Saturday, March 24, 2007

Paracleats Beat Preemptive Strikers

Kim, a wonderful former student of mine now enjoying Yale Divinity School, reports that the Divvies' intramural soccer team, the Paracleats, had a good season. Their big win of the season was over the International Relations graduate student team, the Preemptive Strikers.

As an old Divvy, my heart is warmed by the pun and the victory.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Women Gaze Directly, But Talk Indirectly; Men Talk Directly, But Gaze Indirectly

This is another insight from teaching Deborah Tannen's work on gender differences in communication, while appreciating the deep symmetry between men's and women's ways of doing things. Tannen does not say the title line of this post directly. We thought it up in class discussion, putting together different elements of her work and our own experience.

In speech, men concentrate on the message, the content of what is being said. They do not need to look at someone to hear what he or she is saying. Indeed, sometimes looking at someone while they speak is a distraction from concentrating on what they say. Women, on the other hand, read the metamessage as well as the message – the tone of voice, body language, and subtle expressions that go along with what is being said. This is why it is essential for women to look at the person you are talking to. Otherwise, you would miss half of what was being communicated.

The women in the class often report that it drives them nuts when the men in their lives won't look at them when the women are speaking. Men do not report a similar problem; when two men talk to one another, they normally look anywhere but directly into one another's eyes. To do so either means the personal communication is extraordinarily intimate – or a challenge.

The men in the class often report that it drives them nuts when the women in their lives won't say directly what they mean. Women do not report a similar problem; when two women talk to one another, they normally speak any way but directly telling one another what to do. To do so means the personal communication is extraordinarily intimate (as in a family) – or a challenge.

Knowing these characteristic differences in communication lets us appreciate the ingenious complementarity of human life. And when these differences in communication style get in the way of actually communicating, we have another ingenious human skill to work around the problem: meta-communicating about how we are communicating. And, if necessary, we can both look at, and speak to, one another directly while meta-communicating.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Boys Play Sports to Win, Girls Play for Fun: Boys Date for Fun, Girls Date to Win

This is an insight that comes from teaching the sociobiology of mate selection (through David Buss) and gender differences in communication (through Deborah Tannen) at the same time. Of course there are many individual exceptions. What is interesting to me is the symmetry of the broad trend.

When boys pick teams for sports, the captains (who are usually the best players) take turns picking the best remaining players, until everyone is picked and the teams are about even. This makes for the most competitive game. If a dispute arises in the game, boys find a quick way to settle it, so they can get back to the game. They play sports to win.

Girls find this way of picking teams horrifying. When I put the question of picking teams to mixed groups, the girls overwhelming say that they would pick their friends, regardless of how that would affect the outcome of the game. They would find it hard to play at all against their friends. If a dispute arises in the game, it can take a long time to resolve because everyone's loyalty comes into play. Often, if the dispute can't be resolved, the game ends. They play to have fun within their social relationships.

When it comes to dating, boys tend to see each date as an end in itself, a fun thing to do with a girl you enjoy. They can play an endless series of dates without asking themselves "where is this relationship going?" They date for fun. Girls, and especially women, often ask themselves "could I marry this guy?" on the first date. They reassess, endlessly, with their girlfriends, at each subsequent step in the relationship. If they can't see the relationship ever leading to marriage, they are likely to end it and move on. They date to win.

One of Tannen's great strengths is that she sees the value of men's and women's different ways of understanding and communicating. A good society needs both. A good life is balanced by the symmetry of men's and women's complementary tendencies. And we can all have a smoother life when we understand the worldview and motives of our complements.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lost World

We visited alma mater back in the blue Northeast this week, returning child #1 to school after spring break. We met with one of our honored old teachers. Mrs. G. and I reminded him that he has said in an interview that country music seemed to be about a lost world, in which people married, raised kids, went to church, worked hard, honored America, and grew old together. Given a chance to talk about it, we offered that we lived in that world in small-town Kentucky. Our daughter, who is having a wonderful time and learning a great deal, nonetheless feels the loss of ideological diversity compared to her high school. She said she is used to having Republicans to argue with; now she is at a school where even the head of College Republicans is a Democrat. The political argument there is intra-left, as for example when the five different homosexual organizations fought over how sexually explicit the "coming out day" chalk drawings should be.

I have learned to like country music since moving here, in part because it includes the stories of people over 25, especially the great majority of people who marry and have kids. Small towns are not really conservative - they have the range of views that we find in the country as a whole, as the letters to the editor section of the local paper can attest.

Swarthmore, and academic world in general, are not a lost world, so much as an artificial world, a bubble even within their own counties. Danville, and the thousands of small towns like it, are not a lost world – they are the regular world. And much as I love alma mater, and always will, I am glad to be home.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How the Greeks Pick Their Leaders

This is the second part of Taylor's account of how gender differences show up in fraternities and sororities – at least in the two she knows best.

"Working off of my last entry about the differences between sororities and fraternities, I wanted to talk about the differences in voting and how indicative it is of the gender of the members.
In [my sorority], the saying is, “the office selects the officer.” What that means is that you don’t run for any position in the sorority. Your fellow sisters nominate you for the position and then we vote (no one can see what anyone else’s vote is). That way, the members of our chapter can see who has what talents, instead of the person themselves choosing what office they think is best. Also, no one is expected to talk about voting or “slating” (as we call it) until the actual voting session takes place. That means no one should be walking around saying, “So and so should be president and so and so should be rush chair.” It works out well for us but it’s easy to see that it is a feminine way of doing things. We completely avoid any conflict because voting is never spoken of until one night of the year. Disagreement is discouraged – if anyone has a problem with an officer getting an office they have 24 hours to voice their concerns but it has to be a major problem, like the woman has been caught doing drugs or something equally bad. So, we effectively avoid any conflict in the entire situation. It seems like this is the most feminine way to go about voting that could ever be imagined. No one's feelings get hurt, no one knows what anyone else really wants, everyone is encouraged to accept and be happy about the officers. It’s very peaceful and reasonable. Of course, it has its problems. Mainly because women will avoid conflict with the person they are upset with but they will talk about that person behind their back. So, if one woman thinks another woman should not have an office then the secretive talking begins. It’s very typical of women and really displays well how we act around each other.
With [my boyfriend's] fraternity, voting is not at all similar. Whoever wants an office runs for it. They decide they want to be president, the write a speech, they (and the other candidates) give it and then they vote. It’s very direct, the conflict is in the open. The competition is obvious and the voting is open. Everyone can see how everyone else votes. It’s masculine because they have the competition out in the open, they don’t try to avoid conflict at all. I’m sure there are arguments during the process but they don’t last very long and in the end, people are happy with who gets what."

Monday, March 19, 2007

How Fraternities and Sororities Git-R-Done

[While Centre is on spring break, I will draw upon some excellent observations made by students in my family life class. Enjoy.]

Centre College is blessed with a number of single-sex organizations, living experiments in gender differences of all kinds. My student Taylor developed some interesting observations on how power is distributed through the offices of Greek organizations. In both kinds of organizations, when the officers work as expected, the whole organization really does function. I will quote from Taylor's edited observations on offices and officers today. Tomorrow I will share some of her findings on Greek elections.

"We talked in class about the differences between fraternity and sorority officer hierarchies and I thought that the differences were really striking. Because not only are the men's officers more hierarchical, their offices aren't taken as seriously.

In my sorority, each person is slated into a position that suits her personality and she is expected to perform her tasks to the best of her ability. For example, I am the Secretary and that means at any sorority function I have to take attendance and if people don't come, I deal with the repercussions. So, I go to all of the meetings and keep up with people. I take my job really seriously and so do all of the other officers. If anyone has a question about attendance, they come to me. If I have a question about rush, I ask the rush chair. If I have a question about an event, I ask the events chair. It's more like everyone really knows their areas and we ask each other and work together. The only person that has any true upper-hand is the president.

With men, it's way different. My boyfriend is the Secretary for his fraternity. Not only does he not have to go to anything, no one else is held responsible for not going to something. Occasionally, there will be one big event at which all the members must be in attendance and if they're not there then [her boyfriend] has to fine them but most of the time they don't pay. And the other officers don't take their jobs seriously at all. The only person who is truly accountable for anything in the whole fraternity is the president. It's really unnerving to me because I don't know how they get anything accomplished.

Anyway, I guess the point is that the sororities and fraternities are organized differently. For us, the president does have a slightly elevated position but everyone else in an office knows that they have a specialty and are expected to perform at that task. Since women in leadership tend to want to avoid making hierarchies, it makes sense. It's a very level playing field where no officer feels less important. We rule very much by consensus and no one makes any decisions without the input of the other sisters. But for men, the president literally holds all the power. He, of course, has been voted into that position and so everyone recognizes his power but none of the officers wield the same authority that he does. They never make group decisions and rarely even have meetings to talk about decisions. But, the president makes all the decisions and somehow things get accomplished."

A thoughtful female correspondent, after reading the above, wrote:

The sorority offices call for results AND getting the results within relationships. That's why sororities are real preparation for chick power. In school settings, you can feel the women who have done that Greek thing making things move. (Would actually be a darned good scientific study: relative sorority participation of women in various education positions.)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yale Divinity Ash Wednesday is OK

Students at Yale Divinity School read the Ten Commandments, and repented of breaking them. Then they burned the paper to ash. They read the Ten Amendments – that is, the Bill of Rights – and repented of breaking them, and burned them to Ash, too. The Divinity students then put the ashes on their foreheads.

This sounds like the kind of street theater that gives novel liturgy (and leftist politics) a bad name. But the more I think about it, the more I think this is was a well-done act. The students did not blame others, but repented of their own sins and complicity in sins. They wore the sign of their repentance.

Some people have, of course, fussed about the Ash Wednesday ceremony. As I read their criticisms, though, I think they miss the distinction between protest and repentance. This was not a protest. It was an act of contrition.