Monday, April 24, 2006

More Milestones: Eureka!

So, Mr. Big (ahem) discovered himself today.

Between watching this happen, mid diaper change and again later during his bath, (it looked like he must have been hurting himself!), reading Why Gender Matters, and my most recent discovery via the New York Times (yeah, I'm out of the loop), I am learning a lot about men.

I finally finished Why Gender Matters last week. It was fascinating and I recommend it to anyone who deals with kids in any way. He is definitely an advocate of treating kids differently based on their sex because he believes that "gender" is far from socially constructed. One important consequence of the "gender-neutral" pedagogy of the last 20 or 30 years has been, in his opinion, a relaxing of a cultural understanding of what it means to be men and women as adults (he has a very developed explanation for this which I recommend but cannot reiterate here). We have few areas in which boys are ever at male-only events or vice versa because we have put faith in the notion of a gender-neutral society. He feels we have severely failed kids in this way. Boys are never in a male-only arena and thus, don't learn from their elders in a way that used to be common in our society (and vice versa). As a result, kids grow up not knowing how to behave like "real" men and women. So, they attempt to approximate it in, as it turns out, perverse ways. In the book, Sax documents the increasing regularity of teenage sex at ever younger years. He discusses studies which have documented a change in teenage culture in which kids no longer "date" but hook up and/or consider oral sex to be what "first base" once was.

Couple this with TuckerMax (who, by the way, I read voraciously this past weekend). His exploits describe the perverse alpha male that Sax warns us about. I am not taking a stance on TuckerMax here. He is smart, lives by his own rules, writes decently (however repetitive his antics become) and although he says he doesn't hate women, I can't quite figure out what he's doing or what he's looking for (although he states it quite bluntly: nonmonogamy whilst bearing at least five children with a 'four-star' woman who is willing to breast feed as it boosts IQ points by 10-15). What I'm concerned about is, how realistic is his MTV-hyped world and is this the world we're sending our kids into?


The Lost Camel said...

People find a sense of security in meeting well defined expectations. This is one reason organized religion finds such devoted followers, especially conservative Christianity.

Does anyone consider that gender-specific expectations help children develop not because they are gender-specific but because they are simply very strong, well defined social expectations? As society moves toward gender neutrality it is dropping expectations that clearly defined one aspect of every person's life and not replacing them with any social expectation that is nearly as strong or well-defined. What may be causing problems may not have anything to do with gender. When men had their clubs and women had theirs, each person at least had a "club" and there were predefined ideas about where a person belonged and what was expected of them. Now, the waters are a little muddied and when that happens there is bound to be insecurity.

giddings said...

I think that's right. I once heard a story (maybe it's an urban myth) where people studied the effect of boundaries on kids. One set of kids had a yard which was surrounded by a fence. The other set of kids faced no fence. That is, they were allowed to go where they wanted. Turns out (at least as this story goes) that the kids with the fence explored every inch of the yard up to the fence. The kids without the fence didn't leave the porch. I guess I'm with Marx in your Christianity allegory: religion is the opiate of the masses and, as I always say, Smoke Up, Masses!

I feel very similar about gender roles more generally. As an institutionalist economist, I think they offer us a map on how to behave when there are no rational methods of decision making. Of course, I'd rather we create gender roles that don't delimit behavior, but increase efficiency.

Anonymous said...

I know I am a FTM when I was 10 (I think even earlier, but i have the idea of surgery when i was 10). I felt pretty lucky now nobody ever tried to put me through a "all-female" party and teach me how to behave like a woman.But that's just me.

giddings said...

Hi Anonymous and thank you so much for your post. I should (have) prefaced this entire conversation by saying that strict enforcement of gender roles is, of course, ridiculous. I think that Leonard Sax would agree. I think, for me, we have to allow for individual choice in any and all realms. Further, I am a strong believer that gender is at least more of a continuous variable than sex (and, obviously sex is not even dichotomous). HOWEVER, having said that, I do think that gender roles (losely defined, culturally transmitted and given the ability to change over time and space) do give us some convenient rules to guide behavior. This is not to say that we should have girls toys and boys toys (a tip of the hat to the Elf Princess out there). This is only to say that if you happen to have a boy that prefers boys toys or a girl (as we definitely do) that prefers girls toys, that it won't do to force them to be any different. In the same way that you should not have been forced to behave more "womanly" (whatever that means). I am personally not a FTM, but about as close as you can get while still remaining (somewhat) comfortable in a woman's skin. (There are times though, especially while running, that I've definitely considered it!).