The Calais children caught between racism and misandry


It has been a long time since we’ve dwelled on the topic of misandry, the individual, institutional or structural fear or hatred of men as a gender. Depending who you listen to, it is either the most powerful prevailing discrimination in a gynocentric feminazi society or a fictional, imaginary construct dreamed up by bitter MRAs playing me-too oppression Olympics in a desperate bid to deflect attention from the real gender oppression of misogyny.  You say tomayto.

As long-term readers may recall, I don’t really buy into either version. In brief, yes, of course misandry ‘is a thing.’ No, of course misandry as ‘a thing’ is not a mirror image of structural misogyny within a patriarchal society and asserting its existence as a social phenomena does not and should not in any way detract from or act as some kind of contradiction to prevalent misogyny elsewhere.

This week, the British media and political classes have been playing out some of the most extreme and overt misandrist attitudes I can ever recall, splashed in banner-sized fonts across the front pages of the nation’s bestselling newspapers.  Those who are normally jumping up and down yelling “MISANDRY!” at the first whiff of an incompetent dad in a detergent commercial are entirely silent about this. Those who normally protest the loudest about any other structural prejudice and discrimination seem entirely oblivious to what is happening, even while they sympathise with the victims on other grounds.

I am of course describing the blood-raw hatred and inhumane demonization of the Calais children who are currently exercising their legal and moral rights to enter the UK as refugees or migrants and the ongoing debate about their presumed age and status.

There are some perfectly legitimate questions to be raised about the effectiveness and accuracy of the UK’s immigration and border control systems. As with any area of human life, incorrect decisions are undoubtedly being made, there will always be a few chancers and liars.  There is also a very real and horrific humanitarian crisis underway. The level of panic and terror being whipped up this week is wildly out of proportion to the objective seriousness of the situation. Things have got so bad that this morning the Sun has dedicated its front page not simply to demonising the migrant boys, but bullying one-time national hero Gary Lineker, attempting to hound him out of his job for having the audacity to resist and reject the tide of hatred.

So what is the basis of this week’s media panic?

Firstly, these boys (or young men) are migrants, and much of this is undoubtedly straightforward racism, fear of foreigners, rejection of (any) immigration, part and parcel of our increasingly intolerant, hate-filled, post-Brexit Britain.

More specifically there is Islamophobia. Most of the migrants are coming from the warzones of Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and most are Muslim. The assumption that Muslim refugees must be terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists or violent misogynists is widespread and profoundly ignorant and prejudicial – with very few exceptions these are not the perpetrators of fundamentalist violence and oppression but its victims and survivors.

But alongside that, equally if not more relevant, is the fear of men. Consider the subtext to the supposed scandal that some of the Calais migrants entering Britain are not actually children, but are grown adults. This possibility is considered so serious that senior politicians have been demanding degrading dental examinations – reminiscent not so much of livestock markets as slave markets.

It is being said, more or less explicitly, that Britain is prepared to accept (if not exactly welcome) migrants if they are children, or if they are women, but adult men? They’re rapists! They’re child molesters! They’re criminals! They’re fraudsters!  Meanwhile the guys who affect swooning or furious horror at the stereotype Radfem claim that ‘all men are rapists’ suddenly seem to have added a caveat of their own: ‘…unless you mean those men. That’s fine.’

Back on the eve of the Brexit referendum, UKIP’s Nigel Farage was widely and rightly condemned for launching a hideous, fearmongering billboard displaying a snaking horde of queuing migrants. Commentators correctly pointed out the striking similarities to Nazi propaganda of the 1930s. There was, however, another element to his fascistic display. Look at the migrants. Virtually every one of them is an adult male. We are not just being invited to fear refugees, fear migrants, fear Muslims. We are being invited to hate refugee migrant Muslim men.

farageposter

The supposed justifications for this overt prejudice barely survive a moment’s inspection. The misogynistic criminal rampage in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were horrific and unforgettable but “People who look a bit like you did something horrible in another country so you cannot be trusted” is just about the pinnacle of prejudicial sentiment not to mention utterly irrational. It should be noted that the people who throw around racist neologisms like “rapeugees” tend also to be the first to excuse away or deny allegations of sexual assaults by those who share their complexion, whether presidential candidates or football stars. The bottom line is that amongst any group of human beings there will be criminal, violent, damaged people. We cannot let that bury our compassion and humanity.

There will be those who read the above and still deny there is such a thing as misandry. “No, it’s just racism!” “It’s Islamophobia” “It’s about immigrants, not men.” This ignores the first lesson of intersectional thinking. The misandry at play with the Calais children is not contradicted by concurrent racism and xenophobia, it is amplified by it.

The American academic William A. Smith has written extensively about ‘black misandry’ which he defines as “an exaggerated pathological aversion toward black men created and reinforced in societal, institutional and individual ideologies, practices and behaviours.” Writing about the experiences of African-American male students at historically white institutions, he observed:

‘Black males on HWI campuses tend to be marginalized, hated, rendered invisible, held under suspicion, put under increased surveillance, or assigned to one or more socially acceptable stereotypical categories (e.g. lazy, unintelligent, violent, hypersexual, athletic etc.) without regard for their individual character or status.’

Give or take the finer details, if we consider the British Isles a ‘historically white institution’ then I think this is a remarkably accurate description of what we are doing to young male migrants right now.

I wish I could find some note of optimism on which to finish. The sad reality is that the racist misandry of The Sun and their ilk is likely to continue unchallenged, not least because those who object to racism and Islamophobia are too often actively indulgent of misandry and those who object to misandry tend to be too often actively indulgent of racism and Islamophobia. Meanwhile a handful of vulnerable, desperate boys or young men are caught in the twin prongs of hatred.

Comments

  1. 123454321 says

    Completely agree and I had noticed and recognised this too, but sadly I don’t think many people see it the same way. The media is much to blame, if these people were girls and women it would be a completely different story told by the media, accompanied by headlines with a completely different twist. Virtually everyone I have heard talking about this can’t do so without introducing the word “rapist”.

    “No, of course misandry as ‘a thing’ is not a mirror image of structural misogyny”

    Correct, Misandry is far deeper, more widely supported, and often works in weirdly complex and covert ways (case in point: the refugees you’re talking about in this very blog post!).

  2. That Guy says

    To my shame I hadn’t noticed this- despite the numerous comments on BBC articles complaining that all footage of migrants were “healthy able bodied young men”, in practice, I should’ve noticed this earlier.

    The recent *what age are they REALLY???* bullshit has been particularly irritating for me, I am much taller than average, and growing up I have many stories of being verbally abused as a child, accused of vandalism and other criminal behaviour and so on, all because I had the audacity to be a tall boy who looked much older than he was.

    This is a complex scenario, and a lot of the problems come not just from the fear of men, as you point out, but I think also the nature of how we think of ‘victims’. The ‘perfect refugee’ is some kind of innocent harmless war torn powerless creature, basically the ‘perfect victim’ of any crime. Men, generally are not perceived to fit into that mould. Part of the issue is people being unable to mesh “maleness”, strong, stoic, determined, unbent and unbroken, with “victimhood”.

    So while you’re correct in pointing out above that these refugees are seen as not being ‘real refugees’, I think you miss a trick when you consider these refugees not being ‘real men’. You don’t have to look hard to find examples of people calling male refugees “cowards” for fleeing genocide, or demanding they be sent back with rifles to “fight ISIS like we fought the Nazis”.

    tl:dr

    doubleplusgood would not memory-hole

  3. redpesto says

    I noticed this too. Hell, even Suzanne Moore noticed it – even if she then immediately switches focus to talk about girls rather than think it through. Clearly the thinking is that the boys either have to be short, pre-teens – or dead like Alan Kurdi – before they get any sympathy.

  4. Phil says

    my slightly right wing dad brought up this story yesterday. I asked him if he had any hard numbers on what proportion of the refuge children were actually adult con men? He said he didn’t. I said “then maybe we should give the life threatened children the benefit of the doubt”.

    didn’t think of the gender component though…

  5. says

    I am reminded of Hillary Clinton’s answer in latest debate to a question about Syrian refugees that she would not slam the door in the faces of women and children.

  6. 123454321 says

    #5 saw that too but how could Trump possibly have answered that without being viciously attacked once again by the media? Clinton is equipped with ‘girl power’ and is able to say things like this – and get everyone’s backing, or at least face no fear of reprisal. Where as Trump can’t capitalise on such blatantly sexist statements without a massive backlash. This covert, widely supported girl power seems to work from grassroots level right to the top.

  7. 123454321 says

    At what age do women (Clinton is a good example, but every woman really) view boys as turning into men? Is it physical attributes or mental attitudes that affect the changing perception? Seems to be around 15 when they stop caring in the same way, whilst the perception of girls remains intact throughout, regardless. Strange how women can allow this to happen to their Sons. Really strange how Clinton can entirely discount half the population and all those poor, young boys out there in just one disparaging line sent out to millions of people. Sad.

  8. Lucythoughts says

    Good piece Ally, I very much agree with you. To add another layer, talking to a Syrian man a few months ago who had lived in Europe many years but still had most of his family in Syria, he said that a lot of the unaccompanied minors entering Europe are teenaged boys fleeing conscription into the Syrian army. Who could blame them?

    When people hear “unaccompanied children” the picture that forms in their heads is of, well, kids, but in reality it won’t be prepubescent children who can attempt or survive a journey like that on their own. Teenaged boys are going to be the most likely to be arriving and it doesn’t say much for our humanity if our response is “they can’t really be vulnerable, they aren’t adorable enough…”

  9. mostlymarvelous says

    My husband and I noticed this a couple of decades ago. Australia being what it is, we’ve had a fairly constant drip-feed of scorn and disdain for “healthy young men” travelling alone as refugees since what seems like forever. In the 90s, he was teaching in an English language school teaching newly arrived immigrants, refugees and children of foreign consulate staff enough English – in two years – to prepare them for ordinary high school. One day the boys playing soccer in the schoolyard stopped and laughed. A few of them had suddenly worked out that if they had stayed in Bosnia or wherever, they’d very likely have been shooting at each other.

    One common complaint that arises here is that these boys and men are cowards;. Why don’t they stay and fight in their home countries? The fact that many of them are from persecuted minority groups in their far-from-comfortable home countries and liable to torture and murder if they didn’t get away seems to fly right under the radar of people who’ll find _any_ excuse to look away from genuine claims of refugee status. If we allowed ourselves to be horrified, we might be obliged to look at these boys and men through different eyes.

    The other big issue is the one Lucy raises. My view is that, if we were so unfortunate as to be in any of these hell-hole countries, our family/ neighbourhood would chip in the money needed to get our boys and men safely out as quickly as possible. They’re liable to being dragooned into armies or bands of rebels or lined up and shot or otherwise executed for no reason other than their healthy young man status. I’d certainly sell everything I owned if it was needed to get my nephews and sons-in-law away to (comparative) safety.

  10. mostlymarvelous says

    Oh phooey.

    One common complaint that arises here is that these boys and men are cowards.

    None of the rest is emphasised in any way.

  11. Marduk says

    I don’t think this is really about refugees as much as its about public distrust of media and government.

    It goes back to the silencing of debate around immigration, which I think everyone now acknowledges was smart short-term politics and stupid social policy that helps immigrants and refugees not at all in the long run and basically gave UKIP an impetus is could never gained otherwise. It also meant that areas where immigration was creating real economic and social problems were never helped (now they can admit this, Labour now advocate extra funds but that wasn’t possible in the previously existing climate they themselves created).

    Cologne was handled wrongly and this is the cost, I think many of us predicted it at the time. The Germans tried to play it down, the Guardian (and many other outlets) refused to report it until, what, a week or ten days later and even then in very carefully written pieces by senior journalists who don’t normally get their hands grubby, meanwhile The Everyday Sexism Project found the most pressing issue in the zeitgeist to be what figurines were provided with Star Wars monopoly.

    We were also fed what amount to propaganda images until such time as people could work that there were actually quite good underlying reasons why the majority of refugees are young men and they were finally read to admit this. According to the Independent and The Guardian’s images, the vast majority of refugees are four year old girls clutching the teddybear from Drop The Dead Donkey.

    People don’t think refugees are criminals, they don’t even think immigration is a bad thing, they just don’t trust what they are being told and the more they are ‘reassured’ the more they feel lied to (see above). The issue of age verification, and the Home Office once again fucking things up by lying (and the four year old with the teddybear popping up again) is just more grist to the mill.

    I believe the British people are actually pretty liberal, fair minded and not nearly as stupid as politicians think they are. When they are lied to they are given no opportunity to be any of those things. If I were advising a politician I’d say tell the truth, argue for the best possible version of our values and deal with any fall out properly.

  12. squirrel says

    @Marduk

    When was the debate about immigration ever silenced? I can’t remember any point in my entire lifetime when there wasn’t someone on TV moaning about foreigners and their devious plans to move house to nicer locations. Now that’s not to say that such comments were accepted uncritically; there has been much backlash about racism and nationalism. It’s almost as if some people found the insistence that your place of birth should determine your ability to choose where you live or your access to reasonable living standards to be objectionable. Of course, this was purely a silencing tactic to keep *someone* oppressed *somehow*, right?

  13. Marduk says

    12.
    Well, you’re doing it right now, virtue signalling away into the abyss.

    People “moaning about foreigners” isn’t a debate about immigration, its racism. This is the whole problem. You think you are making a powerful knock-down argument but you really aren’t, all you’re doing is polarising the discussion in an unhelpful way. You scanned my comment, picked up the keywords and the knee started jerking didn’t it?

    Blair’s policy response to the enlargement of the European Union should have had some discussion, it didn’t. It just ended up with New Labour calling anyone who had questions racist and then the only people left talking were UKIP (i.e., actual racists). You know this is true because you’re trying to do it to me now, there is a point where I’ll stop replying to you because I don’t like what you are accusing me of. Which is all well and good but you’ve got to think about what happens next. Germany and France had a different response, perhaps you can tell me when Blair or Brown condemned them for this.

    There are issues when you get spikes in immigration especially into areas that haven’t had a history of it, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (who I don’t suspect of being fascists) have done a lot of work on this over the years. The idea of some sort of extra local funding makes sense for areas who are seeing their populations rise significantly and develop immediate needs that there is no pre-existing infrastructure for (e.g., translation services) this side of a new funding settlement and this side of those people making it into the electoral roll or the next census cycle. I do not believe that this is a dangerous or wrong idea so why wasn’t it ever in a Labour re-election manifesto? Where, for that matter, was the infrastructure spending to build the required secondary schools that the growing primary school populations were going to need? They brushed it under the carpet because its a political downside and now surprise surprise, school places under pressure and look who is capitalising on a problem so easy to sort out and so obviously telegraphed takes a special kind of genius to fuck it up. When you see different countries struggling with issues like Cologne the message should not be to stop refugees, its spend what it actually costs to look after and integrate them.

    Perhaps you misread me above, I’m not against accepting refugees or just extending immigration for that matter, I’m just against substituting shouting for articulating a good values based argument. Eventually you get found out. Most political decisions have some issues associated with them, I’m just saying admit to it and deal with it. Our current level of bullshit political discourse around these issues helps nobody.

  14. Lethe says

    Yes, it’s misandry. It also serves the patriarchy. The dividing up of the world into “good” and “bad” men gives (self-described) “good” men the excuse to cloister women. It ennobles their treatment of women as property. The existence of “bad” men — violent thugs, rapists — conditions women to accept subordination to more subtle forms of oppression in exchange for protection.

    It is also, of course, tied into some ugly truths. Large numbers of unattached young men are a disruptive element in any society. Indeed, that is the real problem with polygamy: by allowing a minority of wealthy and powerful men to collect wives like stamps, polygamy creates an underclass of unattached men having little investment in society and who present a constant threat to the ruling class, which in turn justifies the veiling and seclusion of (their) women and goes a long way toward explaining the instability of such societies. Enforced monogamy is arguably the first modern welfare scheme.

    Sometimes we call a large number of unattached young men a football team, other times an army, other times a rape-gang. What is the appropriate label for the groups of such men who torch villages in South Sudan, slaughtering the men, raping, mutilating, and taking the women captive? Humans, alas. What all such groups of unattached young men have in common is the use of violence and domination to reinforce in-group cohesion at the expense of everybody else. The image of large numbers of unattached young men in close proximity rings alarm bells in the minds of just about everyone, whether they will admit to it or not, and justifiably so. This does not excuse the appalling treatment of refugees, but nor should we seek to hide from the truth. All humans are appalling, but groups of unattached young men can be uniquely appalling — hence the utility of such throughout history in the form of the army.

    Good points in Post #7 also.

  15. squirrel says

    @13
    “People “moaning about foreigners” isn’t a debate about immigration, its racism. This is the whole problem.”

    It’s the discussion that’s been broadcast over and over since forever. And it is a debate about immigration, just not a useful one. I’m glad we both agree its shit but I still don’t think the immigration debate has ever been silenced. Rather, there has been a total lack of useful arguments put forward. Sorry I misunderstood but claims of silencing are usually just badly hidden excuses to get racists on TV.

    “Blair’s policy response to the enlargement of the European Union”

    Care to say what this policy response actually was?

  16. redpesto says

    @123454321: #6 “but how could Trump possibly have answered that without being viciously attacked once again by the media”

    Trump can’t attack Clinton on this because he hasn’t got a suitable analysis/critique of gender to start with. Accusing Clinton of ‘playing the woman card’ is just a dog-whistle to the anti-PC/Hillary-haters crowd. Clinton answered with ‘Deal me in’ – at which point Trump gifted her a royal flush with the Access Hollywood video, which at least 11 women have pretty much corroborated.

    Secondly, Trump hasn’t got a gender analysis because his idea of masculinity relies on him being a ‘winner’, a hostility to migrants (especially brown and/or Muslim ones) and seeing male migrants as ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers.’

    In short, no-one is going to take Trump’s empathy with vulnerable teenage boys seriously – but that’s his fault. He also doesn’t make it easier for that empathy or – the gender politics of masculinity – to be expressed to support such boys.

  17. mostlymarvelous says

    Lethe

    What all such groups of unattached young men have in common is the use of violence and domination to reinforce in-group cohesion at the expense of everybody else.

    They have other things in common. Lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of hope. Whatever society, culture or nation they’re from, these men are young, vigorous and frustrated by their lack of a satisfying role or status. It may be the lack of apprenticeships or other pathways to a rewarding job, preferably with a title like carpenter or engineer or farmer or baker or mechanic which allows people, young and old alike, to stake a claim – however small – to social recognition.

    Some societies make life even harder by making the requirements for marriage &or establishing a household of your own pretty onerous. Fine for someone with a job or some land or savings/assets of their own (as long as the family has the right status-class-caste-religious status). Absolutely prohibitive for unemployed, illiterate young men with no assets of their own and no apparent avenue for obtaining any.

    It’s pretty hard to get a group of angry young men together ready for mayhem and violence when all the young men in question have jobs, land &or houses, firm social roles and family bonds and hopes and intentions for a comfortable life where they have enough income and scope for saving for their futures.

  18. Marduk says

    15.
    Aware I’m taking this off-topic now, but I’m talking about declining the transitional measures with regard to the A8 (Eastern European accession countries) 2004-2009 offered by the EU that every other country except the UK, Eire and Sweden used. What Cameron asked for pre-Brexit was actually the retrospective implementation of these measures “on account” so to speak. It was a perfectly reasonable request that didn’t challenge the Four Freedoms and wouldn’t have set a precedent. But they said no and thats history I guess.

  19. HuckleAndLowly says

    Lethe

    The image of large numbers of unattached young men in close proximity rings alarm bells in the minds of just about everyone, whether they will admit to it or not, and justifiably so. This does not excuse the appalling treatment of refugees, but nor should we seek to hide from the truth. All humans are appalling, but groups of unattached young men can be uniquely appalling — hence the utility of such throughout history in the form of the army.

    You seem to be following some sort of biological determinism here, assuming that violence in young men is innate. I think there are three problems with this. First, various other qualities that were once assumed to be innately male (leadership, rationality, scientific understanding etc) are now seen as produced by societal conditioning. If you think male violence is innate, then these other qualities can be innate also.

    Second, the link between societal attitudes and violence in young men is pretty obvious (if society does not seem to care what happens to you, and is not going to help you, then why not turn to violence; especially when you are already seen as violent anyway).

    Third, the idea that men are innately violent in some way that women are not just buys in to the patriarchal world view: it says men and women are different and women need to be especially protected by those who innately exercise violence (men).

  20. Lethe says

    @19 HuckleAndLowly

    “You seem to be following some sort of biological determinism here, assuming that violence in young men is innate.”

    I’d hedge it with more qualifications and nuance, but yes. The other qualities you describe (with the possible exception of ‘leadership’) are higher-function cognitive attributes, whereas the proposed tendency to violence is a function of aggression and dominance imperatives operating at a much lower level (where higher-level functions are going to be more susceptible to cultural origination, modification and individual learning experiences and lower-level functions less so, with a preference for trousers and basic anatomy as examples of the two poles).

    “Third, the idea that men are innately violent in some way that women are not just buys in to the patriarchal world view: it says men and women are different and women need to be especially protected by those who innately exercise violence (men).”

    If you can find a female analogue for the kinds of male behaviour noted in this article (http://www.salon.com/2016/10/23/apocalypse-then-now-always-the-truth-about-violence-in-leer-south-sudanpartner/) then I would be happy to read about it.

    As I said, I would prefer a greater level of nuance. The suggestion is not that all men are violent, savage beasts, but rather that males display higher levels of aggression and dominance-seeking behaviour, that this can manifest in violence, that there are particular social, economic, and political circumstances, as well as cultural norms and ideas, and other modifying factors, that can make such episodes of violence more, or less, likely, and that the congregation of homogenous groups of young, unattached males is one of the factors most significantly associated with truly spectacular displays of violence, such that the potential for violence against “the other” probably increases geometrically with the size of the “in group”.

    The conclusion is not that women need to be protected by men. The conclusion is that we need to work together to create societies in which the better impulses of humanity can flourish and our darker impulses are managed or diverted to productive or harmless ends. Football, as essentially fake war between fake tribes, is an example of the latter.

  21. StillGjenganger says

    @Ally First: I am mostly retired from debating now (took too much time, upset me too much, my employer objected, …), so I’ll take the opportunity to thank all of you for teaching me things, patiently lettiing develop my spiel – and even sometmes listening.

    Now, without arguing against the main point on misandry, this deserves a challenge:

    But alongside that, equally if not more relevant, is the fear of men. Consider the subtext to the supposed scandal that some of the Calais migrants entering Britain are not actually children, but are grown adults. This possibility is considered so serious that senior politicians have been demanding degrading dental examinations – reminiscent not so much of livestock markets as slave markets

    First, there must be in the tens of millions of people out there who would desperately want to move to the UK for the protection and living standards that would give them. You could certainly argue that it is our Christian duty to take in all of them and share our resources equally, but most of the UK electorate would say that they neither can nor will do that. Of those tens of millions, some are fleeing persecution, some are fleeing war, and some are fleeing bad government and desperate poverty. Most people in the UK would agree (if sometimes in the breach rather than the observance) that there is a special moral duty to take in refugees. But not all the people who want in, or who are living around Calais, are refugees, and people are understandably unwilling to accept that because wome of them might be refugees, all of them should get that special protection. There is more general acceptance that children, at least, should be given refuge whatever the details. But exactly because that is a special dispensation, people do rather think that those who benefit from it should be, well, children. Can you blame them?.

    If you genuinely think that Britain should open its doors to 100 000, 1 000 000, 10 000 000, … of needy people, you need to put your case openly and convince people that you are right. Convincing the country to make an exception for children, and then insisting that there must be no age limit on the ‘children’ you accept is just a piss-take. And people quite naturally react against that.

  22. Marduk says

    “This possibility is considered so serious that senior politicians have been demanding degrading dental examinations – reminiscent not so much of livestock markets as slave markets”

    The majority of other EU states that don’t do this favour either X-rays (usually of the wrist) or genital examination instead (Germany is considered a bit of a centre of excellence in this). The Home Office actually planned to trial dental X-rays in 2012 but backed down. Anyhow, take your point and agree with it but before we engage in the obligatory 20 minute self-hate session, it only seems barbaric in part because we haven’t been doing it for decades already and its actually been raised as a public issue that the British public were not happy to entertain. Mama Merkel’s famous invitation being contingent on the idea her officials got to prod your balls and take photographs of your dick is for example not mentioned nearly as much.

    Within the available options used by our now apparent moral betters (according to the Guardian anyway), dental inspection is by far the least invasive and unethical procedure.

  23. Marduk says

    Need to check but from memory its 2/3 use wrist x-rays, 1/3 do genital examinations (mostly Germanic countries… answers on a postcard what that is about).

  24. Marduk says

    As ever the holdouts for liberal immigration policies are the UK and Sweden.
    Which is why I find the Brexit-inspired claims we are nation of fascists deeply insulting and ignorant.

    Germany only looks like a standard bearer because Merkel went on live TV and did a Q&A.
    A refugee child asked if she had to leave. Merkel said she did. The child started sobbing. Merkel’s polling collapsed.

    Its not been what they’ve believed prior and it hasn’t been their stance throughout our tenure as an EU country, far from it.

  25. Mouguias says

    “Those who are normally jumping up and down yelling “MISANDRY!” at the first whiff of an incompetent dad in a detergent commercial are entirely silent about this.”

    Ouch! That one was spot on.
    As an aside, what is your take on “The Red Pill” documentary? Seems Australian feminists have managed to get the screening of the film cancelled. You just have to love the headline at Vice: “Why Australian Men’s Rights Activists Had Their Bullshit Documentary Banned”

  26. Lethe says

    @27 Mouguias

    Your post was the first I’d heard of the film. A cursory glance makes clear that it was not banned by the government (i.e. ‘Refused Classification’ by the Classification Board) but rather that theatre chain Palace Cinemas cancelled its plans to screen the film. The producers and distributors of the film are free to seek alternative screening venues.

    The outcome seems a successful exercise on the part of the protestors to deny the film the legitimacy of screening at a respectable theatre chain. On the other hand, even if no other theatre is willing to screen the film, it is difficult to imagine that it will have much censorious effect given the online nature of the “alt-right”. The media coverage and subsequent discussion *of* the decision seems likely to be more significant than the screening or otherwise of the documentary itself, and in that respect both sides have arguably ‘won’, albeit only within their respective echo chambers.

  27. HuckleAndLowly says

    @ Lethe 20

    “You seem to be following some sort of biological determinism here, assuming that violence in young men is innate.”

    I’d hedge it with more qualifications and nuance, but yes.

    Wow, that’s a depressing and negative view of humanity. Bear in mind that almost all human behavior is learned behavior. Given this, saying that violent behavior is innate is a very strong statement, and needs strong proof: on prior odds, the chances of any given behavior being innate is very low. The observation that a certain group exhibits that behavior frequently doesn’t give evidence that the behavior is innate- since we know almost all behavior is learned, and since we know that different groups are treated differently and so learn different things, the default explanation for this difference in behavior must be a difference in social conditioning.

    By the way, I’m not sure the distinction you make between higher-order (rationality) and lower-order (violence) cognitive functions makes much sense. An awful lot of violence is premeditated and planned via higher-order “rational” cognitive processes (the examples from sudan that you linked to were clearly premeditated, for example). Even everyday violence is subject to higher-order, rational judgment to some extent: someone’s decision to behave violently is influenced by their judgment of whether they can get away with it without being punished or caught.

  28. HuckleAndLowly says

    @ Lethe 20

    “You seem to be following some sort of biological determinism here, assuming that violence in young men is innate.”

    I’d hedge it with more qualifications and nuance, but yes.

    Wow, that’s a depressing and negative view of humanity. Bear in mind that almost all human behavior is learned behavior. Given this, saying that violent behavior is innate is a very strong statement, and needs strong proof: on prior odds, the chances of any given behavior being innate is very low. The observation that a certain group exhibits that behavior frequently doesn’t give evidence that the behavior is innate- since we know almost all behavior is learned, and since we know that different groups are treated differently and so learn different things, the default explanation for this difference in behavior must be a difference in social conditioning.

    By the way, I’m not sure the distinction you make between higher-order (rationality) and lower-order (violence) cognitive functions makes much sense. An awful lot of violence is premeditated and planned via higher-order “rational” cognitive processes (the examples from sudan that you linked to were clearly premeditated, for example). Even everyday violence is subject to higher-order, rational judgment to some extent: someone’s decision to behave violently is influenced by their judgment of whether they can get away with it without being punished or caught.

    … stupid blockquote…

  29. mostlymarvelous says

    “The outcome seems a successful exercise on the part of the protestors to deny the film the legitimacy of screening at a respectable theatre chain.”

    Hard to judge from this instance though. The theatre had its attention drawn by the protest … to the fact that the people who’d rented the space were now selling tickets to the showing. Strictly contrary to the terms of their lease-rent-hire agreement. So they were kicked out.

    Personally, I’d be perfectly happy for the stupid film to be shown with no comment or protest at all. It’s really unappealing to most ordinary people. If a workmate or neighbour or brother-in-law takes them along to see it, they’ll very likely not be impressed. Even if they’d usually agree with some of the ideas presented, the film itself would bore them rigid. (It’s really, really tedious from what I’ve heard.)

  30. StillGjenganger says

    @HuckelAndLowly 30

    Bear in mind that almost all human behavior is learned behavior. Given this, saying that violent behavior is innate is a very strong statement, and needs strong proof: on prior odds, the chances of any given behavior being innate is very low. The observation that a certain group exhibits that behavior frequently doesn’t give evidence that the behavior is innate- since we know almost all behavior is learned

    Do we indeed? Only if by ‘innnate’ you mean something that operates beyond the reach of conscious thought or modification – like the knee-jerk reflex. Anyway, that is an extreme version of the argument, almost a caricature. The opposite extreme is to claim that humans are simply blank pieces of paper, computers without an operating system, so that you can fill in any old behaviour pattern with equal ease. That is not very convincing either – unless you want to be convinced.

    A more reasonable proposal is that humans are, yes, infinitely modifiable, but that we come with a number or capabilities and propensities built in. Very much including a capacity for aggression and violence, with physiological systems to trigger it in the face of threats or affronts, that soial conditioning and rational thought needs to manage to produce the final result. And it is interesting to speculate that young unmated males, in particular, would have built-in, hormonal drives towards excelling, gaining status (and thus access to mates), up to and including taking the very high risks of damage that comes with violence. After all, what could be a better evolutionary drive towards taking big risks than the chance of getting a mate versus the risk of dyinig childless and alone?

  31. Lucythoughts says

    #30 HuckleAndLowly

    I think innate behaviour is too strong a term for what is being discussed. I don’t think anyone here believes that any act of violence is somehow biologically predetermined, like birds building nests. Rather, our emotional responses to our environment are conditioned by our brain chemistry, which is influenced by our genetics. Individuals are not completely blank slates written upon by lifetime experiences; they have to work within the parameters of their neurobiology and there is some individual variation in that. So some people seem to be naturally more timid or adventurous, more introverted or extraverted, more sensitive to stress etc. Their environment and experiences and the care they receive will shape how those traits manifest and may act to suppressed or enhanced them but there are genetic predispositions. So given that, I don’t see anything worrying in the idea that on average, in a population, some of those predispositions occur more frequently in men or in women. Given the behavioural differences between males and females across the animal kingdom and the basic biological differences, it would really be incredible if it wasn’t the case. The thing is that in humans, social conditioning and learned behaviours are so overwhelmingly important that you can say very little with certainty.

    So if, say, young men are more predisposed towards aggressive responses to stress, that will never in itself make an armed militia, but it might mean that the circumstances which could create one composed of men would be easier to achieve than the circumstances which could create one composed of women. Personally, I’ve always thought that the reproductive factors were more influential in these thing than the genetics ones TBH. Lethe talks about large groups of unattached men. A large group of women is rarely unattached, it usually has a whole bunch of kids with it. Across most of the world women marry young and start families young and do most or all of the childcare. I imagine it’s quite hard to sack and burn a village which a toddler on one hip, even if you were predisposition to.

    And going off on a tangent from that (and hideously off topic – apologies Ally), I was in Stoke recently visiting some friends and we took our kids to Trentham Monkey Forest where they have troops of Barbary macaques roaming around some woodland. There was some really interesting stuff about their social behaviour and one thing was that the males often like to carry a baby (not necessarily their own) as a way of bonding with other males. They use the babies as a sort of ice-breaker (like, “Hey look at this baby, cute right? Fancy a cuddle with it? And by the way, would you like to be my friend?”). It works partly because the males won’t risk aggressive behaviour around a baby. It made me wonder whether societies where men and women are both active in caring for children have lower levels of aggression overall. More family ties, more group cohesion, more low-risk social interactions. Something to think about anyway.

  32. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts.
    Thanks. It is indeed true that you can say very little with certainty. Some people forget that that one cuts both ways: it is equally hard to prove that biology has *no* decisive influence on behaviour.

    A couple of loose thoughts:

    One version I have come across is that the various emotions arise naturally in children, but that they are integrated, suppressed, channelled, … according to how your surroundings reflect them back. So: we do not learn to be angry – we learn *how* to be angry, and how to feel about it.

    A wrinkle that is not often mentioned is that if men are biologically more disposed to aggressive responses and competition, that could in itself cause and maintain those social roles that are claimed as the ‘real’ causes of our behaviour. It is a compelling observation (Deborah Tannen, a usual) that male interactions tend to evolve around status (or the lack thereof) while female interactions tend to evolve around intimacy (or the lack thereof). If aggressive competition is more important among males, it would make sense that male roles evolve tools to deal with this, including maintaining hierarchies as an alternative to (risky and destructive) fighting, non-destructive alternatives (like football and competitive joke-telling), and mechanisms for getting along without open conflict. That would position the baby-carrying of your macaques as using the babies as tools to manage the constant risk of conflict, rather than as softened by social interactions.

  33. HuckleAndLowly says

    @ Lucythoughts 33

    I think innate behaviour is too strong a term for what is being discussed. I don’t think anyone here believes that any act of violence is somehow biologically predetermined, like birds building nests.

    In 20, Lethe, lethe responded to my original post by writing

    “You seem to be following some sort of biological determinism here, assuming that violence in young men is innate.”

    I’d hedge it with more qualifications and nuance, but yes.

    From this it seems that Lethe thinks that violence in young men is biologically predetermined (that’s how I read it, anyway). That view is what I was arguing against.

    I completely agree with what you say about people’s behavior being constrained by their biology. I also like your point that there are circumstances that facilitate violence in young men (because young men are more likely be unattached). I would see that as supporting the argument that there is nothing innate in young men that makes them more violent; instead, young men’s greater violence is a consequence of their being “detached” from, or independent of, society in a way young women aren’t; in other words, a consequence of the structure of the society in which they live. I think this view of greater violence in young men originating in cultural and societal behavior is (1) closer to the truth, and (2) more useful as a tool for changing behavior, than the view that young men are just innately violent.

  34. Satyagraha says

    @MostlyMarvellous 33

    “Hard to judge from this instance though. The theatre had its attention drawn by the protest … to the fact that the people who’d rented the space were now selling tickets to the showing. Strictly contrary to the terms of their lease-rent-hire agreement. So they were kicked out.”

    And yet Australian Science Communicators (ASC) and Open Captions Australia (OCA) regularly make bookings at the same cinema for private screenings and directly sell tickets to their members to cover costs. Then there’s the other community groups that do book private screenings and sell tickets as a fund raising activity.

    The whole “they broke the private screening agreement because they sold tickets” argument doesn’t seem to hold up.

  35. 123454321 says

    “As an aside, what is your take on “The Red Pill” documentary? Seems Australian feminists have managed to get the screening of the film cancelled. You just have to love the headline at Vice: “Why Australian Men’s Rights Activists Had Their Bullshit Documentary Banned””

    Wishing Ally would do a blog on this movie and the associated reactions out there. Just looking at some of the drivel journalism and the comments reminds me why feminism is indeed a falling house of cards. Take a look at this example and be sure to read the comments:

    http://www.houstonpress.com/film/you-cant-unsee-the-red-pill-about-a-filmmaker-who-learns-to-love-mras-8819502

  36. 123454321 says

    Soon these pro-feminist white nights will be seen turning 180 degrees as they suddenly realise they are the ones who are becoming the lone, wandering sheep heading towards career suicide. Go on, off you go, there’s a cliff edge over there, see you later, you know you’ve been asking for it….

  37. Ally Fogg says

    Haven’t seen the film so doesn’t really make much sense to write about it.

    I think Cathy Young’s piece gave every impression of being open-minded and fair

    http://heatst.com/culture-wars/new-film-the-red-pill-asks-whether-mens-rights-activist-have-a-point/

    One valid criticism of The Red Pill is that it soft-pedals or evades the extreme, even genuinely misogynist rhetoric spouted by some of its subjects — such as the prominently featured Paul Elam, founder of A Voice for Men. Jaye defends an infamous post of his proclaiming October “Bash a Violent Bitch Month” (in lieu of Domestic Violence Awareness Month) as a satirical rejoinder to a post on the feminist blog Jezebel that treats women’s violence toward men with humor and bravado. But even accepting that argument, there are other Elam posts that are hard to dismiss as satire, including one declaring that women who “taunt men sexually” are “begging” to be raped.

    Another interviewee, female MRA Alison Tieman, has authored a bizarre rant claiming that most women are so sexually selfish and arrogant that it’s a mystery why men bother with them.

    This is nasty stuff. Yet none of it is mentioned in the film.

    I think the film-maker compromised herself when she actively acquiesced to the movie being bankrolled by MRAs, and the only way to get past that would have been to go the extra mile in pointing out the ‘warts and all.’

    By all accounts she didn’t do so. On that basis I have absolutely no wish to add to the free publicity that the film has been getting from the idiots such as those petitioning in Melbourne.

  38. Lucythoughts says

    Gjenganger; HuckleAndLowly

    I’ve been a bit busy lately but this is interesting to me so I’m coming back to it belatedly.

    The thing is, when it comes to the influence of biology and socialisation on behaviour, it isn’t a case of one or the other; it isn’t even a chicken-and-egg situation; it is more like integrated systems which have evolved in tandem. We have had learned behaviour and complex social behaviour since long before we were humans, and we have also had physiological / neurological methods for integrating this with our innate systems. There was never a point in pre-history when you could cleanly separate social behaviour from biology, and what is culture but really sophisticated social behaviour? The reason you can’t separate these things is because they’re not really two things.

    But in a sense the point is moot. I think people feel threatened by the idea of innate behaviours because they see them as unassailable, but clearly they aren’t. Even our most overwhelming natural impulses can be overcome by force of will; people take lifelong vows of celibacy (and stick to them); people even voluntarily starved themselves to death for political purposes. So maybe instead of talking about innate behaviours we should be thinking in terms of innate drives and impulses which are ultimately controllable but nevertheless are very significant in shaping our experience and our social behaviour, and by extension, our culture. And which are also shaped, directed and reinforced or suppress by our experience and social behaviour.

    Personally, it doesn’t bother me if these innate drives are in some ways different in men and women. It doesn’t bother me if they aren’t either. To me, the question isn’t how much of this behavioural difference has biological antecedents, or which components of this behaviour are biologically driven, the question is, given the circumstances we have now, what set ups could optimise our wellbeing (as much as possible) and minimise harm and misery? I would suggest that if maximising wellbeing is the ultimate goal, we’ll find that the place we feel most comfortable will be a place which works with, not against, our natural tendencies. We are very pro-social animals and we have the biological kit to reinforce and reward pro-social behaviours. We come equipped with aggressive impulses but also impulses for love, empathy and supportive social relationships. If we produce hugely antisocial group behaviour it is because we have primed ourselves to engage those tendencies rather than the positive ones which are every bit as innate. We could do better with the material we’ve got.

  39. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts

    You are so right.

    My wife’s take on this debarte, when I tried to interest her, was ‘what difference does it make?’. And yes, the details of human behaviour formation are, in themselves, for biology nerds. Where it does make a difference is as an argument (or a proxy) for what we can and should try to achieve. Claiming a biological component in behaviour argues that “the place we feel most comfortable will be a place which works with, not against, our natural tendencies”, and that a number of aspects like aggression, competition, different male and female atitudes to sex and intimacy, … might be among those natural tendencies that we need to work with. It also argues that the behaviour and gender roles we have had for millenia (with variations, yes) are in part legitimate and motivated. Denying any biological component lets you dismiss current roles as bad and unnecessary, and argue that we can achieve any behaviour we want, so why are you nasty people not cooperating? Homo Sovieticus, anyone? Being conservative, I would clearly favour the former argument. But I still think I am more right and realistic than HuckleAndLowly.

  40. secondtofirstworld says

    I read and write in 3 languages beside my own, thus I’m exposed to 4 different cultural system, actually more than four, if you count how English and French are spoken in even more countries with very differing cultures.

    Back home, people treat all refugees as subhumans, 71% is afraid of them. Highlighting and branding the men is part of a narrative, that they are controlled by everyone’s favorite Satan, George Soros. It doesn’t matter, that they’re men, because they’re not white and not Christian. Leave it to them to hate on Nigerian and Congolese Christian refugees fleeing persecution, because, y’know, not white. It’s not like Britain First and the UKIP are any exception.

    Maddeningly, this topic became run of the mill in the regard that it yet again tries to blame women for things decided and operated by men and women in power. In a small part, refugees hurt themselves as well, with answers like he doesn’t wanted to leave the Jungle (the camp) because France can’t care for them. Statements like these, especially if in context (and in this case, this was the context) are the poster children as to why we shouldn’t care.

    I settled here as a citizen of a different EU country, so I’m an economical migrant, Eurostat can’t measure that I also wanted to live in a better functioning democracy. Yet my birthplace posed asylum seekers as mostly economical migrants who should have stopped at the first country where there isn’t a war. Except what these people ignore is that Greece has a horrible humanitarian system, so when they say they want a better life, it frequently means I don’t get beaten up, my ass doesn’t freeze to death. So, in a nutshell my fellow citizens believe we’re not migrants, because we can freely move in the Schengen Area (although that has nothing to do with long term settlement), and asylum seekers are because reasons, that’s why.

    Calais might have caught your attention, but I reckon you should also check out the migration and acceptance of Sinti and Romani people, this is nothing new, just the emperor got a new cloak.

  41. HuckleAndLowly says

    @Lucythoughts @StillGjenganger

    The thing is, when it comes to the influence of biology and socialisation on behaviour, it isn’t a case of one or the other; it isn’t even a chicken-and-egg situation; it is more like integrated systems which have evolved in tandem. We have had learned behaviour and complex social behaviour since long before we were humans, and we have also had physiological / neurological methods for integrating this with our innate systems. There was never a point in pre-history when you could cleanly separate social behaviour from biology, and what is culture but really sophisticated social behaviour? The reason you can’t separate these things is because they’re not really two things.

    Yes, this is exactly right: but what this means (to me at least) is that hardly any human behaviors are innate; instead almost all human behavior is learned or socially acquired (in tandem with the influence of biology, of course! But learned, nonetheless). An innate behavior is one that is not learned (that is, not socially acquired) and that cannot be changed via social conditioning or learning. Animals have such innate behaviors: they are “built-in”, are set off by the presence of a trigger, and once triggered, run until they stop. They are not learned and occur even when the animal is raised in isolation. A good example of this type of innate behavior is in the Graylag Goose, which will roll a displaced egg back to the nest with its beak. The sight of the egg triggers this mechanism: if the egg is taken away, the animal continues the behavior, pulling its head back as if an egg is still being maneuvered by its beak. Humans also have a few such innate behaviors (the newborn grasping reflex, eye-puff response), but almost all of our behaviors are not innate in this way: they’re learned.

    As to the question of ‘what difference does it make?’, well, if you see aggression in young men as ‘innate’, then there’s nothing you can do about it apart from locking up the young men or keeping them out of the country (which seems to be the current policy). If you see it as being learned (that is, as a response to social conditioning or social and economic roles), then there are things you can do, and hope for change in behaviour.

  42. StillGjenganger says

    @HuckleAndLowly 45

    Their may be a misunderstanding, but you sound like you are saying that behaviors are either 100% hardwired (‘innate’), or 100% learned and flexible. The former case is clearly extremely rare among humans. You then seem to conclude that we with those rare exceptions we can completely disregard biology when thinking about behavior, and that since all behavior is learned (and only learned) there is no limit on the kinds of behaviors that we could instill in our offspring. This is where I disagree.

    Just looking at my own children, I would say that jealousy, possessiveness, aggression, and, yes, violence are not learned. They arise in my children at a young age, and were certainly not picked up from the parents. What then happens is that the children are trained and conditioned to find more constructive ways of dealing with those emotions, or to avoid them altogether, so they hopefully end up as peaceful, socially competent, and with access to the full range of their emotions (anger included). To be more specific: children do not bite because they have learned to bite. They bite because that arises naturally as a reaction to strong anger and threat, and because that they have *not* (yet) learned *not* to do it.

    This viewpoint leads to a different way of thinking. If various unfortunate behaviors arise spontaneously and must be suppressed and channelled (and if they may be more strong in one sex than the other), we do need to account for biology when we plan what kinds of humans we want to bring up.

  43. Lucythoughts says

    HuckleAndLowly; Gjenganger

    if you see aggression in young men as ‘innate’, then there’s nothing you can do about it apart from locking up the young men or keeping them out of the country (which seems to be the current policy). If you see it as being learned (that is, as a response to social conditioning or social and economic roles), then there are things you can do, and hope for change in behaviour

    Aggression is not a behaviour; it isn’t an act like pushing an egg with a beak. Aggression is an internal, emotional experience. “Aggressive” is how we characterise an act; it isn’t an act in itself, innate or otherwise. Aggressive impulses occur naturally as one of our responses to stress, consequential to a sense of threat. This isn’t necessarily a physical threat; it could be a perceived threat to our wellbeing, say, from being denied what we feel that we badly need. So even if aggression is innate, in everyone, and even if it was more readily triggered in young men, it doesn’t follow that any specific behaviour in reacting to it is innately predetermined (NB Gjenganger, luckily for me, my kids have never been biters, although I did get some carrot sticks thrown at me at dinner time. I don’t think they’re lacking the biting gene (or possess the throwing gene for that matter) but I do think that there are a range of ways of lashing out physically which children experiment with and go with ones which achieve the desired effect. That might be to really hurt someone or just to vent frustration, signal displeasure etc.)

    Therefore, in answer to the quote above, there are two things that we could “do about it”: one is to minimise the occurrence of threatening situations, so as to avoid triggering aggressive impulses; the second is to teach people, starting in earliest childhood, how to manage those impulses in non-harmful ways. Number two I think is self-explanatory, and I’m sure we’re all doing it with our own kids (if we have them). Let’s look at number one. With the best will in the world, it isn’t possible to make anyone’s life one long stress-free ramble through the floral gardens of happiness. Threatening and stressful situations will occur. But, and this is really important, the stress response isn’t only innate, it is also trained in young children. For example, babies that are exposed to high levels of stress develop more sensitive stress responses. Their threat responses are essentially trained to be highly sensitive because their early experiences have impressed upon their nervous systems the sense that the world they inhabit is not a safe place. The effect is permanent. Adults experience the same thing in more limited and temporary forms. Ever had a really stressful and upsetting experience and found that you were existing in a state of heightened anxiety and vigilance for days afterwards? Even when there was no possibility of the event reoccurring? That’s the same thing.

    So, hopefully this gives scope for all of us to be a bit right. Young men may have, on average, more natural propensity for aggression (more likely to go into “fight” than “flight” mode when presented with a threat, shall we say?). Or, possibly, they may not. Looking at other related species it is at least perfectly plausible that they do. But the way we treat them, exposing them to higher levels of risk and physical threat, also trains their stress responses to be hyper-vigilant. In safe environments, these responses can be disproportionate, reacting to the subtlest hints of threats that were hardly even there, and thereby precipitating real and needless conflicts. And learned behaviour then goes ON TOP of all that; all the mess of information we learn in childhood about what we should perceive as a threat, which type of the stress response it should trigger (accompanied by which emotions), what behavioural reaction should be deployed… Good grief. I think I’ll stop.

  44. secondtofirstworld says

    @Lucythoughts comment 47: My mother has worked in a school for the blind and visually impaired, where children played in an uninhabited fashion, without a care in the world, it was their safe enviroment. The point is, we should refrain from blanket statements on how humans behave as we can only experience to which we’re exposed to. In team sports, especially those that get competitive, girls and women are just as fierce, especially if an important title is on the line or just plain national pride. I would say we men are more openly aggressive because we have a shared global cultural heritage, where warring was an accepted act before the UN. During the interwar period, there were several recorded cases, where jilted wives threw acid at suspected mistresses. I’m not implying the fairer sex is worse, just that there was never a time, when “righteous vengeance” was not accepted and thus tolerated. While the musical Hamilton is all the rage, I should add, that long after he died, dueling in my birth country was only outlawed in 1931.

    Learned behavior, the pinnacle of the nature versus nurture debate. A little bit over a month ago, on a Saturday night at a crowded avenue, a lone bomber threw a nail bomb at 2 patrolling police officers. This happened in Europe, but not in France. A nationwide manhunt was underway for 3 weeks, this was shortly before people voted on a refugee related matter, but it had nothing to do with it. What was known for certain, that the perpetrator just stepped over their injured bodies, like it’s nothing.

    Recently, the anti-terrorist police task force has arrested a young man. What we know about him is, that he was abducted as a child, allegedly dragged to Ecuador by his father, but returned at some point because he went to high school, but did not graduated. One former classmate claims, the “Ecuadorian” as they called him was shy, reclusive, but always kept an 11.8 inches (or a feet) long knife with him in case he has to protect himself. It is under investigation what actually went wrong with his life. Now, the kicker is, prosecution alleges based on 591 separate pictures and clips and surveillance videos, that he’s the bomber. In other words, when it was revealed, that although he did not work but still managed to buy a house in a desolate area, I said to myself, hooray, we have our own Ted Kaczinsky. Sidenote, between the Unabomber and the less then lady friendly Polish president, I’d legally change my name if it were that.

    Certain circles, like religious or political fanatics prey on people like that, and turn said aggression up to an eleven. I’d say it’s not gender restricted (Patty Hearst, female members of the Weather Underground, Rote Armee Fraktion), yet socially conservative societies like to demonize men of lesser social status. I think you’re aware how MRAs like to claim violent men come from single mother homes, which must be true, because all the plotters and executors of genocide come from broken families…not. The “good and bad men” analogy is just the male equivalent of “Madonnas and whores”.

  45. Lucythoughts says

    Secondtofirstworld

    I think you may have misunderstood me. The point I have been making, in a somewhat rambling way, is that aggression, like other instinctual drives, is innate in all of us, yes, but it isn’t only innate, it is also adaptive. It isn’t the case that we are born without these instincts and society constructs them. It also isn’t the case that these are inescapable bestial impulses which must be controlled by our rational minds to prevent them from breaking out in violence. These are adaptive systems; on a physiological level they are primed and sensitised by our environment, and our behavioural responses to them are acquired though experience. I don’t know whether aggressive impulses are, on average, across a population, stronger in young men than in other demographics because of hormonal factors etc. It is possible. Even if true it wouldn’t mean that young men were predestined to be violent. It wouldn’t make young men any less fully human or beneficial to society or personally likeable. It wouldn’t justify a society to pre-emptively punish or control or segregate them. Doing so would not only be hugely unethical, it would also create social problems which need never have existed. Let them be, and preferably, let them be safe and accepted and socially engaged. As I said up-thread, we are pro-social animals. Our instinct aren’t bad, they are adaptive. Give people something nice to adapt to and you get mostly nice people. Some people like to imagine that humans are essentially awful and it is the job of society to make us behave. I think that the fact that you can put humans through the most unbearable experiences imaginable and still end up with basically decent, socially sensitive people most of the time should give us all a little more faith in our essential natures.

  46. secondtofirstworld says

    @Carnation: Well I don’t intend to startle people 😉

    My biggest problem is, that, and I have to parrot even more wise people here, globalization (mostly the internet) did not bring us closer, rather inflated existing echo chambers. As such, removing ourselves from participating in the problem and analyzing it objectively from the sidelines became a luxury.

    People are afraid letting in members of a different culture (heck I refused to take part in voting on the whole issue, the question itself was so misleading and leading on at the same time) that they refuse to see cultural similarities. To name a few:

    Opponents proclaim Muslims will outf*ck us and thus will be the majority. Two things, one, it hasn’t happened in the 50 years since they live here, and two, nice one from the same person, who says family is above all and abortion is murder.

    They proclaim that people from other culture mistreat women in a fashion that wouldn’t happen in Europe. Except when it comes to said abortion, sexual violence, domestic violence. There’s a guy, a former mayor and MP (currently the local law there forbids people to hold both municipal and national positions) who blamed his wife beating on a blind dog, and thought he can get away with said explanation. Fear not, by the time it came to trial, his ex wife was his girlfriend (retracted her deposition), the 2 expert witnesses retracted their testimonies, what remained were the bloody clothes. He’s on probation. A different high ranking politician said he wishes to protect the country from refugees, and a few months back he complained that hooligans (he’s the president of a soccer club) intimidate their children. So, this guy says later on, he’s only afraid for his son’s future, because his daughters will be married off and cared by their husbands. No hypocrisy there.

    Which brings me back to France, and just in general, discrimination among the LGBT community. We are supposed to be impartial, and the humane thing is to treat any minority differently. Well, it doesn’t help when one minority discriminates toward the other. Islamophobia became so common, that especially here in Western Europe alt-right parties can and do successfully court LGBT people to get their vote. In the case of France, 5 dead were enough to brand all Muslims, and I would be lying if I said, that the position of Sinti and Romani people is better among them.

    The inherent danger is, that unlike other continents, we have mementos of systemic genocide and indefinite imprisonment. The longer it goes, the closer we will demand of Muslims to wear a white crescent on a green background so we can identify them, not unlike the black and pink triangle or the Star of David. It’s not an inch better if we base it on class like the communists did, the indefinite imprisonment is about them. The whole EU is built on rejecting such ideals, and should remain that way.

  47. secondtofirstworld says

    @Lucythoughts: Yes, the just and unjust world fallacies.

    I can and will support your statement on how people can be adapted to nice things. In the EU, and especially in the Schengen Area, citizens cannot apply for political asylum or a refugee status because by joining the union, states are required to follow European laws built on anti-discrimination. Nevertheless, and people largely forget this because of the current refugee influx, after Eastern European countries ascended to the EU, a considerable amount of Romani and Sinti people migrated westwards in hopes of a better life. This latter definition of better life became a buzzword to denigrate such people. Before the French dismantled the Jungle, they have dismantled the shantytowns of these EU citizens, for the same reason of “we don’t want to live with them”.

    However the Germans reacted differently… after a while. As per law, they wished to deport them (reason stated above), which is when they discovered, especially after visiting their villages (let’s call them villages) how dire the conditions are. The Germans managed to get these people to go to school, learn German and actively seek jobs in a month, something these governments refused to do for centuries. I say centuries, because the Empress of Austria made a decree in the early 18th century to rip Romani children away from their homes to be nurtured with other families, a plan that failed because people refused to accept them. It’s not like communism (more precisely undemocratic socialism) was any better, on the one hand, they did gave everyone jobs, but they also did experiments on the Romani in the ’60s to chemically make them infertile. Tuskegee may have been longer, but the KGB did relay information on it to subservient secret agencies well before the American public knew.

    So the process of integration is underway, whereas back at home the majority still conditions itself to believe certain people can’t and won’t ever adapt, which doesn’t stop them to give out construction permits on areas that are frequently flooded. Many post socialist countries are ethnically close to homogeneous, either because people were sent to death camps, deported or forcefully exchanged between countries. As such, they not only ignore their own history but refuse to take part in a venture with other countries that do.

    Yet it isn’t a just or unjust world fallacy, because people individually defer from being enslaved by fear and hatred, and battles it. Some stay back fighting the good fight, others, like me come to the west. I adore what they’re doing, but I don’t have the time and patience to change people’s minds on refugees when they still haven’t accepted people living with them for centuries. Not only that, other fallacies are quite fervent, like if you support the LGBT community, you must be one of them, which in turn forms part of a larger conspiracy theory, that the nation is under constant attack, about 2 minutes in you recognize it’s pure antisemitism, and disagreeing with it makes you a traitor. Seriously, people with low blood pressure should read a fraction of it, no further medication needed. I shared some of that sentiment, not the racist parts.

    Gradual change happened by actually meeting people and listening to them. This is how people can adapt to nice things, and sometimes nice things mean running water, heating, access to education, to jobs. Violence, if it isn’t sexual aggression in nature, or self defense stems from frustration fueled by lack of access, like poverty. Our lizard brains form but the smallest part of our brain stem and only knows the fight or flight response. It is for that reason hormones only go so far.

  48. Ally Fogg says

    Just a quick word to say I haven’t had time to jump into this conversation but I have been following & it has been fascinating & important.

    Thanks all.

  49. Lucythoughts says

    Secondtofirstworld

    I’m sorry but try as I might I can’t see how what you are talking about relates to anything in the substance of my comments or the conversation I was contributing to. I think we are just talking at cross purposes so I will leave it there.

  50. secondtofirstworld says

    @Lucythoughts: Much of what you said is very uplifting.

    ” It wouldn’t justify a society to pre-emptively punish or control or segregate them. Doing so would not only be hugely unethical, it would also create social problems which need never have existed.” I presented the case, that however this is what I’ve seen happening and continue to happen, that can sadly be correlated statistically. Like I said, the Germans could deal with a problem in a matter of weeks, whereas their home country refuses to do so based on arbitrary reasons. Some of these not actually refugees but also not welcomed citizens not only come from crushing poverty, some don’t even speak the official language of their birthplace, which is the fault of the education system.

    We’re indeed social animals, still if there’s one thing Code Napoleon, English law and its derivatives and Roman law has in common it’s that laws only work if both its letter and spirit are being upheld. The latter is the problem, the lack of willingness to do the most positive thing. In the case of Calais, American inner city criminality or other situations involving racial minorities there’s a penchant to make a nonexistent distinction between “good” and “bad” men. In defense of the French, they did send 80 kids to French colleges so they’ll have a better life. Other societies segregate for arbitrary reasons. The second it became illegal to segregate, they’ve set up private not for profit schools, and wherever that’s not possible they register their kids in different districts, or even move, and don’t see why that’s a problem.

    I agree with you on aggression not being innate, I forgot to mention Rumpsringer. To my knowledge, and anyone is free to correct me if this is wrong, so to my knowledge Amish youth in the outside world don’t turn into deviants despite the fact they have a gender separated lifestyle. It’s not because they’re white, it’s how they were raised. In other places people not having that isn’t because of genetics or culture, rather simply being behind on the ladder of societal evolution. We can’t say we’re the champions of it as many still struggle to acknowledge LGBT people as equal humans, followed closely by race relations.

    We can agree or disagree on things, but we still have a conversation, something rarely happening in other places without character or actual assassination. Not being bound by such deterrents it’s much easier to analyze why it is inherently wrong to collectively demonize, or to perpetuate misandry and misogyny.

  51. Lucythoughts says

    #43 Gjenganger

    I have been meaning to come back to this one as it’s interesting but tangential to the discussion about aggression, and today I have a little bit of time, so…

    the details of human behaviour formation are, in themselves, for biology nerds

    Why, thank you, that is exactly how I self-identify… 😉

    a number of aspects like aggression, competition, different male and female atitudes to sex and intimacy, … might be among those natural tendencies that we need to work with

    Let’s stop here a minute. The use of the word “attitudes” sort of belies the point you are making. An attitude is, by it’s nature, not biologically predetermined. Libido, attraction and the desire for affection (in men and women) undoubtedly have a genetic component for example, but they are also subject to the interactions of instinct with learned behaviour and expectations. Attitudes about when, where and with whom it is appropriate to have sex or behave intimately? Well, there might be biological influences but you’d be building castles in the air to assume anything. I wouldn’t put money on it, let’s put it that way.

    It also argues that the behaviour and gender roles we have had for millenia (with variations, yes) are in part legitimate and motivated

    Depends what you mean. Legitimate sounds like a value judgment, and given the distance between what could reasonably be construed as evolved instinctual behaviours and modern gender roles, it would be difficult to justify much on that basis. I think it’s fair to assume that some important social behaviours with a gendered component have a basis in evolutionary biology, but I’d be circumspect about which ones and how the instincts themselves relate to how those instincts are expressed. Anything particular you have in mind? To get the ball rolling, two that I would say are pretty much certain are maternal infant care (because we are mammals after all) and adult pair bonding behaviours. Those things are probably so deeply built in that most humans could not be comfortable moving too far from a model that included them. We have had cultures which have imposed other models for human relationships, but, as far as I can see, pretty serious negative social consequences have resulted and it has been necessary to employ severe authoritarian methods to stop people drifting back towards their preferred models. On the other hand, most cultures have kept those basics, maternal care and pair bonding, and then have made them exaggeratedly rigid. So only the mother or a female relative can care for children; only lifelong monogamy can be acceptable. Again, authoritarian methods have had to be employed to keep people in line.

    Denying any biological component lets you dismiss current roles as bad and unnecessary, and argue that we can achieve any behaviour we want, so why are you nasty people not cooperating?

    What you seem to be afraid of is the imposition of a rationally designed social system from above; like the societal equivalent of Milton Keynes. I shudder at the thought. However, I can’t even imagine how you would begin to do it, so I’m not fretting :-)

  52. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 50

    I completely agree with this post.

    In fact (I have never seen it anywhere else,so it is quite likely rubbish), when Ally maks the (correct) point that people get violent if they grow up with violence, I have sometimes thought that this might be an adaptive reponse, rather tnan a malfunction. Would it not be good for the survival of the race if children born in violent and and aggressive surroundings grew up violent and aggressive, and children born in peaceful and constructive surroundiings grew up peaceful and constructive?

    Still, though it is true that any differneces are matters of group averages, and you cannot punish individuals for those, you cannot completely ignore them either. El Al probably spends more time screening single Arab men, than Jewish mothers with children, for the very good reason that they are statistically more likely to do something awful.

  53. secondtofirstworld says

    @StillGjenganger #57:

    Still, though it is true that any differneces are matters of group averages, and you cannot punish individuals for those, you cannot completely ignore them either. El Al probably spends more time screening single Arab men, than Jewish mothers with children, for the very good reason that they are statistically more likely to do something awful.

    You’re actually contradicting the first sentence with the second. While there are many Israelis and Palestinians who’re fed up with the constant mutual suspicion (they actually have a hotline where they can share said grievances, mostly wishing for a life free of hatred), they’re, sadly, but truly a minority on both sides controlled by social conservatives enjoying zealous religious support. What I’ve been telling Lucy is that for centuries, half of Europe has and still does mistreat its minorities and is wary of them based on preconceived notions. In the case of El Al, there are both legitimate concerns but there’s also racial profiling. Here’s the thing: how could the assailants of Paris blend in that easily? The racist/misandrist answer is because they all secretly support it. In reality, terrorists blend in with the majority, not the minority. That is why in 2004 the FBI failed in Los Angeles to incite extremism in a mosque because the flock was liberal and they reported him to the FBI. August of last year refugees turned over 3 militants who wished to recruit militants among, from people who grew up with violence.

    Hearing that it would be nice to separate kids of non-violent environments from violent ones makes me feel I’m in the Stepford Wives movie listening to George Wallace, no thank you. Separation weakens survival, it doesn’t strengthens it.

    The other thing is, and I think it’s something no freethinker should forget: whereas radical imams and influential leaders incite young people (even women) to commit violence, though in many cases they pay the families of suicide bombers, so there’s that, when it comes to zealous Christians and Jews, they not only refuse to serve personally but demand others to enlist/get drafted for them.

    Also, not every victim of violence get violent themselves, especially not ones of sexual aggression, unless the victim blaming is so expanded and their plight so ignored, they become rapists themselves. Key here is abandonment. Leaving communities prey to their most vile of leaders is what creates a culture of violence but we have to ignore so that it can continue to happen. The BBC is tireless in uncovering how the clothing industry mistreats citizens of third world countries, yet the distributors, who pledged after the factory fire in Bangladesh a mere 5 years ago that they will thoroughly check conditions and discontinue ordering from sweatshops, has popped up again recently, because in Turkey sweatshops “employed” Syrian adolescent refugees. I put employed in quotations because it’s illegal for Syrians to get a legal work permit in Turkey.

    By the by, there’s also the Chagas’ disease which physically prevents people from getting angry and violent, so whatever innate and adaptive abilities we have, it takes but one parasite to make it null and void. I also did say, that before the Jungle was dismantled, 80 kids went to French colleges, so despite what the UKIP and Front Nationale thinks, the French state itself doesn’t think all of them should be feared.

  54. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 56

    First of all, I completely agree with this:

    Libido, attraction and the desire for affection (in men and women) undoubtedly have a genetic component for example, but they are also subject to the interactions of instinct with learned behaviour and expectations.

    What I have in mind are some of the main differences in gender roles: Males being more focused on status and respect, and women more in intimacy and closeness. Men pushing a little harder to get to top positions, and women prioritising work-life balance a little higher. Men being more driven to having sex, and women being more fussy about who to have it with and when. Men pushing for sex, and women permitting (or no). Men, young men especially, being willing to work very hard, and take a lot of risks, including violence, to gain status. Women being more ready to see parenthood as a defining and fulfilling activity. To be sure you cannot prove (nor disprove) that this is in part biological. These are differences in group averages, not in all individuals. And the direct drivers are surely a matter of social roles. But the biological differences could well be strong enough to determine how the gender roles should differ. I submit that it is not a coincidence that the roles are the way they are, rather than the other way around

    Also I think that the kind of social engineering you are talking about is not a far-off possibility, but everyday reality in the gender debate. In the push for gender equality, many are saying that your sex should have no important influence on how you (learn to) behave, how people behave towards you, what possibilities are open or suggested for you, …, It seems only a slight exaggeration to say that lots of people want gender to have about the same importance as hair colour. Something that does not matter for who you are or how your life turns out, and that can be changed at will anyway. Ally says that your sex should never be something that limits you, which in practice means that it can have no effect at all (all drugs have side effects – if they are stronger than distilled water). Could you really get rid of the differences I mention above (as many would like) without ‘ employ[ing] severe authoritarian methods to stop people drifting back towards their preferred models’.

    The supposed biological basis is obvious (it is the effects that are hard to determine). Males can have an unlimited number of children, whereas women have a limited number of lifetime slots. Also human females (unlike gorillas or seals) can in principle be fertile at any moment. A drive for men to push for sex whenever and not be fussy would seem a good way to spread your genes. Women, on the other hand, can increase their reproductive success not by having more sex, but only by improving the chances of the children they do have. Which could be either by insisting on a long-term commitment or resources and help with bringing up the child in return for the sex, or by going for the mate with the best genes. We can draw no firm conclusions here – you would need hard data and proper modelling to even try to convert this into evolutionary strategies – but surely it is not too much to suggest that evolution would push women to be more choosy than men about their bedmates. Then you get the fact that (through history) if some men can have lots of children, other men will have few or none, whereas a woman can generally find someone to make her pregnant. That means that the best way for a woman to get lots of grandchildren is to have a son that get lots of children. Which gives the same self-perpetuating mechanism of sexual selection that drives the peacock’s tail: If women are more attracted to status and confidence, men with status and confidence will have more opportunities, and those without it may end up childless – and have an (evolutionary) motive to go to great lengths and take great risks to avoid that fate.

    To end, just one anecdote among many possible: How likely is it that we will get 50% representation of both sexes in top jobs, when the incentives are clearly different for the two sexes? For a man, success would tend to brings expanded sexual opportunities, as people as different as Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Jimi Hendrix, and Silvio Berlusconi (ugh) would attest. If you asked Margaret Thatcher or Hilary Clinton, I am not sure they would say that the same is the case for women.

  55. StillGjenganger says

    @SecondToFIrstWorld

    This is covering rather too many points for me to respond (especially because I am semi-retired). And I am not a free-thinker, but a European Christian. One point needs a reply, though:

    Hearing that it would be nice to separate kids of non-violent environments from violent ones

    That is a total misunderstanding.of what I meant. In evolutionary terms it would be a survival advantage if children in a sociery that was uinformly dangerous and violent grew up more aggressive and paranoiid, just like it would be an advantage for children to grow up paceful and constructive whenever society was generally calm and stable. Setting your aggression level would allow the same set of genes to cater for both situations. In our very paceful society there is no advantage ot having a few vioilent families – and anyway no one (including me) would dream of segregating the two.

  56. secondtofirstworld says

    @StillGjenganger #60

    Before becoming a Buddhist and a humanist, I was an ultraconservative Calvinist. This is being the reason I don’t debate validity of religion as myself religious, but I do support and to my abilities enforce separation of church and state.

    To address your statement, I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, we only had and have traditional minorities with a sporadic representation of other people and cultures due to historical reasons of which I’m sure you’re aware. I was still living back home 10 years ago when a poll was conducted on the acceptance of a fictitious ethnicity, and the majority rejected them. This should surprise noone who knows how during the development of national identity (after the Treaty of Versailles) the country shifted rapidly toward Nazi Germany and was then subsequently occupied by the Soviets, making said development a frozen conflict.

    At least third of the nation believes today, that WWI’s aftermath was specifically rigged, and continues to do so, including the recent refugee crisis. The common link is the paranoia that powers that be are after our blood, because we’re that much important (sarcasm). Having missed out on the 1968 movements that changed and expanded democracy, fear shifts people toward ideas which embrace primitive violence and narrow mindedness. Perhaps some old triggers still work in me, because I did interpret your words as we should separate the good behaving children from violent ones, a longstanding policy in the region until good behavior becomes synonymous with white and their interpretation of being Christian.

    I also oppose heteronarrativity in favor of humanism as the former limits who I could be friends with. Nonetheless, that’s the last step on the ladder, first a healthy view of nationalism has to be established. Unlike refugee camps being closed down in the East, Calais fell victim to British ambiguity since most refugees wished to settle there, but new immigration policies are yet to be worked out.

  57. Lucythoughts says

    #59 Gjenganger

    There is more than one issue to address here so I’ll split this over two posts, and I’ll start with your premise regarding the evolutionary biology / sex selection in gendering of status seeking and sexual behaviour. Firstly I would always be extremely cautious about making assumptions one way or the about this stuff as they are inevitably riddled with observer bias. Generally I think evolutionary psychology is the king of all bollocksy armchair pseudo-sciences, and it excels itself in spouting drivel when it comes to mating behaviour and sexuality. It is important to accept firstly, that we just don’t know the context in which human relationships and sexual behaviour evolved. There are a number of very unusual things about humans and we don’t know why they came together or how they interacted and how that may have influenced our incentives and strategies. To name a few:

    1) We exhibit pair bonding behaviour (rare in primates and even rarer in other mammals), normally associated with small family groups defending territory.

    2) Yet there is also strong reason to think we lived in troops or communities (our complex language and social behaviour)

    3) We have a concealed oestrus, which is very rare indeed.

    4) Our babies are born extremely premature by the standards of other animals (because our large heads couldn’t be delivered if we gestated longer) and require intensive maternal care for a period of many weeks and months.

    5) We have an extraordinarily long childhood during which we are extremely vulnerable and have to acquire a lot of learned skills.

    No one knows what all this signifies for our evolution or our incentives when it came to mating, parenting and social behaviour. For example, you suggest a concealed oestrus would make men more inclined to have sex with any woman at any opportunity; that’s possible, but it could equally produce the opposite effect by reinforcing pair bonding behaviour, because the best way to produce an offspring with a desired mate would be to have sex with them frequently for an extended period of time, which in turn increases the chance of a long term attachment forming. Or combined with a bit of female promiscuity it might have kept paternity uncertain to reduce male aggression towards infants (because there’s always a chance the baby’s theirs or a close relatives). Or it might have promoted social bonding behaviour in some other ways, because sex is both a cause and a consequence of affection and is very often used for purposes other than reproduction, especially in primates. Or there could be any number of other explanations, or a combination, we just don’t know. And on status seeking, bare in mind that when pair bonding is common, female status will be a player as well as male status in mate selection and in a community high status females get more food etc.

    What we do know is that social group behaviour throws a massive spanner in the works of these neat little sexual selection theories and leads to varied and unexpected behaviours. Add to that the fact that in the span of human evolution learned behaviour will have been contributing more and more, so whatever we started out doing, it is likely that mating, bonding and parenting behaviour will have varied a great deal between groups of humans and also within groups of humans since time immemorial. So one “natural” form of family grouping, sexual and reproductive strategy etc turns into lots of different ones, ultimately redefined and spread or eliminated through cultural means. Additionally, economic conditions (essentially the ability of a few individuals and families to create and hold that most unnatural asset, a resource surplus) have changed our incentives and power relationships beyond recognition since our hunter-gather days, let alone our omnivorous forager days. So to conclude, I don’t think anyone believes it is a coincidence that our gender roles are this way rather than reversed. It is probably a coincidence that they are this way rather than something else entirely.

  58. StillGjenganger says

    @LucyThoughts 62

    First, you clearly know about this than I. That is good – if you have the patience for this discussion it means that I can maybe learn something.

    Second, I pretty much agree with this:

    I would always be extremely cautious about making assumptions one way or the about this stuff as they are inevitably riddled with observer bias. Generally I think evolutionary psychology is the king of all bollocksy armchair pseudo-sciences, and it excels itself in spouting drivel when it comes to mating behaviour and sexuality. It is important to accept firstly, that we just don’t know the context in which human relationships and sexual behaviour evolved.

    There are very few reliable data in this field, lots of speculation, and enormous temptations to ‘discover’ that the distant past reflects your own prejudices. That does not mean that everything in the field is necessarily useless, though, just that you have to be extremely careful. And I do try.

    I understand you as saying that there are any number of different social structures that could have arisen out of the particular biology of homo sapiens, and we really cannot say, let alone assume, which one it was. And that the social dimension of humans, which coevolved with the rest, makes it even more unknowable. Which is why any model that assumes how our ancestors lived is pretty useless. Fine so far, but I think my fairly modest model has the advantage that it does not depend on any particular social arrangement. All I am assuming, as far as I can see, is that protohumans lived in such a way that there were several potential sexual partners within reach, and that both sexes has some active input in who had sex and when. I am not trying to argue that we are ‘naturally’ promiscous and our ancestors lived like Hugh Hefner. I am not saying that this particular effect was the main determinant for protohuman social relations. Quite likely the social organisation was mainly determined by other things – and anyway a lot of the factors that might make it advantageous (e.g.) to form long-time pairs would have been shared between the sexes. What I am saying is that across a very broad range of possible social organisations, it would still be (relatively) more advantageous for a male to have lots of sex, and (relatively) more advantageous for a female to be selective about when and with whom. It seems to me that you need to make a lot of complex assumptions to get out of that.

    The idea of a stronger, more amorphous male sex drive need not be true, and it certainly need not be the dominant part of male sexuality. It was just the simplest mechanism I could think of that would permit the genetic transmission of this kind of behaviour. Quite likely it is much more subtle and complex (if it is at all, of course). But I thought it was useful to show at least one mechanism that was not too far-fetched.

    As for the status seeking, that is even more speculative. In part because any mechanism would have to be more complicated, in part because we cannot really say exactly what people are supposed to be selecting on. But if women are genetically more choosy, any trait they agreed to select on would certainly be amplified by sexual selection.

    I don’t think anyone believes it is a coincidence that our gender roles are this way rather than reversed. It is probably a coincidence that they are this way rather than something else entirely.

    That would really surprise me. But there is an obvious test: If our gender relations arose by coincidence, one would assume that different societies around the world might show wildly different patterns in their gender relations. I did not think that was the case. Do you?
    Of course that would not prove that there is any genetic input from behaviour. The differences in which sex is stronger, which sex gets pregnant etc. would have quite a strong effect all by themselves. But to the extent that there are similarities between gender roles across the cultures of the world, would it really be so surprising if here was some mild adaption in behaviour patterns as well?

  59. Lucythoughts says

    #63 Gjenganger

    That would really surprise me. But there is an obvious test: If our gender relations arose by coincidence, one would assume that different societies around the world might show wildly different patterns in their gender relations. I did not think that was the case. Do you?

    It depends what you mean by gender relations really. Let’s look at a few factors I would say constitute key aspects of gender roles and relations. Bare in mind also that in the industrialised nations we share more of our norms and our history so in other economic set-ups such as subsistence farmers, nomads or horticultural hunter-gathers there is more variation.

    Family grouping and sexual behaviour: Strict monogamy or serial monogamy are the most common forms, in which strict monogamy is usually sanctioned by official marriages which are difficult to break, and serial monogamy allows for couples to form and separate at will. The next most common form is polygyny (with a varying percentage of men actually practicing it, and a varying number of wives considered ideal or acceptable). Then there are cultures which practice polyandry (rarer now, but at one time probably quite common in Asia) and there are various forms of group marriage which follow different rules. Some cultures demand a high degree of sexual fidelity, especially from women, and prize virginity highly, whereas in other cultures sexual promiscuity is considered normal and healthy. Others practice monogamy (and clandestine affairs of course) but sanction extra marital sex in some contexts, such as at festivals or as an act of hospitality towards a visitor. Some permit people to marry whoever they want; in others marriage is strictly by arrangement between families (and circumstances which allow or preclude those arrangements can be mind-bendingly complex), or else there is choice but it is limited by various rules. Some allow for the dissolution of marriages and others don’t. Sometimes the new husband is absorbed into the wife’s family and sometime the other way around, or they set up on their own.

    Then there’s the kids: the mother as the primary carer in infancy is, to the best of my knowledge, universal. However, who else is involved in childcare or bears responsibility for them varies especially as the child gets older: it could be the mother only; the mother and the father; the mother and her female relatives; the mother and her husbands female relatives; males looking after boys and females looking after girls (after a certain age); both male and female relatives, but only of the mothers; sisters of the mother and brothers of the father or vice versa; siblings; grandparents; other community members…

    The division of labour: this varies so much with the local economy I could hardly start to address it, I just don’t know enough detail. I think it is fair to say though that there are strong patterns of similarity but while there are certain jobs which fall almost always to men or to women, (warring, hunting large game, care of young children) you can usually find a few exceptions and a majority of tasks have been done by one or other or both, depending on culture and circumstance.

    There are other things of course but I only intended this to be a quick few lines and it seems to have run on…and on. I would just mention matrilinear vs patrilinear inheritance as well, which is extremely important. So, to summarise, I think that gender relations have varied hugely in the past but over recent centuries and even over decades and years, the numbers have dwindled as the patrilinear, monogamous nuclear family arrangement as driven out other models. I think economic factors made it a likely winner; I don’t think it was an inevitable winner though. And just to be clear, I have never said that I don’t think biological factors have been important; I think they very much have, especially reproductive factors, and behavioural differences may also be a contributor in all sorts of ways. All I have said, and will say, is that we don’t know how they contribute, and especially with all the other pressures acting upon us. And generally, I think it would be unwise to assume that gender roles as we have them now are any more natural or unnatural than a number of possible alternatives.

    I’ll leave you with this article about the unusual and uplifting (to me anyway) arrangement practiced by the Aka people:
    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/jun/15/childrensservices.familyandrelationships

  60. secondtofirstworld says

    @Lucythoughts comment #64:

    Family grouping and sexual behaviour: Strict monogamy or serial monogamy are the most common forms, in which strict monogamy is usually sanctioned by official marriages which are difficult to break, and serial monogamy allows for couples to form and separate at will. The next most common form is polygyny (with a varying percentage of men actually practicing it, and a varying number of wives considered ideal or acceptable). Then there are cultures which practice polyandry (rarer now, but at one time probably quite common in Asia) and there are various forms of group marriage which follow different rules. Some cultures demand a high degree of sexual fidelity, especially from women, and prize virginity highly, whereas in other cultures sexual promiscuity is considered normal and healthy. Others practice monogamy (and clandestine affairs of course) but sanction extra marital sex in some contexts, such as at festivals or as an act of hospitality towards a visitor. Some permit people to marry whoever they want; in others marriage is strictly by arrangement between families (and circumstances which allow or preclude those arrangements can be mind-bendingly complex), or else there is choice but it is limited by various rules. Some allow for the dissolution of marriages and others don’t. Sometimes the new husband is absorbed into the wife’s family and sometime the other way around, or they set up on their own.

    Then there’s the kids: the mother as the primary carer in infancy is, to the best of my knowledge, universal. However, who else is involved in childcare or bears responsibility for them varies especially as the child gets older: it could be the mother only; the mother and the father; the mother and her female relatives; the mother and her husbands female relatives; males looking after boys and females looking after girls (after a certain age); both male and female relatives, but only of the mothers; sisters of the mother and brothers of the father or vice versa; siblings; grandparents; other community members…

    Even with the best of intentions, you’ve run afoul here, as you summarize past events through the lens of today’s circumstances. First of all, monogamy comes from Roman law, its establishment occurred for social, and economic reasons, the latter being more important. On the one hand, from experience they had to realize, that on average people are possessive, and as such are less likely share the same person (or resource, depending how one views it). On the other hand, polygamy evaporates amassed fortunes, which, before the dawn of capitalism was equal to a death sentence. Monotheistic religions adopted the one husband-one wife practice (it’s not in any holy books, except for a passage concerning priests) in order to meet feudal needs.

    Permitting whoever you want to marry is, compared the human history, new, like post-Napoleon new. Marriage has been a contract between 2 families, as is actually loving your kids. After pasteurization was widely distributed and doctors could be convinced of not treating patients while being contaminated, mothers began to actually survive pregnancies. For millennia before that, the general health and hip size had decided how much she could be turned into a baby factory. Rich people employed wet nurses, and an army of tutors to raise their children. As for poor people, unlimited devotion to parents was a must, once the older girls could care for themselves, they were in charge of raising the littler ones. Being an industrialized nation has little to do with being advanced as paradoxical as it may seem. A whopping century ago women were barred from climbing the social ladder as it was the then-scientific consensus that women’s brains are being weakened by menstruation and are incapable to form a coherent string of thought, and too prone to mood swings (aka speaking your mind). This happened the same time cars started taking over roads.

    Much of what you describe is post universal suffrage, which happened less, than a century ago, and that’s in Western countries. My anecdotal addition is, that in the society my ancestors lived, land married land. By ancestors I mean my great grandparents, but even my grandmother married for that reason 65 years ago (shortly before collectivization). My grandfather wanted out, but (and just to show socially conservative communists were) he couldn’t as to get a divorce, one had to prove a 5 year long continuous separation.

    As for tribes before written history, such as foraging and hunter-gatherer roles. Primitive societies were forced to be result oriented, so it’s not etched in stone that both genders had fixed roles, that came with organized agriculture and more centralized shared living space aka cities.

    All in all, gender roles were secondary for 2 reasons: one, organized religion had predetermined who does what, and two, non-royals and non-clergy were perishable goods, the primary concern was ensuring continued loyalty to the church and ruler, and to pay taxes. Along came the French Revolution and the rest is history.

  61. Lucythoughts says

    #59 Gjenganger

    I said in a previous post that there was more than one issue raised here and I’d like to come back to the rest separately. Finally I’m going to, although if you are bored of it by now then that is okay too!

    In the push for gender equality, many are saying that your sex should have no important influence on how you (learn to) behave, how people behave towards you, what possibilities are open or suggested for you, …..
    Ally says that your sex should never be something that limits you, which in practice means that it can have no effect at all (all drugs have side effects – if they are stronger than distilled water). Could you really get rid of the differences I mention above (as many would like) without ‘ employ[ing] severe authoritarian methods to stop people drifting back towards their preferred models’

    I take your main point here to be that, in your view, the social enforcement of gender roles which roughly correspond to the group average behavioural differences between men and women would be broadly to the benefit of the group, even if it is detrimental to the individual who is not perfectly aligned to the average. I guess what I would like is some kind of proof of concept if that were possible? I am willing to give it honest consideration but right now I don’t see it. The problem I have is that gender roles are learned by children in ways which are good or neutral but also ways which are hurtful. Imitation of the same sex parent and other role models is one of the main ways that children learn their social roles. They are driven by instinct to find a place in society and to mould themselves to achieve acceptance rather than rejection. That is not a bad thing; it is essential to their development. But to keep them on the path we encourage gender appropriate behaviour and shame behaviour which is not. That is not allowing them to work with their instincts; that is just pitting one set of instincts against another: their instinct to make themselves acceptable against their instinct to follow their natural predilections and aptitudes.

    So, to work with your examples, it might be that men have a naturally higher drive for casual sex on average (or it might not), but the fact is, we shame and intimidate girls out of expressing or acting upon their natural sexual desires and we shame boys if they would rather not, or just don’t, have much sex. That seems to me to be turning a putative natural discrepancy into a social paradox, which is to the disadvantage of everyone. And looking at competitiveness, we shame girls out of overtly competitive behaviour because wanting to win means wanting to beat someone else, which is not being sensitive to their feelings, and emotional sensitivity is a greater virtue than success but only if you’re female. Equally, we shame boys out of displaying compassionate, nurturing behaviour because emotional toughness is a greater virtue than creating bonds of empathy and tenderness with other people but only if you’re male.

    The point is that our gender roles tell us that an attribute or behaviour, such as nurturing or competitiveness, having sex or declining it, is not good or bad depending on the context in which it is performed, but good or bad depending on the categorisation of the person performing it. That actually makes no sense. The only way to make it make sense is to say that the benefit of keeping people in sets with delineated attributes outweighs the benefits of generally encouraging behaviour that is positive and discouraging behaviour that is harmful based on its practical results. But why should that be? What is the great benefit of the drug that makes the side effects worthwhile?

  62. StillGjenganger says

    @ Lucythoughts 66

    I am very happy to continue, especially since we seem to have so much shared understanding to work with.

    I take your main point here to be that, in your view, the social enforcement of gender roles which roughly correspond to the group average behavioural differences between men and women would be broadly to the benefit of the group, even if it is detrimental to the individual who is not perfectly aligned to the average

    True – and very well put.

    Imitation of the same sex parent and other role models is one of the main ways that children learn their social roles. They are driven by instinct to find a place in society and to mould themselves to achieve acceptance rather than rejection. That is not a bad thing; it is essential to their development.

    Again we agree – though I would mention mutual reinforcement within groups of children as well.

    The only way to make it make sense is to say that the benefit of keeping people in sets with delineated attributes outweighs the benefits of generally encouraging behaviour that is positive and discouraging behaviour that is harmful based on its practical results. But why should that be? What is the great benefit of the drug that makes the side effects worthwhile?

    If I have to answer that, I would say that the benefits are 1) to coordinate social interactions (like all social roles). Shared behaviour norms make for easier and predictable interactions. 2) to help with group cohesion and identity formation. Your average teenager would not thank you for the offer to invent his very own social role from first principles, without considering what his friends are expecting, and then having to convince people around him (or her) to play according to his private rules.

    But I would rather say that the question is bad – almost incoherent. In a system of social interactions, the rules and expectations of people around you are a crucial part of ‘ the context in which [behaviour] is performed’The likely alternative to separate, prescriptive gender roles is not a system where everybody can develop a behavioural role uniquely suited to his personality and, crucially, expect his surroundings to fit seamlessly to his role. The alternative is a single, prescriptive unisex role that we shame and intimidate both sexes into equally. Sure, the unisex role can be more or less rigid or policed – but so can separate gender roles.

    So, why do we need these roles? Well, knowing how people behave in various situations, and what their behaviours mean, makes social interactions effortless, and makes you feel comfortable and integrated with your surroundings. Having to deal with someone who never does what is expected, and whose signals require considerable intellectual effort to decode is simply stressful. Imagine you are working in a team with people from New York, Baton Rouge, and Fort Wayne (Alaska), Sheffield , Palermo, Krasnoyarsk and Kiruna (Sweden), Lagos, Basra, Helmand, Yokohama, and Port Moresby (New Guinea). Each person sticks to the social role that he learned in his birthplace, and each expects to be treated according to the rules he grew up with. How easy and comfortable,do you think that would be? Now national styles really are arbitrary. And (again – my favourite sociolinguist Deborah Tannen), even quite different styles make room for all human emotions and work well among people who know the system. Girls can be quite viciously competitive, even if they use intimacy (and exclusion) as means to express it. And boys can be compassionate and sensitive to other people’s feelings, even if they concentrate on respect and status in their interactions. Closer to home, I once worked with a fellow who was nice, open, friendly, decent, but who had the strange defect that he could not catch the subtle hints that tell people whether their presence is appreciated, or whether those around them wish they would shut up and go away. He knew this, and he told me and others that we should simply tell him, openly, to go away when we wanted him to leave. Now as a system this is perfectly functional, as long as everybody agrees to it and expects it. But this was England. People were unable to tell him to go away, it just felt too rude. People could therefore it not get rid of him And. He. Was. Loathed.

    Why, then, specifically gender roles? Now. admittedly, it is hard to imagine properly how it would be to do without them, when they are part of how you grew up. But i really think there is enough, biology to give a strong push towards forming men and women into separate groups with different behaviour norm whatever the starting point. As you grow you ask yourself what kind of person you are, and look to learn how such persons should behave and fit in. That, as you say, is how humans develop. And males and females have different anatomy, different roles in reproduction, different physiology and hormone levels, different development speeds at various stages, and (homo nor hetero as you might be) sex more or less decides who your potential bedmates are. It seems unavoidable (to me) that as you grow you will sooner or later be thinking: “I am a boy. That is different from being a girl. What does that mean for who I am? How are (or should be) people like me, and how are they different from girls?” That still leaves lots of space to determine the shape of the two roles – which things are seen as different, and which things are not. But the idea that men and women are different groups seems to me unavoidable, and at that point different social roles will form, and people will grow up striving to match them.

    A final example – competitiveness. As from my own experience (made sense of in the light of Deborah Tannen), the focus on respect / status / competition is all through male behaviour. It is not just a matter of allowing people to compete. Social interactions sustain an informal status hierarchy (which is the way you avoid continuous conflict in a group of competitors). Low-level jostling for status is continuous, through the telling of jokes, and commenting on news. You learn complex rules for dealing with people without belittling them or hurting them. Boys in a primary school yard seem to be play-fighting about half the time. As a result of this massive training, they are able to exchange blows and shoves continuously without anyone getting seriously hurt. My young teenager son seems fascinated by weapons, and violent film clips. I read all this as a continuous attention to aggression as an important factor that needs to be understood and integrated. The one time my son got a minor scar, and a memory that still rankles a couple of years later, it was from a father- and brotherless girl visitor, and I speculate that for lack of practice she had not learnt to do her fighting properly. The point of all this is that you cannot just take an increased tendency to aggression and add it to the standard western girls role. These roles are consistent and cohesive, change one thing and the others must change to fit; time and attention must be given to the new element, and taken from the things now in focus; and the closest-friends-together interactions we now have might not do well with an increased level of open aggression thrown in. Hence the roles – they are needed to hold things together.

  63. Lucythoughts says

    Gjenganger

    There are several issues here so this will be long, but I think two can be disposed of quickly, so as to get to the interesting (to me) bits:

    In a system of social interactions, the rules and expectations of people around you are a crucial part of ‘ the context in which [behaviour] is performed’The likely alternative to separate, prescriptive gender roles is not a system where everybody can develop a behavioural role uniquely suited to his personality and, crucially, expect his surroundings to fit seamlessly to his role. The alternative is a single, prescriptive unisex role that we shame and intimidate both sexes into equally. Sure, the unisex role can be more or less rigid or policed – but so can separate gender roles.

    Firstly, your point here doesn’t seem relevant to the question in hand: there are general cultural rules which apply to everyone, as to what is polite, what is rude, what people are trying to communicate in indirect ways, and both men and women know those rules and use them all the time. Nobody is asking for everyone to be able to invent their own unique behaviour code, or decide what is good or bad manners on a whim. What is in question is whether a system in which what is good manners for one gender might be bad manners for the other is particularly helpful or useful. And further, whether what people should be allowed to do in their society should be prescribed by their gender. I haven’t come across a compelling reason to believe either of those things as yet. As for a unisex role having equal capacity to be open or restrictive as gender divided ones, that simply can’t be true. By the logic of the thing if all the necessary work of a society was to get done without gendering it, everyone would have to have a very open-ended script for the path they chose, or else we’d all have to be generalists.

    Secondly, you talk about modifying gender roles by tacking bits of one role onto another, or rewriting them from scratch, as if these were concrete proposals rather than straw men. Nobody can overwrite someone’s social training, let alone everyone’s social training, or stitch a bit extra on with a darning needle. Changes to gender roles, and our understanding of gender, happen gradually as the drivers change, making different roles more or less viable or enforceable, and social conditioning plays catches up. The pertinent question is which changes would most benefit us and which drivers could best be modified in which ways to bring them about. I think those questions are largely ignored or rendered academic because of the strength of the vested interests involved, mostly capitalist interests, and what we will see is the drivers changing in ways which best suit those, rather than the real welfare interests of men and women.

    So moving on to a few other points, you say that as children grow and search for their role in society they will look to their biological sex as a major determining factor and gender differentiation naturally results. I agree with this, I think it is pretty much guaranteed. But gender differentiation can cover a multitude of sins. More egalitarian models envision gender as a personal identity, part of your internal narrative and important in your personal relationships, but not much affecting what you can do. Your skills base, your work, your priorities and commitments are therefore guided primarily by your aptitudes and interests and are not a factor of your gender. Now, if you believe that there are innate differences of some magnitude between men and women in these aptitudes and interests then you might say that the most egalitarian model would still result in work following a gendered pattern. I have not seen any evidence that convinces me that this is so however. Alternatively, you might believe that innate differences exist but are rather slight and vary more within genders than between genders, but that the tendency to create gender identity by associating yourself within an in group and excluding those outside – effectively selecting for differences – amplifies those slight differences to the point of producing differential work roles, skills, interests etc. I think this is probably closer to the mark, but is still misses the point, which is that our behaviour is so malleable and economic factors, combined with the biological facts of childbearing etc, are so influential in determining our gender roles that behaviour has to work around them, and can do so in quite a variety of ways. The last alternative of course is the belief that there are no innate differences and socialisation results in all of the gender differences that we observe, which I know very well that you don’t believe so can be left to one side.

    I will say a little more about the evolutionary / biological angle though, because it is interesting. I am not opposed to the idea that there are innate differences between men and women, in fact I think it is extremely probable, and generally I’m not particularly ideological about this stuff. But again, I reiterate, you cannot start from our current social roles within a particular social and economic model and work backwards, hunting for innate evolutionary causes. So, for example, you say:

    What I am saying is that across a very broad range of possible social organisations, it would still be (relatively) more advantageous for a male to have lots of sex, and (relatively) more advantageous for a female to be selective about when and with whom. It seems to me that you need to make a lot of complex assumptions to get out of that.

    This is a very reasonable, Darwinian model and is very popular because of its clear logic. The problem is, it applies equally to all species with two sexes and yet when you look across the animal kingdom you see a huge variety of strategies being used. So, the peacock and the bird of paradise are often sighted as good neat examples of choosy females selecting for male attributes, but there are also many species of bird where the females are massively promiscuous and will mate pretty much indiscriminately with any male in the area. In primates too, female chimpanzees will mate with all of the males in the troop during their fertile period, not just the dominant ones. So, why are they not selecting for male attributes which will give their sons a selective advantage? Well, in a way they are. Paternity in these species is often determined by sperm competition. Basically, the most successful males are the ones with strongest, fastest and most aggressive sperm (literally, you can get sperm which chemically attacks the sperm of rival males for example). So promiscuity can also be a strategy for selecting the fittest males and species (or individuals) aren’t confined to just one strategy: they can play the percentages in different ways. Interestingly, you can get a good idea of the level of female promiscuity in a species just by looking at sperm quality; species where both males and females show a very high degree of fidelity can have lousy quality sperm but it doesn’t matter, once they’ve found a mate they have as many chances as they need to get a result. Humans are somewhere in the middle. So, status is only one thing to select on, and in fact, as I stressed before, in a group of social animals there are other benefits from being dominant in the hierarchy than mating opportunities, for both males and females.

    So, it isn’t silly or particularly over-cautious to say that we don’t know whether men are innately more competitive or promiscuous than women. A variety of workable strategies can exist and be combined (and I’ve only mentioned ones I happen to know about, there are bound to be others) and social behaviour radically alters the incentives. It may be true but it’s just not safe to assume, let alone justify existing social structures on that basis. What peeves me about evolutionary psychologists is they appear to have no interest in testing or criticising their core hypotheses even to the extent that it is possible. The only research I’m aware of that actually attempts this was by some behavioural economists (Uri Gneezy’s group) who did some experiments comparing competitiveness in men and women in two cultures, one patriarchal and one matrilinear/matrilocal (not matriarchal: basically men control the political structures and women control the economic ones). It was a simple little experiment with a ball game but he found that the women in the matrilinear culture competed significantly more often that the men, and even slightly more often (although not to statistical significance) than the men in the patriarchal culture. It’s all very preliminary but it’s pretty interesting and just highlights how we let ourselves run away with the idea that a society like ours, comprising patrilinear monogamous nuclear family groups with particular economic needs, is somehow a “natural” form for a society to take, or even allows for “natural” behaviours to develop. There are no natural social structures: they all create varied incentives for males and females and our behaviours work around those incentives.

  64. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 69

    First a comment on the biology – I’ll deal with the other aspects in another post.

    This is a very reasonable, Darwinian model and is very popular because of its clear logic. The problem is, it applies equally to all species with two sexes

    I don’t think it does, you know, and therefore your counterargument does not work (and anyway, sexual selection, as for peacocks, is surely a well-established biological phenomenon, even if nobody claims it holds for all (or even most) species). A fairly indiscriminate drive for more sex from males will only be an advantage if there are opportunities for reproduction that you might otherwise miss, and if the two sexes have partly opposing interests. It is easy to find situations where this does not hold: With faithful lifetime pairings, your reproductive success is tied to that of your mate; with promiscuity and sperm competition sex is available in unlimited quantities and the important competition is elsewhere; for any animal with visible oestrus (most of them) there is no point pushing for sex out of season; where there is a fixed breeding season (most?) females breed every time and have no reason for holding back; oestrus, breeding season or both makes it practically possible for a male to force competing males away, leading to competition between males and fighting for dominance instead (in some species, of course). Not to mention extreme situations like spiders, where at least one species has the male drop dead after mating to make sure his nutritious body is available for wifey to turn into eggs. Between them this kind of situations probably cover most of the animal kingdom. The thing is that none of them hold for homo sapiens. With concealed oestrus, semi-exclusive pair bonds, and multi-member social groups, there are opportunities for a extra sex, and any one case might mean one additional child. And with the long-term investment and risk it takes to bear and bring up a child a (proto)woman might sometimes be better off keeping her resources for the existing family, when a (proto)man might prefer trying for an extra child, given that for him it only costs ten minutes and a spoonful of goo.

    So while we cannot prove anything either way, it is surely too much to dismiss a plausible idea out of hand – let alone to decide that because ‘there are so many plausible ways biology could determine behaviour’ – they are all wrong, and behaviour is purely a social phenomenon. Unless you have other, ideological, reasons for doing it. As for the experimental proof, I am generally not that impressed by the kind of ‘play-a-little-game-with-psychology-students’ experiments that you often get. Comparative anthropology and sociology seem more convincing (if harder to quantify), because they deal with real life. The other kind is too dependent on social and psychological reactions to what is an extremely artificial situation for zero stakes. One interesting factor, by the way, is sexual dimorphism (which is visible and not in doubt). I have seen it claimed that the strength difference between men and women matches the differences you would find for species where males fight each other for access to females. That may or may not be significant – but one way or the other it must mean that men and women have been doing different things and been under different selection pressures. What is your explanation for the strength difference?

  65. Lucythoughts says

    #69 Gjenganger

    After reading this I suspect we are largely talking at cross purposes, but I’ll have a bash at straightening things out by going through this point by point.

    ”This is a very reasonable, Darwinian model and is very popular because of its clear logic. The problem is, it applies equally to all species with two sexes”
    I don’t think it does, you know, and therefore your counterargument does not work (and anyway, sexual selection, as for peacocks, is surely a well-established biological phenomenon, even if nobody claims it holds for all (or even most) species). A fairly indiscriminate drive for more sex from males will only be an advantage if there are opportunities for reproduction that you might otherwise miss, and if the two sexes have partly opposing interests. It is easy to find situations where this does not hold: With faithful lifetime pairings, your reproductive success is tied to that of your mate; with promiscuity and sperm competition sex is available in unlimited quantities and the important competition is elsewhere; for any animal with visible oestrus (most of them) there is no point pushing for sex out of season; where there is a fixed breeding season (most?) females breed every time and have no reason for holding back; oestrus, breeding season or both makes it practically possible for a male to force competing males away, leading to competition between males and fighting for dominance instead (in some species, of course). Not to mention extreme situations like spiders, where at least one species has the male drop dead after mating to make sure his nutritious body is available for wifey to turn into eggs. Between them this kind of situations probably cover most of the animal kingdom.

    We may be misunderstanding each other, but sex selection theory certainly does apply to all species with two sexes. The problem isn’t that it doesn’t work or that it isn’t true, it is that there are a lot of different strategies to maximise reproductive success that males and females can employ, these are influenced by many factors, and we don’t know what all of them are. I’m not actually presenting a counterargument. I’m not dissing Darwin, or saying, effectively, “evolution by natural selection? Sez you.” I am on board with sex selection, but I am saying that it doesn’t always work in the ways we might predict. Most of the things on your list are actually covered by sex selection theory, so: faithful lifetime pairings? Still got to find a mate and rear offspring to maturity, and desirable characteristics will help with this. Highly promiscuous females? Still got to be in the right place at the right time – sex is never unlimited – and sperm competition is a form of sex selection, just not a behavioural one. And to quote: “where there is a fixed breeding season (most?) females breed every time and have no reason for holding back” true, every time but not indiscriminately, hence “oestrus, breeding season or both makes it practically possible for a male to force competing males away, leading to competition between males and fighting for dominance” Yes, in behavioural terms this is called mate guarding, which is a strategy for constraining fertile females to mate with you rather than a male of their choice. It is one of a broad range of sexual coercion strategies animals use. And it leads quite neatly on to one of the technical problems with applying sex selection theory to nature, male mating strategies are quite easy to observe but assessing female mating preferences can be technically very difficult, because their choices are often constrained. It has generally been assumed that what benefits the gander benefits the goose: that if a male can force away other males he must be a “good” mate and the females should be happy with that. However, observation suggests that given free choice, females of many species frequently don’t behave as we might expect. So, for example, in harem systems with a very dominant male, we often find females sneaking off to try to mate with a lower ranking male of their choice. We can theorise about why they are doing this but it isn’t clear. And that’s not to mention the weird and wonderful sexual behaviour of primates. When you look at female mating choices, what you actually find is that they seem inconsistent and frankly, a bit odd. It doesn’t mean that females are not following sensible strategies to increase the success of their offspring, but we are still uncertain how they do it. Male mate-guarding behaviour, or whatever, seems very consistent with our theories of sex selection. Female promiscuity seemed unaccountable until we discovered sperm competition. There is still a huge amount we don’t understand. But the theories which basically state: “males do this, females do that…” could well be restated as “males do this, females do… what?”

    The thing is that none of them hold for homo sapiens. With concealed oestrus, semi-exclusive pair bonds, and multi-member social groups, there are opportunities for a extra sex, and any one case might mean one additional child.

    Which just makes it more unpredictable. Now we really do have to talk about primates; a few primates have a completely concealed oestrus, i.e. no physical or behavioural cues by which you can tell when a female is fertile (indeed, she doesn’t know herself), but a lot of primates have a partially concealed oestrus, so you can tell a window during which they are fertile but not when their fertility peaks. There are theories about why this is, none of them without their flaws. Two things which may be a factor are that in some primates males are involved in infant care, and may be guess-timating their chances of being the father of any given baby based on how much sex they’ve had with the mother, and secondly, some male primates can be infanticidal to babies known not to be their own. A lot of primates also frequently have sex when there is no chance of conception; during infertile phases and during pregnancy and lactation (also gay sex, which we haven’t even touched on), and are, on the whole, quite promiscuous. A lot of this is social behaviour. So many factors which can influence mating behaviour, so much we don’t understand.

    And with the long-term investment and risk it takes to bear and bring up a child a (proto)woman might sometimes be better off keeping her resources for the existing family, when a (proto)man might prefer trying for an extra child, given that for him it only costs ten minutes and a spoonful of goo.

    Now, if you mean proto-human females might have refused sex purposely to reduce the chances of conception, I think it extremely unlikely. Humans naturally have a long post-partum amenorrhea (infertile period after giving birth) caused by lactation. We don’t see it much in the West because of early weaning, bottle feeding etc, but without contraception, with relatively poor nutrition available and with on-demand breastfeeding, you can expect a period of about three years between babies, and that is what you typically see in hunter gatherers. Clever humans have found ways of reducing their fertility, but proto-humans behaving by instinct? Very doubtful I would say. The body already does it’s best to balance the best chances for the last child against the benefit of a new one.

    So while we cannot prove anything either way, it is surely too much to dismiss a plausible idea out of hand – let alone to decide that because ‘there are so many plausible ways biology could determine behaviour’ – they are all wrong, and behaviour is purely a social phenomenon. Unless you have other, ideological, reasons for doing it

    Is that “you” me, or “you” one? I have never said this. I can’t imagine how anyone could interpret what I have written previously (and at length) in that way, so I will assume you are speaking generally.

    And speaking generally, I’m not even exactly sure what plausible idea is being dismissed. That men have a higher sex drive than women? Or that women are fussier that men about who they have sex with? I don’t dismiss those possibilities, I just say that they are unknowns. Several times you have mentioned men “pushing” for sex, and I’m not at all clear what that means in terms of animal behaviour. It could mean approaching / courting behaviour, or it could mean sexual aggression / coercion (or a combination). If the later, I don’t really want to go there; it is the sort of “academic” discussion that gets people’s backs up, and justifiably so. If you mean males approaching females to initiate sexual contact, male primates certainly do this, but female primates do it too and often do it more (and yes, with a concealed oestrus). If there is one human behaviour I think is extremely unnatural it is the convention that men seek sex and women wait passively for it to come to them. It simply isn’t a good strategy for females to get the mate they want at the time they want them, and AFAIK animals don’t do this, unless constrained to. Also, the fact that societies across the globe and throughout history have been dripping with conventions, more or less harsh, to prevent and punish women seeking sex with mates of their own choice as and when they want them, strongly suggests that a natural propensity is being suppressed, wouldn’t you say?

    One interesting factor, by the way, is sexual dimorphism (which is visible and not in doubt). I have seen it claimed that the strength difference between men and women matches the differences you would find for species where males fight each other for access to females. That may or may not be significant – but one way or the other it must mean that men and women have been doing different things and been under different selection pressures. What is your explanation for the strength difference?

    To the best of my knowledge the sexual dimorphism in humans in terms of weight and strength is middling for apes: there are greater disparities in some species and lesser ones in others. It may be to do with fighting each other for mates, fighting males from rival troops, fighting predators, all of the above… Doing things differently and under different selective pressures though, yes, of course. How could we not be when one grows the babies and the other one doesn’t?

  66. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 70

    I am too busy now to keep this discussion up, but I owe you a summing-up post.
    I do indeed think that

    innate differences [in behaviour and aptitudes] exist but are rather slight and vary more within genders than between genders, but that the tendency to create gender identity by associating yourself within an in group and excluding those outside – effectively selecting for differences – amplifies those slight differences to the point of producing differential work roles, skills, interests etc.

    Of course until living memory the fact that men are (in general) stronger and women have the babies was quite enough to cement a clear division of labour. The division where nurturing and housecare was female and (many) outside jobs were male was obvious for that reason alone until the advent of the washing machine, the welfare state, and ubiquitous electrical machines

    I do not quite think that

    men seek sex and women wait passively for it to come to them

    is quite the right way to put it. Both sexes are eager and active, surely. But I think that, biologically, men are a bit more eager regardless, and women are a bit happier to do without when the time or the man are not right and to reserve their enthusiasm for something better. That makes sex a relatively scarce commodity for men and obtainable also when not desirable for women. Social roles take care of the rest. Of course until our lifetimes the risk of pregnancy (to the woman) took care of enforcing that behaviour pattern even in the absence of differentiated instincts. The ubiquitous social control of ((especially female) sexuality does not show that the two sexes have identical sex drives. It just shows that society needs to take an interest, since the bringing up of children falls to the entire family/clan, that economic and social limitations can be much tighter than any instinctual ones, and that control naturally is put more heavily on the female, given that she is the one that gets (visibly) pregnant and produces the children that need caring for.

    I think a biological basis for different tendencies in behaviour is highly plausible but admittedly unprovable because they are almost universal and there are so many confounding factors. And if you disagree about ‘almost universal’, I challenge you to find a significant number of societies where a single male is at constant risk of harassment or rape from women eager to bed hiim, or where men are expected to cover up to avoid waking the raging desires of the eager women around them. You seem to think that differentiated behavioural tendencies are possible, but dismiss them completely anyway, to an extent that I think owes something to ideological prefernce. We agree that human behaviour is quite malleable and socially controlled, But surely, other things being equal, the costs and stresses of our behaviour roles will be the less the closer they are to our built-in tendencies? And many of your counterarguments seem to be missing the point, which makes me wonder. It is true that there are many weird and wonderful sexual strategies available, from sperm competition to mate guarding, but how is that a relevant argument when the strategies you mention clearly do not fit with the biology of homo sapiens? And it is true that once males are stronger they will do most of the fighting against predators and hostiles, but surely that begs the question why the males got stronger in the first place? Why not have the women equally able to fight off the wolves?

    Of course, my real reasons for favouring a somewhat gender-divided society are not in the biology – they never are. Men and women have effectively different cultures (Deborah Tannen again). And the idea that the culture I grew up in should be dismissed as harmful and irrelevant and thrown on the scrap heap of history does fill me with sadness. As it would any Australian Aborigine. Also, women will always have something that makes their sex unique and important. ‘We’, as a little girl would learn ‘are the ones who make and look after the babies.’ That gives a basis for a group identity, and a source (not the only one, of course) of fulfillment and purpose. You could not explain to a little boy that his sex served as sex toys and sperm donors to women – and it would not serve as a useful source of identity or purpose even if you could. So, a society where ‘the sexes are equal and sex has no input in our life chances’, would inevitably be a society where people still grouped and identified by sex (that one is ingrained) and where the sexes are equal – except where women are superior. That is not the society I would wish my gandsons etc. to grow up in.

  67. Lucythoughts says

    #71 Gjenganger

    Thanks for the reply and, in a way I’m sorry that we are winding this up because there was some interesting stuff there and I think we may have finally started to get somewhere, but you’re right, these discussions are time consuming. You are probably right also that I have been missing the points you were making and that may be why it seemed like I was talking at random; I was trying to get to the heart of an issue but the heart appears to have been somewhere else. I do think the things I’ve described could be relevant to human evolution and I could explain why I think it, but I’ve used up too much thread space on this already and it turns out to be a side issue.

    To clear up a point, I don’t think that the sexual or other behavioural instincts are necessarily identical in men and women, that wasn’t really what I was driving at. I think it possible that we could arrive at similar behaviour by slightly different routes, or different behaviour which is still not quite what we might imagine. I think that some instinctual behavioural differences between men and women are very likely but I’m circumspect about what they might be or how they manifest, and personally I’m happier if I can see some neurological or physiological evidence in support; some biological nuts and bolts, if you like.

    Unlike you, I rather doubt that men have overall higher sex drives than women because it doesn’t particularly fit in with my observations. If I was to suggest a biological difference it would probably be that over a lifetime men’s and women’s sex drives might ebb and flow in different ways, but then, sex carries such huge social significance, it’s difficult to know. Even if true, the differential moral, social, even legal codes for sexual behaviour which we are in the process of redefining certainly create “costs and stresses” precisely because they were imposed to suppress our instinctual tendencies, and because they are downright paradoxical. That is lose / lose. And I think a tendency for women to be harassed is more to do with controlling female behaviour than anything to do with sex drive, and so although I can’t name a single society where men are habitually subjected to sexual harassment and women are not, I can imagine societies in which harassment is a rare, socially unacceptable phenomenon which isn’t heavily gendered. Maybe I’ll call it Lovelyland. Unfortunately I don’t need to imagine societies where harassment is used as a tool to keep women in their, why yes, social role. The role of property. I honestly don’t think it’s done in the hope of getting them into bed.

    But surely, other things being equal, the costs and stresses of our behaviour roles will be the less the closer they are to our built-in tendencies?

    I completely agree with this; I think there is a very real cost in trying to force human behaviour too far away from its natural tendencies, and the price is paid in unhappiness and poor mental health. However, for me the big questions here aren’t about gender roles but about the wider structures of society, such as the break up of cohesive communities and other issues which are too far from the subject in hand to mention. I worry about this stuff, but not really about our changing gender roles. Gender roles have proved themselves to be very adaptable: even within this one country they’ve always varied tremendously with the local economy, within class structures and with time and technological developments. When one system doesn’t work anymore, a new one gets adopted.

    Of course, my real reasons for favouring a somewhat gender-divided society are not in the biology – they never are. Men and women have effectively different cultures (Deborah Tannen again). And the idea that the culture I grew up in should be dismissed as harmful and irrelevant and thrown on the scrap heap of history does fill me with sadness. As it would any Australian Aborigine. Also, women will always have something that makes their sex unique and important. ‘We’, as a little girl would learn ‘are the ones who make and look after the babies.’ That gives a basis for a group identity, and a source (not the only one, of course) of fulfillment and purpose. You could not explain to a little boy that his sex served as sex toys and sperm donors to women – and it would not serve as a useful source of identity or purpose even if you could. So, a society where ‘the sexes are equal and sex has no input in our life chances’, would inevitably be a society where people still grouped and identified by sex (that one is ingrained) and where the sexes are equal – except where women are superior. That is not the society I would wish my gandsons etc. to grow up in.

    I sympathise, even though I can’t fully understand your fears or regrets in this (not knowing exactly what the culture you grew up in was like or which aspects are being eradicated). I don’t think there is any chance of gender roles disappearing, although circumstances have forced them to change pretty radically in the last 50 years or so, and new circumstances will continue to push them in new directions. That is inevitable and we will just have to roll with the punches. I don’t see gender as an inherently fragile thing; the very basic differences between men and women create a sense of gender identity all by themselves and I don’t believe that needs to be bolstered by differentiated work roles to hold true. It’s all down to taste I suppose, but one way and another I have had cause to work and socialise in predominantly male, predominantly female, and mixed gender groups and I’ve always found the mixed ones to be the most relaxed, the most mutually supportive and the most productive. I have never read Deborah Tannen so I can’t comment, but those different cultures and different ways of communicating that you talk about both have their dark sides. Two phrases spring to mind: being a bitch, and being a dick. I think those negative traits are usually diffused better in mixed sex groups (not always or completely of course, there’s always one isn’t there?) but tend to be reinforced in single sex groups. That is just my observation of course, and reflects what makes me comfortable; you probably feel the opposite. Nevertheless, I don’t think that more mixing up will really be the death of gender identity, but rather I think that if it forces those identities and roles to relax their specs and cooperate better, that can only be a good thing.

    I don’t fear for my little boy in this respect; I’d like to think he’ll have a future in which he’ll be able to have male and female friends, male and female colleagues, be able to do his job (whatever it is) and also be deeply involved with his kids (should he have some), be able to pursue his interests and talents (be they manly or otherwise) without stigma. I don’t see that less differentiated gender roles would make his masculine identity lose its value. In fact, I think the opposite: the tighter you link gender to differentiated work and behaviour roles, the more people you force to feel and be treated like gender rejects because their circumstances or abilities don’t meet the exacting requirements, and the more confusion and discomfort you create in our highly flexible world when changing pressures force you to adapt. In short, I think a less prescribed gender identity is a healthier gender identity, and more adapted to our economy. Being a woman is not something that I do; it is something that I am. It’s in my bones; no change of circumstances could take that away from me. My son, who is only four, loves his gender in a way which is both remarkable and endearing. He is a boy and being a boy matters to him. How it matters, who the Hell knows, but he certainly sees it as an essential of his being. Right now he is looking for pegs to hang that identity off, and our society will give him those pegs, but the pegs aren’t the identity: he has that already, it’s in his bones.

    Lastly, and with the greatest respect, “sperm donor” is exactly the role I think men have been moving steadily away from in recent history, which is an extremely good thing. These days, I see a lot of Dad’s picking up their kids from school and pre-school and taking their toddlers about; I wouldn’t have when I was a kid. I know a lot of Dad’s who have active, caring roles in their children’s lives which would have been strongly proscribed against in the past, and there are no losers from that. In fact, to deviate into biology once again, the evidence, as I understand it, shows that childbirth triggers in new mothers a set of neurological and hormonal changes which are the basis for the close attachment and love that mothers (usually) feel towards their babies and the caring behaviour that it prompts. Those changes are then reinforced by close contact and breastfeeding. Interestingly, similar (not identical, but very similar) neurological changes occur in father’s brains too, but they are triggered and reinforced only through close contact. In other words, Mum’s have a head start on bonding with their babies but Dad’s will catch them up if, but only if, they spent time with their infant. That’s quantity time, not “quality” time. I get a lot out of my bond with my kids and so do they; they also get a lot out of their bond with their father, and so does he. Nurturing the developing bonds of love between parents and children makes all our futures brighter and safer. I think there is a compelling case for much longer paid paternity leave: much more time when both parents are available to be with their babies and children, rather than just shared parental leave where they have to fight over it. Frankly, I think men have been being conned out of a good thing, and it is those touted gendered work roles which have been the con artists. Certainly I’m biased, but if I could give my son one thing for his future fulfillment, this would be it. After all, very few people get to their deathbed and think, “I only wish I’d spent more time at work.”

  68. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 72

    Ah, this is interesting! I was getting a bit lost in the long arguments, but for this I will find the time – if you are willing.
    First the biology:

    I do think the things I’ve described could be relevant to human evolution and I could explain why I think it

    Please do explain – maybe in a separate post? It may not be the main issue, but I cannot see how those arguments could be relevant to us, and I should like to understand why you see it differently.

    I think that some instinctual behavioural differences between men and women are very likely but I’m circumspect about what they might be or how they manifest, and personally I’m happier if I can see some neurological or physiological evidence in support; some biological nuts and bolts, if you like
    […]
    If I was to suggest a biological difference it would probably be that over a lifetime men’s and women’s sex drives might ebb and flow in different ways,

    Sounds like we basically agree about the biology, actually.

    Unlike you, I rather doubt that men have overall higher sex drives than women because it doesn’t particularly fit in with my observations.

    It fits with my personal ones, but then they are way too limited to generalise from. Otherwise I could theorise that the sex drive in men is matched by the nesting drive in women – that where men see sex as joyful and unmissable and the one thing that shows that their partner loves them, women reserve the same role to gardening together and their partner keeping the toilet and kitchen clean. But that is just me being bitter. More seriously male sex drive could easily be more indiscriminate rather than necessarily stronger. The point is to explain the common experience that for men there is never a willing woman no matter how much you want one, and for women the b****rds just never leave you alone, even if it should be obvious the chance is zero. Of course the direct cause of that is social roles, but to explain how those roles arose.

    harassment is used as a tool to keep women in their, why yes, social role. The role of property.

    I think that is way too narrow, though it surely part of the truth. All social roles are policed, that is how they are reproduced. On line, both Neanderthals (Mary Beard) and progressives (Tim Hunt) have found it expedient to use harassment to discourage behaviour they do not like. But another effect could be that banter, playful challenge and response is a normal part of the male repertoire (socially, not biologically) in a way that it is not for women. Yet another could be teh effect of desperation and resentment, mixed, in men who are hurting for sex and have no experience of successful seduction to draw on. On the lines of “If I keep trying whenever there is a chance, then maybe I will succeed one day, and meanwhile at least she will have noticed that I am there”.

    Where we really disagree, and have things to discuss, is about social roles. But that requires more thought, so I shall come back to that

  69. Lucythoughts says

    #73 Gjenganger

    Ah, this is interesting! I was getting a bit lost in the long arguments, but for this I will find the time – if you are willing.

    I’m in. It was undoubtedly my fault the discussion got derailed. I do like my tangents.

    First the biology … Please do explain – maybe in a separate post?

    I will try to come back to this in another post. I think it’s interesting but it’s a bit involved and I’ll have to think about how best to communicate it, as I’ve failed abjectly at that so far. I’ll put it on ice for now but expect something later on.

    Sounds like we basically agree about the biology, actually.

    Yay!

    It fits with my personal ones, but then they are way too limited to generalise from. Otherwise I could theorise that the sex drive in men is matched by the nesting drive in women – that where men see sex as joyful and unmissable and the one thing that shows that their partner loves them, women reserve the same role to gardening together and their partner keeping the toilet and kitchen clean. But that is just me being bitter.

    Hang on Gjenganger, are you seriously telling me you find cleaning the bathroom less fun than having sex? It must be my feminine predispositions talking but I just don’t get where you’re coming from at all… :-)

    Of course neither of us can really generalise from our tiny snap shot of life. I’ve known a few men who were pretty uninterested in sex and their partners just had to make do with the shared hobbies etc, so I always assumed it was just individual variation. Who knows though.

    More seriously male sex drive could easily be more indiscriminate rather than necessarily stronger. The point is to explain the common experience that for men there is never a willing woman no matter how much you want one, and for women the b****rds just never leave you alone, even if it should be obvious the chance is zero. Of course the direct cause of that is social roles, but to explain how those roles arose.

    While this must be complex and I can’t rule out differences in desire, I don’t think they are necessary to explain the differences in roles. As you have said, women are the ones who get pregnant, and that puts them in a very vulnerable position. Throughout most of our history the position of an unmarried mother or a deserted wife with children was one of destitution and probable starvation. That gave husbands and potential husbands the option of demanding completely unreasonable terms in sexual matters, such as “you have to be a virgin upon marriage but I don’t” and “I can screw around but you can’t” and “you have to have sex with me when I want you to, but if I don’t want to then you can whistle for it.” I’m not saying that every husband would have taken advantage of that imbalance in power, but if enough do it becomes part of the social norms. It comes to seem right and natural that women should be chaste and faithful, whereas men can put it about with impunity. I would add that class and the local economy also affect the balance of power: often working class women actually had more leverage, and more license, because their productivity was vital for the subsistence of the family unit.

    Of course, the pill changed the landscape totally, the sexual revolution followed and now we’re where we are, but these roles don’t redefine themselves very quickly. The problem is that, as I’ve said, they are paradoxical. We are all indoctrinated with the idea that while a “real” man ought to be trying to get sex out of women, a “decent” woman shouldn’t give it to him, at least not without some commitment on his part. One very well propagated idea here is that whilst a man who is attracted to a women will try to get her to have sex with him as quickly as possible, if he succeeds then she is diminished in his esteem. This is so thoroughly understood that in practice, having sex with a man on a first date makes you very much less likely to get a second date, and even if you only wanted a one night stand you still don’t want to feel that you’ve left the other person thinking the worse of you for it. It’s like Groucho Marx: “I don’t care to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.” It’s horrible really, and I can’t but think it must damage men’s view of their own desirability as much as it damages women’s sexual expression.

    harassment is used as a tool to keep women in their, why yes, social role. The role of property.

    I think that is way too narrow, though it surely part of the truth.

    I think you took that out of context. You had referred to societies where “a single male [female] is at constant risk of harassement or rape… expected to cover up to avoid waking the raging desires… etc”. Following on from that, I said “Unfortunately I don’t need to imagine societies in which harassment is used as a tool…” So, in the quote above I wasn’t particularly referring to our society or to all types of harassment such as online harassment etc. There are a lot of societies were sexual harassment is definitely a tool used to control women. When I actually wrote that, what was in the forefront of my mind was a piece I saw on child marriage in the urban slums of Bangladesh. Young girls, from 9 or 10 years old, who are out alone, are subjected to serious harassment by groups of boys and young men: being pushed and pulled about, threatened, having their clothing torn etc. The net result is their families marry them off as quickly as possible so they will have the “protection” of the respectable married state. It happens in many other countries and is one of the reasons girls drop out of school as well, because they can’t walk there safely. This is very serious stuff, and as I said, it is not about trying for a shag, but about intimidation.

    In our country things are infinitely better, although there is obviously sexual harassment as was being discussed on the other thread, and to be honest I think that is mostly about intimidation too. I have been luckier than many in not having too much of this shit happen to me, but I remember the peak on-street harassment years were definitely just after puberty, from about 12 until perhaps 18 or so. It was at its height when I was about 13 or 14, when you literally couldn’t walk down the street without the bloody horn honking, often 2 or 3 times in a mile of pavement. What they do, you see, is they wait until they are parallel with you and then hit their horn as loudly as they can. It isn’t a sign of appreciation, it’s “ha, ha, made you jump!” It happened so often at that age I can remember tensing pretty much every time a car past. All the girls I knew had the same thing happening. On the other hand, groups of boys (or men, or indeed women) shouting stuff at you or hassling you is clearly about them showing off to each other. Obviously no one yells “oi! Show us your tits!” in the hope that you’ll actually show them your tits. That would be ridiculous.

    But another effect could be that banter, playful challenge and response is a normal part of the male repertoire (socially, not biologically) in a way that it is not for women. Yet another could be teh effect of desperation and resentment, mixed, in men who are hurting for sex and have no experience of successful seduction to draw on. On the lines of “If I keep trying whenever there is a chance, then maybe I will succeed one day, and meanwhile at least she will have noticed that I am there”.

    Possibly. I think most people can tell the difference between bantering and deliberate harassment and don’t take the former the wrong way. I always work on the principle that if it feels friendly it’s friendly, if it feels threatening, there’s probably a good reason for that. Obviously some people have very poor social skills but that is usually obvious too. I can’t speak for anyone but myself of course and as I have said, I’ve had relatively few problems of this kind at least in my adult years.

    Where we really disagree, and have things to discuss, is about social roles. But that requires more thought, so I shall come back to that

    I hope you will, because although I suspect we’re rather far apart on this, it’s always illuminating to get someone else’s perspective.

  70. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 74

    Apologies in advance for the rather hard-hitting style. As they say in the Economist’s house style: “Simplify, then exaggerate”. I am not absolutist, but it might double the length and risk confusing the point if I did not draw the contours up so strongly. I hope you can discount as appropriate.

    Basically, I would say that the idea of a social role that does not limit your freedom is an oxymoron. Social roles are established patterns of behaviour, attitudes, expectations of you to others, and others to you, and signals. One big advantage is that when people follow established roles, interactions becomes much easier. Everybody’s actions make sense, you know what their signals mean, you know how to put your intentions so you are understood, you can have effective, pleasant dealings with people straight off the bat. The best example is not gender roles, but national cultures. Things flow easy when you are at home, whereas dealing with foreigners can be far more stressful – you never know what they really want or think or what to say. The experience may be ultimately enriching, but it is stressful and requires a lot of work up front. It is a bit like reading Derrida’, however enriching it may be it is not how most people want to spend their coffee breaks.
    You can of course have roles that are more or less rigid, with more or less tolerance for variation. The more flexible roles we have now is surely a good thing, but they are still not enough to make the job market gender neutral. Nor, do I think, could they be, unless we pretty much erase the difference. Most commonly I would say that people actively promote behaviour that fits, and more or less gently discourage behaviour that does not. Even with the best will in the world there will be some pressure to conform, because conforming is simply easier, both on you and on the people you are dealing with, and misfits will be at some (slight?) disadvantage.

    The other advantage is that social roles serve as trellises that people can grow up around. Humans are not born fully formed, nor do they devise their very own style in isolation before imposing it on the world. The life project of a small child is arguably to be part of a community, work out what its rules are, and grow to fit into it. That is how you become a human. I do not think it is a coincidence that children can be notoriously embarrassed and intolerant of deviant behaviour. They are working hard to figure out the rules and adapt to them, and they have neither the resources nor the inclination to make allowances for weird exceptions. Which is of course tough, if you are the weird exception. To some extent ‘growing up without roles’ is an oxymoron too – the groups that promote it will simply have their own role (that they pretend (?) not to notice) that differ from the roles they are rebelling against. But there is certainly a trade-off, where a more role-less environment will give more freedom for difference at the cost of being more chaotic and harder to make sense of or building an identity in. This is not just a question of ‘manners’, that you can put on or take off at will. A good example is an anecdote from Kate Fox, the English anthropologist who studies her own culture, who tells how emotionally hard it was to get herself to jump a queue, even as a deliberate experiment to record the reactions of your fellows to queue-jumping. But it goes deeper still. Once you are grown, your role is in part who you are – had it not been for the role you would have been someone else.

    When you are talking about national roles most systems will work fairly well, but all of them will be easier on people whose personality is a good fit, and harder on those who do not. The same could be said for gender roles. I do admit that not separating jobs by gender does increase the choice for each person – because the jobs that need doing are the same regardless. When talking about the scope for competition, intimacy, aggression, homogeneity, individualism, … that is not the case. But then again, any kind of gender role differences will likely feed back into job choice and job gendering anyway. To take a fairly obvious example, a gender role that is more favourable towards competition, status hierarchies, putting yourself forward, commanding, will fit better to (at least some styles of) management and promotion. Which leaves people with a different gender role with the choice of working to the role not theirs (which has a psychological cost and may make them seem ‘wrong’ exemplars for their gender), or of sticking to their own style, being at a disadvantage, and fighting to remake society in their image. More specifically: Do we need to change the way we manage organisations, because regardless of efficiency considerations we must have a system that works equally well for both standard gender roles? Or do (in practice) women need to become like men to get ahead? If you do not want to accept the gender difference in workplace outcomes, the only way out that I can see is to abolish the role differences altogether. As indeed a number of people seem to be aiming for.

    That leads to the idea that you can have gender identity as an important part of your sense of self even if society does not recognise any (significant) differences between the genders. That does not sound realistic to me. I am sure that your four-year-old boy (bless him!) feels that he is definitely male and that this is an important and wonderful thing to be. And he looks (I would say), not for pegs to hang this on, but for confirmation, for ways to learn what it means, what it makes him, and why it is good. If the only message that comes back is that there is no important difference (beyond the unfortunate fact that he unable to make babies) he will have to conclude that it means nothing, much like his hair colour or his star sign. After all, most four-year-olds believe in Santa Claus, but when they grow up they learn that this is not real, but just a comforting fantasy for little children. Without support, will the idea that being male is an important and wondrous thing to be not go the same way? Or, maybe more realistically, is it that gender roles will always be with us, so that the project to make jobs etc. fully equal is doomed, and society must continuously repress those toles to guarantee that job-market equality?

  71. Lucythoughts says

    #75 Gjenganger

    This is good, we seem to have a lot of common ground to work with, although we see things differently too. On social roles generally, I agree with your analysis. There is no such thing as a society without social norms; that would be a society without a culture. The culture surrounding us as we grow up is the blueprint for our behaviour and understanding of the world, and it is even reflected in our languages. So far, so good. But here is a hypothetical question: if the purpose of standardised cultural norms is to facilitate better, more efficient and effective social interactions, and if men and women have different cultures as you have describes previously, will that not necessarily entail far greater levels of stress and social problems than if they shared a common culture? Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether a uniform set of social norms for males and female is actually achievable, or desirable for our identity formation, we have to ask, are two cultures living in permanent interdependence by their nature less effective than one?

    I would say that for the individual and the family there will always be a cost to separate cultures, because a firmer base of common understanding facilitates better personal relationships and interactions. For the society as a whole, the costs or benefits are tied up with the division of labour within the particular economic system. If there is a consistent gendering of work; men spending most of their waking hours with other men and women with other women and with children, and the groups perform tasks of a different character, an evolution of separate men’s and women’s cultures will inevitably emerge. The different circumstances men and women operate in will lead to different needs, attitudes, expectation, even value systems developing. This is our own history. Technological and economic developments have brought us to a point where those lines have blurred so much that the cultural differences are in many cases redundant. Their costs are starting to outweigh their benefits for the whole society and economy, not just the individual.

    I think it is important to consider the fact that cultural expectations are transmitted quite slowly and our technology and economy are changing very rapidly. We can’t adapt fast enough and it causes stress. If you had told a little girl of my generation that she could expect to stay at home with her kids for a few years until they were at school, like her mother and grandmother, you’d have been dead wrong. We’re here now and for most people it isn’t an option. If you’d told a little boy the same age that there would be a job for life waiting for him when he finished school, again, you would have been stringing him along. The best you can tell kids of either gender now is to take it as it comes and be prepared to be very flexible, because we can’t predict what their options will be by the time they’re adults. That’s next to nothing at all to offer them; not much of a trellis to grow around. And adults are trying to cope with constantly changing circumstances using social training which is 30, 40, 50 years out of date. Maybe that’s why, while we’ve never been materially wealthier or physically healthier or safer, so many people feel cut adrift, buffeted by rough winds, diffusely anxious and angry.

    More specifically: Do we need to change the way we manage organisations, because regardless of efficiency considerations we must have a system that works equally well for both standard gender roles? Or do (in practice) women need to become like men to get ahead? If you do not want to accept the gender difference in workplace outcomes, the only way out that I can see is to abolish the role differences altogether. As indeed a number of people seem to be aiming for.

    The question of efficiency considerations is key: and I would say no, we don’t want to make the system work equally well for both standard gender roles, what we want is to make the system work as well as it can work to achieve the most desirable outcomes. I actually think that our current demarcation of gender attributes is a huge barrier to achieving that. Your example of management roles is a good one: what makes a good manager? Well, the occupational expertise will vary, but the critical, generic skill is the ability to get the best out of your team. That means understanding on an individual level how they like to work, where their talents and best potential lie, what motivates them, and how to give them the space and resources necessary to use and develop their skills creatively and effectively. Also, on a group level it involves fostering good interpersonal dynamics within the team and giving direction to their efforts. I can’t honestly see that competitiveness, aggression or status seeking are particularly important attributes, or even particularly desirable for the job spec (although the ability to delineate clear hierarchies and overall confidence might be). Yet, clearly people with those attributes are the ones most likely to get to the top, and you could add arrogance and over-confidence to the list as well. It isn’t because they’re the best people at being managers, it’s because they are the best people at becoming managers. Leaving gender aside entirely for a moment, suppose you had two equally qualified candidates for a job; one would be excellent at the job but has poor interview technique. The other had excellent interview technique but would be poor at the job. It is obvious which one would be best to hire and equally obvious which one would end up being hired. Essentially, the skills which get you into a position of power are not actually the same as the skills necessary to use power well. I heard an economist talking about this not long ago and he made the point that in many jobs the interview process required candidates to be far more competitive than the job they’re interviewing for. That inevitable tips the scales away from your best fitting candidates towards you’re best fitting interviewees. And the problem is self-perpetuating, because the people who get the jobs assess the next lot of candidates and are predisposed to favour people like themselves. I would say the definition of a “boy’s club” isn’t a place where boys hang out together, it’s a place where boy-ness is considered an overwhelmingly valuable attribute and an absolute entry requirement. Making girls more boy-like doesn’t solve the problem if the problem is that boy-ness is being selected for in preference to more useful, gender-neutral attributes. I think the very nature of gender divided work roles predicates towards gendered characteristics being valued disproportionately highly. This brings me back to the crux of my analysis, which is that distinct demarcation of gender roles is now costing us more than it benefits us.

    That leads to the idea that you can have gender identity as an important part of your sense of self even if society does not recognise any (significant) differences between the genders. That does not sound realistic to me…. Without support, will the idea that being male is an important and wondrous thing to be not go the same way? Or, maybe more realistically, is it that gender roles will always be with us, so that the project to make jobs etc. fully equal is doomed, and society must continuously repress those toles to guarantee that job-market equality?

    I can’t answer your concerns. As I’ve said, I think some roles are becoming non-viable with our circumstances, but I don’t believe that gender is on its way to extinction. We are in the process of loosening the reins on our social roles and you have said yourself you think this has been an improvement. If you are right and a comfortable gender identity cannot form without some social reinforcement (I think you probably are right, by the way), the question becomes, how much separateness do you need and where is it most important? The strict demarcation of the past would now be far too costly (and I think it always caused huge social problems, even when it was a pragmatic solution to economic circumstances), and even our current arrangements are inefficient and problematic, so how far can we go towards a blending, or averaging out of gender roles before the costs of homogenization become greater than the benefits? I don’t know, but I think we are still a long way from being in that position and we are unlikely to find out in our lifetimes.

  72. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts 76

    Just quickly (I ought to be sleping)

    Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether a uniform set of social norms for males and female is actually achievable, or desirable for our identity formation, we have to ask, are two cultures living in permanent interdependence by their nature less effective than one?

    Less effective, I would say. Homogenous culture would be more effective and nicer for the individuals conserned.But: 1) Given the degree that people identify by their gender, and that genders are biologically different, we cannot leave those questions aside. I thought we agreed that uniformity is neither achievable nor desirable for identity formation. And concentrating on the desirability, we are implicltly arguing that this *ought to* be done, while disregarding the fact that it *cannot*. Good policies do not come that way. 2) The point that culturally homogenous societies are better is actually highly controversial. A popular concept called ‘multiculturalism’ is often claimed to be superior, and many (including yourself) say that results are better in diverse groups. Have you really conceded that homogeneity is preferable, in general?

    If you are right and a comfortable gender identity cannot form without some social reinforcement (I think you probably are right, by the way), the question becomes, how much separateness do you need and where is it most important?

    No, it becomes how much separateness do you *want*. The big argument was always that any difference was discrimination, and any discrimination was wrong. Only equality would do, and we could fight differences wherever we saw them. If we accept that gender identity is psychologically crucial, that it requires social reinforcement, and that different identities means different cultures, means different work outcomes, we can no longer just aim for a uniform set of roles. We must then see differences as an unavoidable part of the society we should aim for, as in themelves good, or unavoidable, or both. That still leaves the question of where to strike the balance, of course. But it means that people who want to change things now have to argue, convincingly, *why* they think this should be changed, how the alternative would work, and why it is achievable, and better. Which leaves *not* changing things as a reasonable, and in some ways dominant, option. You seem to assume that fewer differences are always better. But when homogeneity also has real costs, or is impossibel to achieve, how can you make taht assumption? For example: Would society be better, if half of all computer programmers were female? How? Why? What are the costs? I do not know. And until you can tell me, how do you justify poltical projects to achieve that equality – except as power projects that one group tries to force through to gain at the expense of competing groups?

  73. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts
    Another couple

    The best you can tell kids of either gender now is to take it as it comes and be prepared to be very flexible, because we can’t predict what their options will be by the time they’re adults. That’s next to nothing at all to offer them; not much of a trellis to grow around. And adults are trying to cope with constantly changing circumstances using social training which is 30, 40, 50 years out of date. Maybe that’s why, while we’ve never been materially wealthier or physically healthier or safer, so many people feel cut adrift, buffeted by rough winds, diffusely anxious and angry.

    True, but the ‘why’ is not that the roles do not fit the constant changing – it is that the constant changing and lack of fixed points are highly stressful in themselves. We were not made to be infinitely flexible. And the solution should be to provide stability, as possible, not to ’embrace chaos’ and remove what stable poinits remain. If we have to dive we bring air; splashing in and expecting to grow gill leads to drowning.

    Well, the occupational expertise will vary, but the critical, generic skill is the ability to get the best out of your team. That means understanding on an individual level how they like to work, where their talents and best potential lie, what motivates them, and how to give them the space and resources necessary to use and develop their skills creatively and effectively. Also, on a group level it involves fostering good interpersonal dynamics within the team and giving direction to their efforts. I can’t honestly see that competitiveness, aggression or status seeking are particularly important attributes,

    Competitiveness in job interviews, and selecting for culturally homogenous groups are of course as you describe. Though if life is easier and more effective in a culturally homogenous group (as you seemed to agree above), even some of those mechanisms might have their good, sides. But I think your description of the good manager, while not wrong, is highly selective. Basically the desire for a more female-friendly management career style came first, and the job specification was designed to favour the preferred candidates. Without negating what you say, I do think that a key point of managing is to take decisions on other people’s behalf, and to tell other people what to do. And here I think a style based around respect, hierarchy, and dealing openly with conflicts is in many ways better than a style based around harmony and intimacy. One manager I had insisted on having things her way, but refused the indignity and disharmony of giving direct orders. The result was that she expected people to act spontaneously and off their own initiative, while still delivering exactly what she wanted, . Among other effects, the constant agreeement validated her as a person, and responsibility went to the group even as decisions stayed with her. In fact, if anything went wrong the fault was always with the person who had ‘spontaneously’ decided to do it, and never with the manager who wanted it done. She was a bad manager, and a very unusual woman (thank God), so she is not typical. But she does illustrate the point, I think.

  74. Lucythoughts says

    Gjenganger

    That was quick! I have a couple of busy days ahead so I’ll come back to the rest as soon as I’ve got a bit of time, but one charge I’m going to answer straight away:

    But I think your description of the good manager, while not wrong, is highly selective. Basically the desire for a more female-friendly management career style came first, and the job specification was designed to favour the preferred candidates. Without negating what you say, I do think that a key point of managing is to take decisions on other people’s behalf, and to tell other people what to do. And here I think a style based around respect, hierarchy, and dealing openly with conflicts is in many ways better than a style based around harmony and intimacy.

    That is a total misrepresentation and based on a false premise. I have not started from a desire for a more female management style, I have started from a lifetime of experience of crap managers, of both sexes. Taking decisions on other peoples behalf etc I thought I summed up with “giving direction to their efforts”. I could have expanded upon that but I’m not a business manual. And do you really think the abilities I described are common in women? Because I don’t. Neither do I think that they have anything to do with intimacy, unless being a shrewd judge of people is intimacy. Pussy-footing around doesn’t make you a good manager but neither does imposing your style on everybody else regardless; I’ve had managers that did both of those things, and morale and productivity suffered in both cases. I honestly think I’ve only ever had one manager who I thought was really good; he was a man, pushing seventy, and didn’t give a crap about promotion or status or anything else but he could manage a team full of strong personalities. His staff moaned about him constantly (par for the course) but most them had been with him at least ten years, been prolifically productive and had no desire to go anywhere else. That says it all to me.

    The point I made was people with highly gendered styles don’t make very good managers whether male or female, and selecting for gendered characteristics in management, like in most jobs, gives you a poor outcome, which is perpetuated and reinforced. As you know, I am not married to the idea that our current gender division is either natural or functional. Maybe it was once, but it isn’t now, and it leads to poor outcomes in many arenas. I’ll come back to the rest later.

  75. Lucythoughts says

    Gjenganger

    True, but the ‘why’ is not that the roles do not fit the constant changing – it is that the constant changing and lack of fixed points are highly stressful in themselves. We were not made to be infinitely flexible. And the solution should be to provide stability, as possible, not to ’embrace chaos’ and remove what stable poinits remain. If we have to dive we bring air; splashing in and expecting to grow gill leads to drowning.

    We seem to be coming at this from widely different angles. You see, cultural evolution is not a choice, it is something that happens because of external pressures. It isn’t directly imposed, it comes about because people react to the changes in their circumstances by finding new ways of doing things and then transmit them. You say that we should provide more stability: but how? We can’t stop the fact that digitalisation, mechanisation, globalisation etc have radically altered how we work, how we interact and how we access and process information, and will continue to change those things in unpredictable directions. Providing stability cannot mean attempting to stop people from changing their behaviour in order to adapt to the way things are, and prepare for the way things are moving. Cultural evolution will keep happening with or without our blessing because we are not choosing to go diving, we are in the water and if we can’t grow gills then we’d better hope we’re strong swimmers. Gender roles are adapting along with all our other forms of behaviour; wishing them not to is wishing for the earth to stand still. Worse, it is wishing for people to become increasingly unable to cope with the world they live in.

    If we accept that gender identity is psychologically crucial, that it requires social reinforcement, and that different identities means different cultures, means different work outcomes, we can no longer just aim for a uniform set of roles

    I don’t actually accept that as a certainty. I’m not prepared to assume that different cultures and work are necessary for psychologically healthy gender identity formation because it isn’t for me to say what human adaptability can successfully encompass. It might be that quite minor differences are enough to instill a sense of gender identity within a much more uniform set of cultural norms and values. It might equally be that a cultural norm of socialising in single sex groups at specific times and places and mixed sex groups the rest of the time could result in a conditional distinctness; compartmentalising gendered cultural behaviour to certain specific social settings and applying a more uniform set of norms in public arenas. Please understand, these are not policies I am advocating for; they are possible end points for the process of cultural evolution currently underway. The different cultures men and women have (ish) at present didn’t come into existence because men and women wanted or needed those separate cultures to help them with their identity formation, they exist because they evolved within a gendered division of labour produced by an economic and social system. Within a different social and economic system they may very well be counterproductive, and cultural evolution will act to redress the imbalance. I believe that is what we have witnessed and are witnessing right now. It isn’t a coincidence that the particular forms and battlegrounds of feminism arose when and where they did.

    For example: Would society be better, if half of all computer programmers were female? How? Why? What are the costs? I do not know. And until you can tell me, how do you justify poltical projects to achieve that equality – except as power projects that one group tries to force through to gain at the expense of competing groups?

    It isn’t up to me to justify political projects that I have neither devised nor signed off on. You seem to believe that anyone who finds fault with the status quo must be gung ho to enact radical top down reform. I don’t believe that radical top down reform of gender roles and relations is even possible, because these things are not enforced by the state. Of course direct policy interventions will bias in favour of particular outcomes, but ultimately the logic of necessity will be the deciding factor in how things develop.

    The point that culturally homogenous societies are better is actually highly controversial. A popular concept called ‘multiculturalism’ is often claimed to be superior, and many (including yourself) say that results are better in diverse groups. Have you really conceded that homogeneity is preferable, in general?

    Multiculturalism has both costs and benefits. It is interesting and illuminating to meet people who have different backgrounds and perspectives to yourself, but it is also nice to be able to be in your own culture. Everybody knows this really, and it is why immigrant communities form for mutual support. Multiculturalism works because firstly, there are domains where everyone is expected to play by the same rules regardless, and secondly, we foster a very strong ethic of tolerance towards cultural diversity. Tolerance and intolerance are learned behaviours. When it comes to gender formation we don’t display tolerance towards diversity, but rather enforce social conformity which encourages distinct gendered cultures to develop. Here is an anecdote: many years ago someone I knew took her young children and went to meet an old friend, who was African American and was in the UK for a short stay. One of her daughters quite spontaneously said to this friend’s little daughter “I’m not going to play with you because you’re brown.” You can imagine how shocking and mortifying this was for the mother and how uncomfortable it made everyone, and I don’t doubt that the child realised from the reactions that she had made a terrible social mistake. Kids experiment with exclusion behaviours like that sometimes, and they learn from us amongst other things when and how and whom they are permitted to exclude. To give another example, I was in a park with some friends, all with preschool aged children, and two of the little girls went into the playhouse but when a little boy tried to go in also, they told him, “this is our house, boys aren’t allowed in here.” I would have put a stop to that straight away but the kid’s mums all laughed it off. No one told the girls they should not exclude, but a couple of people suggested to the boy that he either ignore them and go in anyway, or else find his own place and exclude them from it. We don’t usually actively encourage boys and girls to antagonise each other on grounds of gender (though I have seen it happen), but we noticeably sanction it and collude in it. You might say that we are helping them to achieve separate identities; I think they know full well that they are different and are testing what their attitude should be towards those differences. In many ways we seek to maximise the differences and minimise the tolerance, mutual understanding and respect, and that seems to me to be very bad training for adult life. In short, not only do we encourage boys and girls to develop separate cultures, we encourage them to treat each other’s cultures with distain.

  76. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts

    This has probably run too long to be recuperable, and we are both too busy to do it justice. But just one more comment, finding myself waiting in front of the computer.

    Your argument seems to be pure fatalism. You are dismissing my preferences by saying that cultural evolution is not a choice and will happen in the same way no matter what we do – we are powerless to influence it so there is no sense in trying to change it or slow it down. But 1) if that was true there would be no point in diccussing it at all, anymore than we discuss the fact that humans have ten fingers. And 2) below you are coming out in favour of active intervension to set the gender roles of society in a way you like. You are too honest for this to be deliberate manipulation, but there is something wildly inconsistent about this argument.

    Anyway, skin colour is not a good example to compare other kinds of discrimination with, exactly because it is so highly taboo. If some little kid says ‘We do not want to play with you because you have green shoes’, as another random reason for exclusion, they would not get much of a response. If the reason is ‘because you have a brown skin’, all hell breaks loose. What they learn is not that exclusion is bad (which would not bring you very far anyway), or that skin colour does not matter. What they learn is that skin colour is such a dangerous subject that it cannot be mentioned – even if it may, subjectively be quite an obvious marker for cultural and group difference. A very believable anecdote say that nice liberal people will indicate the only black person in a room as ‘the fellow in the corner with the dark blue tie’, not because they are colour inclusive, but because they are socialsed to fear referring to skin colour. It seems more likely that we could tabooise gender in the same way, than that we could make people genuinely uncaring of whiich gender their fellows happen to have.

  77. Lucythoughts says

    #81 Gjenganger

    Hello again. After a month I’d rather assumed you weren’t talking to me anymore :-)

    Your argument seems to be pure fatalism. You are dismissing my preferences by saying that cultural evolution is not a choice and will happen in the same way no matter what we do – we are powerless to influence it so there is no sense in trying to change it or slow it down

    Fatalism? In a sense I suppose. I don’t think that cultural evolution is an unalterable process which will inevitably follow one course, it isn’t preordained obviously, but I do think it is largely driven by external factors which are not dependant on our individual preferences. It all comes down to the nature of work and productivity; if you look at the changes in our gender roles (and wider social roles) that have occurred over the last 50 years, and then in the 50 years before that, it seems to me that the drivers at every stage have been economic and technological, and I anticipate that the next 50 will follow suit. By economic I mean the national and local economies of course, but also the household economy, the most productive use of the labour potential of the family unit and its members.

    To take a general example, whether it is most useful to the household economy to have married women / mothers in the home managing the work of the household (and possibly taking in homeworking), or working outside the home for pay, depends upon a) the local opportunities for employment and the wages they afford, b) how labour intensive the work of the home is and its usefulness to the family, and c) the ages and numbers of children and the availability of acceptable childcare. Technological developments have wrought substantial changes in all of these things. Go back 100 years and the circumstances favoured most married women with children expending their labour in the home: women’s wages in industry were suppressed to below subsistence levels, making their earning potential small; there was much time-consuming and labour intensive work involved in the maintenance of the household; contraception was ineffective and childcare frankly dangerous, especially for babies. Fast forward 50 years, technology is starting to take the strain out of much of the work of the household and new employment opportunities are opening up; the balance of costs and benefits is shifting in favour of more married women combining housework with paid employment outside the home. Another 50 years and women have extensive opportunities for employment and significantly improved earning potential; at the same time housework has become something which can be squeezed into spare time (and the average working week has shortened considerably, so spare time is more plentiful); contraception has reduced family sizes etc.

    So much for the circumstances, but how much are the circumstances shaped by cultural preferences and how much are cultural preferences shaped by circumstances? I would say that the big circumstantial changes come first, the cultural shift follows, and the new cultural expectations reinforce and facilitate the changes which the new circumstances have made advantageous (assisted by policy makers and lobbyists, who are always willing to seize an opportunity or at least make a virtue of the new necessity). I could fill up this post with (to me) interesting examples of this pattern, both modern and historical, but it would be a self-indulgence, so I will let you supply your own if you care to. The point is that the tail doesn’t wag the dog: cultural changes don’t come about because we invent the culture we want, but because we are driven to evolve a culture that works.

    So, I don’t dismiss your preferences as irrelevant, I think you have a valid perspective. I don’t, however, think that your preferences or mine will make much difference to the outcomes for society as a whole, unless maybe we could effect changes to the economic architecture, which personally I can’t. If it’s any help, there is a lot I don’t love about the way our culture is evolving: there is stuff I am uncomfortable with and I foresee more discomfort ahead because my values are unlikely to prove to be the prevailing ones. However, I attempt to make my peace with it and tend my own garden as best I can. You could certainly call that fatalism if you wanted to.

    And, no, I don’t think that it is therefore pointless discussing it, like discussing the fact that we have ten fingers, to use your simile. Consider instead, what might it be like if we had a number of fingers which periodically fluctuated? It seems to me there would always be a point in discussing the relative merits and demerits of our current, say, 18 fingers and how to make the best use them, even though we didn’t choose them and don’t know how long we’ll have them. And even if, in our hearts, we wished we could just go back to the 12 fingers we had while we were growing up, when hands seemed simpler and more manageable.

    below you are coming out in favour of active intervension to set the gender roles of society in a way you like. You are too honest for this to be deliberate manipulation, but there is something wildly inconsistent about this argument

    I think you may be over-interpreting a bit here. I can only assume what you are referring to is this:

    I was in a park with some friends, all with preschool aged children, and two of the little girls went into the playhouse but when a little boy tried to go in also, they told him, “this is our house, boys aren’t allowed in here.” I would have put a stop to that straight away but the kid’s mums all laughed it off. No one told the girls they should not exclude

    To call this “active intervention to set the gender roles of society” seems a bit excessive. I wouldn’t have allowed my children to do it, or children I had charge of, but that is hardly a call for culture wide behaviour modification, is it? If the definition of “active intervention” includes bringing up my own children according to my own values then, hell yes, I do that. We all do that. It is, however, possible to not like something without advocating draconian measures to stamp it out. I don’t like it though; I don’t think it is good for kids or for society as a whole as I have explained and will explain again.

    I accept that the example of skin colour as grounds for exclusion was extreme, but I don’t actually think that most parents would have accepted exclusion on the grounds of shoe colour either, because a large part of socialising pre-school children is teaching them to play nicely together. I do think that when it comes to gender, and also age interestingly, we are uniquely willing to condone play behaviour which is not nice in order to encourage children to stick with their own. Separate play and separate games are quite likely to emerge all by themselves, but that doesn’t mean we have to condone intolerant, unkind, even taunting behaviour that reinforces the “in” group at the expense of “out” group members. We choose to do this, and I believe it damages the development of good, healthy, mutually understanding and respectful relations between boys and girls, and ultimately between men and women. Accepting differences between boys and girls should not have to mean sanctioning them to treat each other as outsiders, as less. This is not how we typically treat differences of interests or activities when we encounter them elsewhere. Ultimately, these boys and girls will have to cooperate with one another in lives which are intertwined, and this is setting them up to fail.

  78. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts

    I basically agree with your analysis of external factors. Many of the biggest cultural changes follow from that, either directly, or simply by making room for desires that were previously repressed. A lot of that we cannot change, nor would we want to. But we still have a choice in how we deal with the result: Do we adore the new, press fast-forward and insist that everybody adapt as much and as fast as possible, do we try to hold it back, or do we simply ask ourselves what kind of society we actually want, and try to push in that direction? That is a discussion worth having, even if we can only very partially get where we want.

    It is not all changes that come mainly from circumstances, though. There are people who do it the other way around: try to use social pressure to change language and culture, and have the changes in culture change the material circumstances. Consider the limited battlefield of the English language. The death of the distinction between ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ (much lamented by conservatives at the time), was obviously a direct consequence of real changes. A woman’s marital status was no longer particular important for her place in public life, nor was it something people could be bothered to find out about before they spoke. In English the result was ‘Ms.’ (never quite caught on), a reduction in the use of titles generally, and the obsessive-compulsive ‘Sir or Madam’ (where you must ritually acknowledge that people come in two sexes every time you start a letter). Other countries did it better IMHO. There the equivalent of ‘Mrs.’ (‘Frau’, ‘Madame’, …) changed meaning so that it applied as a respectful form of address to a woman regardless of marital status. But something had to change, and given the specific semantics of ‘Mrs.’ (as opposed to ‘Frau’ etc.) that meaning-change would always have been hard in English. Other changes are different. There was no underlying reason to get rid of effectively gender-neutral words like ‘chairman’, or to replace ‘he’ and ‘she’ with ‘they’, to the extent that many now abhor gendered pronouns as sexist even when referring to one specific person of known gender. That was a case of systematic social pressure, shaming, and pretend (?) offense used to force a culture change for political ends.

    As for your ‘active intervention’ etc. there are two sides to the episode you quote. One is the problem of children excluding each other at all, for whatever reason. That is something I feel somewhat uncomfortable with, and would try to repress, or at least to change to more polite refusals. But ultimately you cannot deny people the right to decide who they want to play with. The other problem is what reasons for exclusion are neutral, accepted, or taboo. It may be that you are only ‘bringing up your children to your own values’, but you are very clearly stating that they you want them universally applied. And social norms are not cuddly animals. They are what determines how we grow up and what we consider acceptable, who fit in and who do not. And that is largely a zero-sum game, what fits you better fits me worse, etc. You say that

    Separate play and separate games are quite likely to emerge all by themselves, but that doesn’t mean we have to condone intolerant, unkind, even taunting behaviour that reinforces the “in” group at the expense of “out” group members.

    Here, I think you are incoherent. You either accept that people divide in groups, or you do not. Identifying as a specific group must unavoidably lead to non-members being sometimes excluded, ‘othered’, or whatever you want to call it. If you refuse to accept that, you refuse in practice to accept the group formation. For much the same reason that Ally’s ‘gender must never be a hindrance’ in practice means ‘gender must have no practical effect at all’ – and that the only drug without side effects is distilled water.

    As I see it, you want to live in a society where everybody, regardless of sex, gender, or age, see each other as forming a single, undivided group, and behave accordingly. You can accept that people behave statistically in different ways, even that they identify, internally, as part of some subgroup – but only provided public norms and public behaviour are strictly in terms of ‘we are all humans and there are absolutely no distinctions between us’. And whatever you think about it, I see that as both ungenerous on your side, and as a poor prospect for a future world.

  79. Lucythoughts says

    Gjenganger

    Do we adore the new, press fast-forward and insist that everybody adapt as much and as fast as possible, do we try to hold it back, or do we simply ask ourselves what kind of society we actually want, and try to push in that direction? That is a discussion worth having, even if we can only very partially get where we want.

    I agree, that is a discussion worth having which is why I have been trying to have it.

    As for your ‘active intervention’ etc. there are two sides to the episode you quote. One is the problem of children excluding each other at all, for whatever reason. That is something I feel somewhat uncomfortable with, and would try to repress, or at least to change to more polite refusals. But ultimately you cannot deny people the right to decide who they want to play with. The other problem is what reasons for exclusion are neutral, accepted, or taboo.

    I agree that children have to be allowed to choose who they play with, but that is a very different thing from allowing them to exclude another child from play equipment in a public park (he was only a toddler as it happens and he wasn’t actually trying to play with them, just to go into the playhouse). I maintain that most parents wouldn’t have allowed that behaviour if the reason for exclusion had been anything other than gender. They certainly wouldn’t have laughed and tacitly encouraged it, which is what they did, and the girls noticeably gained confidence in keeping the little boy out as a result of receiving that tacit approval. You say “the other problem is what reasons for exclusion are neutral, accepted, or taboo” but you omit “encouraged” or “reinforced.” Gender-based exclusion is actively encouraged and reinforced and you seem to refuse to acknowledge that this either happens or could be in any way harmful to children in general, only allowing that it could be harmful to those who don’t neatly fit their gender role.

    To use another example, have you seen the signs which say “No Girls Allowed” or “No Boys Allowed” which people give to their children to hang on their bedrooms, or dens or whatever? It is a game which adults encourage children to play and it is meant to be harmless like all games, but as you have said social norms are not pets, they form the way you think about yourself and other people. Out of interest, I searched the terms “no” “allowed” and “sign” to see if there were any equivalents you could buy: dogs topped the list of course, also smoking, but the only other group of human being I found which you could buy a sign to explicitly exclude was “Unauthorised Personnel.” Maybe that doesn’t signify anything to you, but to me it signifies that gender-based exclusion is viewed in a unique way, and is uniquely endorsed, encouraged and propagated. If we don’t actually intend to create adults who plaster “No Girls / Boys Allowed” across entire professions, then maybe we should think a little more deeply about what we are doing here. If, on the other hand, those are precisely the attitudes we want to create in adults, we should say so and justify it, rather than pretending that what we are doing is neutral; that we are simply allowing the children to explore and form their own gender identities. That is fundamentally dishonest, and if you want me to justify the intervention of stopping children (even my own) from excluding another child based solely on their gender, you must justify why you think it is right or necessary to intervene by encourage them to do so. The truth is we cannot know what the results would be if we treated exclusion on gender grounds as neutral, neither sanctioning nor endorsing it, because child rearing is not a neutral business. We equally don’t know what the results would be if we treated it more like we treat other forms of exclusion, as being a bit antisocial, not really preventable but something which we should keep an eye on because of its tendency to run over into bullying, instead of treating it like a lovely, jolly game for all the family. I very much doubt the result in either case would be the elimination of gender identity, as you have repeatedly claimed, but it might just lead to two genders who understand and tolerate each other better, and maybe even appreciate each other more.

    “Separate play and separate games are quite likely to emerge all by themselves, but that doesn’t mean we have to condone intolerant, unkind, even taunting behaviour that reinforces the “in” group at the expense of “out” group members.”

    Here, I think you are incoherent. You either accept that people divide in groups, or you do not.

    I disagree; I think this is perfectly clear. To take a random silly example: if I am not in the ping-pong team, is it okay that they don’t invite me to take part in team events? That they don’t invite me to go with them to the pub afterwards? Yes? Is it okay for them to tell me that I can’t drink in the same pub that they do? To call me names? To throw ping-pong balls at me? No? Fine. Is it okay for children to play in boy groups and girl groups? Yes? Is it okay for them to have a birthday party and say “I only want to invite boys / girls to my party”? Yes? Is it okay for them to build a den and not let children of the opposite sex in, even if they are normally their friends? Hmm, well, I would call that one questionable; personally I would tell them that it was unkind, and that they might hurt their friend’s feelings. What about commandeering the playhouse at the park and not letting opposite sex children play in it? Well, we’ve covered that. Telling a same sex friend that they can’t play with opposite sex children in the playground (which happened to my daughter the other week)? Punishing that same sex friend by excluding them if they continue to favour mixed sex groups? Calling names and using gendered slurs and insults?

    Many people would cheerfully allow all of those things, and would actively encourage some of them, and I don’t agree with them, I think they exercise poor judgement and cause problems which need not exist. BUT you have basically said that if I would draw the line anywhere at all on that list then that is tantamount to a desire to impose my cultural values on the whole of society. Forgive me, but that is nonsense.

    “blockquote>As I see it, you want to live in a society where everybody, regardless of sex, gender, or age, see each other as forming a single, undivided group, and behave accordingly. You can accept that people behave statistically in different ways, even that they identify, internally, as part of some subgroup – but only provided public norms and public behaviour are strictly in terms of ‘we are all humans and there are absolutely no distinctions between us’. And whatever you think about it, I see that as both ungenerous on your side, and as a poor prospect for a future world.

    Ungenerous of me Gjenganger? In the last two posts alone you have called me incoherent, wildly inconsistent, ungenerous and manipulative. From the very beginning of the discussion you have consistently imputed particular ideas and wishes to me in spite of the fact that I have never ascribed to them, and denied believing them. You ignore the points I make, preferring to set up a caricature of my position and then challenge me to defend it. Should I call that ungenerous? Manipulative even? But I prefer not to. I prefer to assume that you are simply trying, by your own lights, according to your own priorities, to separate the wheat of the discussion from the chaff. For you it would see that the “wheat” is what you have decided that I think, and the “chaff” is everything that I have actually said. You see that this gets us nowhere?

  80. Lucythoughts says

    Ally,

    If you have the time could you possibly edit the post above (#84) to end the italics after “in general” and complete the blockquote on the penultimate paragraph? It looks such a mess it makes my eyes hurt.

  81. StillGjenganger says

    @Lucythoughts.

    It appears that I have offended you – a bit at least. I apologise for that, I was actually trying to play the ball rather than the man, even if my rather combative style may give a different impression. I was certainly being less careful than I normally would with putting things quietly. But I really think it is because we know each other a bit by now and I see less need for it, since from where I sit my respect for you is not in question.

    We agree on a lot, so it is interesting to see exactly where we disagree. You are quite right that gender (and age) are unique groupings. They are the groupings that have separated people inside the tribe from time immemorial and they are so strongly rooted in people’s sense of identity that it is extremely hard to push the idea that we should behave as if we did not notice them (like being ‘colourblind’). I also do not think that these social roles (or the upbringing that forms them) are neutral, or innocuous. On the contrary, even quite weakly policed gendering (or other stereotyping) of jobs or behaviours – or just unbalanced gender distributions – will unavoidably put people in the minority in a less favourable position. Even if it is only a little. It is always harder to be in a minority, be it because you are male, gay, Japanese, or have Aspergers. If most pilots or IT geeks are male, or if most soldiers are working class it will mean that women (or the posh) will find it harder to fit in, will have to do more adjusting, will easily be seen as not quite part of the gang, and will be gently nudged towards other careers. I then draw the conclusion that any segregation, any gender-based grouping will automatically be discriminatory, at least to some extent. And then the only alternatives are to accept discrimination, to some extent, or to demand that even an e.g. 95% male group must stop acting in what to them is the normal and comfortable fashion, must make strenuous efforts to increase the proportion of women, and must behave as if half of them were women even if they are not. For the same reason I do not make much distinction between ‘accepting’ and ‘encouraging’ gender roles. People absorb their gender roles from society around them. To my mind there is little distinction between ‘not encouraging’ group identities and deliberately weakening them, in either case you are defining the picture that children will model themselves against . To be sure these are not black-and-white choices. You can have more or less clearly defined, and more or less heavily policed roles. But there is a difference between defining some behaviour as ‘excessive’ (wrong, but only by degree), or ‘unacceptable’ (wrong in any degree). *)

    For your list of activities, and where to draw the line, I think it makes little difference in many cases whether the exclusion is based on gender, race, class, or hairstyle. Throwing things or insults at people, commandeering pubs or playhouses and deciding who can enter, that is wrong whatever you use to define group membership. As for the gendered insults, I think it is the offensiveness of the insults rather than the discrimination criterion that matters. As an isolated incident, I cannot see much difference of gravity between ‘disgusting fat, arselicker’, ‘disgusting black arselicker’, ‘disgusting jewish arselicker’, ‘disgusting, stuck-up arselicker’ – or ‘disgusting bitch’. For which reason I am against hate speech laws, except where you can demonstrate a more or less organised hate campaign.

    As for deliberately excluding based on group membership, or enforcing group-approved behaviour by the threat of exclusion, well that is how group norms are maintained. Children are more eager and more merciless about it, but if you feel that someone is letting the side down by playing with boys – or by going to strip clubs and talking about it over lunch – one way or other you will make your feelings known. And the target of your disapproval will have the choice of adapting, or of living with your disapproval.

    *) Consider Vic ‘Toothpick’ Vega, from Pulp Fiction. When asked: “So – you think they threw Tony Rockamorra off a fourth-floor balcony for giving me a foot massage! Do you think that is normal?” He replies: “No, of course I do not think it is normal – in fact I think it is excessive – but …” I think that illustrates the distinction pretty well.

  82. Lucythoughts says

    Gjenganger

    Thank you, that’s very kind. I wasn’t offended, not even a bit, I’m sure I can be far more abrasive than that, but I was slightly chafing at, as I saw it, being set up as the figure-head for a particular ideological position that you oppose, without having volunteered for the job. I always try to give honest consideration to what I read and produce honest, considered replies (I can’t vouch for how clear or accessible they are of course), and I appreciate that you do the same. That’s why we have these friendly discussions, which I always enjoy.

    As far as it goes, I agree with a lot of what you say here. These things are not black and white and I would describe the ways that we gender our children now as too often “excessive,” “misapplied,” “poorly handled” or “not fit for purpose” rather than “unacceptable in any degree.” But, I come back to a point I have made before: while you appear to think that our gender norms are good for people would adapt well to them and bad for people who don’t, I think that there are aspects which hurt all of us irrespective. Particularly, there is something insidious about the way we teach children distain for the values, behaviour and talents that we ascribe to the other gender. There is a difference between separateness and intolerance; seeing that you are different from someone else doesn’t automatically entail devaluing the aspects of them that you do not share. I can admire qualities which I do not posses, value skills which I have no wish to learn and respect values and beliefs which I do not share. When it comes to gendering our children I think we deliberately go the other way, teaching them not only that “you are a boy and that means a,b,c; she is a girl and that means x,y,z,” but teaching them that x,y,z is inherently more trivial and contemptible that a,b,c. The results are damaging, both to people’s personal relationships and more broadly, in the way we choose to order society and apply our resources. It doesn’t take more that a passing glance at the horror show of the “gender wars” to see that this is so. It isn’t a tribal war, it is a civil war, and that is what makes it so hopelessly destructive, because there can be no winner, no vanquishing of the enemy, only continuing embittered conflict without resolution or forgiveness. That is why I certainly do draw a distinction between accepting and encouraging; or rather between accepting the formation of separate genders, with some distinctness of interests and behaviours, and encouraging gender based exclusion or embracing negative behaviours which would not be acceptable in other contexts.

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