Friday, April 3, 2009

Food for Thought

I am currently reading a book that I should have read a long time ago - Backlash by Susan Faludi. In my defense, my study of gender has tried to focus on work by scientists and scholars, not journalists. 

But sometimes, I think, the journalists can be more comprehensive in their analysis than researchers. Why? Because scientists are trained to narrow their scope, which might explain why Faludi's book is soooo fucking big, whereas most gender texts tend to fall a bit short of 300 pages. Backlash is 460 pages long - large pages with small fonts. I'm a pretty fast reader, but 2 hours or so of effort has only got me to page 53. 

I will do a full review of the book when I am finished reading, but for now I wanted to get a discussion going about some questions I find interesting. I will also get to her book Stiffed, but I have another text that will come in-between. 

First, a quote from page 8 of the text that I find to be incredibly important:

"The statistics the popular culture chooses to promote most heavily are the very statistics we should view with the most caution. They may very well be in wide circulation not because they are true but because they support widely held media preconceptions."

I want to ask you folks some questions, and I don't want any of you to look up the answers. I just want you to answer based on your own beliefs. I will provide some answers in future posts. Think of it as an informal survey so I can see where current belief systems lie. 

1. How do the infertility rates compare in women in their twenties versus in their thirties? 

2. When women are asked what brings them the most satisfaction in their lives, what is the #1 response?

3. Which group reports a stronger desire for marriage, men or women? 

4. How do women's prospects for marriage fare when they have higher levels of education and career achievement while still single?

5. What effects do you think divorce has on women versus men in American society?

And finally, a question that occured to me today while I was putting gas in my car:

6. Why might women be told from a very early age that men are dangerous, only after "one thing," have sex drives that they are unable to control, want to avoid marriage, and are presented as a group that needs to be "tamed" by women?

16 comments:

unrelatedwaffle said...

Hey, just discovered your blog and am looking forward to reading it more :) Backlash is on my list, so I might have to just head on down to the library this weekend so I have a virtual reading buddy.

I think my answers to your questions would be a little too self-aware and informed by sociological readings to reflect "mainstream" beliefs, but I like them just the same.

Ambivalent Academic said...

1 - equal, fertility possibly dropping off *but only slightly in late 30s*

2 - career

3 - women

4 - better...up to a point/age?

5 - women lose more money/assets in divorce than men in general

6 - because our culture still maintains a very Puritanical/conservative/religious/proprietary view of women's sexuality. Also to scare daughters off of having sex that might lead to an unplanned pregnancy (at least that's what I thought my parents were trying to do with that rhetoric). Fathers of unplanned pregnancies are not subject to the same risks as mothers so this makes a certain amount of sense to me...though the rhetoric is still way over the top and counter-productive.

JLK said...

@unrelatedwaffle - Welcome! I didn't specify uncolored responses, so let's have 'em!

@ AA - Can you expan a bit more on "puritanical/conservative/religious/propietary" views of women's sexuality?

leigh said...

1. um, largely the same until mid-30s? but are we talking ability to conceive (and presumably carry to term?) or risk of genetic problems in the offspring as well?

2. i can only answer for myself: success and a healthy partner-bond.

3. men

4. i imagine they're not as good. i see this in several friends.

5. financially, i'd guess worse for women. it depends on factors like children and custody, though.

6. i first heard that when i was hanging out a lot with a very close guy friend in middle school. i think women are programmed from a very early age to be alert, sometimes even afraid of men. in some cases this is clearly justified, but definitely not always.

Mrs. CH said...

These are just my best guesses, and pretty much have no real basis behind them :)

1. Women are more fertile in their early 20s, but it only starts going down "drastically" after the age of 35 (i.e., more likely to have mis-carriage).

2. family

3. women

4. This is a tough one: on one hand, the older/more educated one becomes presumably the know better what they want from a partner - but perhaps that lowers their prospects for marriage (but it would lower the divorce rate I bet!).

5. Men lose more money/family support; divorced women are less respected? I don't really know!

6. I agree with the previous comment that it can be used to try to get girls to not have sex. I think it's also a way to "prepare" girls for getting hurt - which happens to most people. Perhaps to lower our expectations?

Ambivalent Academic said...

Hmmm...I'll give it a go I guess.

American society in particular tends toward a Judeo-Christian ethic (don't get me started on the corruption of that ethic by many so-called "Christians", let's just leave it at that). Part of this ethic involves the mythology of woman being produced from a man's body part, man being given "dominion" over the earth and all it's creatures, there are many more examples but I think you see where I'm going with this. It plays into all of my horribly mashed together qualifiers.

But if you want to get specific...

Puritanical ideals conclude that sex is bad and dirty and wrong and sinful and should only be used for the express purpose of reproduction. Therefore women who engage in sexual activities embody all of the above pejoratives. You'd think that this would apply to men too but it generally doesn't. Men's sexual experience/prowess is lauded even from an early age. Teenage boys are generally congratulated for the loss of their virginity by their male peers, while girls are labeled sluts by both their own female peer group, the boys their age as well as adults.

Most conservative "family values" offer the same view. Abstinence until marriage is supposed to be a good thing, so you see for instance in the Quiverful movement, antiquated "courting" (which strikes me as arranged marriage in some cases), in which the father is the guardian of his daughter's "virtue" until she is married, then her virtue is kept safe by her husband. In theory, the young man ought also to be a virgin on his wedding day, but who is the guardian of his "virtue"? Nobody. This is also a great example of the proprietary view of women's sexuality - why is it the property of her father (to keep safe, then give to the mate he has selected for her) and not her own? Maybe it hearkens back to the days in which a wife came with a dowry. A virgin bride is simply more valuable than one who has proved to be a slut or a hussy...because if she has already played fast and loose, how can a husband ever trust her to be faithful in marriage.

These are rather extreme examples (at least in the context of our own society)...but I think that they are pervasive.

A more personal anecdote - I grew up in a fairly progressive family. But I got fed the same line about boys in high school only wanting one thing etc. I don't think that this was an effort by my parents to "protect my virtue so that I'd be a more valuable bride". I think that they were more worried about the potential consequences of sexual activity (i.e. pregnancy). All societal ills aside, carrying a child to term is a tremendous risk to the health and well-being of the woman, as compared to the net risk of the father (zero, STDs nothwithstanding). On top of this concern, I think that my parents probably worried about my feelings. There is an assumption that girls equate sex with love (maybe true? Or more so than boys), and that any venture down that path would mean I loved whichever boy it might be, but that he might not reciprocate those feelings. Those were most likely may parents' motivation for feeding me such crap (along with my dad's ever-insightful, "honey, I was a teenage boy once, and yes, that is all they're after). I recall being pretty damn pissed with them when I broke up with my first boyfriend in high school, because it was precisely these misconceptions that fucked up my ability to have a normal relationship with the guy. (And in case anyone's counting, I was much more after Teh Sex than he was - and he was WAY more scared of me getting pregnant than I was.)

I think that the proprietary attitude also feeds into the (misconception?) that men want to avoid marriage...who wants the responsibility of safe-guarding another person's "virtue" for the rest of your life? Especially if that person is a capable adult who can take of it themselves thankyouverymuch?

Finally, if a woman's virginity is not her own, but something to be traded from father to husband in exchange for an absolution of responsibility over said virginity, then it creates an entire culture around the idea that this IS a woman's currency in this world. Her virginity is all she has that is of value. So there are all these women out there who are "saving themselves for marriage", or in less extreme cases cultivating their reputation of being a good girl, not dirty, not sinful, always faithful, because this is the measure of their worth. So when you have other women who claim their sexuality for themselves, say fuckyouverymuch, I'll do what I want with my own body the rest who have been so careful MUST tame those wild women in order to prevent them from devaluing the only currency they think they've got.

If my virginity or my reputation is all I have, and suddenly that's no longer a requirement to get whatever it is that I'm banking it on ('cus look that slut over there still gets a house/career/husband/whathaveyou), she must be stopped! or people will know that what I have isn't really all that special and magical and valuable and then what?

That's was horribly disjointed and muddled *sorry* but I must get back to the bench - I hope some of that makes sense.

Ambivalent Academic said...

My previous ramblings bring up an interesting duality:

1 - Men as the proprietors of womens' sexuality (their daughters/sisters/wives).

2 - Women as sexual "gatekeepers" in a relationship due to their sexuality being currency.

It seems it would be impossible to have it both ways, but with such a high social value placed on a woman's sexuality it ends up as this contradiction.

Becca said...

1. I'd assume infertility rates are modestly higher in their 30s vs. their 20s (1.5-2X higher in 30s)
2. I'm really not sure on this, but for most women I know (a very skewed sample set) I'd say "their jobs" bring most satisfaction.
3. I'm pretty sure men want to get married more (though it'd be good to see this broken down by age group)
4. I suspect women with high levels of education and career achievement are less likely to get married, but not dramatically.
5. Men are more likely to have a significant severe negative emotional response to a divorce (e.g. suicide attempt). However, women file more divorces (60%?) so it'd be interesting to see a breakdown based on who initiated the divorce.
I wrote my answers before reading anyone else's; but I've definitely heard women loose more assets as well and I've always presumed that to be a true statistic (though maybe less so than it once was?).
6. Short answer: to reinforce existing gender roles (that men are more aggressive, particularly sexually; and that women are more 'domestic')

Hermitage said...

1. Same
2. Family
3. Men
4. Worse
5. Higher effect on women, 'damaged goods' stigma etc. Wheras a guy is 'just meant to be a bachelor'
6. Hmm, from a logistics standpoint, it is in a male's best interest to optimize the net of wild oats sowing, whereas for a woman it's better for her to be picky (i.e. choose strongest/smartest mate etc).

Interesting questions, hmmm.

Toaster Sunshine said...

1. Likely less, but I wouldn't bet on statistical significance.

2. Friends.

3. Women.

4. Decrease. Men start to get intimidated.

5. Given the gender pay gap, likely more deleterious to long-term financial stability and equity.

And finally, a question that occured to me today while I was putting gas in my car:

6. To imprint low expectations for responsibility in male behavior. Also sets up a dynamic where men get nooky and aren't expected to be any deeper.

Professor Anonymous said...

1. No difference.
2. Recognition of their work/career.
3. Men >>>>> Women.
4. Better, on average.
5. Kind of a vague question; personally or professionally? Professionally: none. Personally: ???
6. Wow. This explains a lot about some of our faculty meetings.

caostaff said...

1. How do the infertility rates compare in women in their twenties versus in their thirties?

Women in their Late 30s are less fertile.

2. When women are asked what brings them the most satisfaction in their lives, what is the #1 response?

self-sufficiency

3. Which group reports a stronger desire for marriage, men or women?

men

4. How do women's prospects for marriage fare when they have higher levels of education and career achievement while still single?

better

5. What effects do you think divorce has on women versus men in American society?

worse for women

And finally, a question that occured to me today while I was putting gas in my car:

6. Why might women be told from a very early age that men are dangerous, only after "one thing," have sex drives that they are unable to control, want to avoid marriage, and are presented as a group that needs to be "tamed" by women?

See also: the Cult of Domesticity from Victorian era England.

Isabel said...

"while girls are labeled sluts by both their own female peer group, the boys their age as well as adults."

Is this really still true? That is really sad. I wonder why that is?

"net risk of the father (zero, STDs nothwithstanding:"

Not really, he will be financially responsible for another person for 18 years, could really affect his well-being. Well-to-do families especially feel threatened in this regard. I would expect this to be a cross-cultural concern.

Toaster Sunshine said:

"6. To imprint low expectations for responsibility in male behavior. Also sets up a dynamic where men get nooky and aren't expected to be any deeper."

Great answer, I expect this hits the nail on the head.

Ambivalent Academic said...

"net risk of the father (zero, STDs nothwithstanding:"

Not really, he will be financially responsible for another person for 18 years, could really affect his well-being. Well-to-do families especially feel threatened in this regard. I would expect this to be a cross-cultural concern.

Isabel - I meant in terms of the father's immediate bodily health (as I did with the mother). I think that the financial and cultural implications are a whole 'nother issue altogether and maybe not the first thing on the minds of 15-year-olds. But that didn't come across very clearly in my initial rambling I guess.

Ambivalent Academic said...

"while girls are labeled sluts by both their own female peer group, the boys their age as well as adults."

Is this really still true? That is really sad. I wonder why that is?

Don't know about now, but it sure was when I was a teenager (not that long ago). I suspect that it's the same reason it's always been. Girls see other girls who "put out" as a threat - she's either going to steal my boyfriend or make me less desirable to other boys because I'm not "easy". Boys can call her a slut because this allows them to distance themselves from any emotional attachment (I believe that the kids these days call it "catching feelings" as if this were some kind of disease). Maybe it's also bonding with other guys who have been with the same girl? So they can compare notes? I'm really not sure.

Boys gain social status by racking up sexual encounters (thus, it's probably better not to engage in "relationships" as those imply some sort of singularity with respect to partners). Girls still gain social status by securing the long-term fidelity of a singular desirable boy. These social metrics are in direct opposition to one another which is where all the angst comes from. Ick.

(Keep in mind that I'm referring specifically to a high school age dynamic but then consider that this is where we learn how to execute an adult relationship with members of our desired sex.)

DuWayne Brayton said...

1 - Older = more likely to be infertile.

2 - Parenting

3 - Men

4 - Comparatively? Probably not quite as good as those who don't - but probably not significant if you remove women who don't want to get married.

5 - Socially women tend to fare better, emotionally I would guess it would be fairly even - though getting men to admit it might be another issue all togeth.

6 - Because their parents are fucking psycho?

Off to read the others...

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