesting answer turns out to be, they do not want to be saved:

An anecdote helps explain why: Several years ago, one of my students went back to her high school to find out why it was that almost all the black girls graduated and went to college whereas nearly all the black boys either failed to graduate or did not go on to college. Distressingly, she found that all the black boys knew the consequences of not graduating and going on to college ("We're not stupid!" they told her indignantly).

SO why were they flunking out? Their candid answer was that what sociologists call the "cool-pose culture" of young black men was simply too gratifying to give up. For these young men, it was almost like a drug, hanging out on the street after school, shopping and dressing sharply, sexual conquests, party drugs, hip-hop music and culture, the fact that almost all the superstar athletes and a great many of the nation's best entertainers were black.

Not only was living this subculture immensely fulfilling, the boys said, it also brought them a great deal of respect from white youths. This also explains the otherwise puzzling finding by social psychologists that young black men and women tend to have the highest levels of self-esteem of all ethnic groups, and that their self-image is independent of how badly they were doing in school.

I call this the Dionysian trap for young black men. The important thing to note about the subculture that ensnares them is that it is not disconnected from the mainstream culture. To the contrary, it has powerful support from some of America's largest corporations. Hip-hop, professional basketball and homeboy fashions are as American as cherry pie. Young white Americans are very much into these things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book.

For young black men, however, that culture is all there is — or so they think. Sadly, their complete engagement in this part of the American cultural mainstream, which they created and which feeds their pride and self-respect, is a major factor in their disconnection from the socioeconomic mainstream.

The largely unspoken question in all of this is, "What is the American cultural mainstream?", and why do these young men think this is all there is? The undercurrent here is that the vast majority of these young man have no fathers living at home. Which leads me to the next article, appropriately-entitled, "Marriage is for White People". In the opening paragraphs the author, an unmarried black woman, treats us to some startling statistics:

The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Such statistics have caused Howard University relationship therapist Audrey Chapman to point out that African Americans are the most uncoupled people in the country.

The author then asks, "How did we get here?". Amazingly, it never seems to occur to her that welfare programs could have had anything to do with the phenomenon, though they effectively de-coupled financial (though not moral) responsibility from fatherhood, making it possible for the first time for young black men to walk away from the young women they impregnate, scot-free. And they do: with increasing frequency, though this was once unthinkable for a man of upright character.

Reading Ms. Jones' account of her own near-engagement and all the varied reasons she says black women reject marriage (and that she predicts women in general may come to pass up marriage in increasing numbers in the future), I saw many connections to the NY Times piece. And I thought, not for the first time, that this was a culture utterly foreign to me: a culture that seems to put self so far ahead of other considerations that in the end, the refusal to subordinate oneself to something larger becomes a self-limiting proposition.

I am so often struck these days by the wreckage of traditional culture. Somehow on the basis of a few spurious socio-economic studies, we have concluded that social institutions built on centuries of human experience are to blame for all the problems we see in life. And so in our arrogance we rush to dismantle them, thinking perhaps that once the confining chains of marriage, sexual responsibility, or the tiresome necessity of learning a trade or providing for the future are gone, somehow a new utopian age will emerge.

But human nature doesn't change when we abandon our institutions. We cut the chains which restrained our baser impulses, only to face a rude shock when the undeniable truth that choices have consequences conflicts with the prevailing wisdom that any attempt to map cause to effect amounts to blaming the victim (or the even more unacceptible idea that social progress may not be cost-free).

How did so many of us come to confuse freedom with license, and any kind of structure or authority with stifling repression? The result of this bizarre failure to understand the relationship between self-discipline and achievement is that many young people , by refusing to place any limits on their behavior, limit their own prospects for advancement and for growth as human beings.

The military provides, perhaps, a case in point. I am always amazed at how many civilians see military people as inherently narrow-minded, unthinking individuals who just can't wait to be told what to do. I wish such people could see a busload of recruits disembark and toe up on the tarmac at Parris Island.

They would see all sorts: from scruffy, dishevelled types to neat young men and women. Some rather weedy-looking geeks who look like they'd blow over in a strong wind, some muscular and confident-looking jocks, and everything in between. And the thing is, you never know who will do well in training. That weedy-looking geek who looks like a pothead may end up being the one everyone turns to in a crisis because he keeps a cool head. And the big jock may turn out to be a wuss who bails out after two weeks. People sign up for all sorts of different reasons, but they don't make it through unless they can learn to subordinate who they are (at least temporarily) in the service of something larger than themselves. And the key word is temporarily. Military people don't submerge their individuality just because they obey a few rules. There are few people more cocky (or self-confident) than a young Marine.

They simply have to have the ability to look beyond today to something more important: tomorrow; and to put aside their momentary personal desires in the service of a larger goal. It's the old vision thing.

By the time they graduate, they have changed dramatically. Paradoxically, they are not at all diminished by this "subordination" to the group: they come out stronger, smarter, more confident. By participating in this uniquely group venture, they find they can do things they never thought they were capable of when they arrived. They walk taller, stand straighter, and look you straight in the eye. I can generally spot a good Marine in a crowd, even in plain clothes. There is a pride in the way he carries himself. It is instantly recognizable to someone who knows the breed.

Yes, they have to obey rules, but it's a voluntary choice. What do they get in return? They travel the world, live and work in a culture that is more integrated than that experienced by most Americans, are more physically fit than most of us will ever be. They are challenged to live up to a higher standard than we are, and they are better people for the experience. It is a rare person who does not feel a deep pride in the title United States Marine. I would argue that in many ways by choosing to accept some limits, by subordinating self-interest to duty and loyalty to a larger community, Marines have a richness of experience most of us will never have access to.

I could argue that the same is true, if you put the effort into it, for marriage. Yes, it can be limiting at times as the author points out. Yes, it is often hard work. But like any partnership, you get out of the endeavor what you put into it. Two lives are joined, and so one person experiences not just his or her own thoughts, emotions, and viewpoints, but those of someone of the opposite sex. That can be a tremendously enriching experience as opposed to staying inside your own little world for sixty or seventy years.

The author maintains:

As I reviewed the situation, I realized that all the things I expected marriage to confer -- male companionship, close family ties, a house -- I already had, or were within reach, and with exponentially less drama. I can do bad by myself, I used to say as I exited a relationship. But the truth is, I can do pretty good by myself, too.

But these were none of the things I got married for. Marriage is not a business partnership. It is the closest of ties: a friendship for life, but more than that, as the old song says, the stuff that dreams are made of. A glimpse inside another mind, a chance to touch another soul in a way more intimate than is possible for a casual friend.

The chance, if you have children, to intelligently meld the best traditions two families have to offer and send them forth to a new generation in the form of lessons you teach your children.

The privilege of having someone to talk to who knows you better than anyone else on earth, someone who after twenty-seven years can catch your eye from across a crowded room and still make your knees go slightly weak. Who makes you forget what you were about to say to your next-door neighbor and think, "Maybe it's time to get my coat and head on home."

I would hate for my grandchildren to miss that. Yes, it takes work. But what a glorious ride.

Update: 3/29 Do NOT miss this incredible Shelby Steele interview. It could not be more relevant to the linked articles. I wish I'd seen it earlier.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:50 AM | Comments (13)

March 21, 2006

Goodman Gives Feminists A Bad Name

Via Charlotte Allen, I was amused by this Ellen Goodman riposte to a recent study on marital happiness previously discussed here:

Among all the married women surveyed, 52 percent of homemakers considered themselves very happy. Yet only 45 percent of the most progressive-minded homemakers considered themselves happy. This might not seem surprising—presumably, many progressive women prefer to work than stay at home. But the difference in happiness persists even among working wives. Forty-one percent of all the working wives surveyed said they were happy, compared with 38 percent of the progressive working wives. The same was the case when it came to earnings. Forty-two percent of wives who earned one-third or more of the couple's income reported being happy, compared with 34 percent of progressive women in the same position. Perhaps the progressive women had hoped to earn more. But they were less happy than their peers about being a primary breadwinner—though you might expect the opposite. Across the board, progressive women are less likely to feel content, whether they are working or at home, and no matter how much they are making.

I include the numbers as they were conspicuously absent from Ms. Goodman's column, making it rather difficult to evaluate this statement:

As for the part of this analysis that has gotten the most publicity -- the notion that housewives are more content in their marriages than working wives -- the differences are too slim to be worth all the attention. Indeed, sociologist Scott Coltrane of the University of California at Riverside tweaks the same numbers and finds no difference at all.

Apparently we are to take Ms. Goodman's word for it. But what came next was fascinating. We are treated to the World According To Ellen, in which There Is Only One Objective Truth. As we all know that truth is that espoused by the woman of the house:

But what intrigues me most is the choice morsel the researchers themselves pluck from the data. As Wilcox describes it: ''Wives who work full time and have more progressive attitudes are more likely to be unhappy with the division of housework. And that spells trouble for them and their marriages." The best marriages, he says, are not just those in which men do more emotional work than they might choose, but those in which women ''make an effort to expect less" in household sharing.

Now to the more unenlightened among us, an arrangement in which one partner does something he does not particularly want to do in recognition of the fact that the other partner is doing something she does not particularly enjoy sounds suspiciously like a quid pro quo: the intelligent barter of a commodity one partner wants for that valued by the other.

What utter rubbish. Ms. Goodman doesn't buy that kind of revanchist cross-genderist apologia for one minute. Let's reframe the question from the relevant perspective - the female one:

The new norm is a husband who expresses more feelings than his father and a wife who cleans more toilets than her husband. But do women really want to lower their expectations? Aren't they pretty low already?

If homemakers believe labor is divided fairly along traditional lines, it probably is. But how many women who work equal hours for lower wages end up doing more laundry because he brings home more bacon? How many wives comfort themselves with the Lake Wobegon theory of marriage: all their husbands are above average?

In other words, why settle for mere compromise when by pitching a hissy fit, you can have it all? After all, the only view that counts is yours, hon. You work the same hours as he does, don't you? The fact that he earns three times your salary couldn't possibly mean that perhaps his job carries with it more responsibility (or more stress). Stick to your guns, babe. Don't give an inch. That's the way to win the battle of the sexes.

The real irony of Ms. Goodman's position is that I have worked both types of jobs: the low-wage, leave-it-at-the-door type of job and the kind I have now, where at the end of the day I often have a hard time leaving my responsibilities behind me. There is a reason I get paid more than four times my old salary. This has given me a new appreciation for the times my husband comes home from work looking vaguely shell-shocked and in a crabby mood. Yet, my current job notwithstanding, he still has more responsibility than I do. This is not surprising - he has been working for over 25 years and I have not. So I continue to pick up most of the housework. It's the least I can do to compensate for the fact that he brings home more money than I do and bears a heavier load in terms of worry and job stress. But don't try telling this to Ms. Goodman. Apparently I'm just another spineless enabler for the Fascist Oppressors. Her next insight is even more helpful:

The two researchers ponder an irony for further study: ''whether women's expectations about marital equality are indeed linked to marital conflicts and, in turn, to lower levels of men's emotional work." They seem to suggest that her discontent breeds his withdrawal.

Well, the change agent in any relationship is likely to produce conflict. As Nock says, ''Whether you are striving for equality in the law or in a relationship, it's going to be a challenge. The question is whether it's worth it."

Good question. Let's take a look at what the study said:

Recent work indicates that marital quality declined over much of the past four decades, although the rate of decline seems to have leveled off in the 1990s. The research to date suggests that this development may be, in part, a product of the fact that women with increasingly egalitarian gender role attitudes are married to men who have not adopted a sufficiently egalitarian approach to marriage. Insofar as we find strong support for the equity model, this study suggests that part of the decline in marital quality is indeed related to the continuing mismatch between women’s attitudes and marital equality. Moreover, we saw evidence that women who are more egalitarian-minded and more upset with the division of household labor receive lower levels of positive emotion work from their husbands, perhaps because they are more likely to initiate conflict with their husbands. Thus, rising expectations among women for marital equality may also have the unintended effect of lowering investments in marital emotion work on the part of men; this, in turn, may be associated with declines in marital quality for American women.

Our findings also speak to the role of emotion work in women’s global marital quality. First, it is important to highlight our finding, judging by the dramatic increase in model fit, that men’s emotion work (and women’s assessments of that work) is the most crucial determinant of women’s marital quality. It is more important than patterns of household labor, perceptions of housework equity, female labor force participation, childbearing, education and a host of other traditional predictors of global marital quality. This finding suggests that the functions, character, and stability of contemporary marriages are intimately tied to their emotional well-being.

So let's break this down:

1. The most important determinant of female marital happiness, regardless of political orientation or expectations, is how emotionally invested men are in the marriage.

2. There has been a decline in marital satisfaction in recent years, partly because women desire equality in marriage more than men do.

3. Women who want equality more (and are more unhappy with the division of household labor) get less emotional support from their husbands, perhaps because they are more likely to confront them.

4. So, despite the fact that women universally value emotional closeness MORE than help around the house (see first paragraph), they behave in ways that yield a result opposite to the one that will make them happy.

And men say women can be illogical. Go figure. So what is Goodman's solution to this conundrum? Well, let's just say that if you're not nagging your husband, you are single-handedly responsible for perpetuating outdated male gender models and you may also be ruining your daughter's chances of a gender-balanced companionate marriage:

Progressive women pressed, demanded -- dare I say nagged? -- for the benefits that are now also reaped by more traditional wives. And let's remember how many husbands have already become full and equal partners in their family lives.

Women who expect equality are not likely to heed the old Archie Bunker line: ''Stifle yourself, Edith." Indeed, women at the demanding, cutting edge may eventually be the ones who reduce the divorce rate rather than raising the unhappiness index.

So the question is not whether women should lower their expectations. It's whether men will kick it up another notch. To the current generation of wives, here's an update on my friend's advice: Speak up, speak up, your daughters' ''semi-traditional" marriages may depend on it.

One begins to wonder whether Ms. Goodman even bothered to read the study before she opined. Apparently she missed the part about so-called "companionate" marriages not being happy ones: from the woman's perspective, not the man's.

It strikes me that this really shouldn't surprise anyone very much. No one wants to live with a demanding person all the time, male or female. Whether you're in the business world or in a marriage, no one gets very far without learning to compromise and cooperate: how to engineer situations where parties who want different things can both find an acceptable outcome. But hey - what do I know? I'm one of those traditionalist women with low expectations who is ruining life for the hard-edged, steely-eyed women of tomorrow.

Like Nancy Hopkins, the good ship Ellen is steaming full speed ahead, icebergs be damned. Facts? We don't need no stinkin' facts. We're strong, confident, liberated women and we won't take no for an answer.

I love the smell of a Pyhrric victory in the morning.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:26 AM | Comments (21)

March 17, 2006

We Are Shocked

Well imagine that...

Sex and romance may seem inextricably linked, but the human brain clearly distinguishes between the two, according to a new study. The upshot: Love is the more powerful emotion.

Romance seems to steep in parts of the brain that are rich in dopamine, a chemical known to affect emotions. These brain regions are also linked by other studies to the motivation for rewards.

"To our surprise, the activation regions associated with intense romantic love were mostly on the right side of the brain, while the activation regions associated with facial attractiveness were mostly on the left," said Lucy Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The study also revealed that as a romance matures, so does the mind.

"We found several brain areas where the strength of neural activity changed with the length of the romance," Brown said. "Everyone knows that relationships are dynamic over time, but we are beginning to track what happens in the brain as a love relationship matures."

"Romantic love is one of the most powerful of all human experiences," said study member Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. "It is definitely more powerful than the sex drive."

What would we do without scientists? Stay tuned for more groundbreaking news...

If only they could solve the more enduring mysteries of the universe.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:13 AM | Comments (11)

Happy, Happy, Happy

Well I'm certainly glad we settled that...

Overall happiness among U.S. residents has not changed much over the years, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center that finds 34 percent of adults are very happy.

Among 3,014 telephone respondents, half reported being pretty happy, and 15 percent said they are not too happy.

The survey, released this week, points out several disparities based on lifestyle, beliefs and political persuasion:

* Republicans are happier than Democrats.
* People who worship frequently are happier than those who don't.
* The rich are happier than the poor.
* Whites and Hispanics are happier than blacks.
* Married people are happier than the unmarried.
* Dog owners and cat owners rate the same.
* Sunbelt residents are happier than everyone else.

About 45 percent of Republicans said they were very happy, compared with 30 percent of Democrats. Republicans have been happier in surveys going back to 1972, the Pew study notes.

The reason might seem obvious, since "Republicans tend to have more money than Democrats, and—as we've already discovered—people who have more money tend to be happier," the report states.

But even after adjusting for income, poor Republicans are happier than poor Democrats, and rich Republicans are happier than rich Democrats.

A few other interesting finding from the full study. Strangely, 18-29 year-olds were the least likely to be happy, with young men the most dissatisfied of all:

young.gif


The political data was fascinating. Interestingly, the Chinese-toy-loving minions of the richest 1% have been consistently happier since 1972 (regardless of which party was in power). This mysterious finding is no doubt explained by the many-splendored joys of over three decades of marginalizing kittens, the transgendered, and People of Cholor and treating them as Other:

rethugs.gif

Somewhat bizarrely discounting the notion that political beliefs lie along a continuous spectrum with Republicans in general to the right of Democrats, the Pew study heaps scorn on the idea that ideology has anything to do with the happiness gap:

Might ideology be the key? It's true that conservatives, who are more likely to be Republican, are happier than liberals, who are more likely to be Democrats. But even controlling for this ideological factor, a significant partisan gap remains. Conservative Republicans are happier than conservative Democrats, and moderate/liberal Republicans are happier than liberal Democrats.

My thoughts on that here and here:

I think often happiness is more often found in being satisfied with what we have than by the quantity or quality of what we own or the outcomes we experience in life. If we go through life always thinking happiness should come from some external source: that society, or government, or the world "owes" us something better, then nothing we have will ever seem good enough. Someone else will always have a bigger house, a nicer car, a better education, a prettier wife.

But if we don't expect equal outcomes, then we tend to look to ourselves to go out and get what we can in life and be more satisfied with what we do manage to find. We may not be perfectly satisfied with our present state, but we don't necessarily feel some cosmic injustice has occurred: there is no sense of grievance because our next-door neighbor has it better than we do.

At any rate, it's an interesting question.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:58 AM | Comments (5)

March 14, 2006

We've Come A Long Way, Baby...*Not*

The things I do for blogging.

Yesterday I found myself mired in a question of purely scientific interest: one that, quite honestly, had never occurred to me (even once) in all my years on this earth. I would like to think it a sign of my overall mental health that it had not.

Until yesterday.

We were trying to settle on a theme for discussion over at The Cotillion and somehow I can never quite resist trying to crank one up. And in truth, I suppose I have been feeling another rambling post-feminist rant coming on for some time now:

In a world where everywhere you look - magazines, television, movies, billboards, newspapers, even adverts we get in our junk mail, is sex - how on earth could any woman fail to get the message? Women now have money, education, and some measure of power, yet the predominant images of us are not ones that reflect this 'new reality', whatever that may be, but an increasingly retrograde vision of femininity. One that is airbrushed, perfectly made up, surgically-enhanced, scantily-clad, and eternally hovering at an impossibly delectable nineteen years old. One that no woman with a job, a brain, or any adult responsibilities at all can possibly compete with. Not that this stops us from trying. Or from feeling inadequate when we fail.

The question of expectations: the ones imposed on women from without, but more importantly, the ones we choose to chase every day, even now that we finally have a measure of independence and the money and freedom to make our own decisions, is one that continues to haunt me for some reason. I don't have a daughter, but I have a daughter in law and will soon have another, and I raised two sons.

I often wonder what the Feminist revolution was all about? To me, it often seems more (to adopt the pervasive language of Feminism) about acquisitiveness and victimology than female empowerment. As a female in a technical field, I watch women gravitating to degrees in administration, social sciences and the humanities and avoiding math and hard science. There is nothing wrong with these choices, but if you self-select out of certain labor markets, you have no right to complain that your underrepresentation in these fields smacks of discrimination.

I have watched with considerable bemusement as women who decried the objectification of their own gender and the male preoccupation with sex "discover" the joys of copulation (for as they portray it, it seems little more than a physical act). As so it was that, when the time came to consider a fit topic for our first discussion at The Cotillion, I couldn't help but look around at modern culture: our obsession with larger breasts, vaginal rejuvenation, designer labia, hooking up and porn culture, and ask myself where the feminist revolution has taken us? Have we taken one giant step forward or two steps back?

Lakshmi Chaudry has a fascinating article In These Times: (via the eminently-readable Charlotte Allen)

When I grow up, I want to be old. Old as in proudly, imperiously fat like my grandmother, free from the need to do “something” or be “somebody,” and definitively, unmistakably, not sexy.

Why fear aging when the golden years offer a well-earned rest from the struggles of career, marriage, parenting and—most importantly—being a woman? I battled self-loathing in my teens, figured out the orgasm thing in my twenties and spent my thirties mastering intimacy in my marriage. And if I get lucky, the coming year will bring with it the next great challenge of my sexual life: a baby. After decades spent scaling this particular mountain, who can blame me for relishing the prospect of being, finally, over the hill? Time to hang up the heels and bring out the chocolate.

So imagine my horror when I picked up a copy of Gail Sheehy’s new book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life, which seems intent on shaming women like me—or, at least, the kind of woman I hope to be when I am a “golden girl.” Dedicated to promoting the virtue—nay, the absolute necessity—of “post-menopausal sensuality,” Sheehy recasts life after 50 as the Second Adulthood, a new life search for meaning, purpose and, inevitably, sex, because “sex and the passionate life go together.” Forget about giving your creaking bones a break, it’s time to get right back to the grindstone. The task at hand: to reinvent yourself as a “seasoned woman,” who is “assured, alluring, and resourceful” and “committed to living fully and passionately in the second half of her life, despite failures and false starts.” If it sounds like work, well, it is—both the physical and emotional kind.

Sheehy’s ideal woman is a “Passionate,” who is bold, sexy and sexually active. She kicks off “middlesex”—a coy term for sex in your middle age—by getting herself a brand-new lover. Nothing gets those juices flowing like romance, which makes you eat less (“You can lose weight, which is nice”), work out more, buy new clothes and stimulate your brain (“You will probably read more.”). Sixty isn’t the new forty, it’s the new twenty-five.

I had to laugh (well honestly, most things make me laugh. More than one person has accused me of being a profoundly unserious person) because I saw a lot of myself in her essay. Much to my own amusement, in the middle of my own life I've found myself on a journey of sorts. My children are grown, I've made the transition, not always smoothly, from homemaker to career woman, and consequently I've found myself changing in a lot of unsettling ways. The song a friend penned on a wall hanging and sent to me twenty-six years ago has never been more apt:

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

But the lines he left out have always haunted me throughout my marriage:

I've been afraid of changing
Cause I've built my life around you
Time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too.

The thing is though, I've never thought of changing myself (either my outward appearance or my personality) to keep someone else in my life, and though I've sometimes feared that changes in myself would cause trouble in my personal relationships, I've never seriously considered being anything other than who and what I am. Perhaps that's why I find this sort of thing so profoundly troubling: (warning: you may find this offensive)

...the bulk of the women getting this surgery are ultimately being pressured by men who want them to conform to a idea of beauty most often seen in the porn industry. Doctors say these women request the procedure because they are afraid of having "old looking" vaginas. Doctors Loftus and Young say feedback from male partners is the number one reason women request the surgery.

"The most common reason we hear is that they have had a negative comment made by a male sexual partner. Women are made to feel that they are not perfect the way they are and often it's the partner that sets this off," Loftus said.

"My feeling is that women who aren't sex workers are getting this kind of thing because there's pressure from someone who's telling them they're not perfect," Young said. 'There's often pressure from a man who tells them they need it," adding "I assume that their standards for labial beauty were set by a combination of the porn industry, sex-oriented magazines and the Internet."

Frankness time here: this makes my blood boil. I realize the subject is distasteful, but I think there is a larger question here, and it is simply this, "Why, after all this time, do women not feel comfortable standing up and saying, 'Enough'?" I read article after article and the same comment came through. "I thought I was normal until I watched the porn channel".

Honey, you are normal. There is nothing wrong with you. It breaks my heart that women have reduced themselves to nothing more than sexual appliances. And I wonder how much honesty is going into these decisions?

Some doctors dispute whether constructing a tighter vagina increases a woman's sexual pleasure. "Yes you can do the rejuvenation to have a tighter vagina," said Young. "But anytime you make an incision you cut nerves, induce scarring and there is a downside risk, including pain."

"Plastic surgery is being way over used in many different ways" said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "There's something off about what's going on in our culture that makes women feel they need to live up to some ideal."

Ileana Vasquez is a 29 year-old Southern California housewife with four children. She read about vaginal rejuvenation after she saw an ad in a magazine. Her marriage was in trouble and she noted that her husband wasn't happy with her sexually.

"One time he had a few beers and told me that because I had all our kids and was looser now he didn't want me as a woman anymore," Vasquez said. "He did say he was sorry later on but I knew he was telling the truth."

Vasquez had the surgery and she noted her marriage is back on track and her sex life is good again. "He's become my sweetheart again," she said. "He bought me a house and he wants me all the time."

Then she paused. "But there are times I still can't forgive him for how he made me feel," she said. "Sometimes I get so mad, so hurt. I mean I had the kids, he should have understood."

A relationship is, or should be, about more than sex and the women's movement would seem to have been a pyhrric victory if the end result of our 'liberation' is that women are afraid to stand up for themselves and admit that though sex is important, they have other qualities to contribute to a relationship as well. There are many ways to make a man happy in the bedroom and as many surgeons have noted, exercises can be just as effective as many surgeries.

By trying to compete with other females on male terms, women not only condemn themselves to a losing battle with aging and the male biological predisposition for promiscuity over monogamy but surrender their greatest strength: the ability to exercise a bit of moral suasion. This is a stance that favors neither the long-term interests of women nor those of society in general.

And so I come back to the age-old question: when, oh when will women be viewed as more than a collection of body parts? And the answer comes back to me:

Perhaps when we start viewing ourselves that way. And not one damned minute before. Yes, we would all like to be beautiful. I would. It's an easy path to power.

But we have so much more to offer the world. If we can't see that, how on earth do we expect anyone else to?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:44 AM | Comments (40)

March 07, 2006

The Elusive Bluebird Of Happiness

Not long ago, I mused about how our expectations about life play into our general sense of satisfaction and why, since conservatives generally don't expect things to be fair, they often end up happier. Now a new study indicates that the same principle operates against women who passionately desire equality with men:

In The Feminine Mystique, the late Betty Friedan attributed the malaise of married women largely to traditionalist marriages in which wives ran the home and men did the bread-winning. Her book helped spark the sexual revolution of the 1970s and fueled the notion that egalitarian partnerships—where both partners have domestic responsibilities and pursue jobs—would make wives happier. Last week, two sociologists at the University of Virginia published an exhaustive study of marital happiness among women that challenges this assumption. Stay-at-home wives, according to the authors, are more content than their working counterparts. And happiness, they found, has less to do with division of labor than with the level of commitment and "emotional work" men contribute (or are perceived to contribute). But the most interesting data may be that the women who strongly identify as progressive—the 15 percent who agree most with feminist ideals—have a harder time being happy than their peers, according to evidence that has been provided exclusively to Slate. Feminist ideals, not domestic duties, seem to be what make wives morose. Progressive married women—who should be enjoying some or all of the fruits that Freidan lobbied for—are less happy, it would appear, than women who live as if Friedan never existed.

As I enter the second half of my life, more and more I find myself traveling back in time. Despite the incontrovertible evidence of my bathroom mirror I don't feel much different than that girl of sixteen. In many ways my life is starting to parallel those earlier days.

Freed of childraising duties, my weekdays and weekends are my own. I have both money and freedom - I can take off and have a beer at a downtown watering hole or listen to a local band whenever I want to. I can afford to buy those to-die-for clothes I passed up for years while I was raising kids, and if I'm not always aware of the latest and greatest trend, my son will force me to shamefacedly shed my filthy lucre in some overpriced Georgetown establishment. I navigate through my present with a strange sense of blissful unreality.

While sitting in a little hole in the wall on Sunday allowing the subtlely snarky waiter to pad my bar tab with a plentiful supply of double Kahluas on the rocks, I gazed out the window onto the busy street. We'd been talking about buying a car. Across the way, a couple came out of one of the tony boutiques that line the street and got into his silver Mercedes coupe. They were about ten years older but still in great shape. Clad in jeans and leather jackets, they looked like they had it all: plenty of money, looks, leisure, that big enchilada we call 'the good life'. I continued to watch them, one eyebrow slightly raised. The spousal unit, eyeing them speculatively, emitted an amused chuckle and said, "Hey... that could be us."

"Yeah, babe", I replied. "Everything but the car."

This is what I longed for, all those years when I was chasing rugrats. So, am I happy? That is a question I often ask myself. And I am often confronted with the disturbing answer: yes, and no. In some ways I am far more fulfilled than I was fifteen years ago. But I am definitely less content, and therein lies an interesting tale.

Back to the study for a moment:

...the data are nonetheless worth pausing over, especially if, like me, you've long subscribed to the view that so-called companionate couples have the best chance at sustaining a happy partnership. Among all the married women surveyed, 52 percent of homemakers considered themselves very happy. Yet only 45 percent of the most progressive-minded homemakers considered themselves happy. This might not seem surprising—presumably, many progressive women prefer to work than stay at home. But the difference in happiness persists even among working wives. Forty-one percent of all the working wives surveyed said they were happy, compared with 38 percent of the progressive working wives. The same was the case when it came to earnings. Forty-two percent of wives who earned one-third or more of the couple's income reported being happy, compared with 34 percent of progressive women in the same position. Perhaps the progressive women had hoped to earn more. But they were less happy than their peers about being a primary breadwinner—though you might expect the opposite. Across the board, progressive women are less likely to feel content, whether they are working or at home, and no matter how much they are making.

Interesting, no? But wait: there's more. You might think, because it's logical, that some of this unhappiness might have something to do with the housework gap (after all, even in two-career households, women still do about 70% of the housework on average). I know I do, even though both my husband and I work long hours. I just don't get my pantyhose all in a knot over it. But this turns out not to be the explanation either, or at least not all of it:

The authors found that equal division of labor seems not to correlate strongly with happiness, either.) What is left out of both lines of argument are the strange ways that rising expectations play into happiness. The sexual revolution tried to free women and men from set-in-stone roles. But the irony turns out to be that having a degree of certainty about what you want (and being in a peer group that feels the same way) is helpful in making people happy. Having more choices about what you want makes you less likely to be happy with whatever choice you end up settling on. Choosing among six brands of jam is easy. But consumers presented with 24 types often leave the supermarket without making a purchase. In much the same way, the more you scrutinize a relationship, the more likely you are to find fault with it. The study's authors, W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock, speculate that fault-finding on the part of wives makes it hard for men to do the emotional work that stabilizes marriages. Meanwhile, traditionalist women—a significant portion of whom are Christian—expect less emotional work from their husbands, Wilcox and Nock speculate, which makes it easier for them to shake off frustrations, and less likely to nag.

Now there are a couple of home truths that I think women don't really want to face. When we're not happy, whose fault is it, really? I get aggravated with the feminist retort to practical observations that many of their prescriptions for Gender Paradise are missing the mark. Invariably when social scientists or conservatives point out that feminism has made many women demonstrably unhappy, they accuse their critics of 'blaming the victim'. The apt reponse to this, unfortunately, is to be found in a book I read almost thirty years ago but have never forgotten, about the life of Aspasia of Miletus. Aspasia is one of two women (Elizabeth I of England is the other) who fascinated me when I was a girl. I could not get enough of reading about either of them.

What riveted me in the lives of both Aspasia and Elizabeth was that they were both women of exceptional scope trying to forge a path for themselves in a world they did not create; one which would never afford them equal status regardless of their merits. I sought in their lives a way to be happy in my own.

They took two very different paths. Elizabeth, though she made ruthless use of her feminity as it suited her purpose, ruthlessly closed off for herself all possibility of living life as a woman. There is a universe of pain in that choice: one that betokens either a truly formidable strength of will or a vulnerability that has moved me to tears on more than one occasion. I have always been haunted by her words on the sailing of the Spanish Armada:

"I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too".

One cannot look at Elizabeth's life without amazement. She lived, and dared, greatly. And yet she gave up much that she greatly desired. Was her life more full, wielding absolute power in her own right as she did, than Aspasia's (who, if the accounts are to be believed, was a tremendous balancer: exercising enormous influence over not just Pericles but contemporary philosophers like Socrates and Xenophon in addition to founding a school for girls and giving birth to a son). She refused to give up her womanhood, but the price was that she only tasted power at second-hand. Life is, as I am always observing, full of tradeoffs. I am likewise haunted by a fictional quote from the novel about Aspasia's life.

In it, Pericles, the first citizen of Athens and her lover, somewhat bemusedly calls Aspasia a contentious woman and wishes out loud for a little peace in his golden years. Her gentle but nonetheless tart riposte follows him out of the room:

"Peace is for the graveyard, my love."

This line has often popped into my mind when the spousal unit and I are having one of our epic 'discussions', or when the winds of discontent blow once again through my life like a spring storm, washing away all the carefully-planned expectation management rationales I habitually construct to keep my wayward thoughts in line with reality.

Life is not always what we wish it would be, but if we are not satisfied, who is to blame? Is perfect content a means, or an end in itself? Do we really want to spend all our days chasing that elusive bluebird of happiness? Or will we end up, as the country song says, chasing it right up our own noses?

Sometimes I think it's more a question of finding the right balance: of deciding how much unhappiness we can tolerate in order to gain a measure of freedom. I'm not sure perfect freedom and perfect contentment are entirely compatible concepts. The one thing I do know is that if we make having it all the measure of happiness, we will never get catch that annoying little bird.

Sometimes being moderately happy with the bird in our hand is worth that entire flock we see perched in the silver Mercedes across the street. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:17 AM | Comments (16)

February 24, 2006

Peace Is A Fragile Commodity

And it takes so little to reopen the Cycle of Violence.

A trifle, really...

Actually, I thought I was remarkably restrained. I could have titled this post Men are simpleminded creatures.

But that would have been just rude.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:42 PM | Comments (15)

February 09, 2006

We've Come A Long Way

Something for our daughters to think about:

We need more wrinkled, jowly, white-haired women in power.

We lost one of the very few last week when Sandra Day O'Connor quietly made her resignation official, ceding her U.S. Supreme Court seat to Sam Alito, a guy destined eventually to join the big, old club of wrinkled, jowly, white-haired power-toting men.

Don't read wrinkled, jowly and white-haired as insults. They're not, certainly not as applied to O'Connor, who remains plenty handsome.

But she's a woman who looks her age, who looks, as the saying goes, "good for her age," but that's a fully seasoned 75.

In the photo, her wayward hair lapped over the rim of her black judge's robe. Her chin did what most chins do with time. If she wore makeup, it didn't conceal the fact that her skin had seen its share of sun and years.

She looked like she'd been so busy working she hadn't made it to the salon in weeks. She looked--dare I say it?--like Ted Kennedy.

And that was beautiful.

It was beautiful because it was so shockingly rare. How often do you see a publicly powerful woman past 70? Past 60? A woman whose very age invests her with authority even as it pads her midline, an older woman who's the equivalent of the power male found in Shakespeare plays, corporate boardrooms and the newspaper front page?

Pop culture's idea of a powerful older woman is Madonna. Or Oprah, who looks younger with every monthly magazine cover.

And if the majority of Americans have come around to believing a woman could be president, it still happens only on TV. Even there it happens only if she looks like Geena Davis who, let's face it, needs a firmer chin line than Martin Sheen to survive in prime time.

Looking at that recent photo of O'Connor unaided by stylists or lighting specialists, I saw something I hadn't seen until then: She not only served the cause of women by becoming a justice, she served it by aging realistically in the job.

Women have come a long way. I think we have a long way still to go.


Posted by Cassandra at 07:39 AM | Comments (7)

January 30, 2006

Let The Snark Begin...

Lord help me... I tried my best. I really did. And owing to the best of intentions, I managed to high-mindedly abjure all mention of this little story all last week:

A study by an Italian sexologist has found that couples who have a TV set in their bedroom have sex half as often as those who don't.

"If there's no television in the bedroom, the frequency (of sexual intercourse) doubles," said Serenella Salomoni whose team of psychologists questioned 523 Italian couples to see what effect television had on their sex lives.

On average, Italians who live without TV in the bedroom have sex twice a week, or eight times a month. This drops to an average of four times a month for those with a TV, the study found.

For the over-50s the effect is even more marked, with the average of seven couplings a month falling to just 1.5 times.

Sadly, a certain Colorado Cat who shall remain nameless started lobbing snark via email and the temptation finally proved to be too much for me to resist:

Newsmax just came out with the same story. Here's a little typo in it that I found amusing. (So sex before making a speech [is relaxing], but evidently writing about it must leave one flustered to the point of mistakes! ha!)

"Brody found that the volunteers who had sexual intercourse were the least stressed and had blood pressure levels that returned to normal most quickly. People who engaged in other types of sex tended to experience a bit more sex.

".....oh Really???....... ........ (Isn't that suppose to be "stress"?)

All of this got my wayward mind travelling down the primrose path of snarkasm and advice on how to get shagged - most of which is irredeemibly bad, like this gem; somewhat misleading titled The Truth About Foreplay:

If a woman tells you she needs a lot of foreplay, she's really telling you she's not hot for you. She should be excited just from talking to you. She should be ripping off YOUR clothes. Trust me, it's true. If this is not happening, you don't excite her very much. Maybe your money excites her, but you don't.

Ummmm.... no. Here is a man who has never asked himself why animals play at all, or more importantly, why smarter animals play more than less intelligent ones:

Research shows that smarter animals spend more time playing. Elephants play more than horses. Chimps play more than macaques. Wolves play more than rabbits. And parrots play more than either ducks or sparrows. Smarter animals also play in more creative and complex ways. Not surprisingly, humans and chimpanzees are among the most playful species.

Besides preparing for their specific adult roles, animals at play may be "training for the unexpected," as Marc Bekoff puts it. In play, animals learn about the world around them and their own physical limits. The need to test those limits, and experience unpredictable situations, could explain why animals sometimes seem to enjoy play that is somewhat dangerous.

...All play is based on trust and requires cooperation. Marc Bekoff says, "Cheaters are not tolerated in play. If an animal cheats a lot, he'll have trouble getting other animals to play with him." Animal play has rules. When one animal invites another to play-and the other agrees-they're making a pact that says: "If you'll play with me, I'll play with you. I won't hurt you. I won't bite you around your eyes. I won't body-slam you too hard. I won't try to dominate you." Play signals are clear. If an animal breaks that pact, he'll have trouble finding playmates. Because play is so important, an animal that doesn't get to play may not survive.

Play is what raises sex out of the realm of the repetitive and mundane and into the sublime, and a man who's unwilling to put the time in to become good at it isn't sending forth very good signals about what he's willing to contribute to a relationship.

Interestingly enough, though European men considered looks the most important attribute in a mate, American men and women both rated a sense of humor as the quality they most desired. If violence (especially TV violence) is inimical to the sex drive, humor and a sense of play, I think, are essential elements to a healthy love life. Americans, I think, understand this.

But then so do our cousins across the pond. I found this mildly profane advice column rather amusing (you've been warned). It is entitled The Lost Art of Seduction, and begins:

ANYONE who knows me would tell you I am something of a ladies man. I have made love to hundreds of beautiful and often famous women. The fact that none of them knows about it, or were physically present at the time, is neither here nor there....

FOREPLAY

I am no expert at foreplay. I am, however, a master at stroking cats into a state of ecstasy, and a woman shouldn't be too different. If your bird is anything like my cat, the following manouevres are guaranteed to get her really frothed up:

Run your hand along her spine
Scratch her ears
Tickle her under her chin
Push her on her back, take hold of her feet and move her legs up and down like levers
Poke her repeatedly in the belly with one finger while going, "You love it, don't you, you big fat furry f**ker," (or some more appropriate endearment)

....and my all-time favorite, which pretty much destroyed me:

C****LINGUS
I have been unable to find out anything about this. I was game, but the cat took off in a hurry.

Is there anything sexier than a shared sense of fun? Your thoughts?

Posted by Cassandra at 12:16 PM | Comments (19)

September 21, 2005

Feminism: Some Odd Choices

Strange: I remember when feminism was first explained to me in my Women's Studies class. It was supposed to be all about liberating me from the rigid, overly structured culture of the dominant patriarchy. Freeing me to make my own choices. I glanced nervously down the front of my blouse at my rapidly-aging but still defiantly perky Twins - confirming that they hadn't yet grabbed the nearest incendiary device and burned that obscenely expensive lace Demibra I'd just bought, in some fit of post-feminist rage.

Whew! I'd just finished treating myself to all that lingerie with some of my bonus money! I would not have been amused.

I admit to being bewildered by some of the "choices" on offer for today's liberated women. At times I'm not all that sure we're getting such a good deal. In the career world, we're definitely better off - no question about it. There would have been no question of my working in my current field, at my current salary, thirty years ago. But in other areas the feminist movement sometimes seems to be pushing women to adopt the very same aspects of male chauvinism it once derided, and this is not a good deal for the fair sex. Despite the claims of academicians like Nancy Hopkins, there are differences between men and women - crucial differences that we women ignore to our own peril:

Ariel Levy attended Wesleyan University in the 1990s, and she doesn't feel the better for it. It was a place where "group sex, to say nothing of casual sex, was de rigueur." It was a place where they had "coed showers, on principle." When Ms. Levy suggested to a department head that it would be nice to have at least one course in the traditional literary canon, she was dismissed with icy contempt. Yet elsewhere on campus a professor of the humanities taught a course on pornography featuring, um, detailed textual analysis.

It was all supposed to be so liberating. But it wasn't, as Ms. Levy argues forcefully in "Female Chauvinist Pigs." It was merely the academic groundwork for what she calls "raunch culture," now so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. Young women wear shirts emblazoned with "Porn Star" across the chest. Teen stores sell "Cat in the Hat" thong underwear. Parents treat their daughters' friends to "cardio striptease" classes for birthday parties. This is liberation?

Ms. Levy is baffled. "Why," she wondered, "is laboring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering?" Why did female Olympic athletes pose for Playboy before the summer 2004 Games? Why did Katie Couric feel the need to point to her cleavage and gush "these are actually real!" when she guest-hosted "The Tonight Show" a couple of years ago?

The question feminists never seem to ask is, why do supposedly liberated women say "I can act just like men!" instead of saying, "I can do as I wish." Isn't the true definition of liberation the freedom to be who you really are? Instead, today's young women seem compelled to meet a standard that demeans and shames them: one so hurtful they have to harden themselves to the pain it causes.

Some sort of pervasive pressure, apparently, requires "everyone who is sexually liberated . . . to be imitating strippers and porn stars." Ms. Levy describes the perfect distillation of this impulse--a social group called CAKE that hosts steamy, hooking-up parties in New York and London. CAKE makes big bucks advertising "feminism in action"--it claims to be the place where "sexual equality and feminism finally meet"--but its events are indistinguishable from those held at the Playboy Mansion.

The surface logic of such conduct is fairly simple, notes Ms. Levy. "Women had come so far," or so the thinking went, that "we no longer needed to worry about objectification or misogyny." If male chauvinist pigs "regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves."

Well, Ms. Levy is having none of it, and she is not the only one. Even Erica Jong seems to feel that something has gone wrong. Known for popularizing the idea that a woman may want consequence-free sex, Ms. Jong today declares: "Being able to have an orgasm with a man you don't love . . . that is not liberation." It isn't? Someone should tell this to Annie, a blue-eyed 29-year-old who admits to Ms. Levy that she "used to get so hurt" after a night of sex that didn't yield an emotional bond. Now she has gotten over it, or tried to: "I'm like a guy," she brags.

You've come a long way, baby.

Perhaps too far. Is there such a thing as being too sophisticated? I am reminded of the tragic (to me at least) story of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Theirs was a twisted relationship - he slept with anything on two legs, she had affairs with other women but mainly, I think, out of desperation. Hers was arguably the greater talent. She was a handsome woman; he was not a physically prepossessing man, yet she seemed to be in thrall to him for no discernable reason. Feminists sigh over their 'liberated' relationship, but her writing gives a glimpse into what looks to me like a private hell.

In the New Yorker, Louis Menand writes of the last chapter of her greatest book, which became a treatise for the women's movement:

But you can no longer read it without thinking of Olga and Wanda, Arlette and Michelle—the women Sartre supported, who never had independent careers, and who knew that they were allowed access to Sartre only as long as they were “pretty” and never bored him by talking “in the realm of ideas.” A little intellectual pretension, the flattering kind shown by a young admirer, was titillating, of course. It was necessary to get the attention of the great man, who was not disappointed, because he was not surprised, by its limitations. “If a woman has false ideas,” Beauvoir writes in “The Second Sex,”
if she is not very intelligent, clear-sighted, or courageous, a man does not hold her responsible: she is the victim, he thinks—and often with reason—of her situation. He dreams of what she might have been, of what she perhaps will be: she can be credited with any possibilities, because she is nothing in particular. This vacancy is what makes the lover weary of her quickly; but it is the source of the mystery, the charm, that seduces him and makes him inclined to feel an easy affection in the first place.

There is no more remorseless dissection of the situation of the successful man’s mistress than “The Independent Woman,” and, since Beauvoir always wrote out of her own experience, it is possible to imagine that chapter as a coded letter to Sartre, the evisceration that she could never deliver to his face.

How strange that a life full of "choices" should bring such unhappiness! Yet it is the lack of just such choices that we are told is our main downfall as women. And it is by no means logical that we should be denied the opportunity to make certain choices. But options alone do not bring happiness. Nor, having options, should one be made to feel somehow retrograde for choosing not to take advantage of them.

Oddly enough, while being told that "the right to choose" is absolutely sacred in some areas of their lives by the feminist movement, women in Canada are seeing that right limited by their own gender feminists:

On Sept. 11, Dalton McGuinty -- the Premier of Ontario -- announced that his province would not become the first Western jurisdiction to allow Islamic law to settle family disputes such as divorce, child custody and property settlements.

The announcement raises a question: When is it proper for the government to dictate the rules by which adults of sound mind agree to resolve family disputes?

Now the important thing to remember here is that arbitration is a voluntary agreement to allow a third party to negotiate a binding settlement between two or more parties who are engaged in a dispute. So the question arises: do you have a right to make a stupid decision? Apparently the gender feminists think the answer to that question is no - the government must protect you from your own stupidity:

The Ontario Arbitration Act (1991) allows family disputes on civil matters from divorce to inheritance to be resolved through an arbitrator rather than a court, as long as both parties agree. The arbitrated resolutions have the same legal force as court decisions. But the court retains power to reject a resolution that is "invalid" or embodies "unequal or unfair treatment of parties."

Catholics, Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Mennonites, and Jehovah's Witnesses are among the religious groups that have established faith-based arbitration as an active alternative to expensive court proceedings.

So far, so good. But wait: what happens when Sharia law is involved?

Faith-based arbitration proceeded quietly until Muslims asked to include Shariah law -- customs and rules based on Islamic teachings. Gender feminist groups immediately protested.

In response, former Ontario Attorney General and Women's Issues Minister Marion Boyd conducted a review of arbitration with a focus on Shariah law to determine its impact "on vulnerable people, including women." (As a member of the New Democratic Party, which leans far to the left, Boyd would be expected to show special sensitivity to the oppression of women.)

Issued in December 2004, the review concluded that Shariah arbitration should be accepted on the condition that various safeguards be imposed. For example, all agreements must be "in writing, signed by the parties and witnessed"; the "best interest of a child" could not be ignored.

Section 5 of Boyd's review, "Constitutional Considerations," addressed the argument that Shariah arbitration should be rejected because Islamic law violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality between the sexes.

Boyd countered that arbitration was a private act -- as opposed to one in the governmental or public sphere -- and, so, it was not subject to Charter scrutiny. Arbitration was private because "there is no state compulsion to arbitrate." Moreover, "it is a reflection of the parties' relationship…because the authority of the arbitrator flows directly from the parties agreement to be bound."

If a Shariah judgment violated Canadian law -- for example, by imposing the death penalty for adultery -- then, like any other illegal contract, it be unenforceable. But in areas where discretion exists -- for example, whether a father is awarded child custody -- arbitration decisions might differ from those of provincial courts.

The public versus private nature of family 'contracts' and their resolution is key to understanding the protest that ensued.

Gender feminist groups rushed to answer the question "when is it proper for the government to dictate the rules of family disputes?" Their answer seemed to be "whenever a woman is involved."

Their reasoning: Since it is possible for women to be brainwashed or pressured into private negotiations, all negotiations must be conducted according to identical governmental procedure and law. It doesn't matter that faith-based arbitration has functioned for 15 years with no complaint of widespread abuse. Because abuse is possible, it must be prevented by eliminating the private realm in which it could occur.

The feminist movement, like the ACLU, seems strangely selective in its championship of choice, favoring sexual promiscuity and liberal abortion over the more responsible (and to most women more natural) choices of commitment and childrearing; promoting the former and often denigrating the latter though they, too are valid and rewarding "choices" for women. Religious faith, like marriage and even (dare I say it?) the spiritual belief in submission to one's husband as the head of household are not necessarily evidence of "brainwashing" as the women's movement so often would have it; but choices intelligent and informed women can freely and gladly make.

It is conceivable that there is a world out there which encompasses something larger than one's own narrow little corner of the universe. In which those with other religious and cultural beliefs are not treated as mentally ill, marginalized, or, to borrow a favorite catch-phrase of the Left, treated as Other. One wonders if the women's movement will ever be able to free itself from the straitjacket of its own prejudices? Perhaps then it will truly be able to offer women true "choices".

Wouldn't that be a liberating experience?

Posted by Cassandra at 05:29 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

September 17, 2005

Time For An Assumption Check?

Every now and then an issue (or a person) comes along and makes you rethink your naive and comfortable little assumptions about life.

I've had entirely too much of that this week anyway. It's damned unsettling even when you see it coming, so I really wasn't looking for more of the same. So you can imagine my reaction (well, maybe not) when I saw Ilyka's post:

This was really just a long preamble to saying that I'm quitting this blog.

I'm getting a sex change.

Not in real life, but in internet life. I intend to come back as a man.

Holy Hell. You all know I'm not good about reading other blogs regularly. And I'm really not good about reading other women. It's not as though I'm going to go out of my way to read someone just because she has the same plumbing I do. But Ilyka happens to be a woman I do read. Not because she's a woman. But because when she's good, she's good.

And because, though I don't always agree with her, she makes me think. She can say something I totally disagree with and it makes me question my assumptions instead of making me roll my eyes and think "Christ...this is your mind on non-sequiturs". Sadie said it best:

Unfortunately, if Ilyka really does pull down the curtains and turn into a virtual male blogger, this mess won't be inconsequential. She's the rare blogger that has influenced readers who hold views other than her own, which approaches the indispensible category, I do believe.

But Ilyka wasn't done yet:

It will be nice to have a some time, however much time that works out being, to see what it's like to just not deal with the bullshit. To see what it's like when the worst you're ever called is a "fucking idiot" instead of a "fat disgruntled chick" or a "self-loathing skank." To see what it's like when someone says "great post" instead of "can I be your stalker?" To see what it's like when someone visits to see what you wrote, not to see whether you've put up a picture on the "About" page yet.

It will be so nice to just not deal with the laugh-out-loud hilarity of bimbo jokes. As a man, I'll be able to ignore all that. Even if I don't ignore all that, my objections will be far more likely to be met with "I disagree, but I respect your opinion" than "I can pretty much guarantee these ladies / girls / women / wymyn / people don’t want to goad me into a debate on feminism and identity politics."

No more bullshit. No more crying and complaining from women who whip out that word with a quickness at each other, but then can't figure out why suddenly some guy's treating them like a 10-cent whore.

"All . . . all I did was p-p-post a p-p-picture! Why's everyone leering? Why won't they read what I wrote? Oh, this never happens to Instapundit! Oh, why? Why is that jerk so . . . so hateful?"

Because he watched you, dumbass. YOU. He watched that pronoun beginning with "y," ending in "u," and containing one "o" in the middle. He watched you do it, so he figured he could.

"She won't mind. She's no . . . feminist."

You all have fun not being feminists. I'm off to get me a virtual dick.

I intend to swing that fucker like you wouldn't believe.

Ouch. After Hurricane Ilyka passes through I'm sort of stunned. Deep inside, my sardonic half is laughing hysterically at the parting mental image. As usual, I wish I'd written those final three sentences - I wish I had the guts to write something like that. But that's not me, is it? I'm always so reasonable.

Sentiments like that don't really fit into my well-ordered little universe. Oh, I think them - all the time. I just don't say them out loud. They'd shock the children.

I think this was when I started to get angry. Or more accurately, I got mad for just a second, like when you pour too much lighter fluid on the grill and toss a match on top and it goes up: floom! in a glorious, towering burst of flame and just as suddenly, dies. And then I felt a more familiar emotion: sorrow.

I don't allow myself to feel anger often. It's so un-Southern. Not really genteel. I think the thing that frightens me so often is that when I do get angry, it takes control and I can't let go of it. So The Machine kicks in. Analyze it dispassionately: pros and cons. Apply reason. Discount emotion. Be fair. And then I saw this, and the Machine got turned off again:

Personally, I don't think angry, feminist diatribes coming from "Lance Uppercut" are going to draw any more eyeballs than angry, feminist diatribes coming from Ilyka Damen, but ya know -- whatever floats her boat.

To be fair to Ilyka, her main complaint seems to be that some men in the blogosphere say sexist things or don't take her as seriously because she's a woman -- well, at least, I think that's it. I didn't really pay that much attention because it was, ya know, chick stuff...kidding, I'm kidding ;D

Now to be entirely fair to John, anyone who knows him knows he goes out of his way to both promote and link to female bloggers. Not, I think, out of a sense of gender guilt but because I think he genuinely enjoys women. And I pointed that out during the ensuing discussion amongst the Cotillion. However, after giving this a fair amount of thought I have to conclude that John is all wet on this one. First of all, he observes:

What I think some people lose sight of is the way traffic flows in the blogosphere. There are only a handful of big blogs out there and most of them focus on pumping out content, not linking other blogs.

I couldn't disagree more. Look at the top blogs: who comes to mind? Instapundit? How much "content" does he "pump out"? Almost all he does is link to other blogs.

Michelle Malkin has a syndicated column and she writes quite a bit there. But her blog? Compare the ratio of original writing to links to other blogs to a site like, well... mine.

Let's keep going. John Donovan. Heavy, generous linker but also writes. Also happens to be one of the few male bloggers I know who is an equal-opportunity linker. Captain's Quarters: lots of original writing, not many links. Atypical. Hugh Hewitt: lots. of. links. Mudville Gazette: again, heavy linker though he also is an excellent original writer AND links to women. LGF: I'm not seeing essays. Links, not heavy content.

That's what blogging is - it's really quite atypical for a blogger to "churn out original content". They link. They excerpt. If anything, add a bit of drive-by commentary. That's what bloggers do. I'm weird in that I don't, much.

It's one reason I don't complain much about the fact that I go mostly unnoticed by the heavy-hitters of the blogosphere. My stuff is too long, too detailed, too boring, and I don't have a big name like Mark Steyn or David Brooks so they're not going to bother to wade through the BS if they ever do bother to stop by.

That's why I think John's off-base with his arguments, first that Michelle Malkin's success, though I'm not taking anything away from her, is in any way typical or disproves the sexism meme (she had name recognition going in) and second that somehow linking "doesn't matter" to bloggers. It does, to most. It matters like hell. It is, in fact, the whole reason most bloggers are here.

Ilyka provokes strong reactions in people. But I wonder how surprised the right-wing men of the blogosphere would have been, had they sat in on the conversation at the Cotillion the other night? Yes, there were a few who disagreed with Ilyka, but there were an awful lot more who didn't. And exchanging emails with her over the past few days, talking with other women (rather a new experience for me), reading posts like this one from Beth, and this interesting Defense of Feminism, from a Dude from Hubris, who already has a quarter of the Cotillion ready to have his babies (all right, that was oinkish of me), I found myself for some reason thinking of statistics. Type I and Type II error. And it occurred to me that it's just as much a knee-jerk reaction to brand complaints of legitimately rude/obnoxious sexist behavior (without taking a position on Jeff's comment) as FemiNazism as it is to overreact the other way and try and turn every tiny blonde joke into a "hostile work environment" for women.

Both are opposite ends of the same extremist point of view: one sees EVERYTHING as sexism and the other thinks that NOTHING is ever sexism.

Neither is, strictly speaking, correct. I think Beth said it best:

Sexism exists. Anyone who says otherwise is living in a dream world.

This has nothing to do with right or left.

There is a certain sexism towards men, too.

The disease of the Left is to think that only females suffer from sexism, and of the Right to think that only males suffer from it.

But Ilyka had it about right: it's wrong, no matter where it comes from, and though I'm not going to come out in favor of heavy-handed government legislation to right all possible wrongs, that certainly doesn't mean we need to succumb so far to political correctness that we can't call someone on it when they're behaving boorishly, unfairly, or hypocritically just because it makes for unpleasant hearing or challenges our comfortable little world view.

Not all problems have solutions. But maybe, just maybe, those of us on the Right could do a little less blaming of the messenger when we don't like the message.

Just a thought.

Previous rantings on sexism in the blogosphere

Posted by Cassandra at 02:55 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

August 31, 2005

Evolutionary Psychology Offers Clues To Mating Behavior

Interesting article from LA Times confirms that men and women are more alike than we thought, but our biology continues to drive us to behave slightly differently. A few of the more interesting findings:

Although men consistently prefer looks over all other factors when choosing a partner, women will also go for the good-looking guy...if it's just an quick fling. But when it comes to choosing a mate, both sexes start to take other factors into account:

For one-night stands and affair partners, both women and men sought physical attractiveness above all else.

For long-term mates, the expected sex differences emerged: Men kept preferring attractiveness, and women opted for social status, as well as warmth and trustworthiness. But after their minimum requirements for these necessities were met, both sexes chose well-rounded partners over those with the very best looks or the highest status.

Men don't really like smart, successful women...for mates:

It is also true, Li said, that very smart and successful women will have a harder time finding partners. "It seems that men want somebody intelligent enough so that they can recognize the man's brilliance," he said, "but not necessarily enough to challenge them — or so smart that they find someone else more interesting."

Another recent study, by Stephanie L. Brown of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and Brian P. Lewis of Syracuse University in New York, suggested that men prefer long-term relationships with subordinates rather than co-workers or supervisors. By contrast, women showed no significant preference for socially dominant men.

The reason for this result, Lewis hypothesized, is that men think they would "have more control over the behavior" of female subordinates, including being able to ensure female monogamy, and thus the paternity of any children. "Female infidelity is a severe reproductive threat to males only when investment is high," as it is in long-term relationships, the authors write.

While women can be snobby about a man's financial status:

John Marshall Townsend, professor of anthropology at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, says that women's status requirements often complicate their search for a mate. Townsend showed a group of female medical students, law students and professionals pictures of men dressed in different ways — wearing, for instance, a fast-food uniform or a designer suit and Rolex watch. He also gave participants descriptions of each man's social status.

The results were decisive. "Here's Mr. Hottie, but if he's in the wrong costume, and given the wrong status description, then she won't go out with him, much less go to bed with him or marry him," said Townsend. "You could put Cary Grant in a Burger King outfit, and he looks dorky."

If women do occasionally date "down" in terms of social status, Townsend said, "that would be out of desperation."

By contrast, he says, men are likely to date any physically attractive woman. When it comes to marriage, "guys are not completely insensitive to social class," but, he said, they're "not looking for socioeconomic gain."

Whether or not you buy off on these observations, they do rather make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. If you're going to have a one-night stand, maximizing on attractiveness, at least in theory, would ensure a healthy partner with prime physical qualifications to be passed on to offspring, while for a female, choosing a man who is responsible, warm and caring gets her a father who will care for her and their children.

For the man, not picking a woman who will cheat on him makes sure the children he is out clubbing saber-toothed tigers for are, at least, his own and hopefully the little woman will be properly appreciative when he drags that Mastodon steak home at the end of the day.

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:00 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

Well Isn't This Just Like A Man...

I just knew this was going to happen. The vile wretches!

The moment I saw it, I felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow. I just couldn't breathe! Because this kind of bias just makes me physically ill. I had to leave the room immediately, or I would've either blacked out or thrown up.

That the patriarchy has to stoop to this level to beat us into submission is just pathetic. After all, it’s a proven scientific fact. There are absolutely no differences between men and women. None. And yet - with all our superior management and interpersonal skills, men have dominated and oppressed women in the workplace for centuries! It’s obvious - the deck is stacked against us!

Look at the evidence! Women outperform and outnumber men in college and grad school. We are clearly the smarter sex. So we should be paid more, not less than men!

But women are only paid about 70 cents for every dollar a man makes. And how do those lame bastards explain this? Get a load of this nonsense! Like that should have anything to do with how much you get paid!

Well I’m not taking this lying down. Women must be protected until they can deliver a swift kick to the groin of male chauvinism! We gals are just as smart and strong as men, but for the sake of equality and fair competition, we need laws that restrain men and force them to respect our delicate feelings!

Because women are naturally caring and cooperative and incapable of primitive emotions like violence and hatred, irresponsible, so-called "studies" like this cannot be allowed to crush the fragile flower of feminine accomplishment just as it finally buds after centuries of harsh male repression and brutality.

Because if something isn't done quickly, we're really going to stomp some masculine butt.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:39 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

August 19, 2005

What? No Tech Wench???

It's funny (thought Cassandra, Blog Princess to herself, ruefully). Yesterday, after a week full of heavy stuff about Cindy Sheehan and the WOT I wrote what was meant to be sort of a light-hearted piece about how gender roles are changing. And it struck me then how much trouble I was having bringing it to a close.

Normally when writing about economics or the WOT or law I just sit and write until I'm done. It's fluid and easy and the words and ideas just flow. But though I knew what I wanted to say, I found myself hesitating, censoring myself for fear of giving offense. Not saying what I really meant and then getting angry when I realized what I was doing. That is such a typically feminine response. It is so ingrained in us that we don't even realize we're doing it, and I keep trying to root it out in my writing. Not because I enjoy giving offense (in fact, I face the prospect with fear and loathing) but because it is dishonest when your intent is to drag ideas out into the open and examine them: to see if they hold water.

At any rate, it all struck me as particularly funny this morning because as I was reading The Corner, I ran across an interesting item that dovetailed nicely with something ruthlessly excised from my post yesterday. Right after this section...

I don't want to go back to the days when it was automatically assumed I couldn't do certain things, go certain places, say certain things just because I was born female. That's hard for my daughter-in-law, who is an astonishingly bright young woman, to imagine. Sometimes it is hard for me to imagine, but I can still remember when it was reality.

...I had written something like this:

I still have the aptitude tests I took when I was fifteen. When I look back, there were several careers which matched my skills perfectly, yet the counselor did not recommend them for me.

I would like to think there was a good reason why law, university professor, and editor were the only professions suggested to fit my profile. According to the book I was given, computer programmer, city planner, diplomat, detective were a few others that would have suited.

I stand by that thought. It's my honest opinion, but I took it out because it sounded too whiny, too strident, too Rad-Fem. But perhaps more importantly because it was certain to grate on someone's nerves and frankly it was a position I didn't care to defend. So you can imagine my amusement when I ran across this:

What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls

"Let's get our little American girls ready for the wide-open working world!".

Eagerly I searched for my chosen field...

TECH.jpg WHAT??? NO TECH WENCH??? We forget, lo! these many years later, how far women have truly come since your Princess was in grade school, back in the Pleistoceine Era when Great Beasts wrestled in the tarpits...

Too funny.















Your personal qualities and feminine charm will come in handy in your chosen field:

calm.jpg no_life.jpg

Play your cards right, and you, too, can go to COLLEGE, where you will learn valuable career skills like:

grog.jpg mind.jpg

Honesty time here.

I write an awful lot about women's lib and the excesses of feminism, and that really is what I am complaining about: the excesses of feminism. I like men just fine the way they are and I think both Joatmoaf and JannyMae had it right in the comments section last night.

I like a man who respects himself. And I am very happy to finally live in a world that allows me to respect myself on my own terms. Of course, I've always been able to do that, but the difference is that now I don't have to fight the rest of the world for the right to compete. It is just assumed that I do.

The truly remarkable thing, which we tend to take for granted these days is I didn't automatically have that chance (nor did other women) when I was younger.

What grates me about some modern feminists is their tendency to try to elevate women by putting men down, or to define the entire world in female terms and label everything masculine as dysfunctional, as though only half of humanity counted. This is the Politics of Grievance. They're committing the same error as the NAACP and other faux civil-"rights" groups: inflicting the same injustices on their former 'oppressors' that they complain about. All in the name of redressing past inequities. But two wrongs don't make a right. You can only use your weakness and your former oppressor's guilt as shields for so long before your opponent wises up to the tactic. And the worst thing about this tack is that your own sense of self-worth ends up irreparably damaged by the culture of Victimhood. It's hard to win the race when all your energy is focused on beating your opponent about the head and shoulders with his own guilt. Better to spend it on learning to run faster.

People who genuinely respect themselves don't need to put others down to raise their own self-esteem, nor do they need to dominate others. Competing with them is another thing entirely. But a secure person can generally accept being beaten fairly. Channelled properly, pain is a great motivator. It's what makes you try harder the next time, or correct the mistakes that kept you from winning. Or it may simply motivate you to find another race that suits your talents better - where you can really shine.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:07 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Towards A New Concept Of Manliness

vmtv_kutcher.jpg What is up with men and women these days? The lines are blurring. Gender roles are changing and we can't turn back the clock.

I stole this picture from KJ, because frankly I found it disturbing as hell. WHAT KIND OF MAN ALLOWS A WOMAN TO DO THIS TO HIM?

He looks like he should have a leash around his neck and a little twirly propeller coming out of the top of his hat.

Modern culture is becoming way too feminized. I admit, there are some things about this brave new world I like. I have no desire to return to the way things were when I was growing up, when men thought it was perfectly acceptible to be openly patronizing about a woman's intelligence. Or her looks.

I don't want to go back to the days when it was automatically assumed I couldn't do certain things, go certain places, say certain things just because I was born female. That's hard for my daughter-in-law, who is an astonishingly bright young woman, to imagine. Sometimes it is hard for me to imagine, but I can still remember when it was reality.

But sometimes I think the pendulum has started to swing too far the other way. Women's liberation and the entry of females into all walks of modern life have caused dramatic changes in the fabric of our society. Some changes - like growing opportunities for women - are positive. But some, like this namby-pamby, PC feminization of everything from education to pop culture to manners to clothes to language have negative consequences - not just for men, but for everyone affected by them.

Our children are slowly being brainwashed. Turn on your TV set and you'll quickly begin to wonder how we managed for those endless eons before Women's Lib burst the shackles of the Moronic Patriarchal Hegemony. World history must have been a comedy of errors. The Glory that was Rome? Puh-leeze... Julius Caesar? He could never have conquered the Roman Empire on his own. He must have had help from the matriarchy.

That corporate CEO on TV can't even match his own socks unless his ruthlessly efficient wife is there to assist him. Tiny tots roll their eyes and thumb their noses at their fathers. Wives dismiss their husbands. In general, Dads seem to provide little more than a steady paycheck and source of constant amusement.

Whatever happened to Father Knows Best? Surely there is a happy medium here, somewhere in between absolute and unchallengeable patriarchal authority and blowing Dad off as a genial, bumbling idiot who exists only to provide lunch money? In the London TimesOnline Carol Midgely comments:

WHO’D be one of you, eh chaps? Let’s be honest, your CV these days is hardly enviable. Outperformed by girls at school, emasculated by women at home and at work, shockingly dislocated from your emotions and the hapless joke figure in endless TV commercials and sitcoms whose message is that females rule and men are fools.

Well wise up, because apparently it’s time to say enough is enough; the ridicule of men must stop. The pendulum of power has swung too far into the female corner and you must stand up and assert your right to masculinity. Stop apologising for it, be comfortable with it, but while you’re at it try to embrace a few female traits such as compromise, communication and learning to multitask.

And that sounds about right to me. I've gone back to work after raising two boys and watched a Marine, a manly-man who never wanted his wife to work, cope with having the little woman get a high-powered job, go from earning next-to-nothing to working hella-hours, slinging tech-talk, and pulling down a hefty salary, and I can tell you this: women still like their men to be men.

Oh, we like a few of the rough edges rounded off. But not too much, mind you. Don't let us push you around - we won't respect you. Consideration is one thing. That is priceless in a man. In any human being, for that matter. It is a mark of taste and intelligence: of adaptability and maturity.

But one of the reasons I chose my husband, to be quite frank, is that I couldn't push him around the way I could some of my other boyfriends. I have never wanted to be able to be able to push another person around - that's not healthy in the long term. I like balance. If you're evenly matched, you strike sparks.

There was a lot of jargon and silliness in the LondonTimes piece, but some sense as well. Men and women are inherently different, but I think in some senses we are taking on some of each other's better characteristics as society changes, much as married couples do over time. And that is not altogether a bad thing. Women are learning to become a bit more direct and less manipulative. Men are learning to become a bit more sensitive to other people's feelings. Those are not bad qualities, if not taken to extremes.

The problem starts when our social institutions begin to push one set of values over another. A case in point: this set of math texts, which seems to want to beat small children over their pointy little heads with the "Men are Evil" message:

"Would you be willing to tell strangers they had: Smudges on their faces? Food stuck between their teeth? Dandruff?"

Charlotte Allen comments:

A series of pie-graphs then informs the youngsters that--guess what?--men are much more likely than women to engage in such doltish behavior.

Well gosh. Some of us would rather know if we have spinach stuck in our teeth or a smudge on our face so we can do something about it, as opposed to the passive-aggressive approach in which we ignore the problem so as never to hurt anyone's feelings (or worse yet, talk about the person behind their back all day). I suppose I could have made a whole series of pie charts about that one, too? Who's more likely to gossip about you when your slip is showing or you have a run in your pantyhose?

Oh, but that was sexist, wasn't it?

Schools are getting absolutely silly about this sort of thing: eliminating competition, which boys absolutely need to grow and thrive, getting rid of physical activity and large muscle sports, insisting that active young children stay cooped up for hours at a time. Some girls may be able to work that way (I wasn't) but most boys are not. In a misguided attempt to help girls succeed, we are failing our sons. I truly believe this is one of the reasons so many boys are diagnosed with ADD. They are not hyperactive. They are simply normal, active boys who are not being given sufficient outlet for their normal childish energy during the school day in an overly-feminized atmosphere.

This is coming from a very strict mother of two sons who tolerated absolutely no misbehavior from either of her children. They could both sit quite still for long periods when needed, but I also made sure they were able to run or play until they were exhausted every day.

Boys (and men) are not female - they need to face and overcome obstacles and challenges in order to remain confident and vital and alive. Something in their spirit dies if they are not constantly doing, fighting, learning, or exploring the world around them. Boys are often boisterous and bold as well as quiet and studious. That is part of their charm, not a sign of mental illness to be dosed with a sedative. Properly channelled, that energy creates cities, conquers empires, and discovers new things. Women need to understand that and let them be themselves. To appreciate boys and men for what they are and what they bring to life, not try and remake the universe in the image of The Eternal Feminine.

Part of what we decry about the Arab world is that they have lost the contributions of half of their society: the female half. We are so secure, so used to thinking of the male half of Western civilization as dominant that it seems unthinkable to us that we might lose that half of our being. Yet our modern culture is doing just what the Rad Fems deplored the patriarchal hegemony for doing to them: marginalizing men and 'treating them as Other'. When we outlaw or ridicule traditionally male ways of doing things: ways that have worked just fine for centuries: hierarchical authority structures, competition, direct, open communication, individual achievement over group cooperation, we are in danger of doing the same thing to men that men once did to women.

Hopefully today's men are far too smart to put up with such nonsense, but sometimes when I look around a crowded conference table and see that I-can't-believe-I'm-hearing-this look mirrored on enough faces and no one speaks up and says, "What a load of bunk!", I start to wonder whether the collective weight of all this PC madness is just too much.


Posted by Cassandra at 03:49 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

August 02, 2005

Beauty & Misogyny, Continued

Grim bravely replied to my post about feminism and ...well, other topics. He had some interesting things to say, many of which I agree with. To begin with, he linked to an article that took my premise way farther than I had intended (rather proving my point about highjacking the feminist movement):

Jeffreys, a revolutionary lesbian feminist, is pursuing her 30-odd-year mission to shift women out of their collective complacency. Beauty And Misogyny is her sixth book. Like the others, its central theme is an exploration of the use of sexuality by men to dominate women. Much of it is spent arguing that beauty practices - from make-up to breast implants - should be redefined as harmful cultural practices, rather than being seen as a liberating choice.

Most things in life can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the extreme to which one takes them or the uses to which they are put. I have long mocked the whole "men use sexuality to dominate women" meme. Balderdash. If anything, we women spend most of our time using our sexuality to dominate men! Indeed, sex is one of the few remaining weapons in our rapidly-vanishing arsenal now that most of us seem to have abandoned charm, femininity, and the womanly art of creating a soothing and tranquil atmosphere to come home to.

Grim mistakes my position (and this is my fault - I failed to state my position fully) when he says:

This is not a position restricted to revolutionary lesbian feminists, as Cassandra's post makes clear:
[A] woman ought to be doing [a particularly invasive sort of body modification] for her own satisfaction/convenience and not so she'll be 'good enough' to appear in your mental burlesque show after taking your kids to soccer...

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. Yes, I was angered by the porn standards thing and I will return to that in a moment. However, to say that men are using sexuality to "dominate" women implies that we are spineless twits (or if you really want to be crude - and more accurate - substitute the appropriate vowel) incapable of making our own decisions.

My issue with feminine behavior in this regard is exactly that: an issue with female behavior. To blame men for decisions made by women is not only unfair, but demeaning to us. If women are being "dominated" or "controlled" by men in any sense, (and often, they are) it is because they allow themselves to be.

That said, let's look at what Grim had to say about men:

I think we need to get one thing clear. "Men" are not asking you to do any of this stuff.

When was the last time a man said, "And be sure to spend twenty minutes preparing yourself before we go out to the grocery store"?

I am of two minds about this. My first reaction was: fair enough. My husband seems most attracted to me (God love him) right after I get out of the shower when I don't have a blessed bit of makeup on and my hair is still wringing wet. And I will never forget the time when we were first married, back in college, when I spent hours laboriously applying *red* nail polish to my hands and feet (that is so not me), curled my long hair, did my makeup, put on cologne and a lovely white negligee...and then sat there while the man I loved watched the NBA finals on our tiny black and white TV! The next night he came home to find me on my hands and knees, hot and tired, scrubbing old wax off the linoleum floor with a razor blade and passionately carried me off to the back of the house. It was at that moment that I decided I will never understand the male of the species.

But there are also some other distinctions to be made here, I think. Grim goes on:

What's the evidence that men are driving this trend? Cassandra cites a Cosmo study on "what men want." Any of you guys out there ever been interviewed for one of these things?

Me either.

Cosmo is a fashion magazine published by women, for women. The only men they know are men who work in the fashion industry, i.e., not regular men. Men who are, as the article puts it, "accustomed" to certain standards of feminine appearance... because they're used to seeing it that way in porno movies.

Grim speaks of "regular men". And I think that's a point that needs to be made, too. There are all sorts of men in the world. This is something my father told me as a young girl and I never really believed him, to be honest, until just this last year. What convinced me was the Internet.

I have had close relationships with boys and men all my life. I was a bit of a tomboy as a young girl; more likely to play football or race bikes with the neighborhood boys than to play Barbie with the girls. From seventh grade through college, I always seemed to have a steady boyfriend. I think part of ninth grade was the only time I ever enjoyed a little time on my own. And I have always had male friends - often close ones. I've raised two sons and have had some amazingly frank discussions with both of them, often because their father was gone and I had to be both mother and father to them. So I thought - I really thought - until about a year ago, that I had a pretty good handle on how men think. I have really had my eyes opened.

As much as it pains me to admit this (and he is laughing at me now, I'm sure) my Dad was right, all those years ago. And I now remember part of what was so incredibly painful for me when I left a college where there were 3.5 guys for every girl: the dawning realization that my somewhat rose-colored view of men was just that. That there are many, many of what I would call "proper" men: good, decent, hard-working men of generally very good character. And then there are some guys out there with some pretty awful attitudes about women. Just like there are some women out there with some pretty awful attitudes about men, but I don't have to deal with that, and that is not the subject of this post.

Grim wonders (I think) where I got the idea that some men get their idea of what is attractive from porn. I got it from the Internet. I didn't grow up in a household where there was any exposure to porn. That was unthinkable. It wasn't mentioned. It wasn't necessarily taboo, I don't think. My father just was not that kind of person. I never saw porn (even skin mags) in any of my friend's houses either. I never saw it in my in-laws' house. It has never entered my house. I don't presume to tell my husband what to do when I am not around, and I don't ask. I don't seek to control his behavior, because I would be furious if he sought to control mine. On the other hand, he is invariably considerate of my feelings, as I try to be of his.

So one thing I, even at my age, knew almost nothing about up until now was how prevalent pornography has become in our society. Oh, I worked in the Navy Exchange as a young women and sold skin magazines to sailors, so obviously I knew it existed. But until I was exposed to the Internet and read conversations on the subject, I had absolutely no idea how immersed in this stuff many guys are. And I've been very curious about it, frankly, both because of my strong reactions to it and because I am always curious about how people think. I've been really somewhat shocked and saddened to see, over and over again, that men who do look at this stuff all the time do seem to have a really critical view of women's bodies.

All of a sudden it's like they're judge and jury - I keep wondering how they'd like to be displayed out there for a bunch of women to "rate" their overall hottitude. Somehow I very much doubt most of them would fare very well. And I suppose one can make the argument, "Well, she put herself out there...". But it seems to me, at least, that most of these women are really quite attractive by almost any standard you care to name. And yet these cads get off by running them down.

And I have noticed in real life that this same type of man is very critical of women in real life. He is the type of man who does judge on appearances. Who is constantly turning to look at other women when he is out with his wife or girlfriend. Who goes for the woman who dresses flashily, or has big boobs, or has the surface beauty but nothing underneath. He is not what I would call a man of substance. We have an acquaintance, a man I rather like, who I think falls into this category. He has been divorced several times. He keeps falling for the same kind of woman - superficially very attractive, but with no soul. And she takes him to the cleaners every time. And he complains about it and has a very jaded view of women. But he'd never give a plainer, more substantial woman the time of day, even after all these bad experiences. It's funny. He likes me a lot. I'm not bad looking either: certainly no beauty, but attractive enough in my own way. But if I were single, I don't think he'd date me. The funny thing is, I can tell he is attracted to me. But in the end, I don't have the right packaging, and that is fortunate because he's the kind of guy who used to scare me to death when I was dating. Extremely smart, witty, good-looking, very charming, but for some reason warning bells go off. I have always preferred a more subtle kind of man - the kind who doesn't always grab your eye when he walks into a room but when you talk to him in a quiet corner, can hold your interest for an evening. Or a lifetime.

But I think perhaps in a society in which there are different strata and subcultures, that is what many women are dealing with. I have had friends whose fathers, frankly, do very much view women as primarily sex objects. I have one friend - more a friend of a friend really, because we don't have much in common and she annoys me - who I think spends way too much time on her personal appearance. But to be honest she'll be the first to tell you her *Dad* raised her that way. Not her Mom - her Dad. This woman spends all her time trying to measure up to what her Dad and her husband expect of her. Not what *she* expects. What *they* expect.

It is an interesting facet of modern life that we are exposed to TV and books and big ideas, so as a conservative, I normally argue that we are not mere products of our environment. Yet environment is powerful, especially when upbringing consistenly nudges you in a particular direction. My best friend and I are always talking about this woman, shaking our heads and wondering why she doesn't grow a bit more of a backbone. But then we look at how far she has come, compared with her Mother, and sometimes I feel like we're being a bit harsh. She does stand up to her husband in small ways. And she is unhappy. She has enough of a backbone to be friends with us (God help her - her husband can't be too happy about that).

In short, I agree with Grim. Misogyny is way too strong a word. And in the end, women must bear the responsibility for their own choices. I never meant to suggest otherwise. However, I still do think male expectations play a larger role in this than Grim believes. The fact that he (and other men) may be a bit higher-minded doesn't mean there aren't plenty of guys out there who are critical and controlling. That some women choose to let that type of behavior dictate their personal choices, however, is their own fault.

Again, to me this is the difference between the conservative view of feminism and the liberal: personal responsibility. The world is what it is. You can't change it. You can only control how you respond to it.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:06 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

July 28, 2005

Stalking The Republican Feminist

I feel a rant coming on, and some of what I have to say may be disturbing. Having had one Major Sense of Humor Failure this weekend and another over at poor KJ's place recently (I suspect the two phenomena were related), the topic of conservative feminism has been roiling around in the back of that untidy dustbin I call my mind all week. So it's time to 'get my cats out' as my Dad likes to say, though not in the context he usually means it.

You may be surprised to hear me broach the topic at all. On any given day I am more likely to mock the transparent asshatteries of Rad-Fem activism than to praise them. But despite my cynical take on modern feminism - on any movement that is collective in nature, in fact - I have far more sympathy for true feminist aims than one might suspect. In fact, in my heart of hearts, I consider myself something of a feminist. My own kind of feminist.

Charlotte Allen notes what I have long deplored: the Rad-Fems have hijacked the feminist movement, transforming what ought to be a message of self-empowerment into a derivative and demeaning ripoff of the civil rights movement. I reject their passive-aggressive demands for preferences and perks based on a dubious protected class status I find insulting and ultimately counterproductive. Women can do better. We need to do better.

Years ago I had an argument with my liberal law professor, an ardent feminist whom I greatly liked and respected, on this topic. "Don't you see the need?", she said to me as I dashed across a crowded Baltimore crosswalk in front of the art museum, stepping out in front of an oncoming taxi that wasn't slowing down quickly enough to suit me and staring down the driver until he stomped on the brakes. I stood astride the painted stripes like Wonder Woman, sans golden lasso, as she shook her head in helpless laughter.

Of course I see the need. Do I make fun of some of the loonier excesses of the Rad-Fems? Some of the man-hating rhetoric? Sure I do.

But that doesn't mean I don't see some of the problems they are attacking. And it doesn't mean that, as a woman, I'm not every bit as angry at times as they are. I just disagree, as most conservatives do, about the solution.

Confession time here. I get angry as hell sometimes at modern culture.

I think it's sick. I think it has become twisted and warped. Sometimes I am glad I don't have a daughter: honestly, I don't know what I'd tell a young girl growing up in today's world. It pisses me off (yes, that's a very strong word, but you should hear what is in my mind) when I'm sitting in the doctor's office reading Cosmo Grrrrl, for God's sake, and I spy an article saying that women should all go in and get about 1/3 of their intimate tresses removed because most men are so used to watching porn that they have become "accustomed" to seeing a nicely-trimmed mons Venus. Oh, and honey: most men surveyed said don't have it all removed because that just totally creeps them out.

Well excuse the hell out of me. Because I would sure hate to confound your "expectations" by showing up in the boudoir in a state of Natural Grace.

Now don't get me wrong - I have nothing against ALASE. In fact, I'm a satisfied customer. But a woman ought to be doing that sort of thing for her own satisfaction/convenience and not so she'll be 'good enough' to appear in your mental burlesque show after taking your kids to soccer, bringing home a paycheck and cooking your supper. When was the last time the man of the house checked in for a little intimate depilitation? Eyebrow tweezing? Surgery? Bikini wax? Maybe a Wonder Jock?

Yeah. I thought so. That's because although we don't mind looking at you, we love you for your other qualities. What a concept.

I get madder than hell when I read about a very young and lovely girl going in to have her breasts surgically enhanced so she will "look better" for her boyfriend. This girl is already model-pretty. Her breasts are already larger than mine (reference, nicely shaped and perky but hardly eye-popping 36Bs, not that this matters). WHY THE HELL DOES SHE NEED SURGERY AT HER AGE? I got angry when Halle Berry had her breasts made larger. The woman is heartbreakingly lovely and can act up a storm.

Her career took off when she had her boobs made bigger. What are we telling our daughters about our values when we vote with our pocketbooks?

Again, I don't think I'm a prude. I like men. Very much in fact. And I like sex even more. But the original purpose of sex was procreation, and any society that doesn't "get" priorities will not long survive. Families and procreation are necessary for survival of the species. As enlightened as our culture is, I truly believe it can be very demeaning to women.

Any time large numbers of women (and now young girls) cut themselves into pieces and insert foreign objects into their bodies to satisfy an unreal (and not always attainable) ideal of beauty, there is something tragically, dangerously wrong with our picture of what one-half of humanity should aim for in life. With what we want them to aspire to. With what we value. We make fun of the Muslim world for its treatment of women, and there is much to deride there. But I often think we miss the beam in our own eye.

The Left gets mad at "unfairness" and wants to get government involved. They want to redress pay and hiring inequities by forcing remedies on employers through intrusive legislation. They want to ban porn (or at least some feminists do) where I just want to keep it out of the hands of children and known sex offenders. And God help me, I have the temerity to think the federal government should be allowed to regulate porn enough so that child porn, sexual slavery, snuff films, and the like will be a thing of the past. I realize that makes me some kind of snake-handling whacko bent on harshing your mellow.

So what's the solution? I believe it is, and can only be something that seems to have gone out of style: moral suasion. This used to be the province of women, and with the advent of the two-career couple and the working Mom, it is a role many women are abdicating, to society's detriment.

As a conservative feminist, I think the only way the plight of women will ever improve is exactly the way it has improved in my lifetime. We must represent ourselves out in the world, in the workplace firmly, with grace, competently, in such a manner that eventually it becomes the accepted wisdom that we can do the job. We must argue, not compel, for a more principled look at pornography. One that takes into account the effect on our daughters. And on our sons.

Do I like to look at porn? Sure - I get the same squishy feelings everyone else does. But feelings are not what was meant to control us in life. And there are degrees of porn like everything else. All activities in the modern world are subject to some regulation. I think there is a principled argument to be made by women of character: to protect our children, to protect marriages. I think the conservative message here is the right one: with freedom comes responsibility - to monitor and hold the innocent safe from harm. Not necessarily to ban, but not to be so goddamned open-minded that we allow the innocent to be victimized either. Intelligent, honest, rational scrutiny, and persuasion rather than force.

And women must take responsiblity for our own actions.

If we mean to be treated equally, we cannot run and hide under the skirts of authority every time we are challenged or treated unfairly.

If we consent to mutilate ourselves so we look like a Victoria's Secret ad, we should not be surprised when, like that library assistant at the Ivy league school, we are not taken seriously and passed over for promotion at work. We cannot send mixed messages.

If we choose not to work 80-hour weeks so we can have families, we should be adult enough to realize we have substituted freedom for salary and quit whining. Unless of course one of our male co-workers is taking a similar amount of time off for other leisure activities without a similar penalty. And I've seen that happen. But that's a fight that, like our male counterparts, we need to be willing to make on our own. We have equal access to the courts.

Charlotte notes that, just as the Left loves to claim there are no black or female conservatives (or none with Immortal Souls), there is no such thing as a Republican Feminist. We know this because the Epitome of Female Blogdom, Wonkette, hath pronounced it:

You know how all the moonbats are all het up about how Roberts' wife was a leader of "Feminists for Life"? Well, we understand how a staunch pro-choice lefty might recoil w/r/t the "for life" part. But, uhm, let's think about the other part. She calls herself a feminist.

Quick, name three other high profile Republican women who call themselves feminists....

We're waiting.

No, really.

Go ahead.

This, mind you, from a woman famous for blogging about the size of John Kerry's schlong and the many-splendored joys of anal sex.

I normally forgo being catty about Wonkette. It has *so* been done.

I must say that as a female blogger and one who writes, quite prolifically and I hope substantively about the WOT, SCOTUS and legal issues, the economy, politics, the election, it annoys the living hell out of me to see Wonkette touted on print and TV 24/7 as the Eponymous Female Blogger, as though there were no other women writers of substance out there. Pick someone else - anyone - not me; I blog pseudonomously, but for God's sake there are plenty of intelligent female writers out there. Visit The Cotillion for God's sake. Go to IWF.

Charlotte does a pretty good job of debunking Wonkette, but then Charlotte's more than a match for just about anyone even on her worst day. But I could have told you the same thing. There are plenty of conservative feminists, but we don't organize, we don't march, we don't wear our feminism on our sleeves.

We're just out there every day, walking the walk. Let others talk.

Actions speak louder than words - that's one lesson I've learned from men, and it's a keeper.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:38 AM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

July 21, 2005

Dominance And Submission

OK... maybe one of you brain surgeons out there can tell me what this little gem is supposed to mean:

A University of Michigan study suggests that women, but not men, automatically associate sex with submission and that connection reduces the quality of their sexual experience.

Key findings show that women implicitly associate sex with submission and that this leads to a submissive sexual role, which in turn leads to lower arousal and difficulty becoming aroused. This association appears to lower their arousal by reducing their sexual autonomy.

Uh-huh. Every time I read one of these studies (wasn't the last time when one of these geniuses unveiled dramatic new evidence that shows there is a difference between fake and real orgasms... (and furthermore, that women really LIKE having real ones...gee... how much federal grant money did we spend testing THAT HYPOTHESIS, big guy?) I just end up shaking my head. I think I need a new category in the sidebar called: "I want that job".

Back to the methodology:

Researchers tested subjects by showing target words associated with submission on a computer screen, preceded by subliminal primes (words with a specific connotation, in this case sex primes and neutral primes. For instance, sex and oven).

You lost me here. Was "oven" supposed to be neutral? Or associated with submission? Either way, showing a woman the word "oven" is about as big a turn-off as I can possibly imagine. Not the sort of thing your Sensitive New Age bachelor tempts a hot date with: "Hey babe... c'mon upstairs for a little nightcap and I'll show you my Jenn-Air CONVECTION OVEN. Maybe you can whip up some elderberry scones for me while we listen to some Duke Ellington on my new stereo." Yeah, that'll get the old sexual juices flowing.

But it gets better:

Women's responses were on average faster when submissive words were preceded by a sex prime than by a neutral prime. This faster response indicates the two concepts are related in women's minds, said Kiefer, a recent doctoral graduate in the psychology department.

Now wait just a cotton-picking minute. This doesn't seem like a very good test to me. If you wanted to test whether submission and sex were related in women's minds, wouldn't you test with pairs of sex/submissive words and sex/aggressive words to see which ones made women respond faster? If you only pair the submissive words with sex, you have nothing to compare your results to. They may have responded faster because the only thing varied was whether or not they were exposed to a sexually-related word.

But now we go on to draw a whole host of bizarre conclusions:

"The more women reported engaging in submissive behaviors, the less arousal they reported experiencing from a range of sexual activities. The problem with submissive behavior seems to be that women don't experience these behaviors as authentic expressions of their selves. Submission to their partner's desires appears to undermine their ability to assert themselves within the sexual context," Kiefer said. "I would say it's really important to recognize the fact that women associate their personal submission with sex, and this association seems to be detrimental to their sexual health."

Well, I might buy off on this in general. It's probably not all that healthy to be a passive-aggressive person who can't come out and ask for what you want, and most women enjoy sex more when they get a bit older and more confident. But then what does this little bit of psychology say about women? Sexual submissiveness isn't always a sign of low self-esteem - sometimes it's exactly the reverse. With more women working in high-powered jobs these days, I'd say this study sounds like old-fashioned stereotyping. Are they trying to imply that women don't have a strong enough sense of self to lose?

It's the ultimate break from thoroughly modern stresses on the self.

You've got a respectably high-powered job. Maybe it's even visible one. You are regularly making difficult decisions that affect the lives of others, perhaps many others. You need to maintain a highly polished self-image. You like to feel in personal control. You're constantly advancing your independence, your responsibility, your success.

So how do you take a break? If you're like an unknown number of others, perhaps you've already signed up for a spanking.

"Masochists seem to be drawn largely from the privileged classes," Baumeister finds. They are above average in education and income. "Society's real victims do not seek out masochistic sex. Rather it is often the rich, powerful, and successful, the people with the heaviest burdens of selfhood, who need the escape of masochism."

Of course, masochists are not really out to ditch their selves. Nor do they want to be sex slaves in reality. They want the fantasy of shedding their own identity, with its autonomy and responsibility, and submitting entirely to the will of another.

Fantasies of sexual submission turn out to be particularly common among women, more so than among men, even though men engage in more masochistic practices than women. (Then again, men engage more in most forms of unusual sexual behavior.)

gone_with_the_wind.jpg Too funny. I get the impression a lot of these "studies" are driven by a feminist agenda. People behave the way they do for complex reasons, but they are often driven by simple biology as well and for all our technological and social advances, we still have not gotten beyond some rather primitive hard-wiring that seems to me to be based on our physiology.

Is there something wrong with that?

Even with all its annoyances, personally I rather enjoy being female at times.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:05 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

July 11, 2005

Get A Clue, Ladies' Man...

Every now and then I run across one of these articles written by guys in which some self-appointed "expert" purports to tell perfectly normal, attractive men how they can "make it" with women. Invariably I'm just floored by the idiocy.

The first thing that always pops into my mind is, "Hmmm.... apparently he's had a LOT of experience with rejection"...(in which case, why should anyone listen to him?). Or... are we supposed to take him at his word and assume he's a real "pro" with the ladies? Wherever does he find the time to write articles on demystifying rejection? And how would he know?

Does it ever occur to any of these geniuses to ... gee, I dunno... ask a woman?

This guy wants to tell you why the woman you approached just rejected you. I can't begin to speak for all women, but he seemed way off-base to me. Here's one (admittedly older) woman's reaction to his advice. Feel free to add your own in the comments section:

1- She's a bitch Contemporary society is awash in rude, self-centered, man-hating Sex and the City clones who care only about themselves and have absolutely no conscience about men's feelings (or the feelings of other women, for that matter). Their attitude is: I have a million-dollar sexual price tag and any man is going to have to bow and scrape and pay dearly to gain access to it. These are the women who will try to emasculate you when you ask them out (if you don't have something they can sex-ploit), who get off on making men squirm, and who flagrantly abuse their sexual power.

Survey says.... XXXXXX. Number one answer: you made her feel like a cheap piece of beef on display at the local Piggly Wiggly.

This is ridiculous. I used to hate going to bars because I didn't like turning down even the most obnoxious guys - no one likes trying to come up with nice ways to say, "I'm not interested". Most women don't enjoy hurting other people's feelings, but when a guy makes it obvious he has no interest in her other than a one-night stand, any compunction she might have about embarrassing him falls by the wayside pretty quickly. After all, he's just insulted her by treating her with a complete lack of respect. If you're not interested in getting to know her as a person before you jump into the sack with her, perhaps you shouldn't be surprised if she writes you off. Fair's fair - you weren't wasting any time. Why should she?

2- You don't have the goods Since money is the No. 1 consideration a woman weighs when choosing which men to date, if you don't have it or don't look like you have it, then you're just not going to be on the top of her list. Until we refuse to pay for female attention, women are going to keep getting away with this kind of sex-tortion.

Wow. Got bitterness? When I was dating I always offered to share expenses. And I can't remember even considering money when I got married, let alone when I was dating. My idea of a perfect date was walking along the beach on a summer night, or just going somewhere and listening to music and talking. It didn't have to be expensive. Women like attention: little things like noticing her perfume, her hair, or that new dress she bought just for you. Consideration goes a long, long way with most ladies.

3- She's taken

Entirely possible, but as the man points out that should be obvious from the get-go.

4- She's a player In other words, she's a serial flirter. A lot of married women or women with low self-esteem fall into this category -- they constantly need to be assured that they're still attractive to men, and so will ooze up to any guy who comes close just to get his reaction. They have no interest in dating you -- just in getting you turned on and then walking away. This is another flagrant abuse of female sexual power over men.

Ummm...what were you doing flirting with a married woman? Unless of course she wasn't wearing a wedding ring...

5- She's a psycho A lot of women out there have chosen "bad boys" or have, for psychological reasons, been involved in disastrous relationships and now blame men for all the problems of their own making. Some of them have dropped out of the dating pool altogether or have been repeatedly abandoned by men because of their chaotic behavior. They will reject you just because you're one of "them."

There are a few women like this, but far fewer than men like to make out. Most women like this are dumb enough to keep dating the wrong men over and over. If she's so dumb that she's going to turn down a nice guy and keep dating bums, good riddance. You should be glad she turned you down - that's a train wreck waiting to happen.

6- You've got the wrong moves If you "Hey, baby" her while snaking an unctuous arm around her shoulders, leer at her or keep calling her when she's clearly not interested, then you're just a creepy pest, and you'll have about as much chance of sleeping with her as a eunuch does.

Yep.

7- Bad timing If a woman turns you down, you may have run head-on into some bizarre phase of her monthly cycle in which all men are bad, or she's feeling unattractive, or any of a thousand other hormone-based reactions to the dating world. You could run into her a couple of days from now and get a complete green light.

Wrong. This is what she tells you when she's not interested and she's trying to let you down easy.

8- She's been hurt Any time you hear, "I'm taking a break from dating," or, "I need some time to get my life together," when you ask a woman out, it usually means that she's just come out of a bad relationship and is not yet interested in jumping into a new one. With this sort of damaged woman, it's best to aim for friendship or wait a while for her to straighten herself out before trying again.

Amazing - sometimes people mean what they say.

9- You're a geek In other words, you have no sexual confidence whatsoever and you melt like ice cream in July whenever she gets within 10 feet of you. You don't have to be James Bond, but if you can't even get a sentence out around her without stammering, then there's no way she's going to accept a date with you. You will be instantly relegated to "friend" status, if that.

Oh for Pete's sake - this is a total male myth. "Sexual confidence" is overrated as far as women are concerned. I'll tell you a secret: you're bigger and stronger than we are. We find that sexy. And what most women want, most is a relationship.

And sometimes, having a guy melt like an ice cream cone in July is the hottest thing a woman can imagine - she can't ask for a more sincere tribute. So don't slink away - have the guts to stick around for a moment and see if she responds. She might be embarrassed or confused for a second (she's human too, you know). And she might surprise you.

If she likes you as a person and finds you reasonably attractive, she can and will teach you anything she wants you to know in the boudoir. So if you're not feeling "confident", get to know her really well and let nature take its course. The confidence thing will work itself out.

10- She's just not attracted to you Simple as that. It happens and there's nothing you can do about it. It's best to just pick up the pieces and move on.

Absolutely. And it may have nothing to do with you, or your attractiveness. We all have little ideals in our heads, and just because you don't match up with her fantasy man doesn't mean you aren't someone else's. Move one - somewhere there's a woman who's dreaming of someone just like you.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:49 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

A Woman's Right To Choose

You know, it's funny: I always thought the whole point of Feminism was to free women of those damaging gender stereotypes. To give us more choices, more control over our own lives, more confidence in our ability to make rational, informed decisions without having to worry about fitting into some preconceived notion of what "the ideal woman" was supposed to do. The woman of the past tried to be all things to all people, running around in circles desperately trying to please everyone and inevitably pleasing no one. The woman of the future need only live up to her own internal standards: you know, like men do.

So why is it that so many of us - most often liberals, but even some conservatives these days - denigrate a woman's traditional role as homemaker? LaShawn Barber comments:

Whenever I tell men that I’m a “traditional” woman, they laugh. Yeah, right! They see a modern, outspoken, ambitious, professional woman supporting herself and taking risks.

They assume I’ve chosen this life over that of wife and mother. I explain to them that since I’m unmarried, I must support myself. Who else is going to do it? With no children, I don’t have to worry about starving them if my entrepreneurial ventures fail, so I can afford the risk. And my ambition is an effort to make a contribution to the world and create something of value.

The kind of man I’d marry would want his wife to stay home and raise his children instead committing them to the institutionalized “care” of people who couldn’t possibly care for them as much as I could or know them half as well, while he works outside the home. My roles would be godly wife, partner, homemaker, teacher (for home schooling), and whatever else God assigned. If I expect my husband to be the main breadwinner, he’ll have certain expectations of me.

I was a homemaker for years. Almost seventeen, to be exact. During those years I considered it my primary task to run our home smoothly, maintain a calm and tranquil refuge for my busy husband to return home to after a long day at work, raise our two sons, take them to sports and to school, do the laundry, keep my husband's cammies starched and pressed, pay the bills on time, manage my husband's salary, decorate our home tastefully and economically, prepare tasty and healthy meals on a tight budget, sew curtains, pillows, slipcovers, bedspreads, and other items, buy and refinish furniture, landscape and maintain the lawn and yard, maintain our cars and other appliances, entertain large numbers of hungry Marines and their families several times a year, support the command wives group, and volunteer at a variety of military, school, and community organizations. I may have left out a few things.

Needless to say I was never idle. And rarely bored. I had no time to watch soap operas (or any television, for that matter - the TV was rarely turned on in our home).

I also worked part-time from my home, when I thought it necessary, to raise extra money for little projects I enjoyed like refinishing furniture. Or paying for my sons' private school tuition when we bought our first house and were strapped for cash. But that was always something I worked in around my childrens' needs. It was optional.

Now that my children have grown and I have a very demanding, stressful full-time career, I find myself engaging in the kind of capital-for-labor substitution I only dreamed of when I was a stay-at-home Mom. Always pressed for time, I rarely wrap presents artistically the way I used to when women used to oooh and ahhh over my exquisitely-wrapped gifts at baby showers and parties. I always had that extra creative touch: fresh or dried flowers, an organza bow, a homemade Battenburg lace angel with Spanish moss hair, something unexpected and inspired thrown in at the last minute to make it memorable. Now I just toss the gift in a bag and bash off like a madwoman. They're lucky if I get the darn thing wrapped at all!

I don't cook elaborate meals as often, either - no homemade chicken pie with the flaky crust Marines used to go mad for. With just the two of us and the Spousal Unit coming home so late at night, it seems such a waste during the week. We're both so tired neither of us tastes the food, we're both watching our girlish figures anyway, and who wants to clean up the kitchen at 9 pm? Not us - we'd rather hit the rack and spent a few minutes together.

But every now and then my Mother-in-law comes to visit. She'll get up early in the morning and carefully set breakfast out before anyone gets up. I'll stumble out of bed, and smell fresh coffee brewing and find a big bowl of fresh fruit on the table. Taylor's ham will be sizzling on the stove and my mind goes back to the days when I cooked a hot breakfast for my husband and boys every morning before they trundled off for the day.

I miss that. There was a tranquility, a peace that is missing from our often too-hurried lives now. Oh, I'm not sure I want to go back, mind you. I love the excitement of my job: the invigorating discussions with clients, solving difficult problems, times like yesterday when after doing research for several weeks, I ran my theories by a valued client and he got excited and said, "Exactly! That's exactly what we're seeing here!" and I felt like I'd won the lottery. I know that's what working women miss when they leave their jobs to stay home.

But then I miss the feeling of gathering two warm, sweet-smelling boys into my arms just after they've had their baths. I miss combing their damp hair and putting their PJ's on and watching them scramble to find a favorite stuffed animal - knowing they can't wait to hear the next chapter of whatever book we're reading that week.

I miss going for walks to find fresh flowers for the table because we can't afford to buy them. Or traipsing through the woods and stumbling on a patch of blackberries and surprising my husband with cobbler when he gets home from work.

Now, berries are commonplace. But they weren't, then. And somehow they taste better when you pick them yourself, even if you had to soak them in sugar for 4 hours to get the tartness out.

Why do we put homemaking - as an avocation, as an art - down? One of LaShawn's commenters, and I don't want to pick on him (he may not have thought seriously about his comment, or he may have: I don't know) said:

If there are no children involved then a woman has no reason to stay home. She needs to get a job. She has no option. What good reason would she have to sit at home all day and do damn near nothing, because she’s a wife? Not good enough as far as I’m concerned. A woman won’t sit around and watch Oprah and The People’s Court because I put a ring on her finger.

I so disagree with that statement, though obviously everyone should be free to marry whomever he pleases. My Mother and my Mother-in-law are both homemakers. They both work hard. They have always worked hard. If you do the job right, it is time-consuming and difficult work. Scrubbing floors and toilets is not what I would call a hoot and a half. Cleaning a dirty oven is not exactly a yuck-fest. Laundry and ironing are not fun. My mother hand-irons all my Dad's shirts, and they always look beautiful. She does the painting when their house needs it every few years. And all the gardening for their enormous yard. She is in her seventies. She treats my Dad well - she makes his lunch for him every day. And my father treats her like a princess: as he should.

Too often women say they want to be treated a certain way by men but consider reciprocal treatment “old-fashioned” or beneath them or contrary to feminism. Hogwash. Throw that out with the rest of the trash.

Exactly. There is nothing wrong with the old male-and-female roles. They worked for centuries.

Feminism has given us some new choices, but that doesn't mean we need to put down the old ones or throw the baby out with the bathwater. Working full-time has given me a renewed appreciation for how difficult it is to be a man in today's society. Many times I have wished that I had a wife to come home to!

How nice it would be, at the end of the work day, to be greeted with a smile, a loving kiss, and a sparkling house! Last week my husband gave me a big hug and said, "You know, I really appreciate the way dinner has been ready lately when I walk through the door - it's so nice to smell it as I walk up the path." I was sort of shocked, but it made me feel wonderful.

It's a little thing, and I'm really tired at the end of the work day too. But I'd gotten so tired of never knowing when he was going to be home. And then I said to myself, stop. We have to have a schedule. Some order to the day. The way it used to be. Our home needs to be the center again, not our jobs.

And so, even though it's an extra effort, I'm going to make it. Maybe it's sexist, or inegalitarian, but that's what I'm good at. And if putting flowers on the table, or taking the time to notice that he likes things a certain way is what it takes to create that space, that tranquility again for both of us, then so be it.

There is something to be said for gracious living, and that is what seems to be missing from our lives now that I work. I don't have the time or the energy to create the kind of home we used to have, though I haven't given up completely. And I refuse to become the kind of frantic working woman I see all too often: running around with a cell phone and a DayTimer, every spare moment scheduled as she micromanages her husband's, children's, and everyone else's lives. That is a sure path to resentment.

I have accepted a certain loosening of standards: gift bags instead of wrapping paper. No more daily vaccuuming, which I used to be a demon about. But I think we can go too far sometimes, and it disturbs me when I hear women (and even men!) criticize what I like to call the Womanly Arts: those which make daily life orderly, pleasant, and tranquil: in a word, beautiful. If you don't enjoy them, fine. Not everyone does. But have some respect for women who do choose to do those things competently and with panache, because they make life a whole lot richer and more pleasant after a hard day's work.

And you never know: you just may end up hiring another woman to do those things for you someday. In today's money-rich, time-poor environment, this could be the next growth industry.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:12 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

It is probably a sign of encroaching mental illness that I find this incredibly funny:

Good sex really is mind-blowing for women

And just how much government grant money did we spend to reach this earth-shattering conclusion?

Women may fool their sexual partners by faking orgasm, but their brains cannot lie. Reaching a proper sexual climax is, for women at least, a mind-blowing event. Large parts of their brains that deal with emotion and fear appear to shut down so that they can enjoy the thrill.
The tests involved 13 women and 11 men aged 19 to 39. Women told the researchers when they faked orgasm, but the truth was there on the scans anyway.

Double entendres aside, there's another bombshell...

Apparently if we fake it, there's a difference (hence the word 'fake')... Will some kind soul please alert the media? But wait! There's more of this ground-breaking research:

To reach true climax, women needed to ensure that fear and stress did not get in the way. "The deactivation of these very important parts of the brain might be the most important thing necessary to have an orgasm. If you are in a high level of anxiety it is very hard to have sex."

Good God. Who knew?

Men were studied in the same way, but because it typically took only 20 seconds to reach ejaculation...

The HVES is speechless.

The volunteers, all heterosexual and right handed, were recruited through Dutch magazines.

What the???

Finally, we have a challenger for the Quote of the Day:

"Alcohol brings down fear levels. Everyone knows if you give alcohol to women it is easier," he said.

Indeed. Until this moment, I'd thought Jonah Goldberg had it nailed with this gem:

"To assert that the dog was raped suggests that under other circumstances -- a nice ham bone, some chablis -- amorous relations might have been consensual."

I await your pronouncements with the usual breathless anticipation.

And I'm not faking it, either.

UPDATE: What is it about this story that generates quotes of almost breathtaking idiocy? Via KJ:

"The fact that there is no deactivation in faked orgasms means a basic part of a real orgasm is letting go. Women can imitate orgasm quite well, as we know, but there is nothing really happening in the brain," said neuroscientist Gert Holstege...

No... you think?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:04 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

Boys In Academia: A Lost Generation?

So much for the myth that females are fragile hothouse flowers who need special privileges and attention to succeed in male-oriented academia. The reality is far different:

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracks the enrollment in all degree-granting institutions by sex. From 1992 to 2000, the ratio of enrolled males to females fell from 82 to 78 boys for every 100 girls. The NCES projects that in 2007 the ratio will be 75 males for every 100 females; in 2012, 74 per 100.

In short, your son is statistically more likely than your daughter to work a blue collar job.

And the gender gap is even worse among poor kids:

68 percent of college enrollees from low-income families were female; only 31 percent were male.

Feminists say this doesn't matter. Boys can make a living at menial jobs like construction. Apparently they "don't need" to go to college:

Imagine the gender ratio being reversed, with 78 girls for every 100 boys entering college. Imagine a generation of poor girls being relegated to low social status labor while tax funding assists poor boys. It is difficult to believe King would be similarly unconcerned.

I find this whole thing difficult to believe: period. Why are we still concerned about girls when all the evidence says it is boys who are in trouble?

Posted by Cassandra at 10:00 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

June 11, 2005

A Tribute To Real Men

male_process.gif Gentlemen, it's official: metrosexualism is out. In fact, I'm not convinced it was ever "in". Women still prefer red-blooded, all-American males:

A full 61 percent of women surveyed said they would rather see a man's hands rough and working hard than well-manicured, a slap in the face to the extreme-makeover, suave-guy crowd. Ninety-two percent of women said dependability is a desirable characteristic in an ideal mate. Only 16 percent chose "fashionable," and 62 percent chose "strong" as a desirable characteristic.
The Harris survey was commissioned by Dodge Trucks. The results, researchers say, are a testimony to the enduring power of sex roles on society.
"It just shows that there are some things that you can't change and that, while feminism for a long time has been pushing us towards androgyny with little girls with trucks and guys with dolls, women tend to have feministic traits and guys the opposite," says Carrie Lukas, director of policy with the Independent Women's Forum. "If anything, it shows what feminism hasn't been able to accomplish."

I could not agree more. While the Mother in us may cause our eyes to linger a moment on that pretty boy in the magazine ad, what really melts our hearts is the windblown, slightly sunburned guy next door: for all intents, an average-looking joe with real muscles and big shoulders who slays dragons (and isn't afraid to tackle big jobs or get his hands dirty).

One thing I do like about women is that for us, it's not all about looks: we prize intelligence too. Because smart guys make better lovers. And even if you don't happen to be the dragon-slaying type, that's OK. After all, it's not as though the 21st Century princess really needs a white knight anymore, even though we may still dream about him on occasion. Nowadays, most modern women are looking for a partner.

Nancy Hopkins notwithstanding, men and women still have profound biological and emotional differences. There's a reason spouses refer to each other as "my better half": men and women continue to complement each other in ways that enrich their lives. We were meant to fit together like pieces in a puzzle. When we recognize and honor those differences instead of denying them, we make an unbeatable team.

And what about those differences, anyway? Feminists will tell you they don't exist, or that they're the product of decades of patriarchal hegemonistic conditioning. Tell that to the tiny boy who owns nary a toy gun but manages to turn every vaguely tubular object he sees into an imaginary M-16, or the nine-month old baby girl who has already learned to pout, bat her eyelashes, and flirt with complete strangers in the grocery store. Where does this knowledge come from?

With apologies to Portia, who sent me the wonderful Male Thought Process graphic above, this was supposed to be a humorous post about the foibles of the Male Mind. But as I cannot hope to explain the incomprehensible, it ended up being a tribute to Men. For, as you all have no doubt noticed, I do very much like and admire our better halves. I cannot pretend to understand them, I know they most definitely do not understand us (although perhaps this Key To Female Psychology will help) but life would be unimaginable without them.

As far as I am concerned, it is a wonderful world in which men are men and women are women. Vive la difference.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:29 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

June 08, 2005

Relax Gentlemen...

...it's not your fault:

Is this the ultimate excuse for poor performance in bed? “Sorry, darling,” the man says, just before falling asleep. “It’s your genes.”

According to a study published this week, up to 45% of the differences between women in their ability to reach orgasm can be explained by their genes.

Its findings suggest there is an underlying biological basis to a woman’s ability to achieve orgasm. Whether that basis is anatomical, physiological or psychological remains uncertain, says Tim Spector of the twin research unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, UK, who carried out the study.

“But it is saying that it is not purely cultural, or due to peer pressure, or to differences in upbringing or religion,” he says. “There are wide differences between women and a lot of these differences are due to genes.”

Nor hers, apparently.

Update: But wait... there's more: (I'm such a tease)

[drum roll...]

Going even further the study suggests that a woman who respects her partner and feels he may be a good provider gives that woman a much stronger chance of climaxing during sex.

Well there you have it.

Spector also suggested that women who orgasm too easy [sic] are more likely to be satisfied with poor quality men. "Perhaps women who had orgasms too easily weren't very good selectors," Professor Spector said. "It paid women to be more fussy and this is one way of doing it. The simple fact is that it takes women on average 12 minutes and men two and a half minutes to reach orgasm. Adjusting to that imbalance is a test."
AP cites Dr. Virginia Sadock, director of the human sexuality program at New York University Medical Center who says, “It’ll be upsetting because some women will think, 'Oh my God, maybe I just can’t.’ On the other hand it takes away a kind of guilt or pressure.” Specialists say--don't panic--the findings don’t mean women who inherit an unfortunate gene package are doomed. It just means more work, or patience, is required to achieve climax.

And they say womens' work is never done...

Posted by Cassandra at 11:31 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

Has Feminism Killed Femininity?

What is wrong with women today?

In many ways, our lives are easier than ever. Thanks to women's lib we have choices our mothers never had: we can work, stay home with our babies, or combine work and motherhood. We marry later in life, most of us have our own bank accounts and some control over our finances. This is something our grandmothers never dreamed of. Many women have maids, and for those of us who still do our own housework (like yours truly) a plethora of labor-saving devices makes housecleaning far easier than it used to be.

On TV the other day I even saw a disposable toilet brush: the ultimate in decadence for the spoiled homemaker. No need to get your hands anywhere near those icky bristles (how many of us ever touch the brush end, for God's sake?) - with the touch of a button you can send it off to a landfill somewhere so you don't have to be grossed out by the mere thought of contaminating your shell pink fingernails.

Good God.

And today's men walk on eggshells. "Father Knows Best" is a thing of the past. Commercials and sitcoms feature wisecracking Moms and smart mouthed kids who always seem to make Dad the butt of their jokes. Men are bombarded with Hallmark moments tailor-made for our erstwhile supporting roles: Mothers Day, Valentines Day, anniversaries. After working 40-60 hours a week, the poor dears are still expected to pony up with cards, flowers, candy, and jewelry.

But in many homes the man still provides most of the filthy lucre: where is Breadwinner's Day? When does he get showered with gifts? Carey Roberts thinks the women's liberation movement has gone too far. Modern women have gone beyond demanding equal rights to a culture of entitlement:

Open up any woman’s magazine, and you’ll see advertisements that unabashedly appeal to self-entitlement. Everything from hand soap to resort vacations is peddled with tag lines such as, “Take time for yourself,” “You deserve it,” and “It’s all about you.”

Myrna Blyth, former editor of The Ladies Home Journal, knows this all too well. In her book Spin Sisters, Blyth remarks pointedly, “narcissism is an advanced evolutionary stage of female liberation. Me, me, me, means you’re finally free, free, free.”

I see far too much of that as I look around today's world. Modern women demand all the privileges traditionally afforded us during bygone years, but also want the new freedoms of a liberated era. There is a harshness, a stridency that grates on the nerves.

We don't seem to understand that those privileges were granted in recognition of a woman's special role in society. When women were placed on a pedestal (and also, to be honest, restricted in what they could achieve) they were also protected, cherished, and honored. Doors were held for them and rough language was restrained in their presence as befitted their delicate sensibilities. Modern-day feminists like Nancy Hopkins, however, still demand such defererence while paradoxically insisting men treat them as equals.

They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

To be fair, our new roles take some getting used to. I found it hard to embark on a full-time career after twenty years of being a full-time wife and mother. I knew things would change, but even I was unprepared for some of the changes I saw in myself.

I'd always been very patient and forgiving when I stayed at home. Now, stress and the power shift that comes with making quite a bit of money have made me less conciliatory, less patient, more cranky, more prone to take offense where once I would have extended the benefit of the doubt. In short, I found myself acting less like a woman and more like a man.

Ironically, this happened even though I invariably sympathized with my husband. For the first time in our marriage I truly understood why he was cranky at times. As a stay-at-home wife, I'd always rather thought him unreasonable when he was brusque for no reason. But though it hurt, I'd always been able to greet his rare growling with a smile and shrug it off.

Now I didn't even take it personally anymore - but at the same time, I was in no mood to put up with it. After all, I'd had a rough day at the office too! I no longer had that vast reservoir of patience to cope with one more trial at the end of the day when my defenses were down. I needed a wife to soothe my frayed nerves! Instead, I got a husband who was just as frayed around the edges as I was.

After a great deal of thought, I couldn't help reaching a few unpleasant conclusions. The first was that, though feminists overvalue traditionally male accomplishments like workplace achievements and devalue traditionally feminine skills like homemaking and people skills, things on the home front had run a lot more smoothly when someone (unfortunately me) was running it full-time. And there was no replacement for me.

Secondly, I was getting so wrapped up in the demands of my job (easy to do) that I was turning into a mini-version of my husband instead of what I wanted to be: me. Things I cared about weren't getting done.

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that women in the aggregate often have different priorities than men, whether we acknowledge them publicly or not. Of course, I can say that without bringing the harpies of political correctness down upon my head because I am not Larry Summers - he would be dragged though the streets in chains for saying the same thing.

While I am in some ways very driven at work, my family and home and my relationships with people also matter to me. The fact that women often earn less than men is also universally bemoaned, but those of us lucky enough to be married to a high-earning spouse have choices. We don't (although we may feel guilty for not doing so) have to make slaves of ourselves. We can balance the demands of work and home life if we choose to work. And if we choose to do this, we can be honest about the tradeoffs of so doing: less money, more freedom, a happier, less stressful existence.

In some ways, I think the women's lib movement got it all wrong. Too often they seem to be trying to make women into miniature cardboard cutouts of men instead of freeing women to be ourselves. Unfortunately, this would include letting us make choices that include staying home with our children, or even [shudder!] subliminating what we want at times to the needs of our loved ones, because sometimes that is what women do. It would include giving women permission to be...women, in all the variations from tomboys who never wear makeup to girly-girls who don't feel dressed without fake eyelashes, dangly earrings, and Lee Nails. To be ourselves for once, not some one-size-fits-all version of a liberated Rad-Feminista.

Women who choose to pursue their own priorities need to stop demanding the whole enchilada and bargain intelligently for what they want in life. For me, that meant negotiating a work-at-home schedule that makes my salary and time stretch much farther, though it limits my opportunities for promotion. But that is what I want: my choice.

And perhaps, as I found when traveling recently to Chicago, we need to be able to accept the courtesies offered by men gracefully. I was startled when standing on a crowded airport rental car shuttle in my black power suit and high heels when a young man in a baseball cap offered me his seat. I thanked him for his kindness and demurred, yet he insisted. Still surprised, I thanked him again and gave in. He had a little smile on his face the whole time.

When I got off the bus, I stopped and thanked him one last time. His small act of kindness made my day, and though I didn't need his seat (and certainly would never have asked for it), it was nice to know that chivalry isn't completely dead. I think he was happy too.

Sometimes it is good to be a woman in a world where men are still men.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:57 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

May 10, 2005

Fathers' Rights

I suppose it would be too much to ask that paternal rights might receive impartial treatment at the hands of the Grey Lady? The Times wastes no time in trotting out its patented journalism by metaphor strategy to paint fathers rights' advocates as loony, wall-climbing extremists:

If, earlier in the evening, others at the restaurant looked over to Hatch's table (and given the noise emanating from it, they surely did), they would have seen that Hatch wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the purple logo of Fathers 4 Justice, a political group that is well known in Britain for staging high-profile stunts to raise awareness about the custody rights of divorced and separated fathers. (In one memorable incident, a member pelted Prime Minister Tony Blair with a condom filled with purple flour.) Some might even have recognized Hatch and made a note to mention their brush with semi-celebrity to their friends: this was the man who scaled Buckingham Palace last year dressed as Batman, unfurling a banner in support of fathers' rights and spending more than five hours perched on a ledge near the palace balcony as security officers tried to talk him down. The event, which made news around the world, saturated the British media for nearly two days.
...Although some of the issues raised by Fathers 4 Justice concern quirks of the British custody system, most of them overlap with demands of divorced-fathers' groups in other countries: stronger enforcement of visitation rights, more shared-custody arrangements, a better public and legal acknowledgment of a father's importance in his child's life. In the United States, the influence and visibility of those groups have waxed and waned since the mid-70's, but they appear to be agitating now as never before. In the past year, class-action suits have been filed in more than 40 states, claiming that a father's constitutional right to be a parent guarantees him nothing less than 50 percent of the time with his children. And on the legislative front, last spring Iowa passed some of the strongest legislation to date in favor of joint physical custody -- the division of the child's time between the two parents as close to equal as possible.

One wonders, did it ever enter the author's mind to link deadbeat dads laws and new legislation that holds even non-married biological fathers fiscally responsible for the care and maintenance of their wayward spermatazoa with the sudden demand for more equitable custody arrangements? Was it so inconceivable that demands for more paternal accountability might spawn a demand for some say-so in the lives of the children these men must support for 18 years?

Actions have consequences; a circumstance lamented by feminists who like child support money but not the dimunition in parental control that comes with it. Still, the author asks a good question: are paternal rights campaigns made with the best interests of the child at heart?

Good question indeed. Pity no one seems to have asked it when the overwhelming presumption was that a child's best interest was served by awarding custody to the mother and denying visitation to the father. A historical review of custody law follows:

For most of American legal history, the laws required judges to consider sex the most significant factor when making custody decisions, although which sex had the advantage changed over time. Until the mid-1800's, under common law, a father's right to custody in the event of a divorce was so strong that it practically functioned as a property right. Toward the end of that century, this principle was reversed by the ''tender years'' doctrine -- the presumption that young children need to be with their mothers -- which lasted in a handful of jurisdictions into the early 80's. For the most part, however, by the late 70's, the ''tender years'' doctrine had given way to the less prejudiced, but also less clear, directive that judges base their decisions on the so-called best interest of the child. Today many fathers' rights advocates -- particularly those who filed the 40-some class-action lawsuits demanding a 50-50 split of custody -- would like to usher in a new paradigm: one that values parental rights as highly as the child's best interest.

This seems to me to be the wrong tack. A more reasonable question is perhaps, is it truly in a child's best interest to be deprived of contact with its father? Both boys and girls need a masculine role model in their lives. Boys must learn how to be men and girls, to learn how to interact with them emotionally and intellectually. The Times quickly summons the extreme example to show that fathers are merely self-centered opportunists:

Fast-talking and faster-thinking, Newdow, 51, is a tall, thin man who manages to look crisply dressed in even informal clothing. Conversationally, he toggles between two modes, aggrieved and outraged, and he has an expressive face that seems well designed to reflect those emotions. That evening, sitting in the lobby of the Michigan Union, he talked for close to two hours about his troubles -- the custody battles he endured with his daughter's mother (whom he never married); the impassioned exchanges that alienated the family-court judge; the injustices he feels he suffered at the hands of foolish mediators; the court appearances over all manner of arcane disputes, including whether he could take his daughter out hunting for frogs one night (no) and whether he could take her to hear him argue before the Supreme Court (again, no). Although the courts deprived him of final decision-making power over his daughter, who is now 10, he does spend about 30 percent of the time with her, a relatively generous arrangement. Nonetheless, Newdow, who has spent half a million dollars on legal fees, the lion's share of those incurred by his child's mother, claims that the family-court system has ruined his life. He's a second-class parent, he said; he can't do the things he'd like to do with his daughter. The system allows his daughter's mother to stifle his freedom to care for his child the way he'd like. ''It's as bad as slavery,'' he said.
...But what also worried Newdow, he continued, was not the problem of how to determine what's ''best'' for the child, but rather the assumption that you can deprive someone of his or her fundamental parental right simply in order to make a child's life more pleasant. Of course, he conceded, society has an obligation to protect those, like children, who cannot protect themselves. But there is a world of difference between protecting someone from harm and improving his life more generally. ''We've gone from protection to suddenly 'make their lives better,''' he said. ''And that's a violation of equal protection -- because you're taking one person's life and ruining it to make another person's better. If you can show real harm to the child, the kind of harm that the state would protect any child in an intact family from -- abuse, neglect -- sure, of course, protect it. But when it's just what someone thinks might be better for the child, you have to weigh that compared to the harm suffered by the parent.''

An interesting discussion of competing "parental rights" follows. It looks like a disaster for the hapless child caught in the middle.

David Meyer, a University of Illinois law professor who specializes in the intersection of family and constitutional laws, agrees with Newdow that the courts have recognized a fundamental parental right. The problem, Meyer says, is that so-called strict scrutiny -- the process by which the court determines whether there's a state interest so compelling that it should override a fundamental right -- is complicated when multiple people in a single family are asserting their fundamental constitutional rights. In Troxel, he notes, ''the court was forced into a mushy kind of balancing test, balancing the interests of the children and the parents and all kinds of facts.'' In his opinion in Troxel, Justice Clarence Thomas raised the question of why strict scrutiny wasn't being applied. ''None of the other justices answered him,'' Meyer told me. ''But implicitly the answer is: it just doesn't work here.''

Not to put too fine a point on it, duh. It is always so entertaining when suit-happy Americans encounter limits to the number of things a court of law can successfully adjudicate. Perhaps the best interest of the child isn't so bad a standard after all. And perhaps even divorce does not dissolve the partnership that begins when two people begin a life. In perusing this long, but well-worth reading article I couldn't help remembering that old chestnut, "Be careful what you wish for.".

Feminists have long pushed for greater paternal responsiblity and lamented the way so many fathers don't take an equal share of domestic chores. It appears that, finally gaining what they wished for, the brass ring may have lost some of its luster.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

When Is Rape, Not Rape?

This sort of thing infuriates me:

A 23-year-old Brevard County woman was charged with making a false police report at Rollins College in Winter Park last year.

Nall told Winter Park police in November that she was raped by two men in a Rollins College bathroom, authorities said.

"The college was on high alert, and the neighborhood was in confusion because there was a lot of fear," Winter Park police spokesman Wayne Farrell said.

The rape report was made during rape-awareness week on the Rollins campus, Winter Park police Sgt. Pam Marcum said.

Nall is listed as president of the Brevard County chapter of the National Organization of Women.

We've come a long way, baby, since my childhood, when it was automatically assumed that "the little woman was asking for it". I can remember when in many states spousal rape was still legal. Despite my frequent (and ardent) defense of men on this forum, nothing makes me angrier than the continuing victimization of women and little girls by a small minority of males. It is something I don't talk about very much, one reason being that I know the vast majority of men neither engage in nor condone that kind of behavior.

The other is that it makes me absolutely furious.

But rape charges are not theatre, nor a political tool to be used by vengeful twits with testosterone issues. Via Advice Goddess, Wendy McElroy comments:

In the '60s, feminists fought to have rape taken seriously. But taking an accusation seriously is not the same as granting it automatic validity. Rather, it means investigating the facts and weighing them in an unbiased manner that favors no one and nothing but the truth.

A lot of ugly truth may surface in the coming months. The state of Florida seems determined to pursue its case against Nall, who seems determined to fight back.

Winter Park Sgt. Pam Marcum explained to the Orlando Sentinel that bringing charges against Nall had taken so long because the police department sought a second opinion from the State Attorney's office. It is rare for those who file false reports of sexual abuse to be prosecuted. In short, the prosecution is carefully constructing a case; the defense is loudly crying 'political persecution!' In the process, the definition and legal status of rape within our society continues to evolve.

Where it comes to rest depends largely upon the honesty -- not the NOW-like silence -- with which women confront the problem of false accusations.

Like abortion and "reproductive rights" this is a coming-of-age issue for feminists. Somewhere along the line, women are going to have to start taking responsibility for their behavior. Unfortunately, human nature did not change when Sex In The City came along. While simply wearing a low-cut blouse is not an open invitation to rape, women do have to face the fact that the increasingly in-your-face behavior of young females today is contributing to the increase in 'date rape' reports. And even more disturbingly, some of what is reported as date rape is really consensual sex when a young woman simply got herself intoxicated or exercised bad judgement.

Situations like this (where both the man and woman are drunk) make it virtually impossible for a jury to decide whether the woman truly "consented". And in today's "anything goes" sexual atmosphere where rough sex is increasingly common, even things like bruises or bite marks aren't necessarily evidence of force, though they may be disturbing to the more conventional among us.

One consequence of demanding freedom is that one has fewer protections. Women have aggressively demanded to be treated more like men, but then demanded protections not traditionally extended to males. If women want to take on the sexual behaviors traditionally practiced by men (promiscuity, casual sex, adultery) and combine those behaviors with risky behavior like drinking or drug use, then they are going to have to face the unfortunate fact that as the weaker sex, they may be preyed upon.

Real cases of rape should of course be prosecuted aggressively. But false accusations can ruin a man's career, destroy his family life and marriage, and damage his reputation beyond repair. Worse, they make it harder for real rape victims to obtain justice. I understand that there are public policy reasons behind the reluctance to prosecute false accusers, but if there is clear evidence that an accusation was brought forward maliciously or completely without cause, the accuser should have to pay court costs for the accused and a hefty fine on top of it.

Public penance in sackcloth and ashes would be a nice touch too.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:20 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

Feminism's Big Lie

Charlotte Allen has an excellent piece on feminism's big lie (free registration req'd, but it's worth the trouble) in the Dallas Morning News:

Harvard University President Lawrence Summers gave a speech in January speculating that innate differences between the sexes may have something to do with the fact that proportionately fewer women than men hold top positions in science.

Even if you're not up on the scientific research – a paper Mr. Summers cited demonstrating that, while women overall are just as smart as men, significantly fewer women than men occupy the very highest intelligence brackets that produce scientific genius – common sense tells you that Mr. Summers has got to be right.

Unless you're at Harvard. There, the professoriate – quickly joined by academics and media intellectuals from all over the country – has deemed Mr. Summers' mild references to innate sex differences to have been so outrageous as to deserve severe censure.

The reason? The statements violated the central tenet of feminist ideology: that the two sexes are intrinsically identical except for a few superficial physical characteristics and that any perceived differences between them can be blamed on sex discrimination and social conditioning.

Radical feminism has somehow become modernity's sole triumphant totalitarian ideology, at least in the universities and other elite-culture hothouses where it counts (the vast majority of women shun the label "feminist," but they don't control public discourse).

As with the other leading totalitarian ideologies of our time, Marxism and National Socialism, the tenets of ideological feminism need not be argued but merely asserted – and then enforced by any means necessary. Critical examination of those tenets is not permitted, as Mr. Summers has learned to his detriment.

On a university campus or on the pages of The New York Times (or Time or Newsweek) you are not allowed to question the feminist dogma that "gender" – that is, the assertion of distinctive masculine and feminine traits – is merely a social construction, and that all such reflect nothing more than a patriarchal society's behavioral dicta designed to weaken women and reinforce male hegemony.

You must believe – on pain of ostracism – that most men have been socialized to ruthless competition and maladaptive hyper-aggression but can be changed with sufficient re-education, while most women have been socialized to a nurturing, pacifistic egalitarianism that society ought to make the norm for both sexes. These are non-negotiable propositions.

It's really quite good - I hope you'll make time to read it all. My confusion with feminist dogma has never gotten past this basic contradiction: if women are exactly the same as men and gender differences are mere social constructs, why on earth should employers have "mommy-friendly" policies and "gender-sensitive" language in the workplace? Why all the molly-coddling?

Seems we ought to be able to get right down in the mud and compete right up there with those big meanies.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 31, 2005

The Happiest Day Of Your Life...Not!

Charlotte Allen is en fuego today. A while back we learned about the desperate lives of American mothers, chained in involuntary servitude to selfish, grasping little monsters who prevent them from leading fulfilling lives. Now, thanks to Ms. Allen we are alerted to another looming crisis facing American Womynhood: post-nuptual depression, or PND:

I am very sorry to say that the post wedding come down hit me really hard and I found it hard to vocalise at the time. I’d say it took me a good 3-4 months to actually remember the most wonderful day of my life fondly, without feeling teary and empty.

[what] I kept going back to was that that I’d never feel that gorgeous again...The first two times I saw our wedding video I sat & cried throughout the whole thing (alright, the second time I was a bit piss*d which didn’t help!). Almost every day I would take out the photo album and trawl through the pictures again and again... I just felt deflated, trapped and miserable.

Lest we be tempted not to take this growing phenomenon seriously, The Guardian, ever on top of the latest trends, cautions us:

'There is no happy ever after,' said Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who suggests that at least 10 per cent of new spouses suffer a post-wedding depression which, if left untreated, can lead to despair and even separation.
'PND is a modern phenomenon that is already very widespread and is getting more common all the time,' he said. 'It ranges from vague discontent to full-scale depression. PND can last just a few days, though if left untreated can go on indefinitely, getting worse and more ingrained with time.'

Or you could, like... snap out of it. Oops! Sorry.

Carole Evans, a 28-year-old IT consultant from Surrey who married last year, said: 'We woke up on the first morning of our honeymoon, in this idyllic hotel with the sun streaming down on to the roses plaited round the bed frame, and just felt this black cloud descend on us.
'We couldn't believe it. We'd spent a year planning the wedding and honeymoon but it all seemed so flat and pointless once we were there. It was as if we had invested our whole lives in a single day, and had nothing left to look forward to.'

Well let's see Carole... you just DID spent an entire year planning a single day, and it IS over. Now why don't you invest some time and energy in planning the rest of your life?

More brides than grooms suffer PND, according to Hodson, because women are investing more effort and emotional energy in their weddings than ever; an average wedding costs £13,000, with very elaborate events costing more than £40,000, and the day can take up to two years to organise.

Gee whiz... could the source of this depression possibly be the realization that you just wasted a phenomenal amount of time and money on something ephemeral that didn't amount to a hill of beans?

Sorry. Now here's a person who was ready for marriage:

'I'd never been depressed before and thought it must mean I had married the wrong person. I went off sex and I became withdrawn and uncommunicative.'

Let me get this straight: you spent an entire year putting your future husband in debt over a one-day ceremony, then went into a decline because you didn't like what you bought with your money? Then instead of talking it out, you withdrew from the relationship and withheld sex from your partner after promising to work together as a team?

Got it.

Of course, this woman had a small wedding and still got depressed. She blames it on the planning. And not taking a honeymoon.

I blame it on being self-absorbed.

Of course, it could be all that makeup men force you to wear: it has a way of migrating from your eyelashes and fingernails to your breasts.

And that's just not healthy.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:24 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

Women Writers: The Chutzpah Factor

In Sunday's Washington Post there was a fascinating piece on the troubling (to some) dearth of women on the Op-Ed pages. Fascinating may seem an odd word, as many - including numerous female writers - have earnestly prayed this subject would somehow find a merciful death and put an end to our long national nightmare.

Certainly, we thought, it should have drowned in sheer verbiage by now.

But Ms. Smardz, in addition to having a memorable last name, is also a female opinion editor for a major newspaper. As such she brings what is fatuously called a fresh perspective to the debate and in the process confirms some thoughts I've had for some time on another tired meme: sexism in the blogosphere. In a passage that would have gotten her run out of town on a rail (had she been a man), she first dares to suggest that there may be inherent biological differences between men and women:

When Opiniongate broke, it reminded me right away of a neuropsychiatrist I ghostwrote a book for a few years ago. A female neuropsychiatrist, by the way. She told me lots of edifying stuff about the science of the brain, including certain -- dare I say it? -- innate differences between women and men that, yes, Virginia, apparently do exist.

For instance: Did you know that men are generally oriented toward the left brain, the mind's intellectual and linguistic power center, while women tend to use both sides of the brain? But the left brain is the dominant side. It likes to run things, be in control. So that (plus the testosterone, of course) makes men more assertive. Unafraid to take risks and willing to take a shot at anything, anytime. Women, being tuned in to the more cautious (and more creative) right brain, are more reluctant to do something unless they're sure they're going to get it right.

Here's how the neuropsychiatrist put it: Think of a man as carrying a quiverful of arrows. When he spies a target, he lets fly with the whole caboodle. Most of his arrows will miss the bull's-eye, but one is likely to hit. And that's the one people will remember -- and applaud. A woman, though, proceeds slowly and considers carefully. Only when she's pretty sure she has a perfect shot does she send off a single arrow. And she hits the mark! Amazing! But . . . too bad. The guy's already walked off with the prize.

Once I picked myself up from the Hopkinsian lapse of consciousness her words evoked, I had to admit there is more than a grain of truth to this theory. This admission comes despite the fact that I've never been hesitant to offer my opinion. It is, after all, what I do here every day. In both high school and college I was easily the most vocal student, usually dominating any class discussion. In fact, I viewed my forthrightness as something of a problem. Professors used to call on me even when I did not raise my hand, so sure were they that I not only had an opinion, but would be more than happy to share it.

But this behavior is not, I find, typical of women in general. And even if I wasn't entirely convinced by the timidity argument, I could definitely see the risk-taking aspect of male vs. female behavior. I was reminded of a story I like to tell from over twenty years ago.

A friend of mine, a Marine wife whose husband was in the field, woke to find her aged Ford would not start and called me for help. I determined the battery was low and offered to jump-start the car and follow her to the dealer. I was, perhaps, 24 at the time and had worked on cars before. In fact, I'd jump-started my own station wagon just a few weeks before that. But since this was not my car and I didn't want to be responsible for any mishaps, I took extra care: I retrieved her manual from the glove compartment and started reading. As I connected the cables (looking for a spot to connect the ground at least 18" away from the battery, one of those old-fashioned ones) a Marine drove by, jumped out of his car, almost wrestled the cables from my hand, and threw them on the car. After he finished, he dusted off his hands and said, "I've always wanted to do that!". He collected the customary female adulation and drove off into the sunrise.

I turned to my friend and said, "Only a man would try something like that without bothering to check the directions" and we agreed that men hate taking that extra 3 minutes to be on the safe side. They'd rather just wing it. He had, of course, grounded the cable right next to the battery. But it didn't blow up. They usually don't, but I don't know what he would have done if it had. And most of the time things work out just fine, and lots of things get done that wouldn't if men had to stop and think about every little detail.

On the other hand, every wife, every secretary, every mother can recount numerous tales of fixing the problems that inevitably arise from this "don't look before you leap" strategy. I am a technical support manager and therefore spend a major amount of time correcting situations caused by men who didn't see any point in consulting the users manual when that critical warning message asked them, "Are you sure you want to delete the Microsoft Jet Database Engine?". Men almost invariably say, "Yes". Women, I find, err on the conservative side and almost always say, "No".

But the most interesting part of Ms. Smardz's piece, though she gave it short shrift, was this:

It's my job to chase down articles and contributors for the first five pages of this section every week. (We have no stable of columnists, à la the op-ed pages, here in Outlook.) And I know who's constantly beating on my door to be heard, and who's a little more inclined to hang back. It won't surprise you who's who, either. I took an informal count while writing this, and over a recent span of seven days, unsolicited manuscripts to our section were running 7 to 1 in favor of, yes, those pesky, ubiquitous men.

Her experience jibes quite well with mine as a blogger. I've opined before that, while much of the absence of women in the top ranks of the blogosphere is explained by the fact that we're not as likely to write about so-called "men's issues" like the war on terror, Social Security, Economics, foreign policy, or First Amendment issues, a more fundamental issue may simply be that we are not as pushy as men.

Let's be honest: I think I'm a damned good writer when I'm on my game. Although most bloggers don't write long opinion pieces, I do with some frequency. Blogging is a more informal medium, and so it lends itself to more frivolity than the sort of fare one finds in the New York Times or The Washington Post. But one adjusts one's style to the audience. In an earlier post on Susan Estrich's whiny demands to be noticed by the male power structure, I mused about sexism in the blogosphere:

Do I think there's a perception out there that female bloggers aren't as "serious" as men? You bet.

Do I think that some male bloggers (including one or two big-name bloggers) don't particularly welcome female bloggers into the club, or link to their posts? Perhaps. It's hard to say.

I've honestly been mystified in a few instances where I (or other women) have consistently written better or more substantive posts on a subject than a popular male blogger, but everyone links to him. I think this happens to men, too though. And as a woman, I have to admit a few things:

I don't promote my work. At all. And this may be a defining difference between male and female bloggers - many successful men are very aggressive about networking and emailing their posts around, and it works. So in the blogosphere (as in the real world with salary and compensation packages) they are seeing the result of their hard work. If a perfect world, maybe merit alone would determine who gets linked, but let's face it - effort counts too. And chutzpah. You can't sit in a corner and pout and hope the world notices you.

Interestingly, when I began blogging I read several pieces on how to succeed. They all suggested emailing big-name bloggers with carefully-chosen posts. Each piece warned of the pain of rejection and counseled patience: "It's a numbers game", they all said. "Keep up the effort and eventually your persistence will be rewarded". This advice was seconded by several successful bloggers I admired. I vividly remember Robert Prather, a fine writer who has been a daily read for some time, telling me that when he first started he pestered several big-name bloggers unmercifully (his words): something one would think unnecessary given the quality of his work.

I tried this tactic for all of two weeks when I started blogging at Jet Noise. Every now and then I'd send a piece I was particularly proud of to a carefully selected blogger. The results, I now realize, were quite good. But in the end I abandoned the process. I found it took too much time away from writing. I found it irritating.

Looking at my Inbox this morning, I have several emails from male bloggers suggesting various posts to me. In more than a year of blogging, I have never received a like email from a female blogger, though I know several. Not one: zip, zippo, nada, zilch. Without exception these gentlemen draw more traffic than my humble site, yet they took the time to include me on their distribution list. Some email me every day, even several times a day, with recommendations.

As a lark, I sent a link to Charlotte Allen, one of my favorite writers at The Inkwell, last week. This is something I almost never do: I can't think of the last time I tried to get someone to link to something I wrote, and to be honest I was not really expecting a link from her. How to explain this atypical act? My email was prompted more by excitement over something I had read that day, and the recollection of a great piece Charlotte wrote asking "Where are the great women thinkers?" There is nothing I love more than making a connection, and seeing Ruth Wisse's letter seemed the answer to Charlotte's question, posed way back in February. I couldn't wait to address an issue that had been rattling about in the back of my mind for weeks.

And that is so typically female: I sent off the email and promptly forgot about it, not really expecting either a link or a response. The connection had been made, the thought completed, and as far as I was concerned, the case was closed. But there was one more act in the play; the final, if unintended, result is here. It's hard to argue with success, ladies.

Another time I got excited about a post and fired off an email, this time hoping for a link, it also succeeded. I felt so strongly about my defense of General Mattis that I sent a link to Thomas Lifson of The American Thinker. He graciously responded with a link. In this case the piece in question was already receiving ample traffic. I simply felt compelled to respond to a letter The Thinker had published and I read and vehemently disagreed with.

And a recent Instalaunch was, likewise, the result of aggressive promotion. Just not mine. The Confederate Yankee (one of those horrid men who shamelessly promotes his own posts) kindly sent a link to my defense of Brit Hume to the Instapundit. So here we see a male blogger spontaneously promoting the work of a female blogger. In all fairness I must also admit that I would not have half the traffic I do, were it not for the efforts of another man, John Hawkins of Right Wing News. I have also been grateful for the support of other more successful (if traffic is the measure of success) male bloggers like John Donovan and TigerHawk. They have been generous with their links and have often done for me what I have chosen not to do for myself: give my writing a bit of a shove into the spotlight. And all without a single request for assistance, nor, all too often much in the way of thanks. This last, both from a reluctance to stop writing and the hope that it is the quality of my work that prompts their actions.

I don't begrudge male writers their success. If promotion works, so be it. I do happen to think the quality of one's work is important. But in the larger scheme of things, if you build a better mousetrap and no one knows about it you shouldn't be surprised if you don't get rich. I believe women may simply be more inner-directed. I write because I enjoy writing. I view promoting my work as a distraction from what I enjoy, and since I don't get paid for blogging I can afford the luxury of lofty ideals.

All of this musing begs the question: are crybabies like Susan Estrich ignoring the persistent efforts of editors like Ms. Smardz to overcome their own lack of effort? Why should editors have to go looking for female writers of quality? If we are so worried about gender disparity on the Op-Ed pages (and in truth, I can't say this pressing issue is keeping me awake nights) why aren't we banging her door down?

I did have one parting thought regarding the reluctance of female writers to commit to a tight deadline. Perhaps Ms. Smardz is looking in the wrong place? Two weeks? Four days? I'd be happy to have four hours to write an opinion piece. This one was important to me and it took me under two, advance reading included.

Try the blogosphere, Ms. Smardz. We're out here, and there's no shortage of opinions. Trust me on that one.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:53 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

Bizzarro World

Patriarchy Sux II (or "The Vagina Diatribes"):

Feminism and controversy surged throughout campus on March 10. Black and white flyers depicted a drawing of a woman grasping onto a hammer with "FEMINISM" on the handle. In the middle of the female symbol fists were clenched and space above the woman read: "If I had a hammer...I'd SMASH Patriarchy." A bubble by her face said, "I FOUND IT!"
"[The event was designed to] encourage women to confront the perpetrators who are men," Smith said. "Ninety-nine percent of sexual perpetrators are men. They are the root cause of the rape and oppression against women."

The FAL's hatred of the patriarchy, a male-ruled society, was decoratively affirmed with 10 hanging balloons, each displaying a letter of the word "patriarchy." Each was dramatically popped throughout the event, symbolizing the eradication of the patriarchy.

"This is a place where women can feel empowered," Smith said. "There aren't many places in the world where women can speak out against those who have oppressed us, beat us and raped us."

Ummm... yeah. Raise your hands, everyone in the audience who's been raped. Oh... but I forget. When Bush was elected, we were all raped. Just ask Cameron Diaz...

The name of the event mimics the aggression that men exert, Smith said.

"'Slam' is an aggressive word, but slamming is the classic way men respond," she said. "They feel threatened and shape it as hate. It's an aggressive word, but it shouldn't get in the way of our message."

One man asked to leave was upset by the display of male-bashing:

"It was advertised as a public event, nowhere did the posters say 'Women Only,'" Huffman said. "They excluded me from a public event based upon my gender. There were a few other men there who were allowed to stay, but I was singled out in particular. Excluding one person from a public event is almost impossible to justify unless they are disruptive, which I was not. This is discrimination."

"[This] was an evening of man hating. This is no different than any other extremist organization that...promotes stereotypes," Huffman said.

He found the subject of castration particularly offensive.

"The poems that talked about castrating men were threatening, along with the scissors the girls wore around their necks," he said. "Ms. Smith read a poem where she said that she was proud to hate men. How is this any different than hating African-Americans or Jews?

What I want to know is, just where was the ACLU?

Update: Ack!

If parents and students are right to be alarmed by the results of recent national tests that show U.S. school children falling behind Latvia in math scores, and doing even worse in science education, they will really be puzzled by an initiative at the University of Michigan: Trying to require that all students take a mandatory course on gender and sex.

The same people who brought you "hate speech" codes now want another official captive audience so they can hector their charges about "oppressive" heterosexual dominance, homophobia, male harassment, "antiquated" religious beliefs about sex, and the usual laundry list of enthusiasms.

Students who refuse to take it cannot graduate.

I love it:

"This course will also encourage students to consider ways in which (the) texts both reflect and participate in the construction of sexuality, sexual identity, gender, and desire."

NOT ONLY THAT, BUT IT:

“will create new dialogues, challenge hegemonic discourse, break taboos and stigmas, and open up realms of communications among all students.”

In other news, the State of Michigan has its eye firmly on the educational ball...

Because it's all about priorities.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:48 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 24, 2005

Discrimination And The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Of all the surreal moments surrounding the Harvard debacle, the most baffling has been this: why on earth did he apologize? In an eloquent letter to a former student, Professor Ruth Wisse, who should be designated a national treasure, speculates about Summers’ motivation:
...here we come to the most intriguing question you raised at lunch: why did Summers feel it necessary to apologize, as he did repeatedly the minute the first newspaper reports appeared, and then again in facing the faculty on February 15, and then again and even more abjectly at a second faculty meeting a week later? Why didn’t he defend his views, or at least his right to express them? After all, this is a man who had served as Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration. He had seen how a President who had treated women shabbily had not only defied his critics but won the grudging respect of the country for brazening it out. Why should Summers, the lord of a much smaller fiefdom, apologize for a mistake that you and I and many others didn’t think he had made in the first place?
...I think that, had he considered himself innocent, he would have stood his ground. In my opinion, the truly ghastly aspect of this whole affair is that the accused man actually believed he had committed an offense. Summers apologized not because, like Nikolai Bukharin, he was forced to, but because he was convinced he had done something wrong.

Wisse quotes Summers' letter to the faculty:

“I deeply regret the impact of my comments and apologize for not having weighed them more carefully,”
I have learned a great deal from all that I have heard in the last few days. The many compelling e-mails and calls that I have received have made vivid the very real barriers faced by women in pursuing scientific and other academic careers. They have also powerfully underscored the imperative of providing strong and unequivocal encouragement to girls and young women interested in science. . . . I was wrong to have spoken in a way that has resulted in an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women.
I see no reason to doubt Summers’s sincerity; he usually says what he means and means what he says. Taking him at his word, then, I conclude that he was not sorry for having offended liberal orthodoxy; he was sorry, genuinely so, for having given some sort of offense to women, for sending them “an unintended signal of discouragement.” Having first done our sex the courtesy of treating us as peers, he was now determined to treat us as a victimized species. Henceforth, he would tailor his thoughts to the ability of women to bear the hearing of them.
Not only did the president apologize, he rolled out a six-point program that would make affirmative action for women a top priority in hiring and promotion at Harvard. To anyone who has followed the career of group preferences in America, the process at work here was depressingly familiar. First come the threats—in this case, the tears—of the designated victims; then come the anguished efforts of well-meaning liberals to alleviate the pain; then follows, inevitably, the stirring of further, unappeasable resentments. “The person one pities is a person one may like but does not truly respect,” writes John W. McWhorter, one of a number of courageous blacks who have seen through the misplaced charitable inclinations that lie behind the American regime of affirmative action, and the web of lies and crippling self-deceptions that ensues from it.

This is the sad coda to a long, sad story.

For remarks made among fellow academicians in what was supposed to be an informal and collegial setting, Larry Summers stands accused of the crime of sexism: discriminating against women.

But there is a terrible irony here. For you see, Summers did not discriminate then. He treated the women present that day as his intellectual and professional equals. His error, if indeed he did err, lay in assuming that the women in that room were capable of discussing complex ideas in a rational and dispassionate manner.

Their reaction seems to have disproved that hypothesis. It forced him to reassess their capabilities based on the available data. Like any good administrator, Summers did exactly what the faculty requested of him: he listened. He learned from his mistake.

The irony of it all is that, although Lawrence Summers may have been innocent of sexism on that day, he is undoubtedly guilty as sin today. Because he clearly no longer believes women are equal to men.

We must be treated gingerly: protected from the harsher realities. From ugly facts, or distressing academic theories, or hypotheses that make us feel like blacking out.

Women had Larry Summers' respect, once. We have lost it, now.

That is what Dr. Nancy Hopkins has wrought. I hope she is proud of her handiwork.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:10 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

Separate Accounts, Separate Lives?

David Brooks muses on the nature of marriage and the growing prevalence of separate bank accounts:

...some of the people quoted in Shellenbarger's article seem unaware that there may be a distinction between the individualistic ethos of the market and the communal ethos of the home. A Texas woman celebrated her family's separate accounts, remarking, "It's so freeing to be your own person, and not feel like someone is looking over your shoulder." It's not clear whether she's talking about a marriage or a real estate partnership.

I went to the local bookstore and was startled to see how many personal finance gurus insist on separate accounts. "If you're part of a couple, maintain separate accounts - yours, mine and ours," writes Glinda Bridgforth in "Girl, Get Your Money Straight."

"Each partner needs his or her own money," writes the best-selling guru David Bach. "Regardless of whether or not you both work, each of you should maintain your own checking and credit card accounts." Bach says he doesn't need or want to know every detail of how his wife spends her money: "It's none of my business."

I'm not saying that people with separate accounts have marriages that are less healthy than anybody else's. I'm saying we should pause before this becomes the social norm. Private property is the basis for our market democracy. But private property in the home is an altogether trickier proposition.

For one thing, separate accounts can easily turn into secret accounts. A person's status and resources inside the home shouldn't be based on how much he or she is making outside it. A union based on love can easily turn into a merger based on self-interest, where the main criterion for continuing becomes: Am I getting a good return on my investment, psychic or otherwise?

The larger, far more important point is that in a society as individualistic as ours, it's especially important to protect and nurture the countervailing institutions. It's so easy for the powerful force of individualism to wash over and transform institutions - like family, religion and the military - that are supposed to be based on self-sacrifice, loyalty and love.

Interesting.

For most of our married life, we've had one bank account and most of the money that went into it came from my husband's salary. But by the same token, I managed the account and he really has never had any idea how I spent the money (nor has he asked). Not that I wouldn't have told him - the subject simply hasn't come up.

If I made a truly major purchase in the past, I generally consulted with him, but it wasn't unusual for me to spend upwards of $500 without stopping to "ask permission" first. I was the household manager and it was understood that I had purchasing authority. The truly odd thing about our financial arrangement was that unless he used the credit cards, my husband (who made the money) was more likely to have to consult with me before making a major purchase than I with him. Not because he needed to ask permission, but because I was more familiar with the budget and how much money we had in the bank.

We now have separate accounts. He has his own account (at my urging) and I still manage the main account with most of the money. But I don't think it matters much whether a couple has separate accounts or not - I think your attitude towards your money is more important.

We've always considered both our salaries as "ours", regardless of whose account the money goes into, and I've never inquired into his spending, nor has he inquired into mine. But then I don't think either of us spends money in such a way that would cause the other one to object, either. If anything, I wish my husband would spend more money on himself.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:16 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 28, 2005

The Bad Boys of Summer

Well apparently the hapless Larry Summers has apologized AGAIN. Some people just don't know when to quit:

...Actually, I think women are actually much better than men at many things. For one thing, they look better naked. A lot better. Well, maybe not if you're gay. But I'm not. I like women. A lot...

...no offense to any buff, tan, gay guys, it's just that I prefer women. Naked women.

And try having sex with a guy. I mean that figuratively, of course, I'm not encouraging anyone to actually have sex with a guy. Unless they're a woman. Or gay. What I mean is, just try having sex with a guy if you're a guy, and once again, I mean that figuratively. You just can't do the same things with a guy that you can with a woman.

But just to show you that women don't have a monopoly on irrational behavior, the male faculty are demanding that Summers release the transcript of his remarks:

Some faculty members, however, weren't quite as smitten with Summers' remarks. One gentleman in the room fainted, and two others ran out of the meeting, crying hysterically.

Nevertheless, Summers went on to cite various reasons why, he believed, men do not excel in sexiness, and said he hopes that his theories will spark debate on why such inequity exists.

I give up.

Personally I think this is a move in the right direction. When this first happened, he should have defused the criticism by organizing a 'Women of Harvard' Calendar - that would have shown a truly enlightened attitude towards womens' sexuality and gender roles in the 21st Century.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:51 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

It's All In Your Point Of View

Debra Summers nails it:

Where did Summers err? To start with, he concentrated on the wrong gender. If, for example, Summers had said that men are less likely to play the role of primary caregiver in the home, say, because men tend to be less nurturing than women, academia would have applauded his insight. There would be no charges of sexism, as sexism against men is no problem in the Ivy League.

Summers' next mistake was to be male. In his infamous speech to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Summers noted that women often don't want to work the hours needed to get to the top, that girls are "socialized toward nursing" while boys are "socialized toward building bridges." The quote that killed him: "In the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are, in fact, lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination."

Women say -- or imply -- the same thing all the time. They demand work schedules that are friendly to mothers. They observe that women excel in social and verbal arenas -- and that's no biggie. But when a man says about women what women say about women -- it can be a career-ending offense.

If women are not 'unwilling to work 80-hour weeks' because they have children, then why on earth do employers need to consider "work schedules that are friendly to mothers"???

Of course, Summers made one more critical mistake: his remarks were factually accurate:

In recent years, scientists have found that male and female brains are wired differently because of the role of testosterone and other male hormones during gestation. Brains growing under the influence of male hormones are slightly larger and have denser concentrations of neurons in some regions.

Intelligence tests have found that men, on average, perform better on spatial tasks that require mentally rotating or otherwise manipulating objects. Men also do better on tests of mathematical reasoning. Women tend to do better than men on tasks requiring verbal memory and distinguishing whether objects are similar or different.

But is the difference really biological, or are exceptional girls and women intimidated by cultural stereotypes and discouraged from cultivating their talents from an early age?

Whatever the reason, researchers have found differences in math ability between males and females from prekindergarten through adulthood.

One wonders if these differences in male and female brain structure might also explain the different responses to data exhibited by certain female scientists:

"When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe...," Dr. Hopkins said.

If the mere mention of a repugnant hypothesis is enough to render Dr. Hopkins positively twitterpated, might we suggest she consider another line of work? Perhaps one where they take here "special needs" into account?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:56 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

The Estrogen Monologues

Catherine Seipp takes on Susan Estrogen:

Here's one for the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished file: On Feb. 13, the Los Angeles Times published a special Sunday opinion section featuring exclusively women writers in the first few pages. Two pieces were from the left: Science writer Deborah Blum regretted that that there are too few women scientists, while academics Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barrett coauthored an argument against the notion that men are generally attracted to young, pretty women over high-achievers. Two were from the right: I suggested that perhaps women shouldn't be pushed against their will toward science careers (a longer version of this is up now at the Independent Women's Forum), and IWF coeditor Charlotte Allen lamented that feminist ideologues have replaced public intellectuals who happen to be women. In response, USC law professor and Fox News pundit Susan Estrich sent an angry mass e-mail the next day to her rich and powerful contacts; she urged them to complain to Times editors and boycott Times advertisers until the paper includes more women in the opinion section.
At this point you might be wondering: How, exactly, is a special all-female editorial package an affront to feminism? Apparently because the most prominently featured piece in Sunday's section was by Charlotte Allen, who, as Estrich explained to her e-mail list, is "a feminist-hater I have never heard of...her only book was about Jesus and religion" — ergo, she's obviously a wacky redneck fundamentalist. Actually, Charlotte Allen is a pretty well-known religious scholar. Early Christianity is not exactly one of my areas of expertise, but even I had heard of her book The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus, years before I started writing for IWF.

Oh... I get it now. It's not that there aren't enough women on the pages of the LA Times. It's that they're not "the right kind of women". Apparently ideological purity is more of an issue than gender or intellectual diversity. Seipp comments:

What's more, Estrich continued, Charlotte works for the dreaded IWF, "a group of right-wing women who exist to get on TV and get in newspapers attacking the likes of us...a lot of them turn out to be the wives of guys you see on right-wing talk shows." As opposed to the wives on Susan Estrich's Hollywood-heavy mailing list — like the ex-Mrs. Jerry Bruckheimer, Mrs. Larry David, Mrs. Jonathan Dolgen, Mrs. Peter Norton, Mrs. Richard Riordan, Mrs. Haim Saban, and the ex-Mrs. Bud Yorkin — every one of whom is of course fiercely independent of any income or name recognition provided by men.

Odd that the women's movement, ostensibly all about diversity, inclusiveness, and expanding choice for all women, tolerates no dissent from its rigid orthodoxy. But then who can blame them: as one of its leading spokeswomen reminds us,

...right-wing women, the spiritual descendants of the Women’s KKK, are far more overtly hostile to feminists than to any racial or ethnic 'others'...

Apparently, in the clamor to hear more 'women's voices', some voices are more equal than others.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:53 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

More Navel Gazing

After my harrowing experience with The Gender Genie, I was reluctant to take this test:

Your Brain is 53.33% Female, 46.67% Male


Your brain is a healthy mix of male and female.

You are both sensitive and savvy.

Rational and reasonable, you tend to keep level headed.

But you also tend to wear your heart on your sleeve.

What Gender Is Your Brain?

But it came out pretty much the way I expected it to. Via Jen

Posted by Cassandra at 08:57 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

Never Assume...

Libertarian MOM (dang...I've been waiting all morning to do that) points out how easy it is to infer nonsensical conclusions from isolated stats:

Brad DeLong has a big headline, The Math Test Score Upper Tail: Is There Reason to Believe That Sociology Swamps Biology? And he then presents us with the following data:
In 1992, 2.8% of Asian-American women who took the Math SAT scored 750 or above.

In 1992, 2.1% of white men who took the Math SAT scored 750 or above.

In 1992, 0.4% of white women who took the Math SAT scored 750 or above.

In 1992, 0.2% of African-American men who took the Math SAT scored 750 or above.

Now what might a reasonable person infer from the above? I'll reserve my opinion for now.

And can he mention it in an academic setting without arousing the flouncing instincts of female scientists everywhere?

Well we already know the answer to that one, don't we?

Let's really throw some gasoline on the fire...

And if we're going to look at SAT scores (which I'm not at all sure is a valid approach), why not look at the amount of variability in male/female scores* as a possible indicator of whether Summers was on the right track?

Or would that be too empirical an approach to The Subject Which Dares Not Speak Its Name?


Posted by Cassandra at 10:11 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Oh! The Pressure!

Actually this was interesting in a bizarre sort of way:

Not all that long ago, says Francine Pelletier, "women who flaunted their sexuality lost all credibility. She'd be deemed a floozie — and that was it."

But that's no longer the case. Au contraire.

Now, a brazen display of female sexuality is not only tolerated, says Pelletier, former host of Fifth Estate. "It's encouraged.

"There's a real pressure, a bullying, to be that hottie no matter who you are."

Uh-huh... I'm feelin' the pressure....the pressure to be a hottie.

What possessed the author to go looking for trouble? It was all about the burkhas:

In a word, Afghanistan.

During the war there, Pelletier says she was "bowled over by the sharp contrast between, on the one hand, images of women veiled from head to foot and on the other hand, the images of women here — Sex and the City images."

She found it "unimaginable that we actually live on the same planet."

The tension between the two sets of images stirred Pelletier to investigate how the dichotomy between the madonna and the whore, "which still exists so strongly in that part of the world, could have disappeared altogether in so short a time in this part of the world."

Not so fast - since when? Just because both women and girls seem suddenly possessed with a mad urge to bare parts of their bodies normally reserved for more private occasions doesn't mean the Madonna-Whore complex went away.

So where does the pressure come from for women to be openly sexual, to show up at work and on the subway with cleavage (even in winter!)? Pelletier calls it "a real bullying aspect to sexuality — you will be a hottie: that is the new commandment.

Well first of all, not all women do that. But she has a point - increasingly, we seem to feel more pressure to achieve what is probably an unrealistic (and for us, undesirable) goal. But given women's complicated natures, that doesn't stop us from wanting to be something we're not:

"This model of the perfectly desirable woman has become the model overriding all others and it's impossible for women not to want to be that, in a way."

In the end, Pelletier suggests, we women have fallen into a trap of our own making.

Proclaiming our sexual power, we're willing accomplices to a society that exploits female sexuality and, perhaps more than ever, treats women as erotic objects.

"The influence of Sex and the City gave the overriding impression that women were totally controlling their own lives, had developed healthy sexual appetites and would go wherever these appetites would bring them," she says. "But, at the same time, they were still looking for Mr. Right. They were these gorgeous, sexy girls who flaunted themselves and suggested the world is a better place for being able to do that and that there is no price to pay: `men will like you, you are who you are, you can make mistakes and carry on.'

"But I think it is more complicated than that. Much more.

What do you think? Has the feminine ideal changed, or are women just falling prey to one more stupid message from Madison Avenue?

Posted by Cassandra at 02:27 PM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

The Monday Gender Wars Continue [yawn...]

Inquiring Minds Want To Know...

...whether the Gender Genie is male or female.

Heh.

***********

Flame on, dude... the epic battle between Susan Estrich and Michael Kinsley erupts into an email flame war:

Run my letter - or else

From: Susan Estrich

To: Kinsley, Michael

I am sending over my letter this morning. It is very, very temperate. It is signed by approximately 50 women, among them some of the most powerful women in town...
Anyway, the piece runs 500 words, and the signatures another 100. Since I have my own mimeograph machine, I can do a column today... but as I have every day, I would like nothing better than to work with you to declare victory. Otherwise we'll have a new website, www.latimesbias.org up by tomorrow...

Don't try to push me around girlie

From: Kinsley, Michael

To: Susan Estrich

Susan - We don't run letters from 50 people, and we don't succumb to blackmail. So we won't be publishing your letter.

How dare you accuse me of blackmail

From: Susan Estrich

To: Kinsley, Michael

You owe me an apology. NO one tried harder to educate you about Los Angeles, introduce you to key players in the city, bring to your attention, quietly, the issues of gender inequality than I did - and you have the arrogance and audacity to say that you couldn't be bothered reading my emails, spending time in the city where all of us are raising our families ... and then we should stop our efforts because you're "pissed off."

...the idea that I would somehow say STOP now because
Michael is pissed off and has offered me some onetime column down the road when he's not mad anymore is just absurd; it would make a mockery of everything I stand for.

Do the right thing for your sake ...

That's it I am taking my ball and going home

From: Kinsley, Michael

To: Susan Estrich

Susan - Your mischaracterizations of what I wrote to you are farcical, as anyone can plainly see from reading the whole string. But your references to "concern for [my] health" are disgusting. Consider my invitation to write for the Times when things calm down rescinded. John Carroll agrees.

***********

I am now waiting for the following entry in the "Local" section of the LA Times:

The early-morning peace of West LA was shattered by violence when the body of Michael Kinsley, formerly of the LA Times, was found buried in an abandoned grain silo once used to store hog feed. The words "DIE YOU MALE CHAUVINIST PIG!" were scrawled on his forehead in what is believed to be Lancome's 'Shanghai Chocolate' lip color. The writer's body also bore the imprint of what experts described as "an alarming number of Manolo Blahnik high-heeled shoes in various sizes".

***********

From Sally Quinn's excellent essay on the Summers controversy (which you should read in its entirety). H/t George and also my Dad, who sent me the article:

Why don't female mathematicians and scientists, particularly at Harvard, get together and research this issue until they have definitive answers instead of reaching for the smelling salts? If it's proved that women are equal in math and science, then great. We'll know it once and for all. If it's proved otherwise we'll know that, too.

Such an outcome would not be the end of the world. Have you ever had a conversation with a brilliant male mathematician? These guys can be really dumb. They may understand the theory of relativity, but they don't get the joke. There are so many ways in which women are smarter than men that it isn't even fair. I figure that if men are better in these subjects -- well, they deserve to be better at something.

Lots of men are bigger and stronger than I am. So are elephants. What I want is to live in a world where we are so confident of our own abilities that we can accept the fact that men may have an edge on us in some ways -- if in fact they do, poor devils.

As a female who routinely scores well on tests of mathematical aptitude (but does even better on tests of verbal aptitude), allow me to weigh in:

I couldn't agree more. Furthermore, aptitude isn't everything. My husband scores off the charts in engineering aptitude, but he wasn't interested in becoming an engineer for whatever reason - his interests lay more with economics and foreign policy. So if it turns out (as I strongly suspect) that females simply don't tend to exhibit strong interest in technical careers to the extent that males do, would this not also be a factor in why they are underrepresented in those fields?

In many years of tutoring College Algebra and Calculus, I observed that men and women seem to reason and learn differently - I had to use different techniques when teaching female students. I have also observed that even though I routinely did as well or better than the top male students in my math classes, almost to a man they were better than I at many (in fact, most) math tasks. And they were quicker to catch on when new material was presented.

In other words, it didn't come naturally to me in the way it did to them. I don't think in symbols easily - my mind wants to stop and translate into words. Or I need to find a real-world analogy that helps me process the concept or learn the pattern. Even though I performed equally well on tests, I simply don't think the same way.

I do think I understood the connections between concepts better than most of the male students I encountered. Once I learned something, I was able to see how it applied to a variety of different endeavors, rather than seeing it in isolation as just another problem to be solved. I believe this ability to 'make connections' may be a more typically female way of reasoning.

Like Ms. Quinn, I'm not in the least threatened by the idea that men may (as a class) be inherently better on average at certain tasks. In fact, my anecdotal experience suggests this is indeed the case.

The only problem comes when you apply to extend that generalized reasoning to individuals: you don't hire a "class", you hire an individual. Assess the individual's competence and judge him or her by that standard.

And to the extent that it is practical, I'm not averse to finding out more about how women learn, if that will enable more of them who have genuine aptitude to succeed. But that seems (to me) to be a strong case for single-sex education, where such experimental techniques can be tried without impacting the entire class or the sake of a small number of female students.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:23 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Well At Least I Still Throw Like A Girl....

Over at Tigerhawk, I ran across the Gender Genie, which 'analyzes' a sample of your writing and predicts your gender. With some trepidation, I used some old posts to take her out for a test drive:

Eason Jordan
Words: 700
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 508
Male Score: 1535
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Richard Clarke
Words: 613
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1233
Male Score: 1071
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!

Double standard on Iraq
Words: 725
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 868
Male Score: 1280
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

This was not going well. I surveyed myself for telltale signs that I was in fact a man, trapped in a woman's body... I was worried..if I revealed these shameful results to my readers, would they start calling me the Blog Prince?

Finding nothing out of order, I then wondered whether this meant I'd have to rethink my choice of blogging attire. Nope, can't get much more 'female' than that... Do I even want to sound 'female'??? What in the heck does "female" sound like, anyway?

A random comment of Jack's caused me to wonder whether the subject matter would influence the results (would I sound more "male" when blogging on the War on Terror or Social Security than if I were discussing "gender issues"?) I decided to run a few items from my "Battle of the Sexes" archive through the Genie:

Sex, Porn, & Misogyny
Words: 807
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1164
Male Score: 1257
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Sad, but not universally true
Words: 810
(NOTE: The genie works best on texts of more than 500 words.)

Female Score: 1286
Male Score: 1413
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

Still came out 'male', but note that the scores are a lot closer. Interesting. Trudged into the Unit's lair to inform him of the results yesterday morning and received an unsympathetic response, which I have attempted to reproduce here:

[amused snort] "Well I could have told you that!"

At which point I hied me to the Inner Santum for a long, hot bubble bath.

Hmmmmph...

Posted by Cassandra at 07:40 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

On Women, Bias, Discrimination, Yada, Yada, Yada...

Here we go again... Susan Estrich writes to Michael Kinsley of the LA Times:

It is with great regret that I send you this message, asking you to help me in fighting blatant sex discrimination at The Los Angeles Times. What could be more important - or easier for that matter - than ensuring that women's voices are heard in public discourse in our community? For the last three years, my students and I have been counting the number of women whose opinion pieces appear in The Los Angeles Times, and the record is worse than dismal, worse than The New York Times (which has a woman editorial page editor), worse than The Washington Post, even worse than the Orange County Register (which has a woman editor).

There are more wonderful women writers in LA than anywhere in the country; none of them are asked to write for the opinion section; Ms. Magazine is based here, Elaine Lafferty finds phenomenal writers, neither she nor they are in the Times. Instead of calling Elaine for ideas, the new editors called the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, who recommended Max Boot ... Max Boot? The old boys' network at work.

And the paper, far from improving, keeps getting worse. A few weeks ago, I pointed out to Michael that they went looking for people to ask about their opinions on the war in Iraq: and found THIRTEEN MEN AND NO WOMEN.

Then there was two weeks ago, when I did a spot check of a Monday-Wednesday and counted TWENTY FOUR MEN AND ONE WOMAN IN A THREE DAY PERIOD.

Before responding, I should first note that I am a conservative female which (depending on who you talk to) makes me an imaginary beast like the Unicorn or the fabled Thinking Black Republican of Myth and Legend. Or simply a phony. There is a third possibility, as The BarbEhrian notes, observing that today's right-wing women,

...the spiritual descendants of the Women’s KKK, are far more overtly hostile to feminists than to any racial or ethnic 'others'...

So though, as a conservative and one who works with statistics I instinctively oppose outcome-based allegations of discrimination, I have to hand it to Ms. Estrich: she's got Mr. Kinsley dead-to-rights. Because liberals are always making that argument.

If there aren't enough blacks in your graduate chemical engineering class, that's de facto evidence of discrimination in admissions (never mind looking at how many applied to get into the program, nor their qualifications). If enough high school girls don't take Differential Equations, someone must be oppressing them (never mind the body of evidence that shows they're simply not interested, or that there may be [shudder] gender differences in the way we think. That kind of talk can get you fired). If there aren't enough dwarfs in pro sumo wrestling... doh!

In today's society certain things are simply Unmentionable.

One of them seems to be that for some reason, women (in general) don't seem to write about the same topics, in the same numbers, that male columnists do. Could this possibly be one reason for the disparity in gender representation Ms. Estrich decries on the pages of the LA Times?

There has been an ongoing controversy in the Blogosphere over male vs. female bloggers and whether women are "ignored" as serious writers. Last year when I was still at Jet Noise, John Hawkins touched off a minor firestorm and a lot of good discussion on the subject.

Do I think there's a perception out there that female bloggers aren't as "serious" as men? You bet.

Do I think that some male bloggers (including one or two big-name bloggers) don't particularly welcome female bloggers into the club, or link to their posts? Perhaps. It's hard to say.

I've honestly been mystified in a few instances where I (or other women) have consistently written better or more substantive posts on a subject than a popular male blogger, but everyone links to him. I think this happens to men, too though. And as a woman, I have to admit a few things:

1. I don't promote my work. At all. And this may be a defining difference between male and female bloggers - many successful men are very aggressive about networking and emailing their posts around, and it works. So in the blogosphere (as in the real world with salary and compensation packages) they are seeing the result of their hard work. If a perfect world, maybe merit alone would determine who gets linked, but let's face it - effort counts too. And chutzpah. You can't sit in a corner and pout and hope the world notices you.

2. They may just not like my writing. Or me, for that matter. The blogosphere is a community - people link to people they know and like. Why assume gender discrimination when the real answer may simply be that they find you annoying, or simply prefer to link to someone they know?

3. I should have posted a picture of my boobs. OK, this one's not serious...

4. Although I do write a goodly amount of serious, substantive material, I also include a lot of snarky material to lighten things up, and this may offend or annoy some people. I write to please myself - if this were a magazine, obviously the standard would be far different. But it's a personal blog.

I have observed that, so far as I can tell from the mail and comments I receive, my readership is almost overwhelmingly male.

That alone says something. I'm not sure what. Possibly that not all that many women are all that interested in things I write about. I find this thought distressing, but not really surprising: in everyday life I find it difficult to find other women who want to talk about politics or national security or the war on terror or economic issues.

Following that thought up: if not all that many women are interested in reading about these topics, is it not possible that not all that many women are writing about them, day in and day out? I'm certainly not making the case that women aren't interested in these things: there are too many excellent refutations to that premise out there.

But it's a numbers game.

And what, after all, is so wrong with admitting that perhaps, just perhaps, men and women are different? Is this truly such a scary thought that even in academic circles we are still crying heretic at the mere suggestion? Look at the ridiculous ankle-biting that continues to dog Larry Summers, even after he fatuously apologized for daring to mention academic research into gender differences at [gasp!] an academic conference, causing scientists to go into convulsions and suffer permanent emotional trauma:

President Lawrence H. Summers of Harvard was confronted at a meeting of his own faculty on Tuesday by some of the university's most influential professors, who expressed strong dissatisfaction with his leadership and charged that he was damaging the institution.
Dr. Kleinman said: "He heard a lot of hard things and he seemed to listen. At the end he apologized for giving the sense that he was governing by fear and intimidation."

The 90-minute meeting ended with a unanimous vote to hold an emergency meeting of the faculty next Tuesday so professors could continue to discuss their lack of confidence in Dr. Summers's leadership.

Attendance yesterday was about twice the usual number, with more than 250 professors crowding into the meeting room at University Hall.

Several, including Barbara J. Grosz, chairwoman of a new task force on women in science and engineering, called on Dr. Summers to release a transcript of his remarks about science and women. Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology, said, "President Summers appears to be apologizing profusely, yet he refuses to release for honest discussion his actual remarks." The result was that commentators have cast his critics as "unreasonable opponents of academic inquiry and openness," with Harvard "ridiculed as a center of close-minded political correctness."

Well if the shoe fits...

The irony here is almost unbearable. The media pilloried bloggers for asking Eason Jordan to release a transcript of his remarks.

Not (mind you) that they covered the story until Jordan's resignation forced their hand.

Now the NY Times, which found it un-newsworthy when the head of one of the largest news networks in the free world accused the US military of murdering 63 journalists, is still covering a minor brouhaha over a remark that was unquestionably true and the resulting demand that he release the transcript of his remarks .

Maybe someone can explain to me why the mere suggestion that women may have different interests and abilities is more shocking and newsworthy than the accusation that our military killed 63 journalists?

It's time to kill this sacred cow.

Thanks to spd rdr for the NYT link.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:03 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

Deconstructing Valentines' Day

Too funny.

Are Valentines just an insincere waste of time?

Senders of greeting cards and valentines may actually use the cards to distance themselves from their feelings, reflecting a culture in which relationships, due to social and economic pressures, are "necessarily temporary," according to a new book by an Ohio State University professor.

In defense of Valentine's Day cards, the book also claims that what senders write in the cards is no less hokey or clichéd than some of the preprinted messages.

The findings, based on an extensive study of dozens of card archives and collections across the United States, indicate that Valentine's Day cards are more than just trivial love tokens. Instead, the book suggests, they represent American economic and social values since the greetings first appeared in the 1840s.

Well dang.

A woman's intuition is never wrong! I just knew there was some Mystic Cosmic Significance to those trite cardboard missives. Some politico-psycho-sexual metamessage that had previously eluded me.... other than the Ultimate feminine passive-aggressive Power Trap, of course:

SHE: "You didn't get me a card! [sniff] Janie's husband got her a card... AND a dozen red roses."

HE: "Well, um...my car did break down this morning on the way to work. And then I was in meetings with my boss until 7 pm, so you see there really wasn't time...."

SHE: [interrupting] "And then he took her to dinner at Rocco's. She said they talked for hours... WHY DON'T WE EVER TALK ANYMORE?"

HE: [thinking to himself] "Well, first I'd have to be able to get a word in edgewise..." [out loud] "Now honey you know I..."

SHE: Flounces off in a huff, big fat tears trembling on her eyelashes.

[Man goes out to buy card]

Of course life is never that simple - that's why we have sociopaths sociologists to 'help us understand' the hidden motivations that lie behind the most mundane activities:

Barry Shank, author of the book and associate professor of comparative studies, told Discovery News that he began the project thinking that people were better than cards at conveying emotions.

His research, which included scouring thousands of used greeting cards housed at the Bowling Green State University Popular Culture Library, proved his original theory to be incorrect.

"Most of the time, the writings added by the card senders relied upon stock phrases," Shank said.

He also mentioned that collections of cards from individuals revealed that senders often would write exactly the same thing to different lovers.

Aha! So not only is the lousy schumck you're seeing writing hokey and clichéd phrases in your Valentine's Day Card, ladies - he's probably sending the same message to lots of different lovers!

Oh... and by way, the fact that he took the time to select a greeting card especially for you and write that trite little message inside of it probably indicates that, due to the tremendous social and economic pressures of modern life, he views your relationship as "necessarily temporary"... Otherwise he would have bought you, oh, I don't know, the Koh-i-noor Diamond.

Well, all I can say is, I hope this timely holiday offering from the smart folks at Discover Magazine has been educational. I know I learned a lot.

Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

And be careful out there, people.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:55 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 09, 2005

CMS: America's Dirty Little Secret

Despite the snarky attempts of some petticoated intellectual dilettantes to sweep it under the carpet, the half-vast editorial staff is becoming increasingly concerned about this looming health problem.

Although it is sometimes called by the misleading misnomer used in the linked article, CMS, or Constant Male Syndrome is the fastest-growing health problem affecting American males in this country. And it's not just men who suffer.

Oh no... we women suffer too. Boy... do we ever...

Harold, age 44, has a not-so-typical Valentines Day dilemma. It's not that he doesn't know what to get for his wife, it's that he doesn't want to get her anything!
"I love my wife [and] I know she expects something nice for Valentine's Day -- candy, flowers, or a romantic card -- but I hate to go through the motions when I just don't feel much passion," he says.
Nodding your head in agreement or sympathy?
You or your partner may be experiencing irritable male syndrome (IMS), which is marked by plummeting levels of the hormone testosterone while under stress. As a result, men may feel withdrawn, frustrated, anxious, sad, and/or lack interest or enthusiasm in just about everything - including you!
IMS is highly common and affects many aspects of life -- 365 days of the year, according to a new study of 10,000 men. Specifically, 46% of men say that they are often or almost always stressed and 55% say they often or almost always have a strong fear of failure. Moreover, 62% have a strong desire to get away from it all, and 40% say they are rarely or never sexually satisfied. The full study results will appear in Diamond's upcoming book.

AHA! Scientific proof of what I've always maintained! Some women may get a tad bit irritable a few short days of the month, but MEN ARE CRANKY 24/7, 365 DAYS A YEAR!

It's their natural state!

But relax. We women are (by nature) angelic creatures... full of sweetness and light.

We love you anyway.

For Pete's sake - forget the stupid card and flowers and candy. We couldn't care less about jewelry, or gifts, or silly cards - we just want to know you still love us. A 5-second hug will do nicely.

And try not being so (*&^ cranky when we come up behind you and try to give you a neck rub at the end of the day. We're tired too, you know.

Sometimes approaching a male in the full throes of CMS takes more courage than taking on a 7-foot grizzly with halitosis and hemorroids. But when you love the bear, you take the risk of getting your head ripped off and rolled down the road like a trashcan full of empty Budweiser cans and burrito wrappers.

We hear a new Miracle Drug (Colt-45) is in clinical trials right now. Researchers report incredible results treating the tragic symptoms of CMS.

The editorial staff can only hope...

UPDATE: This is why you NEVER go to Page 2... who writes these things anyway: Oprah?

This Valentine's Day, "couples can either go through the motions and pretend that nothing is wrong, or they can use this holiday of love to re-examine their relationship and see if IMS may be leading them down the wrong path," he says.

"Generally, the first step is to reaffirm that you care about each other," he says. And then say something like 'tell me what you are really feeling and what you are needing because love doesn't flow the way it did or should,' he suggests. Or say, 'Look, I do love you, but something is going on that we need to talk about.'

"...love doesn't flow???" Nice move there, Ace... when I'm dealing with a cranky male, that's the first thing I always like to do... TALK THE PROBLEM TO DEATH. Why don't you just pour gasoline on the fire and have done with it?

"Hopefully couples can use Valentine's Day for talking about the deeper love that they have for one another and the blocks that may be getting in the way," he says.

Like the fact that you're a hopeless moron? Or that the poor guy hasn't had sex for 6 months because you never stop talking about your fricking feelings?

"Let him know that you are aware that he is in pain and say you will listen and be sympathetic; emphasizing that you are the partner," suggests Larrian Gillespie, MD, a retired Southern California urologist and author of The Gladiator Diet: How to Preserve Peak Health, Sexual Energy, and A Strong Body at Any Age.

I think for Valentine's Day I'm going to dress up in that lovely red lace bra and panties and stand commandingly over the Unit, emphasizing to him in loving tones all the while, "I am the partner, you know..." WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE???

Here's my prescription for this year's "holiday of love": lock the bedroom door and engage in a little non-verbal communication for about 4 hours. No talking about your relationship, your 'feelings', or your pain.

Something tells me these people have too much education.

Idiots...

Posted by Cassandra at 11:18 AM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

Dang...Should Never Have Let 'Em Out Of The Kitchen...

Interesting photographic study of women on Capitol Hill. How women are changing the face of politics in the US Senate - some truly lovely photos.

03.jpg


Posted by Cassandra at 07:52 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 25, 2005

Andrew Sullivan: Is Truth "Too Hot To Handle"?

I know I've focused a lot on the Larry Summers controversy, but this Andrew Sullivan piece is truly first-rate. I particularly loved this passage:

Scientists are finding out more and more about the differences between the male and female brains. One thing that endures across cultures and populations is a male edge at the very top of the bell curve for spatial and mathematical reasoning. Ever wonder why boys are more likely to suffer from autism? Some researchers are investigating whether autism isn’t an extreme case of this specialisation.

Scientists have also discovered correlations between certain behavioural traits and levels of testosterone. Testosterone exists in both men and women but it is far more plentiful in men. Among testosterone-related characteristics are aggression, lack of focus and edginess.

No big surprise then that 95% of all hyperactive kids are boys; or that four times as many boys are dyslexic and learning-disabled as girls. There is a greater distinction between the right and left brains among boys than girls, and worse linguistic skills. These are generalisations, of course. There are many boys who are great linguists and model students, and vice versa. Some boys even prefer, when left to their own devices, to play with dolls as well as trucks. But we are talking of generalities.

All this is the subject of cutting-edge scientific debate. It cannot be illegitimate to conduct it. In a university it shouldn’t be illegitimate to have any debate that is rooted in evidence, reason and argument. That’s what universities are for.

Of course, discussion of human natural inequality will always be sensitive. It’s a hard fact to absorb that some people will never be as intelligent as some others, or as musically gifted, or as mathematically skilled. Americans in particular hate the notion that there is some natural limit on what people can and cannot achieve.

But there is a distinction between moral and political equality for all — the bedrock of a liberal society — and unavoidable natural inequalities between human beings and, in a few narrow areas, between social groups. This cannot and should not mean that any individual should be prejudged or denied opportunity. But it does mean that some imbalances in certain professions may not be entirely a function of prejudice or bigotry.

We see it over and over again in the United States: this mystifying overemphasis on the individual at the expense of the group.

But laws, social mores, and even the dreaded stereotype (viewed with fear and loathing by the supposedly liberated, but often the result of observing real characteristics, consistently demonstrated by distinctly identifiable groups) are all attempts to deal with people in the aggregate: to form rules that work in the majority of cases.

For some reason, Americans have come to despise the common weal. "But this law is making Jane Q. Public miserable!", shreiks Maureen Dowd! "I lunched with two girlfriends (Tilapia with Mango/Tequila Salsa at Elaine's) and they say the Bushies are out of control!" Nevermind that the law in question has been around since 1993.

Wow. A super-majority of three - this is obviously a crisis of national proportions. I'll get my Congresswoman on the line. I wonder what SpongeBob thinks?

Only a simpleton assumes there will never be exceptions to a general rule, but then only a simpleton refuses to acknowledge that Bell curves are so shaped because the observed traits of large groups of people cluster towards the center. When making broad social policy, how much sense does it make to discard observations that describe almost 70% of the population?

Every culture has its biases. America loves to misinterpret "all men are created equal" to mean equality of outcome or an equal place at the starting line, rather than equality of opportunity. And we can't even get equality of opportunity right.

In a world where people show up on race day with unequal educations, socio-economic backgrounds, looks, intelligence, ambition, skin color, and aptitudes, no rational law can assure they will all be able to run at the same speed.

How, therefore, can a just legal system assure equality of outcome? The only rational goal is that, if the race is run fairly, the winners' circle should be filled with those who demonstrated the best mix of ability and desire to win.

And, perhaps, that elusive factor that sometimes trumps all: luck.


Posted by Cassandra at 07:03 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

On Spinelessness

Roger Kimball is wickedly funny:

Poor Larry Summers. The president of Harvard University has good instincts. But he wants people to like him. So he starts off by saying things that are true but unpopular. Then people get angry with him and he apologizes and takes it all back. A case in point: A few years ago, Summers caused a ruckus when he suggested that Cornel West, who was then the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., University Professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, buckle down to some serious scholarship (West's most recent production was a rap CD called "Sketches of my Culture") and that he lead the way in fighting the scandal of grade inflation at Harvard where one of every two grades is an A or A-.
Summers was quite right. Cornel West is one of the most ridiculous figures in contemporary academia. He calls himself a philosopher but really is just a political sermonizer. He acts like an old-time Baptist minister. But his revival meetings feature not hellfire and brimstone but sermons about racism and the horrible failings of American society. What Summers did not understand was that college presidents are not allowed to criticize black professors. No sooner had Summers opened his mouth than West went into a snit, followed by the entire politically correct community at Harvard and beyond. Charles J. Ogletree, another professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard, thundered that "It's absolutely critical that the president make an unequivocal public statement in support of affirmative action." And The New York Times, natch, lumbered into support West and criticize Summers.

You might ask, why is it "critical" that the president of Harvard support "affirmative action"? After all, "affirmative action" is just a fancy phrase for discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or some other PC category. Isn't Harvard an institution of higher education where what matters is accomplishment, not skin color, sex, or ethnic background?

Summers evidently thought so, but he was quickly disabused of the notion. When West and his buddies in the Afro-American Studies department whined and threatened to leave Harvard, Summers collapsed...

...Writing about the West v. Summers affair in National Review, I suggested that readers send Larry Summers a copy of Ralph Bucksbaum's zoological classic, Animals Without Backbones. I am happy to report that several did.

I didn't do any good, though. Larry Summers still suffers from spinelessness.

I'd read that Summers caved yesterday, but I saw no point in commenting upon the inevitable denouement. Read the rest - as usual, a fine essay.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 23, 2005

Stop The Presses! Men And Women Are Different!

Intelligence may be more of a gray matter for men and a white matter for women, according to a new study.

Researchers found major differences in the amount of gray and white matter in the brains of men and women of the same intelligence, suggesting that men and women may derive their intelligence in different ways.

Researchers say white and gray matter are both necessary for general intelligence, but they perform different functions. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the network or connections between those processing centers.

Researchers say white and gray matter are both necessary for general intelligence, but they perform different functions. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the network or connections between those processing centers.

In the study, researchers studied brain scans of men and women who had identical IQ (intelligence quotient, a measure of intelligence) scores.

Overall, the results showed that men had approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter in areas related to general intelligence than women. Meanwhile, women had nearly 10 times the amount of white matter in areas related to intelligence than men.

They say the findings may help explain why men tend to excel at tasks that require more local processing, such as mathematics, while women tend to excel at integrating information, a skill used in language.

But despite these differences in brain pathways and activity centers, researchers say men and women perform equally on broad measures of intelligence, such as IQ tests.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:51 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Feminists Owe Summers An Apology

This is one of the better essays I have read. Written by Dr. Ruth (yes, that Dr. Ruth) spd rdr sent it to me a few days ago, but it was subscription-only. I was fairly certain it would show up in OpinionJournal - it was that good. I've excerpted my favorite part, but you should read the whole thing:

The slogan "gender equality" reduces diversity on campus still further by pretending that all women share the same set of views. Protesting that there are currently only 85 tenured female professors at Harvard, about one-quarter of the faculty, the Women's Caucus boasts that almost all of them agree with its politics. Meanwhile, in a country that has just elected a Republican president and a Republican Congress, one could not find, among Harvard professors, a quarter of a quarter who hold conservative views. Divergent thinkers are driven out of the universities to the think tanks where intellectual initiatives are encouraged rather than suppressed. On the campus, intimidation; beyond the campus, the democratic arena where better ideas can contend and prevail.
Had he been allowed to go on speculating about gender differentiation in the academy, Mr. Summers might have taken up related issues, such as the effects of seeking parity in a marketplace of unequal resources. Given the far lower number of women in the sciences, one unacknowledged consequence of female preference in hiring may be the compensatory pressure to hire and promote women in the humanities and social sciences. The "feminization" of some branches of these "soft" disciplines has been a palpable byproduct of this strategy--feminization referring not just to the numbers but to what and how women who ostensibly share the ideological disposition of the Women's Caucus tend to teach. Does this not necessarily reshape the nature of higher learning in ways that we would be wise to scrutinize? Unfortunately, the problem Mr. Summers addressed will persist despite the attempts to silence him. No one doubts that women seeking careers in science face greater challenges than those in other academic and research fields. At a recent forum of Harvard graduate students, a succession of budding female scientists expressed their anxieties about having chosen careers that will conflict, more than most, with their no less strong desires to raise and nurture a family. More than one young woman present felt that a job with reduced pressure during her childbearing years might better suit her needs than competition at the very highest levels. The good news is that most of the young women acknowledged that their dilemma was one of choice rather than a product of discrimination against them.

The very notion of "underrepresentation," based as it is on the implicit goal of numerical parity, greatly prejudices our ability to understand why women make the choices that they do. If women gravitate to the hard sciences less than to other fields, we ought to grant them the intelligence of sentient creatures, recognizing the potential loneliness of such choices while trying to understand why groups and individuals act as they do. It is not Mr. Summers who owes women an apology; it is the complainers and agitators who owe both him and all of us an apology for trying to shut down discussion of an "inequality" that is not likely to disappear.

The spirit of scientific inquiry is not well-served when academia is ruled by a tyrannical minority who refuse to allow certain subjects to be discussed. Once medieval scientists were tried for heresy. Now, when modern scientists trangress against political correctness, they are pilloried in the press and risk losing their jobs, grants, or tenure unless they bow to peer pressure. Only a humiliating public pilgrimage through the streets in sackcloth and ashes quiets the howling crowd. That's not 'intellectual diversity' - it's an intellectual gulag.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2005

Do Men Avoid Challenging Women?

A sensible woman would give this topic a wide berth, but I don't know that I've ever been accused of an overabundance of discretion. As one of my favorite movie characters always said, "What's the matter... you want to live forever?"

Yesterday as I prayed for a merciful death hoped for a distraction from the dubious joys of UNIX virtual paths, spd rdr sent me this MoDope column, in which our favorite columnist laments what she sees as a deplorable trend: powerful men seeking, not equally powerful mates, but their secretaries or administrative assistants. The reigning Queen of Anecdotal Evidence stuns us all with her usual fact-based arguments:

Women in staff support are the new sirens because, as a guy I know put it, they look upon the men they work for as "the moon, the sun and the stars." It's all about orbiting, serving and salaaming their Sun Gods.

In all those great Tracy/Hepburn movies more than a half-century ago, it was the snap and crackle of a romance between equals that was so exciting. Moviemakers these days seem far more interested in the soothing aura of romances between unequals.

Well not exactly. Ms. Dowd might want to re-run a few of those old movies: she appears to be living in a dream world. Did all that glamorous studio lighting really erase the wage gap? Amazing what a little Vaseline on the lens will do... And what Tracy/Hepburn flick was complete without the obligatory scene where the feisty, independent career gal whipped up a nourishing meal for her man? Part of that "snap and crackle" were the skirmishes that preceded the inevitable half-surrender of the female of the species to the male lead. I noticed that, even as a little girl. Surely MoDo can do better.

Ms. Dowd might also contemplate the difference between masculine fantasies and what they decide in real life. I think we can all agree that, if asked by an 'unbiased researcher', most men would say they "prefer" to hook up with [insert mindless, sex-starved starlet with surgically enhanced breasts and serious dependency issues here].

La Dowd regards with positively Munschian horror the results of this study:

... in which college undergraduates were asked to make hypothetical choices, suggests that men in search of long-term relationships prefer to marry women in subordinate jobs rather than women who are supervisors...

How special...I'm so glad we've scientifically measured how college students answer hypothetical questions about a life decision still several years in their future. But do their secret wish lists drive mens' real-world decision making? MoDope isn't interested in the answer to that question, but I was:

Men's mate preferences change when situations change. Today, a woman's paycheck may be more appealing than her perfectly-baked brownies. Men's wages have been stagnant or declining for 15 years now, and the "family wage" of the industrial age has been replaced by the job insecurity of the global age.

Most couples require two paychecks to stay in the middle class, a math lesson that is not lost on men.

Judge Richard Posner, author of a book on the economics of mating, "Sex and Reason," suggests, "economics is not divorced from mate selection. People change their behavior as costs and benefits change."

J-Date, the popular online national dating service, automatically requests information on women's incomes, because their male clients ask for it.

Mary Balfour, director of Drawing Down the Moon, an executive dating agency based in London, says that college-educated and professional men in their 20s and 30s now want women who match their intellect and earning abilities. "It is only those in their 50s and 60s who tend to take a deep breath when introduced to powerful women," she says.

Today, more than 42 percent of married women in the United States earn more than their husbands.

OK, you say, but are such couples happy? Indulging in some non-scientific Dowdian (oh my... was that redundant?) analysis of my own, I'd say, "yes":

According to Stepford theory, these couples should be sexually frustrated (especially the men) and highly divorce-prone. Not so.

Unlike the threatened Stepford men, modern husbands are not turned off by women who can succeed at work. Women's earning power does not appear to get in the way of pleasure. Psychologist Janet Hyde conducted a year–long (1996) longitudinal study of 500 couples. She found that couples who said they had the most rewarding intimate lives were those in which both partners worked and experienced high rewards from their jobs.

Using a highly unscientific sample size of two (which, statistically speaking, means nothing), I conducted my own longitudinal study spanning 27 years. Based on the available data, I'd have to say that my own enthusiastic and in-depth research supports the Hyde study. And why is this, you ask?

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's the very thing Ms. Dowd thinks men don't want: psychological distance, and the lure of a challenge. Many studies have shown that, sexually, men like to be the pursuer. There is more of a 'risk element' if your wife works. Not to say that non-working wives can't keep the old guy on his toes: it's just a built-in factor if you work. As the study linked to first in this post points out, many men do secretly wonder if a wife with her own income is more likely to cheat or leave them. If the relationship is a healthy one, this makes them more likely to appreciate her and do the things needed to keep her around.

Having both worked and stayed at home during our marriage, I have noticed that working also changes the dynamics of a relationship. No matter how egalitarian you thought things were, bringing home your own salary changes the power structure. I have less time, less patience, and I'm definitely less conciliatory. This makes a relationship more confrontational, but also more exciting and challenging. The trick is to work as hard (if not harder) at making up as you do at everything else in your life.

And so once again, we're back to economics and tradeoffs and maximizing utility after all. Men and women don't behave all that differently - it's just a question of what we value. And the answers (at least in the real world) are more easily divined by looking at the decisions we make than about what we say we value.

Actions speak louder than words.

Previous post: Do men prefer less intelligent women?


Posted by Cassandra at 05:44 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Debunking "Equal Pay For Equal Work"

Heh... I wrote about this over on Jet Noise earlier this year, but it never hurts to give the old horseflesh a few more whacks:

For years, the Gender Warriors have been on the war path over this issue. Their argument is simple: On average, female employees receive 76 cents for every one dollar paid to male workers. And that difference equals discrimination.

It's time to blow the whistle on that nonsense. And a just-released book by Warren Farrell does exactly that. Why Men Earn More is chock-full of government wage data and research findings which show the feminist-driven "pay gap" is an ideological con-job.

First, the sheer amount of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time men clock an average of 45 hours a week, while women put in 42 hours. Men are more than twice as likely as women to work at least 50 hours a week - that's why most CEOs are male.

Only in a socialist economy do employees get paid the same, regardless of the number of hours worked.

Second, men tend to gravitate to the socially-unrewarding but lucrative fields like computer programming, tax law, and engineering. And women select professions such as teaching, nursing, and social work that pay less, but offer more job flexibility.

Third is job desirability. Recently the Jobs Rated Almanac rated 250 jobs based on income, work environment, physical demands, stress, and so forth. These were the five worst jobs: seaman, ironworker, cowboy, fisherman, and lumberjack.

Does it come as a surprise that all of these jobs are male-dominated? The only way these companies can attract men to do the dirty work is to increase their paychecks.

Finally is the difference in job hazards. Men represent 92% of all occupational deaths. Why? Because if you look at a list of the most hazardous occupations - fire fighting, truck driving, construction, and mining - they have 96-98% male employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Shouldn't men who risk their lives on a daily basis be paid something extra?

Case in point: I'm fairly well-paid by female standards (especially when you consider how long I've been working), but I intentionally chose a male-dominated technical field. It also wasn't my first choice. I chose it for its earning potential - so I could maximize my wages while putting my two sons through college.

I also work longer hours than most of my friends. It's all about trade-offs.

The bottom line is that you can't simply look at the numbers without also looking at the qualitative factors that influence womens' wages. Women make decisions that impact our earning ability - we trade free time for money, autonomy for promotion, the ability to have children for a stable career pattern.

And personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. It's called freedom of choice: no one is forcing those decisions on me.


Posted by Cassandra at 10:12 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

January 05, 2005

Sad, But (Not Universally) True

I think there's more than a grain of truth to this:

MEN prefer their wives to be less intelligent than themselves and successful women struggle to stay married, research reveals.

Relationship experts say professional men prefer to marry women "like their mums" who do not challenge them intellectually.

And evidence backs up the commonly-held belief that women who succeed in careers find it hard to repeat that success in the home.

The study of 900 men and women measured their IQs at 11 and again 40 years later to see how their lives had moved on.

Academics from Bristol, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow universities who conducted the survey found that the brightest schoolgirls, unlike their male classmates, did not succeed in the marital stakes.

Christine Northam of Relate, a marriage guidance counselling service, said: "Many men do feel intimidated by intelligent women. If their mum and dad played traditional roles, even if they are liberal themselves, they have to do a huge leap to find a way of finding and holding down a new role from the one they were shown as a child."

I think the article oversimplifies the issue a bit. It also sells men short. I've found the "men prefer to marry women like their mums..." statement to be, on the whole, quite accurate. It's the second part: "...who do not challenge them intellectually" that doesn't hold up under close inspection.

Having had close male friends all my life and raised two sons with whom I remain extremely close, I've observed that men often seek out women who remind them of their mothers, especially if they had a close relationship with her. My observations could be biased, since men with female friends may also be closer to their Moms. Such men are usually more comfortable with women than their male counterparts.

But I've also had male friends who had difficult relationships with women; who seemed to enjoy having a female friend precisely because they didn't understand or get along well with most women.

What I've seen with most of my male friends is that, if their mental relationship with their mother was close and engaging, they liked to see these qualities in other women. Certainly both my sons chose women who challenged them intellectually. My oldest son's wife, while quite feminine in manner and appearance, just earned her Masters' degree (he has a BA). She began grad school right after college and was very driven to finish. This doesn't appear to bother him in the least; he's very proud of her.

My younger son's girlfriend is also his mental equal. She currently lives in another state while she pursues her PhD, yet he fully understands and supports her decision. She would have liked him to relocate to be closer to her, but his job prospects were better in the DC area. He hopes to start grad school this year, but since his employer will be paying for it he wasn't able to start right after graduation, as she did. They seem to have an easy relationship characterized by mutual respect.

And while I know my own husband would much prefer I stay at home and manage the house as I did for years, he recognized that once our children grew up I needed to go back to school and do something with my mind. It hasn't always been an easy adjustment for him, but he is a strong and confident man who takes genuine pride in my accomplishments over the years, as I do in his.

I think perhaps the secret in all of this may lie in biology, and more in the elusive word "challenge" than in the "intellectual" component. For all our sophistication, humans are still intensely physical creatures. In our social interactions, we still instinctively seek to find our place in the pecking order. This seems to be even more important for men than women, who tend to value cooperation and consensus over an orderly hierarchical social structure.

Studies show that for men, establishing dominance matters very much. In the workplace, something as seemingly silly as physical size can help or hinder men as they rise or fall in the office pecking order. Thus, tall men are more likely to become top executives than shorter men. After duking it out all day in the office jungle, I should think the last thing a man wants is to come home and arm-wrestle over who gets to rule the roost.

Therefore, it may not be so much intelligence as aggressiveness that's at issue here. It's the stridency of the women's movement that turns so many men off. By teaching our daughters they need to Fight the Power, contest every issue, win every battle, feminists do them a great disservice. There is a masculine and a feminine way of doing things. Subtlety is fast becoming a lost art in modern society. One doesn't need a sledgehammer to kill a gnat: to use an oft-quote cliche, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. There's a line from Frank Herbert's novel Dune that I'd have taught my daughter, had I been blessed with one: sometimes, "That which submits, rules".

Most men want to be King, and to be perfectly honest, as long as they're reasonable about it, a lot of women secretly prefer a man who's not afraid to take control too.

It's a basic biological or sexual urge that has nothing whatever to do with logic or reason. I may fight the Spousal Unit to a standstill at times (and I do) over control of various domestic issues, but believe me, the last thing I want him to do is knuckle under - that would bore me to death! Like him, I rather enjoy a challenge. Over 25 years of marriage, we've developed our respective Spheres of Influence, secured by informal treaty and frequent intense peacemaking negotiations.

As long as he respects my rights, open warfare is averted and peace reigns supreme.

Via John Hawkins at Right Wing News

Posted by Cassandra at 04:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

Sex, Porn, & Misogyny, Anyone?

Well I'm sick to death of politics so I suppose it was inevitable. But I can't say I'm too happy about it...

There I was, reading Robert Prather, just minding my own business when suddenly I was sucked into a Vortex of Sex, Porn, and Misogyny, much like the dreaded Vortex of Crap found by The Unit on his travels through the hallowed halls of the Pentagon.

Once I recovered from my shock at the depths to which my former blogging idol had sunk, it was hard to know where to start. I decided to take the proffered linkage in order:

Without knowing Steve better, it's hard to know how many of his observations were serious. If they were in earnest, I have a few comments:

1. He needs to work on his taste in women. All women are not alike - like men, we represent a broad spectrum of personality types and moral codes. Generalizations are fine if you're kidding, but serious people don't take them... well, seriously.

2. Don't ever lend money to friends or relatives unless you're willing to kiss it goodbye. Any assumption, other than that you'll never see the money again, will ultimately ruin the relationship. Never confuse business with pleasure.

I used to work for a bank. Complaining about having co-signed a loan is as common as dirt, and about as intelligent. YOU COMMITTED TO PAY ON DEFAULT WHEN YOU SIGNED ON THE DOTTED LINE: HENCE THE TERM "GUARANTOR". The lamentable fact that your co-signor is no longer providing sexual services is (I think we can all agree) of little concern to the bank. You made a bad deal - learn from it and move on.

3. Women forgive men for innumerable things: otherwise there would be no children. We just don't let you forget :) There's a difference.

4. I enjoy sex far more (and far more often) now that I'm married, and I've been married 25 years. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't enough hours in the day. See item #1.

5. There is nothing I hate more in life than being told what to do. Ask my husband - you'll get an earful. Or my parents: my first complete sentence was "I can do it myself".

6. I have never understood the male need to give women stuff - it's nice, but I don't need it, expect it, or want it. But inasmuch as it's a visible sign that my husband is thinking of me, I welcome it. But frankly, a kiss or a hug (or even something more, shall we say, interesting) is just as nice.

7. Men always think women are blaming them because they're far more sensitive and vulnerable than they let on. Most guys want their woman to think they're ten feet tall and get hurt if they suspect she is thinking critical thoughts about them. Women are often puzzled by male behavior - what you see as critical is often just us trying to figure out something you did that hurt us (and being hurtful in response). News flash: we're not perfect either.

8. Ironically, I agree with his #9 and 10: most women I've known have a greater need for intimacy than men, and I've known women to get themselves pregnant, although not always intentionally and not to the degree he implies.

I actually didn't have much of a problem with this post. In general, I can't say that I know too many women who are into porn. I do disagree with his contention that women don't like (or think about) sex much, but even there I suspect I'm somewhat atypical, based on a lifetime of conversations with female friends.

FWIW, I don't much care for porn. At best, anything other than very softcore pornography leaves me cold, at worst I either find it comical, or it profoundly depresses me and turns me off. I don't want or need it, but I certainly don't have time to worry whether other people are looking at it - it's none of my business. That's why we have bedroom doors. End of discussion.

Michele, well... reacts :D

And just a thought for all the guys out there who think women don't like sex anymore after marriage.

I hate to be ugly, but take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Sex is a team sport. And unlike men, most women have to feel emotionally right about you in order to enjoy it. If she's angry or resentful, that will kill off any desire she might feel. Take care of the relationship, and then be a careful and considerate lover, and you'll probably have more attention than you can handle.

Time is more important than gifts, words and little gestures are tremendously important to many women. If you keep the pilot light lit, most women will churn out all the heat any man could ever want.

You might even find yourself begging for mercy.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:30 AM | Comments (81) | TrackBack