Syllabus Selection Sexism

International relations prof mostly assign readings by male scholars. Female profs are slightly less likely to do so.

gender-gap-tectonic

Charli Carpenter calls to my attention an Inside Higher Ed report titled “Syllabus Gender Gap.”

Are women more likely than men to include works by women on a syllabus? A new study of international relations courses for Ph.D. students finds that they are.

Jeff Colgan, the Richard Holbrooke Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Brown University, analyzed 73 syllabi of international relations courses for doctoral students at American universities. Women taught 35 of the courses, and the syllabus selections of men and women together reached 4,148 required readings (which could be an article, a book or a book excerpt).

International relations is a field that has long been dominated by male professors, and readings by male authors (either individually or in teams of men) make up a majority of the readings, regardless of who prepares the syllabus. But there is a statistically significant difference in those prepared by men and women.

In courses taught by men, 79.1 percent of readings were by men, either individually or as part of a group of men. The rest were by women, groups of women, or groups of men and women. In courses taught by women, only 71.5 percent of readings were by all-male authors.

Framing the comparison, Colgan writes that “female instructors assign 36 percent more readings by women (including coed teams) than male instructors do, or about 5 readings per course.”

My initial reaction upon seeing this on Carpenter’s Facebook feed was: Who’s being sexist here?

Sure, female professors assign a lot more readings by male scholars than male professors do for female scholars. But that’s explainable by the near-total exclusion of women from the discipline until 25 or 30 years ago; almost all of the seminal works were written by men.   In terms of the contemporary literature, women are more inclined to assign works written by women than are men. Unless they’re simply assigning more readings, that means they’re doing so by excluding works by men. The question, then, is whether the included work by women is better than the excluded work by men. No evidence on that question is included in the report.

Colgan has a scholarly article on the subject forthcoming which may well delve into that issue.  But he seems to reject it:

In his description of his findings, Colgan acknowledges that “correlation is not causation” and that there may be factors beyond gender at play. For example, female faculty members may be, on average, younger than male faculty members, and their choices could be related in part to their generational perspective.

But he also cites American Political Science Association data that women are 42 percent of graduate students in the discipline, and only 24 percent of full-time professors.

In this environment, he writes, faculty members who want to see the field diversify should think about it if they plan a syllabus with relatively few female authors.

“Is this type of analysis a case of political correctness gone mad? Some would argue that instructors should just assign the best readings,” Colgan writes. “I agree with that. But ‘best’ is partly subjective, and gender affects such judgments. My own experience is that revising my syllabus with gender in mind was not only feasible, it made it better.”

I tend to agree that simply being cognizant of diversity issues will lead to better syllabi. The natural tendency is to assign readings that have stood the test of time, which are mostly from an era when males completely dominated the field. This not only creates inertia against women scholars but against newer and perhaps better ideas.

That said, I agree with the position that “instructors should just assign the best readings.” While recognizing that “best” is incredibly subjective, it’s the role of the professor to make such judgments.

As it happens, I assign a lot more research by female authors than the above averages; indeed, I assign more works by women than the women in the sample. It’s not because I’m inordinately egalitarian but rather because my focus is on contemporary policy issues. That means I’m mostly picking from literature created in the last quarter century, during which women have been much more prominent players in the international relations discipline. Additionally, my main interest is in conflict intervention and resolution and female IR scholars are especially well represented in this literature–and thus my syllabi.

UPDATE:  I’ve spent the day doing actual work, so am late to much of the discussion here. Steve Saideman has responded at his place. Among his points:

  • Any view that women’s work might be cited less/used less on syllabi because it is inferior needs to have a theory of inferiority.  What would make women, on average, do worse work than men?  I have no idea.
  • I do have a theory of male inferiority: that some men have been able to succeed due to privilege and even have reinforced existing patterns of discrimination that they can publish inferior work in top outlets and appear on heaps of syllabi.  I call such folks IR trolls.  That I might discriminate against using the work of big name males because I am not sure their work is as good whereas women’s work had to be better to get published/cited/become canonical.

I don’t subscribe to a theory of inferiority of women’s work but rather a theory that most of the canonical work and the lion’s share of the extremely good work across the IR discipline was written by males. That’s not because men are inherently better IR scholars but that, through a combination of sexism and natural inclination (mostly the former) males made up essentially 100 percent of the field until relatively recently. There is, so far as I know, no female analogue to Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Kant, Grotius, Augustine, Marx or similar giants from the pre-20th Century canon because, well, women weren’t writing about world affairs in those days or, if they were, nobody was taking them seriously. Essentially all of the pioneers of the modern academic study of IR were men for the same reason. The same is more-or-less true of the major practitioners of the craft from antiquity to maybe 50 years ago. That means that centuries of thinking and writing about the craft of international affairs, war, foreign policy, and the like were done essentially without the participation of women.

When I entered graduate school in 1992, there were essentially zero female IR thinkers included on the syllabi. The only exception I recall was the burgeoning feminist rebuttal literature, which most of us observed with wry amusement. While women had been much more involved in Comparative Politics, including American Politics, for decades, almost none were prominent in IR, which was heavily dominated by thinking about war, especially nuclear war. That began to change rapidly at almost exactly that time. The end of the Cold War radically reshaped the way we thought about foreign affairs, including much more focus on previously “soft” areas like culture, human rights, food security, and the like.

Saideman concludes:

  • Seriously, women and men, on average, do equally good work, so if I find a syllabus having many more work by males than by women, I swap out some of the male work and replace with work written by women.  It does no harm since the work is basically equivalent, yet helps to remind students that there are sharp women doing work in this area.

Generally speaking, I think he’s right. As previously noted, I don’t have to make a conscious effort to do this in the conflict intervention field because women like Barbara F. Walter and Barbara Conry were among the pioneers; they don’t need affirmative action to be included—excluding them would be malpractice.  If I were designing a course on the nuclear weapons debate, though, I’d have to work really hard to include women, since the primary literature, both academic and practitioner, was written almost exclusively by men.

FILED UNDER: Academia, Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    It’s not just IR. When I started college in 1964 the geology department got it’s first female geology major. The second year they got their second. Both went on to successful careers. After I graduated my sister who was 4 years younger than me also joined the department. My career never got off the ground because of the Vietnam war although I did manage to avoid the war itself because of an offer from the Defense Intelligence Agency I couldn’t refuse. A Job in Munich, Germany certainly beat being canon fodder in the jungles of SE Asia.
    My sister got a job with a major oil company in California. Perhaps initially because she was a woman, but she quickly became a petroleum geologist super star, not because of her sex but because of her intelligence and ingenuity. She literally wrote the book on using the scanning electron microscope to analyze core samples. She latter moved to Texas to work for another oil company major and became a regular speaker at the yearly APG convention. She retired a couple of years ago but is still in demand as a consultant and speaker.
    I on the other hand never worked as a geologist but became a manufacturing engineer.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    My initial reaction upon seeing this on Carpenter’s Facebook feed was: Who’s being sexist here?

    My initial reaction to that statement is, alas, not surprise.

    Sure, female professors assign a lot more readings by male scholars than male professors do for female scholars.

    Um, James, that wasn’t the claim. Nothing that you quoted made that particular comparison.

    Unless they’re simply assigning more readings, that means they’re doing so by excluding works by men. The question, then, is whether the included work by women is better than the excluded work by men. No evidence on that question is included in the report.

    Be honest — how much credence would you, as a professor in this field, give to whatever measure of “better than” Colgan might propose? As you note later on in your comments,

    While recognizing that “best” is incredibly subjective, it’s the role of the professor to make such judgments.

    Indeed. And it is the nature of prejudice (be it sexism or racism or any other form of parochialism) that people exhibit it even when they think that all they are doing is making such judgments, objectively and rationally.

    I am delighted to hear that your syllabus is more balanced than average, and I do not in any way accuse you of sexism. I do, however, accuse you (on the basis of various other articles in the past) of underestimating the pervasiveness of various -isms in our society, and of having unrealistic notions of the degree to which even well-intentioned people can avoid exhibiting biases that are so deeply subconscious they don’t even know they have them. You can’t separate the judgment of quality from the prejudice without blind trials, which is essentially impossible when the question is “Which classic papers should I include on this syllabus?”.

    Arithmetic Tangent: can someone explain to me how 79.1% versus 71.5% translates to “36% more” readings? By my arithmetic, (79.1 – 71.5) / 71.5 = 10.6% more, which sounds like a much more credible size of the effect…

  3. ptfe says:

    @DrDaveT: The percentages aren’t absolutes, so presumably the comment considers the actual number of readings.

    If the men are on average assigning, say, 25 readings while the women are averaging 30, women are giving 7 of 30 non-male while men are giving 5 of 25 non-male. By that metric, women are giving ~40% more readings by women (7 vs 5).

    (Note that I haven’t read the originating article yet, but this is the only reasonable reading of that 36% more comment I can think of.)

  4. DrDaveT says:

    @ptfe: Thanks, that makes sense. (It would also suggest, though, that the real big difference here is in volume of reading assigned.)

    It would be interesting to do the matching study where men and women teaching similar courses were paired up and their reading lists compared. Are they generally different, or do the women assign the same things as the men, plus a couple of extra things with female authors? And are there strong differences (as James suggests) depending on which sub-field you’re talking about?

  5. CrustyDem says:

    Female readings: (100-71.5) / (100-79.1) = 1.301

    I’ll just assume that doctorate is in the liberal arts…

  6. Rafer Janders says:

    Are women more likely than men to include works by women on a syllabus?

    Or, in other words, are men less likely than women to include works by women on a syllabus?

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @CrustyDem:

    I’ll just assume that doctorate is in the liberal arts…

    No, but I do let my wife keep the check-book. Her arithmetic is much better than mine. Besides, my error was on the liberal arts side (reading comprehension), not the math side.

    (Typo — it’s 1.3636, not 1.301, which explains the 36% number.)

  8. James Pearce says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Or, in other words, are men less likely than women to include works by women on a syllabus?

    Both sides do it?

    I mean, don’t get me wrong….women have to deal with sexism in a way that men, well, don’t. But it seems to me there’s a conspiratorial undertone to your comment.

    Men assigning few women-authored readings, so as a corrective, women assign more, the solution to sexism being more sexism.

    Isn’t it possible, though, that in a less sexist society there will be male professors assigning more readings authored by women and female professors assigning fewer to the point where this discrepancy doesn’t even exist?

    Being no friend of sexism, I’m just asking because it seems like a lot of people think the male-dominated society should be replaced with the female-dominated society. And me…I think it’s the domination itself that makes sexism so pernicious, so I’d prefer, well, neither.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:

    Actually I could make a pretty good argument for letting women run things. That argument would be: recorded human history from Ur forward.

  10. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Actually I could make a pretty good argument for letting women run things.

    Ah, but you never met my step-mother. Put her in charge and she’d make Donald Trump look like George Washington.

    (Point being, women are people too, and they can be just as awful as men. A world run by the likes of Griselda Blanco or Sarah Palin would be just as awful as a world run by their male counterparts.)

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Pearce:

    (Point being, women are people too, and they can be just as awful as men.

    Individually, yes, but not collectively.

  12. Gustopher says:

    That said, I agree with the position that “instructors should just assign the best readings.” While recognizing that “best” is incredibly subjective, it’s the role of the professor to make such judgments.

    I would completely reject the notion that there is a best reading at all for any subject — there are a lot of readings that are “good enough”, and which then have an assortment of other characteristics.

    The professor should be selecting readings that give students a broad range of viewpoints, so students know enough to question the assumptions of those viewpoints. That has a greater value than any specific reading.

    I’m not sure that there is a specific value to a women’s viewpoint on digital circuit design, for example, but for anything involving people, including viewpoints from the underrepresented half of people seems like a good idea, along with other groups.

  13. James Pearce says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Individually, yes, but not collectively.

    Well, I don’t know about that….

    Once you start talking about people collectively, you get into stereotype territory. How is it that one capable woman can destroy the stereotype of female incompetence, but one bellicose woman can’t destroy the stereotype of women being even-tempered and peaceful?

    The way to fight sexism is to treat people (men and women) as individuals, not as stereotypes.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:

    Yes, and yet collectively we males do have a bit of a record. The 20th century alone should probably disqualify us by any rational standard.

  15. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The 20th century alone should probably disqualify us by any rational standard.

    Because Margaret Thatcher was so awesome?

    (Kidding.)

    I take your point, man, but I just don’t think there’s any reason to think a woman would do better simply because she’s a woman. Was Condie Rice a better Sec of State than John Kerry?

  16. Facebones says:

    I think inertia plays a pretty big role here as well.

    Remember the 2007 movie, “The Visitor,” where Richard Jenkins plays a tired college professor? In one scene, he’s supposed to be updating his syllabus for the class but ends crossing out last year’s date and writing in the new one. I work at a university. This is probably how most syllabi get updated. This is why newer works don’t get onto them.

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    79% vs. 71% does not sound like a huge effect. I’d be curious to see how many have zero readings written by women.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m not sure that there is a specific value to a women’s viewpoint on digital circuit design, for example, but for anything involving people, including viewpoints from the underrepresented half of people seems like a good idea, along with other groups.

    Good point. Readings in the History of Colonialism, with all of the articles written by white Europeans, should trip alarms… and I’m not sure James would agree with that statement.

  19. Pinky says:

    The readings assigned by men are 79.1% written by men and 20.9% written by women.
    The readings assigned by women are 71.5% written by men and 28.5% written by women.

    .285 is 36% larger than .209.

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:
    Well, we’ve never had a time when women were the prevailing wind, so to speak. They’ve always been within an existing male structure.

    But I’m being largely facetious; I don’t believe in collective guilt. Very few of us of the Hebrew persuasion do, for obvious reasons.

  21. Grewgills says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Arithmetic Tangent: can someone explain to me how 79.1% versus 71.5% translates to “36% more” readings? By my arithmetic, (79.1 – 71.5) / 71.5 = 10.6% more, which sounds like a much more credible size of the effect…

    Assuming equal number of texts assigned by male and female professors your calculation shows women assign 10.6% less texts by men.
    Turn the equation around and you get
    28.5 – 20.9 = 7.6 / 20.9 = 0.3636…. or 36.4% more texts by women.

  22. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce:

    But it seems to me there’s a conspiratorial undertone to your comment.

    It’s not conspiratorial undertone, Dr. Joiner’s just being a cracker who is tone deaf to what he sounds like because he doesn’t have to be concerned.

  23. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce: @James Pearce:
    When we get to the point that that problem is even on the horizon I’ll worry about it.

  24. Grewgills says:

    @Rafer Janders: @michael reynolds:
    That is nonsense, of course women (or choose your oppressed group) are collectively capable of the same level of horrible given the same power (which is what was being said). The primary reason women don’t typically sink to the same level of horrible collectively isn’t because of something innate to women. It is because they are systematically denied the power to do so. If women (or any other group) are given equal power they will abuse it equally.

  25. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Well, we’ve never had a time when women were the prevailing wind, so to speak. They’ve always been within an existing male structure.

    I dunno. History shows more of a “gender role” structure than a “male structure.” Men do this, women do that. But I get what you’re saying.

    It’s hard to keep that kind of thing from tilting male.

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Dr. Joiner’s just being a cracker who is tone deaf to what he sounds like because he doesn’t have to be concerned.

    Concerned about what?

    @Grewgills:

    When we get to the point that that problem is even on the horizon I’ll worry about it.

    Problem?

  26. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    Problem?

    I’m just asking because it seems like a lot of people think the male-dominated society should be replaced with the female-dominated society…

  27. Alex says:

    Is it possible that this could also relate to specialties? IR is not my field at all, but I do know academics in other fields who definitely report that gender balance is unequally distributed across various sub-fields. In anthropology, for example, women are much more likely to go into cultural anthropology than into biological anthropology, so cultural anthro courses are much more likely to have female instructors and assigned readings by female authors. It’s not because there’s a bias on the part of the instructors in cultural anthro to assign like-gendered authors (or bias on the part of the male profs over in bio anthro, for that matter, who are assigning more male authors), but because the sub-field as a whole just has more women.

  28. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills: So the “male-dominated society should be replaced with the female-dominated society” stuff isn’t really a thing? That’s just me barking at the moon?

  29. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: I’m inclined to believe sexism is part of the reason for the difference here, although I’m guessing inertia is more important. My point is that the variable “sex of author” is pretty low on the scale of importance. If there’s some specific viewpoint being neglected, that’s important. If very good articles by women are being ignored in favor of mediocre ones by men, that’s important. But maybe males are publishing more articles in the cornerstone journals while women are publishing in minor journals. Maybe that’s sexism, too, although peer review is typically blind. But we just don’t know much here because the reporting doesn’t show any other variables. (The actual journal article may well answer all these concerns.)

    @Gustopher: Yes, I concur that “best” has all manner of facets. All things being equal, diversity of viewpoint matters. But I’m more concerned with scholastic diversity—diversity of theoretical insights and the like—than diversity of identity.

    @Alex: Things are changing but women are more represented in the “softer” IR subfields that deal with culture and the like vice the “hard” subfields that deal with the use of military power.

  30. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    So the “male-dominated society should be replaced with the female-dominated society” stuff isn’t really a thing? That’s just me barking at the moon?

    If we’re talking about things that are even remotely likely to happen in the foreseeable future, then yes. You can bark away if you like, but there’s no point to it. It’s a nonissue. Women will not in the foreseeable future be assuming the dominant role in society that men have jealously guarded for the past, well, all of recorded history and before. Placing that concern adjacent to concerns about real and systemic sexism is ridiculous and only serves to support the MRA assholes and people like them. I know that’s not you, but that is where your argument leads.

  31. Grewgills says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m inclined to believe sexism is part of the reason for the difference here, although I’m guessing inertia is more important.

    Inertia drives a lot of actions that act to reinforce privilege. The fact that inertia, or unrecognized privilege, is a major driving factor doesn’t act as a mitigating factor.

  32. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills:

    Women will not in the foreseeable future be assuming the dominant role in society that men have jealously guarded for the past, well, all of recorded history and before.

    This is what I alluded to in my response to Michael. Throughout recorded history, men dominated in male endeavors and women dominated in female endeavors, so we should probably stow this “dominant role in society” stuff right now. Both sexes played a dominant role in society. They dominated in their segregated gender roles.

    (Speaking of, I guarantee you that our cave woman ancestors fed more people gathering nuts and berries than our cave man ancestors fed by hunting, so how’s that for domination?)

    I know that’s not you, but that is where your argument leads.

    To MRA? I’m not sure it’s my argument that inspires the MRAs. They seem to be really responding to the arguments saying, “You’ve had all of recorded history. Now it’s our turn.”

    Me, I’m not really a big believer in gender roles, nor do I think one sex should dominate the other. Even as payback.

  33. CrustyDem says:

    @DrDaveT:

    LOL. And sorry, that came off a lot more dickish than intended, I tried to edit/delete but was too slow.

    My PhD wasn’t particularly quantitative, either, and my wife also definitely handles the checkbook…

  34. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    Throughout recorded history, men dominated in male endeavors and women dominated in female endeavors, so we should probably stow this “dominant role in society” stuff right now. Both sexes played a dominant role in society. They dominated in their segregated gender roles.

    Seriously? Men got to dominate in all the political and economic roles in society, women were kept as property for almost all of history, men were allowed to beat their wives without consequence for almost all of history, and spousal rape by a husband against his wife wasn’t even a legal reality until very recently. Women got to dominate the cleaning, raising of children and household chores though, so even Steven right? Do you really think that is anything close to even?

  35. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    Throughout recorded history, men dominated in male endeavors and women dominated in female endeavors

    Sorry, no. Men dominated in male endeavors, and in female endeavors. Women who attempted to exercise authority were easy to get rid of — do a quick search on the history of witchcraft trials.

    There have been occasional matriarchal societies here and there. All of the big ones, though, have been run by men, for men. Any power exercised by women has been indirect and contingent. You know that stereotype about women being manipulative? Blame men for that.

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @CrustyDem:

    My PhD wasn’t particularly quantitative, either, and my wife also definitely handles the checkbook…

    Mine was, actually. I dashed my adviser’s hopes of someday overseeing a PhD dissertation with no theorems in it. That was just the intro theory section, though — the bulk was simulation-based.

  37. DrDaveT says:

    @CrustyDem:

    LOL. And sorry, that came off a lot more dickish than intended

    No sweat; I successfully detected the irony (for once).

  38. Crusty Dem says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Mine had plenty of calculations, but I managed to avoid anything excessive, except for a section that obliterated a theory that never really caught on to general use. I had discovered it in the literature and thought it might be quite useful, but the assumptions didn’t hold up and the whole thing was garbage.

    Which pretty much applied to the rest of the whole damn thesis, come to think of it…

  39. Crusty Dem says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Very good. A well honed detector.

  40. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills:

    Seriously?

    Seriously.

    Women got to dominate the cleaning, raising of children and household chores though, so even Steven right?

    I don’t recall ever saying it’s even steven. I did say that I don’t really believe in gender roles so I think you’re not reading the nuance into what I’m trying to say.

    And, hey, maybe I’m just not putting the words together right. Let me put it this way:

    History is not filled with a bunch of sexist men dominating women. It’s filled with a bunch of people dividing their labor along gender roles.

    Yes, men were the authority in certain matters we now deem important, matters which have a certain status. This is a historical fact. But women were the authority in certain matters, too, and it’s a mistake to think those matters were unimportant or low status. They’re crucial to our development as a species.

    I’m fine with the contemporary blurring of gender roles. It is, really, just a way to divide up labor, and gender isn’t much of a factor for that in this technological age. So let men be nurses and maids (I mean, “janitors”) and let women be cops and construction workers. High five.

    @DrDaveT:

    There have been occasional matriarchal societies here and there. All of the big ones, though, have been run by men, for men. Any power exercised by women has been indirect and contingent.

    Again, this is explained by historical gender roles, a way to divide labor. Not sexism. The sexism came later.

  41. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    History is not filled with a bunch of sexist men dominating women.

    You need to take a closer look at how women were treated throughout history, particularly the last couple of thousand years. Throughout all of that time in almost all places, that is exactly what happened. Women were largely relegated to the role of property of first their fathers then their husbands.

    It’s filled with a bunch of people dividing their labor along gender roles.

    Bullshit. Certainly labor and most everything else was divided along gender roles, but those roles were set by the men to their advantage and almost uniformly when women tried to step out of those roles they were persecuted or killed. This wasn’t just some divvying up of women do the dishes and laundry while men take out the trash and take care of the yard. This was one sex taking the dominant role and women being forced to accept that.

    But women were the authority in certain matters, too, and it’s a mistake to think those matters were unimportant or low status. They’re crucial to our development as a species.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I take it you mean that women were primarily responsible for household chores and raising children. Yes those are important, but they were also considered low status roles by society at large. If those were considered high status roles then women who could afford it wouldn’t have pawned them off on barely compensated nannies, nursemaids, cooks, and maids. Those wet nurses, nannies, cooks and maids would have had higher status and pay if those roles had status and value to society. It was the men’s roles that held prestige and power other than in a very few exceptions. You cannot seriously look at how women were treated throughout history and conclude that this was simply a case of divvying up labor along gender lines.

    I’m fine with the contemporary blurring of gender roles. It is, really, just a way to divide up labor, and gender isn’t much of a factor for that in this technological age.

    Having a daughter I am fricking ecstatic with the contemporary blurring of gender roles. I wouldn’t want her to have been born into any time or place in history other than a Western democracy today. Every other time and place put women in a more inferior position in regards what they could choose to do or be and every other time and place were considerably more dangerous to her and her bodily autonomy. And no, it isn’t just the modern age with its technology that made those gender roles unnecessary. Most of those gender roles other than carrying a baby, feeding a baby in early months or some few particular positions that required greater upper body strength weren’t necessary then any more than they are now. Men dominated those roles (political, economic, and scholarly) because they had the power to freeze women out of them, not because they were just dividing labor along gender lines.

    Again, this is explained by historical gender roles, a way to divide labor. Not sexism. The sexism came later.

    BS again, it was sexism pure and simple that codified those gender roles historically and up to now. It was sexism that assigned the female roles less prestige and power. It was sexism that made women into property. It was sexism that subjected women to beatings and rape that they had no recourse from.
    Seriously, try your line of argument with just about any professional woman. For bonus points, try it with any educated feminist. Your arguments will be ripped to shreds.

  42. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce: about what he sounds like when he says stuff like ” Who’s being sexist here?”

  43. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills: Is there a way to discuss this without getting all offended? It’s not like I’m saying women should stay in the kitchen….

    Certainly labor and most everything else was divided along gender roles, but those roles were set by the men to their advantage and almost uniformly when women tried to step out of those roles they were persecuted or killed.

    To men’s advantage? Hey, I know authority is empowering, but “heavy weighs the crown.” Here we are, mourning the fact that women were relegated to domestic chores, pitying the persecution of any woman who wanted to break free from those gender roles. We’re not, however, going to mourn for the man who doesn’t want to the fight the battles or do all the back-breaking work. We’re going to call that dude a lazy coward and feel not one ounce of guilt about it. Is he not persecuted too? This is how gender roles work. Conform to them…or get dogged.

    Hate to say it, but your argument doesn’t seem to be “gender roles are bad” so much as it saying “the male gender role is better.” And that’s what I’m disputing here. The male role isn’t better, in some cases it’s worse, and we’re never really going to get over this “sexist” thing if the male role is going to continue to be seen as the more desirable role.

    It was sexism that assigned the female roles less prestige and power.

    This, sir, I agree with. And if all we’re going to do is replace a king with a queen, what are we going to do about this “female roles have less prestige and power” problem? It remains unaddressed.

    For bonus points, try it with any educated feminist.

    Isn’t that what I’m doing now?

  44. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Pearce:

    History is not filled with a bunch of sexist men dominating women. It’s filled with a bunch of people dividing their labor along gender roles.

    Absolutely. It just so happened, across all societies through millenia, that the men got stuck with all the work that provided power, glory, money and influence, that they filled the courts and legislatures and ran the banks and led the armies and got to travel and go to school, that they were the priests and merchants and soldiers and bankers and explorers and traders and scholars and lawyers, while women were largely left at home, uneducated, unable to travel, unable to sign contracts or control any money or own a home or go to school or own a business or serve in the military or as a priest. Nothing sexist about it. That’s just how they all chose to do it.

  45. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    To men’s advantage? Hey, I know authority is empowering, but “heavy weighs the crown.”

    Yet it never seems so heavy that the person with it wants to put it down.

    We’re not, however, going to mourn for the man who doesn’t want to the fight the battles or do all the back-breaking work. We’re going to call that dude a lazy coward and feel not one ounce of guilt about it. Is he not persecuted too?

    Everyone who wasn’t at the very top was persecuted to some degree, that doesn’t mean that everyone was persecuted evenly. Women had it worse at every level. Even queens generally had more difficulty governing than kings because they were women. Women of middle class homes were the property of their husbands, just as the wives of poor husbands were theirs. This was not a simple assigning of labor along gender roles, unless you think being property is a gender assigned labor roll.
    To give you an analog to your argument: Poor, white, Southern men that didn’t own property were persecuted in what became the Confederate states. African Americans were also persecuted in what became the Confederate states. We don’t look back and say, “hey they were both persecuted so stop focusing on the black folk.”

    Hate to say it, but your argument doesn’t seem to be “gender roles are bad” so much as it saying “the male gender role is better.”

    Those are not mutually exclusive. Gender roles are in almost all cases bad. They are bad for men and they were worse, often MUCH worse, for women. Can you really not see that?

    We’re not, however, going to mourn for the man who doesn’t want to the fight the battles or do all the back-breaking work. We’re going to call that dude a lazy coward and feel not one ounce of guilt about it.

    Like we do for bankers, business men, priests, etc etc etc?

    And if all we’re going to do is replace a king with a queen, what are we going to do about this “female roles have less prestige and power” problem?

    Do you really believe that this problem is on the horizon? That you seemed to believe so was what prompted me to respond to you in the first place. If you really think that we are stripping away men’s privilege to turn that privilege over to women in anything like the foreseeable future, then I have a bridge to sell you. That, by the way, is the MRA argument, that men’s roles are being stolen by women and men are becoming second class citizens. If that is the company your argument keeps you need to rethink your argument.

  46. James Pearce says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Nothing sexist about it. That’s just how they all chose to do it.

    You can choose to view history as a bunch of domineering men lording over acquiescent or subjugated women, but I think it was a bit more complicated than that.

    @Grewgills:

    They are bad for men and they were worse, often MUCH worse, for women. Can you really not see that?

    The “better or worse” question is pointless. Women couldn’t vote. Men got conscripted. Is it really worse to live as a servant than die at the end of a sword?

    Is this question, who had it worse, even important to understanding the demerits of rigid gender roles? To me, it has a status-seeking element that I’m just not comfortable with. Frankly it buys into a victimization narrative that I think is bogus.

    We all have trauma. And it’s all equally bad. So this:

    If you really think that we are stripping away men’s privilege to turn that privilege over to women in anything like the foreseeable future, then I have a bridge to sell you.

    Nah…I don’t usually talk about privilege. Complaints about privilege, I think, are also bogus.

    It’s not the privilege that’s objected to. It’s that the wrong people are being privileged.

  47. Grewgills says:

    Is this question, who had it worse, even important to understanding the demerits of rigid gender roles?…We all have trauma. And it’s all equally bad.

    It is certainly a part of it. The people that were kept as property had it worse. Your argument put in another context is that chattel slavery in the US was just divvying up labor along racial roles. There’s no point in talking about whether blacks or whites had it worse when discussing Jim Crowe or slavery.

    Women couldn’t vote. Men got conscripted. Is it really worse to live as a servant than die at the end of a sword?

    The ubiquity of those things matters. Virtually all women were held as property. A relatively small minority of men died in war. Keep in mind women were raped and killed in war too, it wasn’t just the province of men.
    If you were transported back in time 100, 1000, or 10000 years ago would you rather live the life of a man in that era or a woman? Would you rather live the life of someone in the dominant ethic group or the subservient ethnic group? Put yourself in that position and think about your position that it doesn’t matter which group had it worse.

    Nah…I don’t usually talk about privilege. Complaints about privilege, I think, are also bogus.

    You have the luxury of thinking that because you were born to privilege.

    It’s not the privilege that’s objected to. It’s that the wrong people are being privileged.

    Nonsense. If that were the case, I’d support the current regime. I am a reasonably attractive, tall, white male born to a middle class white family in the US. I won the privilege lottery at birth. Do you really think that I am arguing that women and minorities should be in charge and that I should be put in the position they are in now, or worse the position they were in 50 or more years ago?
    Privilege being concentrated in the hands of people that won that lottery at the expense of everyone else is what is objected to. The people who have that privilege too often jealously guard it or dismiss its existence. Had you been born something other than a white male I’m pretty sure you would recognize the privileges you lacked.

    You can choose to view history as a bunch of domineering men lording over acquiescent or subjugated women, but I think it was a bit more complicated than that.

    Of course it is more complicated, but that doesn’t mean that systemic sexism and racism weren’t rampant throughout history or that the effects of that sexism and racism didn’t exist. It certainly doesn’t mean “We all have Everybody had trauma. And it’s all equally bad.”

  48. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:
    This bit really nagged at me

    We all have trauma. And it’s all equally bad.

    so:
    Blacks and whites in the Jim Crowe south both had trauma. And it was all equally bad.
    Slaves and slave holders both had trauma. And it was all equally bad.
    Nazis and Jews both had trauma. And it was all equally bad.
    On the Trail of Tears soldiers and Native Americans both had trauma. And it was all equally bad.
    On the Bataan Death March soldiers and captives both had trauma. And it was all equally bad.
    I could go on, but I think you get the point. Blithely dismissing historical inequalities as unimportant and pretending that both sides in unequal interactions had it equally bad is at best blind.

  49. Pinky says:

    Yes, as always, the left defaults to a Marxist class-conflict model. It assumes that there is an association of people, men, who exploit another group, women. It falls apart if you think about people as individuals, but the whole point of it is to never think about people that way. There’s just the sea of error-prone humanity, and the wise Marxist who is able to see them as groups to be balanced. In politics, as groups to be placated. It’s Rafer and Gills who sound like the men’s rights people, just the opposite side of the coin. I made the comment recently that Trump would turn the Republican Party into the Democratic Party for whites, and this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Treating people as categories, and promising to arrange a new balance between them. Healthy thought, whether personal or political, involves making things better for everyone rather than playing groups off of each other.

    Too many ideas there to be expressed in one comment, but all sort of one idea that underlies a lot of what’s said on this site.

  50. Grewgills says:

    Yep, Pink systems set up by people never favor one class of people over the other except by happenstance. Well, unless it is liberal social engineering. Groups of people over the course of history didn’t oppress other groups for their own advancement, it was just happenstance that some groups ended up on top. Those groups that by happenstance ended up on top just stayed their by happenstance, not because they engineered the societies they ran to stay that way. The individuals in those societies that had privileged status just happened to keep it too, because, well what were they to do?

    Treating people as categories, and promising to arrange a new balance between them.

    God forbid we recognize that groups of people have been treated as categories since there have been people. God forbid we recognize that had consequences and try to ameliorate any of them, that would be marxist and thus evil. Jesus man, are you even trying to understand our arguments or are you just looking for buzz words and trying to score points?

  51. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    We all have trauma. And it’s all equally bad.

    [boggle]

    This is so far from right, it’s not even wrong. It’s off the scale of cognitive dissonance. I cannot imagine the mind of someone who really thinks that my cushy life is “equally bad” when compared with, say, a concentration camp victim.

    All pain is unfortunate, yes. But not all pain is equal. Not even remotely so.

  52. Pinky says:

    @Grewgills: I get your arguments. They are, in two words, “who, whom?”.

  53. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills:

    Your argument put in another context is that chattel slavery in the US was just divvying up labor along racial roles.

    No. My argument is that gender roles developed over time as a way to divide labor, not as a way to keep baby in a corner. You can’t apply that argument to chattel slavery. And frankly, not only are you twisting the argument, you’re doing so to make it appear that I endorse both sexism and slavery.

    To be clear, I endorse neither.

    A relatively small minority of men died in war.

    My point, Grewgills, is that they were all men. Women didn’t do the war-fighting. The gender role sword cuts both ways. You’re going to complain that gender roles kept women in a box, but pretend that box doesn’t also exist for men?

    Seriously, dude, you act like never in history was there a man who loved his wife. It was all just men domineering women.

    You have the luxury of thinking that because you were born to privilege.

    I was born to two blue collar parents that would split up five years later. We lived in a trailer.

    On the privileged scale, I was pretty low.

    As for the trauma stuff, I use that term because of something Freddie DeBoer wrote:

    Understand: I have never experienced trauma, according to the theories of the time. Not in the way that politics recognizes. Not in a way that they regard as legitimate. Because the deal now is that you will receive deference, and the right to speak with command, and the greatest laurel progressive culture now gives, the right to declare offense. But first, you have to play by their rules. You have to take that trauma and render it in the dullest, most cynical, most motivated language, a language of opportunism, subtlety-killing, particularity-killing. You have to submit. You have to take that part of you and make it into just another vehicle for someone else’s political pretense. Then, they’ll bless you with the right to trauma.

    See, it’s a little more complicated than traumatized women and privileged men.

  54. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    All pain is unfortunate, yes. But not all pain is equal. Not even remotely so.

    So you’re going to be the dude who tells someone their pain doesn’t matter as much as this other person’s?

    No, pain is equal. It has one effect: it hurts.

  55. Pinky says:

    @James Pearce: My guess is that you want to be saying that no one has a right to compare pain, rather than saying that all pain is equal (which makes you the person who’s measuring and comparing pain).

  56. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Pearce:

    My point, Grewgills, is that they were all men. Women didn’t do the war-fighting.

    No, they were just the ones who were raped, massacred,tortured, and sold into slavery by the soldiers. The fact that women didn’t do the war-fighting didn’t mean that women avoided the war-suffering and war-dying. It only meant that they were helpless to defend themselves against it.

  57. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    No. My argument is that gender roles developed over time as a way to divide labor, not as a way to keep baby in a corner.

    It is not either or, it is both and. People that have power have historically used that power to increase their comfort at the expense of others. Once power was gained it was in almost all circumstances jealously guarded.

    My point, Grewgills, is that they were all men. Women didn’t do the war-fighting. The gender role sword cuts both ways. You’re going to complain that gender roles kept women in a box, but pretend that box doesn’t also exist for men?

    As Rafer noted and I noted in my earlier comment, although men did most of the war fighting the war dying wasn’t limited to men. Through most of history the women of the losers were taken and raped as well. The divvying up of labor gave women very limited specific roles and gave men far more options. To be clear, gender wasn’t and isn’t the sole determiner of privilege then or now. That someone has privilege doesn’t mean that they have all privileges. The ruling class, whether chiefs, kings, oligarchs, or whatever had the greatest privilege and the easiest lives. A woman of the ruling class did better than a man in the lower classes, but all things else being equal (ethnicity, wealth, etc) men had more power and more choices. If you can’t look at history and see that there is nothing I can say to convince you of anything and really no more point in us talking about this.

    Seriously, dude, you act like never in history was there a man who loved his wife. It was all just men domineering women.

    Then you don’t understand me at all. Someone can love someone and also hold them in a subservient position. Parents love their children yet hold them in a subservient position. Most marriages were arranged, but there were loving families. In those loving families there was a clearly societally endorsed power structure and at the top of that hierarchy was the husband/father. The wife was subservient to the husband even when they loved each other. Look at traditional wedding vows, who pledges to love, honor, and obey?

    I was born to two blue collar parents that would split up five years later. We lived in a trailer.

    On the privileged scale, I was pretty low.

    My parents split at near the same time and we lived in a small apartment. My mom worked as a bank teller to pay her way through law school while raising me on her own with the help of my grandmothers. By the time I was in grade school she had made it through law school and was working as a prosecutor (private firms didn’t hire women then, at least not where we lived). Still, that put us in the middle class living in apartments with me hanging out in the judges chambers while she worked when a grandmother couldn’t watch me. Still, I was privileged and so were you. You may not be able to see it, but being white and male has made things easier for you than being black or female and coming from the same background. Again, having privilege or privileges doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and roses and you never have to work. Being white, male, christian, wealthy, to educated parents, etc gives you a leg up. To borrow from someone more eloquent than me, it is like playing a video game on easy mode (or an easier mode). Can you really not wrap your head around this?

    So you’re going to be the dude who tells someone their pain doesn’t matter as much as this other person’s?

    No, pain is equal. It has one effect: it hurts.

    You are really digging yourself a hole on this one. See my comment above. Yes, all pain hurts, but not all hurts are equal. To give you a less inflammatory example: if I get a paper cut or my arm hacked off by a dull saw it will hurt, but one of those hurts a hell of a lot more. Not all hurts are equal. Not all suffering is equal.
    Back to the inflammatory examples:
    The wives of plantation owners in Alabama in the 1860s were held as property to their husbands and subject to rape or beatings if the husband chose to do so (not all did).
    African Americans in Alabama in the 1860s were also held as property and also subject to rape or beatings if the owner chose to do so (not all did).
    They were both held subservient. They were both suffered pain. Hell, even the slave owner suffered pain. The pain they suffered was not remotely the same in frequency or degree. To pretend otherwise is blind at best.
    You are generally thoughtful and reasonable in your commentary, but you seem to have a blind spot here a mile wide.

  58. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    To be clear, I endorse neither.

    To be fair, I think our preferred outcomes on gender, race, etc are the same, or at least very close. Neither of us want gender, ethnicity, religion, etc to limit anyone’s choice of education, career, etc. I think we both recognize that the vast majority gender roles are arbitrary and serve very little to no purpose in our society. Our disagreement lies more in history and your visceral dislike of privilege arguments.