Tuesday, February 24

Moral Wrongs or Societal Ills

Unwed motherhood seems to be the bane of our nation because it combines the moral failing of premarital sex and supposed root cause of delinquent childhood. I say 'supposed cause of delinquent childhood' because I am unconvinced. Certainly there are plenty of statistics that point to the correlation between single parent homes and a failure to thrive in children.

These kids do poorly in school, they engage in risky behaviors and commit crime. I'm inclined to believe that this has less to do with the marital state of the mother are much more to do with the financial state of the mother (present and future). It is the financial state of the mother that determines what neighborhood they live in, what school they attend, what daycare center they use, how frequently they see a doctor, and what sorts of extra curricular activities they can participate in. That single mothers are more likely to be poor is not an argument against single motherhood per se, but an argument against a society where caregivers are undervalued and herded out of the workforce.

The idea that single mothers are more likely to be poor due to some connection between their fallen state and their wallet is wrongheaded at best. First not all single mothers (parents, really) are ones that engaged in extra-marital sex. Divorce, death, and rape are all reasons why the 'righteous' may find themselves raising a child on their own. These parents at not excused from poverty due to their righteousness. Also, there are several financially successful single parents, who got their children either through adoption, IVF, or good ol' fashioned premarital sex. These parents aren't poor despite the unrighteousness of their behavior- and these parents have children that are likely to thrive.

And so it is that I can believe that a moral wrong, in this case extra marital sex, is not necessarily a social ill, and does not need to be regulation for our benefit. Governments and responsible parties should be involved in determining the actual causes of social ills (poverty), correcting those causes (helping single parents obtain gainful employment), and abstaining from moralizing the issue.

Saturday, February 21

Why Gendered Language Matters

Ads for Italian clothes designer Relish depict Rio de Janeiro police assaulting women (who are wearing fashionable shoes, that you want to buy. Really!). Officials in Rio are bothered by the ads, even trying to have them removed, though mostly because it tarnishes the reputation of the police force and the community.

In discussions of these ads women have described showing these ads to male friends and relatives who are bothered by the ads, but like the officials in Rio, are more bothered that it makes the police look like bad guys than by the sexual assaults depicted.

It seems clear to me that when these men look at these ads they identify with the police, and see *themselves* being implicated. When someone accuses you of a mugging, you probably care more about proving your own innocence than you do about the victim's lost his money or mental trauma.

At first I was inclined to say that at least we all agree that such behavior is unacceptable, especially from the police who are supposed to be a source of protection from this very sort of behavior. But as I thought about it I started dwelling on the idea that supposedly progressive pro-feminist men were looking at these ads and completely incapable of seeing how the sexualization of violence is the real issue because they were so hung up on defending the police and by extension themselves.

So here's the thing. There is no reason that men shouldn't be able to look at this ad and identify with the women and not the police. However boys do not read books about girls the same way girls read books about boys. Girls hear 'men' and train themselves to assume that they are included. Boys do not do the same. Groups of girls are called guys. Groups of boys are not called gals. All of these things conspire in the lives of men to stunt their ability to identify with a woman, or female character-- even for the five seconds it takes to look at this ad and imagine themselves being so brutalized by the police.

Wednesday, February 18

Turning the hearts of the children

I did not grow up in a feminist household. My parents (read: Dad) are strict conservatives, and would likely even call themselves anti-feminist. But while they may not call themselves feminist, something has definitely changed.

When I was in high school my parents were called to serve in the stake family history center. Their advanced age, lack of young children and my dad's moderate computer skills were big selling points and they remained in that calling for several years. In the time since then my dad has thrown himself into his family history with great gusto. After retirement he started spending 2-5 hours daily doing family history research.

Because he spends so much time working on it, family history is his favorite topic of conversation these days. In the past few months especially I've really noticed a trend, I would come home from visits to my parents house with stories about awesome women (women I'm related to!), and kept thinking to myself "I've gotta write a post about that!" Now, surely I have just as many male relatives as I do female relatives, but dad doesn't tell stories about them. This could be for several reasons; maybe the men in my family history are a very mediocre bunch, perhaps since women's lives were so constricted the awesomeness threshold is much lower for women, or perhaps my dad focuses on the women more than the men.

I think it all started because my dad prides himself on being thorough and meticulous. He likes getting *every* piece of information that he can. And due to the practice of women taking their husband's name, finding information about women is difficult. So in order to find out everything he had to do a great deal of research about individual women, and he's come to empathize with them.

Just the last time I was home he was talking about a particular woman whose name he was looking for, and he had nothing to go on. Even her gravestone called her 'Mrs. John Doe.' About which my dad exclaimed "That was a person for crying out loud! It's like she didn't even exist."

He also talked about how awful it must have been to have 11 kids in 11 years. Then we got to talking about insane asylums, and how women were put there whether they were insane or not, and how the definition of insane for women was "isn't happy about having 11 kids in 11 years."

All of this has softened his stance on women having jobs, how many kids they should have, and how society still doesn't do right by women. My dad's heart has turned, but not to his fathers; his heart has turned to his mothers.

Tuesday, February 3

Illustrative graphs

Long title: How to get girls to stop worrying so much about how they look.

Let's assume that for an individual 'Z' we can graph the compatibility of some number of potential mates on a graph with two axes. The X axis represents physical compatibility, and Y axis well call mental compatibility though in truth it represents all qualities that are not physically visible, such as intelligence, humor, spirituality etc.[1] Since this is all theoretical and not based on any actual measurements we can assume that compatibility is an absolute value, which is to say that the more compatible you are with someone, the happier you will be.

Now lets also assume that there is a minimum level of compatibility that you must have to maintain a successful marriage. Those in sectors 1, 3, and 4 are incompatible in some fashion and should not be pursued as a potential spouse. Whereas those in sector 2 are all good matches.

The way to maximize compatibility is to approach those in sector 2 in order of decreasing compatibility, based on some balance of the importance of the two axes. Here are two examples, one skewed towards mental qualities and one skewed towards physical qualities.

Before moving on let me restate that this is strictly addressing orders of approach. Also any person in sector 2 is someone our approacher, Z, would be happy with. Alright Here is the thing, humans are not psychic and have a limited capacity for looking at a person and knowing whether or not they would be mentally compatible. So we have to deal with the reality that all human patterns of approach are going to skew towards the physical, sometimes extremely so. This means that Z will be approaching people in sectors 2 and 4 equally.

Up until this point we've been talking about Z, and what would make Z happiest in a marriage. Now lets look for a moment at someone on the graph, who we'll call Q. Q knows Z and wants to date Z. If Q must wait for Z's approach then the best way for Q to speed up the process is to move up in the order of approach. Q must make itself more attractive to Z. If Q is already in sector 2, then the question is what is the best area for Q to focus on, mental or physical?

If Q improves mentally, then there is no advantage gained for a physically skewed approach by Z.

If Q improves physically, then a clear advantage is gained.

Now is also a good time to point out that if Q has to wait for Z to approach then Q is in 'competition' with the other people on the graph even if those people have no interest in Z. The only way for Q to move up in the order of approach is to be more attractive (esp physically) than the other people on the graph. Lastly, as I said before humans are not psychic and Q cannot know what Z will find more attractive, and so Q looks to popular culture, and other people to guess what Z might like.

Now lets talk about boys and girls, and how what I've been describing here influences the behavior of boys and girls. In our culture girls do not traditionally ask boys out. Which means that girls, more often than boys find themselves in Q's position. This causes girls, more than boys, to view other girls as competition, and to rate themselves against each other. It also means that, if a girl's goal is to have a relationship than the best use of her (finite) time is to have just enough mental qualities to be in sector 2, while being the most physically attractive girl around.

I believe that this is also what leads girls to obsess about what boys find attractive. Since girls don't actually know they have to guess, and are never certain and can never be comfortable that they've done enough. I also think, that since boys are so rarely in Q's position they are blissfully unaware of the dynamics at play here.

So what is my solution? Girls and Boys should feel equally free to approach each other romantically. Because in a society where girls must wait to be approached, while at the same time are told that marriage is a vital part of their lives and worth as a person then the best use of a girl's time is not in improving herself overall, but in focusing her attention on how she looks.

[1] I'd like to reiterate that these are compatibility ratings, and are subjective and personal. Which is to say that someone who may rank low on the physical or mental axis is not necessarily ugly, or stupid. They might be ugly or stupid, but it may just indicate incompatibility with the particular person on whom the graph is based.