Thursday, September 06, 2007

Men Made The World

Over here, Roy F. Baumeister tells us, with what he no doubt considers gracious, wry humor, that despite what the feminists would have you believe it wasn't any evil conspiracy (strawfeminist much?), really, that resulted in millenia of women being oppressed by the menfolk -- why, it wasn't even any oppression! Still isn't! Women was just doing their thing! Having those babies! Cooking those dinners! Weaving those social webs! Like god, er, evolutionary psychology meant them to!

And men? Why, all this time, little did we notice, it was the men being exploited!

This is what Baumeister claims his careful studies have shown him. Men are the ones being oppressed, see.

The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

One can imagine an ancient battle in which the enemy was driven off and the city saved, and the returning soldiers are showered with gold coins. An early feminist might protest that hey, all those men are getting gold coins, half of those coins should go to women. In principle, I agree. But remember, while the men you see are getting gold coins, there are other men you don’t see, who are still bleeding to death on the battlefield from spear wounds.

OO! OOO! OOO! I know this one, Mr. Baumeister!

What about the women in the city the men sacked? What happened to them?

What about the -- um, how many Jewish women and children was it that were killed in the Holocaust? Three million?

What about the women who have been slaughtered in Iraq, how many is that so far?

What about the suffering and the death of the women whose children die in those stinking wars? I give you Medea, who says in Euripides, "I would rather stand three times in the front line of battle than bear one child, Baumeister, you fucking tool," (my translation).

Baumeister goes on to say --

Well, he goes on to say many lame things. Let's just take this one: he claims men created culture. Men created culture, he claims, because they evolved to take chances (otherwise they could not breed -- women get to breed no matter what, obviously, we just to get hang about and some guy will come along and fuck us, and voila! Babies!): this inclines guys to want to get out there and create! To think up new things to do! To be pirates! To be individuals! To write opera! And So on!

Whereas women, well, we want to mop floors and clean toilets and gossip. And make babies. And be raped.

Baumeister knows this because his extensive studies of musical history have shown him that, all through the 19th century, white middle class women studied piano, but never wrote any music, whereas black men, who unlike those white women were actually oppressed, created amazing works of musical genius.

We know from the classical music scene that women can play instruments beautifully, superbly, proficiently — essentially just as well as men. They can and many do. Yet in jazz, where the performer has to be creative while playing, there is a stunning imbalance: hardly any women improvise. Why? The ability is there but perhaps the motivation is less. They don’t feel driven to do it.

I suppose the stock explanation for any such difference is that women were not encouraged, or were not appreciated, or were discouraged from being creative. But I don’t think this stock explanation fits the facts very well. In the 19th century in America, middle-class girls and women played piano far more than men. Yet all that piano playing failed to result in any creative output. There were no great women composers, no new directions in style of music or how to play, or anything like that. All those female pianists entertained their families and their dinner guests but did not seem motivated to create anything new.

Meanwhile, at about the same time, black men in America created blues and then jazz, both of which changed the way the world experiences music. By any measure, those black men, mostly just emerging from slavery, were far more disadvantaged than the middle-class white women. Even getting their hands on a musical instrument must have been considerably harder. And remember, I’m saying that the creative abilities are probably about equal. But somehow the men were driven to create something new, more than the women.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it, you sulky feminists with your conspiracy theories. (I leave the problem with this here example as an exercise for the blogosphere.)

Baumeister goes on to claim that, because women are, apparently, unable to innovate or create, men must have been responsible for all of culture. Women sat about nurturing children and dealing with "intimate care." Men created "religion, literature, art, science, technology, military action, trade and economic marketplaces, political organization, medicine." The woman's sphere, he claims, did not produce these things. (What evidence does he have to support this claim? The evidence he pulls from his ass, apparently.)

Baumeister adds:

Note that all those things I listed — literature, art, science, etc — are optional. Women were doing what was vital for the survival of the species. Without intimate care and nurturance, children won’t survive, and the group will die out. Women contributed the necessities of life. Men’s contributions were more optional, luxuries perhaps. But culture is a powerful engine of making life better. Across many generations, culture can create large amounts of wealth, knowledge, and power. Culture did this — but mainly in the men’s sphere.

So -- women, you're necessary, as servants to the race. Pat, pat. Nice women. But men, clearly, are doing all the really important work.

And? In case we missed it?

Thus, the reason for the emergence of gender inequality may have little to do with men pushing women down in some dubious patriarchal conspiracy. Rather, it came from the fact that wealth, knowledge, and power were created in the men’s sphere. This is what pushed the men’s sphere ahead. Not oppression.

Giving birth is a revealing example. What could be more feminine than giving birth? Throughout most of history and prehistory, giving birth was at the center of the women’s sphere, and men were totally excluded. Men were rarely or never present at childbirth, nor was the knowledge about birthing even shared with them. But not very long ago, men were finally allowed to get involved, and the men were able to figure out ways to make childbirth safer for both mother and baby. Think of it: the most quintessentially female activity, and yet the men were able to improve on it in ways the women had not discovered for thousands and thousands of years.

And this example is so stupid I can't leave it as an exercise to the blogosphere.

Yes, indeed, "not very long ago" men finally got involved! And fucked it up! You tool! What history of medicine is this idiot reading? Men got involved and the survival rates went down! Men got involved and did not wash their hands! Men took over and kicked the midwives out, under the belief that their superior male skills had to be better than any women's knowledge, and not until women got involved again did things really change much for the better.
Here's one source on that process; here's another, with Baumeister's early male medical OB's detailed; Finally, here's this:

Obstetricians like [Joseph] DeLee and others who followed him helped reduce use of midwives by arguing that midwives were untrained and incompetent, that pregnancy is a dangerous condition requiring care available only from highly trained medical specialists, and that midwives’ clients—mainly poor women—were needed to provide the clinical experience for training doctors in obstetrics. Midwives attended approximately half of all births in 1900, but less than 15 percent by 1935. By the early 1930s most practicing midwives were black or poor-white granny midwives working in the rural south. Where midwifery declined, the incidence of mother and infant deaths from childbearing or birth injuries generally increased. A scholar who conducted an intensive study concluded that the 41 percent increase in infant mortality due to birth injuries between 1915 and 1929 was due to obstetrical interference in birth. (Emphasis mine)

The rest of Baumeister's essay is equally ill-considered and ill-researched. I urge you to have a read only so that you can see what passes for thought among the intellectuals on the other side of the ditch, and among those who think evolutionary psychology is kool.

What I would like to know, though, seriously, is how tripe like this sees print.

Update: Another take on this pile of steaming nonsense.

And see this, just because real science/evidence always cheers me up, after I have been forced to deal with right wing crap.


Sugared Harpy said...

Lemme just throw out this art historical gem to balance out the musical theory issue:

Linda Nochlin's article, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"

Even if women create there has to be a structure that acknowledges it or allows it to be. And there wasn't, and barely is now.

So as for women NOT being creative musically, they very well might have been, but was it allowed/encouraged to be published? dispersed? discussed? patronized?

To get to Nochlin's conclusion, she writes,
"The question "Why have there been no great women artists?" has led us to the conclusion, so far, that art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, "Influenced" by previous artists, and, more vaguely and superficially, by "social forces," but rather, that the total situation of art making, both in terms of the development of the art maker and in the nature and quality of the work of art itself, occur in a social situation, are integral elements of this social structure, and are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions, be they art academies, systems of patronage, mythologies of the divine creator, artist as he-man or social outcast."

Anonymous said...

What I would like to know, though, seriously, is how tripe like this sees print.
Hm, what gender is in the majority on most editorial staffs? I'm sure the assertions of the article are met with a lot of "That makes perfect sense!" and "It's scientifically proven!" along with nodding of heads.

There's a local professor who knows a lot about women composers. I heard her speak a couple of years ago on religious compositions. There are quite a few beloved Christian songs (for example) that were written by women, but a lot of people don't realize it. I'll pass this along to her.

delagar said...

My husband does music history, so I know (only a bit) about music: Baumeister is talking out his hat.

Tree of Knowledge said...

I am consistently amazed that you manage to read this crap and still produce coherent posts about them. I usually just stare and my screen and sputter after reading your Winger reports.

I read an article in the New Yorker at the beginning of this year (I think) about delivery room trauma, and in it the author explained that c-sections are so popular because they're easier on the physician than forceps--using forceps takes more skill.

Tree of Knowledge said...

By the way, I meant that first comment as a compliment. I'm not sure it reads that way though.

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you