Sunday, June 12, 2011

Real women and real men

A troll named Dudequest (no link due to no respect) over at Ozymandias's prompted me to consider my view of gender roles. I think there are a set of virtues that comprise being a "real man" and another set that comprise being a "real woman." However, none of them are mutually exclusive, opposed, nor contradictory, and none of them become vices when exemplified by the opposite gender. It possible for the same person to be at the same time more of a real man than most men and more of a real woman than most women, and the difficulty is only in living up to so many virtues at the same time. Not any kind of conflicting values/virtues issue. By reason of cultural conditioning or differing hormone makeup it tends to be easier for men to exemplify the "real man" virtues and women to exemplify the "real woman" virtues, but they are by no means exclusive.

Robert A. Heinlein famously said in "Time Enough for Love"
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Virtue is like that; though many are more common in one gender than another, none are the exclusive province of one gender, and in my view as a Christian the lack of any virtue will not be excused by the idea that's the other gender's speciality.

So, for example, I think Lieutenant General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, for example, was more a real man than almost anyone ever, but at the same time more of a real woman than, say, Twisty Faster. And Elizabeth Moon, judging by her characters like Paksenarrion or Heris Serrano, is far more a real man than Dudequest as well as likewise more a real woman than Twisty.

Given that these virtues are not exclusive to one gender or the other, why identify them with gender? That can be embarrassing for a girl that has better-developed "real man" virtues or a boy that has better-developed "real woman" virtues. To go a little further, it can lead to people who, lacking any virtues at all, try to pretend their very lack of the opposite gender's traditional virtues is in itself a virtue. E.g., a man with no compassion who claims he's not a pussy or a woman with no courage who claims not to be poisoned with testosterone; that man probably has no courage and that woman probably has no compassion.

The reason not to get rid of the gender identification is that we just don't have a good alternative way of inspiring or teaching these virtues yet. And it's much better for society if the virtues are divided half-and-half than if no one has them. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If the branch you are sitting on needs pruning, move to another one BEFORE you saw it off. It's ridiculously easy to see the flaws in the old system, and damnably hard to create a new one that's actually better. Experiments with significantly different moral teachings on the large scale tend to result in more death and misery than anything else in history except maybe the Black Plague. Meanwhile, recognize and praise courage in women and compassion in men as well as the other way around, there's lots out there to see and that'll get you farther towards finding a better, less gendered way to inspire courage and compassion.


  1. Dudequest would like to inform you that his blog is about "guy things" like girls, NASA, roleplaying games and guy movies. I didn't realize I was a boy now. The things you learn!

    Your argument is really interesting! I think our culture has to a certain degree come to devalue compassion, possibly as a side effect of the phobia of the feminine many people experience. Certainly there's a lot more valorization of extremely courageous people than extremely kind.

  2. Thanks! I think the greater lionization of courageous people comes because extremely courageous people often give their lives in an obvious way while it's not so obvious with kind people; but it seems to me it would actually be much easier to die for others than to live for them.

  3. My respect for you bringing Heinlin in to this argument. The man thought more deeply on a lot of these issues than the vast majority of __________-studies graduates out there. Another entry from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long that apples to this debate(there are many):
    "Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up on the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, “equality” is a disaster."

  4. Oh, and Mousie: I'm not sure if you saw, but I ended up making a blog about men's rights spun off from the Who Cares About Men? post and, you know, it would be awesome if you commented. :) Abstinent men FTW.