Sunday, March 22, 2009

Romantic renegades

"Why do women love Bad Boys? Why do 'nice guys finish last' with the ladies, while no woman can resist the charm of a 'black-hearted varmint' like Rhett Butler? . . . What if, beneath the rugged veneer of the proud renegade, a woman espies something more tender, honest and decent than is apparent to those who judge superficially? Well, then, if she can win his love, she will have gotten herself a genuine romantic bargain. And, as you know, no woman can resist a bargain."

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You might also enjoy Wythywindle's "Athens & Jerusalem" analysis of my critique of feminism and Washington culture. His analysis is couched in terms of classical philosophy and literature. My critique is mostly based on long years of observation and experience. So if I am making points that in some way resemble the arguments of, inter alia, Erasmus, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jurgen Habermas and Harvey Mansfield -- well, we are all observers of the same phenomena, and therefore our descriptions will be similar. But I can't say with surety that I've read anything by any of those writers, except perhaps Mansfield.

Also, Wythywindle says I "distinguish . . . male predilections for reason with female predilections for emotion." Not exactly. I do not insist that men are "reasonable," or logical, or empirical, or any such thing. I just mean they don't sit around talking about their feelings about relationships the way women do. It is the obsession with the emotional content of personal relationships (who likes who, who hates who, who snubbed who, etc.) that I find remarkably distinctive in women's routine conversation.

I have argued (er, somewhere) that the typical girls-on-the-third-grade-playground cattiness -- the tendency of girls to form cliques, and to tally up perceived slights to themselves and their friends, etc. -- exists in large measure because girls seldom resort to violence to resolve disputes. If a boy tried that routine ("Oh, you can't be her friend and be my friend, too, because blah, blah, blah . . .") over on the boys' side of the playground, he'd pretty soon get punched in the nose.

If a boy gets his feelings hurt that way, he'll either sulk until he gets over it, or else he'll get violent with the person who hurt his feelings. And here, the Alpha-male factor comes into play: The bigger, stronger, rowdier boys on the playground tend to dominate by the threat (implied or expressed) of violence. Ergo, the big tough boys don't have to worry about any lesser boy saying anything hurtful to them, because that would result in a pounding for the lesser boy.

Boy-culture is therefore naturally hierarchical, with status based largely on physical prowess and perceived toughness, in a way that girl-culture never is. To the extent that queen bee of the third-grade playground is dominant, she is dominant because she is pretty and nice. But in general, the absence of the threat of violence means that girl-culture is more naturally egalitarian.

The importance of niceness in girl-culture status hierarchies is seldom mentioned by those who speak of sex differences, although it has been studied somewhat by developmental psychologists. But niceness is not always nice. It coexists with, and is inextricably bound up in, the cattiness and bickering that typifies girl-culture.

At any rate, these fundamental differences in boy-culture and girl-culture are reflected in the characteristic attitudes and behaviors of adult men and women. Understanding the nature of status within girl-culture is therefore key to the man who desires the esteem of women. But that's a lot more complex subject than I feel like exploring just now.

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