Archive for January, 2009

Self-help Books Continue to Spout Nonsense

Megan Basham’s book “Beside Every Successful Man” is reviewed in The American. Once again, a woman (who works, clearly, as a writer) is telling the world that the ladies don’t like working, really. They much prefer to manage a house and raise the kiddies.

“Ask a group of mothers if they would continue to work full-time if they didn’t have to and the answer will overwhelmingly come back ‘No!’” she writes. In her universe, women prefer to “devote hours to planning a pumpkin patch excursion or to scrapbooking our most recent family vacation.”

Yes. How thrilling.

The American describes the book as “a fairly standard career guide, albeit one cleverly packaged to reflect the fact that it is generally women, not men, who buy self-help books.”

Reviewer Laura Vanderkam also points out “Studies have found that a big reason professional women drop out of the workforce is not that they don’t want to work, but rather that there is insufficient flexibility in their jobs—partly because their male colleagues and bosses have such “supportive” wives that they don’t need flexibility. In other words, the two-people-one-paycheck model Basham extols makes life harder, not only on working moms, but also on men who want to have a balanced life and spend more time with their children.”

What books (and authors) like Basham reveal is that the corporate environment is largely reliant on an old model – the one-income, house-wife one, which has long since bit the dust.

A better advice tome would be a guide for businesses on how to increase their flexibility to get the most out of their workers while supporting their responsibilities to their families.

image from Random House


On Hype

After watching Slumdog Millionaire, at the urging of a few, very impressed, people, I start to wonder about hype.

Slumdog uses the structure of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to hang on a kind of biography cum romance of Jamal – the questions spark memories of how he knows the answer, and also provides the opportunity to see how he got from impoverished street child to gameshow contestant, and why.

While the film is well made, it’s not on the same level as Trainspotting, also directed by Danny Boyle.

And I wonder why it has struck such a note with people. It won four Golden Globes – for score, director, screenplay, and drama. While I agree that the score is good, it is the cinematography, rather than the directing, that really stands out.

My suspicion is that the film is serious and dramatic in it’s treatment of the experience of a dangerous and impoverished childhood – the best scenes in the film are when the three main characters are around 6 – and has more at stake than a standard romantic plot, while still (SPOILER) fulfilling the appealing ‘rags to riches’ and romantic ‘happily ever after’. It’s a gritty drama about violence and poverty with a feel-good framing device and ending. Would it be cruel to call it drama-lite?

The audience feels the anxiety and emotional weight of serious drama, with all the social and political questions it raises, while still enjoying the catharsis of a mostly happy ending. There’s even a dance during the credits (a nod to Bollywood that I thought was actually quite sweet and clever).

But doesn’t the happy ending kind of pull the punch? In the world Boyle’s shown us, there are only moments of relaxation – his characters live hard lives, and have to make sometimes callous decisions. The conceit of the show allows the audience to assume an escape, but it also pulls focus. Not all the beggar children can win millions of rupees and be saved by the purity of true love. They have to keep stealing or whoring or working for gangsters.

Maybe that is what Boyle wants to stick with us. While the main characters escape, and we’ve left the theatre relieved by their reprieve, will the images of the blind beggar children slowly float through our consciousness? A spoonful of sugar to help the memory go down?

Though the film is good, it certainly doesn’t live up to the hype – it doesn’t have that thing, that je ne sais quoi that makes a film impressive. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t quite stick.

Sloppy Sciene to Reinforce 1950s Gender Rules

Jezebel points to news coverage of “research” printed in the Journal of Theoretical Biology that uses game theory to suggest that if women deny sex early on in dating/relationships, they will be more likely to attain a commitment from a ‘good’ (“reliable”) male, as they are more likely to wait.

Professor Robert Seymour, from University College London (UCL), who created the model, said (…) “A male’s willingness to court for a long time is a signal that he is likely to be a good male. (…) A male is assumed to always want to mate with a female, but a good male is more willing to pay the cost of a long courtship in order to claim the prize of mating.”

“The female’s strategy is a compromise – a trade-off between on the one hand the greater risk of mating with a bad male if she mates too quickly, and on the other hand the time cost of delay. ”

His most telling comment: She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate.
(quoted from the Telegraph).

Naturally, this study trips up logically where it makes a few broad, gender-based assumptions:
a) all men (‘good’ or ‘bad’) want only sex (‘good’ = willing to wait, ‘bad’= not)
b) all women (who aren’t divided at all) want commitment over sex
c) only women use the courtship period to ‘gather information’ about their ‘mate’
d) all men aren’t interested in commitment

It’s frustrating that this kind of “research” is even getting funding. With a premise so heavily flawed, how can one hope to gain any valid information? If one is really interested in finding out the evolutionary basis for long courtship periods and monogamy, surely one should start out by looking at what the advantages are for the parties and communities involved, and then draw conclusions, rather than the other way around.

In this case, the conclusions were, sloppily, drawn first, and based entirely on the assumption that all men want the same thing, all women want the same thing, no men and women want the same thing, and relationships are a kind of competition where each gender attempts to get the most of what they want while surrendering the least of what the other person wants.

Needless to say, this also completely ignores the 10% or so of the population that aren’t heterosexual, and the portion that remains single.


Marry Young

from msnbc

Saudi Arabia’s most senior Muslim cleric as saying it is OK for 10-year-old girls to marry.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper also quotes Sheik Abdul-Aziz bin Baz, the country’s grand mufti, as saying that those who believe women should not marry before the age of 25 are following a “bad path.”

This is his response to human rights groups agitating to prevent such marriages.

My question is, what else is on this ‘bad path’ – financial and emotional independence? Perhaps growing intellectually mature enough to question the rites and traditions of their religion?

This actually reminds me a bit of this article in the Atlantic (Lori Gottlieb, March 2008). I don’t think that the author was recommending marriage of minors, but her argument is to settle because, as she claims that if you “ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child)”..

By this logic, yon cleric is right. All we ladies need, really, is the stability of a marriage wherein we can, once sufficiently physically developed, make babies. All that career talk, that’s just gab.

Now, Gottlieb argues that people settle anyway, she’s just being ‘different’ by treating it like it’s good. I would argue that people aren’t ‘settling’ so much as maturing to the point where they understand and appreciate the complexity of human nature and relationships, rather than expecting a flawless, indulgent, semi-parental figure to cheerlead and provide everything.

The problem with both of these viewpoints is that they fall into the trap of assuming all women are the same. You’ll notice that the cleric isn’t urging men to marry before the age of 25, and that Gottlieb doesn’t have a male counterpart urging men to marry so they aren’t left childless and alone, regardless of what security they might find in their career, financial independence, or various non-marriage relationships.

That people still make such generalizations, and use their position to advise the untaught masses, baffles me. Both Abdul-Aziz bin Baz and Gottlieb assume that even as adults, women won’t be able to make the choice that is ‘right’ – i.e. making babies and marriage a priority. The Sheik thinks, therefore, that they should be married as soon as they’re weaned, before any life experience or schooling gets in the way, and Gottlieb that they should ignore or discount said experience and schooling and just jump right in and make with the babies, in a wholesome, ‘traditional’, nuclear family.

Women are grown-ups, too. Let’s stop assuming that we are incapable of making choices about what is best for us, individually.


I am blogging here now, rather than at Grand plans have I.


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