Girls and Guys, Getting [It] Together; Some Observations on Double Standards

(Surprise, surprise, Intern 2 has a bone to pick with cultural attitudes on sexuality and the sexes)

Recently my friend Barnabas mentioned that another (male) acquaintance of ours had once written a story whose implausible content “revealed his virginity.” The tone was not complimentary.

Due to the setting we were in, I chose not to mention that I too was wrestling with a scene in my own work-in-progress, one key to the characters’ emotional trajectory, that suffered from my lack of firsthand experience. But if I had, I know my friend would have vocally distinguished my situation from our classmate’s. There were other reasons (my actual presence, for one) that my lack of experience could be denoted the more respectable, but I’ve long suspected that chief among them would be the fact that I was a girl.

Say what we will about the pervasively decadent quality of popular and academic culture, but the secular world is still remarkably kind to female virgins. We have our detractors, (Jessica Valenti comes first to my mind), but they are generally not disdainers. It is frequently argued that women are harmed or restricted by abstinence, but not that there’s something innately wrong with a woman who abstains. The prevailing mindset does not suggest that a woman who has not engaged in sexual conduct is any less of a woman for it. (If your evidence or experience says otherwise, by all means post a link/tell us your story, and join the conversation.)

This is not the case for abstinent men, and men and women alike bear the responsibility to face the injustice.

Surely it is a point of agreement for all reasonable people that men’s promiscuity ought not to be excused and even praised while the same behavior is denigrated in women. I do not believe that this, which many feminists hold as the capital-D-S Double Standard (see also; “Stud/Slut Dichotomy”), is nearly so prevalent now as it was many decades ago, but this new double standard that excuses women’s virginity while denigrating men’s (we can call it the “Nice Girl/Nice Guy Dichotomy”) seems to have sprouted from the same root. The difference might have come with the shift of mainstream sexual mores. As pre-marital abstinence, rather than sexual activity, becomes the frowned-upon behavior, so do men, rather than women, become the chiefly frowned-upon participants.

This is not progressive thinking. This merely inverts our old thinking. The new double standard operates from the same false premises as the old. It still presupposes that men are passive victims to their all-consuming sexual desires (so, if a man has not had sex by a certain age, he must be either completely undesirable to women or otherwise suspect in his manliness). It still presupposes that women do not struggle with sexual desire at all, or only to a degree that is easily controlled (so, if a woman has not had sex by a certain age, that is an understandable decision on her part.) Just like the old double standard, this discredits both men’s and women’s capacity for strength in virtue.

It may be easier in this cultural climate for me, as a woman, to openly discuss my moral choices than it is for my male friends and counterparts. But I propose that even so, in such contexts that are appropriate and in such terms that are constructive, we all put these choices into open discussion. We, men and women together, bolstering the required courage, should calmly explain ourselves and defend each other.

Had it come to that, I could have reminded Barnabas, who does know better, that being male or female was not really a relevant factor in the conversation about twenty-something virgins trying to write what they don’t know. He would have listened. So would many others.

As we strive together toward the same fixed and unchanging standards, let us be confident, assured, and transparent* in our striving. Let us strive together so that others may see and understand, and may begin to strive alongside us.

I remain, sincerely yours,
Intern 2

*But tactful, and not obnoxious or boastful. Discretion, valor, better part, etc.

Yefemiya Goes to The Library

(Intern 2 points out the hopefully symbiotic relationship between public libraries and private discernment.)

Yesterday a Facebook Friend of mine posted a story about finding a library book that had undergone a little DIY expurgation. Someone who’d checked out the book previously had taped blank bits of paper over every description of a pretty girl character. The Friend posted one of the covered descriptions in its entirety. It said basically that the girl was slender and graceful, and mentioned the shades of her hair and skin. That was all.

Because this Friend is a homeschool grad who might have been in my church youth group had she not lived in another state, I’m going to go ahead and call her Yefemiya. And while I’ve known a number of Yefemiyas and McHaleys whose mothers or fathers might have censored their library books with blank pieces of paper (and not de-censored them upon return. No one, at least, seems to have been capable of breaking out a black Sharpie for this purpose), this Yefemiya and her parents found it hilarious. And silly.

I find this hilarious and silly, too. In fact, the thought of this story even now makes me break out into huge, heaving breaths of laughter that are the physical equivalent of sobs. In a moment Intern 1, who shares the office, is going to be looking at me strangely.

But there it is. Yefemiya found an innocuous book in the library that was censored by another library patron.

Maybe it is debatable that the taped-over passages in the book were innocuous, but it is not debatable that the book, a public resource, was censored by one person, by an individual.

To be fair, this individual may have simply forgotten to remove the papers before returning the book. But it is not impossible that the individual left them in deliberately for the benefit of other patrons.

It’s not impossible that the papers were left in deliberately, because the attitude behind such an action is very much a present and living thing.

This is the attitude that the public library, a resource operated for the benefit of every single person in the community, should remove from availability any materials an individual deems problematic. And this is not what the library is for.

I am not saying that some materials are not objectively problematic, or that all materials should be of unquestionable access to all patrons. In fact, I am highly in favor of “issue” picture books being given their own shelf, separate and apart from the rest of the children’s section, so that I can set my future children loose to choose books without worrying that they’ll come back with “Lacey’s Uncle Was An Aunt.” But it is not within the library’s proper authority, or sphere, if you will, to remove “Lacey’s Uncle Was An Aunt” from circulation entirely.

This is not what the library is for. The library is there to provide the materials that suit its capacity and the demands of the community as a whole. Staff cannot and do not prevent patrons from using the whole library system to obtain materials that their library does not stock.

The public library exists to freely provide information and resources to the public.

We, as the public, are then free to choose what we take and what we do not take. We are free to be discerning.

We, not the library, are responsible for overseeing what our children are exposed to. We are free to help them be discerning.

These are our rights and responsibilities as individual library patrons. Or as library non-patrons (it’s a beautiful thing, our liberty to abstain).

The library, not us, makes materials available either remotely or immediately available to everyone. The library is not the gatekeeper.

We can be the gatekeepers for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We cannot make the library be the gatekeeper for others. And we cannot be the gatekeeper for others themselves.

It is well within a parent’s right to censor the library book their child borrowed in a way that does not permanently deface or damage the book, which is after all Continue reading

Some Girls, Part 2: What Words Mean

Continuing from Part 1, Intern 2 extrapolates on the consequences of vagueness in rhetoric

It is a little alarming that the following assertion should need to be made. It would be a relief it turned out to be unnecessary. But please bear with me a moment, as I’ll breathe easier knowing these words are out.

Women, like men, are creatures of God, and therefore are possessed of individual souls and unique vocations. Please trust me when I say that women do not function together as a vast hive intelligence. Women are not only not a vast hive intelligence, we are more specifically not a vast hive intelligence that, created for the sole or main purpose of serving the needs of men, was corrupted by the Fall into a vast hive intelligence that functions solely to drive men to sin. (Just like men do not and never have existed as a vast hive intelligence that functions solely to make women miserable, a viewpoint comfortingly less common than its vocal espousers make it appear.)

There is a distinction between what some women do as individuals and what all women do as a sex. There is also a distinction in how to approach the determination of what some individual women do and what women as a sex tend toward.

There is a distinction between making a statement about “some women” or “that woman who” and making a statement about, plainly, “women.”

One is an observation of something that individuals or an individual did or does.

The other is an observation of something that a whole half of the living population of humanity did or does.

Clearly these types of observation are not equivalent.

It is not accurate to state that “Women have been indoctrinated by feminism to think they enjoy working fourteen hours a day,” or “Women are naturally overjoyed to spend the whole of each day in their homes with three toddlers, two of whom are in diapers,” or “Women like to drive trucks” or “Men like to get exfoliation treatments” or “Ladies prefer salad” or “Gentlemen prefer steak.” While in some contexts the statement is clearly a generalization and not actually applicable to an entire sex, the actual meaning doesn’t change and the ambiguity can turn off-putting. And worse than off-putting, when discussing divorce, abortion, or abuse (or, as described in Part 1, false allegations thereof), this vague rhetoric becomes unjustly accusatory.

But put a “some” or a “many” in front of the sentence? Or the number from a reliably obtained statistic? Then it becomes true, if not empirically proven, and we can acknowledge that women, and men, are possessed of unique souls, and that no sin or virtue or struggle or preference can necessarily be attributed across the board.

Our nature as God’s image remains fundamentally the same; the good things we strive toward for joy and salvation are simple, few, and alike; but the details, and the means of striving, are richly varied.

We are given the means to express this in language, in rhetoric. Let’s use language carefully, for the fullness of truth.

(If you see an instance where this blog hasn’t used language carefully for the fullness of truth, please speak up.)

Sincerely yours,

Intern 2

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

On Bradbury, Part 1: Middle School

(This is Intern 2. She is a twenty-something liturgical Christian with two degrees related to literature. Every so often during her tenure at Salvo, Intern 2 will post some observations on subjects that strike her as relevant, pressing, or just of interest. She will attempt to keep these snappy and effective, and appreciates all critique and discussion alike. Today, in her two-part first outing, Intern 2 freely associates on an author she had long hoped to meet in this life.)

Public school, like any human institution, has its flaws. For me, these flaws were particularly apparent in our eighth grade English curriculum. One time, our class was assigned a project on “Heroes and Sheroes,” a “shero” being so called because “heroin[e] is the name of a dangerous drug.”

I could go on in this vein for a long while. To do so, would be uninteresting and worse, unjust. Our eighth grade public school English class, for all its problems, was adorned with some distinctly, even vitally positive aspects.

It’s true that this English class had been, somewhere among the higher-ups at the middle school, deemed the assessment test/study habit/career path class, all of which took time and focus away from, well, English. But still there was grammar. Still there was vocabulary. Still we could identify a direct object and use the word “assuage.” We may have even diagrammed a sentence or two. And there was more.

To actively interest fourteen-year-olds while teaching them may be one of the toughest challenges God gave man, but when this class rose to it, it rose. My classmates enjoyed and responded to the fiction and poetry we read and discussed. We engaged in experiences outside of our own little suburban middle school worlds, as should be a main goal of good literature and good literary education.

If I may slip for a second into Old Guard Conservativese, we had many opportunities to stimulate our moral imaginations. I can recall no opportunity so vividly as reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

Please do yourself a favor. If your experience with Bradbury extends only to having been assigned Fahrenheit 451 (in which books are illegal and their owners sometimes burned along with them) during the Dystopia Unit in high school, then get yourself to the library (or library website) as soon you can. If you feel so inclined, stop reading this post, ignore the following, and go now.

Whatever your impression of Fahrenheit 451 itself and how it was taught to you, please take the plunge into any and all of Bradbury’s other work. We all know that he passed away last week. Now, if you haven’t already, is a good a time to discover him as ever.