Dances with Power

I have a post in the works about rationalizations people use when confronted with ugly realities of improprieties in their beloved institutions. It’s really long and won’t be finished for a couple of more days. (That’s not a promise as I’m wrestling with it) It started with looking at the current brouhaha going on in the Sasaki situation but it became pretty clear that the issues are way bigger than that so it expanded and still needs some rewriting. There are some parallels with the Shimano situation but it’s not exactly the same. The details of these kinds of situations tend to be rather sordid so I prefer not to go into them and look at the context which allows such behavior to occur. AKA structural issues. In other words there are themes that recur and they recur with such frequency we take them as somehow normal. Normal is just another word for habitual and conditioned in the most popular fashion. So that’s in the upcoming piece as well.

In the meantime I have been noting an interesting back and forth between Brad Warner and Grace Schireson on the Sweeping Zen site recently. The commentary that followed by many others. It has been interesting and the fallout of it pretty ugly.

Additionally Peter Schireson, husband of Grace, wrote a post related to this dialogue. Dude, you’re not as funny or as smart as you think you are. That’s all I’m going to say about his “contribution” to the discourse.

The original debate was about a very critical point. Or rather several points that have been conflated into one. Hence I think Brad and Grace are to some degree talking at cross-purposes. So here are some of the points with my brief responses. I’ll elaborate on some of them after the list.

The big question: Can there be a legitimate emotional/sexual relationship between someone in power and someone not?

My view: Possibly, but with a lot of caveats.

That brings up some tangential questions though:

  • Is it always wrong for a dharma leader to be involved with someone in their own sangha? My view: While both are in a formal teacher/student relationship there should be institutional regulations and escape mechanisms to deal with such an eventuality. And it is an eventuality in many situations. To think otherwise is to either be hopelessly naïve, morally arrogant or willfully blinkered to the human condition. The Boundless Way sangha has actually thought about that in their Code of Ethics with this clause:
  • Any priest, senior Dharma teacher or transmitted teacher who finds a romantic relationship beginning with a member of the sangha should inform the EAR Committee of this relationship and seek guidance as to the most healthful way to proceed.

    If the people involved are in a teacher-student relationship, a choice must be made between either pursuing that personal relationship or continuing the teacher-student relationship, but not both.

  • Can a woman voluntarily and of her own free will enter into a relationship with someone who is in a position of direct power over her? Yes. Caveats.
  • Should women who have been victimized by those in power over them be protected, fought for and expect justice?  Yes. I will always stand up for women who have been victimized. And I hope others would too out of compassion, empathy and solidarity.
  • Doesn’t that infantilize them to have someone else speak on their behalf? Sometimes. Depends who’s doing the “white knighting” and why. (I got on Brad’s case about infantilization in comments on his blog. I was objecting to his use of the word “girls” in a rather facetious way while referring to women who practice Zen. He recognized my objection and stated his reasons for the terminology as well as apologizing for the offense. I’m cool with that.)
  • Is this even “white knighting”? What is white knighting? Usually it’s men who jump at the chance to defend the virtue of women mostly to bolster their own sense of manhood and importance. It tends to be dismissive of the actual concerns of women in favor of what these men think is good for them. Some people, men and women, do “white knight” in situations like this. Others not. It’s exploitative when “white knighting” is done mainly to bolster the egos and sense of moral rectitude of the defenders. Righteous indignation can be such a high! We have to check pretty carefully what’s underneath that particular rock before we pick it up and throw it. I know this because I’ve been bitten a few times by what crawls out of there.
  • What constitutes victimization? Coercion. By individuals, groups, institutions, cultural and sub-cultural morays, economics, gender roles and all the other potentially oppressive factors. I have a lot to say about coercive relationships in the next post.

Discussion

Let me tell you first how I come to this viewpoint. I have 4 angles of view on it. All from experience. (though activism, Buddhist practice and academic study puts it in further perspective)

  1. I have been violently sexually assaulted in my life.
  2. I have been in situations of gendered coercion.
  3. I have had, quite a few years ago, a non-coercive, fully voluntary beneficial relationship with someone 20 years my senior who was also one of my professors at university.
  4. I have been in several positions of power that I could have easily exploited sexually or otherwise had I chosen to do so.

I’m not going to give out the sordid details of any of it. But it has all been instructive.

Grace wrote a heartfelt piece A Zen Woman’s Personal Perspective On Sexual Groping, Sexual Harassment, And Other Abuses In Zen Centers. She does a good job in capturing the current zeitgeist and the oppression and abuse women face with alarming frequency. Rape culture in all of its manifestations is alive and well, even in the Zen community. Rape culture isn’t just about physical violence or forceful sexual intercourse. It is a psychological, emotional and experiential milieu of coercion, submission, shaming, belittling, dismissal,  fear and intimidation. It was all pretty familiar to me since I’ve experienced it too. Most women have. And she also covers some of the bullshit we are fed, or after while sometimes begin to feed ourselves, about the desirability of men in power, that it is the power that defines male sexuality and desirability, and to become an object of that power by any means necessary defines female sexuality, and in a larger context male-female gender relations in general. Pretty sad state of affairs. So she wrote some important things there. And she is pretty absolute in her moral opinion that under no circumstances should intimate relations develop between teachers and students. In a perfect world that would be…well, perfect. But neither Buddhist practice nor present day society requires people to become eunuchs-male or female*. Alas and alack we have to look around and see things are not always as we think they should be. So we have to deal with that. (*reference to Germaine Greer-the eunuchs of first wave feminism have moved on)

[Side Note: It is unfortunate that Grace dragged in an innocent unaffiliated woman to fling down as some kind of trophy to demonstrate moral and rhetorical superiority in her second piece where she brought up Brad’s former girlfriend, who was not a student, in an attempt to shame him for enjoying a physical relationship. Cheap shot, exploitative and sensationalist and unnecessary to make the point. Also the allusion to that in her husband’s post. Same objection.]

Some men do bad stuff like coercive sexual abuse. More often it is men because men are more often in positions of power. (one of a number of reasons why) We cannot however go so far as to declare all men “the enemy”. They’re not. I am unsure if there even are people in these situations who are “The Enemy.” There are people who are, in various combination, damaged, arrogant, ignorant, selfish, sociopathic, greedy, foolish, entitled, patriarchal, blinkered, rude, self-involved, egotistical and corrupt involved in these kinds of situations. In painting a portrait of male abusers as enemies we run the risk of using an overly broad brush thereby painting all men in the same fashion. Is this not what women, and especially feminists, object to? We also risk distorting situations to fit that enemy narrative and creating scapegoats of all kinds. Or at the very least punching bags upon whom we release our righteous anger.

That too is harm.

Further by jumping on bandwagons to rally troops under a morally righteous banner in order to fight these “enemies”, we invoke notions of superiority and particularly purity, that ultimately serve to exclude, vilify, shame and dehumanize anyone who falls in the shadow of and finally under the wheels of that juggernaut. Ultimately that will include nearly everyone. Nobody’s pure enough to drive that chariot for long. It causes a lot of collateral damage particularly when we lose focus and become blinded by our own rage.

That too is harm.

One thing I’ve always admired about Brad Warner is the transparency he brings to his public face. That’s really unusual in American Zen. The posturing is pretty absurd in that realm sometimes. (see current drama for a whole bunch of that) He might be a bit too much of a smart ass sometimes, use vernacular terminology that gets misinterpreted or not always avail himself of the wonders of Google when fact checking things but there are three things that are consistent with what he writes:his blatant honesty, his courage to put himself and his personal experience out there for scrutiny (with the consent of those he might choose to include-that’s important) and his compassion for just about anyone (except Genpo maybe). Even when I disagree with him vehemently, which is often, it’s never the case that he seems totally unreasonable, unapproachable or unwilling to examine his own position. That’s also pretty rare in American Zen where certitude and inviolability seems to rule.

It is a little dismaying to read some people’s interpretations of what Brad Warner has said. Did they even read it? There’s some serious disconnect with reality to some of the criticism. Almost hallucinatory in it’s warped portrayal. Outrage at imaginary statements is the delicious poison of the day. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and do not recognize those portrayals at all. Sure there are some points worth re-examining and some valid criticisms, not so much of the position he takes but perhaps about the way it has been expressed or the tone used. I don’t however see him advocating full scale Caligula inspired orgies in Zendos or anything even remotely similar.

My take on it is that people are people with real feelings and human longings. This is in contrast to those scenarios of abuse and coercion and non-consent. These are different categories of human experience and conflating them is a mistake. I think that’s a valid point and seems to be what Brad was getting at.

After Grace’s piece Brad wrote in comments:

Abuse is abuse. But not every romantic relationship between a “member of clergy” and a “congregant” is abuse. It would be wrong to make all such relationships illegal.

What is being conflated is roles and people. We are not our roles. If we get rigidly entrenched in and attached to those roles we buy into a socially contrived and supported story about ourselves, and often our own importance. Performing the role becomes the central factor in our being. That is a position that is inherently insecure and leaves someone on the defensive most of the time.We slip into and out of roles all the time. That’s our social nature.  It takes a certain amount of clarity, maturity and wisdom to delineate the differences. Zen practice, all Buddhist practice is in part about developing those abilities, though some people may have missed that page in the Big Book of Buddhism.

I’ll return to that snippet I quoted from Boundless Way that I mentioned above. It seems pretty clear to me this person/role distinction is being recognized.

If the people involved are in a teacher-student relationship, a choice must be made between either pursuing that personal relationship or continuing the teacher-student relationship, but not both.

I think there’s some amount of wisdom there. To attempt to continue in both aspects is a sure fire way to undermine both. So making all relationships “illegal” under every circumstances is not only unduly rigid and unrealistic, it also denigrates the person in favor of the role. It turns them into a shell of a human, easily replaceable by anyone who can learn the proper script. That is the kind of thinking that leads to the kinds of problems under discussion so furiously in the Zen Buddhist corner of the Internet presently.

I agree with both Grace and Brad on a lot of their points. In fact it seems some of their points overlap. That seems to beNew SVG image getting lost in the language being used.  I’m talking a Venn diagram here not a polarity.

There also seems to be a notion that there is only one version of the truth, one acceptable moral stance, one way of expressing that, and one winner out of all of it. In the mean time women who have been negatively affected are the pawns of those who wrestle for moral superiority. And other women, who report no lasting effects or damage from their interactions are similarly being ignored and dismissed.

All these women carry the truth.

To deny any of them their truth is to deny them their humanity and to choose to only view a partial picture. Partial pictures serve particular agendas. Partial pictures objectify. Everybody know how bias works.

It strikes me that from a Buddhist context, truth is a pretty primary thing, the whole truth not only the parts that we want to be true or those that serve our arguments best.

If women have entered into consensual, non-coercive relationships that have brought them benefit then we have to accept that as possible.

If women have been coerced into activity to which they did not consent and which has done harm we have to accept that as well.

In the first instance there is nothing to be done. There is little point in trying to paint a victimhood status on someone who doesn’t view themselves as a victim. There are such things as fully consenting, non-coercive, enjoyable and fulfilling relationships borne out of what may have been at some point a situation of power imbalance. Does it always have to involve exploitation? No. Does it always end badly? No.

One could say, in some circumstances, “Oh they’re just not educated in power dynamics or oppression and so forth” That would be making a big assumption, removing their agency, denying their experience and in effect doing the very thing that an alleged abuser is accused of doing. This is a very tricky area to get into. Where there is no structure in place people in the direct vicinity do the best they can in the abusive situation.There’s a reason why police or the state are often the ones to lay the charges in domestic violence or rape cases rather than the victim. There may well be a condition of denial or shock. Certain outsiders fulfill the role of surrogate victim in those instances. There is a structure, however flawed, in place for that. These surrogates are both authorized and trained to act in that capacity. Random commenters and other do-gooders, no matter how well intentioned are not.

It also strikes me that even if people somehow involved in one way or another are credentialed in some helping profession their proximity to the Zen community precludes any pretext of objectivity. Outside agencies or people without vested interests that may conflict with the best interests of those who have been harmed are the better solution to dealing with the multiplicity of harms lest it become amplified by the echo chamber.

In contrast to the voluntary, consensual relationships that happen, some people’s lives can be altered irrevocably and not for the better when on the receiving end of coercive sexual attention. This is harm. This must be recognized even if there are other cases of not-harm. Cases of not-harm do not mitigate or cancel out cases of harm. It is not a zero sum game. Harm remains until it is addressed. Some women have put their experiences out there for the public to read. Most choose not to. That is a choice that must be honored in light of harmful circumstances which did not allow choice previously.

What we also have to consider is the harm done to those who were also affected as members of a particular sangha and the mahasangha. In this case there are several men who have spoken out about their discomfort with the situation, about trying to stop what had been reported to them as abuse and about their rejection by the community for that activity of conscience. This too is denying harm by denying them their experience, their agency and their opportunity to address the harm that has come to them, not indirectly by hearing women’s stories, though certainly that would be distressing to most caring men, but harm directly administered by other members of the sangha who assisted in enabling the primary harm and silencing those who wished to stop it. In attempting to uphold certain values that are not only implicit in much of American society, but explicit in the Buddhist context, they have been belittled, shunned, shamed and had their characters assassinated.

This too is harm.

‘Zen Has No Morals’

An academic paper by Christopher Hamacher presented on 7 July 2012 at the International Cultic Studies Association’s annual conference in Montreal, Canada has been uploaded to The Zen Site. It covers the cases of Eido T. Shimano in the USA, and Dr. Klaus Zernickow (also known as Sotetsu Yuzen) in Germany.

Zen Has No Morals!” – The Latent Potential for Corruption and Abuse in. Zen Buddhism, as Exemplified by Two Recent Cases by Christopher Hamacher [PDF from The Zen Site]

It’s lengthy at 44 pages but well worth a read, footnotes included, as they provide further insight and documented references into the abuse and misuse of the Buddhadharma in the Zen context.

One of the most pertinent elements of the paper is the eight types of behavior the author describes as being characteristic of both these cases and possibly other cases as well. These behaviors include:

  • a) Aggression upon being confronted
  • b) Extreme formalism
  • c) Blaming the student’s ego
  • d) Hypocrisy
  • e) Groupthink
  • f) Information control
  • g) Self-aggrandisement or “cult of personality”
  • h) Autocratic institutional control

Explanations and examples are given for each of these categories.

The author concludes the paper with an examination of some of the possible causes for these situations drawn from commonalities in the two cases he outlined. The causes the author lists, again with solid explanations, include:

  • a) Lack of morality
  • b) Japanese authoritarianism
  • c) Impossible ideals
  • d) The Absolute vs. the Relative
  • e) The institution of dharma transmission
  • f) Emphasis on enlightenment
  • g) Cultic tendencies

There are a few more potential causes or contributing factors I’d like to add to that list. Most relate to larger cultural, psychological and cognitive issues at play in this dynamic.

  • h) Larger culture of obedience to authority. That includes illegitimate authority via numerous fallacies.
  • i) Generalization of celebrity culture influences. Popularity is seen as expertise and authority.
  • j) Lack of cross-cultural or cross-class understanding. Where a leader is of a different culture or class than the majority of students there is a lack of knowledge of what is and isn’t appropriate for the leader to be doing. Leaders exploit that ignorance and use their “special” knowledge to their advantage. One can also note this when sangha leaders are in the psychological counseling profession occasionally as well.
  • k) Excessive emphasis on roles superseding individual’s boundaries. The roles played within  structures such as a monastery or religious community or large group training situation are manipulated such that moral and other individual boundaries are removed, reoriented or recast to incorporate misbehavior. This moving of the goal posts erodes our moral orientation.
  • l) Conspicuous consumption and display as indicator of expertise, spiritual superiority, holiness and/or spiritual purity. Exaltation by way of shiny material goods harkens back to human social notions of tribute. Tribute goes to the victor, the leader, the one who has proven him/herself better than others. There is an assumption of infallibility or at least superiority when large amounts of expensive material goods surround the leader.
  • m) Rejection of rational thought and critical analysis. It is popular in some Buddhist circles to invoke the currently in vogue cultural meme of anti-intellectualism. Rather than take “no thought” to mean “not piling up a bunch of deluded nonsense, and wrestling with it like a hyperactive simian, on top of the experience of reality” it is taken to mean some extreme kind of zombification wherein ones eyes roll back in their head and all semblance of thought or even instinctive reaction is obliterated. I’ve got to haul out the Chogyam Trungpa quote that was the inspiration for the original incarnation of this blog to elucidate this further.

“If we regard meditation as just getting into a fog so that you do not see, you do not feel, something is terribly wrong. In that case meditation would reduce one to a zombie. The enlightened man would have to be rescued. Someone would have to feed him and take him to the bathroom. We would have to have an enlightenment ward. “

  • n) Psychological mechanisms and processes. Confusing reality experience with emotional reaction to reality experience. I have noticed this kind of action with some frequency amongst Buddhist practitioners. The often heard phrase of “as it is” really means “as it is”. It doesn’t mean how I feel about or react to what’s presented in front of me. That is about 3 general steps removed away from “as it is”. [technically we are getting into the twelve Nidanas and Abhidharma stuff here but I’m using an easier to explain psychological framework] Those three steps are 1. Becoming conscious of the situation (a recognition of sorts brought about by attention being attracted to something via the senses) 2. Identifying the situation by conventional means and categories 3. Reacting to the situation by fomenting thoughts and emotions (which are a type of thought) about it. Consequently these thoughts and emotions are then projected back onto the situation as analysis along with latent judgments and ego engages rendering it unreal from itself and making conclusions about the situation warped to a degree similar to whatever our projection is from the situation itself. At this point we can add a lot more filters borne of the same kinds of processes, which affect our categorization abilities through a feedback loop. This is how cognitive dissonance rises. With fallacious thinking we can end up examining a wholly fictitious situation mistaking it for reality. We end up talking about our projections of the situation which we have manufactured (fabrications) rather than the situation. This happens both individually and in groups.

One large category that contributes significantly to the issue of dysfunction between leaders and students is the inability of students to examine their thought patterns for fallacious content. We are not accustomed to questioning authority in most societies nor are we accustomed to questioning ourselves. We don’t often ask ourselves questions such as, “Where did I get this belief?”, “Why do I think that is true?” or “What evidence is provided for that statement?”. Most often we dismiss our own concerns with “That sounds about right.” or underneath it “It gives me a sense of emotional satisfaction to agree with that”, whether it actually is right or not, because to confront our beliefs in this fashion exposes us to the discomfort of the cognitive dissonance we live with on a daily basis. [conditioning] Cognitive dissonance is when what we believe is going on is different than what’s going on in the outside world. We use all kinds of mechanisms to avoid dealing with that clash since it engenders confrontations with the ego and larger ramifications especially in shared belief social groups (families, neighborhoods, sanghas, cities, nations). We don’t like to be wrong. We certainly don’t often set out to prove ourselves wrong, and if circumstances start to emerge where that is happening we often fool ourselves by using various means, including fallacies to shore up our own beliefs rather than do some serious reality testing.

Here are eleven fairly common fallacies which leave students vulnerable, can be promoted by groupthink and can be used by unscrupulous leaders in lieu of an explanation for their own improper behavior. There are dozens more that could be listed. I’ve included a few examples of what this kind of thinking looks like as well.

  • False Contingency: from a small sample to a large conclusion. “He’s always been truthful with me, therefore he is not a liar.”,
  • False Dilemma: only 2 choices allowed. “You either agree with the rest of the sangha or you’re not a sincere Buddhist.”, “If he doesn’t agree with the teacher he must be mentally ill.”, “
  • Appeal to Closure. A situation, no matter how questionable, must be accepted or else the point will remain unsettled and people will be denied "closure." This doesn’t recognize that some points can never be settled. It is also an appeal to emotion for which a separate case has to be made, if it is to be valid. “If we start to address this particular problem it will open a huge can of worms that we’ll be dealing with for years. That’ll be too hard on everyone.” [This is often used to rationalize avoidance. It includes other fallacies such as “slippery slope” and “future prediction”] Lots of times this crops up in criminal cases particularly where wrongful convictions are involved. “We’ve got to get someone locked up so the community can relax.”
  • Appeal to Tradition or conversely, Innovation.“We’ve always done things this way.” or “Anything that old is obviously invalid in the modern world” These are not reasons but appeals to comfortable abstract positions. The latter is also a false equivalency old=invalid.
  • Argumentum ex Silentio. The idea that remaining silent or not having information about something proves something about the truth of a situation. “We don’t have all the facts, therefore nothing can be done.” [Further investigation would bring further facts but the point to this statement is to close down a discussion], “Noble silence." [Implies nobility in silence even where the noble action might be to call the police.] “If we don’t talk about it, it will pass.” [Trivializes the situation.]
  • Testimonial Fallacy: well known figures incorrectly used in absentia to support a conclusion. “If the Dalai Lama was here I’m sure he’d support this.”, “Gandhi would say…[fake Gandhi-like quote]”
  • Anonymous Authority: the authority in question is not named. “Experts say…”, “It came from the highest levels.”, “Senior students said…”
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc: Because one thing preceded another in time, it is held to cause the other. Also known as the correlation is not causation argument. “Things got bad just after you showed up, therefore you caused bad things.”, “
  • Wrong direction: The direction between cause and effect is reversed. This is often partly in effect when ‘blame the victim’ comes into play. “It happened to her therefore she caused it to happen somehow.” “He must have wanted to be in that situation in some way.” Law of attraction people, when it doesn’t work (and it doesn’t), also use this one as a rationalization. “If your vision board items haven’t manifested yet, then you haven’t really wanted them.”
  • Attack the Person (ad hominem) which is to attack the person’s character, presentation, circumstances, unrelated activities, or argue the person does not practice what he preaches in some other area. These are generally irrelevant to an issue under discussion. “You use an iPhone therefore you’re a hypocrite and cannot be against capitalism.”, “You don’t know how to cast a horoscope so you can’t comment on the efficacy of astrology.” [Terrence McKenna, the psychedelic anthropologist, actually used that one. It’s equivalent to saying, “You don’t know how to make a Quiche Lorraine so you’re view as to whether quiche is a suitable breakfast item is invalid.”], “You don’t have a PhD so none of your points are valid.”, “You’re mean, so you’re wrong.” [tone trolling often takes the ad hominem approach], “Homeless people can’t understand social policy.”,
  • The Straw Man. Arguing with points not made or creating the illusion of different opinions or misrepresentation of an opponent’s position by altering, adding or ignoring irrelevant points. This has a lot of different forms.[many of which appear in blog comments] “If we discuss Roshi’s behavior publicly we’re bound to lose students and support.” [This shifts the discussion from behavior to public relations. Also includes jumping to a conclusion and mind reading:two more fallacies.], “Gays can’t be good parents because they can’t have “natural” children.”[Qualities of good parents are confabulated with how children enter a family. Also an implied moral ad hominem “unnatural”.], "Those who argue against increased surveillance should acknowledge that if they’ve done nothing wrong then they have nothing to fear from a surveillance state.” [The argument leaves the rails from pros and cons of surveillance in society to the real or imaginary actions/motives of the person with the anti-surveillance position. This is an implied ad hominem “You must be bad.” as well as a false dilemma [either a criminal society or a surveillance society] and false equivalency of wrong equaling anti-surveillance without any argumentative substance.]

Our processes of dealing with the world and communicating our experience of it can get pretty complicated. When we have to deal with situations of misuse of power there are the aggravating factors of our own mistaken thinking, that of other people, emotional reactions, intentionality and a whole host of others.

When there are situations such as the cases outlined in that paper some extra effort is required not only within the social sphere but with everyone involved to make sure erroneous thinking is kept at bay. Otherwise such situations just stumble from one catastrophe to another, often with a few different cast members each time, without anything real being addressed.

More on Fallacies

Master List of Logical Fallacies 

Argumentative Fallacies

Safe word

Domestic relationships of all sorts might work a lot better by having a safeword in case an argument starts to hurt someone too much. To disrespect a safeword would be grounds to dissolve the relationship. It’s got to be that serious.

A safeword is sort of like a “block” at Occupy general assemblies.

It means you have gone too far and this situation is in danger of losing my continuing participation. Let’s call it a radically mindful slap.

The original idea for safewords comes from the kink sub-culture. Emphasis mine.

A safeword is a code word or series of code words … to unambiguously communicate their physical or emotional state … typically when approaching, or crossing, a physical, emotional, or moral boundary.

~abbreviated from Safeword from Wikipedia [to make this post safe for work]

In any case boundaries of every sort need to be negotiated.

Might be a good idea for friendships and other situations too.

Math, Stereotypes and the Gender Wars Mess

Why Pretty Girls Can’t Do Math is an article that appeared on the Psychology Today website about a study that seems to indicate that when women think about romance they can’t think subsequently think about math.

The subjects were shown some imagery and conversation that had either to do with romance or intelligence and were further asked to keep journals or do tasks. Only the women who received the stimulus related to romance temporarily lost some interest in math and related subjects.

I saw this study noted in a couple of places and finally at one of those places left a comment about it , which I want to amplify a bit.

I’m sure there are some things that some men could be exposed to that would cause them to lose their interest in math as well. Ask a male football or hockey fan to divide the length of the field or rink by the width and express it as a decimal fraction while the Superbowl or Stanley Cup finals are on. Or to discuss the angle of incidence as it pertains to the angle of reflection on the mirrored ceiling of their favorite porno movie. (bonus points if you can also account for the refractive properties of an 8 mm. thickness of the mirror glass)  Here is some study help if you need it. No its not a porn site but a physics site.

Try this during or after pretty much any other enculturated dopamine inducing activity. We are taught from a young age not only “gender-appropriate” activities which include heavy emotional content (dolls, war toys), but also we receive positive reinforcement, which is a dopamine (among other neurochemicals) boost, for engaging in those activities.

Girls play princess and hear “You are so pretty.”  or “When is your prince coming?” Boys often receive praise, particularly if they go on to become university students, for good grades particularly in traditionally male dominated fields like math or the sciences.

There is no reason then for men to respond to the romantic stimuli in the same way as women. they have not been conditioned to that as children. The women who received the stimuli related to intellectual topics fared the same as men.

So basically the study proves that women are conditioned to respond to attention to their attractiveness and partnering ability. Pretty old news.

That some would try to make this study into a verification of biological determinism, meaning “Pretty girls can’t do math” as the title suggests is really bogus.

The same old problems exist with this study as with most psychological studies;limited sample size, lack of diversity in sample size, and so on. These romantic images would not generally translate cross-culturally. So any conclusions have to be limited to a subset of a subset. The study is highly gender and culture and class bound. There is a correlation but that is not definitively or necessarily even demonstrably causative.

In general if someone is distracted they are not going to focus on another activity that is of lower priority and especially if they have not been conditioned to it. So the researchers should have first done some investigation into what the participants considered their personal priorities or preferences and set up the experiment using that.

Beyond this the same author who wrote this article mentioning this study wrote another one only a couple of months back about the Japanese women’s soccer team beating the American women’s soccer team at the World Cup. Now I didn’t care for the first article I cite here but it is not based on the author’s own field of specialization.

In How Japan Captured the World Cup Title the author does rely on her own area of expertise to put forward a theory as to the reason why the Japanese women, despite just having been through a devastating earthquake and nuclear reactor melt down went on to win.

It had to do with simultaneous multiple identities. The women were less stressed because they were not only focused on winning a match. It would not be the end of the world if they didn’t win. The other team were there for one purpose only hence their expectations were heightened and the pressure for that particular match was extreme.

She writes:

The mere act of realizing you aren’t just defined by one dimension – your SAT score or your ability to make a penalty shot – can be enough to help curtail those worries and negative thoughts that sometimes interfere with your ability to perform at your best. In essence, thinking about yourself from multiple perspectives can help relieve some pressure that you feel to excel in one area of your life.

Suppose we apply that to areas of traditional gender roles and the gender conditioning children go through.

I have a friend with a young son. Her husband has insisted on training the boy in hockey since he was old enough to walk. He was determined that the kid would be the next Wayne Gretzky. The kid doesn’t really like hockey. The mother enrolled the boy at age 4 into Hip Hop dance class. He loves it and he’s really good at it. He, now at age 6, wants to learn music and singing so he can be a performer. They are fortunate enough that they can afford all of this although I suspect that in the next year or two hockey is going to fade away.

The child could have been kept within a narrow conditioned path and maybe he would have become some kind of athlete. Or maybe he would have become rebellious. No one can say for sure but with a broader range of options the likelihood of him finding something that really gives him a good quality of life, a great deal of pleasure and not just a big paycheck, later in life is substantially increased.

The point is social conditioning has an effect that we can only overcome if we are conscious of it. If we have to spend a good deal of our time thinking about or enacting a particular gender performance (masculine/feminine) and that becomes our priority especially if we feel some element of insecurity in that area, then it will become magnified in terms of priorities. That puts other elements…oh like rational thought, coherent analysis and linguistic ability somewhere out of the ballpark. This is pretty evident if you follow the so-called “Gender Wars” debates. The extremists at both ends can’t manage to see much beyond the genitals of the various situations and take facts into account.

Nathan had a good post today on his 21st Century Relationships blog called “Men Want to Feel Manly” which was a quote from a comment someone had left. The quote he took issue with was:

I think what it boils down to is men wanting to feel manly but still appreciated. I would always offer, but any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested. When guys like you, they want to impress you. They do that by proving they can provide for you. It’s an instinctual thing.

He made some very good points about the kinds of assumptions that are wrapped up in this comment. It denies people’s true natures and it turns dating into a capitalist activity. Read the whole thing.

I agreed but went a bit further in the comments:

You didn’t rant so I will.

That biological determinism trope has got to end. We are not our biology, men or women. It all fits so very neatly into the complimentarian scheme of things which basically states "For every manly man there is a womanly woman."

Cut and dried little boxes.

Even though my relationships have primarily been with men, including a long marriage, I’ve begun over the years to adopt the label of gender-queer in terms of the way I think, behave and live. I can’t "think like a woman" whatever that is supposed to mean, nor can I "think like a man" or behave stereotypically as either comfortably. That has always been the case. I can only think and behave as myself, which is not consulting my physiology every time a thought comes in my head to see if it is appropriate for my particular physical configuration. What a load of bollocks.

It annoys me to no end that social structures [and roles] are built based on genitals and what they are "supposed" to symbolize.

I have as many reservations about that comment you quoted as you do. It infantilizes women by suggesting we cannot care for ourselves adequately, turns sex into a commodity to be bargained for by the highest bidder and turns men into johns who are only shopping for a glorified prostitute and whose only worth is measured by their wallet.

Some day maybe more people will see through all this than don’t. I look forward to that tipping point.

I’ve been reading a lot of nonsense over the past week or so about appropriate roles or activities for women and men and the alleged “fact” of male dominance.

I don’t know any men who have such things as their priority nor do I know any women who strive to be “taken care of” as if they were children. I guess I’m just lucky because there seems to be a significant number of people who think and behave as if that were some evolutionary fact.

No doubt evolutionary psychology, which is something I’d call a new form of eugenics, with equally shaky theoretical foundations, has something to do with this as well as the advertising world which continually bombards us with “gender appropriate” propaganda because it’s easier to make a profit if they can convince everyone to buy into the same grand sociological narrative.

And that’s all it is–this sorry story of gender, dominance and the pitiful rationalizations that psychology, religion, society and culture put forward to excuse all manner of atrocity, degradation, abuse, unfairness and injustice.

Unfortunately, until most people realize that these kinds of battles have the stink of brain wash all over them they will keep recurring.