Essence and expectation

If you checked News today you may have noticed that I did a Q&A at Science and Religion. This is faintly interesting or amusing or both because back at the beginning of the month, a mere couple of weeks ago, I was pointing out the different language used there for three men on the one hand and one woman on the other hand. Well they’re good sports at Science and Religion; Heather Wax thanked me for my comments and invited me to do this Q and A. So I did.

I enjoyed doing it, because this question interests me. I’m interested in social pressure and expectations and how they can become internalized and taken for granted so that we don’t know they’re operating and we think we’re making up our own minds when in fact we’re influenced by what other people think we should be doing and saying and wearing, along with a thousand other things. Don’t go thinking I think I’m immune to that kind of thing, because I don’t at all. I know very well I’m not.

I also don’t object to that, given that the alternative is just to be completely random, and what good would that be? We’re all influenced by a million things, and most of that we wouldn’t be without – that’s why we read books and talk to each other, after all. We operate in a context and at a particular time, we admire some things and despise others, we do things and say things for reasons. It all has to come from somewhere. But – it’s as well to be aware that influence is influence, as opposed to thinking it’s just How Things Are and How They Have to Be.

The thing about women and aggression is that it may or may not be the case that women as such are averse to aggression, but it’s pretty obvious that a lot of people want women to be averse to aggression, in the sense of compliant, complaisant, not argumentative. That level of aversion to perceived aggression would be a huge handicap for women, so if we are in fact by nature that turned off by argument and disagreement, we should train ourselves to get over it. We shouldn’t embrace claims that we are so ‘nice’ and conflict-averse that we react to a few brisk words from Dawkins or Hitchens with squeals of horror. We should be tougher than that. That doesn’t mean we should be brutal or sadistic, it just means we should be able to play with the big kids without bursting into tears all the time. It means we should be grown ups.

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