Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Control needs to control.

So there I was, sitting on the toilet, reading an article in TIME magazine (accidentally delivered to our house, we don't subscribe).

The article was by someone named Lev Grossman, for whose name I apologize. What a sad name.

The article was about Candace Bushnell's latest book, which I had no intention of ever reading (and still don't).

What caught my eye was this section about the book:

It has an actual Weltanschauung-- it gets at the deep truth of shallow people. Women control men with sex. Men control women with money.

I have read and re-read those sentences over and over, trying to figure out what to make of them.

I can't tell if Lev Grossman thinks this description of the battle of the sexes applies to all people? Or only shallow people? Or only the people in the book?

Or, assuming it's not just bad writing but the fact that I live in an elitist academic bubble, what if it's not just that Lev Grossman who thinks this explains real life, but everybody?

Is this what most people really think? Is this how the world actually works, and I just missed the memo?

Coincidentally, while I was thinking about this, a friend sent me this other article in TIME about a recent study on how much gender actually matters for things like salary.

And that kind of blew my mind. In a nutshell: if you could change just one variable, and that variable happened to be gender, it would explain an awful lot of shit that women deal with in the workplace.

It's a flawed study, yes, but it's a very interesting concept. Doing an actual controlled experiment. Amazing.

Particularly with regard to the question about men controlling women with money, this seems to be true. Being of the fairer gender is sufficient to incur all kinds of hell upon you.

And all this talk about jobs and the economy has me thinking, more than ever, about who has money and who controls it.

But back to this question about women controlling men with sex.

Are we living in a rerun of some earlier time, some Pleasantville where women wear only dresses, spend all day cooking dinner, and are never anything more than mothers and wives?

Maybe even worse than that, am I failing to exert the one power I do have? Should I be flirting with my advisors and recommendation letter writers in order to get what I want? Should I harass my male students?

Clearly, that's not going to happen. I would rather be the wife at home than the secretary who has to sleep with her boss to stay employed.

But hey, that's just me.

But the point is, one of our major problems is that men fear us, because they don't understand us. And by doing that, they imagine differences where there aren't any. So in order to deal with that fear of the unknown, men try to control us. With money.

And for the most part, it seems, they are succeeding.

It's a man's world, they say. It certainly feels that way.

So speaking of reruns, let's see, where were we when this all happened before?

1868 15th Constitutional amendment makes it a federal law that black men have the right to vote; women are not allowed.

1920 19th Constitutional amendment gives women the federal right to vote.

So if that's at all predictive, assuming Obama wins, it will still be another 50+ years before we have a woman president?

Woman = (man) - (50 years of my life wasted waiting for men to get a clue)

Yeah, that feels about right. So by that math, my career will be picking up speed in another 2 decades or so.

Unless McCain is elected and dies the first week in office. Then we'll have a nutjob creationist woman president for a week, before she is assassinated.

And then all hell will break loose. Won't that be fun?

Or am I just being optimistic.

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At 6:54 AM, Anonymous CC said...

The article was by someone named Lev Grossman, for whose name I apologize. What a sad name.

Where on earth have you spent your scientific career that you've never encountered a Jew before? A quick look at PubMed finds 7529 papers by various Grossmans, a number that I find startlingly low. What next, you'll be giggling over someone named Wang?

At 8:27 AM, Blogger sara said...

I wish the Times article you linked would explain some of the reasons why MtFs earned on average 32% less after the transition. I can't imagine being in an interview and telling my potential employer what I used to make, and then having him/her offer me 32% less than that.

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Scott said...

evolutionary psychology would seem to agree with that passage, insofar as transmission of genes is concerned. and transmission of genes is everything. you could look up some of David Buss's work or check out his book: The Evolution of Desire-Strategies of Human Mating.

or you could just answer this question honestly: would you ever consider dating a homeless and jobless guy who intended to stay that way?

at any rate, you and I and the rest of your blog readers are indeed in an elitist bubble, +- 2SD from the mean, so we shouldn't take these generalizations personally.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


I can't really dignify that with a response. Suffice it to say, you missed the mark. Like, totally. Next time I see a sad name, I'll make sure to post it so you can see what I mean.

And I don't see why Wang would be particularly funny. I've seen much funnier names than that.


I was leaving it to you to locate the original study, rather than just reading the Times article, which is a bit removed from the actual research.

The actual article explains that these were people who tried to keep the same job and were demoted, or were unable to obtain a job at the same level because they were deemed less qualified (because they were women).

That was kind of the point. It had nothing to do with them fucking up the interviews.


I'm in a settled situation, so I'm not dating anyone new (at least, I hope, not anytime soon!).

I wouldn't care, actually, provided two things:

a) that homeless guy had an aesthetically pleasing location to hang out, assuming I would sometimes stay over at his "place."

I would prefer, for example, a rural location to a sidewalk grate. But that's just me.

b) that homeless guy wasn't always complaining about being bored, or panhandling just to pass the time, even though he said he didn't care about or need a job.

But being somewhat outside the mean, I think there are more forces at work in evolution than some of these psychology theories can possibly account for.

But that's a blog post for another day (or maybe never).

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So can you tell us why Lev Grossman is a "sad" name? I don't get it. Thanks.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous ScienceGrrl said...

IF you are female AND you want to get ahead, you will need to flirt/kiss up/dress up and basically use your gender more than your brain in order to get ahead. This applies double to scientists. Sadly, the world isn't fair. It's not a meritocracy, and that's just the way it goes. Of course you don't have to play by those rules, but if you don't, you'll watch others around you who do move on up, and you can watch from below while you soothe yourself with that warm fuzzy feeling of superiority.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger butterflywings said...

Well said.
Whether this Grossman guy means just shallow people or everyone, and it was ambiguous...but sadly, I think some people do actually think that. Someone actually unblushingly claimed that "so what if women are seen as sexual objects sometimes by men, women see men as providing objects"! Wtf?!

Hmmm. No, I wouldn't date a homeless person, as in actually on the streets, down and out. But nor would most men go out with a homeless woman. I think anyone's natural instinct would be to "help" that person improve their life, and I'm not sure that's actually healthy; a partner is just that, not a counsellor/ psychologist/ life coach.
But if scott meant someone who is a bit of a drifter, drinks too much, uses drugs sometimes, moves from friend's floor to rented hovel to another friend, sleeping in the car the odd night, trying to make it as an artist, refuses to work for The Man and can't hold down a real job for more than a month...yep, I went through a phase of liking those guys. Then I grew up.
That said, money isn't everything. In fact none of my boyfriends have had a partiularly well-paying occupation.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 11:37,

I thought about this after the last comment from CC. I think if he went by Levi (presumably Lev is short for that?) that would be a lot happier sounding. Don't you think?


That's really bleak. But I'm not looking for superiority. I'm looking for

a) integrity
b) self-respect.

I'm finding neither in science, nor in your view. Is this really what you do?

But thanks for a great quote.


Good points.

I guess the stereotype is that the Pretty Woman type scenario happens more often than the reverse.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lev Grossman sounds like a Russian Jew with a Germanic last name. In that case, Lev means lion in russian. Definitely not sad. Levi is a family name and not a first name. The Slavic name originates for the latin and greek words for the king of the animal world (i.e. lion)

Grossman means a 'big man'. In fact, Lev Grossman sounds like a very powerful and imposing name if you know a Slavic language and some German, not all that sad.

It's better than being Kleinman like my grandmother. It's pretty sad being named Kleinman. That's why she got married and changed it.

At 6:33 AM, Anonymous Helen said...

I don't think men attempting to control women with money or any other means comes from fear of the unknown, because we're not some unknown mystery. People are people. The variation in either gender far exceeds the variation between genders.

Our society defines real manhood as being in control of as much as you can around you. Men are always jockeying with each other for control and power, and showing off to each other what they have control over. Controlling women is part of that game; it's primary cause doesn't come from the otherness of women, but from the need to demonstrate control to prove one is a real man. Defining women as other creates a convenient excuse for why it's ok to control them.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Helen said:

because we're not some unknown mystery. People are people.

The problem is, not everyone feels that way.

I have met PLENTY of men who view women first and foremost as Other, and can't get past that assumption.

They think we're all some variation on a Barbie doll- Science Barbie, or in Sarah Palin's case, Caribou Barbie.

Whether they do this primarily out of a conscious or unconscious decision to control us, or just because it's how they grew up and the only woman ever knew was their mom, the outcome is the same. We're constantly running up against preconceptions and having to expend our energy to show they're wrong, when there are so many other things we'd rather be doing.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Mordecai said...

I think Helen's closer to the mark.

Perhaps it's that where I grew up, we de-emphasized the nonromantic aspects of traditional masculinity. But shy young men of my cohort learned early that 'how one behaved around women' was the key determinant of where we sat on the 'admirable - loser' spectrum. We weren't clear on what we were supposed to do, really, but it was clear we weren't doing it properly. So just being around a woman, being in a situation where one had to interact with a woman without a strict conversational rubric, gave us an oppressive, crippling sense of one's own loserdom. The awkwardness feeds the sense of loserdom, the sense of loserdom feeds the awkwardness and prevents the development of any helpful social skill.

It generally sets in by 13-14, and frequently lasts well into undergrad, or longer. It's aggravated by loneliness, and by general neuroticism, and it's always tough to shake off.

When one's in that state, of course, nothing's real to one but one's own misery. Generally one thinks of women and the prospect of having to interact with them as hazards to be avoided, or ordeals to be endured; their side of the situation is almost impossible to consider. It's like trying to sympathize with an oncoming train. Panic crowds out everything else.

When one's beginning to finally shake it off, one has a thrilling sort of 'triumphant ferocity' -- it's a heartening change for the person in question, but it usually comes across as really creepy. It takes a long time for one to regain some perspective, and for it to be natural to view and treat women as people for a change. I myself didn't start acting like a decent human being until well into grad school.

Anyways, that's more or less my recollection of its mechanism. It's certainly not your job to accommodate such people, but maybe it'll be useful to understand it.


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