Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Well, I don't seem to be getting much work done today, do I?

(Actually, I've had an astonishing amount of down time today for one reason only: the trading system is incredibly slow today for some reason, so all the analyses I've been doing of various risks in our portfolio have been calc-ing . . . and calc-ing . . . and calc-ing . . . and then there's a core dump and I start over. Incredibly annoying, but it has given me a bunch of time to blog.)

Anyhow, I wanted to weigh in on a topic having nothing to do with The War or The Situation (if you can believe it). Glenn Reynolds weighed in today on a topic of some personal interest: why there are more women getting college degrees than men. His theory: college has been systematically feminized, and so men are, at the margins, more reluctant to enter what he describes as a hostile environment.

I think he has a point. But we can broaden it a bit. Much of modern society is more feminized that it ever has been. Many of us masculine types work in fields that are far more congenial to women than they ever have been in the past, and far less congenial to men than they ever have been - for reasons that have nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with the decline of manual labor and the rise of a service economy. But if I were to look for educational causes for the dearth of male college students, I'd look to high school and grade school, not to college. I bet you'd find more male high-school drop outs than female, and more boys in remedial ed than girls. (Also, you'll find more college-age men in prison than college-age women. I don't think this is a statistically insignificant factor.) Is any of this new? I'm not sure. We don't really have a good historical control, because until very recently, (a) women had been practically excluded from much of the workforce, which had a major impact on their propensity to go to college; (b) women were excluded from most colleges; (c) most people didn't go to college. So it's really hard to know if anything is it work but the unleashing of the natural female genius. Let me make an analogy: what is the proportion of Jews in universities today. Proportionate to their population? Or disproportionate? If the latter, is that evidence that colleges have become relatively biased against Christians? I didn't think so.

But I wanted to touch on another assumption of Glenn's (the blogosphere seems to be on a first-name basis with itself, so I guess I will be, too): that the insanity of contemporary sexual harrassment policy has somehow discriminated against men. The implicit notion is that the proper code of conduct in college is: let the partygoer beware. Boys will be boys, and if girls want to play with the boys they should be free to do so and shouldn't go crying to the Administration (or their lawyers) if they wake up in the wrong bed with very little on. I strongly reject this premise.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the folks who are angry about the biases in our current sexual code of conduct - and they are biased against men - are apologists for date rape. Indeed, they correctly assert that the radical feminist notion that all men are rapists shields the real rapists and thereby harms more women than it helps. Moreover, it gives power to precisely those women who are least responsible and provides the least protection to those women who are most likely to be truly victimized: the naive, the shy, the insecure.

And let me also be clear that I am not some prude who thinks that all premarital sexual activity is evil or that college men and women are children who need to be protected by the university from their own impulses. But I do think that the social organism embodies a moral message - necessarily. And I do not like the message of "no morning-after regrets" any more than I like the message, "women always tell the truth and men are always liars."

But I nonetheless think that the campus sexual libertarians are sending a terrible message to men and women who are supposedly in college at least in part to figure out what they believe, what their values are, what they think is a good life. They are trying to figure out what it means to be a man, or a woman. And I don't think the message should be limited to: whatever guys. You figure it out.

When I was an undergraduate, I did a stint as a rape-crisis counsellor. Now, being a human of the masculine persuasion, I was only permitted to do a fairly limited set of tasks. After all, it's not many women calling a rape-crisis line who want to talk to a man. So, most of what I did was talk to high-school groups, trying to "educate" them about the "issues" involved. And what I noticed was, we didn't have much useful to say to guys. We could tell them they were evil potential rapists, but (a) that wasn't true, and (b) even if it were true, it would be a totally useless thing to say. We mostly took a legal tack: listen guys, women can sue you and ruin your life if you take advantage of them. So don't. And if you're not sure she's cool with what you're doing, ask. And if you're still not sure, don't do it. Guys would listen to this, but they wouldn't buy in; instead, they just resented the assertion that they were now powerless before a biased and irrational justice system.

What these boys needed to hear was not about how awful they were or about how awful the legal system is. What they needed to hear about was how to be men, and how men treat women. And that isn't a language that we're willing to use today, not often.

Being a man is fundamentally about mastery. A weak man tries to master those weaker than himself: he abuses women, dominates his children, picks on smaller boys. He's a bully, and real men should despise such a person. A stronger man tries to master those who are a match for him - or stronger. He tries to win at competitions, test himself against other men. And he does so fairly, in a sportsmanlike manner, because there is no honor in cheating. But a truly strong man tries to master himself. We are pretty consistent about telling our young people not to pick on those weaker than themselves, and we send strong cultural messages in favor of competition (however much the P.C. crowd tries to stifle them). But we do not send out a strong cultural message in favor of self-mastery; far from it. And that failure is at the heart of the incredibly poor relations between the sexes that obtain on our college campuses - or at least, they did when I was there, and by all reports they are as bad as ever.

I would sometimes tell these groups of high school age boys: what kind of man do you want to be? Do you want to be the kind of man who skates close to the line with girls, seeing how far you can push her, seeing if you can get her to go farther than she wants to without running the risk of getting in serious trouble the next day? Is that the kind of game you want to play? Does that make you proud of yourself, make you want to raise your sons to follow in your footsteps? Actually, I don't think I was this articulate, but I was groping for some way to tell them: this is not about staying out of trouble and this is not about you being evil. It's about whether you are a real man, who has mastered himself, or whether you are a weak man.

Until we can talk in these terms, I don't think we're on the right road out of the wilderness.