Another Week Ends

1. After Dave’s post on male problems this week, The Economist published a long-form essay about the plight of […]

Will McDavid / 5.29.15

1. After Dave’s post on male problems this week, The Economist published a long-form essay about the plight of blue-collar men in the West. The pay for men with only a high-school diploma fell by 21% (real terms) between 1979 and 2013, as one of the clear male advantages is brawn, which is less relevant than ever when it comes to earnings. Moreover, these men may not have studied feminism in college, but they’ve found themselves in a world increasingly affected by it:

Their ideas of the world and their place in it are shaped by old assumptions about the special role and status due to men in the workplace and in the family, but they live in circumstances where those assumptions no longer apply. And they lack the resources of training, of imagination and of opportunity to adapt to the new demands. As a result, they miss out on a lot, both in economic terms and in personal ones…

In popular films fewer than a third of the characters who speak are women, and more than three-quarters of the protagonists are men. Yet the fact that the highest rungs have male feet all over them is scant comfort for the men at the bottom.

Clearly we’re in the territory of the law: certain jobs like nursing or childcare are available, yet seen as alien to normal male roles, perhaps even emasculating. Men often embrace these expectations, yes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help – even chosen expectations can be stifling. People focus on the gender breakdown at the top, yet sometimes see ‘male’ and ‘female’ as monolithic, indivisible categories; to suggest that men with MBAs might have an unfair advantage but blue-collar men are suffering is a welcome nuance. And while removing external factors which skew the gender breakdown at the top is important, it’s also important to look at how men and women are doing in terms other than economic ones. For instance,

In America today [men] commit 90% of murders and make up 93% of the prison population. They are also four times more likely to kill themselves than women are.

Part of that can certainly be chalked up to men being more violent hormonally, and perhaps more given to certain flavors of depression. But if the article’s to be trusted, traditional gender expectations can harm men, too. We have an articulate and developed gender conversation among academics, graduate institutions, and the highbrow Internet, but it seems the demographics which could really use a lessening of expectations have been a little neglected.


A quick personal anecdote: at a well-respected graduate school, I recently sat in on a marriage class, where we were organized into groups to discuss government initiatives to combat the family crisis. When we discussed the option of making government-funded optional family counseling available for unmarried pregnant women and their partners, a well-to-do young woman who’ll be in the top 5% of income-earners next year stood up and fulminated against government encroachment on her identity, which seems constricted by traditional expectations. She fretted that girls and guys can’t possibly graduate high school without having had ‘family values’ foisted upon them. A girl from a lower-income background spoke briefly of the plight of single mothers, and was quickly shut down: her experience with those (well) outside the academy seemed less significant than the identity politics. Anyway, more from The Economist:

When men with jobs are in short supply, as they are in poor neighbourhoods throughout the rich world, any presentable male can get sex, but few women will trust him to stick around or behave decently. Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, two sociologists, asked a sample of inner-city women of all races why they broke up with their most recent partner. Four in ten blamed his chronic, flagrant infidelity; half complained that he was violent.

Such experiences make working-class women distrust men in general. They still have babies with men, but they seldom marry them. A whopping 50% of births to American women without college degrees are non-marital, but only 6% of births to college graduates are.

We clearly have problems with gender relations, romance, and family in this country, and perhaps – as the well-heeled girl in my group suggested – the latter two are all for the better. But as the gender conversation advances, one hopes it will begin to take account both of lower-income families and of measures of well-being other than strictly capitalistic ones. We have a long way to go before women are treated equally, but if we broadened our gender conversation we’d see that certain men could use some empathy (and help!), too. As a sidenote, we’ve posted a bit on this subject lately, and we care mainly because it’s clearly considered important right now, and is also a hotbed of often-damaging expectations, i.e. law.

2. In humor, Mallory Ortberg is at it again with “Paintings of the Temptation of Saint Anthony That Fundamentally Misunderstand The Concept Of Temptation.” Turns out there were a lot of weird things surrounding the guy, not all of them toothsome:

Yates Thompson 49 Vol.1, f.34v (min)
“Kiss me, Fuzzy Lobster Devil.” This is the worst temptation of them ALL. It’s just evil Care Bears and a furry crawdad? No one is tempted by this, not even the most committed of perverts…


THANK YOU. Okay, someone is FINALLY keeping it simple. ONE LADY. ONE TEMPTATION PER SAINT. She’s babely, she’s wearing pink so you know she’s attractive, she has a slit up the thigh so you know she’s good to go, and she has attractive little Satan wings so you know she’s got the Bad Touch. There’s a simple visual theme going on. I GET THIS. Who’s being tempted? The guy in the middle. What’s he being tempted by? The babe. There’s no, like, depictions of Troy being sacked in the background or a bunch of possums trying to read the Septuagint to muddy the plot here. Trees, house, saint, babe. That’s all I need…

Ruling: no one in the entirety of Europe from the years 1200-1750 had any idea what temptation, or torsos, were.

And not to get too serious, but even though lots of it’s allegorical, still bizarre to think how different a world premodern Christians inhabited.


3. In the apologetics department, finally someone at Marginalia addressed’s collection of bad arguments against religion (ht SZ). It’s long, precise, and devastating. Not that the case against God has to be a bad one, but usually it’s (very) poorly made. Second, Janet Soskice, a well-regarded theologian, posted a nice short read on her conversion experience:

In my assumed clarity about religion I, in fact, knew nothing about it at all, and in my own case it was only dramatic conversion which turned me round and put my feet on a slower, steadier, more modest path into a truth whose depths are fathomless. Can I even say to those who, it seems to me, stand where I once stood (the cultured despisers of religion, as Schleiermacher might have said) what I now feel I know, and don’t know, about God? It would be hard. Because it is not just that faith gives new answers to old questions – it gives new questions, a new world where even the most educated come as babes, born again…

I was in the shower, on an ordinary day, and found myself to be surrounded by a presence of love, a love so real and so personal that I could not doubt it. I had not, as far as I know, been looking for God or thinking of God, or enjoyed a particularly good or an especially bad day…

As for me, I could not doubt the reality of that loving presence, and still cannot. I now know that one-off “religious experiences” of this sort are rather frowned upon by the best theologians…  but this is what happened to me. I was turned around. Converted. Not that I had been the sort of person who kicked old ladies and found myself now helping them across the street. I was much the same person, but facing in a new direction…

Above all, I felt myself to have been addressed, not with any words or for any par­ticular reason and certainly not from any merit – it was in that sense gratu­itous – but by one to whom I could speak.


4. On the secular religion front, a woman’s reflection on her time as an Upper East Side housewife was a little horrifying, though it may be exaggerated or just for a very, very specific circle:

“There is nowhere, to me, where intensive parenting is more acutely felt than the Upper East Side,” Martin says. “You’re supposed to be enriching your child on every measure you could think of: emotionally, socially, artistically, academically. It’s your job — and it falls on the women, because this tribe is very gender-scripted. The mommy culture there is a world within a world within a world.”…

“Intensive mothering says that if you have all these resources and all this money, you can’t just say to your kid, ‘Go play in the back yard,’ ” Martin explains. “You have to find the best occupational therapist” — whether or not your child has disabilities.

“Especially if he’s a boy,” Martin says. “It’s to give him a leg up on his grapple motor skills and help him with his ‘sillies’ so he can sit still in school and do better on tests. Some people really need the occupational therapists. I’m not putting anybody down.”

Martin says she knows of mommies who hire food coaches for picky little eaters. “You need to hire somebody to teach your kid to ride a bike the safe, right way. Taking your kid to school is not enough. Helping with homework is not enough. There are homework tutorials for parents — we’re supposed to literally go to classes so you can learn how your child is learning math, so that you can be in a better mind-meld with your child.”

Toward the end, she notes she’s been away for several years (Upper West Side!) and misses it a little, though her move out sounds pretty freeing, too. Sounds completely insane, from where we’re standing, and proves the Law of Perfect Parenting really can be a terrible burden.

5. The Wall Street Journal reviews John Gray’s new book, The Soul of the Marionette, yet another takedown of the myth of human progress (see Mbird’s review here):

We are all gnostics now, says Mr. Gray. By this he means we all today believe that we possess a mastery over the natural world that sets us apart from our benighted ancestors. “The Gnostic faith that knowledge can give humans a freedom no other creature can possess,” Mr. Gray writes, “has become the predominant religion.” The American who celebrates every “advance” of science or technology, who perhaps wishes to be young forever—this person, says Mr. Gray, is not much less delusional than the ISIS recruit who wants to bring forth the new caliphate or the Catholic nun who toils away in expectation of the afterlife. All of these figures are infected with the idea of history having a meaningful direction.

Such a hunger for meaning, Mr. Grays argues, has led humankind to commit horrific crimes. “From imperialism through communism and incessant wars launched to promote democracy and human rights,” he writes, “the most barbarous forms of violence have been promoted as means to a higher civilization.” Or as Karl Kraus once put it: “Progress will make wallets out of human skin.” Mr. Gray thinks there is neither progress nor regress in history. There are simply cycles of ups and downs, and there is little telling whether what comes next is better or worse than what has come before.


6. In culture, Star Wars Episode 1 is perhaps better than we thought, as is the entire prequel trilogy. At least, the guys over at star wars ring theory have me almost convinced with their thoughts on “The hidden artistry of the Star Wars Prequels,” reading the films’ structure as a complex series of repetitions and variations, with thematic circles and chiasms and subtle mirrorings of different parts of structure. George Lucas, striking a defensive note, has said that there’s a lot to the movies that people don’t get, which makes this generous reading of the prequels appealing.

The A.V. Club this week links to a supercut of every Hitchcock cameo from his films (above), and over at Chronicles, there’s a great reflection on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, an old Mbird favorite.

Bonus: re the Venn diagrams above (ht TB), the New Republic echoes some of our skepticism with the whole Christian vocational thing by reminding us that “We would be better off if we liberated work from the moral weight of ‘purpose’…Often, just standing in the PAID circle is a triumph.” Time for a collective sigh of relief. The New Yorker writes a nice review of David Brooks’s new book, and undertakes a seemingly specious exploration of the link between Quaker Oats’s founder and “[all] the origins of modern Evangelicalism.” Liberate adds to Sara Condon’s thoughts on the Duggars, and two new exciting music events. The first, less important is a rendition of Amazing Grace using only airhorns.

For the second, our beloved JAZ – “the first minister of disco” – repeats the song he’s heard, but in  a fresh way, with some awesome new Italo edits. Happy weekend.


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