Sunday, October 07, 2007

RD attempts to segue ....

.... between the posts on poetry and banning of books with sad endings.

Reading Kipling's 'If' reminded me of a custom we had as children: we used to have autograph books, not for collecting celebrity signatures but for friends and family members to write in. As I recall, the entries were pretty standard because my book looked very similar to those of my sisters and cousins. 'Best friends' would write of their undying devotion, teachers would write something encouraging and uplifting, older siblings would attempt to shock or mystify and aunts and grandparents would write something 'worthy.'

My book was lost long ago but I can remember a few of the entries. Long before textese was invented, we had our clever ways of baffling the adults (or so we thought!):
YYUR, YYUB, ICUR YY4me appeared in all our books along with "Si senor, der dego, forte lores inaro. Desno lores, deis trux, fu lov cowsan ensan dux"

Someone would always write the final stanza of "If" in the boys' books while we girls had to make do with this:
Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
And so make life, death and that vast forever
- one grand, sweet song

I have only just discovered that Charles Kingsley was responsible for this annoying piece of drivel. It enraged me when I was nine years old and it still does. There doesn't seem to be anything written for girls to equate with the stirring "You'll be a man, my son!" However, the effect of the soppy Kingsley lines in my autograph book was to stir me into rebellion against the image of the sweet maid forever doing noble things.

Now for the segue into this morning's post ... How far should we censor and control what our children read? Should we shelter them from everything sad, violent or frightening? Should Humpty Dumpty bounce back with a grin? How about a nice little kitten sitting on the tuffet with Miss Muffet instead of that nasty spider? Perhaps the fox should be kind and carry the gingerbread man (oops, person) gently across the river and send him on his way with a cheerful wave. The little match girl should be rescued from poverty by a handsome prince.

What a dull world it would be with all those happy endings. My mother, who was generally considered to be a kind and loving person, used to sing the most terrifying song to us as she tucked us in at night. I can't remember all of the words and googling hasn't come up with anything but it went something like this:
"Hush, there's a Grey Man coming up the stairs. Hush lest the Grey Man catch you unawares. For he's crawling and he's creeping, and his bogey eyes are peeping, just to see if everybody's fast asleep.
Hush, little one, don't let him catch you. Hush little one, don't let him see. Hide head beneath the clothes, count ten upon your toes. For where the Grey Man goes, it's black as night."

I'm sure there were more words and I would love to hear from anyone who can source it for me. Did it terrify us? Did it do permanent harm? Ridiculous! The fact that we all still sleep with the light on is totally unrelated.


  1. Uncanny again.

    Last night we watched a silly little film called The Cat People 1941 when we thought the film we would be seeing The Black Cat 1941 with Gale Sondergaard, a properly terrifying villainess. This film which I saw as a child scared me especially since I we frequently traveled by subway. I heartily recommend it and I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it.

    However, the top scary movie with no close second was The Wolf Man 1941. The only time I can remember being taken to the theater by my father, who I'm sure had no idea what the film was about. We went to the old Roxy, an enormous movie palace in New York where the screen was the size of the side of a mountain at least that's how it looked to my six year old self. I was rendered rigid and had nightmares for a long time made worse by not being able to confide them to anyone.

    As for scary written material, I can't remember anything, except I had a real grudge against the elves who never seemed to come during the night to do the chores.

    An inspiring poem for girls hmmm. You mean "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice" isn't enough for you? Well I always included girls and women when boys and men were mentioned, so I gave Kipling the benefit of the doubt and chose to read the last line as, "You'll be a credit to the human race, my child."

  2. I don't think I've seen The Black Cat, I'll watch out for it on Sky. I see from Wikipaedia that it is based on an Edgar Allan Poe story and they used to scare me rigid when I was about 14 or 15.

    I like "You'll be a credit to the human race, my child" as a sentiment but I think Kipling might have had a problem with the scansion!

  3. Just say it fast and it'll be fine.

  4. flagler beach lover: welcome fellow seaside dweller!

    I like the suggestion, not quite got the rhythm right yet but I'll practise.

  5. "You'll be a credit to the human race, my child."

    Ugh, ugh and more ugh! Listen up, ladies, either you find a path to equality we can trod together without turning our poetic heritage into an idelogically sterile, cacophonous mess or you walk alone!

  6. Peter: I think our poetic and biblical heritage is safe. But I would like to find something depicting feminine characteristics that is neither over sugary nor militantly feminist. Can you think of a suitable quotation?

  7. Now there is a challenge. Are you offering danger pay?

    I could try, but I think I first have to figure out whether the source of your dissatisfaction with Kipling is that men are going out to hunt tigers by themselves or that women are not.

  8. I don't object to Kipling. Men and boys can do what men and boys must do. My objection was to the 'be good sweet maid' option for girls. I didn't like it and my tomboy daughter would have choked on it.

    What would you write in your daughter's autograph book, if today's kids still had them?

  9. "May you corner the market in silver futures, sweet maid."

    OK, that was practice. I want a second chance. Hey monix, c'mon, I need a second chance!

  10. So Kipling was only speaking of those who hunt materialistic tigers by themselves as becoming men? If that's all it takes, many women have become "men" as well.

    If you read his lines, I think you'll see they can apply to men and women and I don't see anything antithetical to the traditional feminine virtues in it unless you believe women are inherently weak and therefore can't be expected to accomplish all those "if's."

    As for something to write in an autograph book (we had them too), "Be Yourself" is always good advice for girls.

  11. erp: you are quite right, the poem can be applied to everyone, until the last line. Unfortunately that's the line that puts it in the 'poetry for boys' section.

  12. Peter: I hope you come up with something better for your second chance!

    How about these lines from Sojourner Truth's Ain't I woman? to start:
    "If the first woman God ever made
    was strong enough to turn the world
    upside down, all alone
    together women ought to be able to turn it
    rightside up again."

    I must admit that I'm finding it difficult to find anything inspirational without being aggressively anti-male.

  13. Women's strength is in endurance and men's strength is in heavy lifting. Together they make a pretty good team, if only they would LISTEN, we wouldn't need tales of an invisible heaven.

  14. I'm sorry, but the problem you all have is that you are trying to juxtapose an ethos of modern individual freedom and self-fulfillment against Kipling's notion of honour, duty and courage in the face of the cards life dealt you. He wasn't really writing about opprssed classes trying to fulfill themselves by shucking off their traditional obligations to everybody else and doing what their inner voice told them was the priority.

    Just imagine how Kipling would have dealt with the complaint that the duty Empire demanded of someone "wasn't the real him".

  15. Peter:

    Quite right


    I don't see anything antithetical to the traditional feminine virtues in it unless you believe women are inherently weak.

    Well, with respect to men, women are inherently weak.

    And also extremely specialized.

    Not to mention vulnerable.

    I grant that tends to make men akin to self-licking ice cream cones, but, as Brit would say, is and ought are not the same.

  16. It's quite evident that Kipling was talking about honor, duty and courage as it applies to everybody, not just the oppressed classes.

    Women have weaker muscle masses and are more vulnerable in certain situations, but that doesn't absolve them from honor, duty and courage.

    Sorry, you boys haven't convinced me on this one.

  17. erp:

    ... that doesn't absolve [women] from honor, duty and courage.

    No, it doesn't.

    That said, how do women go about demonstrating honor, duty, and courage in the ways Kipling covers?

    Are their other ways?

  18. Yes, erp, no one is saying that Victorian women or many women since lacked notions of honour and duty. How could they? It is simply that the spirit of modern times is a reaction against the fetters of honour, sacrifice and duty by both men and women. Monix and you bristle at the notion that women have a "natural place" as mothers, teachers, nurses, etc. Fine, but Kipling was writing about men in their "natural places", which modern men bristle at too. And it was by no means all glory and applause. Check out his poem "Tommy". This is why the heroic inspiration for girls and women that monix is looking for only resonates in the context of an anti-male struggle. Without that, how do you write Kiplingesque inspirations for someone who just wants to do what she just wants to do and tells everybody else to back off?

  19. Here is Tommy.

    You've got to get away from the notion that the traditional male world was all about personal freedom and self-expression. That's not Kipling, it's Hugh Hefner.

  20. Not to rehash comments from other strings ad infinitum, but the "traditional" women's roles are so little valued. All the jokes about nurses (female) who are the real force at hospitals because the doctors (male) are dunces, ditto the secretaries (female) who carry their very well paid bosses (male) on to wives without whom, their husbands couldn't succeed ...

    We've gone around this one before. Once professions are seen as female dominated, they lose their luster. One example that's close to home is CPA's. As my husband is wont to point out, there was rarely a whiff of scandal before the "girls" took over. Accountants used to be number one on the list of professionals admired for their honesty, etc. No more.

    Vets are moving toward being female dominated, if they're not there already, and the more that medicine is no longer attracting the best and the brightest and are subjected to onerous restraints, fewer men will apply to medical school. Eventually the majority of physicians will be women who will enjoy the same status as doctors had in the Soviet Union, which is to say one step up from babushkas.

    Teachers are another example. Women are attracted to abbreviated work days, frequent holidays, months off during the summer and the almost criminal lack of accountability and not to the challenges other professionals face daily, The teachers colleges and pedagogical degrees offered by universities are a joke. The only persons who are not physicians I've ever heard referring to themselves as doctor (other than Henry Kissinger, of course) are those with doctorates in education (D.Ed).

    On a happier note, my new laptop should arrive today, so maybe I'll be able to see the world as a little rosier place once that's up and running.

    Soulists, please pray for me, materialists, please keep your fingers crossed that the new laptop makes a seamless segue into our lives.

  21. erp:

    Once professions are seen as female dominated, they lose their luster.

    I used to resist that conclusion, but don't any longer.

    The question is, Why?

    If it was only men who had that attitude, it would be understandable, if not justifiable.

    However, I strongly suspect women, by an large, do precisely the same thing.

  22. I go away for a couple of days and miss all the fun! I'll try to catch up with your comments erp, Peter and Skipper:

    I fully agree that Kipling's verse reflects the standards of the time he was writing; I don't want to tinker with it. I just wondered if there was anything inspirational rather than sloppy aimed at girls. I haven't found anything yet other than the 'we're better than men' kind of stuff which is as bad, in its way, as the 'sweet maid' variety.

    I don't bristle at the notion that women are innately nurturers; what makes me bristle is the undervaluing of the nurturing role played by women. In the past, men saw the so-called female roles as inferior but nowadays a woman who sees motherhood and caring as both important and fulfilling is attacked by other women for letting the side down!

    I don't share the views of erp and Skipper regarding the negative effect that women have had on professions; I certainly haven't seen any evidence of that in UK. I also object strongly to erp's depiction of the teaching profession! (I know, you'd expect me to say that but I'm sure that Peter, married to a teacher, would support me.) Women may be drawn to careers where they know they will have time to be with their children but that doesn't make it a soft or lazy option; in most cases, working mothers have far more responsibilities than working fathers and work/home balance is essential.

    There has been a lot of fuss in the media recently about so-called 'domestic 'goddesses' i.e. women like Nigella Lawson have successful careers and also enjoy cooking and other domestic activities. The outraged critics have all been women. Why? Do they feel threatened or jealous? I don't honestly know but I have been surprised by the intensity of feeling.

    Getting back to the original point! Kipling's 'If' sets out aspirations and standards for boys to develop into good and honourable men. We can, like erp, agree that most of what he says is good advice for all young people but we can't change that last line! I want to find something suitably inspiring for girls; something that celebrates equality and difference. Perhaps I'll have to commission a new poem from Brit.

  23. m, I hope you had a vacation.

    I'm not denigrating anybody, I'm merely stating what the CW was and is. Maybe women haven't "taken over" in the same way they have here.

    Women were and still are steered into teaching, not because they could pass on to the next generation the values and knowledge of their culture, but because it left time for them to have two major careers, one paying and the other not. Neither was valued by men. Nursing was next best because the hours could be set to benefit the family.

    I didn’t work until my youngest was 16 -- that was close to 25 years, during that time I was called a lot of not-so-nice names, condescended to, and down right insulted for being a dummy … and that was from other women.

    None of them ever did it twice, but that's a story for another day.

  24. yes, thank you,e, I've had a couple of days in Bath - I'll post on that when I've answered all my telephone and email messages and caught up on reading everyone else's blogs!

    I'm not sure what you are saying about women in teaching and nursing. Do you think that today's young women only enter those professions as easy options? Don't you think there is any sense of vocation any more or do you think there never was? Back in 1964 I chose to be a teacher because i thought I had something of value to offer to society. My daughter had far more career options available to her but chose to teach in a 'challenging' school - I call that vocation. She could be earning far more in a far less demanding job and I know many, many more dedicated teachers. Our experience is obviously different.

  25. Yes almost always in the past and post 60's almost never. I'll save more for its own post.

    We just saw Bath on "Inspector Morse" which we've been watching for months thanks to Netflix. The last episode is coming tomorrow. We'll miss him and remembered driving around the same streets as were on the TV show. We only spent the day there and after we left, we were sorry we didn't stay longer.

  26. I think Kipling would have had a lot of trouble with the modern notion of "career", which seems to drive a lot of thinking among today's women as they chafe under and break out of traditional stereotyping. Jobs are a means to provide necessities and leisure and vocations are a call to serve society, but the notion of career is very self-focussed and we today have become almost mystical in our musings about self-fullfillment, self-expression, etc. That sounds just dandy when put in the context of oppression and discrimination (which I think may be why that theme keeps popping into monix's head), but without that it quickly reduces to "It's all about me", which is certainly not Kipling. Don't forget that Kipling has been a joke among the beautiful people for over a hundred years. "Duty? Empire? Sacrifice? Ha, ha, that's cute, but excuse me while I strategize how to make senior partner before forty or guide my high-tech venture to an IPO. By the way, have you met my fourth wife yet?"

    Monix, you bet I would defend teaching. But I wonder whether you have encountered something we see at my wife's school. Some women work and some don't, but among the ones that do, one can often detect a big difference in the kids (and personalities, frankly)of the ones who work around their families and the ones who make their families work around their careers.

    An extreme illustration of the conundrum is the stories one hears occasionally about women who are killed climbing Everest or sailing the Atlantic or some such thing and leave kids behind. They are always lauded as incredibly heroic and brave types who were "doing what they had to do" or some such drivel. I think they are incredibly selfish and deserve to be condemned, but, as with so many other modern issues, I seem to walk alone. But even without that tragic drama, I can't shake the image of Kipling looking thoroughly befuddled by someone's asking him to write an inspirational poem to honour a woman who just won the Boston Marathon.

    But then, Kipling would hardly have had a lot of time for men making a killing in property development or doing clever things with money in the City. His model would have been the soldier in Iraq, but we all know how stupid he is. Just ask John Kerry.

    All that being said, I agree if anyone can crack this nut, it is our dear lyrical Brit. Find the lazy sod, monix, and put him to work.

  27. Peter, you say there's a noticeable difference between the kids whose mothers "work" and those who don't, but you don't say what that difference is?

    Of course, I disagree that people work only to provide a living. While the whole 60's self-actualization nonsense was merely a way to give the already self-absorbed permission to be “all that they can be,” there’s a lot to be said for working at a job where you feel you are using your talents and making a contribution. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working toward an IPO, making a pile of money in real estate or climbing Mt. Everest.

    It’s difficult to discuss public schools in a forum like this because the people who’ve bought into the system as it is today, don’t read blogs like this, nor do they share our values, diverse though we may be, we’re all within the parameters of those who give a darn even if we may not be in full agreement on every detail.

    Kipling? Of course, he would be ridiculed by the beautiful people. His words aren’t incomprehensible drivel. He uses language very well and says what he means forcefully. Yes, he was talking of soldiers, but a good soldier is also a good person, male of female. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that if he were writing today, that last line might have been a bit more inclusive and would have been much more pleasing to the ear.

  28. Come on, Peter, we've been communicating long enough now for you to know that I think stay-at-home mothers provide the best start for their children! I've written more than one post on this subject.

    I also agree with everything you say about 'modern heroes' whether they be male or female. What's to admire about someone who leaves a family, endangers their own life and often the lives of rescuers just to say they climbed or swam or whatever further than anyone else?

    I want to inspire a generation of boys and girls with the values I hold dear: to care about other people; to care about the world they live in; to do their best in whatever situation they find themselves. I'd like them all to know that achievement is more than acquiring status or wealth. BUT that doesn't mean sending the boys off to Iraq and locking the girls in the kitchen!

    I had dinner with young Brit on Thursday. He's not being lazy - just extremely busy in different directions right now. Who knows, one day he might honour us with a comment. He's just posted a new poem on TofE.

  29. erp:

    The dividing lines I am talking about are not absolute--nothing in human affairs is. There is certainly nothing wrong with choosing a career based upon interest or preference and working hard to succeed at it--much private and public good results. But it is not the seat of the heroic, dutiful or sacrificial except perhaps within traditional vocations. I think we are on the fault line between conservatisim and libertarianism here. Both will support work, individual choice and private economic initiative as goods in themselves, but traditional conservatives don't see them as somehow mystically producing a moral, orderly, beautiful world or leading to a compassionate, resilient society all by themselves. In fact, they see conflicts, as did Adam Smith himself. What bugs me more than anything about libertarians is not their belief in limited government and free enterprise but their tendency to gush about how cornering the futures market in pork bellies is akin to finding the Holy Grail. Richard Branson is not Gordon of Khartoum and Martha Stewart is not Florence Nightingale.

    As to women, none of this would be difficult or even controversial if it were not for children and family. Surely the debate as to whether women can succeed and triumph in all but a very small number of physically exhausting careers is over, and childless women march "shoulder to shoulder" with men other than outright misogynists. Most of the scorn and downgrading of "motherhood as career" comes from women--I don't think I've ever read a man say that. True, by and large modern men have been more than content to mouth support for and take full advantage of the feminist revolt--you know men--, but we aren't the ones who saw the traditional roles as degrading or fought them. We just quickly learned how to bend with the wind for fun and profit.

    From there we get into the "biology is/is not destiny" argument, which I assume will be settled about the same time we decide forevermore whether narrow or wide ties are better. It seems to me the dream of equality for any modern woman who wants both dramatic career success and a family is all tied up in the ideals of androgynous marriages and interchangeable parenting. Those would have completely flummoxed and probably disturbed Kipling, who, after all, was a bit of an establishment toady. If he came back, he might well indeed find inspiration in much modern women are accomplishing, but I can't see him celebrating the bravery of the young female soldier who marches off to war leaving her young kids in dad's care.

  30. Sorry, to follow-up with an illustration of the point I am trying to make, a few years ago here in Ottawa, a Russian diplomat became pie-eyed drunk, got behind the wheel and struck and killed a young well-connected lawyer in her late thirties. It was a huge diplomatic incident and was all over the papers for weeks. She was a successful, hard-nosed lawyer rising fast in a blue-chip, hard-nosed firm and was known as a take-no-prisoners litigant. There were several memorial services and many eulogies, and I was struck how little mention was made of her career success and how much was made of her "passionate concern for human rights". No particulars of anything she actually did in that field were given, just her passionate concern. As she seemed to be the epitome of the determined, successful career woman and was presumably an inspiration for many younger women, I was puzzled by how little was made of this and how much about a tangenital personal interest. It made me imagine the funeral of a 19th century robber baron where no one mentions the billions he made or how he made them, but all attest vocally he was a great Christian.

  31. Media bias is a whole other issue. Of course, they only gush about warm fuzzy feelings and even psychotic killers are shown as kind to their old grannies. It means less than nothing.

    You are correct that it is women who criticize other women's career choices, i.e., staying home and taking care of their families because they feel threatened by any women straying from the CW of feminism.

    Men aren't heard from on this issue because 99% of them don't have an opinion on any matters concerning women that doesn’t directly impact their lives.

  32. Peter:

    I think Kipling would have had a lot of trouble with the modern notion of "career",


    All that being said, I agree if anyone can crack this nut, it is our dear lyrical Brit. Find the lazy sod, monix, and put him to work.

    Agreed. Every word.

    Full disclosure: my mother preferred to follow a career, and essentially left her two kids to be raised by wolves. It is only due to astonishing luck that the results were not a total disaster.

    Caveat. All the below must be read knowing that IANAW, and that while I should walk a mile in a woman's shoes, I couldn't manage three steps without face planting.

    I mentioned above, to no apparent dissent, that women are, relative to men, specialized.

    There is no known human society, no matter the level of development, where women are not the primary caregivers. Something so pervasive, regardless of time or culture, is so context independent that it probably makes the most sense to use the term "instinctive".

    The maternal instinct is so powerful as to amount to (statistically speaking; individual mileage may vary) a compulsion.

    Consequently, women (again, statistically speaking) will be powerfully attracted to the caring occupations, and will be just as disinclined to non-caring occupations. Ask most women whether they would rather become a teacher, or a Structured Query Language programmer, and regardless of ability, I don't think the average answer is much in doubt.

    Women will, therefore, pursue caring occupations with far less regard to material compensation. By their very nature, caring occupations, essential though they may be (far more essential than, say, driving race cars or climbing Everest, to name just a couple from a near infinite list) will gain far less glorification for this reason alone: there is no competition, and because the skills are so innate, relatively little training, involved.

    As Brit would say: is and ought are two very different things.

    I don't share the views of erp and Skipper regarding the negative effect that women have had on professions ...

    I can't speak for the UK (although my 7 years residence there, including several memorable visits to Bath, doesn't incline me to think things are particularly different), but consider the following about the US:

    Roughly 100 years ago, school teachers were predominantly male, because few women were literate, and because all women were subject to the tyranny of biology. At the time, being a (that is, less than collegiate level) teacher was a much more prestigious occupation than it is now.

    There is a significant shortage of nurses in the US. To become an RN requires a college degree and successfully completing a board exam. Nursing requires technical competence, ironclad dependability, and the ability to work well under pressure. My wife's wage on a kidney ward? Roughly 11 quid per hour.

    Her graduating class was almost exclusively female, despite intense affirmative action efforts to attract males. Why the intense effort? Because the school of nursing was convinced that unless there were more men in the field, it would never attract wages commensurate with training and responsibility.

    They are right. Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand applies: women will pursue a nursing career instead of, say, truck driving, because despite the worse pay (and, often, worse hours), nursing strokes the maternal instinct in ways that long haul trucking never will.

    My mother (PhD in Linguistics, and retired university professor) tried to convince me of the denigration that attends pink collar ghettos. At first, I was most inclined to disagree; that is no longer the case.

    The question remains, why?

    I am no particular admirer of Team Testosterone, so such a mindless reaction would leave me sadly unsurprised. What is most puzzling, though, is that I suspect Team Estrogen is no kinder. For that, I have no explanation.

    BTW, just to further emphasize what Peter said, raising children is so demanding, and the mother role so irreplaceable, that, IMHO, choosing to both have children and pursue employment outside the home (except where materially necessary) is a gross abdication of unavoidable responsibility.

    I want to find something suitably inspiring for girls; something that celebrates equality and difference. Perhaps I'll have to commission a new poem from Brit.

    As much as I admire Brit's poetic (among other) skills, I don't think he can crack this nut. If there is a way to write something inspirational for that which requires no inspiration, it beggars my imagination.

  33. Skipper:
    My reference to poetry at the start of this discussion was very tongue-in-cheek but see where it led!

    I'm in full agreement with you and Peter that women have a natural instinct for nurturing which has traditionally led us into the 'caring' professions. Nursing and teaching used to be the work of religious sisters, missionaries and rich women with time on their hands and charitable inclinations, that's probably why, although essential services, they weren't high on any government's economic agenda. I don't think it was a conscious undervaluing of women. The fact that they are still low-paid has, I'm sure, more to do with the sheer scale of the services.

    I questioned the observation from you and erp that professional standards drop when women enter a formerly male dominated area - perhaps I misread your meaning.

    We have all identified the current phenomenon of what you refer to as Team Estrogen. Women are really hard on other women. Why? I think it is a mixture of fear, guilt and envy in a generation of women that is unsure of its identity. There is a great deal of insecurity among 30+ year olds. They were told they could have it all but they are beginning to see that is impossible, so they are attacking the softest target, which is the domestic setting.

    How quickly things change. My children were born in the late 70s and all of my friends and I gave up our jobs to raise the children. We didn't see that as any kind of sacrifice and there was plenty of part-time work around if it was needed or wanted. Then two things happened to change the atmosphere: an increase in materialism and aggressive feminism/cult of 'self fulfillment'. Families have suffered as a result, men are struggling with the changed roles and young women are lost - you know how poor we are at navigating!

    One of the sad things I see is the way that what I deemed luxuries are now seen as necessities. People must have everything now and are prepared to get into debt, then they can't afford to give up working to bring up children because they owe their lives to credit companies - it is far worse than the bad old days of owing your life to the mill or mine owner, because it is entered into so enthusiastically.

    Solutions? None come to mind. I discovered on my recent visit to the American Museum that the Shakers died out because they were all celibate - could that be a warning for the women who are saying 'no' to having children because their careers are more important? (Tongue-in-cheek again!)

  34. Finally, an issue where I am more modern than Skipper. Although the first few years are problematic, I see little wrong with mothers working, even at demanding jobs. It's not as if traditional women spent their days emoting with their one or two children or shlepping them around to after-school activities. Let's not forget that, despite all the policitally correct drivel about a patriarchy that was imposed in the mists of pre-history, this all really got going in the postwar period when women were stuck depressed and under-occupied in the suburbs. To those radical womyn who insist it began when The Great Goddess was overthrown, I have a one word answer: antibiotics.

    We put too much emphasis today on the physical presence of parents in our kids lives. Indeed much of the problem today is that fussy middle-class parents are too present 24/7 and too neurotic about their kids' development. The issue is priority, about which kids are extremely aware. They understand necessity quite well, but what they can't understand is a parent that consciously chooses to put them second. For example, they can accept that dad must go off to war for a few years, but will be devastated if he leaves them for his cute secretary. Likewise, they can accept that mom works and works hard to help pay for vacations and Christmas presents, but not that she flies off to a professional development and networking conference and misses their school play because the former is more fulfilling. Selfish little nits!

    Of course, the rational solution to all this is shared parenting and an equal assumption of nuturing responsibilities by the father. It doesn't work very well, especially when dad starts demanding equal decision-making authority over childcare, but it is rational.

  35. Skip IANAW = I Am Not A Woman????

    “… rather become a teacher, or a Structured Query Language programmer, and regardless of ability, I don't think the average answer is much in doubt.”

    Casual male chauvinism – it drives me crazy.

    Monix, I questioned the observation from you and erp that professional standards drop when women enter a formerly male dominated area - perhaps I misread your meaning.

    I think you did. It’s physical, not professional standards, that drop in order that women may qualify for fire and police departments, military academies, combat, etc. If women had to qualify exactly like men, I would have no trouble with women in those jobs.

    Peter, “… politically correct drivel about a patriarchy that was imposed in the mists of pre-history …”. drivel? You must be kidding … antibiotics? Don’t you mean birth control pills?

    Shared parenting? You got the emphasis wrong. It’s not shared decision making that is problematic, but shared responsibilities. With shared parenting, men don’t “help” out, they do what needs to be done. Similar to partners in law firms or other endeavors where there is no “boss” and partners decide what kind of a shop they wish to run and then each does their best to make it work.

    I’ll bet when you “help” with the domestic chores, it’s just that. Helping even with good grace gives the signal, this isn’t my job, but because I’m a nice guy, I’ll help you.

    One of the few areas of disagreement with my roomie was that it took him a long time to understand that simple concept.

    Shared parenting works. I’ve seen it with my kids and others of the younger generation than my own. It amazes me that my son-in-law, a very successful professional, arranges his life around his ten year old daughter’s schedule and whoever gets home first dives into the domestic chores.

  36. erp: you sum up the situation on shared responsibility perfectly. I must say, I thought Peter was the perfect modern husband and father until his last comment enlightened me!

  37. Hey, c'mon. I frequently offer to peel the odd potato between my end-of-the-day martinis.

    OK, so shared everything is the magic solution that will end all the injustices of our dark and oppressive past? I guess that is why the divorce rates are plummeting and modern kids have such stability on the home front.

    You two should spend some time in a family law practice and see what can happen when these perfect 50/50 marriages start to unravel. Or just step outside the fussing about chores (a dead issue if there ever was one--nearly everybody today works fulltime at it, at least in middle class homes) and contemplate what true equality (in the sense of interchangeability) would mean to a woman's relationship to her children. Here is an example: Imagine a professional couple who agree both will continue to work after the baby is born. Shortly thereafter, the woman has a change of heart and tearfully says to her husband she is so overwhelmed by the emotion of childbirth that she knows the baby must be the priority and she wants to stay home for at least a few years. Her financially nervous but supportive husband agrees.

    Now imagine he says that he, too, is overwhelmed and wants to stay home to care for the little tyke. He suggests they cut the cards to decide who will stay home and who will work.

    Didn't you learn from the sexual revolution that male notions of duty and fidelity and loyalty are not immutable?

  38. Peter, too clueless and too categorical. Give yourself some swing room. You are letting down the side of all persons born between mid-August and mid-September. People can and do change their minds. If a woman thinks she’d like to return to work after her baby is born and then can’t bear to do so, it isn’t a crime, it’s something to be worked out.

    Imagine what anyone would think of the human race if all they knew of it came from sit-coms and cop shows on TV.

    My eternal cry in the wilderness -- you (plural) don't LISTEN.

    Re-read what I wrote about shared responsibilities and perhaps monix and other distaff readers would like to add their views.

    What I learned from the sexual revolution is that they threw out the baby and kept the bath water.

    Any other questions?

  39. erp:

    You confuse me. I am 100% with the woman who changes her mind, but I have no sympathy for the guy who wants equal time.

    Now, if you want to go to bat for equal everything, fine, but my point is that will and is going far beyond sharing the workload and putting in equal hours of drudge. You don't need androgynous theories to support that. And please do me the honour of parking the "clueless" and "not listening" jibes. Did you ever consider that the problem isn't really that we aren't listening, but rather that we don't agree with you (pl) and rather think we (pl) just might have a say in what we should and shouldn't be doing. Or perhaps that we are listening plenty and note that that you (pl) are having one heck of a time agreeing amongst yourselves.

  40. monix:

    I questioned the observation from you and erp that professional standards drop when women enter a formerly male dominated area - perhaps I misread your meaning.

    Perhaps I wasn't clear. I was referring to esteem, not standards. Any profession that becomes female dominated will lose esteem as a consequence. In fact, my proof of this is nursing: the standards are very high, but the esteem is not commensurate with those standards.

    We have all identified the current phenomenon of what you refer to as Team Estrogen. Women are really hard on other women.

    Based upon my daughter's experiences over the last couple years (plus having read a couple books on the subject , girls can be cliquish and pointlessly mean to each other in ways that would simply never occur to boys.

    I don't think there is anything at all new about it; I don't think the word "current" belongs in your statement.


    Although the first few years are problematic, I see little wrong with mothers working, even at demanding jobs.

    Perhaps I overcooked my writing a bit, but tradeoffs are unavoidable, and it is worth wondering what constitutes "the first few years."

    At the risk of becoming excessively self referential, when I was 7 and my brother 5, my mom dumped my dad because he thought she should stay at home with the kids. She promptly went to work full time, and went to school at nights. For the next five years, until my mom remarried, my brother and I had, outside school hours, no adult supervision whatsoever.

    Had my brother or I had less of an instinctive feel for avoiding dumb ideas, or either one of us been a girl, I am convinced the results would have been far less benign than what actually obtained.

    Near as I can tell, the first few years should extend through age 13; kids can babysit starting at that age, so at least some degree of self-supervision seems a good idea.

    I don't mean to imply that moms need to spend every waking moment emoting with their kids; my wife sure wasn't like that. But there is no replacement for simply being there.

    Of course, the rational solution to all this is shared parenting and an equal assumption of nuturing responsibilities by the father. It doesn't work very well, especially when dad starts demanding equal decision-making authority over childcare, but it is rational.

    It is rational only if it works better than the alternative. Dads can, indeed, be very effective parents. But, on average, they are (in all but one way, the conditional withholding of affection) inferior substitutes.


    Skip IANAW = I Am Not A Woman????


    “… rather become a teacher, or a Structured Query Language programmer, and regardless of ability, I don't think the average answer is much in doubt.”

    Casual male chauvinism – it drives me crazy.

    There is nothing the slightest chauvinistic, male or otherwise, in that statement, which is merely a statement of observable fact. No matter how capable women might be at something like SQL, in comparison with teaching, or nursing, vanishingly few women choose to do it. The answer, on average, is in absolutely no doubt at all. There is no doubting that self selection is at work, and in which direction it is heavily biased.

    I’ll bet when you “help” with the domestic chores, it’s just that. Helping even with good grace gives the signal, this isn’t my job, but because I’m a nice guy, I’ll help you.

    Not speaking for Peter here, but a couple things are in order here. In my family, when it comes to domestic chores, we each have our "assignments" and do them. Mine happen to be bathrooms, and about half the time, dusting (my reach is a lot longer).

    It is worth noting though, that there are a lot of chores essential to running a house in which women almost never share (and are never included in studies looking at who does what).

    For instances: cleaning rain gutters, raking snow from roofs, commuting to and from work (for single income households), rotating the tires, getting rid of spiders, cutting dead limbs from trees, replacing worn out sprinkler heads ...

    I could go on. The point being that when domestic is defined as that which is confined within the house's walls, sharing is now the expected order of the day.

    Outside those walls, a great deal goes on, and, on average, none of it is shared.

    Fortunately, my wife understands this perfectly well. I end up with about 10% of the domestic chores. I have no choice, she does the other 90% when I'm not around.

  41. erp and skipper: my apologies, I did misread your meaning, thanks for explaining.

    e, you want me to take on Peter? I just make chocolate cake and quilts! (Piggies coming on nicely BTW)

  42. I can't keep thinking of different ways to make the same point -- not taken.

    What color will the piggies be? I asked a neighbor mother-to-be if she would like a baby quilt with a literary motif and when she saw it, she had a good laugh.

  43. monix, you will never make a hundred comment thread if you deflect a good rhubarb to quilts at number forty. But I give up on our dear erp. She just won't listen. :-)

  44. Peter, get your own material. ;-}

  45. Peter: okay, I chickened out! Brit told me never to argue with Duckians because you are all so intelligent and articulate and I'm only his mum.

    The real reason was that the change in your argument had me confused. I thought you advocated traditional family life - two parents doing things with the children, giving them a head start in life and a set of standards to live by. Then you go and say we put too much emphasis on the physical presence of parents in their children's lives.

  46. Then you go and say we put too much emphasis on the physical presence of parents in their children's lives.

    I give up. I thought I was defending working mothers and trying to relieve some of their guilt. All I meant was that the committment of parents to their children is not a function of hours spent with them but rather of the sense of their priority in the lives of the parents. And yes, many modern parents are too neurotic and worried about knowing everything that is going on in their kids heads. Just the other day I got into an argument with a friend who thought parents should teach young teenagers how to drink, because if we don't, "they will learn it elswhere". I wanted to scream: "They are supposed to learn it elsewhere. We are there to tell them what and what not to do, not mentor them in managing vice".

    So Brit warned you off arguing with Duckians? Did he also warn you that the greatest insult you could make would be to call me one?

  47. No, Peter, he failed to mention that! You mean I've misjudged and misunderstood you all in one comment? My sympathies and apologies - I know just how it feels!

    So, let's get it straight: forget the past, today's boys and girls (in western societies) are born equal and have equal access to education and career prospects. It is a good idea for mothers to spend at least a few years looking after their young families but it is not necessarily a Bad Thing for them to return to their careers, so long as both parents are fully involved in their children's lives.
    I'm okay with all of that but life isn't really so simple, is it?

  48. monix:

    So, let's get it straight: forget the past, today's boys and girls (in western societies) are born equal and have equal access to education and career prospects. It is a good idea for mothers to spend at least a few years looking after their young families but it is not necessarily a Bad Thing for them to return to their careers, so long as both parents are fully involved in their children's lives.

    The. Best. Peter. Parody. Ever.

    That was parody, right?

    I thought you advocated traditional family life - two parents doing things with the children, giving them a head start in life and a set of standards to live by.

    In this regard, there are two things I advocate:

    Ascertaining reality for what it is, not for what some prefer it to be. (gender typical self-selection, the universality of women as primary care givers, and the truly inconvenient need to set priorities -- opportunity cost will not be denied).

    Someone has to be watching the store. That doesn't mean an all intrusive, all empathizing, all the time, parental presence.

    It does mean a more or less continual, attuned, watchful eye.

    That eye doesn't have to be courtesy of Team Estrogen, but self selection and ability point that direction.

    Unfortunately, to get back to something like the point of this thread, no matter how indispensable that may be, it appears utterly resistant to inspirational prose without immediate resort large doses of saccharine.

  49. Skipper:

    Parody, moi? Yes, my mischievous nature has been recognised at last.

    I think we are all struggling with the pressures of modern living. Few people manage the family/work balance perfectly but I doubt that previous generations thought life was perfect either. As I've oft repeated - there never was a Golden Age.

    To go back to your previous comment, the "current phenomenon" I was referring to may not be happining in the US and Canada. We are going through a backlash in the media against what is being referred to as 'pinny-porn'. Women who publish books or write blogs about enjoying baking, sewing, knitting and playing with their children are accused of betraying the Sisterhood. It has been getting ugly. (They haven't discovered RD yet!) The strident viragos are all women journalists.

    But you are right, many girls do seem to have an innate jealousy or dislike of other girls. I've always preferred teaching boys, even the naughtiest, for that reason. Boys punch each other and it's over. Girls can carry a grudge for decades! OTH women make deep and lasting friendships. I'll have to research whether that only happens after they've found their mates!

  50. Hmm. Uproarious, that.

    All together now: "I am fully involved in my children's lives. So is my spouse. There is no mother or father in this house, just a couple of go-go-go parents. As we are both fully involved, the cup runneth over and the children are flourishing in gender blind harmony. They are grateful for everything we do and want to be as fully involved in us as we do in them. They count for everything and we for nothing. We are good people."

    Let's see, we started by tackling the natures of men and women as they are reflected in Kiplingesque heroics and then we moved to notions of duty and sacrifice within the family. Peter implies that the ideal of interchangeable parenting is not the best. Monix and erp, sensing a revisionist rebellion that will ultimately bar women from higher education and take their shoes away, heap scorn on poor Peter and insist nothing less than a 50-50 sharing of absolutely everything and a 50-50 sharing of repect for each other's careers will do. Not 51-49 mind you, but 50-50 all across the board. They accuse Peter of simplicity.

    Let me try one other way.

    Peter and Skipper say: "We are the best toilet cleaners around. No one else in the house can touch us." Erp and monix applaud wildly. What a couple of princes!

    Peter and Skipper say: "We are the best cooks around. No one else in the house can touch us." Erp and monix smile nervously. It's great that these guys "share" the cooking, but do they have to be quite so into it? Can't they complain about it and remember to mention their wives' scrumptious apple cakes?

    Peter and Skipper say: "We are super, fulltime dads. No one understands or is as close to our children as we are. Whenever they need anything material or spiritual, they come to us first. The bonds are almost mystical."

    Uh Oh.

  51. This comment has been removed by the author.

  52. Peter, duh?

    Shared responsibility means never having to keep score.

    The TT, steeped in competition, has a hard time with that concept, while the ET may disagree, but at least understands it.

    Monix is right that the ragtag end of the feminist movement has become shrill and irrelevant. Women, no less than blacks, were discriminated against socially and legally. Great strides were made to correct these stains on our body politic .

    However, “leaders” of these movements didn’t rest on their laurels, but took the issue from fairness and equal opportunity into the realm of the absurd by trading irrational exclusion for irrational inclusion via affirmative action and entitlements.

    I’m hopeful the next generation, not having experienced discrimination themselves, will be able to move past political correctness and moral equivalency and treat people as the individual they are.


    Women are the worst critics of other women. In what way is this different from men criticizing other men (and women) viciously and even imposing violence upon them? Is it because it goes against the male idealization of the nurturing female (which incidentally gets them off the hook for child care) of the species who would eschew a career as a rocket scientist or white water guide to rock the cradle of the next world ruler?

    Get real.

  53. erp: I could fill a book with anecdotal evidence of women being the harshest critics of other women. I'm thinking particularly of young teenage girls who seem to delight in giving each other a hard time but it is evident among the female feature writers in our newspapers, too. They criticise a woman's size, make-up, fashion sense, speech, boyfriends, choice of car and so on through a list of trivial and superficial attributes. There is a depressing lack of attention to their ideas and opinions.

    Peter: erp and I are not of one mind on everything. We've learned to agree to differ on a number of issues so you'll have to deal with us as individuals, not as womankind.

  54. Really? That's novel. Skipper and I never disagree on anything.

  55. Peter, I might make that 100 comment thread yet with inanities like this!

  56. Women are harsh critics of each other. My question is how is that different from men critizing each other except that men also punch each other and compete in sports.

  57. From my experience of teaching, I'd say boys tend to fight over possessions or issues whereas girls are much more personal.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!