All they knew about them was that they were women

There seems to be a wide-spread belief, and one that my personal experience would tend to confirm, that the Relief Society runs more smoothly than its equivalent priesthood quorums.

In the current issue of Atlantic Magazine is an article called, ‘The End of Men.’ Its premise is that men are not navigating the new realities of modern life and modern economies well. It discusses how women are becoming more and more the primary earners in households, are graduating with 60% of university degrees (both masters and bachelors degrees) and 50% of all professional degrees, with men’s percentages falling and women’s rising. It then explores the question, “What would a society in which women are on top look like?”

I would like to pose the same question. But let me give it some context.

Mother’s protect their babies with legendary fierceness. This is well known in the animal kingdom—think mother grizzlies. In some primates, others will help with occasional babysitting—mostly sisters and aunts. Only in humans, a few tamarins and marmosets, however, do other troop members, including males, actively provision other people’s young, few are allowed near them. You don’t touch a mother’s baby. Mothers have a keen sense of who is dangerous and who is not.

At the risk of fostering stereotypes consider the following:

I was traveling in a tourist bus on Route 15 through Jordan’s sparsely vegetated Central Desert, directly south of Amman. We were our way to Petra, to visit the ruins, and then off to the Gulf of Aqaba for some play in the Red Sea. Our group was about half LDS, all out of Germany, where I was serving in the Army. I’d come with my LDS Chaplin (well, it was his daughter I was most interested in, actually). Outside of the bus windows, I could see some of the harshest arid lands in the world. On this life-forsaken stretch of highway, we would occasionally pass a Bedouin camp. Our local guide was a Palestinian Christian and the Chaplin asked if we might meet some of these desert dwellers. Our guide seemed hesitant, but our German tour guide talked him into it (I’d seen him bribe the guards when passing from Israel into Jordan in order to allow us take across the border our Israeli souvenirs, which, at the time, were not legal to bring into Jordan; so I knew he could be ‘persuasive’).

At the next group of tents we stopped. About thirty of us piled out of the bus and marched about 200 meters across the desolate desert landscape (very much like the lands near my home in Moab, UT sans abundant cowpies). As we approached the Bedouin camp, something interesting, and decidedly human, happened. As the two widely different cultures approached each other, all the men in our group pulled to the left and lined up facing the Bedouin men who had gathered to watch our approach. Our local guide and their leader (I presume) started an intensely heated argument/discussion. The two men were yelling at each other, gesticulating wildly, and occasionally slapping their left palm with the fingers of their other hand. It was and still is one of the most heated exchanges can ever remember seeing. All of the Western men, ranging in age from me, the youngest, at nineteen, to the oldest at around seventy, were standing feet apart, arms folded and watching. Occasionally, I would glance at the other line of men across from me. They were standing similarly, eyeing us suspiciously, but like us, mostly focusing on the verbal fight. It was tense, and my adrenaline was spiked. We were lined up facing each other like a couple of ad hoc sports teams.

But the women! The woman had moved over to the far right and were cooing and laughing in delight and passing babies around. Several of the tour group people were bouncing babies and laughing delightfully and saying, “How cute!” and “How Delightful!” There were smiles and laughter everywhere. The group of woman were thoroughly mixed.

The men had instantly lined up in a confrontational way. I don’t mean to say we looked like the Jets and Sharks ready to fight, in fact, I was sure we would not, but we might have to turn around, go back to the bus, and leave them alone. We were, however, tense, arms folded, and no one was smiling. And we had spread out to form two lines across from each other. This was entirely spontaneous. There was no obvious communication between us (‘You take the left, I’ll take the right.’). The women in contrast were in a mingled bunch, there was nothing structuring the way tourists and the Middle-eastern woman were standing or interacting.

Suddenly, the arguing men smiled, laughed and shook hands. Money was exchanged. We all moved spontaneously forward and shook hands with the other group. All was well. It was perfectly clear what had happened. We could now enjoy each other’s association.

What was so fascinating is how two groups of humans, across vastly different cultures and traditions immediately fell into, what look like to me now, ancient and well understood patterns of behavior. And what is most amazing, in light of a mothers fiercest instinct to protect their children, is that the mothers passed their babies to complete strangers. All they knew about them was that they were women.

Discuss.

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  1. Proof that those who understand the power and worth of children are the ones who are the most capable of peace. In this case, they happened to be female. Men are capable of the same thing, but it has been my experience that most of them must learn what is largely instinctual for women. However, they can learn if they will try.

    Exceptions to the rule, bless your hearts :)

  2. A few things. First, I specifically remember President Hinckley chastising the men in a priesthood session for not going to college as diligently as the LDS women were.

    Second, I saw a show on TV where they were discussing how woman are changing the way traditional jobs are done. They are demanding better schedules and work environments for having children and companies were responding.

    Third, your example of women trusting others who are complete strangers is interesting. I’m sure they would not have passed their children around to other men. I guess the natural question is why? Why would the human species be better of for having this quirk? (Or is it a non-advantages by-product of something else entirely?)

  3. “What would a society in which women are on top look like?”

    When I was in high school, I was looking through my dad’s collection of books he’d acquired while he was in college. One of them was a large-paged, thick-papered, hardcover book, possibly a half-inch thick total, called “Lysistra”. It was an illustrated edition of the play by Aristophanes. I read it, and realised something very important: women are on top.

    For some reason, men like to pretend that they are running the show. I know that there are cases where they are. But, by and large, I think that women wield far more power than they are given credit. There is a reason our society has cliches like, “Behind every strong man stands a stronger woman” and “Man is the head, but woman is the neck, and we all know that the neck turns the head.”

    Personally, though, I would much rather consider a world in which men and women are truly equal partners. Now that is something worth looking forward to!

  4. That is a great story, Steve. : )
    It does make for interesting discussion, too. I know enough women to realize that there is a reason why the men are the only ones allowed to have the priesthood. Some women would take hold of it and then what would be left for the men to do? Men might intuitively be lacking some gifts that come with femininity but what they have in comparison is nonetheless very valuable. I can say this because I know what happens in part 2 of your story… well I can guess anyway.
    The happy and instant circle of women will inevitably be fractured by some kind of drama typical of women. Men generally have no idea how subtle women can be when they have decided to be at odds with each other. The tension between the men from the first encounter would seem trivial once the women took sides on how they “should” feed, burp, or discipline a child. The gulf will widen when they take on, say, working mom vs. stay at home mom.
    At this point the women will need the men to be able to take a step back and put things back in perspective. Men generally can’t see what the fuss is all about or why the women don’t just have it out and then consider the matter settled. It works for guys, right?
    I guess my whole point is that men and women are complementary. We make a good team because we have different strengths. We would be so much farther ahead of the game if we would play to our strengths rather than get sidetracked by petty competition.
    Have you considered what would have happened if the women in your group had shown up in the desert without any men? I don’t think it would have played out the same way. They were free to do what they did because you were there. Women take it for granted sometimes, but we need men. It is too bad so many women act like men are expendable so much of the time. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, and I don’t think they should get away with it as much as they do.
    Curious that you posted this just in time for Father’s day…… ;)

  5. Steve Evans says:

    “For some reason, men like to pretend that they are running the show. I know that there are cases where they are. But, by and large, I think that women wield far more power than they are given credit. There is a reason our society has cliches like, “Behind every strong man stands a stronger woman” and “Man is the head, but woman is the neck, and we all know that the neck turns the head.”

    Alex, the reason our society has those cliches is that men feel bad for abusing women and treating them like cattle for thousands of years. Your assertion is patently ridiculous.

  6. “All they knew about them was that they were women.”

    I LOVE this. Thank you.

  7. Beeblebrox says:

    “Alex, the reason our society has those cliches is that men feel bad for abusing women and treating them like cattle for thousands of years. Your assertion is patently ridiculous.”

    Strong language, Steve! While your statements about men’s historic behaviour is correct, the “cliches” are not solely the product of men. Are women nothing but silent victims in this narrative?

  8. Steve Evans says:

    No, occasionally they’re willing accomplices, and occasionally they have complained quite loudly. But the cliches don’t exist because of any self-evident truth to them; they exist as a sop. This is especially sad because some of the cliches may well be true, and yet their provenance and their design render them basically unusable.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    PS — JustMe, use any more smileys and I’ll ban you.

  10. Whoa, Steve. Maybe you should leave the smiley question to the women to work out. =)

  11. Mommie Dearest says:

    The only information we are given about the women on the bus is that they were (probably) mostly an LDS group. Based on this, I am visualizing how LDS women traveling abroad might appear–dressed rather conservatively, the majority without a lot of fashion flair, many of them with post-partum bodies, probably a few grandma types, in other words, their years of experience as moms and housewives could very likely be non-verbally visible to those other women. I’m guessing that there were a few other clues that marked these women as trustworthy beyond the fact that they were female.

  12. SteveP: What would a society in which women are on top look like?

    Well I suspect it would be a world where the women were willing and able to fight, beat, or kill all strangers — just like the men in your story were instinctively ready to do. The instinctive readiness to do that is what puts men “on top” as you say. Human males have that in common with lots of other species right?

  13. Geoff are you implying that in a society in which women were on top there would be a dearth of bow-hunting and ninja skillz?

  14. Natalie B. says:

    I wonder to what extent the fact that this incident involved a tourist bus changes the dynamics? It must be pretty awkward for the people who live there to be paid to have tourists come, and maybe more embarrassing for the men?

    In my third-world experience, my dad is universally loved wherever he goes because of the sheer force of personality, eagerness to connect, and in part because he is a lot physically bigger than most people we meet.

    It is mostly just the men who talk to me, while the women hover in the background. And, generally it is to ask me for money or to sexually harass me. It really bothers me that I can’t connect.

  15. Natalie B. says:

    But, many of the experiences I mentioned do, I think, feed back into your broader point about how a certain kind of masculinity (and the treatment of women it entails) might not be successful in today’s economy.

  16. This is probably a threadjack, but Alex brought it up. I believe that the men have the priesthood for completely arbitrary reasons. I don’t find anything inherently male about the priesthood. Women have hands which can anoint and women can interact with the spirit just as well as men can. There is certainly nothing necessarily militant about the priesthood. Nor do I think, ultimately, that men or women are more prone to abuse power or not. I think that the person who ate the fruit (figurative or literal) of the tree last got the priesthood and that it could go either way (I also imagine it was something of a dead heat).

    Arguing that men NEED the priesthood in order to be saved doesn’t make any sense to me.

    As to what the world would look like if women were consistently in charge, I think that there would be less physical fighting (but not notably less). I think that diplomacy would be more prevalent (and more cutthroat). But that is also relying on age-old stereotypes. So it could be (likely is) complete bunk.

    Part of the problem with this exercise is that femininity has always been defined as “behaviors and stuff that aren’t masculine.” It consists of stuff that men aren’t that interested in, generally speaking. So imagining women in charge (being in charge is something men are interested in) is hard for men because femininity and interesting stuff don’t really mix in our minds. We think that the oval office will be covered in doilies or something. Probably still too stereotyp-y, but I think it is apt.

  17. that is to say that men NEED to hold the priesthood in order to be saved doesn’t make sense to me.

  18. Now compare two girls basketball teams after the game to two boys basketball teams.

    Now compare two boys who just got in a fist fight with each other and beat the snot out of each other to two girls who just got in a fist fight.

  19. re # 18, I have no idea what the outcomes would be. Please let us know what you think the result of each example would be.

  20. Fun story. In Kenya there is an elaborate sign language/shouting method for negotiating the price of cattle, I am guessing that what you sensed as fighting between your respective leaders was more likely negotiations on the price of the visit. (When my friends came to visit and I joined them on a safari, our tour guide took us to a Massai village for similar payments–they told us they would put the money towards a celebration for the circumcision ceremony that would happen as soon as we left–nice).

    Studies indicate that women without power are significantly less corrupt than the men in their societies, but when women are put into positions of power (police/government, etc), they quickly become as corrupt as the previous office holders. I like the IDEA that women would be better leaders, but, unfortunately, I think that, once given equal opportunity to screw up, they probably will. Generally speaking, of course.

  21. Mark Brown says:

    Steven, since you were at least half LDS on that bus the men should have tried to emulate what for many is the apex of LDS masculinity, the BYU football haka dance:

    I think that is a very interesting article. We are now at a point in our history where for the first time, upper body strength has become almost completely irrelevant. As the article shows, this has deep and subtle implications for the way we form families and provide for them. It will be interesting to see how the church responds to this trend. So far all we have done is harangue men to stay in school longer, and I think that response is inadequate, to say no more.

  22. equal opportunity screw-ups. I like it.

  23. Guys on sports teams tend to hate each other just as intensely as girls on the court/field but off the field not as much (in my experience, and in these experiences of other guys/girls/coaches of both genders I’ve talked to).

    Generally I think guys can get their emotions ramped up prety easily (just like girls) but there emotions climax a lot sooner and they quickly switch into another gear afterwards. While women’s emotions tend to last longer and more intense and deeply before turning off. (draw your own parallels…)

    No judgment calls.

  24. This reminds me of the angry white male. I hear him most, I guess, on conservative talk radio, where he feels beleaguered and cheated that he is no longer on top, so he lashes out at institutions that previously preferenced him, like universities, and government work. Now that the angry white make perceives those institutions to have passed him by in favor of women or racial minorities, he minimalizes that institution as (in the case of conservative talk radio) full of communists or totally inept.

    So when men see that women are making strides in modern society, they may feel inclined to complain about the sissification of modern society and demean it as being insufficiently moral. In reality, they are just losing their grasp on the power, and lashing out because of it.

    My guess is that this is just a period of adjustment and that men will either get with it or try to create other centers of power in which they feel they can “win.”

  25. Perhaps totally irrelevant, but as a teenager cleaning high schools in the summer, the writing on the walls in the boys’ restrooms was more plentiful and coarse – but the writing on the walls in the girls’ restrooms was far more personal and hateful.

    Society probably would be different at first – then the exact same after enough time had passed. Maybe fewer wars but exponentially more assassinations. Iow, what ESO said in #20 – which has deep implications for any argument about the Priesthood being assigned from a foundation of need.

  26. Fwiw, Anne Perry is wonderful murder mystery writer whose books focus on England in the late 1800’s. She write in rich detail about class distintion and the tension of the time relative to gender roles and class. Her books are incredibly well written, and I recommend them highly for anyone who is interested in the socio-political atmosphere of the time – particularly with regard to class and gender/sex roles.

  27. [Edit, Ray, edit!]

  28. Part of the new economic and social realities are that women are doing better than men. According to neurobiologist Louann Brizendine in The Female Brain, woman have more neurology devoted to social organization and interaction and communication. This is not to argue that they are completely different from men in terms of their ability to “Fight and beat up each other” but it would take different forms, and apparently forms that work better in modern social structures. This is not to argue that we don’t need each other (maybe it’s like the Star Trek where Kirk gets split into two halves, one kind, compassionate and the other aggressive, but driven, but both turn out to be destructive when separated) but there may be things women can lead the way in, in exemplifying how to live today. Maybe men should start paying attention.

  29. “I am guessing that what you sensed as fighting between your respective leaders was more likely negotiations on the price of the visit.”

    Good point, ESO. I remember my first experience of watching two Palestinian men “negotiate” something. I was ready to call the police for when the fists started flying. Afterward, I asked my friend why it got so heated and he had no idea what I was talking about. “We were just negotiating the price.” Makes me wonder what the national blood pressure numbers are like!

  30. Maybe . . . and this is not an opinion, only a brainstorm . . . assuming that it is true that women are better suited to working within current social structures (and I’m guessing this is probably measured primarily by financial success), it is at least partially because now that women are becoming about as capable of providing as men, and are becoming just as much of a money-earning face for the family, their tendency to better community skills are being turned towards economic success rather than community success.

    For example, it once tended to be that women with their home lives, quilting groups and canning tips created a strong communal fabric. Now that fewer people are staying home, that communal fabric is thinning (I only really know one of my near neighbors, for example). However, those same networking skills are now becoming vital in the work force, now that people more often change jobs and get new jobs based on who they know rather than by increasing financially through building long-term careers in one company.

    I suppose to sum it up, perhaps women are becoming better suited to the business environment because they are shaping that environment to suit them.

  31. “What would a society in which women are on top look like?”
    Star Trek TNG the-only-true-and-living-ST-series) knows!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_One

  32. I think the level of conflict would look around the same, but it might take very different forms, as has been pointed out.

    Steve Evans: What Alex said is not patently absurd. There is a growing body of research that explores the role of “soft power” (which is real power, just de facto rather than de jure) exerted by women throughout history. While not a historian, my understanding is that the result of this research is to indicate that even while working in tremendously unjust systems, women have been far more influential throughout history than a casual reading might suggest.

    Exclusion of women from power structures (and in my view, especially in the church) is clearly a moral blight as well as a poor strategy, but we should not attempt to buttress our arguments against such an exclusion by marginalizing women’s contributions. That is the unfortunate result of your comment #5.

  33. to Steve Evans
    Have a good night’s sleep?
    Is it just you or is everyone anti-smiley?
    I’m new here and never would have guessed that TWO smileys would push anyone over the edge and generate threats of being banned.
    Thanks for the warm welcome. (not)

  34. Recently my wife and I decided to hold our preemie twins back in K. In order to accomplish this we had to meet with the entire admin at our elementary school. 12 women one man. I asked the asst principle if it was just me or if boys struggled in school. She replied that boys struggled really hard and that modern schools essentially cater to female strengths. She said its starts here in el school and continues thru college.

    I asked why there was only 2 men at the entire school. No teachers were male. She replied that that is the mix of applicants for elementary teaching jobs. Almost no males. The males tend to teach HS or middle school.

  35. “She replied that boys struggled really hard and that modern schools essentially cater to female strengths.”

    Hmmm…. I’ve actually heard the exact opposite, that schools cater to boys rather than girls, although according to this article this attention is shifting to boys:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/magazine/02sex3-t.html

  36. Lovely story.

    It is easier to cross fences when you can find a common bond – be it babies or something else. These women were able to find something they had in common with the other women.

    I must agree with @Steve Evans here and call Alex’s comment cliche and absurd. If women had equal power we would be talking about cliches like “two heads are better than one” not about a head and a neck.

  37. Justme, I like smiles :) Human communication is strongly conditioned by visual clues (like what the face is doing). Smilycons in informal texts are very helpful.

    I’m not sure schools are geared toward humans at all. We are not made to sit and rows and be lectured. Evidence does show that at least in Mathy subjects females are not getting something they need and are underrepresented (with absolutely no evidence that either sex has any advantage in any subject intellectually).

  38. bbell–

    True that, in the scope of the education system in modern America from pre-K through the university, the lower the age of the student, the more female the instructors are. Also, the higher the age of the student, the more prestige associated with the job. Do men gravitate toward prestige or does presitge center on the workplaces of men? I have talked to lots people who have taught at all levels, and they basically all say that the younger the student, the harder the work. So the educators with the “easiest” job (imperfectly measured and generalized, to be sure) are the ones with the greatest social esteem and pay. And the ones most likely to be male.

    Rather than asking the Principal why there were so few male teachers, you could have as easily asked your male self or, likely, your entire EQ why they are not professional teachers and gotten a good idea. Was that meeting the first time you had considered that elementary education was female dominated (funny how many elementary schools have all or 99% female teachers and male principals)? Most males in education are accustomed to being the only man in the room.

    In my experience, male teachers in elementary schools are stupendous and universally popular with kids and parents. Getting the male kindergarten teacher (as my daughter did) is like winning the lottery.

  39. Oh–I totally agree with Steve P that a great argument could be made for our education system not being well-suited to humans. That said, I soldier on.

  40. ESO,

    I totally agree with your comments. No its not the first time I had noticed it. I was just wondering what the admin would say if I brought it up with them.

  41. I find myself wondering how much the story in the OP has to do with gender differences instead of circumstances providing something to bond over. One example is the easy time the elders in my mission had making friends with the gang members in Chicago through basketball. It was a lot easier for the elders than for the sisters to make friends with the urban youth due to basketball.

    RE: #36 Natalie
    From Alex’s original post: “by and large, I think that women wield far more power than they are given credit”

    I don’t see in this statement or the rest of his post, anything that suggests women have had or have equal power. All it says is that women do find ways to increase their power beyond what is formally available to them through the clever use of soft power.

    *No one claims that this is or was equality*

    Characterizing the posts then as “patently absurd” by mistakenly claiming that they argue women have equal power is kind of harsh, don’t you (and steve evans) think? Such a claim would be absurd, but was simply not made.

  42. Right now in the schools I’ve been teaching at lately, there are a LOT of male elementary teachers. Both my kids had make Kindergarten teachers and my daughter a guy for both fourth and fifth. Currently I teach in a 50/50 male/female ratio, grades K-5.

    I think the real reason there are fewer male elementary teachers in general though, is because elementary teaching is about 10 times harder than middle or high school. I’ve taught all three and I know this. Every teacher I know knows this, and women are just willing to work harder for little kids than guys are! ;-) (don’t ban me because I’m using a smiley and made an inflammatory remark, okay?)

  43. Ancient things from the unconscious mind.

    While jogging several miles from civilization in twilight I came across a jogger going the other way. I felt the hair raise on my neck and felt the tenseness of the situation. It took me back to the forests of Europe 10 millenia ago meeting on a dark trail under trees. No doubt it was dangerous.

    In the book, “Last Chance in Texas” the author says that when boys fight there seems to be an understanding that the fight will end when the defeated surrenders. Girls do not seem to feel that basic fairness and will continue the punishment long after surrender. But these are pretty hardened young women.

    Long time passing, I decided that I was in a support role for my wife and mother of our children. Things got much better at home when I understood that basic concept.

    No doubt that Priesthood is a schoolmaster for men to help civilize them. No doubt that women run a better program in RS than men do in EQ or HP for that matter. No doubt that women have been oppressed by men and the priesthood.

    My psychological adviser points out that for most people their best friends are women.

  44. John Mansfield says:

    I asked my uncle, who retired last year from teaching middle school about the decreasing number of men teaching and administering schools. His thought was that the low pay made teaching only suitable as a secondary household income, and so something relatively more attractive to a wife than a husband. His own case supported that in that he began teaching after his 20 years in the Air Force supplied him a military pension. He also thought that since teaching has been historically open to women, having more women in the labor market than in decades past would tend to move men out of teaching.

  45. Stephanie says:

    John Mansfield 44, that’s a very good point.

    Have you considered what would have happened if the women in your group had shown up in the desert without any men? I don’t think it would have played out the same way. They were free to do what they did because you were there. Women take it for granted sometimes, but we need men.

    I think that JustMe has a really good point here. Women need men to protect them from . . . other men. Look at what happened in Haiti. With no law or order, groups of young men were roaming from camp to camp and raping women. I sometimes think we take for granted our laws and our law enforcement that keep us safe. Without them, I know I would want DH right there protecting our family.

    Anyways, I wonder if the women from both groups knew that the men from their own groups would keep them safe from the men of the other group (where the perceived danger might lie), so they felt comfortable interacting.

    The men of both groups probably felt responsible for ensuring safety from the other men.

    I’ve noticed that the few times that DH and I have been in “dangerous” situations with our family, he instinctively goes into fight mode, and I go into protect mode. It happens so fast without verbal communication about what we are going to do. I just sort of gather the kiddos under my arms with my body facing them, and he turns to face the danger. I find that interesting.

    This reminds me of the Proclamation on the Family that says Fathers are responsible for the protection of their families.

  46. From my memories of the event, I think if there had been no men there the reaction of the women would have been the same. It was as spontaneous as the men’s stand off.

    I think my point, though, was even if someone felt protected they would not hand off their most treasured and well protected object (baby) willingly to someone they did not trust.

  47. Stephanie says:

    SteveP, I tend to think you are correct. But, if the local men had not been there, and men from your tourist group were, do you think the local women would have reacted the same? Possibly, but I suspect they would have had to ascertain that you did not pose a danger before they felt comfortable handing over their babies to the women who were with you.

    Mothers have a keen sense of who is dangerous and who is not.

    I agree. It sounds like the women quickly sensed that the other women were not dangerous.

    I get the point of your OP: a society in which women are on top is likely to run more smoothly. I think the two examples you’ve used (RS group and this experience) demonstrate that well, but they are also examples that include women interacting with other women.

    I do think that it gets more complicated when women interact with men. My whole point of saying that is NOT that women shouldn’t be on top (far, far from it). Just that I think it is important for both women and men to be on top interacting with other groups of women and men, particularly in world affairs.

  48. Stephanie says:

    And what is most amazing, in light of a mothers fiercest instinct to protect their children, is that the mothers passed their babies to complete strangers. All they knew about them was that they were women.

    This sentence in your OP pretty much backs up my point in 45. A great majority of the time, women do not pose a danger to each other or their children. Men do pose a danger. Yes, this is a broad simplification, but, like you said, “All they knew about them was that they were women” (plus they have that intuition about knowing who is dangerous).

    Interestingly, very often, when women do pose a danger, men are often involved. Not always of course, but often.

  49. In no way did I mean to imply that women have had a great deal of power. In fact, the cliches, the stories, and everything else were meant to illustrate just one thing: women have a great deal of soft power, in that they exert influence over the men who are close to them.

    Groups that are historically oppressed often discover that they have a great deal of power as a group. The story of Lysistrata is an old example of this, even if it was a Greek comedy.

    I am still not sure what is “patently absurd” about claiming that women have historically held soft power. Nor do I understand what is “patently absurd” about hoping for a world that is not focused on whether men or women are on top, but is rather focused on men and women being equal partners.

  50. On the topic of men in education, I have always been very aware that I am a minority in my profession.

    In my university classes, the ratio of women to men in the elementary education program was usually about 7:1. Within the schools I have taught in over the past two years, the ratio has been roughly the same. As we get more men interested in teaching at the elementary level, I expect to see a rise is their numbers in the field. Currently, though, education, especially at the younger levels, is a female-dominated field.

  51. #16 – “I believe that the men have the priesthood for completely arbitrary reasons.”….”I think that the person who ate the fruit (figurative or literal) of the tree last got the priesthood and that it could go either way” there are some pretty significant implications of these statements. While I agree that men don’t NEED the priesthood (any more than women) for salvation I have a hard time with attributing this much abitrariness to God in something that seems so significant (but maybe it just seems that way to me).
    As to the OP – do you currently live in Moab? My sis and bro-in-law live there and I’m there often. I think that there are some differences in the way women run things (but is this due to socialization, which would be reduced or eliminated if they had more overt power) but not a net better. Kind of trade offs.

  52. Steve Evans says:

    “soft power” is an excellent way of keeping women subservient. What’s wrong with you women!! Why don’t you appreciate all this soft power, dammit!!

  53. Steve Evans says:

    In other words, “soft power” is a nonsense term, one that any rational person should be ashamed to use in a public conversation.

  54. Steve Evans
    So how do you refer to the influence your wife has over you? Are there ever times you act differently than you would out of instinct because of how she would react? Is your happiness completely separated from her? If it is, I’m not sure I’m interested in any of your arguments because I’ll be inclined to believe that you are a jerk.
    For argument’s sake though, when the most notorious women in the Bible and Book of Mormon manipulated men to do evil things (behead John the Baptist or kill a political rival), how would you characterize that kind of power?
    Women can see that kind of manipulation at a glance but men seem totally blind to it till they’re in too deep to turn back. (That last statement is heavily based on watching Parvati play on Survivor because it is an obvious example. She was extremely good at the game but the girls generally stayed away from her and the guys were drawn in like moths to a flame!)

  55. JustMe,
    Are you implying that only women are capable of manipulation? Really?

    Certainly some women have had some influence on world events and other assorted whatnot. Nonetheless, the current system in which we live is one in which women’s ability to exert influence is circumscribed to a degree that men’s isn’t. As an example, ask yourself how many US Senators we have that are women. Of course it doesn’t have to approximate the average population of women in society, but does it even come close? Why is it that men so outnumber women in prominent positions of power?

    Also, suppose you elected someone president. Then suppose this male president turned toward his qualified wife for advice or put her in charge of, say, a health care reform package. How would the public react to this woman suddenly taking a prominent government role?

    If women can only exert power legitimately “behind the scenes” then their power (when they have it) is always considered illegitimate. Consider popular portrayals of women who seek to exert influence indirectly and then tell me that this is acceptable.

  56. My argument was only intended to support the idea that “soft power” exists and can have profound effects. Do we really know how Bill would have done without Hilary or how George would have done without Laura? What about JFK without Jackie? The first ladies made a difference – I’m just not sure how to characterize or quantify it. Maybe that’s why it is “soft.”
    For myself, I’m not interested in the kind of power men work so hard to obtain. The price is too high and they lose themselves along the way. I take being a mom seriously and my hands are full enough with my own kids that I’m not intereseted in being in charge of a whole lot more than that.

  57. Oh, I forgot a good duo – Charles and Diana, there is a woman with more power than she realized and she did not go looking for it. How would you characterize her power?

  58. Stephanie says:

    JustMe, but what about other women? Do you believe that other women have a right to obtain the same kind of power men work so hard to obtain? Or are they relegated only to supportive roles (if they have access to that?)

  59. It’s late and I might change my mind by morning but I think that for women to have the kind of power men now possess, they have to play by men’s rules – which are stacked against women. This may earn them the respect of the men but it will alienate other women.
    Oprah Winfrey became enormously powerful by taking a different route than politics. Funny that when she tinkered with politics and endorsed Obama, her empire started to decline. Many factors were in play but I think she alienated people by taking political sides and trying on that other kind of power.
    I think women have a lot of power in non-prestigious ways. For women to have both power and prestige, the whole system would have to change drastically and I think a lot of men would resist, some openly and some secretly. It would not be easy or quick, that’s for sure.

  60. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Mothers have a keen sense of who is dangerous and who is not.”

    Coming back into town on the bus today … actually, at the bus stop, there was this guy. He looked normal enough, shaved head, glasses, t-shirt and knee length shorts. He gave me a really intense, creepy glance at the bus stop. Then on the bus he kept making this weird frog noises deep in his throat. And then mix them in with an evil little laugh, then with other sounds. Riiiibit. Riiiiibit. Heh. Heh-heh. Riiiiibit. Heh. Bee-dee-dee-beep-beep. Heh. Bee-dee-dee. Riiiiiibit. Heh-heh.

    I was sure sensing danger, and I’m not even a mother! ~

  61. “Mothers have a keen sense of who is dangerous and who is not.”

    and many women love bad boys and trying to reform them

    I wonder how many women thought they had power to be the neck only to have their necks broken figuratively when they had less soft power than they assumed.

  62. JustMe,
    Now that we’ve established gender on you, it may well be that you have more at stake. But why not look at Bill’s gym teacher, George’s piano instructor, their FATHERS, or some other group? No-one is denying that men are influenced by the women in their lives (often profoundly) but is that equivalent to power?

    I think that you are right that things are harder for women in the traditional areas of power. The problem is that telling women that they influence they are allowed (by men) to have within a patriarchy is equivalent to men’s has traditional been a way of avoiding the thorny issue of why men tend to be in charge publicly. The solution, I think, should be to make it easier for women to operate within the traditional areas of power, rather than to give lip service to the “power” available to them in the areas men have already given them.

    There simply isn’t a good reason, that I can think of, for it to be harder for women to succeed in politics, finance, academia, etc. But it always has been and continues to be so. Telling women that they should be satisfied because the department administrator really holds all the power in the department (something I’ve often heard) doesn’t seem to result in the department administrator being paid like someone in charge or getting her opinions heard as easily or as authoritatively as someone in charge.

    Not that any woman (or person) should necessarily want to be in charge. I don’t think people in charge are inherently more important or better than the rest. It is a perfectly legitimate choice to focus on home life, rather than the rest of the world. It is the choice that most people make. I just don’t think that it should be a choice that is determined by gender. The notion of “soft power” has often been used to justify that sort of determination.

  63. That the influence they are allowed (by men) to have…

    That should make a little more sense

  64. I don’t think anyone who wants power should have it.

  65. Kristine says:

    SilverRain–that’s kind of silly. Do you want the power to decide what you eat for breakfast? How about the power to decide whether to go to college? Or work in engineering, law, or medicine? If so, then you either want power yourself, or want someone to exercise it in your behalf according to your wish, which is essentially the same thing. You could argue that some people draw the circle of the power they desire too widely, and that overreaching ought to disqualify them, but everyone wants (and needs and deserves) some power.

  66. Kristine says:

    JustMe–men are perfectly able to exercise this “soft power” of which you speak. Indeed, I’d say the Doctrine and Covenants is an extended lesson on how to do so (especially the famous dictum about power and influence in Section 121). So if we’re busily instructing men to learn to exercise the kind of power that may (_may_) come more naturally to them, why are we not also teaching women to exercise the kind of power that is (perhaps) less intuitive to them? Why aren’t we doing assertiveness training for the Young Women? Why should we not be trying to teach both men and women to be whole human beings–if the point of the Atonement is to make us new creatures, why insist on reinforcing the state of nature as we understand it?

  67. Kristine #65 I completely agree. Well put.
    RE 66: I’d love to see our young women come out more confident and able to assert themselves when needed.

    Steve Evans:

    Once again I AM NOT CLAIMING soft power is equal power or that women should be content with it. Please stop implying that I am. It is quite offensive. Try to write one post on this thread where you don’t insult someone. It may be hard, but I am sure you can do it!

  68. Sorry, I have too much to do today to keep up with the discussion but I would love to chat more. It is very interesting and thought provoking.
    I have a feeling that we are all discussing different things and using the same words but defining them differently and that is where a lot of the confusion is coming from.
    I don’t think women should be content that “soft power” is all they can aspire to but I don’t think they should have to become like men in order to have any “genuine” influence, either.
    Sorry I don’t have time to explain any more. Have fun with it all the rest of you.

  69. Stephanie says:

    I don’t think women should be content that “soft power” is all they can aspire to but I don’t think they should have to become like men in order to have any “genuine” influence, either.

    I understand what you are saying.

  70. Like hbar said, soft power is not equivalent, nor is it adequate. The only reason I brought it up was to illustrate that women have more power than they are often given credit.

  71. Kristine, #66, you are my hero.

  72. “I don’t think women should be content that “soft power” is all they can aspire to but I don’t think they should have to become like men in order to have any “genuine” influence, either.”

    Totally agree. So do most feminists, fwiw.

    Alex,
    I think most women are given credit for soft power. You need not fear.

  73. Stephanie says:

    John C, I don’t think I agree. Women in general are given credit in ways that subvert them to men (the head and neck analogy, “Behind every good man is a good woman”), but as individuals, it seems that they are better not seen or heard. When was the last time you saw a wife of a GA or heard from her? Maybe occassionally at a CES fireside, but that’s about it.

  74. Steve Evans says:

    “soft power” DOES NOT EXIST. If you want to call it “influence,” fine I guess. But “soft power” is an oxymoron and a purposeful obfuscation, and I just won’t take it anymore.

  75. “soft power” DOES NOT EXIST.

    Which is why that exact term is used extensively in political science, international relations, sociology, educational science, and the human services generally, I suppose.

    I think you should fight the way the term is being used, Steve; don’t fight the term. It’s a perfectly sensible, reasonable phrase. Perhaps it is being used in a misogynistic or condescending or wicked way by some people here, but attacking any employment of the term whatsoever as being entirely about false consciousness and keeping women down is a non-starter.

  76. Steve: No one here invented the term. There is a large literature on it (Google!). You can disagree with it, but it is a bad idea to accuse people you don’t know of deliberate obfuscation without better reason than has been exhibited here.

  77. The term is being used here as deliberate obfuscation. It was brought into the conversation via the observation that women have influence over their husbands by withholding sex from them. Soft Power = desired vagina.

  78. Stephanie,
    I’m not sure where we disagree. Can you elaborate?

  79. “When was the last time you saw a wife of a GA or heard from her?”

    Saw them in the broadcast at General Conference two month ago (and in the posts with pictures here at the time) – but that doesn’t refute your argument in any way, Stephanie. It was a very nice touch, though.

    Also, some of the women on the General Boards, who occasionally speak at GC, are wives of GA’s – which also doesn’t refute your argument in any way.

  80. Steve Evans says:

    Russell, I’m not shouting about the term in a vacuum; I’m referring to how people are using it in this thread as a justification for an obviously misogynistic power structure.

  81. Stephanie says:

    John C, I’m glad we don’t disagree.

  82. S.P. Bailey says:

    “Proof that those who understand the power and worth of children … ”

    I have to disagree with the claim that men don’t understand the value of children. What about all of the child coal miners, textile workers, and soldiers? Valuable contributors all.

  83. This has gotten out of control . . .

    From Alex:
    “soft power is not equivalent, nor is it adequate”

    From me:
    “I AM NOT CLAIMING soft power is equal power or that women should be content with it”

    Again, I agree the power structure is clearly misogynist. I was just trying to point out that things like the networks of trust, etc. pointed out in the OP are valuable and not rendered entirely impotent by the male dominated hierarchy.

    I’d really like to avoid a virtual shouting match, especially one where my opinion is mistaken for one I find repugnant.

  84. hbar,
    Sure networks of trust, etc are valuable, but they aren’t power. Not soft power and not any kind of real power.

  85. I’m curious if people arguing women have soft power would call this a display of soft power in men, or support? Do the women hold real power once they give birth?

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-06-15-daddybrain15_cv_N.htm

  86. Steve Evans says:

    hbar, who’s talking about you? Not me.

  87. I’ve been away and come back and find a nice conversation! I like vigorous discussion. I like you all and would hand my babies (if I had any more) to you with nary a second thought.

    This from Kristine #66, was a point I think is worth thinking about in more detail, “if the point of the Atonement is to make us new creatures, why insist on reinforcing the state of nature as we understand it?” In many biological species, especially primates (did you not think I would eventually turn this into a discussion about evolution?), power structures are maintained through direct physical force. Males in many species are much bigger than females and use this sexual dimorphism to enforce their power directly (on both females and other males). Humans are highly sexually dimorphic. I see this as something of ‘the Natural man’. The abandonment of power violence (which we can define physically or more likely in our society as restrictions on access to power), is what it seems to me the atonement was about in part. ‘Soft power’ seems to be something that ‘is’ but not something that ‘ought’ to be, maybe that is the root of some of the disagreement. Abandoning soft power is a strong move away from the ‘Natural man.’

    Bonobos (our nearest relative) are matriarchal, with only modest sexual dimorphism, and live much more peaceful and harmonious lives (they are highly promiscuous so don’t make a good object lesson at youth firesides, however. ‘Go to the Bonobo thou sluggard’ would be problematic advice).

    Amanda #51 I don’t live in Moab anymore, but have many friends there and visit from time to time.

  88. Mommie Dearest says:

    The mention of assertiveness training in YW made my heart go pitter-pat. (I think I got that term from Scarlett O’Hara) What a difference it would have made in my life if I had been exposed to that as a YW. Sigh.

    Okay, I have questions. A couple of comments have stated that it would be a bad thing for women to become “like men” in order to have more power over their lives. But isn’t that, in our culture at least, one of the defining attributes of masculinity? Aren’t the rules that govern the obtaining of power the same for all human beings, men and women alike? Would a woman merely grasping the power to govern her life and the lives of others be becoming “like men”? Does not being “like men” for most women mean (at least in part) not taking hold of any power traditional to masculinity?
    What exactly does being “like men” mean, in that we women shouldn’t go there?

    I’m interested in everyone’s take who wishes to address this.

  89. Stephanie says:

    SteveP 87, your comment is interesting. I actually think it further backs up what I was saying in comment 45.

  90. Kristine says:

    Yeah, in this context “like men” = “insufficiently like doormat”

  91. Kristine says:

    That was a little glib, but I’m mostly agreeing with Mommie Dearest that in these discussions, the rationale for denying women access to direct control is always tautological: men have power because they are masculine; masculinity is exercising power. Femininity is defined by not exercising power; women who (wish to) access power are not feminine.

  92. Claudia says:

    The end of the Atlantic Monthly article also pointed out that as women take more of the male role the more they are involved in unwomanly behaviors such as criminal behavior, most surprising crime a woman has now been convicted of is serial killing. When and if women take over it will only be a matter of time until the behave the way men who have held power for centuries behave. The only thing that will change in a society where men and women reverse roles will be who it is who it is that takes care of the home.

  93. Re: 88
    When I say being like men, I am talking about masculine things like intimidating each other until one is clearly dominant, saving face at all costs to preserve status, unflinching disregard for personal feelings in order to meet an objective, and squarely prioritizing work over maintaing home and personal relationships. Do not get the idea that I think all powerful men exhibit all of these traits, but some do.
    I think that when women try to take on these attributes, they go to extremes; even outdoing the men at times.
    As a woman, I am not interested in that kind of power heirarchy. I am not convinced women have to act like men in order to have power but I do think that women are oblivious to the kinds of ways that they already have power which could be focused for their benefit, and maybe everyone else’s.

  94. Kristine says:

    Those are not masculine behaviors; those are behaviors of jerks. The fact that male jerkishness has been more visible for the last few centuries because men are in power doesn’t make them masculine traits. There are plenty of women who are jerks in the domestic sphere; because we have blocked their access to positions of power, they just mess up their children, and then their sons go mess up nations. Man =/=Bully, Woman=/=Angel. Can we just move on?

  95. JustMe- Intimidating, saves face at all costs, disregards personal feelings, sacrificing family? Those are not male characteristics- those are self centered messed up human beings. I cannot think of any of the men I know who are those things, and it’s as insulting to men as the patronizing mother/angel stereotype is to women. Gag.

  96. Kristine,
    Someone asked a question and I answered it. You seem in a hurry to be somewhere else, so what’s keeping you here?
    My argument has never been that women are angels and I am well aware that women can be power hungry and terrorize in a domestic setting.
    Are you taking credit for blocking women bullies from positions of power, by the way? Because if you blocked them, maybe you can enlighten us all on how to unblock them.

  97. Kristine says:

    “Are you taking credit for blocking women bullies from positions of power, by the way? Because if you blocked them, maybe you can enlighten us all on how to unblock them.”

    Huh?

  98. Tracy M
    My own father is a good man but he did succeed in politics and the traits I mentioned are in the tool box for getting political power. I’m not saying all men are like that, just that my impressions are that they rise to power in society by doing those things. How they conduct themselves in their personal lives could be completely different.
    Too many people are talking about too many different things to keep it all in context. I was not trying to insult all men and I resent the accusation.

  99. re: 97
    post 94, your words
    “There are plenty of women who are jerks in the domestic sphere; because we have blocked their access to positions of power, they just mess up their children”

  100. Kristine says:

    It’s true–by comment #90, things tend to get too broad to keep track of very well. Also, I get impatient. Sorry.

  101. Stephanie says:

    I get what JustMe is saying. It relates to the OP. The men in the example all lined up facing each other in confrontation. Their aggression is their “prime virtue”. They take a comabative stance. Well, in a man’s world, this is how things are done, so if women want to succeed in the man’s world, they need to adopt these characteristics.

    However, the “prime virtue” of the women is that they cooperate. And there have been studies that show that little boys naturally create a pecking order and want to establish a hierarchy while little girls are interested in everyone just getting along.

    So, Just Me is saying that women don’t need to just abandon their natural desire to cooperate and become combative like the men to succeed. Instead, the men need to accept that there are other ways of doing things besides lining up against each other for a fight. That is the benefit that including women in leadership will bring. I think this is a very feminist message. We are not content just adapting to a man’s world. We want to change it to a world fit for all of us.

    Sorry if this sounds garbled. I’m in a rush.

  102. “When I say being like men, I am talking about masculine things like intimidating each other until one is clearly dominant, saving face at all costs to preserve status, unflinching disregard for personal feelings in order to meet an objective, and squarely prioritizing work over maintaing home and personal relationships.”

    It’s hard for me to read that as anything other than a blanket statement. If you say you were not trying to insult I men, I believe you, but can you see how saying “masculine things like…” is problematic?

    Perhaps a person needs qualities you mention to get far in politics- but I think politics and qualities that are _masculine_ and _feminine_ are two different discussions.

  103. It’s okay, Kristine. I would put a smile in but I don’t want to set anyone off again…
    Perfectly summarized Stephanie. Thank you!! You did great at grasping and explaining what I meant.

  104. Kristine says:

    I think I understood you, too, JustMe. I just violently disagree with you. But that’s ok, too :)

  105. I think that Kristine’s problem is that thinking of these modes of interaction as “male” and “female” may not be helpful (and it is definitely self-reinforcing). I think that what JustMe is trying to say is that people shouldn’t have to adopt a particular gender approach to achieve what they want to achieve in life. I don’t think you two are all that far apart.

  106. Note, saying problem in one case and “trying to say” in the other was not meant to imply anything about the participants or their positions. I think those could be reversed and still be applicable. Stupid-never-editing is at fault.

  107. Steve Evans says:

    John C., I think your descriptions of each are both wrong. So there.

  108. Pistols at dawn, Evans!

  109. JustMe and Stephanie,
    I’m trying to reconcile what you are saying. If women are by nature cooperative, then wouldn’t they be the best politicians? Even if they pull out the necessary political toolbox to get there?

  110. #26 Ray – interesting that you mentioned Anne Perry – in this post, no less. Esp. considering that, as teenagers in NZ, she & her best friend killed her best friend’s mother b/c they felt she was the main person who was keeping them apart due to suspicions re: their relationship – they were ‘too close’.
    Men will punch you in the face whereas women will stab you in the back. Men will also be done w/ the problem after punches are flown & women will keep on hatin’ – active hate, no less. My experience.

  111. Stephanie says:

    mmiles, yes, I do think women make good politicians and should be in politics. I also think that, for the most part, we’ve been living in a man’s world. For women to be successful, they have needed to play by the rules that have been set by men. Traits like cooperation and social building have been perceived as “weak”. I think that what needs to happen is for the structure to accept that these traits are strengths. I think that JustMe said it well in part of her comment 69:

    I think that for women to have the kind of power men now possess, they have to play by men’s rules – which are stacked against women. This may earn them the respect of the men but it will alienate other women. . . For women to have both power and prestige, the whole system would have to change drastically and I think a lot of men would resist, some openly and some secretly. It would not be easy or quick, that’s for sure.

    I basically think the current power structure is flawed because it has neglected the strengths of half the population.

  112. Men will punch you in the face whereas women will stab you in the back. Men will also be done w/ the problem after punches are flown & women will keep on hatin’ – active hate, no less. My experience.

    This is the conventional wisdom about men’s and women’s aggression–and insofar as it flies in the face of church rhetoric about women’s angelic plaster-sainted natures, I often have to give it a reluctant pass, since we’re in such a rhetorical pickle that even acknowledging the women experience and express anger is a step forward.

    But really, at the end of the day and in the absence of any systematic study of the subject (data, please!) doesn’t this amount to a pair of tired stereotypes reinforcing a double standard when it comes to aggression? Men in their aggression can be, for instance, Henry V, while women, when they fail to be Cordelia and Lucy Snowe, fall precipitously into being Lady Macbeth and Madame Defarge.

    And while we’re exchanging anecdotal and therefore meaningless evidence, the most bitter unforgiving backstabber with whom I’ve ever been acquainted is a man, a man who’s spending his retirement systematically documenting everything his wife has ever said or done that has offended him. His hatred knows no statute of limitations.

  113. Stephanie says:

    And that’s not to say that the strengths that are currently valued are bad. I don’t think that a society completely run by women would be perfect. I definitely think that men and women have complementary strengths, and representation of both in leadership is ideal.

  114. Lucie Manette, I mean. Lucy Snowe’s a whole other, far more subtle, kettle of fish.

  115. Cynthia L. says:

    This is the conventional wisdom about men’s and women’s aggression–and insofar as it flies in the face of church rhetoric about women’s angelic plaster-sainted natures, I often have to give it a reluctant pass, since we’re in such a rhetorical pickle that even acknowledging the women experience and express anger is a step forward.

    Ha!! Love ya, Eve.

  116. Mommie Dearest says:

    Sorry I couldn’t monitor the discussion today. Wednesday is my workshop day. Took me a while to read all the comments too. I didn’t find anything that was a satisfactory answer to my question “What exactly does it mean to become ‘like men’ and why is that a bad thing for women to do?”

    The various lists of bad behaviors labeled as masculine (and good behaviors labeled feminine) have been pointed out as being attributable to both genders. (And I agree, having plenty of anecdotal evidence of my own.) I don’t wish to argue that, in general, there are no differences between men and women, but they don’t apply universally to every single individual. What I am still wondering is this: What are any defining attributes of masculinity that are taboo for women to emulate? And if there are any, why are they taboo for women?

  117. Kristine says:

    Well, MD, I’m confident saying that having a penis is right out. Other than that…

    There’s that whole “neither male nor female in Christ” thing, which certainly complicates the project of enumerating exclusive traits for one sex or the other.

  118. Kristine,
    Don’t muddy this with scripture.

  119. Stephanie says:

    What are any defining attributes of masculinity that are taboo for women to emulate? And if there are any, why are they taboo for women?

    I think assertiveness or aggressiveness. These are seen as positive in men, but when women are aggressive, they are seen as *itches.

  120. Stephanie says:

    At the least, I think assertive women sometimes scare men (I have been perceived as scary before, which kind of makes me laugh).

  121. I certainly have no problem with assertive women. Of course, one of my professions involves training young men AND women on how to develop and practice positive leadership.

  122. Mark Brown says:

    Stephanie, I think you are saying two different things.

    One one hand you claim (I think) that women are by nature non-assertive.

    But then you claim that when women are aggressive or assertive our society frowns on that behavior.

    Are you asserting (ha!) that it is harder for women to be assertive because it isn’t in their nature to be that way, or are you saying that our culture has trained them not to be that way. The answer to that makes a big difference in this discussion.

    But either way, it doesn’t really matter in terms of the eternal nature of men and women. Part of our purpose on earth is to overcome the natural man or woman. The way we look at common traits around us and then say “Aha! that is a characteristic of eternal gender!” makes me laugh really, really hard. How do we know that it isn’t simply something God wants us to overcome, like greed or pride?

  123. #110 – I am aware of the irony – but Anne Perry’s books still deal with murder and violence and sex/gender stereotypes in a very powerful and evocative manner.

  124. Stephanie says:

    Mark Brown, I am not claiming that women are by nature non-assertive. It is my understanding that in observing children, girls will focus on building relationships (finding what is in common), and boys will compete with each other. I don’t know if this is nature or nurture, but I personally lean toward nature. The example given in the OP seems to support this as well. I don’t think that building relationships is any less assertive than competing – just a different way of doing things.

    However, what I also have observed is that, in a world run by men, competition is the way things get done, and successful competitors are often aggressive. So, there are two problems I perceive when women try to achieve success in a man’s world:

    1. If a woman is aggressive and successfully competes, she achieves success, but she is often personally rejected by both men and women (I think that’s because women are conditioned to be submissive and demure).

    2. If a woman is assertive but uses different techniques (community building vs. competition), she is generally not successful.

    So, what I am arguing is that the way things get done need to change. Relationship building needs to be more valued as a method for achieving success. This is happening. Things are changing.

    I think this is also the point that SteveP was trying to get across with this OP, isn’t it? That if women are more involved in world politics, we might not have as much fighting? (that’s the message I took home)

  125. Stephanie says:

    “What exactly does it mean to become ‘like men’ and why is that a bad thing for women to do?”

    Let me see if I can answer this. If we accept the status quo of conditions for success (competition – my nation keeps your nation in check because I have more nuclear weapons in my arsenal), and we assume that men and women are exactly the same, then in order for women to achieve power, they compete. Therefore we are left with more women in positions of power, but the structure remains the same: we compete.

    If we accept that the status quo is based on the way that men have traditionally viewed the world (compete), and that men and women might have inherent differences (namely that women are more likely to build community rather than compete), then adding women to the power structure and changing the power structure so that success is not defined on men’s terms, means that the way things are done can change. I see that as a net positive.

  126. I agree, Stephanie. I think if more women were involved on the world stage–directly and more abundantly–that would be a clear positive.

  127. Kristine says:

    Part of what drives me crazy about these arguments that they always bog down in questions about whether women would be “better”–gentler, more cooperative, more peaceful, etc.–than men. It seems abundantly clear to me that the ideal is women and men working _together_, learning from each other’s strengths, compensating for each other’s weaknesses. The gender essentialist position tends to lead us into separatist rhetoric, which I think is deeply unfortunate.

  128. Stephanie says:

    Kristine, I don’t think it needs to be the case that acknowledging inherent gender differences means that one sex is better than the other. There are strengths and weaknesses to the characteristics themselves.

  129. Stephanie says:

    I think that for me, the main problem with a gender essentialist position is when it is used to limit people. “Oh, you’re a woman. Well, then you don’t want to compete for that position”. Or a whole host of crap that women (and men) have dealt with from being prescribed roles based on their sex. But, I don’t think that needs to be the case either.

  130. Mommie Dearest says:

    What I see in gender essentialism, and like less and less the older I get, is that such an outlook is going to limit everyone who doesn’t fit the gender essentialist stereotype. In other words, if it’s your nature to be assertive and competitive (or other male norms) and you’re female, you’re going to have a lot of trouble with everyone who has a gender essentialist outlook and expectations, trouble that I see as pretty much unfair to that individual. If you’re male and have characteristics that our culture identifies with the feminine, you’re in the same sorry boat. Now if you happen to fit nicely into our cultural norms of male and female, that’s fine for you, but I don’t think any of us has any business insisting that all people adopt these norms when they aren’t really universal.

    I’m still working on figuring out gender differences, and it’s not as easy as some folks make it seem. But that’s not as critical to my progress as, say, understanding that whatever MY norm is, it needs to be infused with charity and kindness and a spirit of truth, things adapted from observing what the Lord’s norms are.

    I find it informative that the Example for us all applies equally across gender.

    And thank you all for indulging my questions.

  131. Winifred says:

    Marco Polo encountered what he called the Female Island of Minicoy. When a man married, he changed his name to that of his wife and the children also had the wife’s name.

    http://www.maldivesroyalfamily.com/minicoy.shtml

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