Happiness hinges on Gender Roles? That old Chestnut

 

The anti-feminist and self-proclaimed marriage guru, Suzanne Venker wrote a column for Fox News regarding the status of marriage.  She asserts in the title that marriage is not a relationship of equals: “To Be Happy, We Must Admit Women and Men are not ‘Equal.'”

Nor should it be, according to Venker. Thus, one might gather, marriage ought to be an inherently asymmetrical relation…for the sake of “happy.” Venker miserably attempts to avoid that asymmetrical inference with: “Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical or interchangeable.”

The problem according to the author? Feminism destroys marriage. She writes: “Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.”

Like what, pray tell me. Should I announce at the beginning of my next university lecture: “Ladies, I know you are equal, but you are not equal here. I realize you wanted to become an engineer, a philosopher, a historian; however, this confuses things. Your value is of a different sort. This endeavor will ruin your potential for happiness and marital bliss. University is for men since their role is to…um…do anything other than your role.”

And if a female student quips: “But I’m happy here.” Shall I reply: “Shhh, dear.  See a doctor and get a prescription for a tranquilizer. You needn’t fret about a career.”

And if another female student says: “But I want to earn money.”  Shall I reply: “Oh, sweet fragile being, your role is not to earn money.  Ladies marry money.”

Then once they exit, I too must collect my things and say: “I’ve misappropriated my talent by earning a PhD and daring to stand before you fine male students with knowledge to dispense.  I thought I was happy but apparently I would be happier if I acted natural, and I’ll research how to be natural right away.  So, I will go now.  I’m not sure if anyone else is available to teach you at the moment, but that can’t be my concern.  Bye!”

Let me be blunt. This shit (excuse me) thinking needs to stop. It is not tradition. It is not a “natural” condition.

The notion that woman is not man’s equal is the underscoring reason perpetuating abuse, violence, gendercide, the attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life, “mansplaining,” and the non-violent yet serious issue of less pay for women, to name a few.

Venker enthusiasts might chant: But that’s not what is meant here! Women should be cared for and put on a pedestal!

And, I ask, what happens when they don’t do as they are told?

To claim that marriage is not among equals is to also claim that women are less than men. There is no circumventing that connection. Venker tried as much by stating that women need to appreciate their “role,” but that simply fails to diffuse the essence of the claim.  I suspect the topic of same-sex marriage renders her completely perplexed.

She hearkens back to the mythical time when men were in charge and the dynamics of marriage offered more for women. Women were the winners in that scenario, right? After all they could focus on pleasing their husband by keeping house and cooking instead of the pesky task of earning money or developing talent.

Unless you consider the massive uptick in pharmaceuticals for the “happy” housewives in the 50s.* Or the alcoholism. Or the assumption that women did not work. Are minority women included in this dreamy 1950s picture?

To buoy her position, she paints a dismal picture of the current culture treating women as equals by referencing the Costa Concordia Ship crash (2012) and contrasting it with the fatal sinking of the Titanic. On the Titanic, during a time when women were “rightly” treated as non-equals, the disaster protocol was “women and children first off the ship.” As a result only 103 of the nearly 1,400 passengers who died were women, Venker notes.

However, with the feminist agenda and a pro-equal policy, more chaos ensued on the Costa Concordia.

Aside from being completely absurd, this piece of evidence lacks a strong (or even a minor) causal connection. When the Titanic was sinking there were only about a dozen people privy to that information. In fact, few survivors reported having felt any sort of impact with the iceberg. By direct order, the ship commenced with evacuating slowly and calmly to prevent panic. Because people were not entirely aware their life faced a serious danger, they boarded the life boats without haste, leaving some nearly empty. Surely the “unsinkable” ship couldn’t sink!

In contrast, the Costa Concordia’s passengers were overwrought with panic. “The ship hit rocks, creating a huge gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation” (The Guardian). Of course, that would force a behavior resulting in a by-pass of conventional pleasantries. (Note the devastating Boston Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942.)

Venker’s evidence regarding problems with equality rest on a rather murky foundation and an awkward scare tactic. For example, other causal factors are more likely to explain the difference in evacuation. Because feminism exists, it does not follow that women died on the Costa Concordia as a result. Venker’s ability to thread a causal connection is about as strong as me announcing: “Every time I wash my car it rains the next day.” While that has unfortunately been true, I couldn’t conclude that the act of washing my car caused the rain.

Venker clings to the notion of gender roles and disputes the concept of social construction. Her evidence? “We know little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball.”

This does not prove a “natural tendency.” Who provides these toys?  What happens when a boy plays with a doll?  When a girl kicks a ball?  Are they encouraged? In fact, her example lends itself to the exact position she wishes to strike down, namely the possibility of learned behavior. What one “likes” or gravitates towards can be attributed to environment and condition. Don’t believe me? Pull out your seventh grade school picture, take a look at your stylish outfit and do, and reminisce on what was “cool” at the time (or rad or groovy). Still think environment has nothing to do with what you are drawn to?

For the record, let’s review what is “natural,” shall we?

Thinking, creativity, and the desire to play (be it music, sports, or logic puzzles). These are aspects of the human condition, and to dismiss, stifle, or infringe one’s expression of these is wrong.

To tell any human being they are less than another human being based on the body into which they were born is wrong.

To tell any human being they are destined to serve another human being based on the body into which they were born is wrong.

 

 

* From ‘Mother’s Little Helper’: The Crisis of Psychoanalysis and the Milton Resolution by Jonathan Metzl. “Emphasis on the Valium craze of the 1970s, however, has caused many scholars to overlook the 1950s as a decade in which key links were forged between ‘mothers’ and psychopharmacological medications….Thanks to psychopharmacology, ‘emotional’ problems could be cured simply by visiting a doctor, obtaining a prescription and taking a pill. Invariably, these problems ranged from a woman’s frigidity, to a bride’s uncertainty, to a wife’s infidelity. The predominance of such conditions suggest how psychopharmaceuticals came of age in a post-war consumer culture intimately concerned with the role of mothers in maintaining individual and communal peace of mind. As a result, the 1950s set precedents connecting women and psychopharmaceuticals that lay the foundation for Mother’s Little Helpers in the decades to come.”


Officials Examine Brady’s Balls

Forgive me for the title.  I couldn’t resist.  But seriously…

The way one approaches this latest NFL scandal carves out a nice little gem of an example for one studying Ethical Theory. Notice the particular questions and comments in the news to establish the degree of “wrongness” for deflating the balls below NFL standards.  What makes this action “wrong” in the first place?  Is it merely rule-breaking?  Is it intention?

If you consider the character of sportsmanship to be paramount for determining the action then you might be harnessing Aristotle. Character and disposition matter.  Are the players acting out of proper ambition and for excellence?

IMG_4178

If you turn to the consequences of the action (was there an altered outcome?) then you lean towards a Utilitarian Ethic.  The results of the action determine the rightness or wrongness.  If the action did not cause any harm then the action was not “wrong.”  Did the deflated ball cause the Patriots to win?

IMG_4180

If you find that the principle governing action defines “right” (for example, one must follow regulations) then you most likely favor a Kantian position.  The moral worth of an action hinges on a rational motive that can be universalized regardless of the consequences.

IMG_4181

If you view football as a meaningless endeavor where grown men are paid astronomically to catch a ball and run to a set point while dodging other grown men in the process only to arrive at the other side of the field and then begin the process again but in the opposite direction until a certain time and then again at another date and then again for another season and then again the next year…well, you’re a Nietzschean.

IMG_4179


Morality and The Circle by Dave Eggers

The novel The Circle lays bare the trajectory of our culture’s attitude towards online life. It illustrates both a warning and a reflection. Have we incorporated internet “liking,” posting, and commenting into our conception of “activity”? Is this what it means to be “social”? To communicate?

Imagine a fictional corporate entity resembling a magnified combination of Facebook and Google and there you have Eggers’s The Circle. The underscoring logic of the company, the founders claim, is to promote transparency and thereby a heightened sense of morality.

  • If everyone could be tracked and cameras become ubiquitous (and perpetually provide live streaming) then would anyone ever dare to lie, cheat, and/or steal?
  • And, given the idea that information ought to be free for all, would it be “wrong” to withhold all information including personal information?

These questions posed by the novel compel us to examine what is meant by moral action. Eggers’s work here echoes a sentiment elucidated in Camus’s The Fall (la chute). While it may be true that knowledge of being shadowed would nudge one in the direction of being on one’s best behavior, there is something left to be desired insofar as positing a definitive statement about morality. The concept of the moral agent is reduced to one who acts either for recognition or with fear of consequence.

Camus demonstrated the poverty of this line of reasoning through the character Jean-Baptiste in The Fall. Jean-Baptiste devoted a healthy portion of his day to charitable acts intentionally executed in public. He boasted of offering his seat on the bus for the elderly, for instance. One fateful day when no one was looking and he found himself confronted with a situation to help a woman in dire need he froze. His paralysis haunted him because in that moment he realized his past “good” actions could never testify to his character.

Instead, his character unfolded in the singular moment he failed to act. He fooled himself into believing that acting according to “good custom” granted him moral agent status; however, without rules and an audience the truth of his cowardice emerged.

The ancient Greeks focused on character as the cornerstone to morality. Aristotle in particular argued that excellence attained by habit, practice, and the development of reason led to a fruitful and good life. To act justly and bravely, for example, necessarily includes acting with a right disposition.  That is, the thrust of action must be derived from an authentic desire to be “good” and for its own sake.

Public honor, according to Aristotle, renders an inferior motive because it depends on the view of others whereas genuine “good” action is inherently self-sufficient.  “Good” action originates from the agent rather than an external force.

An important distinction regarding character resides between a person who acts bravely for publicity versus a person who acts bravely for no reason other than it was the right thing to do in the circumstance. Notice the end result may appear the same, namely an act of bravery came to the fore; however, the former feels shallow since the act was a means to another end (public honor) and the latter exudes heroism.

FullSizeRenderOn this point, the fictional leaders behind The Circle miss this mark. In the novel, the possibility of public praise or blame serves as the sole impetus for moral action, a Jean-Baptiste manner of thinking. Attention to the inner life of the individual, paramount for Aristotle, falls by the wayside.

The Circle’s constitution additionally chips away at the notion of character development by inducing a hyper attention to a life lived online which amounts to not really living at all. Hours of an employee’s day must be devoted to commenting and “liking” posts, ultimately replacing time for self-reflection and rumination. If one fails to maintain an online presence they become a pariah.

Consequently, a “self” no longer exists. The Circle absorbs all traces of it. The Circle owns it.

The concept of information sharing warps into a compunction to share one’s point of view on social media. “Information” exceeds our normal understanding of news and seeps into personal experience. When one travels, for instance, The Circle insists that pictures and descriptions be posted. To not do so violates their standard of information sharing.

Followers of the company enthusiastically chant “Privacy is theft!”  Keeping an experience such as a vacation to oneself is to steal from others the opportunity to view one’s photos of a place they might be interested in visiting someday.  Nothing may be kept to oneself. Moreover, to not share amounts to lying on one’s social media profile. Shouldn’t everyone know everyone’s interests and hobbies?

This “Privacy is theft!” mentality blindly embraced by the leaders and followers of The Circle resembles the mind bending claim “2 + 2 =5” from 1984.  Both dystopias usher in slogans countering the readers’ sense of normalcy.  But, as I stated at the beginning, Eggers’s book not only warns.  It reflects.  Where are the lines between private and public life blurring and how much of a role are we playing (willingly)?

The irony of posting a review about The Circle is not lost on me.  Have I succumbed to the trappings of The Circle?  I patiently await your comments :)

 

 


Bookworm Faces (Nearly) Impossible Request

An impossible question was posed to me via Facebook: What are the top ten books that have made an impact on you?

You mean just ten books?  Mental scrambles. Head scratching. Seeks coffee.

For me, the impact of a book and/or author is rooted in the following:

1) Do I feel more connected to the world?

2) Is my world view broadened by this book?, and

3) Have I been intellectually challenged and invigorated?

 

I settled on this list:

  • Force of Circumstance, by Simone de Beauvoir
  • The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt
  • The Apology, by Plato
  • The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi
  • The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie (I am a mystery buff after all!)
  • The Doll, by Boleslaw Prus
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

But, of course, I threw my hands up because there are so many more wonderful authors who should be included!  Here are my honorable mentions:

  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Aristotle
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Nelson Mandela
  • George Eliot
  • Jane Austen
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Roberston Davies
  • Zadie Smith

What books have made a great impact on you?

 


5 Zingers from Socrates

*Daily Prompt

In the spirit of preparing my syllabi for upcoming philosophy courses, I’ve decided to tip my hat to the Greek master of backhanded compliments: Socrates.

1. Socrates to the young lawyer Euthyphro:

“Dear friend, that is the reason why I desire to be your disciple. For I observe that no one, not even Meletus, appears to notice you; but his sharp eyes have found me out at once, and he has indicted me for piety. And therefore, I adjure you to tell me the nature of piety and impiety….I cannot do better than to assent to your superior wisdom.”

Translation: The more you nod your head yes to being called “wise,” the more foolish you look.  I see it.  Everyone sees it.  Will you see it?  I’m actually the teacher in this scenario.

 

2. After the prosecution has rested their case:

“How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was—such was the effect of them…”

Translation: My, what an active imagination you have, dear lawyers!  Your ability to weave a fiction is uncanny!  You clearly don’t have a case.

 

3. Regarding poets:

“I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise.”

Translation: Please stick to what you know.

 

4. Socratic Method is good for you:

“While I have strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?”

Translation: You’re quite shallow for having come from such a magnificent city and tradition.

 

5. Final Request Before Dying:

“When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when really they are nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.”

Translation: Act justly by preventing my sons from becoming morons, like you. Cheers.

Quotes from Euthyphro and The Apology.

Quotes from Euthyphro and The Apology.


Unblocking

*Daily Prompt

Composes email to journal. Attaches file. Hits “send.”

A momentary sense of relief sets in upon the completion of a written work. This is usually followed with deep breaths and a generous serving of Pinot Noir. But then the next day arrives and an inkling of unease snakes into my thinking:

“Now what am I going to write? That was it! I am out of ideas! I’m done. Oh no! I’ve got nothing.”

A second serving of wine will not suffice; instead I go for an extra dirty martini.

For me, writer’s block has been nothing more than an appealing way to describe mental paralysis brought on by my own anxiety. When you stop to ruminate on the wondrous thing that is writing, it’s quite astonishing. Ideas that exist only in the mind and do not occupy space needle your physical self to move your fingers and usher those ideas into the physical world. On paper or on the computer, ideas that only the thinker was privy to, become object. Your mental activity suddenly emerges as something to be seen or heard. The beauty of this act of creation also spurs anxiety because in writing, one actively unveils the contents of the mind.

While writing and thinking are primarily solitary affairs there remains the crucial component of sharing this work. Inevitably, a reader (or readers) need to come into the picture. “What will they think of what I think?” Leading with that question cloaked in fear, I’ve learned, only launches a bout of writer’s block. Here are some steps I take to diffuse the anxiety:

  1. Stepping away for a while allows for the mind to re-boot. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what is more challenging, forcing myself to stop writing or forcing myself to write. I have found that when I overcome the guilt of not writing for a few days I tend to return to my laptop fresh and ready to start.
  2. I make it a point to visit interesting places.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

    Yours truly at Huntington Library, Pasadena: Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.

  3. After taking time off, if I’m still at a loss for ideas I resolve to sit down and write whatever is in my head without editing. I’ve eloquently nicknamed this my “brain vomit sessions.” There will be pages and pages of non-sense before a gem of an idea presents itself. I’ve accepted it is okay to unleash paragraphs of ramblings because that is simply part of the writing process.

The best of the worst of my doozies from brain vomit sessions (I sincerely hope this makes you feel better about your own writing woes):

Reasons I Envy My Cat

Things Said At CrossFit That Would Be Awkward In Any Other Context

Chubby Introverted Atheist Growing Up In Catholic School: A Memoir

Mary Wollstoncraft Meets Ladies for Tea

Socrates Decides to Chat With The Oracle at Delphi Himself

  1. I read more and with a notebook handy to write down any interesting word or phrases. After compiling my list I work out sentences with them. Sometimes toying with a word rather than scrambling for a big idea unlocks the block.

    photo-29 copy 2

    Unfortunately this little beast often interferes!

  2. Most importantly, when anxiety encroaches on my writing time I stop and journal about why I write in the first place. Without fail, I end up at the same conclusion: I write to improve myself and to understand the world. The more honest I am with that sentiment, the less afraid I am of embarking on another writing project.

Some inspiration:

Sue Grafton: “Seriously: I write because it’s all I know how to do. Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing whether the work is going well or I’m stuck in the hell of writer’s block, which I’m happy to report only occurs about once a day.”

Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be.”

Simone de Beauvoir: “I got the desire to write very young….The meaning of this project was to make the world my own, to show my life as freely recreated by me.”

Bryan Magee: “I have written several of my books because I wanted to master a subject: producing a book about it was the best, if not the only, way I could force myself to work really hard and systematically at it over a long period of time. I can sit and think for a while, but not for months on end—unless I write.”


Are You A Book Addict?

*This post is inspired by “12 Signs You’re Addicted to Reading” on 101 Books.

Here are 12 more indicators of book addiction:

  1. You have a book bucket list.  It never really gets shorter, only longer.
  2. There are books in every room of your home instead of televisions.
  3. There is no such thing as a partially used or unused Barnes and Noble gift card in your possession.  In fact, when gifted it is most likely spent within a week.
  4. You’ve tweeted a #shelfie.  You object to shelfie being underlined in red by the computer as a misspelling .

    #shelfie

    #shelfie

  5. If you read a book based on someone’s recommendation and love the book that person becomes an instant BFF.
  6. You facepalm when someone announces they liked Twilight.  Don’t blame yourself.  It’s practically an involuntary reflex.
  7. Scouting out bookstores on vacation is a must.
  8. Hunger poses an irritating interruption during a reading binge.  You’ve most likely grabbed food and brought it back to your reading space.  You shouldn’t be judged for bits of crumbs on your shirt and surrounding area.
  9. When people come to you for book suggestions you can match a book to their interest and personality.
  10. Your version of a gossip magazine is a biography.
  11. You feel compelled to tell everyone about the book you are reading and only notice about 20 minutes in that you’re giving a lecture and not engaged in a conversation.
  12. This is your purse.  Well, it’s mine.

    photo-29 copy

    My everywhere-I-go-bag.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 376 other followers

%d bloggers like this: