The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trickle-Down Sociology

I wanted to try looking at the question of sexual responsibility from another position. Some of the replies I've gotten seem to wonder if I'm letting guys off the hook, by saying women are more responsible for this. I sure as hell don't want to. I'd be happy to live in a world where the capacity to bear children cycled between males and females, or there were no real males or females: we could all get pregnant. In such a world, sexual mores would be equivilent for both sides.

But trying to be politically correct here is cultural suicide. It is trying to shape the world in the image of what would be "fair" or "good" from some point of view that has nothing to do with either biology, sociology, or history. It's the Liberal equivalent of Trickle-Down Economics: looks good on paper. It sure SHOULD work. And it never has, and never will.

It's "Awakening your Kundalini Backwards" or trying to create a world in the image of your theories. A little thought experiment, please.


Let's say that you have a hundred kids. Fifty boys, fifty girls. Basically law-abiding, but otherwise healthy, frisky kids. The intent is to minimize the number of illegitimate births. You can have absolute control over forty-nine of these kids. What strategy will produce the smallest number of bastards?

Seems pretty obvious to me that if you can control forty-nine of those girls, you've pretty much got it licked. Only one girl will have the risk of getting pregnant, right? On the other hand, what if you controlled forty-nine of the boys? That one loose cannon penis could impregnate every single girl over the course of a year. Easily. This, to me, is a no-brainer. It is easier by far to control fifty eggs than fifty billion sperm. The numbers just don't work any other way, and I think this is the reason that I can't think of a single culture...screw that, a single PARENT who puts MORE pressure on the boys than they do on the girls. Regardless of the fact that it's "not fair," any other approach simply doesn't work.

Let's turn this around. I take the position that the balancing "unfairness" is that males are expected to die to protect women and children. In what culture, on what world, can you imagine a scenario in which males refused to go into combat unless an equal number of females were in COMBAT positions at their sides? Again, I know of no where, at no time in history, anywhere in the world, in which this would work. The fact that this is "not fair" to boys is both untrue and irrelevant.

The reproductive scenario only seems unfair to women. Try to turn this upside down by thinking you can control the situation best by putting equal strictures on both groups, and you are fighting a mighty force in human survival, the male urge to screw everything in sight and then move on. You don't fight this, you USE it, by forcing males to commit to their sexual partners. To finish school, to become civilized, to be able to present themselves to the parents, to make sufficient resources to support a family. Otherwise, the girls keep their legs crossed. And so far as I can see, you can actually make this approach work, and it has worked, all over the world. The middling alternative is to say that both sides are equally responsible.

That takes an extraordinary amount of conscious control, and most human beings, male or female, just don't have it. Right now, much of popular culture spreads the idea that women can and should be as sexually aggressive as men. The result is an avalanche of illegitimate births. Single mothers raising male children, who then have no models at all of how to be fathers. Who go out and perpetuate the cycle. The society begins to break down.

Yes, I think that women are, in this sense, a civilizing force. I can just barely see a way to make the situation equal...if we could reset the human reproductive default so that you had to WANT to have babies, you had to THINK about it to get pregnant. But even then, you'd have to deal with the wiring in women's heads relating to the infamous "reproductive clock." If you think you have trouble not heading to the refrigerator for a midnight snack, if you think people's unconscious eating gets their diets into trouble, you ain't seen nothing when unconscious "forgetting to take the pill" or "we were just too turned on to put on that rubber" kicks in.

Fair? Unfair? If women don't hold the line on this, the entire culture dies, taking women and men BOTH with it. If men don't accept their responsibility to take primary responsibility for defense of the homeland, BOTH men and women die, and take society with it.

It's not about what we want. It's about what works. From my point of view, you'd actually have to change some very basic things about human biology and psychology to make this work differently, and thinking "it's not fair" doesn't pull the plow. You are literally damaging the very children you're trying to help.


This is definitely related to the feeling many black people have expressed that "blaming" poor blacks for having unprotected sex, or babies out of wedlock, is some kind of genocide. That's the short-term view. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. The bonded human family seems to be the bedrock of human society, and has been since the cave. The extended family is great, fantastic, terrific. But about 95% of what we see out there, if not more, is pair-bonded relationships as the bedrock. Yes, an expanded tribe should be able to care for orphaned children. Yes, uncles and grandfathers should be able to help boys become men. But the instant you let those reproducing males off the hook and say: "you're not needed!" too damned many of them say: "Yep! I'm out!" and take off.

And the result? Sons who have problems accepting responsibility for their own children, or see no need to. Girls who get pregnant before they've finished their education, who seek from random men the support and affection and attention that they should have gotten from their fathers. And I've seen this pattern countless times. So: no, I won't back down from my position that black culture needs to force its boys to take responsibility for their children, and its girls to abandon the insane belief they should be as sexually aggressive as men.

And I won't back down from my position that anyone who thinks you can manage reproduction as efficiently by equalizing the pressure on males and females. Unless you can apply 100% pressure, you will fail. It takes one guy to impregnate a hundred women. And it is the children who will suffer for your lovely little social theories, or sense of what is "right" and "fair."

Call it trickle-down reproduction. Yeah. I think I can point to that as an equivalent insanity to the conservative theories of distribution of wealth. It will never work, and you're damaging the people you're trying to help. It ignores basic realities of human behavior: a certain irreducible percentage of the human race are ASSHOLES. The same percentage of rich as poor. Of males as females. Trying to set up a society that doesn't take this into account is madness.


I wonder how this would apply to our individual lives? Something along the line of: "a certain irreducible percentage of the time, I am going to act like an asshole. How can I protect myself, my family, and my community from that?"

I suppose that would be setting up a budget, and giving your spouse access to the financial books. In that way, unless you are both assholes on the same schedule, there's gonna be hell to pay if you're raiding the cookie jar for expensive toys, or lottery tickets. You have family councils in which your children are encouraged to call you on your bullshit. You look at the results you're getting in all three major arenas of your life, and allow others to judge you by them as well. You vote for laws that create painful consequences for asshole behavior. Not because you're an asshole, but because you will spend a certain percentage of your waking hours exploring your asshole potential. And if you're like me, you've got a lot.

You just don't set society up so that only angels can function within it. Shame and blame works great on children, and you don't remove those things, don't remove the emotional or physical pain from the feedback loop until their logical faculties have evolved to the point that they behave primarily on the basis of reason and logic. And in truth, how many of us really do that more than 50% of the time? Pain is a great teacher.

Marching up the Chakras, or up Maslow's Heirarchy, FIRST set up your rules to control the basic animal urges and behaviors. Then set up strictures that provide physical pain for violation of survival principles. As the organism or society evolves, move that up to emotional pain: shame, shunning, guilt. And then logic. The last step...the VERY last step is the being who is self-motivated, who performs "right action" without outside stimulus, who is "beyond good and evil."

Otherwise you get people who function as Aleister Crowley suggests: who find joy specifically in rebelling against authority, rather than in responding to their most basic nature.

I remember my mother believing that I loved Toni because she was white. That, in essence, I was rebelling against a bi-racial mother. (This was hysterical to me: Toni and my mom were the same skin tone.)

Later, I had a relative accuse me, indirectly, of marrying Tananarive out of...wait for it...rebellion against my light-skinned mother. Wow. Can't win for losing, can I?

Sure I can. These people are telling me why THEY make choices. They're projecting themselves into the external world. I chose Toni because she was the first person in the world who believed in me, who really supported me in my dream of being a writer, bless her. She could have been black, Asian, or a Martian. After that marriage broke up, I wondered whether I had deliberately avoided black women, and went out of my way to date them. That didn't work out well at all, and I went back to my pattern of simply choosing partners based on shared interests. That meant primarily white ladies, and I was happy with that. Then, quite by "accident" I met Tananarive, and found someone with whom I had an insane amount in common with, while maintaining those delicious differences that make the relationship "pop". Frankly, I wouldn't have been ready for her in college. Toni was perfect for me then, and I love her still. But Tananarive represents who I am today more fully than anyone I've ever met. And she makes me want to be a better man. Her family was all about Blackness, while mine was shamed and troubled by it. I never had any support for that aspect of my Self, and was forced to dig deep to find my bedrock in just being human, or just existing. Anyone who knows me, or reads this blog, knows that there is still a mountain of unprocessed bullshit around race that I shoved aside into locked rooms, and am now processing a shovel-full at a time.

But taking joy specifically in a motion against others? What the hell is that? Where are YOU in that? You are allowing others to define you just as much if you rebel as if you conform. Exactly the same thing. Rather, just seek to discover who you are. You will be pleased and disturbed to see how often you want the same things, and conform to the same behaviors, as your parents. And in other ways, you will be very different. And that would be true if you weren't raised by them at all. Or if you were adopted. Or if you chose your parents out of the phone book, at random. Certain behaviors and qualities just WORK, and if you move away from pain and toward pleasure, you'll find yourself doing many of the same things other human beings do, and it ain't because you were programmed. It's because certain behaviors work, and others don't, and we have to be careful to throw the baby out with the bath-water when we seek adulthood, or social change.

The key of Joy is finding the truth of Self, and seeking to live that truth every day. Crowley obsessed with not being like his family. That is the adolescent position. Adulthood is something very different.


Mike Ralls said...

"a certain irreducible percentage of the time, I am going to act like an asshole. How can I protect myself, my family, and my community from that?"


That's an excellent question to ask oneself.

True too, for everyone.

Josh Jasper said...

There's a reward system in place for foolish behavior in kids. If you want to end the bad behavior, the reward system has to have a visible and superior alternative.

Right now, what's there to take it's place on a day to day basis?

Mike Frank said...

Sue and I have tried impress on our daughter some basic rules.

Life is not fair, don't whine when something doesn't go your way.

The world is not just, it just is.

There are consequences for what you do.

Feeling embarrassed in public among strangers is a waste of energy. People either don't notice or don't care.

There is no such thing as absolute "freedom". As a child your parents keep you under control. As an adult society and family does the same.

Everything on TV is a lie.

Anonymous said...


Reading this post reminds me a bit of some of the social gender positions discussed by Frank Herbert in "God Emperor of Dune". He explored how the giving and denial of sex forced men to domesticate has been used in many a stable society Have you ever read the Dune books? While I don't always agree with Herbert's philosophies I do find them quite thought provoking.

Marty S said...

It takes all types to make this world. How does someone with six kids, who takes fertility treatment and ends up with eight more kids fit in this discussion?

Anonymous said...

A lot of truth in these posts. To take it a step further- it seems society is trying to make fairness (or as people try to reinvent to world to be more to their liking) apply to nature. Truth is we have no control over these things- they are what they are. It seems to me that it is considered fair if it denies these truths to further women’s rights while men’s rights are often made secondary. An example- a woman can abort a child without ever consulting the father yet if she decides to have it he can be sued for support. It is her body but both where irresponsible and the baby is both of theirs. He has no legal say as to whether or not it is born but is held liable to pay for 20+ years to support mother and child. If the woman is not the last line of defense why does she get a choice yet the man does not? Why does he not get and after the fact "opt out" or a chance to take the child if she does not want it? Sexual equality is a myth and a lot of the current trends to "level" the field are causing more harm than good to everyone involved. Woman acting like uncivilized men is not equality it is almost the complete opposite- animalistic desires ruling everyone. Men should not behave this way, woman should not behave this way and government should not be delusional. Assholes are out there- it is each and everyone’s responsibility to protect themselves and their future children from them. Be an adult or suffer your own consequences.

Lastly- kudos Steve for standing on principle.

Josh Jasper said...

There' a nice blog entry in the NY Times about teen sexuality.

I think the best takeaway is this paragraph:

In the case of the allegedly lascivious Lolitas, Kefalas sees this flight from reality very clearly: “People don’t want to hear about the economic context, the social context” to young teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy, she told me. “For a 14-year-old to be having sex it’s usually a symptom of a kid who’s really broken and really hurt. Those who are having sex without contraception are a distinct set: they’re poor, from single-parent households, doing poorly in school, have low self-esteem. Teen pregnancy is so high in America compared to other places not just because of access to contraception but because we have a lot of poverty. But Americans don’t want to see themselves as a poor society. They want to make a moral argument: if only teens had better values.”

Anonymous said...

"Sexual equality is a myth and a lot of the current trends to "level" the field are causing more harm than good to everyone involved. Woman acting like uncivilized men is not equality it is almost the complete opposite- animalistic desires ruling everyone. Men should not behave this way, woman should not behave this way and government should not be delusional."

THANK YOU. Now you see why some people don;t like Zane's Sex Chronicles show. Proving that you are liberating sexually doens't mean you have sleep with every penis in town on some "if men can do it, I can do it too." there are alot of things men do that i don't want to do. That is not being responsible even if you are using protection 100% of the time.

Maybe we should go back to no sex before marriage-at least you will have to force yourself to get to KNOW someone on a higher level and see if you are actually compatible instead of letting your loins rule you.

Kai Jones said...

The point of law is to make more fair the naturally unfair situation of nature, no? To make up for the skinny, weak person's inability to defend themself, we make it wrong for the strong to use their strength to oppress the weak. Why is sex exempted from this method of pursuing a more just society?

Anonymous wrote: a woman can abort a child without ever consulting the father yet if she decides to have it he can be sued for support. ... He has no legal say as to whether or not it is born but is held liable to pay for 20+ years to support mother and child. If the woman is not the last line of defense why does she get a choice yet the man does not? Why does he not get and after the fact "opt out" or a chance to take the child if she does not want it?

Try thinking about it from a contract law standpoint:

a man’s choice is made at the time of intercourse. A contract signed at different times is still valid. Women have an additional “right of rescission” in abortion, but that’s neither here nor there.

Since reading that comment at that blog, I've had a whole new appreciation for legislating fairness.

Marty S said...

Kai: The purpose of law is not to make the world more fair. Laws are meant to protect people from harm and from harming each other. If a person can run fast or jump high and so makes a superior living we don't pass laws that make them take drugs so that they can't run faster or jump higher because that's unfair. Life by nature is unfair in many ways. We can do somethings to lessen this, but on the whole we must accept it.

Ximena Cearley said...

I keep hearing the concept of "fairness" being conflated from two different issues: the universe isn't fair. But, people can treat each other fairly, or at least try to. If my parent or my boss tells me "do X,and I will reward you with Y" and I do X but Y is not forthcoming, then I believe it is legitimate to complain that this is not fair--it's a broken promise or a broken deal. To snap back with "well, Life isn't fair" is to say "it's okay for me to break a deal with you because you're just a kid". (Or just the receptionist, or a temp, or whatever lower status/lower power.) True, life isn't fair, but you should still try to adhere to your deals. Otherwise the lesson learned isn't that life is unfair and you have to cope with it, it's that your boss is a lying jerk. "Life" or "The Universe" didn't say X and do Y. YOU did.

Josh Jasper said...

There's fair, as in the sense of a fair fight, two matched opponents, and then there's the fairness that comes from a more financially powerful participant in a contract not using that power to cheat the less empowered participant (fair wage laws, for example).

We don't expect the government to wander into sports and cripple the most able athletes, but we do expect them to not only prohibit steroid use, but also to prevent companies like Wal-Mart from forcing employees to work overtime, but not report it as such (hopefully more so since Obama took office)

So, fairness does have a place in enforced laws, just not a simple place.

Marty S said...

A law which protects someone from being exploited by a company or individual with more power than them, whether it involves pay or sexual harassment is by my definition a law which protects an individual from harm. This is far different from Kai's suggestion that law should somehow make up for the bad curves nature may have sent our way. Another way of saying it is to say while it may correct that law should assure everybody a fair plying field, it should not guarantee everybody equal results.

Professor Timonin said...

No, life is not fair. That being said, I would make the (admittedly very general) statement that societies are considered to be at their best when they are making strides to render life as fair as possible.

Shady_Grady said...

With the discussion about fairness, law and society I couldn't help but think back to this story, which was one of the first sci-fi stories I read as a kid and one of my favorite.

The year was 2081 and everyone was finally equal

Marty S said...

The question is what is as fair as possible? Society in my school district decided that fair is possible was having all students in the public schools, no matter what their natural capabilities, in the same classroom. It also decided that it should spend money on programs to help those with handicaps and performing below grade, but not on a gifted program for those performing above grade. This meant some number of students were bored to death learning stuff they already knew, hated school, and learned awful study habits. Some may see this as society working to make things fair. I see it as an unfair society, like the one in the story, to which Shady Grady refers.

Marty S said...

Let me clarify my above position. My problem with district policy above is that it chooses to discriminate against the gifted student, preventing them from reaching their full potential. It is in my opinion, part of the job to give every student the chance to reach their full potential. If a poor district, can not fund adequate education for its residents, I fully support the state or federal government stepping in, to assure that students in that district get the education that will allow them to reach their full potential.

Professor Timonin said...

Marty - I agree. Fairness is a system in which everyone is given the opportunity to achieve as much as possible - to reach their highest possible potential.

True fairness is, I think, an ultimately unattainable goal - but in striving for it, good things happen.

Steven Barnes said...

1) If you try too hard to be fair, some bad things happen. But you must always remember that 10% of your culture would deliberately strive to make things UNFAIR. There will never be an ideal balance, but I'd rather sin from trying to be good.
2) Six kids and fertility treatments leading to another EIGHT. An unemployed, unwed mother living in her parents' three-bedroom, and the parents lost their last house, and went bankrupt. Jesus Wept. Insanity, based on a "right" to have children even if you cannot provide for them. Clearly, this is one of the absolutely horrid extremes, and only someone obsessed with the principle of freedom without observing the actual results would applaud it. Maybe not them. Defend it, then. I honestly don't know how you stop this kind of thing without impinging on the rights of smarter, more reasonable people. I would consider this off any sane map I know of, perhaps an artifact from another culture that hasn't adjusted to current realities. Absolutely terrible, but her parents seemed to be behind it--this ain't a "woman" thing, it's a human thing. Chills my blood.

Christian M. Howell said...

It's funny how this thread devolved into the same old American copout:

Life's just not fair.
There's nothing I can do.

If you think there's nothing you can do you have already defeated your children.

American white men have said that through every iteration of gaining equality for anyone other than white men.

We said it to the blacks, the Indians, hell even our own women. If you see no fairness, there will never be any. Unless you have an accident.

Maybe America will have its much-needed character arc soon.

Marty S said...

Christian: As I mentioned once before in a post, I have a grandnephew, who has had juvenile diabetes since age four and he has a sister who was born with physical and mental defects. My niece and her husband have done everything possible for these two kids, but they will never have a normal life. Yes, life is unfair no matter how much we hate it.

Shady_Grady said...

Did folks see this and the resultant brouhaha? I wonder what adult signed off on the dance routine.

Jonesboro Dance Team Suspended!

Dan Moran said...

I'm way past tired with the "life is unfair" argument. Of course it is. But to use that reality as any form of cover for the idea that people are not obliged to be fair to one another is simple cruelty.

I do want to make this broad point, though -- every now and again I've found myself arguing abortion rights with conservative friends/acquaintances. Without exception the friends/acquaintances were male. (While I did once have a long dialog about abortion with conservative women, at the time I was pretending to be a conservative Catholic so that people inside the anti-choice group Operation Rescue would talk to me. That's a longer story.)

And at some point in these abortion arguments, I'm struck by the reality that a pair of men are busy arguing what women should and should not be permitted to do with their bodies. And as foolish as this makes me feel, here's the thing:

I've talked with other men about being a man, about setting an example for other men, about raising sons -- and regardless of ideology, usually felt that those men had a damned clue. I am genuinely interested in what Steve Barnes or Steve Perry or Mike Ralls or Marty or Frank of whomever has to say about being a man, about the challenges he's dealt with to get from A to Z. But the sight of a group of men (and it is men on this blog, the great majority) discussing how women should behave, how women should conduct themselves and what they should do with their bodies, throws up the sorts of warning flags I get whenever any group talks about another.

I have some damned opinions about what's wrong with black society. I've spent more time with and among black men and women than all but a small percentage of white people -- and now in my middle years, the sole advice I can recall giving blacks is to tell young black men that they shouldn't use the damned 'N' word.

So to the degree Steve's talking about black people, I'm inclined to keep my mouth shut -- he knows black people better than I do (and, as he pointed out in an email once, knows white people better than I know black people.)

But I would sure feel better about this conversation if it were a bunch of women having it.

On Steve's core point that women shouldn't run off and have children by themselves, no argument from me. But this isn't the problem. It's us. It's men, abandoning children, or abusing women and children until both the women and children wish they were abandoned.

If men were doing the right thing, I wouldn't be nearly as ticked off at the sight of men lecturing women. We can get our own house in order first -- then we can talk about the problem of selfish women. But until then, while fathers are permitted to abandon, to fail to support, to abuse without meaningful punishment or ostracism from the rest of us ... until then, I'm done with this conversation.

I've known a couple of really vile women in my life. As rotten as they were, I'd have taken pleasure in neither of their deaths. But the list of men whose deaths would have rated at least a beer raised in toast is well past a dozen.

I stopped going to science fiction conventions because a certain male SF writer once wrote about another SF writer, a bright and charming woman, "Wouldn't you like to put a bullet in her brain? I know I would."

I didn't know the writer who made the comment, and had only met the woman he was writing about once. Neither of them was a friend or enemy of mine. The response of SFWA to this? Sometime later the male writer got elected to one of the officer's posts within the Science Fiction Writers of America.

I'll associate with crack addicts, money lenders, lawyers, whores, priests ... but I doubt I'll ever attend another science fiction convention.

Many years ago one of my sisters was breaking up with her boyfriend. The boyfriend had been -- not even abusive, but an asshole -- my father and I went to the sister's apartment to help her move out. The boyfriend was there and as we were leaving he tried justifying himself to my dad. My father lectured him in a slow, measured voice, describing his failings as a man and human being ... when he was done, the boyfriend said, "You wouldn't be talking like this if my dad and brothers were here!"

We'd been standing at the door. My dad lowered himself to the couch, gestured to me to join him, and said to the boyfriend, "Call them. We'll wait."

A few minutes passed, the boyfriend came back into the living room and apologized -- said that the things my father had accused him of were true, and he'd try to do better. So we left.

My father, a certain irreducible percentage of the time, was an asshole. (So, of course, am I.) But he protected his children until the day he died. His actual last words to me before he died were, "Take care of your sisters."

My two daughters love me. The older is away at her first year of college, the younger will be going to her first year of college next fall. They're sharp, beautiful, intelligent, hard working girls. And I've tried to be a role model to them in the areas where it's appropriate. Be truthful; unless you associate with stupid people (which is its own punishment) you'll get caught lying, and there's no way to have a relationship with someone who doesn't trust you. Work hard; the only thing you can control in life, the only thing, is the quality of your effort. Be kind; it builds up credit for those irreducible percentages of the time when you're an asshole.

I've never said a word to them about how to conduct themselves sexually, though I've made sure they knew the exact details of how veneral disease is spread and how pregnancy occurs. (And, of course, the single best piece of sex advice anyone ever gave me: never have sex without at least 3 condoms on hand.)

Past that -- I don't care what they do with their knees. What I do care about is exactly the same stuff I'm going to care about with my sons when they reach this age -- can you be completely honest with person X? If you can't be, or if person X isn't completely honest with you, get away from that person.

Does X speak badly of the people in previous relationships? Because if so, when you're the previous relationship, that's how X is going to talk about you.

I'm far more interested in the quality of people my sons and daughters associate with than I am in the trivia of who sticks what where.

Almost the only thing I've done differently in raising my kids is on the issue of violence. This, far moreso than the ability of women to get pregnant, is the place where our society's sicknesses get played out. My father never laid a hand on my mother or my sisters. The last girl I laid a hand on was my sister, when I was 12 -- I hit her in the stomach. (And facing my father when he came home that night was just about the scariest thing that happened to me in the first 18 years of my life, up until the time the junkie with the chrome revolver shot at me.)

There is zero tolerance for violence in our house, and it's mostly directed at the boys. My girls never hit the boys; but the boys hit each other occasionally when they were smaller, and even more occasionally took a swing at one of the girls. (Helped that the girls were much bigger until recently.)

Today the boys are almost entirely broken of the inclination to physical violence with each other. No boy has swung a fist at anyone in a couple years. They've had a little boxing training, and in the near future will probably end up in some form of martial art -- I keep having judo recommended to me, so it'll probably be that to start.

When they get to the age where they might get a girl pregnant, we'll have the talk about the 3 condoms, and how pregnancy occurs, and some of the risks on their end of casual promiscuity. But end of day, with them as with the girls -- associate with people of quality. Avoid liars. Avoid people who require lies. Work hard. And keep your damned hands to yourself or you'll earn the contempt of every decent man on the face of the planet ...

... though you might still be welcome at SF conventions.

Dan Moran said...

I stopped going to science fiction conventions because a certain male SF writer

That's not true. I'd stopped going before then, because the conventions made me feel bad about myself. It was like spending time looking at carnival mirrors -- all my own flaws, distorted and enlarged. Possibly if I'd been stronger and more self-assured when I started going to conventions I'd have responded differently.

The last SF convention I did go to, a girl I knew came to see me and told me that her ex was there working one of the booths, a man who'd once put a gun in her mouth. (This was a story I'd heard from her years previously -- guy named "Jim Kirk," if you can believe it.) She was shaky and pale -- I went to the guy's booth and he wasn't there, so I told the guy who was there that if I saw Kirk at the convention I was going to beat him until he couldn't get off the floor.

"Kirk" didn't show up at that booth the rest of the day, and I came by looking for him a few times. The next day my friend left the convention early, and so did I -- and I haven't been back to a convention since.

The incident with the guy getting elected a SFWA officer happened a while after that. It was much closer to final straw territory than to being the actual cause of my ceasing to attend SF conventions.

Marty S said...

Dan: My comments about fairness did not particularly refer women and sex. They referred to the comment that the purpose of law in general is to compensate for nature's unfairness. As for how I raised my sons, it was to think for themselves and do the right thing. As an aside, when he and his wife decided two kids were enough, he had a vasectomy to take the birth control problem off of her.

Kai Jones said...

Marty: how is protecting people from each other not making the world more fair? As a Jew my job is to try to make the world more fair, more just; I understand that not everybody shares that goal.

I failed to make clear that I'm referring to a fair starting point, not ensuring fair results. I'm all about the agency, ask anybody. But you have to get to the starting line before you can exercise your agency.

Dan: good point about fewer women commenting here. If it wasn't obvious, I'm a woman. Another good point about how it's a bunch of men (patriarchy suppressing me again!) telling women what to do. You don't have standing, as far as I'm concerned: men did pretty much what they wanted for thousands of years. Sauce for the goose, anyone?

I was raised by a single mother with occasional live-in boyfriends--one of whom was a drug dealer. I had an abortion at age 16, been married and divorced, raised two children (both men now), and am married to my second husband. I've worked part time since I was 12 and full time since I was 19. I'm a mother-in-law and a grandmother. I have lots of opinions and experience from the women's side.

But I don't see anybody asking women's opinions here, just men telling us what to do. As usual.

Marty S said...

Kai: It's nice to say my job is to make the world more fair and just, but the problem is that one person's fairness and justice is another person's unfairness and injustice. You have indirectly acknowledge this by complaining that most of the posters here are men telling women what to do. There are those who believe a fair world is one where "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." others would have a world where "Only the strong survive." I believe the that there are trade offs between these two extremes, but find exactly the right trade off is the problem.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Trying this again. My reply to this post is longer than I thought would do for a comment, so I blogged it here:

mjholt said...

While your argument is correct about repressing girls more than boys, it makes the assumption that this needs to be done.

Every society has a methodology to handle this. Our society integrates a lot of bad behavior into its mainstream, and I posit that it makes us stronger. We have parents of vastly varying ages, people of many different backgrounds, and many "interracial" and "interclass" marriages.

Perhaps focusing both boys and girls on what they need to survive and thrive in this world, and teaching them to think about the "downstream" consequences of their actions will do more than repression to minimize foolish behavior. To work, this has to be taught equally to boys and girls.

Mike Frank's list of what he tells his daughter is good. It does need to be modulated or we all will get to Dan Moran's point, "I'm way past tired with the "life is unfair" argument. Of course it is."

Dan, there are women who are physical abusers, too. I worked with a couple that I knew he was being beat up by her. I knew another man whose wife seemed to have taken her argument lessons from Maggie and Jigs, skillets and all.

In any society, the regulation has to be spread over a peer group. Had "Jim Kirk" been called out by the woman, perhaps she would have gotten some justice, but her own timidity let him walk away from his bad behavior. I am trying to figure out who this could be. I have a couple of thoughts, but you leave me puzzled. Did SFWA members know of this bad behavior before electing him?

Societies work best when self-controlling, but without information or which bad or bogus information self-control is thwarted. IMHO

Marty S said...

On this male/female thing, society is in flux, because the needs of society with respect to male/female behavior are in flux. In the 1950's there was a show called Ozzie and Harriet. The couple who starred in the show were actually married to one another, but on the show each slept in their own single bed. Such were the cultural standards when my generation were kids. But this was the time when not every household had a telephone. Now in many families everyone has their own portable phone that goes every where with them. Many of the changes in the male/female role in society during this time period have been triggered by the changes in technology. We adapt to technological changes more quickly than social changes, so we still have left over attitudes that need to change. These will change because to survive a society must adapt to its present needs and not live in the past.

Dan Moran said...


The "life is unfair" comment wasn't directed at you, just at that particular argument as a whole. Plenty of people make this point in very good faith, as I assume you did. But all too frequently it's a cover for "life is unfair ... and I like it that way."


Dan, there are women who are physical abusers, too.

Sure; almost any edge case you can imagine occurs somewhere. In some house somewhere there's a husky 10 year old boy slapping his dad around. But, as with women intentionally breeding without fathers, it's not the core of why our society has problems raising strong, gentle men. The core of why men are violent assholes is that other men permit it.

her own timidity let him walk away from his bad behavior.

Have you ever heard about a man convicted of threatening a woman in a pure he-said/she-said encounter, with no other witnesses but the pair of them?

I am trying to figure out who this could be. I have a couple of thoughts, but you leave me puzzled. Did SFWA members know of this bad behavior before electing him?

I think I've been unclear -- "Jim Kirk," which was the actual name the guy with the gun went by, and the writer who got elected to a SFWA officer's position, are two different guys.

I don't know what the SFWA membership did or did not know about the bullet in the brain comment. The comment was made in a well-traveled public forum before the World Wide Web was commonplace -- I googled up the names of the two writers and bullet and brain and found no mention of it in Google, which is the only reason I'm not using the names of the individuals involved. If the female writer wants to put this behind her, I'm not going to rerun it here.

But shit -- people are still telling stories about things Harlan Ellison did sixty years before Al Gore invented the internet. If the bullet in the brain comment has passed out of the memories of SFdom, I admit I'd be surprised.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Shorter version of what I wrote on my blog:

The problem with the "be harder on girls and women about sex and get them to civilize the men" approach is that you're never actually going to get as high a success rate at the "getting people not to have sex" part of the equation as your 49 out of 50 posited in the thought experiment. That means you also need a second piece: "OK, you had sex, and maybe you didn't want to have that kid just yet, but now that the baby's there, you're still on the hook." And that's the piece where coming down lopsidedly on girls and women and not so much on boys and men is, not just unfair in the sense that you're blaming one person for a choice two people made, but counterproductive to getting kids supported and tied to their fathers. And a big reason why I'm not willing to dismiss feminist complaints about the double standard as political correctness.

So, going up thread to the Anonymous who said An example- a woman can abort a child without ever consulting the father yet if she decides to have it he can be sued for support. It is her body but both where irresponsible and the baby is both of theirs. He has no legal say as to whether or not it is born but is held liable to pay for 20+ years to support mother and child.

You can't split a pregnancy evenly; it's an inherently uneven thing. But the one way you shouldn't be unfair is the way that burdens most the child who had no say in how he or she was conceived. Whatever the law is or should be regarding abortion, the father needs to step up and be a father. If this isn't a woman he can deal with as a father to her kids, then he needed to keep his pants zipped. (And, sure, in that case she would have been wise to keep her pants zipped, too, but that doesn't change the fact that once there's a baby, walking away from your child isn't a victimless thing to do. Children before adults, here.)

Marty S said...

Lynn: In a sense you have stated the pro-life position."once there's a baby, walking away from your child isn't a victimless thing to do." To the pro-lifer, if you are pregnant, by definition there is a baby. So the woman who aborts, from that point of view is at least as irresponsible as the man who walks away.

Dan Moran said...

If we agree that a fertilized cell is a baby, then sure. There's some disagreement on that point, of course.

:-) Two men arguing abortion. I'm moving on now.

suzanne said...

well said, Dan!
and thank you for saying it
so I didn't have to be the one pointing out
how once again
it's guys having their say
about how women ought to be

it gets so damn tiresome
being told how to be good

as to the octuplet matter:
I think the doctors who agreed to implant those fertilized eggs
ought to be horsewhipped.

Steve Perry said...

C'mon, Dan, there are assholes everywhere, and science fiction cons are probably no worse than anywhere else. I recall a major big-name writer, no longer among the living, who sat on a panel with a couple of women writers and was the most sexist, racist, idiot I had ever heard. One of the women writers later told me she was afraid of ever being in the same room with the guy alone.

If i'd let that put me off going to the odd con now and then, I'd have been part f the problem and not the solution -- there needs to be a balance for the bad guys ...

Marty S said...

Dan, Suzanne: Sorry, but I don't by the its a woman's body and its a woman's issue and a man has no right to an opinion on the subject. Lets consider you come across a person who has slit their wrists in an attempt to commit suicide. The person is bleeding out but still alive. Do you

1) Walk on by because its their body and they can do with it as they please or

2)call 911 for medical help and attempt to save their life.

Is someone who has never attempted suicide, or been diagnosed with suicidal tendencies allowed to have an ethical opinion on which of the two courses of action is appropriate.

Steve Perry said...

It's a non-sequitur, Marty. You can choose to help somebody or not, but you aren't required by law (most places) to do so.

You can have an opinion, of course, but more weight about such things should be given those closest to the situation.

I can opine all I want on being black, female, pregnant, or what it feels like to have an abortion, but there are a lot of folks who know these things first-hand and they can talk from experience. I cannot.

People who say "You should," or "You must!" with regards to somebody else's life are sometimes qualified to say that, but sometimes not.

Marty S said...

Steve Perry: I agree with most of what you say. However, When Blacks were a subjugated minority and had no real voice it was up to Whites of good conscious to step up and speak up for them. The pro-lifer would say that the unborn children cannot speak for themselves so it is up to people of good conscious to speak for them. You can agree or not with people who take this position, but I feel they should be respected for their beliefs, not demeaned.

Dan Moran said...


I respect people, when they deserve it, but the idea I'm to respect someone for holding an idea I consider flawed is unreasonable.

"Deeply held values" is a completely neutral phrase. Hitler had deeply held values. So did Gandhi.

I respect kindness, honesty, diligence, strength -- I don't much care what framework people hang that on. If Judaism, atheism, scientology or holy rollerism gets you there, it's OK by me.

I'll respect you, but don't ask me to respect your belief systems. Most of the organized ones are goofy in places to begin with.

Steve Perry said...

Marty --

As Dan said, it depends on the belief. If you were a latter-day Aztec who decided that cutting out somebody's heart on a stone altar was the best way to please the gods, I would condemn you for it, no matter how sincere you were in your belief.

Sincerely is overrated in this arena.

If you thought blowing up buildings full of civilians was righteous because God Himself told you it was, then either you are crazy or your god is. Yeah, people do worse war all the time, but whatever their rationalizations, right it ain't. If there is a just God, that payback is going to be a ticket straight to Southern Hades.

The idea that human consciousness begins at conception is a religious notion, and while it's not harmful if you believe that, it can be harmful if you want to project that notion into law for folks who don't believe it.

No science I know says that two joined cells are sentient. If you want to believe that, fine. To make everybody else believe it who isn't on your bus, then you have to prove it.

I asked God about that once. He didn't answer. Must have been on the phone talking to somebody who wanted to blow himself and a bunch of other folks up for a pass into Heaven.

Marty S said...

Steve and Dan: What you are essentially saying is that you don't have to respect anybody who's beliefs or conclusions don't agree with you. Lets look at some of what you have implied. People who want to protect the forests are kooks who don't deserve our respect because trees aren't sentient. For the pro-lifer it doesn't matter if the two joined cells are sentient or not. As the caterpillar becomes the butterfly the two joined cells become the child. The proof comes in nine months if you don't abort. I don't respect pro-lifers who try to enforce their beliefs by attacking, abortion clinics, or eco-terrorists, but I do respect those who speak out on their beliefs in these areas whether I agree with them or not.

Dan Moran said...

"essentially saying"

Usually I try to say exactly what I mean.

"is that you don't have to respect anybody who's beliefs or conclusions don't agree with you"

I don't have to respect people whose beliefs and conclusions do agree with me. I don't care what people believe, even when they agree with me; I care how they act.

Steven Barnes said...

"Life's just not fair.
There's nothing I can do."
I never said that. "Life's not fair" yes. But my entire point is that there is an enormous amount we can do with personal responsibility, and the way we raise our children.
Dan and Suzanne: I have never objected to whites discussing blacks, or women discussing men. In fact, we all have these discussions, and the more of us who contribute to them, the better off society will be. When have I EVER suggested that whites shouldn't comment on blacks? Especially if they know some? The average man knows far more women (and vice versa)than the average white knows blacks, or black knows whites. To think we can't converse on these things is absurd. To me, the problem with our children (to the degree that they have a problem. Fact is, I think that most of 'em will do just fine. Every generation thinks the next...and last...generation is fucked up) is both men and women, but they contribute different poisons and vitamins to the equation.
IF I denied women the right to comment about men's, I would accept that men shouldn't comment about women's issues. I grant that women know more, of course. But there are things that only women understand about men, and only men understand about women. I see nothing positive coming from asking either side not to have an opinion.

Steve Perry said...

Marty --

"Steve and Dan: What you are essentially saying is that you don't have to respect anybody who's beliefs or conclusions don't agree with you."

I didn't say that at all. What I said is that if you try to impose your belief on others -- and that would include me -- then you should be able to demonstrate the truth of it. If your belief is based on dogma that everybody buys, fine, no problem. If not, then imposing such a belief into law isn't justifiable. Every sperm and every egg is potentially a human. So is a man who masturbates guilty of multiple murders? A woman who takes birth control pills or has an IUD implanted equal to Jack the Ripper because she denies the potential of her eggs?

The line between what might happen and what exists might be small, but it is there. If my daughter gets raped by somebody and become pregnant as a result through no intent of her own, the right-to-lifers say, Too bad, you can't blame that on the child.

But it's a not a child. It's a collection of cells that cannot survive on their own, nor grow into anything without my daughter having to carry them.

Forcing her to carry them isn't your business. If you believe that they are equal to her as a sentient being, it's up to you to prove that. Until you can, you are dealing in faith, not science.

Caterpillars? We might get hit by a big meteor tomorrow. "Might" and "will" aren't the same.

The loons in North Dakota tried to get abortion outlawed for any reason, including rape, incest, or health of the mother. We know the mother is a functioning human being, and doesn't that give her more rights than a potential human?

That imposition of a religious belief is what bothers me. Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

Kai Jones said...

Steve Perry: We know the mother is a functioning human being, and doesn't that give her more rights than a potential human?

Or at least as many?

I almost died in childbirth; I have no problem identifying an unwanted pregnancy as an attack on my life, and an abortion as an act of self-defense. Any woman might die during pregnancy and childbirth--and there are often no predictive factors, no pre-existing conditions. A friend had a heart attack on the table during an otherwise normal delivery; despite being in an operating room at a hospital, the doctors were unable to save her life or the life of the fetus. She was an active, healthy person in her 20s with no heart disease.

Even granting for the sake of discussion that the fetus is a human being, even granting for the sake of discussion that the fetus has the same rights as I do, I am still entitled to defend myself against its attack. And make no mistake, pregnancy is an attack. Your body perceives it as such, and only a flood of hormones prevents rejection of the alien growth and allows successful implantation and growth.

The only way you can justify legislating away the right to abortion is by valuing the rights of the fetus above those of the pregnant woman. How do you justify that? Why is a fetus worth more than a woman? Why is one person worth more than another?

Robin James Burchett said...

On a related note, what do you think of the notion that the breakdown of American family structure, especially Black family structure, can be laid at the feet of the welfare state?

Another way to phrase the question: On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or the yogic chakra system, individuals mature and evolve as the lower-level needs are met. To what extent, though, is this dependant on them being personally responsible for meeting those lower-level needs?

What things are absolutely needed, from any source, to build a decent life? And what things must be earned to be of any value?

I am reminded of Malcolm X:
“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you are a man, you take it.”

And my wife, the Canadian socialist: “We believe a society should be judged by how it treats its weakest members.”

As a father, I want my kids to have the best life has to offer – and notice that when I give them too much, they become ungrateful little monsters.

As a society, we have got to get smarter about being humane while promoting healthy, responsible behavior – and hopefully with the least force of law possible. Any thoughts, all? The readers of this blog are the sort of thoughtful citizens that should be guiding a discussion of this sort of thing in their communities.