January 15, 2004
Comment catchup

Some time ago I left a comment on one of Chris Burgwald's posts, and due to the various distractions never got around to reading, much less responding to, other comments directed at me. So I apologize for the delay, but here goes.

T.S. O'Rama asked:

But if women are becoming more masculinized due to capitalism's emphasis on competition, why are men becoming more feminized?

One point of disagreement I had with the article Chris linked to is its high-school football player's idea of what constitutes "masculine." Here's it's evidence for Playboy's "feminization" of men:
First Hefner domesticated men: he took them out of the field and stream and into the living room ... The Playboy universe encouraged appreciation of the "finer things"—literature, a good pipe, a cashmere pullover, a beautiful lady. America was seeing the advent of the urban single male who, lest his subversive departure from domestic norms suggest homosexuality, was now enjoying new photos of nude women every month.

It is very strange, historically speaking, to think of literature and luxury as "feminine", given that men have traditionally owned all the education and the money. What we're really seeing here, I think, is the fact that the industrial age makes life physically easier than ever before, so it's true enough that people have a lot less tolerance for hardship and pain.

But this is true for women as well as men. Most women of the past have had to work hard all day, bear many children without medicine, and tolerate disease and abuse without complaint. Moreover, this physical toughness is not the same as competitiveness. I've been reading Patrick O'Brian's novels lately, set in the early 1800s, and it's striking how much the Navy men have to display physical courage while at the same time appear humble and not strive above their position.

In other words, the norms of "masculine" and "feminine" encompass many different traits whose cultural stock may rise and fall independently of each other. We just notice more when the changes go against gender norms than when they conform to them: we wonder why men are getting softer and women more competitive, but not why the reverse is also happening.

Jeanne Schmelzer later says:

If children are devalued because of their being a liability, I also propose that children are devalued when they are an economic asset. Because then they aren't looked at as a person but what that person can do for me, rather than as a unique person created by God with all their gifts to be used to point to eternity and the betterment of society.

Absolutely, and I did not mean to imply that children should simply be valued by their economic worth. But I think that when we're comparing current attitudes toward childbearing towards those of the past, or of agrarian societies today, we'd do well to remember that the conflict between work and family as we know it today didn't exist for them. People being the way we are, if we have multiple motives for things we like to think the unselfish ones are the real reasons we're doing something, but when we're put to the test we may find differently.

I think the main problem today's society has with childbearing is not that we don't think having children is good, but that we don't want the number of children people wanted in the past. Standards of childrearing have in many ways gone up -- the conditions most children were raised in throughout world history would be considered totally unacceptable today, and for good reason. But the demand for quantity has gone down, while our sexual appetites stay the same as ever. Commitment-free sex has always appealed of course -- hence the age of the world's oldest profession -- but the outright hostile relationship between sex and childbearing that seems to have pervaded a lot of culture is, I think, a function of the industrial age.

But even in the past, I think, the self-interest of family members could be destructive. Telford wrote a while ago that some of Jesus' anti-family statements might have been motivated by the suffocating nature of the kin network, which pressured people to put the clan above all else, including right. So, there may never have been a culture that was great at valuing children for purely spiritual reasons.

Posted by Camassia at January 15, 2004 04:51 PM | TrackBack

Great post, thanks!

Shock and Awe is on a hiatus until the end of the month, but I've got Mark 6 on my "to do" list for Feb 1.


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett on January 16, 2004 11:06 AM

My take on the anti-family statements of Jesus is not that he was concerned with the "suffocating nature of the kin network" (i.e., the stifling of the ego), but rather that he was recognizing family relationships as one more form of attachment to the world and a distraction from prayer and devotion to God. I think that Jesus wants us to be saints, not model citizens.

Posted by: Rob on January 22, 2004 05:34 PM

I didn't say that the problem with the kin network was that it stifled the ego. As I said, the problem was pressure to "put the clan above all else, including right." Essentially, that family members saw each other as tools for their self-interest.

Posted by: Camassia on January 22, 2004 05:52 PM

Yes, which would put a crimp on the self--or ego--by making the individual subordinate to the group, whether this effect is considered in terms of right and wrong, or in terms of self-expression. But, in any case, I don't think that was Jesus' concern. I think his concern was what I suggested: that family ties, and the pressures they exert on the individual, tend to distract from single-minded seeking after the divine.

Posted by: Rob on January 22, 2004 06:21 PM

OK, so why was he so pro-marriage? What God hath brought together let no man put asunder, and all that. You'd think if he saw human attachments as getting in the way, he'd make divorce easier, not harder.

Posted by: Camassia on January 23, 2004 07:45 AM

H-m-m. That's a point. The early Church apparently did not encourage marriage. There is the infamous if you can't control yourself, "it's better to marry than to burn" sentiment of St. Paul in Corinthians to attest to that. Obviously, Jesus was in favor of meeting a commitment once it was made, since marriage involves a promise made before God. He doesn't, however, come out pro-marriage per se, but only anti-divorce.

Posted by: Rob on January 23, 2004 11:06 AM
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