The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Saturday, April 26, 2008

X vrs Y

You will have noticed that I cling to the notion that human beings are basically good-or that their basic instincts mostly lead to actions and feelings we call "good." Liberals or Conservatives, black or white, men or women...I refuse to take the position that one is better, or better intentioned, than the other. But it is possible for things to sway out of control. For instance, I see a period of greater feminine energy coming...and I welcome it. Cool. But I won't stand by and make a politically correct agreement that men have controlled the world game to some extreme degree. While I KNOW that my attitude is probably going to be off-target at bit at times, I have found that I stay much closer to reality by STARTING with the assumption that we're about the same, and then adjusting, than by STARTING with the assumption that one side or the other is better, or superior, and modify from there.
#
Moving toward evolution, or enlightenment, is a matter of resolving dualities, not getting stuck in the "us-themism." It can be hard, and I have been pretty much called a race traitor (for instance) for refusing to believe whites are evil. And a race apologist who won't open his eyes for not admitting blacks must be intellectually inferior. And a political coward for not admitting conservatives are evil, or whatever. And I just don't buy any of it. I need ever ounce of my energy to keep moving forward, to burn away my own illusions. And every time I resolve a duality, it frees energy. Ah...I'm not white or black, I'm human. Now from that perspective, watch the war. Interesting. Ah...I'm not male or female, I'm human. From that perspective, look at the interesting games nature plays to keep the ball rolling. Interesting. Ah...I'm not human or animal...I am alive. Look a the way reality looks from that perspective. Ah...I'm not alive or inanimate. I AM. How does reality look from there? And most intriguing, "I neither Am nor Am Not." My conscious mind rebels, but I can catch the implication from the corner of my eye, and it is an absolute hoot.

So thank you for letting me air out my thoughts here. Anyone who knows me well knows I have sacrificed much time and money trying to make the world safer for women, and I have nothing but contempt for any man who hurts one. I have no agenda to keep the present power structure going, except insofar as it makes the world safer for children, and allows adults to mature to full capacity. I believe in the sanctity of the human soul, and that, beyond all the games, we are really quite remarkable. While I plan to vote for Hillary or Barack in the general election, I don't believe McCain would break us...humanity is stronger than its institutions. I don't like the political games I see Hillary playing, but in truth she is simply a master of the game she was presented with when she started walking this path decades ago. She didn't create it.
#
But on that subject...I wonder if Hillary really grasps how ugly the Impeachment stuff would be in the general election? I suspect that she is a bit in denial about that. She would have to be (in my mind) to stay married to Bill. Her choice will make sense to people who would do something similar. But to those of us who would not, dragging her sexual business into the light will be devastating. And then there is the whole matter of her husband's disbarment. Excuse me? If Michelle Obama had been disbarred for lying to Congress, I do believe that issue would have come up. Obama has been VERY cool not to go there...but I can't begin to believe it isn't going to turn into a nightmare in the General, something the Republicans have to be licking their chops over. This whole situation is WAY intense. Part of me is heartbroken, another part pops the popcorn and watches the fun.

Guess I'm just a sick puppy.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

BTW, I just realized another answer to the "who had it worse, male people or female people?" question: "people who aren't recognized as simply on the male or female side of the local socially constructed gender binary."

From what I've heard, people who are transsexual or intersex or whatever usually got it way worse than the rest of us. That's controlling for other variables like race, religion, caste, etc., of course!

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

One problem with doing these men vs. women comparisons is that, while the difference between black and white, absent cultural influences, really is close to skin deep, there is more of a natural difference between men and women. Not a Mars vs. Venus level of gap (we're still more alike than different), and not a "one sex is better than the other" level gap, but definitely a "one sex is better than the other at some things" level of gap. So, if I take the measures you use for when we would have racial equality:

1) Infant mortality rate

2) Incarceration rates

3) Life expectancy

4) Inherited Wealth

5) Net Worth

6) Death by violence

I think that men are the "stronger" sex in the sense of being better built for bursts of strength, while women are the "stronger" sex in being better built for endurance (needed for pregnancy). So, other things equal, you won't see equal results for infant mortality and life expectancy, you'll see women, as the more robust (if weaker in the short term) sex having slightly less infant mortality and slightly longer lives.

But other things aren't always equal. Sometimes infant mortality is way higher for girls, because, frankly, you have a culture that doesn't value baby girls, just baby boys. Sometimes young adult mortality is way higher for young men, and, whatever we can say about testosterone poisoning, that's not just nature. And some things, such as, say, handling of pregnancy and childbirth, are inherently going to affect the variance in women's lifespan more than the variance in men's lifespan. (FWIW, I found a site indexing these things: http://www.indexmundi.com/.)

4) Inherited Wealth is hugely culturally variable, because in some times and places women just don't inherit and control money; it goes from one man to another man. 5) Net Worth is also heavily culture dependent (though I can't off the top of my head think of any culture where men don't tend to control more of the money, the degree varies wildly).

Incarceration rates and death by violence are an area where you could make a "nature" argument - men are more naturally aggressive, testosterone has that effect, etc. - but I find that argument troubling, because it often feels to me to get too close to a "women are naturally better" argument, and, really, incarceration rates and death by violence are anything but constant across culture. I tend, if I see high incarceration and death by violence rates in a group, to look for environmental causes over "born that way" causes for the discrepancy. So, though I think it's more likely that men are naturally more prone to violence than women than that one race is naturally more prone to violence than another, I still think we should be way cautious in assuming these differences are mostly nature.

One difference that's relevant to comparisons between the sexes, that's not on your list, is general freedom of movement. Stuff like being expected to wear restrictive clothing, being expected not to go certain places unaccompanied by a man, etc., needs to be factored in. (On the flip side, in this country women are sometimes freer to take on male roles than men are to take on female roles - the whole phenomenon where it's more OK to be a tomboy than to be a sissy.)

The other problem is that, in many cases, the answer may be that on average the sexes naturally differ, but with huge amounts of overlap. And because people want these things to be neat, and act as if you have two opposite sexes, rather than two heavily sexes that heavily overlap for most things, you get lots of people falling on the wrong side of the gender binary in one way or another (transsexuals and intersex people being just the most extreme case). Someone I read once made the analogy of what would happen if you assigned people to men's and women's locker rooms by height. The people closest to the height of the average man would go to the men's locker room, and the ones closest to the height of the average woman would be in the women's locker room. That's a real difference between the sexes, a biologically based one, and not even a small one, but if you did that assignment, a heck of a lot of people would be in the wrong locker room.

Josh Jasper said...

Steve, there are a very, very few feminists who go around saying that "men are evil" or even that men are bad. By putting that forth as an argument made by feminists, you're taking over the debate and inserting your own take on things as if you were an authority figure who people need to listen to.

Would it be too much to ask for you to actually offer links to the writings of real feminists instead of presenting your filter of some alleged arguments being made that we can't even verify? Quotes perhaps?

If you want people, especially white people, to listen to you, a black man, about black/white issues with the acknowledgment that you're seeing things in film, for example that they're missing about back/white interaction, don't you owe feminists the same respect?

Because I'm not seeing it. I'm just not seeing you listening to feminists here. I'm not seeing you say that these are the real issues in feminism as articulated by women. You, a man, are telling women (and men) how it is, as if you were a source of real insight into the issue, and you're not, as we used to say in math class, "showing your work".

Where are your sources for this alleged "politically correct agreement that men have controlled the world game to some extreme degree."

Who are you quoting? How much of th evidence that they present have you considered?

You say = While I KNOW that my attitude is probably going to be off-target at bit at times, I have found that I stay much closer to reality by STARTING with the assumption that we're about the same, and then adjusting, than by STARTING with the assumption that one side or the other is better, or superior, and modify from there.

Wait a minute, you just shifted the argument. There are feminists out there who talk about "the patriarchy" as a system of male dominance of "the game" as you put it. But it's not a better or worse, or superior or inferior argument. It's that one side has the power. Its that there a system that all of us participate in that has the result of keeping men in political and economic power, and keeping women out of it. There are a lot of other effects that the system has, in terms of rewarding people for a certain type of gender behavior based on birth sex, and punishing them for other behaviors. "The Patriarchy" is a complex concept. It's not a bunch of men in smoke filled back rooms chortling over how to keep women down. The patriarchy hurts men as well as women. The patriarchy does really stupid things to men, like punishing some men socially if they're not jocks. The partiarcy is part of what men fear about gay men - the feminization of men, and likewise that another man night look at a straight man the same way straight men look at women.

I'm not going to get into why it works that way, but feminist studies researchers make the claim that it works that way, and present some pretty compelling arguments. They don't (except a few rare and extreme examples) claim that women are superior, or that men are intrinsically bad.

That the system exists is not a de-facto indictment of the people who're living in it. And you're making out as if it was. That's either faulty thinking, or a rhetorical trick.

The patriarchy is just as real as the set up that you talk about affecting the portrayal of black men in film. It's complex, and you shouldn't simplify it.

And no, men an women are not "equal" in similar ways that whites and blacks are not "equal". I'm willing to acknowledge that, as a white man, I've got privileges that black men don't. And as a man, I've got privileges that a woman does not. The only place I can get a real sense of those privileges are not by telling those people what they are, but by listening with respect.

suzanne said...

great comment, josh

and here's a great article
about "being told"
by a man

read here

Steven Barnes said...

I agree about transgendered getting a very short end of a stick.

Steven Barnes said...

Josh--
I never said white people can't comment on black people. I said that the fewer black people they knew, or were raised around, the less I think they knew. Any white person who knows as many black people as the average human being knows people of opposite sex would be, in my mind, a fine authority on race. Men and women, in my mind, should be able to comment on each other just fine.
2) I don't say that the majority of feminists go around saying men are evil or bad. I'm saying that the arguments about male-female interaction and power flirt with the notion of female superiority--and THAT I've heard quite frequently, merely in the discussion of flaws in male thinking without suggesting equal and balancing flaws in female thinking.
3) I am not a feminist, but nor am I a "Masculinist" in the sense of thinking men are superior in any way at all. I'm what I would consider a humanist, interested in looking into "how we got here." I'm not trying to present an intellectual treatise, or anything like that: I'm just thinking out loud. Not trying to convince anyone of anything.
4) If there IS one argument that I have heard from feminists that I find irritating, it's the one that discounts the fact that men are far more victimized by violence than women--either in war, or in life. Their comment, which I've heard many many times is: "men start the wars." All right, they have the right to say that, and I have the right to think that they aren't digging deeply enough. To me, that answer is like saying, if I point to black incarceration rates, "they commit the crimes."
Well, yes. But it begs the question of why, and what motivates human beings to commit crimes, and what the differential pressures might be--and where they came from.
5) I take the position that there are a swath of negative effects on men that I never hear women comment on at all, and that have to be factored in. At no time have I ever said a man has the right to touch or repress a woman, or that women should not have totally equal rights, or be able to sue the shit out of employers who discriminate, or whatever. I think you are assuming that if I criticize a political position, I don't have equal concern for the human beings involved.
##
"Where are your sources for this alleged "politically correct agreement that men have controlled the world game to some extreme degree."

Who are you quoting? How much of th evidence that they present have you considered?"
##
Ah...isn't that exactly the discussion here? That the male-female world dynamic works to the disadvantage of women, and that men have set the rules with their superior strength and power? If that isn't the argument that's been presented at least a dozen times just on this blog, then what IS the argument?
And I've examined tons of evidence, much of it tragic and compelling. I don't deny it. What I DO question is the fact that those who hold this position rarely (in my experience) factor in the disadvantages to men, and end up blaming them. My position is that both men and women are being controlled by forces far below the level of conscious thought, and are programmed to blame each other rather than look within themselves.
#
Is anybody out there denying that the conversation has basically been
1) men are in control
2) women get the short end of the stick.

This is all I'm arguing with. NOT that there isn't a long list of things to fix, and wrongs to right. But that these two contentions are simplistic and dualistic to an unuseful degree.
Can anyone point to any other argument I've been making? And remember--I'm not saying I'm right about my assertion. I'm saying that that's the only assertion I've been making, and I'm prepared to defend it.

Steven Barnes said...

Also...I don't think I'm commenting on the nature of women any more than women comment upon the nature of men. It's not only justified, but in my mind absurd not to think that we know each other. The only problem would be when one side thinks it knows better. The only way for men and women not to know each other is when that man or woman doesn't know him or herself. Different tribes (or races) are another matter--on the surface. But even there, dig down, and you have exactly the same core stuff again.

Anonymous said...

"Is anybody out there denying that the conversation has basically been
1) men are in control
2) women get the short end of the stick."

One of the things that seems to have started this conversation is

"I was also reminded of how some men claim 'nice guys finish last' when they end up alone after being rejected by women who prefer jerks. As if the women who do prefer nice men (and whom even these self-proclaimed 'nice guys' reject) don't finish even further behind."

which is basically

1) men who come in behind some women and some other men aren't always coming in last
2) some women come in further behind than some men and some other women

Anonymous said...

Suzanne:
I am not at all impressed by Rebbecca Solnit's article. If I went through my career, I could find many occasions when my opinions or recommendations were given less respect than I thought they were due. If I were a female I could easily have ascribed my treatment to my gender. If you look for evidence of something hard enough you can usually find it.

Marty S

suzanne said...

Marty__
having been on the receiving end of the "now now dearie" stick
I can tell you
no matter what you think of Rebecca's article
this is a common attitude among
at least academic men

Anonymous said...

Suzanne:
I don't doubt there are some male jerks out there who behave that way. Maybe they gravitate to academia. I just don't believe most men are that way. When I asked my wife about her experience, she indicated she had worked with about three such men in her thirty year career.

Marty S

Josh Jasper said...


I never said white people can't comment on black people.


I never said you said that either. but from a position of authority? Sounding as if they had the answers about race relations? How would that feel to you? Feminist studies is a serious academic branch. If you're going to offer up opinions on gender relations and cite unspecified arguments, it's a lot like you're lecturing from authority but without even addressing the real arguments being made.


2) I don't say that the majority of feminists go around saying men are evil or bad. I'm saying that the arguments about male-female interaction and power flirt with the notion of female superiority


If you're going to make a claim like that, back it up. You *do* this with movies and race. I've seen you do it. And you call people on not having the facts when they argue with you.

Who are these people you're talking about? If you're not going to name them, you might well be misremembering or have misheard arguments that did not say what you think they said.

3) I am not a feminist, but nor am I a "Masculinist" in the sense of thinking men are superior in any way at all.

Steve, feminism is not about anyone making claims of superiority, unless you're talking about a few specific individuals, who're on the fringe far more than Louis Farrakhan is on the fringe of race relations.

And you're still not quoting anyone.

If there IS one argument that I have heard from feminists that I find irritating, it's the one that discounts the fact that men are far more victimized by violence than women--either in war, or in life. Their comment, which I've heard many many times is: "men start the wars."

What feminists? Where?


Ah...isn't that exactly the discussion here? That the male-female world dynamic works to the disadvantage of women, and that men have set the rules with their superior strength and power? If that isn't the argument that's been presented at least a dozen times just on this blog, then what IS the argument?


Presented where? By whom?

Have men set the rules? I'd suggest that, by and large, those people making laws are men. The majority of people in charge of money moving around in the world are men. Television producers - mostly men. People who run companies that design advertising - mostly men. If you've got evidence that women have a comparable amount of economic or political power, I'd be surprised to see it.

The number of women in CEO level positions in large companies, the number of women in seats of political power, and the number of women in high appointed government office has never been representative of the population as a whole.

These are hard cold facts. Draw what conclusions you like from them.

Is it getting better in terms of representation? Yes. But it's not equal.


Is anybody out there denying that the conversation has basically been
1) men are in control
2) women get the short end of the stick.

This is all I'm arguing with. NOT that there isn't a long list of things to fix, and wrongs to right. But that these two contentions are simplistic and dualistic to an unuseful degree.


Point one, unless you've got a measure by which you're using for "in control" that somehow discounts massive dominance in politics and money, you're wrong. Men are in control.

Point two. There's saying among the feminists that goes "The patriarchy hurts men too". The "sort end of the stick" in gender relations is not created by a matriarchy, because there is none to speak of. Unless women were in control of the majority of wealth and power, there isn't a matriarchy. There can't be one.

Men are disadvantaged by gender relations, but they have the money and political power to create changes. Women, not so much.

Josh Jasper said...

Steve, I'm just now watching Marty "there there, little lady" Suzanne about her experiences getting talked down to, and insist that, in Academics, men and women are treated exactly the same, and that the author of the article was out looking for examples, and really, men have it the same.

This is exactly what I was talking about. Men, in control, telling women that there's really no problem. It's wrong, it's typical, and it proves my point. Until we have a level playing field for real, this will never stop. And it's one of the reasons we don't have a level playing field

I've just got to take a side here. I can't sit back and watch this happen anymore.

Marty, you're wrong. And the author of that article wasn't describing a once off event. This sort of treatment is all too common. And it's because of people like you denying it that it keeps happening. And it's not just academia.

I can't put it any more clear than that.

Anonymous said...

Josh:

Your proving my point. I'm "dear dearing" Suzanne just because I'm not buying into her arguments.
1) I didn't say it wasn't true in academia. I said maybe its true in academia. Maybe the type of person who goes into academics is more prone to this type of attitude.

2)Before I wrote any response I discussed the issue with my wife, who indicated she had run into this kind of thing occasionally,but not often so I felt I had some independent verification of my opinion.

3) You say this kind of thing is all too common, but how much of this attitude it takes for it to be all to common is subjective. Is 1 in 100, 1 in 10 or 1 in 5 all too common. Different people will have different sensitivity to the issue.

No I am not a women, so you may feel I don't have a right to an opinion on this. But I worked with plenty of professional women. As a man, if other men at work looked down on women as suggested I would have expected to see it in their comments about female co-workers. After all you would think they would feel safer making such comments to other male co-workers. I observed little of this in my work places.

Making the argument using things like the number of female CEOs doesn't work for me. The average age of CEOs is around 56. There haven't been enough women in the work place, in professional positions, for long enough to expect many female CEOs at this time.

Marty S

Anonymous said...

Josh and Suzanne -

I have to agree with Marty here. The situation that Solnit describes has happened to me many times in and out of academia and from both men and women. I think this is exactly what Steve is describing. If we can't disagree with each other, if we can't discuss our different prospectives without automatically saying: You can't understand because you are (fill in your label) than we can NEVER understand and the playing field can NEVER be level.

Peace,
Scott.

suzanne said...

Scott/MArty

did I misinterpret
when I was denied
an Academic career
in the field I received the first PhD in in the Departmertn where i did my graduate work
because "we don't like women in this field."?

actually I admit
it was for the best
because
certainly at that time
an outspoken unruly woman
was not welcome in academia

I saw numerous women in therapy
after I did more graduate work
that I could use
to make a living
who were enduring unbelievable harassmenrt
from makle thesis advisors

more up to date
in the years I saw medical school enrollements
where I woorked (until 1999)
go from 5 in the entering class of 140
to over half
there were still in the later years
tales of women med students
on hospital rounds in their third and fourth years
being subjected to
comments by old docs to male patients
of the WINKWINK MUDGEMUDGE
look at the cute little ladies
trying to be doctors

eventually all the women currently in residencies and med schools
will ascend to places in academic medicine
and even run units in hospitals
and believe me
medicine WILL change for the better

Anonymous said...

"look at the cute little ladies
trying to be doctors"

...or "look at the cute little ladies
thinking they want to be doctors instead of knowing their place and liking it"...?