Quotulatiousness

July 20, 2014

Culture, political correctness, and social change

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:11

This week’s Goldberg File email newsletter included an interesting discussion of the power of political correctness and how society continues to change:

What is commonly called “political correctness” doesn’t get the respect it deserves on the right. Sure, in the herstory of political correctness there have been womyn and cis-men who have taken their seminal ovulal ideas too far, but we should not render ourselves visually challenged to the fact that something more fundawomyntal is at work here.

Political correctness can actually be seen as an example of Hayekian spontaneous order. Society has changed, because society always changes. But modern American society has changed a lot. In a relatively short period of time, legal and cultural equality has expanded — albeit not uniformly or perfectly — to blacks, women, and gays. We are a more heterodox society in almost every way. As a result, many of our customs, norms, and terms no longer line up neatly with lived-reality. Remember customs emerge as intangible tools to solve real needs. When the real needs change, the customs must either adapt or die.

Many conservatives think political correctness forced Christianity and traditional morality to recede from public life. That is surely part of the story. But another part of the story is that political correctness emerged because Christianity and traditional morality receded. Something had to fill the void.

I wish more conservatives recognized that at least some of what passes for political correctness is an attempt to create new manners and mores for the places in life where the old ones no longer work too well. You can call it “political correctness” that Americans stopped calling black people “negroes.” But that wouldn’t make the change wrong or even objectionable. You might think it’s regrettable that homosexuality has become mainstreamed and largely de-stigmatized. But your regret doesn’t change the fact that it has happened. And well-mannered people still need to know how to show respect to people.

[...]

Now, I don’t actually think Christianity is necessarily inadequate to the task of keeping up with the changes of contemporary society. (The pagan Roman civilization Christianity emerged from was certainly less hospitable to Christianity than America today is. You could look it up.) But Christianity, like other religions, still needs to adapt to changing times and the evolving expectations of the people. I’m nothing like an expert on such things, but it seems to me that most churches and denominations understand this. Some respond more successfully than others. But it’s hardly as if they are oblivious to the challenge of “relevance.”

My concern here is more about mainstream conservatism. I think much of what the Left offers in terms of culture creation is utter crap. But they are at least in the business of culture creation.

July 19, 2014

California moves to pressure universities over sexual assault numbers

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:04

Ben Boychuk explains how California legislators are using their financial muscle to force colleges and universities to crack down on the epidemic of sexual assault in the state’s institutions of higher education. As we’re often told, women in university are at great risk of sexual assault — figures from one in four to one in five are often quoted — yet the universities are not punishing anywhere near that proportion of male students. To lawmakers, this is proof positive that university administrations are not taking the dangers seriously enough and they’re going to use all the tools at hand to force that to change.

[...] at a June hearing of the California State Assembly Higher Education and Joint Legislative Audit committees, chairman Das Williams couldn’t understand why the number of students disciplined for sexual misconduct was so low. A University of California at Berkeley administrator, for example, reported just 10 suspensions or expulsions out of 43 cases involving non-consensual sex over the last six years. How could that possibly be?

Williams, a Santa Barbara Democrat, concluded that the number of suspensions and expulsions of these alleged perpetrators of sexual violence had to increase. The consequences for student assailants are “not significant enough to act as a deterrent,” he warned — failing to consider that perhaps the problem of campus sexual violence isn’t as widespread as he’d been led to believe. In any event, Williams’s point was unmistakable: California’s universities had better start punishing more alleged offenders, or there will be consequences for the universities. And if administrators need a lower standard of proof to boost punishments, he and his colleagues would be more than happy to give it to them.

Williams is promising a slate of bills early next year that would mandate training for all university employees to respond to, and intervene to prevent, sexual assault, and, more significantly, to beef up punishments for alleged assailants. “Rape is a very difficult thing to prosecute,” he told the Sacramento Bee. Because most college disciplinary boards already use the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard — as opposed to the more rigorous “reasonable doubt” standard that criminal courts apply — “there is a real role that schools can play that law enforcement can’t.”

The reigning assumption in Sacramento — and Washington, D.C., for that matter — is that universities aren’t taking the problem of campus sexual assault seriously enough. A state audit released in June drew precisely that conclusion, and recommended that California’s state universities “do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence.” Every campus has a rape crisis center of some kind, with counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every campus police department offers rape defense programs. “Take Back the Night” programs are ubiquitous. Is more training and “education” — meaning more bureaucracy — really the answer?

You can certainly understand the concern: with so many young women suffering (although not necessarily reporting the criminal acts), the universities must be literal predator paradises, as the sexual assault rate in the general population is so much lower than on campus (Heather Mac Donald noted that the sexual assault rate in New Orleans in 2012 was only .0234 percent, making it a far safer place for women than any Californian university).

June 29, 2014

QotD: Feminism should not be just reflexive blaming of men

Filed under: Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed.

Great things have been achieved through feminism. We now have pretty much equality at least on the pay and opportunities front, though almost nothing has been done on child care, the real liberation.

We have many wonderful, clever, powerful women everywhere, but what is happening to men? Why did this have to be at the cost of men?

I was in a class of nine- and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men.

You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives.

Doris Lessing, quoted by Fiachra Gibbons in “Lay off men, Lessing tells feminists: Novelist condemns female culture that revels in humiliating other sex”, Guardian, 2001-08-14

June 26, 2014

Domestic violence – it’s not as simple as you think

Filed under: Law, Media, Soccer, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

In Time, Cathy Young discusses Hope Solo’s alleged domestic violence this week:

The arrest of an Olympic gold medalist on charges of domestic violence would normally be an occasion for a soul-searching conversation about machismo in sports, toxic masculinity and violence against women. But not when the alleged offender is a woman: 32-year-old Hope Solo, goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s soccer team, who is facing charges of assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew in a drunken, violent outburst. While the outcome of the case is far from clear, this is an occasion for conversation about a rarely acknowledged fact: family violence is not necessarily a gender issue, and women — like singer Beyoncé Knowles’ sister Solange, who attacked her brother-in-law, the rapper Jay Z, in a notorious recent incident caught on video — are not always its innocent victims.

[...]

Research showing that women are often aggressors in domestic violence has been causing controversy for almost 40 years, ever since the 1975 National Family Violence Survey by sociologists Murray Straus and Richard Gelles of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire found that women were just as likely as men to report hitting a spouse and men were just as likely as women to report getting hit. The researchers initially assumed that, at least in cases of mutual violence, the women were defending themselves or retaliating. But when subsequent surveys asked who struck first, it turned out that women were as likely as men to initiate violence — a finding confirmed by more than 200 studies of intimate violence. In a 2010 review essay in the journal Partner Abuse, Straus concludes that women’s motives for domestic violence are often similar to men’s, ranging from anger to coercive control.

[...]

But this woman-as-victim bias is at odds with the feminist emphasis on equality of the sexes. If we want our culture to recognize women’s capacity for leadership and competition, it is hypocritical to deny or downplay women’s capacity for aggression and even evil. We cannot argue that biology should not keep women from being soldiers while treating women as fragile and harmless in domestic battles. Traditional stereotypes both of female weakness and female innocence have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence — especially against men — to be trivialized, excused, or even (like Solange’s assault on Jay Z) treated as humorous. Today, simplistic feminist assumptions about male power and female oppression effectively perpetuate those stereotypes. It is time to see women as fully human — which includes the dark side of humanity.

June 17, 2014

Somaly Mam’s Icarus turn

Filed under: Asia, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:31

In Taki’s Magazine, Kathy Shaidle describes the rise and fall of Somaly Mam, who is the most recent fantasist to dupe Westerners about conditions in her home country:

One of the last thrills still permitted us normal folks (for now) is getting to watch one of these self-appointed activists and advocates endure an Icarian tumble. Take that recent Newsweek exposé of secular saint and “sex work” abolitionist Somaly Mam.

No, I’d never heard of her before, either. I didn’t realize how far removed I was from what the authorities have deemed reality until I read that, among other things, this woman had been feted by the White House and the State Department, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, made the “TIME 100” list, and declared one of Glamour’s “Women of the Year.” Plus she’d been named one of the “Women Who Shake the World” by, er, Newsweek.

Cambodian-born Somaly Mam began making claims she’d been sold into sexual slavery as a youngster. After a daring escape, she dedicated her life to rescuing other girls from the same fate, leading armed raids on brothels, then providing shelter, education, and vocational training to the former captives—with the help of Western donors, many of them celebrities.

Aaaaaaannnnnddddd … ? Oh, come on. Guess.

Simon Marks has been investigating Mam for The Cambodia Daily (“All the News Without Fear or Favor”) for years. When Newsweek ran his findings in that cover story last month, the rest of the world found out what actual Cambodians and NGO-types have been trying to tell us all this time:

Mam’s “origin story” is mostly bollocks on stilts.

Her “rescues” are more like kidnappings, and her statistics about Cambodia’s trafficking rates, exaggerated. She coached non-ex-prostitutes to tell hair-raising tales of rape, torture, and even eye-gouging when pale-faced documentarians came calling. “[I]nstead of a brothel or a massage parlour,” Mam’s “rescued slaves” ended up “working for poverty-level wages in unsafe and exploitative conditions in sweatshops.”

June 15, 2014

Men and women really are different

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:10

CH posts a pair of charts derived from user information (which may or may not be accurate) on the dating site OkCupid, showing the preferences of men and women for dating partners over time:

Men and women are different 1

Women’s preferences for men over time

As women get older, in general they prefer older men. Seems reasonable, right? CH acidly comments “Cougar glorification agit-prop to the contrary notwithstanding, women are not keen on dating men younger than themselves”. But men are not at all the same (at least for the OkCupid crowd):

Men and women are different 2

Men, at least in this sample, are all feelthy horndogs who like younger women. And that doesn’t change much the older they get…

June 14, 2014

George Will confesses to using dodgy statistics in last week’s column

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

In the Washington Post last week, columnist George Will wrote about sexual assault on college campuses. The piece was widely criticized, and even drew a formal complaint from U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.), which was published yesterday [PDF]. Today, he admits that he used a totally unreliable source for the statistics in the original article: President Barack Obama’s staff at the White House.

I have received your letter of June 12, and I am puzzled. You say my statistics “fly in the face of everything we know about this issue.” You do not mention which statistics, but those I used come from the Obama administration, and from simple arithmetic involving publicly available reports on campus sexual assaults.

The administration asserts that only 12 percent of college sexual assaults are reported. Note well: I did not question this statistic. Rather, I used it.

I cited one of the calculations based on it that Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has performed {link}. So, I think your complaint is with the conclusion that arithmetic dictates, based on the administration’s statistic. The inescapable conclusion is that another administration statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is insupportable and might call for tempering your rhetoric about “the scourge of sexual assault.”

June 8, 2014

Regulating cosmetics

Filed under: Business, Government, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:43

Jeffrey Tucker discusses the coming crash in the world of make-up:

The organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics doesn’t just want you to be able to have new choices about the makeup or other products you buy. It wants the FDA to be able to ban and recall products. It will decide for you what is and isn’t safe.

And it is prevailing against the industry itself, which has no interest whatsoever in selling unsafe products, but precisely the opposite. The industry is already ridiculously overregulated.

What’s the excuse? The usual nonsense about safety and security and health, along with predictable headlines about how your shampoo is giving you cancer. There is a crowd of lobbyists backed by regulators who seem to believe that all of modernity is corrupting and horrible and must be reversed until we are living in the most-primitive state of being, sans makeup, of course.

In other words, cosmetics are going the way of everything else. The quality of the product will be depleted by regulations, just as with indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, light bulbs, soaps and gas-powered tools. Entrepreneurship will be hindered and truncated. Innovation will stop. In a few years, you will wonder: Whatever happened to makeup and deodorant and hair spray that actually works? Prepare: The end is near!

Already, I’ve heard many women complain that cosmetics today are far worse than they were 10 years ago. The colors don’t behave they way they should, and color is mainly what the FDA currently controls. I don’t doubt that whatever problems exist are due to government regulations. Whenever you see consumer products that decline in quality to the point that you have to pay vastly more for something of good quality, or that high quality suddenly becomes completely unavailable, you will find the hand of government if you look hard enough.

May 22, 2014

Here’s a suddenly topical idea that (if implemented) will increase the gender wage gap

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:11

I don’t know why the topic of menstrual sick leave is suddenly a topic of discussion at many media sites, but it’s a bad idea for womens’ equality as Tim Worstall explains:

Standard theory tells us that if we raise the cost to employers of employing a certain class or group of people then the wages paid to that class or group will fall relative to those groups that have not had the extra costs loaded onto their employment. For the employer is paying to get a job done. If we mandate free lunches, or impose employment taxes (like the employer side of social security), or a certain amount of sick leave, then the cost of providing those will be coming from that gross amount that the employer is willing to pay to get that job done. The more we insist that some of those costs be spent on not wages then the less there is that will be paid in wages.

And if we insist that one group or another has an extra set of costs associated with their employment then we’ll end up seeing the wages of that group fall relative to groups that don’t have those associated costs. The provision of paid menstrual leave will act in exactly this manner. Sure, whatever the allowance is not all women will take it. Say that it’s one day a month out of a standard 22 or 23 day working month. If all women religiously took it we would expect female wages to fall by 1/22 or 1/23 relative to those of men (or of post-menopausal women). Not all women would take it, undoubtedly, so the effect would probably be less than this.

[...]

As above, if we formalised this arrangement then we don’t think that all women would take all of those sick days. But we do have evidence that part of the gender pay gap is already caused by this very problem. And formalising the arrangement will lead to more women taking the sick leave than happens currently. That’s just a natural human reaction. All of which means that, if we did institute formal paid menstrual leave then we’d expect to see a widening of the gender pay gap.

As more women entered the formal work force over the last century or so, many governments and regulators have imposed additional costs on businesses by mandating different treatment for women: while they often claimed they were acting out of concern, the typical result was to make women’s work proportionally more expensive than that of men. If women are limited — by law — to a shorter working day, or to have additional breaks, or to be entitled to extra sick days, then the rational response of businesses will be to hire more men and fewer women (even for work that does not require more physical strength). The push for a new category of special treatment for women will have exactly the same effect: making women more expensive as employees than men.

May 6, 2014

The hidden epidemic of rape on campus

Filed under: Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:34

I recently saw a claim that nearly one in five US women attending university are subject to rape or sexual assault during their academic careers. If the situation is that dangerous, why haven’t the universities and campus police done something to crack down on this crime wave? That’s because it’s not actually true: only by merging a whole range of unwelcome or unwanted contacts (or even post facto “regrets”) in with genuine criminal activity do we get to a number close to 20% of the female student population. This is not in any way to minimize the seriousness of actual rape, but conflating everything from “microaggressions” through sexual harassment all the way to sexual assault in the same category is a terrible way to help those who are the actual victims of crime. In Time, Cathy Young discusses the recent White House report on campus sexual assault:

The administration’s effort, which made headlines last week with a report by the White House task force on campus sexual assault and new Department of Education guidelines, has an indisputably noble goal. Unfortunately, it is marred by flaws, including alarmist statistics, fuzzy definitions and a polarizing ideology of presumed guilt.

One of the foundations of this crusade is the staggering claim that one in five female students are sexually assaulted while in college. This figure comes from the 2005-2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study [PDF], which, as Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has noted, was conducted at just two schools, with a fairly low response rate. Moreover, the survey’s data for “drug- and/or alcohol-enabled sexual assault” (about 70% of the incidents in the study) lump together unconsciousness or incapacitation with intoxication that may cloud one’s judgment and affect consent. Notably, despite widespread sexual assault awareness programs, two-thirds of the college women whom the study counted as victims of drug- or alcohol-enabled rape did not think they were raped, and few felt they had suffered psychological harm.

University of Michigan economist Mark Perry also points out that, if you take police records from university campuses and factor in the White House estimate that only about 12% of campus sexual offenses are reported, you don’t get anywhere near a one-in-five victimization rate over the course of a woman’s college attendance — more like 1 in 20 or 1 in 30.

May 2, 2014

QotD: Toxic feminism

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Feminism, as of late, is too often a terribly toxic thing, as it demands not equality and sense but special treatment and a world that works as the real world does not. This sends a message to women that they are impervious to dangers and challenges (or “should” be). And this ultimately endangers women and hurts men as well. This needs to change but I’m not sure how that can be accomplished.

Amy Alkon, “Denouncing Binge Drinking Is Not Victim-Blaming”, Advice Goddess Blog, 2013-12-24

April 25, 2014

Four easy steps from “microaggression” to “rape culture”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Ace distills the current mental process inculcated by many university gender studies programs:

One of the most important ideas in Post-Feminist philosophy [...] is the concept of “rape culture.”

“Rape culture” is crucial because it is the means by which the trivial is transmogrified into the profound. The fact that a man might commit a “microaggression” against a woman by opening the door for her is, in a series of logical steps, rapidly connected to something serious — rape — and thus invested with seriousness itself.

Even though it is by no means serious itself.

But the quick silly skipping “logical” steps go like this:

1. A man commits a “microaggression” against a woman by holding a door open for her, “Otherizing” her and suggesting she is infantile and unable to accomplish small tasks on her own.

2. This is a microaggressive power play which reifies the assumptions of the Patriarchy, about woman’s role in society as essentially that of Object or Ornament even Trade Good.

3. This dehumanization of women — the conscious microaggressive stripping of dignity, agency, and autonomy from women — makes it more easy for a member of the Patriarchy to treat them as inhuman things.

4. This increases the likelihood of rape and in fact reinforces a “rape culture.”

That’s the reasoning, such as it is, and this reasoning is assumed (rarely spelled out for the listener) whenever a Post-Feminist attempts to invest some absolutely trivial, bubble-headed cultural complaint (such as Tina Fey’s character on 30 Rock not being a real feminist) with some imaginary weightiness.

No one can argue that rape isn’t a crime of great weight, and so whenever a Post-Feminist senses she’s saying something so absurd and trivial it may make her look absurd and trivial, she knows to go through the “Rape Culture” Algorithm to insist that what she’s saying isn’t absurd and trivial at all, but Very, Very Important.

But of course I can play the same game with any subject and connect it to rape, murder, or Hitler, as you like.

April 19, 2014

Mammary mummery

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Everyone knows that only poor, lower-class men prefer women with larger breasts, right? There are even “scientific” studies that “prove” it. Michael Siegel is not convinced:

Sigh. It seems I am condemned to writing endlessly about mammary glands. I don’t have an objection to the subject but I do wish someone else would approach these “studies” with any degree of skepticism.

This is yet another iteration of the breast size study I lambasted last year and it runs into the same problems: the use of CG figures instead of real women, the underlying inbuilt assumptions and, most importantly, ignoring the role that social convention plays in this kind of analysis. To put it simply: men may feel a social pressure to choose less busty CG images, a point I’ll get to in a moment. I don’t see that this study sheds any new light on the subject. Men of low socioeconomic status might still feel less pressure to conform to social expectations, something this study does not seem to address at all. Like most studies of human sexuality, it makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that what people say is necessary reflective of what they think or do and not what is expected of them.

The authors think that men’s preference for bustier women when they are hungry supports their thesis that the breast fetish is connected to feeding young (even though is zero evidence that large breasts nurse better than small ones). I actually think their result has no bearing on their assumption. Why would hungrier men want fatter women? Because they want to eat them? To nurse off them? I can think of good reasons why hungry men would feel less bound by social convention, invest a little less thought in a silly social experiment and just press the button for the biggest boobs. I think that hungry men are more likely to give you an honest opinion and not care that preferring the bustier woman is frowned upon. Hunger is known to significantly alter people’s behavior in many subtle ways but these authors narrow it to one dimension, a dimension that may not even exist.

And why not run a parallel test on women? If bigger breasts somehow provoke a primal hunger response, might that preference be built into anyone who nursed in the first few years of life?

No, this is another garbage study that amounts to saying that “low-class” men like big boobs while “high-class” men are more immune to the lure of the decolletage and so … something. I don’t find that to be useful or insightful or meaningful. I find that it simply reinforces an existing preconception.

There is a cultural bias in some of the upper echelons of society against large breasts and men’s attraction to them. That may sound crazy in a society that made Pamela Anderson a star. But large breasts and the breast fetish are often seen, by elites, as a “low class” thing. Busty women in high-end professions sometimes have problems being taken seriously. Many busty women, including my wife, wear minimizer bras so they’ll be taken more seriously (or look less matronly). I’ve noticed that in the teen shows my daughter sometimes watches, girls with curves are either ditzy or femme fatales. In adult comedies, busty women are frequently portrayed as ditzy airheads. Men who are attracted to buxom women are often depicted as low-class, unintelligent and uneducated. Think Al Bundy.

March 29, 2014

The “Lehman Sisters” wouldn’t have been more risk-averse, actually

Filed under: Business, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:56

Tim Worstall looks at the occasional claim that if Lehman Brothers had actually been “Lehman Sisters” (that is, an organization with much higher female participation), then they would have taken on less financial risk and therefore not have been the trigger to the financial meltdown:

… there’s very definitely an element of truth to this: but the final story is rather different from what is commonly assumed. It’s only if financial organisations are completely female, or completely male, that risk is reduced. Adding more of either gender to an organisation actually increases risk.

[...]

Mixed gender environments increase risk tolerance in both men and women. So adding women to an all male institution increases, likely, the risk that organisation will tolerate. And so does adding men to an all female one. Not just because the men sway the average but because both men and women become more risk tolerant in the presence of the other sex.

Thus it would be correct to say that Lehman Sisters would have been less risk tolerant than Lehman Brothers. But the reality of what there actually was at the firm was that it was a mixed gender environment and so more risk tolerant than either of the single gender hypotheticals would have been. It is gender diversity itself that increases risk tolerance, reduces risk aversion.

Which leads to an interesting thought. Everyone generally agrees that banking as a whole has become more risk tolerant, and thus more fragile, in recent decades. These are also the decades when women have made significant inroads into that area of professional life. Which leaves us with something of a conundrum. We generally believe that fragility in the banking system is a bad idea. We also all generally believe that gender equality is a good idea. But that gender equality of women going into finance and banking seems to increase the fragility of the system given that rise in risk tolerance from a mixed gender environment.

March 24, 2014

QotD: On Women’s Power

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:05

If you have never been sexually attracted to women, you will never quite understand the monumental power of female sexuality, except by proxy or in theory, nor will you quite know the immense advantage it gives us over men. Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist, which I suppose was the best indicator that my experiment had worked. I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison like a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no.

Sex is most powerful in the mind, and to men, in the mind, women have a lot of power, not only to arouse, but to give worth, self-worth, meaning, initiation, sustenance, everything. Seeing this more clearly through my experience, I began to wonder whether the most extreme men resort to violence with women because they think that’s all they have, their one pathetic advantage over all she seems to hold above them. I make no excuses for this. There are none. But as a man I felt vaguely attuned to this mind-set or its possibility. I did not inhabit it, but I thought I saw how rejection might get twisted beyond recognition in the mind of a discarded male where misogyny and ultimately rape may be a vicious attempt to take what cannot be taken because it has not been bestowed.

There were other surprising discoveries. With all the anger I felt flowing in my direction — anger directed at the abstraction called men — I was not expecting to find, nestled within the confines of female heterosexuality, a deep love and genuine attraction for real men. Not for women in men’s bodies, as the prejudicial me had thought. Not even just for the metrosexual, though he has his audience, but for brawny, hairy, smelly, stalwart, manly men; bald men, men with bellies, men who can fix things and, yes, men who like sports and pound away in the bedroom. Men whom women loved for being men with all the qualities that testosterone and the patriarchy had given them, and whom I have come to appreciate for those very same qualities, however infuriating I still find them at times.

Dating women was the hardest thing I had to do as Ned, even when the women liked me and I liked them. I have never felt more vulnerable to total strangers, never more socially defenceless than in my clanking suit of borrowed armour. But then, I guess maybe that’s one of the secrets of manhood that no man tells if he can help it. Every man’s armour is borrowed and 10 sizes too big, and beneath it he’s naked and insecure and hoping you won’t see.

That, maybe, was the last twist of my adventure. I passed in a man’s world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball. Eventually I realised that my disguise was the one thing I had in common with every guy in the room. It was hard being a guy.

Rather than choosing to become a woman again, it is probably truer to say that I reverted to form. I stopped faking it. I came back to myself, proud, free and glad in every way to be a woman.

Norah Vincent, “Double agent” (an edited extract from Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised As A Man), Guardian, 2006-03-18.

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