Some Girls, Part 1: Use Your Words

(In which Intern 2 raises the major moral implications of a minor rhetorical imprecision.)

The first time I heard the problematic phrasing was in a high school class. We were being educated about date rape.

A boy in my year, an athlete, commented, “Girls sleep with you at parties and then lie and say you raped them.”

We were very young, and most of us only beginning to consider the issues of sex and its abuse in much depth. The boy was expressing what was likely a very present and legitimate fear among his teammates. He’d probably picked it up from older boys on the team, and they’d have all been aware of the relevant stories of accused college and professional athletes. The boy was just relaying this fear to our class, in such words that occurred to him to use.

This was understandable. I understand it now. But all those years ago I didn’t think it through. All those years ago the comment was absolutely infuriating.

And it wasn’t so much the comment itself that was infuriating, though I did unjustly fail to what its context or cause or intended meaning might be (I was very young).

What got me, and what I got hung up on, was the phrasing.

Because the boy, who was very young as well and hadn’t thought this through, didn’t say, “Some girls sleep with you and then lie.”

And he didn’t say, “There’re girls who’ll sleep with you at parties and then lie.”

He said, in effect, “Girls sleep with you and then lie.”

Which my very young, very reactionary, very dramatic self interpreted as his saying, “All girls can and will sleep with athletes and then lie that they were raped, so they can get money or look innocent. All girls believe that gain for oneself is worth a lie that could destroy someone else. All girls, inlcuding Intern 2 and all her female friends and loved ones and all the girls and women she knows and has heard of, are capable of monstrous dishonesty. All girls are liars who hurt guys.” Which implied, conversely, (thought my brain that had only recently grasped the proof processes of logic), “Rape is not real. Girls, all girls, are just making it up.”

This cannot be what the boy wanted to say. One word, one “some,” would have made his real meaning clear. But he was a young boy making an impulsive comment in a high school class. I acknowledge that now: now I would like to discuss the same issue in a different context.

There is a tendency now, in the online conversation about the impact of feminism on our contemporary culture, to use such phrasing as the boy used. The discourse at hand happens occur mostly in written form, mostly among adults. “Rhetoric” is a more fitting term here than “phrasing,” because “rhetoric” implies the careful consideration of the meaning of words we choose and how they’re arranged.

This is not high school: this is the Internet.* We are not young teens grappling with the world’s troubles for the first time: we are maturing and continuing to gain degrees of perspective, experience, and understanding. We have the outward and inward resources to shape and perceive what our writing means to readers.

In short, we have no excuse not to try our hardest to say what we mean. Which includes employing the vital word “some” when we talk about women and feminism and all the ensuing issues we find relevant.

I forgive my classmate his statement, such as may be necessary to forgive. But I call us now to do better by our language.

Please see Part 2 for why.

Sincerely yours,

Intern 2

*Which, as a free public forum, is as good or bad as we make it.

On Listening: Intern 2 Tries to Communicate with the Guy Who Knows He’s Right (Even if He’s Wrong)

(This week, Intern 2, who is overly shy of face-to-face disagreement, springboards from current events to wax long on the subject of persuasion.)

We have a pink elephant here on the Salvo Blog whose presence we have yet to point out.

It’s called the Affordable Care Act, or whichever nickname you’d prefer to give it.

I am far from a legal, or economic, or medical expert. You do not want me to analyze the bill itself, its implications, or the details or outcomes of last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court. There are experts who have already provided that analysis, or at least such an analysis as is possible at this early stage.

Many, many analyses have been made and opinions been stated.

Obviously, they have not all arrived at the same conclusions. Chances are, right now you’re dealing with someone whose conclusions are not the same as yours.

So this is Harrison, your colleague of whatever philosophical persuasion who is one-hundred percent sure he’s come down on the right side of the issue, and isn’t afraid to tell you about it.

It could be that Harrison’s convinced that the health care decision represents a key triumph for the social virtue of the United States. He knows a few cases personally who have had trouble paying for medical care under the current system, or he’s had trouble himself (and comments that he simply won’t pay the bills he can’t afford—he says that eventually, they’ll stop coming). He knows, and he’ll tell you, that there’s no way the eventual enactment of the ACA as law could possibly be problematic, and if you suggest otherwise, he’ll assume you must necessarily be looking at the issue from a perspective of privilege. In other words, you’re a lost cause.

And how do you, or more accurately, we, answer Harrison effectively?

To start with, we have to listen to him.

It could also be that Harrison’s convinced that the health care decision represents the cataclysmic end of the American Experiment. He sees the infringements on personal liberties that the ACA contains within itself and could open the door to in the future. He knows, and he’ll tell you, that this has placed us on the brink of an inevitable disastrous threat to our autonomy of conscience, and if you see reason for hope in the details of the Supreme Court’s decision or the relative unpopularity of the Act’s most objectionable sections, he’ll assume your reason has been already been decayed by the regressive force of a Progressive culture. In other words, you’re a lost cause.

And how do we answer Harrison effectively?

To start with, we have to listen to him.

Harrison is a fellow human with a heart and a brain, with a mind and a soul. He has a story. He has some form of reason for believing what he has come to believe. As humans, we are given the capacity to understand and empathize with other humans. It fulfills a basic principle for us to work toward understanding and empathizing with Harrison.

Of course, as is the case with fulfilling other basic principles, this is easier said than done. It would be extremely challenging for me personally if Harrison told me that, as a woman, it behooved me not to post my thoughts and opinions in a public forum. I’m working on it. Harrison is like me a creature of God.

Also, knowing how someone got to where they got to is the first and most vital step in honestly and compassionately helping them get somewhere else.

So we listen to Harrison. We learn about him, and, in turn, Harrison will be more likely to listen and learn about us.

I have a story about my own Harrison, who happened to be female. I was relating a story to Girl Harrison about an acquaintance who, right on the verge of finishing a professional degree, had accepted a job in her field and was planning to marry her fiancé the following year. I happened to run into the acquaintance very shortly, possibly immediately, after she discovered she was pregnant (she was visibly shaken when I spoke with her. It ought to go without saying that the fiancé was the father.)

“She was really stressed,” I told Girl Harrison, “Because now she was planning the wedding for, like, the next month, and then they were moving out of state. So everything would have to happen at once.”

“So?” Girl Harrison said. “Just get an abortion.”

I hadn’t expected that response at all. The option in this instance hadn’t occurred to me. It hadn’t occurred to the acquaintance.

“But they already had everything together,” I said. “It was just going to be rough for a few months.”

“I’d just get an abortion,” Girl Harrison said.

I’ve since come to regret how quickly I changed the subject.

I didn’t have the courage to listen to Girl Harrison, as would be necessary to engage in a discussion with her. I knew her well enough to understand where some of her other points of view might have come from. But this assertion I left at the surface. I didn’t think I had the emotional energy or intellectual capacity to grapple with Girl Harrison on the subject of abortion, so I left it alone.

I didn’t get the chance to respond as I would have liked, as might have been effective. I didn’t get to say, “But it was the first child, by the man she was planning to have her children with. The unique and only first child. The DNA codes were all there. It was worth a few rough months.”

I think Girl Harrison would have listened to that answer. But if I was afraid to listen to her beyond her first declaration, why would I expect she would listen to me?

From now on, let’s listen. Let’s listen first. Then we can take a deep breath and give an answer that responds to what we listened to. We might be surprised. We might discover new dimensions of an issue that we hadn’t been aware were there. Harrison might prove to be as right as he thinks, or he might be only .001% sure he’s right at all. And while our own assurances may be altered through their questioning, the true assurances will be strengthened by it.

It is worthwhile to listen to Harrison, and worthwhile to answer him as well.

So thank you for listening to me.

Your answers are welcome.

Sincerely Yours,

Intern 2

Sophisticated Analysis

Some of you may remember Robin Phillips’ article last issue about Gorgias and the sophists. If you don’t, here’s a refresher:

The ancient Greeks had a school of philosophers known as the Sophists, who took pride in their ability to prove impossible things. Some sophists even hired themselves out at public events, where audiences could watch spellbound as they proceeded to prove propositions that were obviously false.

The sophist philosopher Gorgias (4th century b.c.) invented an ingenuous argument to prove that: nothing exists; and even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and even if something exists and something can be known about it, such knowledge cannot be communicated to others; and even if something exists, can be known about, and can be communicated about, no incentive exists to communicate anything about it to others.

Well, thinking about this article got me to wondering about the word “sophisticated”–a word that, in modern usage, seems to have little resemblance to anything about the nature of sophistry. However, I was able to find one article that describes the transformation of the word. It turns out that it has an interesting history. From World Wide Words:

Sophisticated is closely connected with sophistry. Though that word in turn came from the Greek sophos meaning wise, sophists in classical Greece — around the fourth century BC — were itinerant teachers of philosophy and rhetoric who didn’t enjoy a good reputation. They were sceptical about the possibility of achieving genuine knowledge and were thought by many to be more concerned with winning arguments than arriving at the truth. Plato considered them to be a dishonest bunch of lecturers, and sophistry came to mean fallacious reasoning.

In medieval times, the Latin verb sophisticare was invented with a related sense of dishonest tampering with something. It was applied particularly to traders who added foreign substances to expensive goods to bulk them out and so increase their profits. The earliest example we know of refers to merchants meddling with pepper, then a rare and valuable spice. So the verb from its first appearance in English meant adulterate. Later writers applied it to those who added cheap wines to bulk out expensive ones, and to those who adulterated tobacco with the sweepings of the floor. In the early nineteenth century, it was hard to find a basic foodstuff on sale in London markets that hadn’t been sophisticated in some way: alum in bread, roasted acorns in coffee, dried hedgerow leaves in tea, and so on.

Curiously, while all this was going on, sophisticated itself was shifting sense. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, it could refer to a thing that had been deprived of its primitive or natural state, and so rendered artificial. But the real shift was going on with unsophisticated. Early on this meant something that was genuine, but then moved to refer to somebody who was in a natural and unspoiled state, and so was ingenuous or inexperienced. It was only around the end of the nineteenth century that it began to be possible to use sophisticated as the opposite of unsophisticated in this sense, for somebody worldly-wise, well versed in life’s ways and who had a subtle and discriminating nature. And it was applied to theories, techniques and equipment even more recently — only from the middle of last century on.

Sophistication in this sense is a truly modern phenomenon.

I think the sophists would be pleased.

Local Loves

Summer brings to my mind rope swings over lazy rivers, barefoot frolics in fields of freshly mown grass, strawberries eaten outdoors from a bowl so that their leafy tops can be thrown out into the yard; leisure at its finest. But, like clockwork every year, fall necessarily follows summer; as school really is just around the corner, the theme of the day is education.

Check out these articles (the first two from Front Porch Republic and the third from the L.A. Times) on the specifics of how we ought to pursue education.

Russell Arben Fox’s article “What Was High School For?” addresses the role education plays in forming complete citizens who belong to specific communities. His quote here (from an earlier article) illustrates just how students benefit from a state interested in the
public good. “I like the idea of the state being a ( partial) agent of education insofar as the state is the reflection of the collective interest we all have in promoting and sharing certain civic goods with one another, especially the poor and marginalized, then it is an agency worth supporting.” For Fox, participation in public education is preceded with loves for community, place, and one’s neighbors. Teachers, students, and parents ought to be involved in decisions of curriculum, school events, and classroom safety of public schools
because these particulars shape characters. Augustine says in City of God, that a community is a group of people organized in a particular place, “bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love”; character must be formed through a proper education, one that teaches us to rightly order our loves. The concerns of a
particular place with particular family ties and a particular history make up our identities; to remain uninterested in the details of a place that forms the future citizens of one’s community is to deny one’s identity in that community itself.

David Walbert speaks here of home-schooling in his article “A Footloose Spring Day.” His discussion is one that outlines components necessary for real education:

…children need grammar and logic and rhetoric, but they will have to discover on their own what to apply it to. They need the rigor of the classical education to use wisely the freedom of the unschooler, and the freedom of the unschooler to give a classical education purpose. They need the airy liberty of woods-wandering and the rocky foundation of grammar, the carelessness to stumble upon what they ought to be careful about. They need a tough curriculum and the will to tell it, on a gorgeous April Wednesday, to go take a hike. That’s how you have a conversation about bluets and adverbs; that’s how you learn, how you live.”

Lastly this article from the L.A. Times by Larry Gordon reports that Caltech, a notoriously academically- challenging school which aims to produce “science and engineering leaders,” still graduates students with interests in the liberal arts. Says Jonathan Katz, who chairs the humanities and social sciences division: “How can you lead if you can’t communicate and don’t understand the world? Students have to know how to write, how to communicate and be able to deal with the bigger populations.”

Thoughts readers ?

Enjoy the summer heat Salvo blog followers. Would anyone care to share their summer book lists?

Book and Movie Blips from the Latest Issue of Salvo

There are a number of movies and books well worth your time in the BLIPS section from this issue, including this one:

The Sunset Limited
A suicidal, atheist intellectual (Tommy Lee Jones) and an uneducated, Christian ex-con (Samuel L. Jackson) discuss the great questions and quandaries of human existence. Is there purpose to life? Is there a reason to live? Is there a God? It’s a full 90 minutes of masterfully written and superbly acted dialogue that leaves the viewer to choose which side of the questions to come down on.

Among the other titles included are: When Hell Was in Session by Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr.; Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga; The Founding Fathers of Early Sexualization; and Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.

Getting Religion and Getting Informed (today, related to women, and men too.)

Happy Friday, Salvo Blog Readers. Put on some fresh afternoon coffee before you read any farther, because you’ve got yourself a few rabbit trails to follow and it may be a while before you surface.

Get Religion is a site dedicated to the critique of the coverage of religious topics in the mainstream press. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t yell, it simply combs through a given piece, identifying bias—in exaggeration, alarmism, omission, and word choice—crossing over to other resources to reveal the fundamental facts (or lack thereof).

Rife with commentary on both weak and strong examples of clear, fair journalism, Get Religion is a worthy addition to your morning blog cycle.

Today, complete with links to several in-depth articles with long Comments sections, Get Religion (check the comments here too!) has posts up that are of interest and importance to men and women alike, but especially prescient to the issues women of faith face as they navigate their lives and roles in Western culture.

Like this piece, which examines one instance of the media vilification of religious leaders who oppose the HHS Mandate. Watch out for a link in the middle, to a source that questions the validity of the oft-cited Guttmacher Institute stat on birth control use among Catholic women. Say you are the 2%…or say you’re not so alone after all.

And this one, in which a comment from Cherie Blair about careers and children makes us wonder, as we often do, about doing best by our families and our vocations, and the distinction between “having it all” and “having enough.” Don’t neglect the links here either, and be sure to speak up if you have something you want to say.