Friday, July 02, 2010

Chastened Has the Right Message About Sex

Hephzibah Anderson, a British journalist, came to think at 30 that the quick march to sex with the men she knew in her 20s had short-circuited her emotional connections with them. So she swore off sex for a year. In a new book, Chastened, she talks about what she learned. Her interview with Aylin Zafar in the Atlantic concludes thus:

"There's been a lot less sex, but more romance. And a lot more emotional closeness."

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Low-Libido Middle Class is Not Really a Problem

Camille Paglia has another catchy title in her latest New York Times op-ed: "No Sex, Please, We're Middle Class." She thinks that the United States' middle class is in a sexual doldrums. No chemicals, no female Viagra or its male counterpart, can make up for the boringness of our cerebral work and lives. She wants a revitalization of lust.

I think she is right that the sexual appetites of the dominant class are not overwhelming. Popular sociology has invented the concept of DINS - Double Income, No Sex - for couples who would rather work than couple. This is a new circumstance.

I do not think a low libido in the dominant class is a problem. The sexualization of everything in popular culture, and the ubiquity of porn, has, I think, put so much overemphasis on sex that it loses its cultural power. Sexual stimulation still works on our bodies, as it always has an always will. But too much sex in the culture means that ordinary people don't have to spend much time thinking about it.

I think we can see low libido among married couples as a healthy, proportionate estimation of the modest good that is sex.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

As Women Take Over the World, Men Need Marriage Even More

Hanna Rosin has a fine piece in the Atlantic on how women are taking over the world.

OK, she doesn't quite put it that way. But she does note that the developing economy favors women's skills and training. The current recession has put men out of work more than usual. Things are looking up for girls in most of the world, and they are taking advantage of their opportunities.

The saddest group of guys in her article are in court-ordered "fatherhood training." These guys are mostly behind on child support and make less than their wives. Rosin's point is that women making more than their men is a growing reality. This is true.

I draw an additional conclusion from this illustration. In general, women benefit the most from marriage financially. This is still true, and given the realities of who has babies, is likely to always be true. Moreover, men are more likely to be employed in risky jobs, whereas women trade off pay and other perks for job security. Thus, there should be an increasing number of couples in which she makes the steady paycheck. During good times, he will make more; during recessions, she keeps them afloat.

One main effect, then, of women's growing economic success is that the economic benefits of marriage increase - and increasingly benefit men as much as women.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The "Boyfriend Story" Never Went Away

Caitlin Flanagan argues in the Atlantic that girls are resisting the ubiquitous hook-up culture with a revival of what she calls "the Boyfriend Story," an over-romanticized view of how men can really relate to women. I am sure that teenage girls are prone to over-romanticize many things. But their desire for boyfriends who turn into husbands has never gone away. Nor are they wrong or unrealistic.

Hook-ups are real, but they are a minority practice, and most are not quite as decadent as many fear. Moreover, even the minority of girls who do hook up get over that phase pretty quickly. They find that it works as a way to get boys to pay attention to them and to feel attractive. But then they find out that ancient wisdom that boys have two different lists, and two different kinds of attention, when it comes to girls. Girls, on the other hand, pretty much only have the "boyfriend" list. Hooking up will get a girl on a boy's list (and probably all of his friends' lists, too), but not on the "girlfriend" list.

The marriage story is still the main story that most people want and get. The boyfriend story, like the girlfriend story, is how teenagers practice for the real thing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Elena Kagan: Another Triumph of WASP Values

Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, has a fine op-ed in the New York Times today about the Elena Kagan nomination to the Supreme Court. Others have noted that if, as expected, she is confirmed, the Court will have no Protestants for the first time ever. Feldman takes this as the jumping off point for an interesting and up-building claim:

Unlike almost every other dominant ethnic, racial or religious group in world history, white Protestants have ceded their socioeconomic power by hewing voluntarily to the values of merit and inclusion, values now shared broadly by Americans of different backgrounds. The decline of the Protestant elite is actually its greatest triumph.

E. Digby Baltzell, a great sociologist about whom I have written before, argued that every society needs a leadership class that assimilates talented individuals who rise from outside the old ruling class. This is hard for the top class to stick to, because it is easier and more comfortable to only promote their own. However, that way lies a caste society and increasing injustice to the talented but excluded. If, though, the leadership class can continue to include talented outsiders, it truly deserves the name of "aristocracy" in the literal sense - the rule of the best.

Baltzell goes beyond other theorists of aristocracy to see that even greater benefit comes to society if these new men (and now women) are included not just in the powerful public institutions, but also in the private world of the leadership class. The acid test of this private inclusion is if the rising individuals marry into the old top class families. If the aristocracies of individuals can solidify into a stable, but porous, network of families, then the leadership class can produce a true Establishment. Their children then are members of the top class by birth and (normally) shared breeding.

I believe Elena Kagan will be a fine Supreme Court justice. I do regret, as a Baltzellian sociologist, that she will not have descendants who can complete the assimilation of this very talented woman into the American Establishment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Girl and Boy Hierarchies.

I am reading John Levi Martin's stimulating Social Structures. He considers how hierarchies arise among girls and boys. I paraphrase one of his points thus:

Girl hierarchies organize from the outcast up; boy hierarchies organize from the leader down.