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Men and Women

What Do Women Want?

Kathryn Jean Lopez writes a frighteningly compelling article in which she details just a few of the bizarre and unhappy consequences of our confused and futile attempt to deny sex differences. One is that young women, when polled, are now more apt to blame the victim of domestic violence than they would have been in saner times. Another even more illustrative consequence is a trend (discussed here in Oprah's very mainstream O Magazine) of women leaving men because they are attracted to women who seem to have a better grasp of masculinity and chivalry.

Sad as it is, this last reminds me of the famous study in which little girls were given toy trucks to play with in lieu of dolls. The researchers found that the vast majority of the girls would play with the trucks as if they were dolls . . . bathing them, putting them to "bed" and, in general, nurturing them. And we all know about the propensity of boys to turn any available item into a weapon. What mother with children of both sexes hasn't been "shot" by a Barbie-doll gun? Have we really come to the point when women, unable to find men who are both masculine and chivalrous (or, perhaps, unable to recognize him when she does) must now resort to contorting themselves into the objects of their own desire? And what happens when the so-called "husband" or "butch" in these situations begins to awaken the needs that remain unfulfilled for her in the relationship?

The trouble with nurturing a truck is that no matter how amazing the powers of your imagination may be, it remains a truck. This may be fine when the question is child's play. At some point, however, we all long to put away childish things.

Categories > Men and Women

Discussions - 38 Comments

Would it be too much to suggest that Kathryn Jean Lopez suspend judgment about the domestic disputes of these folks until there has been some demonstration in the appropriate fora of just what happened and who did what antecedently? Evidently so.

I found a lot in K Lo's article to take issue with. I will raise one point. What is the evidence that young girls were "less apt" to "blame the victim" back in a "saner time"? [exactly what golden era are we talking about here?!] Are Julie and Kathryn implying that women or people in general were less tolerant and more enlightened about domestic violence in the 1950s or 1820s? It seems to me a more plausible explanation is that feminists have done a good job of bringing this formerly "private" matter (let's face it, 100....maybe even 25 years ago, this would not have made news - this is not to say it wouldn't have happened) into the public's consciousness, yet, they have failed at actually changing people's attitudes about it - no doubt an outgrowth of natural sexual differences and innate longing for hierarchy....but I digress

A professor once told me he'd heard the best thing to happen to a feminist (of the sort that deny sex differences) is to have a little girl first and do all the little girl things with her (but also put her in a sport and encourage her to be a doctor or lawyer, of course), then to have a little boy. It rocks their foundations. And for the record, my mother tried to raise my three brothers and I without any toy weapons, but she eventually gave up when we kept shooting at eachother with the hairdryer. Not to mention the busted fingers associated with "stick wars".

I agree with Lopez! Feminists are confusing, and I like things simple. I preferred the old days, when masculinity and femininity were not spectra, but rather dichotomies. Hondo, Rhett Butler, and the Sean Connery version of James Bond (Roger Moore established a dangerous precedent, if you ask me -- a slippery slope culminating in that wuss from "Remington Steele" pretending to be James Bond.) Those guys took what they wanted, and never looked back.

The same with femininity: I like my women feminine, like Doris Day in those Rock Hudson movies, which were great until Rock was confused by feminists. But, James Bond had his Honey Rider, and Octopussy, and Plenty O'Toole, and all those Bond women who would never be found nurturing trucks. Rhett had his Scarlett, who couldn't have nurtured a truck, because they hadn't been invented yet. And Hondo had -- well, his dog, Sam, because no woman could ever be quite woman enough to rope ol' Hondo. But, Sam the dog was all he needed, and there was nothing confusing about their relationship.

So, I am glad that Lopez has established that we can blame feminists for this recent confusion. Before feminists came along, no one would ever have blamed a rape victim for her rape, suggesting that her clothing, or her behavior somehow put her at risk.

Before feminists came along, conservatives and liberals alike rushed to defend wives who were attacked by their husbands, and to establish legal recourse for battered women and their children.

Before feminists came along, no one ever suggested that gays and lesbians deserved to be beaten and shunned, and humiliated, or deprived of the same rights and privileges that Hondo and Rhett, and Scarlett and Honey enjoyed.

Feminists are gulity of confusing us, and Lopez has a simple, straightforward, and (in retrospect) obvious answer to that confusion.

You do raise good points, Fung, but you don't address the main point of the post. I would say the accomplishments of feminism are mutually exclusive from the trouble it has wrought (ie institutionalizing the notion that men and women are the same thing with different sex organs). Can't we point out a problem without you assuming we demand women stay at home (preferably in the kitchen)? It's funny how the left always accuses the right of lacking nuance when it's the left who requires you agree with them entirely or accuses you standing diametrically opposed to them.

Well, that was Craig Scanlonish. This site seems to attract an unusual number of raving moonbats who are employed by the government-educational complex.

You do raise good points, Fung,

Pray tell, what were they? Foolish Fung vomited it's imbecilic bile all over the page.

Condense this stupid trolls "thoughts" down to their essence (a task seemingly beyond it) and it comes to this: Things were rotten in the bad old days before the left rode into town setting women free from the shackles of the reich-wing patriarchy.

In general, I think women pine away for things that most men cannot provide them. In the "bad old days," economic hardship and the social "straight-jacket" of marriage kept this pining in neutral, but today we have women leaving marriages for (often) silly reasons -- boredom, "verbal abuse," career...even lesbian lovers. If anyone doubts this, I encourage you to look up the statistics...66% of divorces are asked for by women, and the most common reason is "incompatibility," meaning that they have no substantial grounds. While I think it's true that the male gender has its heavy share of problems (e.g., aggression, status vainglory, etc.), I think it will be the women who ruin our civilization. They have been the social glue that held our families together, but they are leaving their posts in droves, and I doubt men will be flexible enough to "morph" themselves (i.e., tame themselves) into what women want.

For those of you who doubt me on this, just look at the divorce statistics, the living arrangements of children in this country, the criminality of young men raised in female-headed households, and the list goes on. This is a pathology, all in the name of self-actualization.

Andrew,

I guess I would ask you to review the comments in this thread for examples of dichotomous thinking -- including your own reply. The benefits and costs of feminism are not exclusive, but rather complementary components of the same developments. I can think of very few events that carry only positive (or only negative) effects.

If our society cannot find a way to provide equality (for those who want and value it!)despite a few structural differences, then the problem is a sociocultural one, and not likely to be resolved by pointing fingers at feminists.

Similarly, racism is unlikely to be resolved by blaming ethnic minorities (though that is certainly the dominant response for many) and poverty is not likely to be successfully resolved by blaming the poor (though that is also certainly the dominant response for many).

Consistent with that dominant response is a set of justifications that clutch at obvious, though irrelevant and scientifically indefensible "biological" differences (low IQ test scores for immigrants, low IQ test scores for ethnic groups, mutually exclusive "instincts" for women who dare to compete in the hard-headed world of business, etc.).

As for women leaving their husbands for other women: Isn't that a pretty smart adaptation? They are less likely to be beaten,raped, to be treated as second-class citizens, to be ignored or demeaned due to their gender and its supposed baggage. If the problem is divorce, then I don't see why divorce is any worse because the new partner is a woman. Studies also show that among men, married men are less depressed than singles, while, for women the opposite is true. Until men and women can figure out how to autonomously be responsible for their own psychic health, then people of all genders will be disappointed with their spouses. But, that is not feminism's fault -- instead, it is a sign that people expect their spouses to fulfil a parenting function, instead of a partnering one.

I might (if I'm bored this afternoon) spend some time looking this up to verify . . . but Fung, is it really true that there is less domestic violence in lesbian relationships? I seem to recall (mind you, this was at least 10 yrs. ago) looking at some research that suggested that DV in lesbian relationships was AT LEAST as common as in hetero relationships and, in fact, might be more common. Another problem associated with this kind of DV was that women who were the victims of it tended to be a lot less likely--at least then--to report it. But maybe Fung knows more about this. Seems rather in his line.

Julie,

As you rightly suggest, the research on same-sex domestic violence is far from conclusive. There is a bit more research that focuses more simply on the proportion of different forms of violence that are female-initiated. Those suggest that females commit somewhere between 10% and 35% of violent acts.

Even that research, however, needs some pretty painstaking analysis: separating the data regarding juveniles from the data regarding domestic violence from the data regarding less "enduring" same-sex relationships.

My impression is that the research needs a few years before a clear picture emerges.

But, my earlier point should stand independent of the stats, since women are less likely to discriminate against other women because of their gender differences. Certainly, women are less likely to commit rape than men are, and the data are pretty clear that women are much less likely to commit violence in all forms than men are.

Another question for Fung: what does the data yield when you separate out married heterosexual couples from lesbian couples (as opposed to the universe of heterosexual couples v. lesbian couples)? Because I believe that it is also true that DV rates are higher for cohabiting heterosexual couples than it is for married heterosexual couples . . . and, if you separate it out further, DV is even less likely (if I recall correctly) among married heterosexual couples who are married to their first and only spouse. Things get sketchier in second and third marriages and in the mixing of children, etc. Statistically speaking, only, of course.

Leaving aside all of this data, your argument is still an odd one. You seem to be suggesting that lesbianism is the most rational of all alternatives for women to avoid discrimination, rape and violence. Yet even IF your data pans out in the way you suggest (which I still hold to be a dubious claim) you would only be correct if the purpose of the union were only the avoidance of discrimination, rape and violence. And, by your lights, isn't it sexist to suggest that a woman needs protection from discrimination, rape, and violence? I thought we were supposed to understand these days that a woman can take care of herself. Further, if what you're saying pans out, you also seem to be making the somewhat sexist point that the bulk of women are irrational. What else would you call the majority of women who (including, I guess, your wife) who choose men to help protect them? But perhaps they have been persuaded that some men are sufficiently feminine to do the job?

I think the nurturing of the truck is a bad example because even if you nuture a doll it is still an inanimate object that will not come to life like pinochio. If you could find research where girls who play with a certain toy are less likely to murder their children in an abortion than you may have something. The toy argument and the instint thing that goes with it seems moot when girls with pink rooms and doll collections go to planned parenthood to take care of mistakes.

I actually saw an article (which I promptly disregarded, btw) last week which tried to make the case that pink is a color that has a negative impact on the psyches of people. The author suggested that it makes people aggressive and violent and so it is a terrible choice for a girl's room. Perhaps then Brutus is on to something and this explains it all of modern society's ills . . .

Well I would rather wave a blue flag at a bull than a pink one...pink being after all a shade of red(with white in it) Hotpink might be violent in its closeness to red. light pink is just annoying...it starts to grey out like overcooked meat...in fact pink is a meat color...I like my steaks pink in the center...sunup and sundown is also pinkish/reddish/orangeish...and all three of those colors(in certain brighter variations) are seen as sexually aggressive...Orange is really a color for hunting jackets, reflectors...red for stop signs and when in the sun long enough they fade to a pink...

When you think about it, red fades to a more aggressive color than blue...baby or sky blue is weak and passive....

It might actually be that when folks picked colors for girls they wanted to make girls more aggressive and men less so...to counterballance and civilize what was natural.

Interesting comments especially by Fung, but Andrew shouldn't give up.

Julie,

Those are good questions. My sense is that I may not find good research to answer them (all) but I will try, instead of pretending that I know the answers.

Back in the bad old days, I worked in an institution for the Mentally Retarded, and we had pink "time Out" rooms, because pink was supposed to help mellow people out. Pink has since gone out of style in "Time Out" rooms, which indicates either (1) It was no more effective than any other color, or (2) Pink paint is more expensive than off-white.

I'm very busy, today, but I hope to try to find an answer to your questions.

John Lewis and Fung, interestingly, actually make me think that there may be something to all of this pink nonsense! But a question for JL: why then is it that the most aggressive girls--those we might call tomboys--often tend to eschew pink? And a manly man (or, at least, our cartoon version of him) wouldn't be caught dead wearing pink . . . despite what the t-shirts say.

Fung, I would appreciate any answer you might provide on those questions if you have time to look for them. I am glad you're not pretending to know the answers but I'm also not pretending to remember reading this research some years ago. But, as I say, it was many years ago and there may be new stuff. Of course, as you know, my view of all such research is that it either confirms the common-sense of the subject or it is likely to be deliberately deceptive, shoddy, and agenda-driven.

Okay, I am waiting on an article through interlibrary loan that promises to report on many of the variables that you asked about, but it is from 2002. I should get it in a couple of days or sooner.

Here is what I have gathered from a hurried look and also from asking deparment experts (since this is not my area:)

The rates of DV do not seem significantly different (higher OR lower) when you move from opposite-sex to same-sex relationships. But, most of the same-sex relationship studies are male-male, and lesbian relationships are under-researched.

The numbers regarding male victims of abuse are filled with problems: under-reporting and also a strange phenomenon whereby the abuse that is reported is coded by authorities as "fighting" or "combat" without a victim and without an aggressor.

Females as a group tend to be much less physically aggressive than do males as a group, and there is no indication at all that lesbians fall into a special category regarding aggression.

Now, about the married-vs-cohabitating distinction: (1) I don't know what the numbers are, and I hope to get them, soon. But, IF they are as Julie remembers, it may well be due to a sequential selection process. That is, if aggression is one symptom of marital dysfunction, then over time-- both victims and aggressors will be selected for multiple marriages and for intermittent or permanent single-hood. The remaining marriages are therefore more likely to house non-victims and non-aggressors NOT because they have chosen to marry, but rather because they have survived the storm of deselection via violence.

Finally, I think you have taken liberties with my logic.

I did not suggest that a lesbian relationship is the MOST rational choice for a female victim of abuse, but only that it makes some sense. Given the predominance of safety concerns over others (such as esteem, actualization, etc) and also recognizing that the safety of children is often at stake, a relationship with a woman might well appear safer than would a relationship with a man. Even if the data prove me wrong, it might well seem safer to a female victim.

I don't see where I have suggested that women are more irrational than men are. I DID say that men and women alike need to take care of their own emotional needs, and not to expect their partners to mother or father them. I also suggested that people who enter relationships expecting and hoping to be taken care of are more likely to be disappointed (disgusted, frustrated, depressed, angry) than are people who take responsibility for their own emotional state.

Finally, I hope that I did not suggest anywhere that I perceived a clear, logical choice for any victim of abuse. Abusers are the holders of power, the limiters of freedom, and exploiters of differentials in size, legal recourse, and access to support. Victims are often faced with a depressing array of bad choices, from which they must select the apparent safest for them and/or their children. Too often, the terms of safety are dictated by the abusers themselves, and are biased in favor of the status quo. In such circumstances, logic may well be irrelevant, but that is not due to female characteristics. Rather, it reflects the Sophie's Choice-like reality of too many victims of abuse.

Fair enough point, Fung, if you are willing now to say that for the women in question it may "appear" that the likelihood of domestic violence in a lesbian relationship is less than in a hetero relationship. Perception moves more people than reality, that's certain. But I do think there is some back-peddling here at least in your wording. I also think you'll find that DV in lesbian relationships (when fairly and accurately measured--which, yes, is problematic) is at least as likely if not more likely than it is in married heterosexual relationships.

As for this point: Females as a group tend to be much less physically aggressive than do males as a group, and there is no indication at all that lesbians fall into a special category regarding aggression.--I'll take that as a sign of progress. You do, at least, seem to admit some natural sex differences that probably have some real consequences for political life. On the other hand, your conclusion from noting the less aggressive nature of females has one problem. Females tend to be less aggressive, partly, because their aggression is often futile. They can't win against a more aggressive and stronger man. If you remove the man from the picture . . . and put her up against only another woman, you will likely see different results. I have no doubt that the "abuse" in lesbian relationships is often of a different color than the abuse in hetero relationships . . . but I have my doubts about which sort is worse. They both present their own special sort of hell, in my view.

As for your point about not saying that women were more irrational than men, I grant you that you did not say it in so many words. But it did appear that you were suggesting that lesbianism was a more rational alternative to heteosexual relationships for women and, because the vast majority of women still prefer men, I was drawing that conclusion while (admittedly) attempting to be cute and grate at you. Sorry. I'll try to be more serious. But I do not see where you said anything like this: I DID say that men and women alike need to take care of their own emotional needs, and not to expect their partners to mother or father them. I also suggested that people who enter relationships expecting and hoping to be taken care of are more likely to be disappointed (disgusted, frustrated, depressed, angry) than are people who take responsibility for their own emotional state. prior to your saying it just above. If you had said that, I cannot see where we would have had any room for disagreement. There is a biological sense in which a woman looks to a man for protection, yes. But if she allows that to dominate her soul and turn her into an emotional jellyfish--looking beyond the physical/material protection--then she will be sorely disappointed. I am the last person, believe me, to argue against the cultivation of a strong woman. I just think that strength in a woman will always look different than it looks in a man and vice versa. I'm all for the difference and find it to be one of life's maddening but delightful pleasures. And it's one of the reasons why the joining together of a good male and a good female is always to be preferred to the joining together of any two of the same, no matter how good they are. I'm just not sure that you and I agree about that. Though, pretty sure, not.

Finally, I have no idea of what you were trying to convey in paragraph 6. Trying to rationalize away the salutary effects of good marriages through some natural selection argument? I don't get it.

Julie,

I just finished Bernard Cornwell's "Agincourt," (sp?)and so I am reminded that our debates feel a bit like the Hundred Years War -- an ongoing war of attrition, punctuated by acts of chivalry and relieved by a grudging admiration.

Here is where I said what I said: "Until men and women can figure out how to autonomously be responsible for their own psychic health, then people of all genders will be disappointed with their spouses. But, that is not feminism's fault -- instead, it is a sign that people expect their spouses to fulfill a parenting function, instead of a partnering one."

Back pedaling? Perhaps. Or, I am acknowledging that I don't yet know all the facts. The facts that I have briefly surveyed show that my earliest assertion was probably wrong. So far, your assertion that there is MORE aggression in same-sex relationships suffers similarly from a lack of support.

From what i can see, the data are not yet clear, but I attribute that to the relative youth of the research, and the inherent problems in data collection and reporting -- not to shoddy or deceptive work.

Finally, I agree with you regarding the equality (and sameness) of the sexes' levels of aggression when you take away size differentials. This supports my contention that mere structural differences do not determine enduring psychological differences.

But, you imply that we agree about a female's "biological" tendency to seek protection form a male partner, and I did not agree with that. Instead, I said that emotionally immature people of both sexes tend to carry their issues with their parents into their romantic and sexual relationships, and this is a recipe for marital dysfunction.

Finally, the selection process: Suppose in 2000, 100 couples get married. 50 of them are abusive relationships, and 50 are not.

five years later, in 2005, the 50 non-abusive relationships are most likely to remain, while most of the abusive relationships (with abusers and victims) are likely to have split up.

five years further down the road, in 2010, even more of the "abusive" relationships should have broken up, while the non-aggressive 50 are still together (for the most part.)

Now, it is time to measure the aggression levels of single people, divorced people, and remarried people, along with those in stable relationships. Because of the selection process, the most violent people have put themselves in the single, and remarried, and divorced categories.

I REALLY have to grade some papers before I conduct paper conferences!

Thanks for a civilized argument! I know how difficult that is for you, when I am concerned.

Just a quick point: I did not assert that there was more aggression in lesbian relationships than in heterosexual ones. I only said that it was at least equal IF NOT more--which is a different point. And, anyway, comparing them is not an apples to apples comparison so the data you are after is almost impossible to gather. But let it go. I don't have a hundred years. And it only gets me grudging back-handed compliments anyway. BTW: still don't think we're that far apart on the implications of sex differences. I don't think it is an emotional need that women seek to fill when they are attracted to strong men. I think it's something more primal than even emotions. Emotions are about the least reliable of all guides in these matters--(maybe you agree in saying that emotionally immature people don't do well in marriage?). Instinct (or Nature as beginnings) guided by reason (the ends-based part of Nature) usually work better. Emotions need to be trained. And occasionally, ignored or slapped.

Boy, that escalated quickly. John M - your political savy is stupifying. Note: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Fung and Julie: have either of you read the Witherspoon Institute's "Marriage and the Public Good"? Aside from being a well-written and thoroughly researched, it has a lot of the numbers and statistics you've been talking about. Back to work for now!

Emotions need to be trained. And occasionally, ignored or slapped.

Do we train emotions? The ignored or slapped part I get, but I have been struggling for years to train emotion and I can't get mine to behave. I will grant the need, but do you have tips on how to achieve success in training one's emotions. Are you speaking of the control of emotions as in repression? I put that in the "ignoring" category. I can do that, but calling up emotions, or converting one emotion to another or eliminating an undesirable emotion, by an act of my will, that I cannot seem to do. I can accept this as personal failure, but wonder if other people conquer or manipulate their own emotions more effectively than I do. I have not witnessed it, but maybe that is not something we see in others.

Signed,

Puzzled

Andrew, as to your #3, we tried just that sort of thing, not having guns in the house when our boys were little. The oldest boy was about 3, when he and my husband were playing on day. My husband lumbered towards our boy, growling, "I am a grizzly bear! Fight like a man!" and my son pointed his finger and said, "BANG!" We gave up and I bought him a cap gun at the next opportunity.

An aspect of that is, my husband, by playing the role of bear, made himself an object. Our little boy would not have shot Papa, but he needed to shoot the lumbering bear. Do people have to make a person object before they do harm to that person? What is the psychology of violence?

As to one of the other arguments up above, I know women who were victims of abuse at the hands of husbands, who live communally with other women, not as lesbians, but for companionship, support and mutual protection. This relates to that matter of how to get out of an abusive marriage. Fung is right that women in abusive relationships tend to stay there as there seem so few options to get out. They think, they hope, the situations will get better, and sometimes it does. Getting out, especially when you have children, does not seem much of an option and women will take whatever abuse for the sake of their children.

This connects back to the original article, because young women who are independent do not understand dependence. I think we wrote about this in some earlier thread, when we were discussing why modern women resist marriage. The way modern marital relationships sometimes appear, young women may find independence a safer option.

I think we can learn to love the right things even when we are tempted, still, by the wrong things. We can learn to find joy in places we did not expect to find it. And even instinctual pleasure can be intensified with knowledge. We can be taught to act with courage in the face of danger and injustice and, I think, eventually come to feel righteous indignation as a result of both knowledge and habit. But even well trained emotions are lousy guides. Maybe they are like the Jack Russell Terriers among the dogs. They are very endearing when well-trained . . . but among the most difficult of all breeds to train. They are also very clever and adorable . . . so hard to resist. Stubborn things. Even when they are well-trained, they often fall off the wagon. (I recall the trainer of Fraiser's JRT "Eddie" noting this about him). Maybe that's why JRTs are used so much in the entertainment industry (they're flashy, high spirited, and cute so, irresistable) but they are not dependable enough to be good for guide dogs or assistants. Even when they are used for hunting, they have to be kept in a bag that the huntsman holds up on the horse. Can't trust them to run along side of you. I think emotions are a bit like that. They should be kept in a bag and should be deployed only when reason judges it safe.

Julie, that's a lovely response. I do not really dispute your "shoulds" and quite agree about the use of reason. The problem with emotion is that reason does not always prevail, even when we think it should. In your simile of the JRT, imagine a highly excited small dog in a bag. The only way to truly tame the dog-in-the-bag is to knock it out or kill it (unless those little dogs are like parrots and become virtually moribund when in the dark.) Emotions are not like that, but now that I think about it, can feel rather like an overwrought beast imperfectly contained. In some circumstances, smothering the thing would be preferable to having it chewing your vitals like the fox with the Spartan boy.

You are quite right, emotions are stubborn things, seemingly with lives of their own, and uncomfortable to live with, sometimes. I exercise my reason, I truly do, but have occasionally found myself to be an inadequate old bag.

I really think God ought to have made all one sex.

Andrew,

I have taken a quick look at that paper. I will take a better look, but my knee-jerk reaction is that there is a collection of people with a similar, conservative agenda affiliated with that work. I saw Peter Lawler's name among them, for instance.

I am still waiting for my ILL article to show up!

Kate,

A couple of notes: Psychoanalysts distinguish between repression and suppression. Repression is generally regarded as an unconscious act by the unconscious portion of the ego, and as such, it is not under the person's control. Suppression, on the other hand is conducted by the conscious portion of the ego, or even by the superego, and IS something that we can learn to control.

But, here is where psychoanalysis and learning theory agree: What we control consciously is usually (not always) the expression of emotion, and not the emotions themselves. Suppression involves behaving in ways other than those that would automatically follow from the physiological sensations that accompany (or embody) particular emotions. We suppress laughter in church, crying in public, and hitting in confrontation.

Learning theory has also demonstrated (think Pavlov) how emotional responses can become attached to all sorts of novel stimuli. Our favorite songs provide the soundtrack to emotionally satisfying events. People get tears in their eyes when they hear the Wedding March, or Pomp & Circumstance. Certain perfumes accompany interpersonal conflict, and thus become noxious.

And, through systematic desensitization, these processes can be reversed. But, we can also train ourselves, with mixed success, to blunt, or change our emotional responses. Most men have adopted some version of "thinking about baseball" in order to be better lovers. As Julie suggested, we can talk bravely to ourselves when every fiber of our emotional self is afraid, and we can behave courageously.

But, I would hate to see emotions completely trained away (not that there is much danger of that!). Because they provide us with automatic, rapid signals -- both to ourselves and to others -- regarding elements in the environment that merit quick attention.

Kate: "inadequate old bag" One of your best lines ever! LOL! We are all of us inadequate old bags! That's just God's great good sense of humor. We should be cultivating more humor to go along with our reason as we stumble through. He forgives, but does not excuse. We have to learn the same thing with ourselves. The problem is that we tend either not to forgive ourselves at all or we sink in to excusing ourselves. Very hard to strike the right balance . . . but everything worthwhile has this sort of precipice to balance.

Fung: look forward to hearing about your article from ILL. Be sure to look up this thread in the archives so you can post it. I may have something for you too. Despite being ridiculously busy with taxes I have been trying to track some things down and expect to have something soon. And I will read the article Andrew suggests. Peter Lawler's name doesn't frighten me, Fung.

Andrew, is this site a source for the article you suggest?


Julie, I knew you would smile.

Fung, Thank you. I am, then, a major practitioner of suppression, which does sound better. I suppress all of those things you mention and many more things, besides. How does anyone get by in life without suppression?

No expert, except by being human, I would say there is NO danger of human emotions being trained away. I read, though I do not know if it is true, of people with damaged brains who lacked this or that or maybe several emotions. Which reminds me of an older friend I had, back when I was in college, whose son had died in Viet Nam. Her husband did not like her grief and found a doctor who performed a partial frontal lobotomy. After, her grief was manageable, because she did not have much memory. She said she felt a certain sadness looking at old family photos, but not more than that. However, she was seeking a BA in order to get a job and support herself. She was so angry at her husband, she couldn't stand him, anymore. She felt robbed; she hated him. She had no deep grief, but she had hatred and anger to an extent that was shocking to see in an otherwise lovely, mild, sweet-spoken woman. It was a bit scary.

Kate, that awful story you describe above brings to focus--in an all too frightful way--the original discussion of abuse. And it gives us a glimpse of what can happen when we replace nature with will (or emotion) as a guide for action. In your friend's case, the emotion (or will) of the stronger (i.e., her husband) won out. This is as it ever will be when emotions or will are not suppressed--either by the self or, failing that, by the law--in accordance with nature. Lobotomized "happiness" is about all we can expect when we ignore nature or try to overcome her. And, even so, notice how nature (in the form of her anger) fought back as other senses get stronger in people who lose one. A very compelling case.

Julie, I have wondered about the husband's motivation for all these years. What if he was doing what he could to help his wife with her depression and grief? I don't know. What I wrote sounds like selfishness, but may not have been. Lots of things that seem like a good idea at the time, are not. I suspect the road to that man's personal hell was paved with good intentions.

I began writing this as a short story a few years back and will have to finish that, someday.

Kate: You should write that story.

You know more about the characters involved, of course. But if he meant well, his story is a sort of modern tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. And also, I'd be so bold to suggest, a bit of a cautionary tale for those who put too much stock in the power of our modern science to understand or (worse) improve upon the human soul.

In 1949 (I think) Egas Moniz received the Nobel Prize for developing the prefrontal lobotomy, after which more than 40,000 patients were lobotomized in the U.S., alone, during a 10-15 year period. Moniz was later shot in the spine by one of his patients.

My article has arrived:

Speziale, B. & Ring, C. (2006). Intimate violence among lesbian couples: Emerging data and critical needs. Journal of Lesbian Family Therapy, 18, pp 85-96.

Highlights: citing West (2002), about 30-40% of lesbian women report having been involved in at least one physically abusive relationship. Modal types of violence: slapping, pushing, shoving. But, most common types of abuse overall were verbal & psychological (including actual or threatend forced outing.)

Almost half of the respondents in one study (Ristock, 2002) reported violence in their first same-sex relationship, at the hands of an older woman who had been longer out of the closet.

Under-reporting is expected to occur at nearly the same or higher rates compared to heterosexual violence.

Two interesting characteristics: (1) A higher rate of "fused"relationships among same-sex couples -- possibly due to the perception of a hostile world that merits a unified front, and (2) higher rates of fluctuations in the power dynamic, which is not likely to happen in hetero relationships.

This study affirms the many problems involved with victims' reporting and requesting help. Police who refuse to help, shelters that refuse help to lesbians, and states that require compainants to admit to illegal activity (sodomy) before an action is taken.

All in all, a complex picture that discourages most generalizations! But, as for my earlier assertion, most hetero women who are currently IN an abusive relationship would probably do well to consider quitting romantic relationships of any kind. The same-sex alternative MAY appear to be safer, but it probably is not.

I am glad I checked reader comments.

I did not know the husband at all. My friend just never said that cruelty was part of the matter. My remembered impression was of a man at a total loss, who though he had found a wonderful solution to the problem with the aid of a brilliant doctor.

What are "fused" relationships? Never mind, I can look it up.

So, women at risk in relationships really must take charge of themselves and get out. Dependence is a risky matter, whatever the nature of the relationship.

I have another college era story about a woman who escaped a rough hetero relationship with an older man and found an uneasy happiness with a woman, and yet was wooing me while her college prof. "partner" was wooing a student from her class. The part of the story that is of interest at the moment was the evening I spent bar-hopping with my friend, much of the evening in a lesbian bar with some very tough-looking older females. It was an eye-opening evening. When I read, Almost half of the respondents in one study (Ristock, 2002) reported violence in their first same-sex relationship, at the hands of an older woman who had been longer out of the closet. I thought of that bar and how I wondered about the other young women, besides me, those who were there without a Virgil.

Thank you, Fung, very much, for being so persistent (and honest). That research seems to confirm what I said earlier--that lesbian aggression in relationships is at least equal to (if not greater) than the aggression in heterosexual relationships. In the meantime, I did a little digging. The article I recalled is older (1994) but still may be of interest. Lettie L. Lockhart et. al., "Letting Out the Secret: Violence in Lesbian Relationships," in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence 9, p.470. Tom West's research in Enter text to make italic chapter 4 of Vindicating the Founders argues that,

"Surveys indicate that particularly high rates of violence between 'intimates' occur among lesbians. One study reported, 'In response to the question, __Have you ever been abused by a female lover/partner?__; slightly more than half of all respondents replied in the affirmative.' Another survey of 350 lesbians who had previous lesbian and heterosexual relationships reported substantially higher rates of victimization by their former female partners than by their former male partners."
That study was the Lockhart study. But West cites several other studies that support the claim. I agree with you that the research is problematic and inconclusive on the one hand. But we may disagree about why. I think it is because we are trying to compare apples and oranges. Homosexual relationships are not like heterosexual relationships in that they are not a joining of opposite and complimentary natures. As I tried to argue above, one reason that the reporting and the analysis of the research is some sticky is that nature of female on female abuse is so complicated. (This is also, by the way, a reason--among many--why female abuse of male partners goes under-reported . . . it is more subtle and less apparent than a smacking down is, for example.) Female abuse is more likely to be hidden because it is more likely to be psychological than physical--though it may escalate into both. Who with children of both sexes has not noted the much higher intensity of the cruelty of girls to their peers as compared to the roughing up the boys tend to do? Boys can be cruel, of course. But their cruelty (like virtually everything about them) is different from that of the girls. This is my central problem with the tendency of most analysis of these issues on the left. There is such a strong desire to deny these basic differences. It is impossible to understand things when we begin from a wish rather than from an observation.

Well, I have learned something -- always a painful experience!

For a number of reasons, the intimate lesbian relationship is not one of my research foci. And, I have learned that a few things that I assumed to be true should not have been assumed. As well, it is always good to be reminded of the dangers of generalization. Regardless of the topic, as soon as we delve beyond stereotype, we find that reality is much more complex than ignorance.

I recently conducted a study on bullying, and found that the categories that I had prepared were insufficient for THAT, as well! Instead of charging ahead with a quasi-designed implementation, I spent my allocated time learning all about the new intricacies of bullying in the 21st century. And that doesn't even include cyber-bullying!

No wonder we get tired as we get older.

Thanks, Kate and Julie, and Andrew, for a spirited, educational exchange.

I'm still not willing to capitulate to the anatomy-is-destiny line, but I think my position has changed quite a bit from its earlier spot.

Well, Fung . . . that was fun. I really, really appreciate a great conversation like this. Thanks. Next we'll have to pick up on the theme of free will. To say that I think anatomy is destiny is to miss my point. It is fair to say that I think anatomy (or nature as beginnings) is important as a part of reality and in understanding the full extent of reality. But anatomy is certainly not destiny.

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