Archives for June 2010
The End of Men II
This blog continues my discussion of Rosin’s article “The End of Men.”
Rosin’s next step is to consider the nature of the current, “postindustrial” economy. She argues that this economy favors women. The basis for her case is that the male’s advantages in size and strength do not provide an edge in this new economy, rather social skills (such as communication) and the ability to “sit still and focus” are the dominant skills. While women do not have a monopoly on these traits, she does consider that these attributes might be held predominantly by women.
Interestingly enough, her view rests on the classic stereotypes: men are strong and woman are social. Of course, when women were regarded as the weaker sex because of this difference, feminists argued that these were unjust stereotypes. However, now that these traits are advantageous, they are lauded. One might infer that the rule is that stereotyping is acceptable, provided that it stereotypes men as being at a disadvantage and women as being superior. Naturally, the reverse of this is still to be regarded as unacceptable.
Those who are rather against stereotyping might point out that this approach is still stereotyping and be critical of such an approach. Also, those who were concerned about how women fared poorly in the past economies should now be concerned about the situation faced by men. If the plight of women in the past was a bad thing, then the comparable plight of men today should also be a bad thing. However, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency to laud the “fall of men” and there seems to be, at best, modest concern for the plight of men.
In fact, as Rosin points out, there is a tendency to blame men for the current woes. She cites Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardotti’s expressed desire to put an end to the “age of testosterone.” While this probably involves the usual political rhetoric, comparable attacks on women would no doubt be seen as sexist and hateful. However, consistency requires that what is hateful for one sex should also be hateful when applied to the other.
Following the standard approach, Rosin notes that although women have made significant advances and dominate higher education, they still fall behind men in wages. However, she is quick to point out that this is changing and that the “modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.”
While Rosin might be right, it is also possible that her prediction is mistaken. While the male dominated aspects of the economy have slumped badly, it is risky to make predictions from this situation. After all, the economy might very well shift again during the course of the recovery. As such, the plight of men might not be as dire as she predicts. That said, the general trends do seem to favor women over men.
To be specific, the current prediction is that there are 15 jobs that are likely to experience the most growth. As Rosin notes, only two (janitor and computer engineer) are currently male dominated. The other 13 jobs are dominated by women and, ironically, consist of traditional female jobs such as nursing, child care and food preparation. As Rosin notes, while women have expanded into jobs traditionally held by men, the reverse has generally not occurred-at least not yet. Some, such as Jessica Grose, have claimed that men seem to be stuck in their roles and are largely unable to adapt to the changes.
Rosin and Grose seem to be fairly accurate in this point: while women face cultural obstacles when entering fields traditionally dominated by men, men seem to face even greater obstacles. One difference is that the obstacles men face seem to be internal. That is, men are not being excluded by external forces but by their own decisions not to enter such fields. For example, there have been significant attempts to recruit men into the field of nursing, but men seem to be largely reluctant to enter that field.
If this analysis is correct, then men largely have themselves to blame for this aspect of the situation. If men could adapt as women did and enter non-traditional roles, then this would counter (to some degree) the new gender gap. Making such a conceptual switch would require redefining what it is to be a man, much as women went through a conceptual change when they began entering male dominated fields.
Men might be able to do this and, in fact, might be forced to do so by the realities of the new economy. While it might be unmanly to work in childcare, it might be seen as less unmanly than being unemployed.
The End of Men I
Hanna Rosin recently wrote a provocative article entitled “The End of Men” for the Atlantic. Being a philosopher and a man, I thought it would be interesting to critique the essay. Hence, the following critique.
Rosin begins her article discussing Ronald Ericsson, the biologist who developed a means to increase the likelihood that a specific sex could be selected by parents when using artificial means of reproduction.
Not surprisingly, some feminists were rather concerned about this method. As Rosin notes, Roberta Steinbacher expressed worries that this method would be used to ensure male dominance. However, this did not turn out to be the case. The data is that parents now select girls to boys at a 2 to 1 ratio. A newer method, called MicroSort, apparently is used to select girls 75% of the time, at least in clinical trials (which might conceivably influence the results).
Interesting enough, the feminists who were so concerned when they thought Ericsson’s methods would be used to perpetuate male dominance seem to be rather silent. Perhaps this is because they are less worried about such methods in general. Or perhaps it is because the current situation favors females over males. However, speculation about motives is not my primary concern here. Rather, it seems more important to consider if the earlier feminist arguments against using the methods to produce more males can be used today to argue against these methods being used to produce more females. If so and if the arguments from then are strong, then they could be pressed into service today. In any case, it does seem reasonable to be concerned when one sex seems to be getting a leg up over the other. Of even greater concern is the future social implications if the ratio of women to men changes significantly. While this might be beneficial in some ways, there could also be negative consequences that should be considered.
That said, the available selection methods do not work in “natural” reproduction-the ratio of males to females remains the same. Since most reproduction is “natural”, the impact on the population as a whole should be fairly minimal. However, the preferences for females is an interesting change. As Rosin points out, sons have been generally preferred over daughters throughout history.
However, as the title of her essay suggests, this has changed. As she points out, the world is less male dominated now and the preference for sons has diminished. In fact, she claims that the situation is now reversed: there is a preference now for daughters over sons.
Like other thinkers before her, she then turns to considering factors that might be contributing to this change. One option she considers is that women have an advantage in the current economic system.
As I have discussed in earlier blogs of my own, one reason for the change is that the economic meltdown damaged male-dominated industries more heavily than those dominated by women. This, of course, does not entail that women will thus continue to do better than men. After all, these industries might recover and thus swing things back towards the way they were. However, Rosin contends that this shift is not merely a a matter of a temporary economic disaster. Rather, she contends that there is a real and lasting change in the economy and one that is very much in favor of women. This is, of course, an empirical matter and will be settled by the passage of time.
In any case, Rosin is correct to point out that women have become the majority in higher education. For example, for every two men who earn a B.A. or B.S. there are three women. This, obviously enough, will translate into greater employment and economic opportunities for women. After all, education is generally key to getting a job and also a significant factor in the salary of jobs.
As I have pointed out in previous blogs and my book, it is interesting that the feminists who were concerned when men dominated education seem to be rather silent now that men are the minority. Of course, as I have argued before, the same arguments that feminists used in the past in this context can be dusted off and modified a bit to argue that we are in a situation of unjust inequality.
Interestingly, when Rosin was being interviewed on the Colbert Report, Colbert asked her if the affirmative action programs for women would be discontinued. I think this is an excellent question. After all, if women are dominated education and so on, there hardly seems to be any need to maintain programs that were intended (in theory)to bring about equality. After all, they have done that and, in fact, have helped swing the inequality the other way.
While it might be argued that the programs are still needed to keep things from sliding back, that would seem to be more of an excuse to keep a system that favors women in place. While closing these programs would probably result in some shift back towards men, women seem to have taken a commanding enough lead to make such programs unnecessary. In fact, there seems to now be a need for programs for men. If an argument is needed, it is easy enough to go back to when men dominated education and dig up the arguments the feminists used to argue for these very successful programs for women.
Being both an athlete and a gamer I find the idea of a more active way to play video games interesting. Then again, I must admit, I often find the actual implementations a bit silly.
One of the latest attempts in this field is Microsoft’s Kinect. I gather that this clever name is derived from “kinetic” and because it sounds like “connect.” At the very least this shows that Microsoft has advanced in its naming methodology since the days of Bob. The gist of this system is that it allows gamers to control the game play via body movements. These are, of course, body movements other than using a standard controller. For example, a player might move her arm to swing a sword or move her legs to move her character in a game.
Since I am in favor of exercise, I think that almost anything that would get people to be more active would be a good thing. Using a system like Kinect would get the player to move more than he would using a normal controller. Of course, this would provide less exercise than actually doing exercise (like running or going for a real walk). But at least the gamer would be off the couch. Assuming, of course, that people actually decide to buy and use Kinect.
There have been various attempts to combine actual physical activity with video game play. These, as you might imagine, generally did not make it into most living rooms. One reason is that people often prefer not to sweat when playing video games. Another reason is that gamers are generally not the sorts of people who are into exercise and people who exercise obviously already do so. As such, it is not clear that there is a substantial market for this sort of technology.
In my own case, about the only thing that would motivate me to buy a Kinect device would be if some truly awesome video game came out that required this. Otherwise I’m content to get my exercise the old fashioned way and to play video games in the traditional manner (my hands on the controller and my ass in a chair).
One minor concern I have about such systems is that they seem to provide the illusion of exercise. For example, consider the Wii system. The Wii controllers were touted by some as a way to be physically active while playing video games. The idea was that players would swing the controller ferociously when sword fighting or swing it like a real club when playing a golf game. However, moving a little plastic stick around is not much exercise. Also, the controller also produces the same results via rather small motions. That is, you can play Wii in the traditional manner (hand on the controller, ass in the chair).
I do think that the sort of user interface being developed by Kinect does have some potential. After all, manipulating virtual objects with natural motions is…well, natural. Also, think of the really advanced user interfaces shown in some science fiction-the user interacts without a mouse or keyboard by using gestures and by manipulating virtual objects by “touch.” While this is currently being presented as a gaming technology, it might become part of a much more general user interface. For example, imagine never losing a remote again because you can control your TV by hand gestures. You would gesture to call up a virtual remote, then manipulate it from across the room. This would allow you to watch TV in the traditional manner (ass on the couch) and you would never have to get up and look for the remote.
Of course, this technology won’t get really cool until Apple starts developing it. No doubt it will be called iTouch or something equally “i” related.
Got them track blues…
zombies on the track, they wander but don’t attack…
fools playing chicken, their brains they need to quicken…
no place to pee, water fountains I can’t reach but can only see….
Got them track blues, baby.
While I love to run, I generally do not like running on tracks. While they are easy on the legs, running around and around can be a bit dull. Plus, they tend to be wicked hot in the summer. But, what makes tracks the most annoying is what people do.
The most annoying people on the track are those I call the Chicken Players. These are the folks who seem intent to play chicken with people who are running. For example, I was doing mile repeats on a high school track and some ROTC or army folks showed up to do some PT test. I have nothing against army folk, especially since I have friends who are in the military. However, the person in charge made a point of stepping out into the first lane every time I came around the track. He would look at me, so I knew that he was well aware I was doing speed work. Just to be clear, neither he nor his soldiers were using the track (aside from stepping out onto it). As such, there was no legitimate reason for him to do that repeatedly.
Perhaps the second most annoying people are what I call the Lane One Zombies. By track law and tradition, the inner lanes are for people who are actually running. The outer lanes are for walking and jogging. Despite the fact that many tracks have these rules clearly posted, there always seem to be folks who simply must simply stand in the first lane. Or stretch there. Or wander into the lane while I’m doing speed work. Since they seem oblivious and zombie-like, I call them Lane One Zombies. I’m not mean about it though.
A third annoying thing is that people lock up the bathrooms and even lock the water fountains behind fences. I can understand why track facilities are locked up at night, but it is painful to gaze at water fountains through a chain link fence while I am sweating and hot. While I do bring water with me, it does tend to get rather hot quickly in the summer (I generally run to tracks).
Speaking of hot water, I’ve noticed that track water fountains tend to be cruelly deceptive-they often look like the fountains that produce ice cold water, but turn out to just produce water warm enough for noon tea. Interestingly, the facilities for more prestigious sports tend to have nice, cold water fountains. I assume that this is because runners are deemed to be unworthy of cool water.
The least annoying of the annoyances is when people are doing things on the track that are not really track related. These typically involve people from other sports doing some sort of leaping or hopping exercises on the track that could (and should) be done on their own field. Of course, I am just grumpy about this because runners often get run off other sports’ fields-even when those fields are not in use.
“Get off my track, you damn kids!”
The State & Discrimination
One rather important subject is the role that the state should play in regards to discrimination. Put roughly, this is a question about the extent of the scope of the state’s power to regulate citizens.
I will be begin with the obvious: the state certainly seems to have an obligation to prevent discrimination in agencies and organizations that are under its direct dominion. This would include the military as well as civilian organizations like NASA and ESA. The basis for this is that a democratic state founded on a principle of equality seems to be obligated to provide equal opportunity to its citizens. To exclude certain citizens on illegitimate grounds would be to rob them of the rights of other citizens in an unjust manner and this would, obviously enough, be wrong.
Moving to a bit less obvious realm, there is the public realm that is not directly part of the state. This would include private schools, private companies, other business entities and so on. On one hand, it could be argued that private entities should be able to exclude whoever they wish. For example, female only gyms should be allowed to legally exclude men (which they, in fact, do). On the other hand, even private entities enjoy the benefits of the state and are under its umbrella, so to speak. As such, if they accept the benefits of the state, then they cannot discriminate against the citizens of the state.
Of course, a private entity could refuse all the goods of the state and this would presumably allow them to discriminate. In short, they would withdraw from the public realm and into the purely private and personal realm. Of course, they would have to refuse everything-road access, police & fire protection, and so on. In fact, they would actually have to leave the state. But then they would be free to do as they wished.
One area where the state seems to have no right to intrude is in the case of purely personal, private relationships. To use an obvious example, a beautiful woman might refuse to date poor or ugly men. She might even refuse to date black men, white men or Jews. While this would be discrimination, this is entirely within the realm of her private, personal life. As such, the state has no business being involved. Of course, buying into this principle would also involve accepting that many existing laws that limit private behavior would need to be repealed.
Of course, the border between the personal and the public can be debated. For example, suppose that the woman mentioned above runs her own escort service. While she can freely refuse to date ugly men, black men, white men, or Jews does she have the right to refuse a client simply because he his ugly, black, white or a Jew? On the face of it, she would be acting in the public realm (in a business context). As such, she would no longer be operating within the realm of the purely private and personal.
However, some folks do argue that businesses should be largely left alone by the state. In a true free market economy, one might argue, the business realm would be a private matter (they do not call it “private sector” for nothing). As such, businesses could elect to refuse to do business with or hire certain people. Those who are fond of a totally free market but who are not so keen on discrimination would probably argue that discriminatory businesses would be sorted out by the invisible hand. After all, they would be denying themselves customers and employees. There is also the matter of the impact of such policies on the reputation of the business.
In light of the above discussion, one key matter that must be settled is the border between the public and the private. After all, the state seems to have far less right to intrude into private matters.