27.5.09

MORE VULCAN AND LESS ROMULAN? Today's Observation for the Era comes from Ross Douthat with the New York Times.

There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.

No reason, of course, save the fact that contemporary America doesn’t seem willing to accept sexual stigma, period. We simply don’t have the stomach for permanently ostracizing the sexually irresponsible — be they a pregnant starlet, a thrice-divorced tycoon, or even a prostitute-hiring politician.

In this sense, ours is a kinder, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago. But for half the public, it’s an unhappier country as well.

That "unhappier" reference is to a new NBER working paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (currently pay-only) with the provocative title "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness." At The Atlantic Business Channel, Conor Clarke suggests the underlying correlation isn't instructive.
A world with less crime certainly comports with my intuitive sense of justice, even if that world won't make us any happier. And if you think the women's movement was just, I wouldn't worry too much about its consequences for happiness.
It's the justice I wish to address. Imagine (as long as we're contemplating black-hole-in-a-bottle and other time travel tricks) a second-wave feminism that asked men to take seriously the concept of gentleman, the way the civil rights movement asked public policy to take seriously the concept of created equal and endowed with unalienable rights. (There would be no snarking at the humorless activist who got angry at a man who held a door open for her, because the humorless activist would save her anger for the batterers, bounders, and cads.)

Perhaps in such a world we would not see the continued navel-gazing about those missing men in higher education.
Research show[s] lower rates of enrollment, persistence and graduation among college men in comparison to college women; the underrepresentation of men in campus leadership positions, in study abroad, career services and civic engagement programs; and their overrepresentation among campus judicial offenders.
And the problem appears to be too much Romulan in the men.
“When we think about acts of violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment on college campuses, overwhelmingly the perpetrators of those acts on our campuses are men. When we talk about how to convince our colleagues that we need to be engaged in these discussions, these are some of the ideas we need to share with them, particularly this last one,” said [Frank] Harris, an assistant professor of postsecondary education at San Diego State University.
The state of the art, however, diagnoses the problem differently.

“The men in both studies really described external pressures to perform hegemonic masculinity,” said Harris. In other words, they felt external pressure to be unemotional, calm, cool under pressure, to be competitive, aggressive, self-assured; to not be gay, feminine or vulnerable.

Furthermore, “It was not manly to put a lot of time and effort into academics," said [Macalester's Keith] Edwards. It’s not cool to study, to read the book: “Sometimes it’s not cool to even buy the book. But you’ve got to ace the test. You’ve got to make the grade,” continued Edwards, who described male students studying on the sly, telling their buddies they were spending the evening with their girlfriends and then hitting the books instead. “The script to be a manly man means you’re good at everything and you don’t have to work at it," he explained.

I want to return to that "girlfriend" reference later, as is suggests the behavior might be evolutionarily stable. First, though, the alleged concept of maleness, which appears to have emerged spontaneously.

Edwards and Harris also reported finding that the students had limited relationships with other men, particularly their friends and fathers, and experienced a loss of self. “It’s sort of for me the most poignant part of all this,” said Edwards. “I lose my authenticity when I pretend I’m someone I’m not.”

“And there’s a loss of humanity when you deny who you really are.”

In terms of strategies and recommendations, Edwards and Harris suggested first giving college men permission to stop performing and to be themselves. “It’s really about creating some kind of balance to the external pressure,” said Harris. “We talk about challenge and support, challenging the negative behavior.”

Perhaps a different environment, one in which serial baby-daddies and deadbeat dads were cads and bounders, not the starting lineup of the Cleveland Cavaliers, might help those young men. So might more Vulcan in the young men.

Rather than postulating Grand Unified Theories of Masculinity, the line of inquiry I think might actually be useful would involve figuring out how to improve the chances that the growing cohort of young minority men on campus will succeed. This is the group with the historically-highest rates of attrition, so the payoff from successful interventions could be quite high.

Going out on a limb, my first guess is that the most successful interventions won't be particularly based on gender. If anything, they'll be based on developmental math. That's where the attrition bloodbath always hits. (Women's Studies has little, if anything, to do with it. Basic algebra is the killer. Attrition is highest in the first semester, when nobody even takes Women's Studies.) Get past that, and all things are possible.

Science and math first, preferably beginning in elementary school. I wonder, though, whether even the Vulcan Academy can get past the power rule that describes the incidence of mathematical talent. Probably easier to force the men to get in touch with their inner girl.
Edwards and Harris also recommended providing opportunities for critical self-reflection about what it means to be a man – “to disrupt the functioning of hegemonic masculinity” – including through facilitated student affairs programming and academic courses (a course in women’s studies, for instance). They recommended a need to build "cultural competence" for faculty and staff in issues of gender. While many in the audience lauded the transformative impact of small group discussions among men, one common point was the need for a facilitator who really understands gender dynamics.
I'm not sure of the logic by which self-organized hegemonic masculinity apparently enabled by girlfriends but not handed down from fathers (who are missing, particularly in underserved populations) entrenches itself, and I'm not persuaded that a bunch of yobs is going to sit in a circle and get anything constructive from a self-despising facilitator, which is depressingly frequently true of the type of academic male who takes an interest in gender dynamics.

It will make additional work for the therapeutic types in student affairs, never mind that it's contrary to San Diego State's speech codes.

And as long as the girls enable the yobbish behavior, nothing will change.
Liberation always included an element of sexual libertinism. It’s one of the few things that made it so appealing to men: easy sexual access to women’s bodies.
That's Linda Hirshman, making some of the sisterhood angry and bringing amusement to 11-D.

The conclusion is left to the reader as an exercise.

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