Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bookish boys grow into gentle men, but their early years can be brutal

Comment from Australia below. It seems overstated to me. When I was at school in the "bad old days" of around 50 years ago, I was hopeless at sport and was certainly "bookish". I was much more interested in the New Testament and literature than I was in any physical activity. Yet I have no memory of suffering in any way from that. I had friends and a perfectly pleasant life that I still have warm memories about. But there was more genuine civility and stricter moral standards then so perhaps I would not do as well these days.

I also suspect that I was treated with some respect because of my knowledge. In primary school my nickname was "The Walking Dictionary" and in Secondary school it was "The Walking Encyclopedia". I was for that reason well-regarded by the teachers and I think that caused me to be treated warily by other students. An amusing episode I remember from when I was about 15 was when the English teacher asked what was meant by the "throb" of the ship engines in some literary work we were studying. It would have been set in the Edwardian era or thereabouts. Nobody knew the answer so the teacher resignedly asked me. I said: "Probably triple expansion steam engines". The teacher hastily said: "Yes, yes. reciprocating engines". He was probably himself unaware of the triple expansion cycle and its advantages.

My son is as unsporting as I am, though computer games do for him what books did for me -- so while he was at High School, I once asked him did anyone ever bully him or push him around, He replied: "No. I'm too big for them -- but I do sometimes get in between them and kids they pick on". He is of above average height and well built so that makes sense so I suspect that that it is only real "weaklings" that suffer, unacceptable though that is. And I am very proud that my son found it unacceptable too -- JR

It's tough being a boy - or at least a certain kind of boy. If a boy is quiet, artistic, academic and unsporting, he is as likely to suffer ostracism in the playground as his counterpart did 50 years ago.

The landscape for girls has changed dramatically over that period. Girls are much freer to push the traditional boundaries of femininity. They can be smart, sporting, independent, and still be popular. They can be good at maths and science. Even tomboys have peer approval providing they occasionally wear a dress and brush their hair.

Over recent weeks big, sporting, aggressive, misogynist men have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Yet it would be foolish to think for a moment that the bad publicity has dented the appeal of the uber male. The macho man is still very much in vogue. Boys admire him and girls lust after him.

The women's movement has been hugely successful in freeing girls from the constraints of a certain kind of simpering, passive femininity. But boys have been left in a straitjacket. If they deviate from standard male pursuits, their peers will deal with them ruthlessly. All is forgiven if the quiet, artistic boy is also the opening batsman, or goalie, or fullback. But if he lacks compensating sporting prowess, or exceptional computer gaming skills, a boy's difference will be his albatross.

Evidence of how far the cultural consensus about girls has changed - and how little it has changed for boys - emerges from new research by US academics Barbara Risman and Elizabeth Seale. It was presented at a conference last month of the Council on Contemporary Families. And though the study was based on interviews with American children aged 11 to 14, I believe it is of relevance here.

It found that though girls were deeply preoccupied with their appearance, there was no sense that girls had to play dumb or act "feminine" around boys. It was acceptable to be assertive and competitive, and it was "cool" to be sporty. "Girls today can be strong, active, brave, competitive and smart," the authors say. Girls expect to be taken seriously by teachers, parents and boys. They have room to manoeuvre. They can act more like boys: "They don't do gender as previous generations did."

But their liberation has limits. Femininity is now defined not by what girls do, but by how they look. Girls put great store in body image. Shorn of its other markers, femininity is distilled into lip-gloss and whorish clothes. Even so, the "girly-girl" who is vain and passive, and goes too far in her obsession with clothes, make-up, and boys is ridiculed.

For boys, the limits of acceptable behaviour are much more rigidly drawn. If a boy was bookish, quiet and unassertive, his sexuality was brought into question, and at the very least he lost the respect of the other boys, the research showed. Girls also held narrow views of acceptable masculine behaviour.

Very few students questioned the sexuality of tomboys. But many believed that a boy who did not embrace the usual male interests was gay. And "gay" was the worst possible insult. "Boys' lives seem hardly influenced by any feminist transformation except that they must now compete with girls as well as with each other," the authors say.

The way girls can "do" female has expanded but not the ways boys can "do" male. The uber male is king right through his 20s, able to dominate other men with his physicality and attract women with a muscular sex appeal.

Yet as women hit their 30s, and think about commitment and children, the very qualities they need in a long-term partner are usually absent in the uber male. Sensitivity, empathy and a regard for equality are the traits that help men form good relationships with women at work, and in their love-life. Lucky women discover that gentleness is not the antithesis of sexiness or strength. As a bonus, a gentle man is unlikely to smash his girlfriend in the face with a broken glass, or accidentally smash a female colleague in the eye.

The gentleness decried in schoolboys, and too often snuffed out, is a valuable quality later in life; a quality many a wife tries hard to resuscitate in an overbearing husband.

Feminists used to think boys could be programmed into sensitivity through giving them dolls in the preschool years, stamping out signs of horseplay and boisterousness, and sneering at sport. It was a failed experiment, unsurprisingly. Shaming boys about their physicality is silly.

There's nothing wrong with sport, boisterousness or horseplay - I've lived with it for 20 years with sons, longer if I count life with brothers.

But encouraging sensitivity and empathy in boys, and the softness every mother knows is at their core, is essential if men and women are to enjoy happy partnerships at work and home. I can't offer a prescription. I know fathers are integral through example and instruction. Anti-bullying and anti-homophobic policies, and playground policing are important. I know schools should extend their guest list of male role models beyond sporting heroes.

Boys need the same freedom girls have enjoyed to escape the straitjacket of gender stereotypes. In liberating boys, we've hardly begun.


Equality? You must be joking! As watchdogs say it's OK to sneer at men (but not women) in adverts

Majority rules? If you take a look around you these days, nothing could be further from the truth. That sacred tenet of democracy, which holds that the view of the greatest number of citizens should prevail is no more. Increasingly, we are ruled by the tyranny of the minority - or rather by the PC thought-police who believe they have a monopoly on public grievance.

How else would you explain an edict from the powerful Advertising Standards Authority that has decreed this week that it is socially acceptable to treat men as mindless sex objects, but a crime to make similar references to women. Let me explain. In one recent advert for the bookmaker Paddy Power, two sexually provocative young ladies in short skirts cosy up to a banker. Hardly sophisticated, for sure. But offensive? The ASA thought so, banning the advert on the grounds that it associated sexual success with stockmarket betting (try telling that to Nick Leeson).

That decision would have made more sense if the ASA hadn't rejected several hundred complaints about an equally idiotic misrepresentation of the sexes in an advert for Oven Pride kitchen cleaner that portrayed men as simpletons who don't know one end of a scouring pad from another. The voice-over says: 'So easy, a man can do it.'

Now, you and I may know that oven-cleaning is by no means an activity that most men would readily volunteer for. But then nor would most women, if we're honest. Which is why I have some sympathy for the 673 people who complained that the ad was sexist - a significant number in ASA terms.

Yet because the ad belittled men rather than women, the protests were overruled on the basis that the advert was 'unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence'.

Talk about double standards! But the horrible truth is, the ASA is right. As a society, we have become so institutionally sexist against men that it is now accepted practice to treat them as second-class citizens. Think of the huge number of TV comedies in which the men are portrayed as underperforming dolts who are vastly inferior to the female characters (Men Behaving Badly being the most notable example).

Think of all those women's magazines that routinely reinforce the stereotype of men as being helpless inadequates who think only with their lower organs.

On a more serious note, think of the raft of legislation that has been put in place to benefit women, and indeed positively discriminate in favour of them, often at the expense of male interests. In the supposed attempt to impose equality across the board there is - often quite literally - one rule for women and another for men. What's equal about that?

Surely the only true test of equality is a simple one. A little gender role reversal will do it. Imagine the same Oven Pride ad with women portrayed as imbeciles incapable of performing a simple domestic task. The firm would be flayed alive as sexist pigs and commercial chauvinists.

So why in 21st-century Britain is it OK to ridicule men but not women? If we believe in satirising gender stereotypes, then everyone should be up for grabs, so to speak.

But then the problem extends much further than the age-old battle of the sexes. It reaches into every arena of public life in which a supposedly weaker group is entitled to mock or denigrate anyone or anything it chooses, but must never, ever be ridiculed or criticised in return. So it's fair game for any paid-up member of the commentariat to belittle heterosexual marriage, but gay partnerships are deemed beyond reproach.

It's culturally acceptable to make jokes about Christians, or openly denigrate their faith, but belittle or insult any minority religion in a similar vein and you will be branded a hateful bigot. It's fine for the bien pensants to sneer at Middle England with its bourgeois values, but should Middle England dare to pass opprobrium on the cultural values of any other group and they are condemned as quasi-fascists.

How can this be right? Surely equality should be a two-way street in which the jokes, the criticisms and the views are allowed to flow freely in both directions without minority lobby groups decreeing what is or isn't acceptable? Alas, I fear it is already too late.

Just look at some of the big news stories of the past few months for a snapshot of the new orthodoxy. In March this year, a large group of Muslims in Luton protested in the town with deeply offensive posters vilifying our returning troops, calling them rapists and murderers. Only two people were arrested that day. No, not any of the Muslim rabble, but two of the decent majority who could not tolerate this abuse against our brave troops and shouted back at the fanatics. They were eventually released without charge.

Or how about the boss of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, David Holmes, who described as 'retarded homophobes' those who believe that heterosexual couples make the most suitable adoptive parents. This, despite the fact that most ordinary families recognise that a child fares best when it has a married mother and father in the home - a belief that is backed by repeated academic studies.

Then there is the way Christians are routinely ignored in our society in a craven attempt to appease minority religions, with crosses banned from public buildings and civic officials reprimanded for daring to mention their faith in public. (Remember the nurse who almost lost her job for making the unforgivable error of praying for a patient?). You'd never imagine we are a country where more than 60 per cent of people still define themselves as Christian.

Can you imagine for a moment a devout Muslim nurse being suspended from the NHS because she prays to save a sick patient? Or a Christian succeeding in complaining about a traditional Muslim festival and having it cancelled - as so often happens each year in schools and town centres at Easter and Christmas. Of course not. Minority rules, OK.

Everywhere you look, double standards have become the order of the day. And the sorry truth is that there is almost no one left either able or willing to stand up for the views of the silent majority, who have been brushed aside by the PC zealots and their endless list of grievances - some real, many imagined.

The great British institutions, whether they be the BBC, the Church of England or Parliament, have been cowed into submission by the cheerleaders for minority rule. In their desperation to cause offence to no one, they no longer know what they stand for any more. Equality? To paraphrase Orwell, some are more equal than others.


Aren't all violent crimes 'hate' crimes?

by Jeff Jacoby

LEGISLATION PENDING before Congress would dramatically expand the federal hate-crimes law, and a number of critics are concerned that the bill goes too far. Perhaps the real problem is that it doesn't go far enough.

Under current law, crimes motivated by bias against a victim's race, color, religion, or national origin can be prosecuted by the federal government, so long as the victim had been engaged in a "federally-protected activity"-- attending a public school, for example, or being in a place of public accommodation or entertainment. The proposed Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed the House last month and is now pending in the Senate, would significantly broaden the federal government's reach.

The bill, which is named for a gay college student beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998, would add four new categories of hate crimes to the federal code: those committed because of someone's sex, sexual orientation, gender (or transgender) identity, and disability. It would eliminate the prerequisite of a "federally-protected activity" and instead require only the loosest connection to interstate commerce (such as the use of a weapon that someone at some point had bought or sold). And the proposed legislation would make it far easier for defendants acquitted in state court to be retried at the federal level -- a circumvention of the Fifth Amendment's protection against double jeopardy that has prompted four members of the US Civil Rights Commission to publicly oppose the bill.

If enacted, the new law will almost certainly be challenged in court. The Constitution does not grant the federal government any general police power -- prosecuting crime is primarily a state and local responsibility -- and it is far from clear that the Supreme Court would go along with a congressional attempt to federalize such a broad swath of criminal law.

Which is just as well, since the new law will not serve any legitimate criminal-justice end. Every crime that would be covered by the bill is already a felony under state law. Each one can already be prosecuted and punished. Its name notwithstanding, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will not prevent any hate crimes. Nor is there anything it could have added to the prosecution of Shepard's killers, both of whom were convicted of murder and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Supporters of hate-crime legislation often invoke the victims of such high-profile murders. After James Byrd Jr., a black man, was savagely dragged to his death in Jasper, Tex., by three white men, Senator Ted Kennedy introduced a federal hate-crime bill and brought Byrd's daughter to Washington to testify in its behalf. But Texas authorities needed no help from Washington to bring Byrd's murderers to justice. Two were executed and the third is behind bars for life. Last month, the National Center for Lesbian Rights declared that the murder of Angie Zapata -- a transgender person bludgeoned to death in Colorado last summer -- showed why an expanded federal hate-crime statute was "long overdue." Yet even without such a statute, Zapata's killer was readily convicted in state court of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Hate-crime laws serve a symbolic function, not a practical one: They proclaim that crimes fueled by certain types of bias are especially repugnant. But that is the same as proclaiming that crimes fueled by other types of bias, or by motives having nothing to do with bias, are not quite as awful. Is that really a message any decent society should wish to promote?

Suppose Matthew Shepard's murderers had killed him for his wallet, or to prove their toughness to a gang, or out of sheer sadistic bloodlust. Would his death have been any less horrific? Would his family have shed fewer tears? Is it somehow better when a thrill-seeker burns a church than when a bigot does so? If James Byrd had been lynched by three black men, would his slaughter not have been as monstrous?

The best hate-crimes bill Congress can pass is none at all. But if we are going to have such laws, why limit them to only four, or eight, categories of victims? Let Congress expand the pending legislation to include every crime of violence -- regardless of the attacker's motive, or of the group the victim belonged to. Murders, rapes, aggravated assaults: Let us learn to see them all as crimes of "hate" -- not the criminal's hate for his victim, but society's hate for the crime.


Domino theory still pertinent

By Hal G. P. Colebatch, writing from Australia

WHEN I was a university student during the Vietnam War we had long debates about the domino theory that if South Vietnam fell then the rest of Indochina and, one by one, the remaining countries of southeast Asia, would go communist in rapid succession. It was, as some of us who supported it were told loftily, a theory quite unproven and discounted by many experts. In the event, it seemed largely borne out by what happened in 1975, if not exactly in the neat and tidy way that some predicted: Cambodia and Laos fell as, and plainly because, Saigon fell.

The other southeast Asian countries, which had been given time to strengthen their economies and political institutions by the long holding action in Vietnam, did not fall. The bottle stayed corked, as The Economist put it. However, emboldened by this wave of victory, communist movements with Soviet help staged takeovers in a series of other, not geographically contiguous, countries, with communist or far-leftist regimes coming to power in Benin, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Angola, Afghanistan, Grenada and Nicaragua during the 1970s. The last domino to fall was probably the Smith regime in Rhodesia in 1980: the Marxist takeovers in neighbouring Mozambique and Angola had made its position hopeless.

There was an upsurge of revolutionary communist and leftist movements in western Europe and the US at about the same time - including groups such as the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and the Weather Underground.

A few years later, and perhaps partly in reaction, we saw the dominoes falling again, but this time they went the other way. Possibly the costly Soviet failure in Afghanistan was the first signal that the Red Army, which we had been told would be able to sweep NATO forces into the Atlantic in a few days in the event of a general attack westward into Europe, could not even subdue a poor, backward nation with which it shared a border. This was among the events giving heart to the anti-communist movements smouldering within the whole Soviet empire.

Anyway, Hungary and Poland were the first countries in Europe to show that they could now openly defy Moscow and get away with it, with rapid consequences in the rest of eastern Europe, the Baltic states and Russia itself. Soon the last domino crashed in Moscow. Even in China and Indochina communist ideology survived in little more than name. It had not been a matter of military invasion but of demonstration.

History never repeats itself exactly, but the domino effect appears to have been sufficiently demonstrated in recent decades to look very pertinent to Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond. It seems obvious that a Western defeat in Afghanistan would make a Taliban victory in Pakistan very likely. If defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan is proving difficult, defeating an achieved and dug-in Taliban regime in Pakistan would be worse for both military and political reasons.

Even if the Taliban did not get hold of Pakistan's considerable stockpile of nuclear weapons, it appears more than probable that such a victory would be disastrous for the western position not only vis-a-vis the geographically contiguous countries but also in regard to other Muslim countries now striving to contain jihadist fundamentalism, such as Turkey and Indonesia, and also in regard to the European and other Western countries that now have large Muslim populations: it seems impossible to deny the logic that extremist and jihadist elements would be encouraged everywhere.

There are already about two million Muslims in Britain alone and recent surveys show a large percentage of them, especially among the younger generation, hold radical and militant attitudes. In some other European countries the proportion of Muslims in the population is higher.

A Western military defeat in Afghanistan and the consequences in neighbouring countries would almost inevitably have further ongoing consequences in Europe.

Given that the domino theory is worth taking seriously, the magnitude of the possible consequences of defeat in Afghanistan, not only for that country's own people but also for the region and for the west as a whole puts Australia's commitment of an additional 450 troops there into perspective.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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