The Inevitability and Potential Benefits of Gender Norms

The world turned upside down, by Israhel van Meckenem the Younger.

James Damore was fired from Google for saying that women are biologically less disposed towards engineering jobs than men. He then sued Google for discrimination against employees who were white, male, or conservative. Let’s take a moment to savor the craziness.

In a saner world, the layers of irony in the whole situation would prompt a serious discussion about gender norms across society. The question would be one of factual inquiry: are women in fact less predisposed to engineering jobs? If so, is the cause biological or something else?

Some (including the paid scientific experts) took the occasion to respectfully disagree with each other. But those phlegmatic conversations have been like the one remaining mobile home in the wake of a tornado. In general, the reactions were “hysterical” (CNN’s Kirsten Powers’ word). Various thoughtful persons across the spectrum deplored the ideological histrionics displayed by most the rest of us (see the excellent Wikipedia article).

A slight majority (55%) disagreed with Google’s decision to fire Damore, according to a Harvard-Harris poll. But that means that 45% did not disagree with it. Many in the 55% majority disagreed with Damore’s opinions about gender dynamics, but still felt he should not have been fired for expressing them at work. But to a full 45% of the polled population, the expression of such views is apparently so heinous that termination is the appropriate response.

Obviously, gender norms are rather unpopular nowadays. And not without reason. I admit that gender norms, mis-conceived or miscarried or related to in mal-adaptive ways, can and do injure people, whether because those people do not conform to the norm or because they do.

But I also submit that a society without gender norms is possible only in theory and that this theoretical society is not the one we should aspire to. Continue reading

In Defense of Modesty

Modesty, Oil by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Modesty, like reverence, is becoming a forgotten virtue. Calls for modesty in dress in ultra-orthodox jewish neighborhoods are perceived by some as a violation of human rights. Others, less extreme, view codes of modest dress as stifling individual expression or as shifting responsibility for men’s sexuality from the men themselves to women. Now, it may or may not be a good idea to post signs in the hasidic neighborhoods. And codes of modest dress may indeed be misinterpreted by men as absolving them of responsibility for their own sexual behavior. But regardless, modesty is still a virtue–and one that deserves to be encouraged and inculcated.

We use the term “modesty” in the context of dress and in the context of personal achievement, but the core of the idea is the same Continue reading

The privatization of privacy

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In Illinois there has been a much publicized court case regarding a transgender female (physically male) student who is suing the school for limiting her access to the women’s dressing room. I have no doubt that many more cases like this one will soon be appearing in courts across the country. As I considered the case, I began Continue reading

To my one-year-old daughter: Thoughts on Body Image and Beauty

11960092_4308339073677_2314436844244038233_nMy daughter, you are no longer a baby. This is impossible to me. You are more than a year old right now and I marvel at how big you’re getting. You were trying to stand in an ice cream bucket the other day—giggling as it fell over again and again—an ice cream bucket that we could bathe you in when you were just born. Your growing feet and toes are the foundation for the past miracles of standing and your first, tottering steps—and now for running, jumping, climbing the stairs at the playground outside, and the endless enjoyment as we play “this little piggy” while you sit (and sit, and sit, and waaait) on the potty. Your increased size is paralleled by increased ability and comprehension. Dad and I are amazed every time you show some new understanding: a new sign, a new animal sound, a new mimicry. The other day I told you in pre-dinner end-of-day frustration, “I’m tired, too, but soon Daddy will be home and then we can bug HIM.” You looked at me seriously… and then signed “bug” (as in insect).

I’ve experienced the double blessing of watching myself grow next to you. People joke, “She’s getting so big! And so is Alsina!” Oh ha ha. I’m eight months plus two weeks pregnant, and things have definitely changed dramatically. Moving my bulk around is a huge commitment, and sometimes I wake up at two am half off the bed—having, apparently, decided halfway that it wasn’t worth the effort of getting all the way up to go to the bathroom. It’s not just a big belly added on to the front of my normal frame, either: I can’t even get pre-pregnancy pants up around my ankles, much less my now-herculean thighs, and pre-pregnancy blouses have the same issue around burgeoning… other places.

Why does “getting big” suddenly become a curse as we grow older? Continue reading