Teaching Social Norms, Part 2


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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236 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    Possibly relevant to the subject of inappropriately-exposed inappropriately-young vaginas: Episode 3. This seems to be the theme of my Friday morning and I can’t say it’s a very comfortable one.

    I’d ask how much ability you have to control the assistant teacher WRT the “little ladies” comment, but I’m sure that you have to pick your battles and that one sounds like one you’d not win even if you did have the ostensible authority. And it gets to the same place you want to be anyway — getting the kids to conform to the social norm of covering themselves.

    Why do we wear clothes anyway? I can think of a bunch of practical reasons: warmth, carrying tools in pockets, protection from minor scrapes and cuts, ease of identification by others. Then there’s somewhat more culturally-subjective reasons, like enhancement of beauty or designation of social status. Underwear has an additional if somewhat icky biological purpose of protecting stuff (ourselves, furniture, other clothes) from bodily outputs. Maybe if a kid asks you “why do we have to hide our underwear?” you can say “the same reason we close the door when we go to the bathroom to pee or poop.” Would that work –or does that open up the door to “well, why do we close the door?” and there may not be a particularly satisfactory answer to that one too and now you’ve really made a mess of it.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Theoretically, I ought to have full control over my AT, or at least as much as any manager has over any employee. For a host of reasons I don’t (nor would I want to handle our relationship in such a way). I did speak with her once about it, stating, “I understand the importance of the children properly covering themselves. And I know it is something you feel is very important. Can you help me to arrive at language that would satisfactorily explain that to a child?” The goal was to challenge her assumptions a bit AND perhaps improve both of our approaches. She ruminated on it a bit but never got back to me. One of our philosophical differences is with her comfort with BISS. It should be noted that she is not a trained educator and she cut her teeth with children as a parent first, which is naturally going to lead to different views.

      Most children prefer the door closed in the bathroom, likely because of either implicit or explicit messaging about this they’ve already received. Every now and then, one of the 3-year-olds next door will “borrow” our bathroom and they are much more likely to leave the door open. This will sometimes elicit giggles, which I will remind my children is unkind and not acceptable. I’ll then approach the child in the bathroom and say, “I’ll close the door so you can have some privacy.” Occasionally they’ll object because they are fearful of being alone in the bathroom, so we’ll leave it open a crack, just enough for them to see/hear outside.

      But, yea, that can lead us down the same path. It is tricky. There are practical reasons to keeping bathroom doors closed. Poop smells. That is a biological fact. And I am okay discussing that with children. But there is a fine line between doing that and instilling in them a sense that everything to do with their private parts is naughty and gross and ought to be done behind closed doors. Which is the message they so often ultimately receive.

      And, as you note, there are indeed practical reasons for clothing, particularly in colder climates. I just don’t know that such an explanation will suffice a young child.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Also, regarding that TV show, there was an interesting quote on Parks and Rec last night, where Leslie said something to the effect of, “I believe every woman should have control over her body. In this case, it is Ann’s body and the woman in control is me.”Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

      “the same reason we close the door when we go to the bathroom to pee or poop.” would not work on my kid – the response would be “I don’t close the door when I go to the bathroom.” (at that age you probably wouldn’t get “the doors at the school bathrooms close on their own because they’re spring-loaded. My skirt isn’t spring-loaded”, but it would be essentially valid)Report

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    Being a parent is obviously different from being a teacher, but one of the things I discovered early on in my fatherhood is the power of “because I said so.” Kids – even tiny ones – are surprisingly able to find flaws in your arguments, and to recall past arguments you made that seemingly conflict with whatever points you’re trying to make now.

    THe social norm conversation where I remember giving up on reasoning (until later) was the one surrounding the uttering of curse words. I finally just went with “because I said so” and that was that.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Jack and I have had a couple of conversations lately about “fuck”, as it was apparently written on the wall of the girls’ bathroom and Hannah told Jack about it and there are kids who know This Is The Awful Word.

      I told him that the scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie says, “Fudge”, but he doesn’t say “Fudge”? Yeah, that’s the word he’s saying.

      I don’t call it a “bad” word, though, it’s “impolite”. We’re working through it. You “not say it” not because it’s “bad”, but because it’s rude. We’ll see how it goes.Report

      • My nephews were told that there were words that they were only allowed to use when watching hockey.

        They used them when watching hockey… and, apparently, that compartmentalization has worked so far.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

          There’s a (probably apocryphal) story about me as a child.

          The Menfolk are all out on the back porch of Grandma’s house, talking about something or another, and the Womenfolk are in the living room (Great-Aunt Florence needing her chair, among other factors). Little Pat comes sauntering in from the patio while Florence is in the bathroom and Grandma is in the kitchen, and announces to Mother and Aunt Mary that “Those dumb shits out there don’t know what the fuck they are talking about.”

          Both Mom and Aunt Mary were properly relieved that Grandma and Aunt Florence were out of earshot, and thought that I needed some correction about what to say and when (NOT while Grandma is within earshot!) but Mom in particular always thought it was hilarious, my choice of words directed at The Menfolk.Report

        • MikeSchilling in reply to Jaybird says:


      • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Generally speaking, I try to avoid words like “bad” and “good” in describing behavior. Because, really, what to those words mean? Too often “good” and “bad” are defined in a classroom by what the teacher does or does not like, respectively. I work really hard to tie the desirability or lack there of of an action to what about it makes it desirable or not. For instance, I won’t applaud a child who made sure all the crayons were picked up because it made the teacher happy; instead, I’ll applaud that child’s efforts because his care for the crayons ensure that they will continue to be available to use and won’t be lost or broken. On the other end, I won’t redirect a child from using certain words because they are “bad” and I don’t want to hear them; instead, I’ll remind them that such words are hurtful.

        Now, yes, we can go down rabbit holes as to WHY we should prefer to keep our crayons instead of lose then and WHY we should avoid being hurtful… but all that would do is turn my classroom into the LoOG and I’m not quite ready to go there. Not yet.

        I’ll write more on this in a future post as someone asked about it in the comments to Part 1. I want to finish this series first.Report

  3. Murali says:

    Kazzy, how about “Because some people don’t want to see them, and some people don’t want other people to see them?”

    or alternatively, “Because it’s your special part. And sometimes, we must keep special stuff to ourselves and not show them around because if we showed them around, it wouldn’t be so special anymore”

    or “Sometimes you must just do something because everybody does it and everybody expects you to do it as well. Maybe one day when you are older and wiser you can decide on your own whether to continue doing it, but for now, you must do it because your elders want you to and know what’s good for you”

    or “Because you’ll get cooties if you continue to show your underwear to everyone”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Murali says:

      Personally, I’d *NEVER* do the first one. Who cares if people don’t want to see it? It is your body. They don’t control you.

      The others are more interesting. #3 seems like a derivation of BISS, but at least points out that the norm isn’t objectively right but rather a necessary evil.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Also, what makes the vagina or penis any more special than the elbow?

        I’m not saying it ISN’T, mind you. I’m only trying to point out that relying on age-old cultural assumptions is meaningless to a 4-year-old.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

          I taught my kids about sex, rather earlier than most parents, I suppose. I didn’t pull any punches about it: I figured if I didn’t get ahead of the game, the Internet would beat me to that punch.

          Sex happens in your head, I told them. Your body is just along for the ride. First we desire, then we act. But some people stretch and warp it to the point where it’s not about a person and starts becoming about an idea, which can get very strange indeed. And culture plays a large part in this, telling us about shame and desire in the same sentence. Wear this swimsuit and you’ll be sexy. Dance this way and you’ll be sexy. Sex sells things to people who want to be desirable and that’s pretty much everyone. And like so many monkeys, when the organ grinder starts the music, we start dancing, all peeking at things we were told were shameful.

          So people become obsessed with things, various parts of the body, various types of people, even shoes and underwear and outfits and well, just any old damn thing you can think about and it gets so weird it beggars imagination. But the one thing it’s not about is a person any more. Because when it stops being about a specific person, it’s not about love any more. Things can’t love you back and that’s what you really want in life, to be loved.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:


            You grew up, or spent at least part of your time in Africa, yes? If so, were you ever/often in areas where folks did not cover various sexual organs? If so, I’d be curious to hear you speak to that a bit, specifically the children’s perception of sexual organs, both their own and others’.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

              Children ran around naked pretty much everywhere, heh.

              The Islamic cultures covered themselves up. Animist cultures further south didn’t cover the breasts, but you’d have to get a long way out in the bush to find such people. But those cultures covered far more of the thigh than we do here.

              Here’s a video I made about Africa a while back.Report

            • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

              Yeah, I’ve not heard about places where they don’t cover at least private parts, for adults.
              In Sicily, it was routine for girls up to age 6-7 to run around without “bra-like” swimsuits.Report

      • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

        Who cares if people don’t want to see it?

        I’m trying to allude to personal space and privacy norms. While these are culturally relative, they are still strong norms. Intuitively, when you deliberately and avoidably disregard my personal space, you have not merely offended me, you have violated my person.

        Arguably, flashing your panties at me when I do not desire to see them is a mild case of the above.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Murali says:

          Could that logic not be used to argue that woman should be covered from head to toe, if enough folks feel that seeing ANY part of them constitutes disregard for personal space?Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

            That logic lies at the core of hijaab, that covering-up is the only way we can keep our Beastly Lusts in check. It’s all pernicious crap, foisted off on us by fearful old men (and it’s always men) who are trying to control us with all these external rules, projecting their own fears and inhibitions onto the larger world, condemning us for Beastly Lust when they ought to be encouraging us to Human Love that is responsible and Transcendent Decency which transcends our nasty voyeuristic tendencies, allowing us to see the beauty within those we love.Report

            • Murali in reply to BlaiseP says:

              it may in fact be pernicous crap foisted on us by fearful old men, but you can’t give that as a public argument. public norms require at least a bit more in the way of respectful justification simply because you must get even those fearful old men to go along with it. Current modesty norms in the US (or for that matter in Singapore) seem to work well enough that there doesn’t seem to be a need to change.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Murali says:

                You’re right, Murali. Respect, like all the other power laws, varies with the inverse square of distance from the Old Men who demand (and have the power to get) respect, whether or not they deserve it.

                If Singapore and the USA work well as societies, they have benefited from diversity. I have a theory about this tolerance. Amsterdam and Venice were tolerant cities. They were both port cities run by a merchant class. Even in the most intolerant regime, the ports are the weak point. When Japan closed itself off from the outside world, they still kept one port open at Dejima in Hiroshima, sealing off the Westerners. Nonetheless, information flooded into Japan and a great wave of scientific and cultural activity arose from that information.

                Old men are old. They will die off. But the Old Men of KSA have funded vast missionary efforts, sowing the seeds of intolerance to young people far away. I foresee huge changes within Islam when the Old Men of KSA die off. It will look sorta like what happened to the USSR when the last of the old guard died off and Gorbachev arose in their place.

                Morality is always a personal matter. Shame doesn’t work until it’s internalised. Only when we accept others’ disapproving looks and blush with shame does it work as a normative technique. Mark Twain said man is the only animal which blushes, or needs to.Report

            • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Oh, stuff a sock in it.
              Civilization emerges out of a natural selection just like everything else.
              The ones that didn’t attempt to limit reproduction (and covering BOYS up is a good way to do it…) perished. Too many mouths to feed.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                Oh really? Natural selection? You’re always good for a laugh. To Murali’s point, civilisation is mostly about erecting guard rails to keep the cars from falling off the bridges into traffic below. If natural selection guided civilisation and not a handful of trendmongers and effete transgressive types, high heels would long since have been rejected and porn would be an effing religion by now.Report

            • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Beastly lusts are all fine and good but the instant cure for them is a visit to a nudist colony to see real, not-so-fit, not-teenage people in the buff in the harsh light of day.Report

              • Murali in reply to M.A. says:

                There are some things you cannot unsee once seen MA. Let me have my paranoid fantasies about Beastly Lusts™ I’ll stay away from the nudist colonyReport

          • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

            I think there is a lot of room between the extreme of a hijaab or how super-religious conservatives dress and going around in the buff or in sexual fetish gear.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Murali says:

          There are “them problems” and there are “you problems”.

          Irritation at a 5-year old’s lack of modesty? That’s a you problem.Report

          • Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

            Maybe I have too many hang-ups, but the worry isn’t that 5 year olds have no modesty. But that since modesty is learned and not innate, if we don’t teach them modesty, they will not have any modesty when they turn 12, 16 or more.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Murali says:

              But why is modesty something we want children or teenagers or adults to have?Report

              • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

                Off the top of my head, I will say that in a pluralistic society there are lots of cultures which think that modesty matters. We may not have any objctive reason about why it matters, but for those cultures it matters a lot. Even in so called liberated western cultures, public nudity is still a taboo.

                Our inability to find some kind of objective reason for modesty norms should not trouble us too much. No conception of what is good, meaningful or valuable in life can stand up to rational scrutiny. It doesn’t mean no such claim is true, merely that we have yet to find a successful argument that will support any particular conception against sceptical worries. i.e. modesty norms are not special in this regard.

                modesty norms are often felt to be important. Although no argument can be provided, people who deliberately violate modesty norms are seen to be morally deficient in a certain way. People often want to socialise their children in a certain way. If flouting of their modesty norm occurs in public to such an extent that their children cannot be socialised in a minimally acceptable way, then this will be a deal breaker. People feel very strongly about what constitutes a proper sexuality education for their children and modesty norms are a part of it.

                I also want to appeal to the idea of liberal neutrality. To the extent we want a public space that is either neutral or at least acceptable to all, we want to avoid deal breakers. Poo-pooing people’s conceptions of the good does not get us to a place where everyone just gets along as best they can with each other. For most of the cultures in many places in the world public nudity or for that matter, wearing only one’s underwear in public is a deal breaker. The reverse is not true for nudists. Modesty is asymmetrical in that way. Of course, the pressure to cover up way more than one thinks is required can be onerous and burdensome. That’s why, in a pluralistic society, the norms that governing modesty in public spaces should be roughly middling between the extremes of standards. The average in the modesty norm has some flexibility. Some clothes can be awfully revealing/prudish for cultures but not unacceptably so.

                Finally, I want to appeal to sociobiology. While it is the case that the details of modesty norms are socially constructed, there is something underlying it. Consider, in an adult female, open legs signals sexual readiness. This need not be universal. But in societies where the there is such an understanding of such a pose, the signal obtains in that society..

                It may seem that there is a dark side to this in terms of controlling women’s behaviour and bodies. In many places in the world, this is true. At the same time, there seems to be some use to teaching people to be aware of the sexual signals that they are sending people. And this use need not be limited to females nor need it to be linked to wanting to control their sexuality. Men and Women being in control of their own body language is a net plus. Modesty seems to be part of teaching people a baseline against which we can measure what sexual signals one is giving off. Modesty norms therefore ought to be an eessential part of our basic societyReport

              • Kim in reply to Murali says:

                “Consider, in an adult female, open legs signals sexual readiness.”

                My head is in my hands right now.
                Plenty of positions that indicate “sexual readiness” are not considered things we wish to guard against.

                Things that indicate Sluttiness, that one might be accepting and wanting sexual contact… that’s a different matter.

                It is quite possible to have childrens’ shows that have extremely graphic displays of sexual readiness. [Pete and Pete].

                We do not consider them immodest at all.Report

          • Murali in reply to Jaybird says:

            Also, it’s a you problem if you are the only one who has got a problem with it. It in a number of cases stops being a you problem if almost everyone has a problem with it.

            Look at actual modesty norms in your society. Most people don’t have a problem with bared shoulders. But most people do have a problem with public nudity. if you feel irriated about shoulders, that’s a you problem because you’re the only one who objects. With public nudity, most people do in fact object and think they do have grounds for objecting even when they cannot articulate said grounds.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Murali says:

              There’s always a dialectic between Culture and the Individual. Some cultures achieve stasis more toward the Culture side, others, such as in the USA, tends toward the Individual side.

              In Japanese, deru kugi wa utareru, the nail that sticks up shall be hammered down. But you look at their tolerance of hentai, awfully hot stuff some of it. They’ve also got different norms about nudity. I can’t speak to what goes on in their heads but the combination of old Japanese norms about sexuality, healthy enough by my standards — and Western ideas have led to some deeply ugly results. Now they seem to have the worst of both worlds, by my lights. Lord knows what they think of it all.

              In America, porn has become so banal and so ubiquitous it seems to be losing ground. From what I saw in my own kids growing up, which wasn’t all that long ago, there seems to be a backlash. It’s like the dog who caught his tail after chasing it, only to get a painful bite for his trouble. Romance seems to have made a comeback, oh, they’re still doing what kids do, all that slap and tickle and figuring out how to put Slot A into Tab B, but they’re far more sensible to the notions of subtlety, romance, commitment. Hard to put a finger on that, either.Report

              • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                American porn has quite misunderstood the point.
                Japanese stuff tends to get more at the whole ferality aspect.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                Ecch, hentai is many things. I reject the assertion that Japanese stuff is feral. It’s an exhaustive compendium of sexuality, Rule 34 is only the start point.Report

              • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

                a good deal of it is. Other bits are just… kinda odd.
                And then there are the trolls…Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                If only you could actually read Japanese, Kim, you wouldn’t say such things.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                Ferality, and in general instinctual behavior, are often not expressed through words, but through graphic images.

                And before we get into this any deeper, tell me which of the seven flavors of hentai you think don’t touch on the aspect of ferality?

                (please bear in mind that I consider vore to be fully an instinctual response — probably from when we were rat-like beasts).

                I know someone who is fluent in Japanese and has sold hentai.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                Have you ever been to Japan, Kim? Any clue what’s on offer in Shinjuku? Didn’t think so. Your only authority on this subject is Comic Book Guy and what he stocks. Redicomi, ladies’ comics isn’t feral. It’s just Harlequin Spicy Romances with illustrations.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                Blaise, I’m not trying to say that it’s all feral, for goodness sakes!
                And you’re being condescending again.

                If you really think that you’ve perused more doujinshi than I have…
                Fine. I’m certainly not going to list them all here.

                I have certainly read enough english translations (and yes, I do realize that “satan guide my cock” one was a mistranslation).

                I’ve looked at stuff by Last Exile’s creators, by Persona 4’s creators, by one of the creators of School Days.

                Did I mention that I’ve played School Days? And Edelweiss? I’ll lay down that School Days has some awfully good scenes.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

                As you so aptly put it, put a sock in it, Kim. Ferality might be the pull cord on your little motorboat: no accounting for tastes, I suppose. But to get up on your hind legs and tell me Japanese stuff tends to get more at the whole ferality aspect, well, gosh. Omoshiroi desu Which doesn’t mean “that’s very interesting”. It means you’re boring me.Report

              • Kim in reply to Kim says:

                What, are you actually interested in a real conversation?
                Or are you trying to intimate that I don’t know dick about what I’m talking about, and thus am boring?

                I mean, way back at the beginning, I might have bothered to put up some evidence, if you hadn’t been so condescending.

                No, I say something, you respond with that rule34 comment, and I agree with you — that I was definitely overstating my point..

                And then you say that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about.

                That thing you do? Where you tell someone else that they couldn’t possibly have any idea what they’re talking about? Tis annoying. Perhaps if you bother to put some evidence behind what you’ve got to say, it would be less so.

                I believe I’ve established my bonafides to be having an intelligent conversation with you about this subject. Do you agree?Report

            • Dan Miller in reply to Murali says:

              Most people also have a problem with flag burning and pictures of aborted fetuses.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

                While I fully recognize the point Dan Miller is making here and his right to make it, I ask that in the interest of staying on topic, we do not use this forum to debate the legality or morality of flag burning or presenting images of aborted fetuses.

                But let the record show that American society allows for and by-and-large defends the right to show offensive images. Interestingly enough, this is not extended to public depictions of the human body.Report

              • Dan Miller in reply to Kazzy says:

                Apologies if I dragged the thread off track.Report

              • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

                I took Dan’s point to be that my argument proved too much. Admittedly, I haven’t really thought too deeply about modesty norms. At least partly because they seemed trivial and partly because they seemed difficult to negotiate. I’ll have to go sleep on this.Report

              • Dan Miller in reply to Murali says:

                Which is how I meant it, but Kazzy’s right, this probably isn’t the thread for it. I see the point you’re getting at, though, but I’m having a tough time articulating exactly what’s in my head on this (which is probably why it made for an excellent original post–thanks, Kazzy!).Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

                No need to apologize, Dan. I understood your point and thought it was germane and trusted that Murali could see it for what it was. I just worried other folks might see it as an opportunity to derail or just couldn’t let it slide without some inflammatory response. So I wanted to try to stay ahead of that. That’s all. No worries, good sir.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

            How about not wanting to see a middle aged man walk around with nothing but a cock ring on?

            Or not wanting to listen to teenagers blast music on a bus or train or talk very loudly?

            When do these become them problems?Report

            • Glyph in reply to NewDealer says:

              You could just move out of SF…;-)Report

            • ND,

              I share your prudery (Calvinism?), but I hesitate to endorse a law outlawing nudity.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                I’m not a Calvinist and I am not for enforcing dress codes that would make the ultra-religious happy.

                The only ban I support is no purposeful nudity in public and I see no problem with this. I believe that most SFers support the ban. It is the old-timers who can’t move beyond 1967 that don’t:


              • I didn’t click on the link, but I believe you. (I was purposefully jabbing you with the Calvinist comment…..sorry….I know you’re not.)

                I’m inclined to agree with Conor Friedersdorf on the ban, and he’s more or less against it, or at least against the moral posturing that some have adopted in support of it.. (see his article, if you haven’t already: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/01/we-need-more-relatively-unattractive-people-to-be-naked-on-the-street/272569/ )

                Not living in ‘Frisco (aka, San Fran), I of course have no idea about whether it’s such a rampant problem that it needs to be against the law.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                I read Conor’s article and disagree with it. Again the differences between liberal and libertarian.

                A while ago a woman called Dan Savage’s podcast show. She was in a 24/7 D/s relationship and on the submissive end of the relationship. Said woman was indignantly angry at her family for being squicked out when she and her beau acted out their kink at the table during family get togethers. Savage said that her family did not ask to participate in said relationship/kink and have a right to be squished out.

                I see the same as true for public nudity. It is highly egotistical to always describe this as a “you” problem. You being the people against public nudity. A public sidewalk is not a gym lockerroom. I don’t think of it as an unreasonable expectation that most places are not nudist colonies. Rustywheeler hits the nail on the head (pun unintended) Nudists here are being ideologically strident and unwilling to compromise. SF has a nude beach and a few events a year where nudity is acceptable. Nudism does not need to be a 24/7/whereever you want event.Report

              • I think here’s a point at which we might need to agree to disagree, at least as far as the law goes or ought to go. (In Chicago, at least in the winter, when it’s COLD! here, public nudity hasn’t been much of an issue, as far as I can tell. There is a bike ride that takes place once a year….I forget when….that involves nude bicyclists. I’ve never seen it in action, but I hope the seats have a lot of talcum powder on them.)

                I can, however, guarantee you that I probably would not appreciate very public displays of nudity. As I said in another comment on this thread, I tend to be more prudish than not. (I also don’t like loud noises music in public places, although, again, I’d be hesitant to outlaw most instances thereof.)

                By the way, are you coming to leaguefest in June? I’m not sure I can take part of the festivities, but if I can, it would be nice to meet up with you. I’m really not as confrontational in person as I am online.Report

      • kenB in reply to Kazzy says:

        …a necessary evil.

        Why evil? Societies have norms, and just because they may be arbitrary and localized doesn’t mean they’re not functional; and even if we ignore them, we don’t escape them because our ignoring them still communicates something to the rest of the world.

        Think of it like language — the sequence of sounds we use to represent a given concept is (almost) entirely arbitrary. Do you feel constrained and repressed when you’re forced to stop the air coming through your mouth by putting your tongue against the ridge behind your teeth, then moving the middle of your tongue to the bottom of your mouth and letting the air flow out, then closing off the air by putting the back of your tongue against your soft palate, all while vibrating your vocal chords, just to express the concept of a four-legged mammal that people like to have as pets, play fetch with, and take on walks? If a child in your class is saying “dug” instead of “dog”, wouldn’t you gently correct him/her? If the child asked why, wouldn’t the answer be “because that’s how we say it”?Report

        • Roger in reply to kenB says:

          Plus one on this comment. No, plus two.Report

        • Pierre Corneille in reply to kenB says:

          I agree, KenB. My main caveat is that generally (or maybe “most of the time”?), the correction on pronunciation comes from interlocutors’ saying “dog” instead of “dug” and not from a (possibly punishment sounding? (“because I said so!”)) correction from an adult rule-conferrer.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to kenB says:

          Necessary evil was a bit strong, perhaps. I agree that in many instances, we need generally-agreed-upon norms. I disagree when those norms are held up to morally superior to non-normative behavior because of their privileged status. The extent to which any subjective norm (conceding that there are objective norms) is used to shame or otherwise mistreat others, it becomes an evil, even if we need it.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

            This comment reminds me a bit of when Jaybird draws distinctions between “aesthetic preferences” vs. “morals/ethics.” It’s places like this when I get little glimpses of “evil libertarian Kazzy”.

            I often use the “rules of the road” analogy (and I saw Jaybird use a similar one recently too) – some stuff we just all agree to do the same way (drive on the right side), because that’s the easiest we can all get along. Most of law, to me, falls under this, and something like speech communication definitely does. But there’s no moral component to it, at all.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

              There is a very libertarian side to Kazzy. I hope he’s not evil.

              Another tricky thing is shaking hands. Kids will often reach out with whichever hand is convenient. Totally normal and natural. If I do correct them (I don’t always), I try to phrase it as, “This is the way most people where we live choose to do it,” instead of, “This is the right way to do it.”Report

              • Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

                But there is a practical reason you shake with your right hand. The point of a handshake is to show that you’re not armed. Since most people are right handed, it’s most useful to prove that your right hand is empty.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:


                That WAS the reason, but it no longer is. If someone doesn’t extend their right hand for a hand shake, do you assume they’re packing? I’d bet not.

                I’m not OBJECTING to the custom or refusing to teach it. Just not biting the head of off children who don’t yet know this custom. Which, again, I’ve seen people do.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Kazzy says:

                My comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek. Although I do wonder if that explanation, obsolete to the point of silliness though it is, might work better than “this is the way most people where we live choose to do it.” At a minimum, it explains why people chose to do it that way.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Fnord says:

                Yea, because I don’t already flout enough of the rules surrounding firearms in schools..Report

              • dhex in reply to Fnord says:

                “The point of a handshake is to show that you’re not armed.”

                i think the social convention has bypassed the practical one of a few hundred years ago. 🙂Report

              • Glyph in reply to dhex says:

                Depends on the neighborhood.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                And now we come full circle to Detroit/Somalia jokes.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

                The circle of lifeReport

            • James Hanley in reply to Glyph says:

              I often use the “rules of the road” analogy (and I saw Jaybird use a similar one recently too) – some stuff we just all agree to do the same way (drive on the right side), because that’s the easiest we can all get along.

              Social conventions. And I think maybe what’s underlying Kazzy’s question is, at least in part, the question of “at what age does the concept of a social convention become understandable to a child”?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                Also… when the child does reach the age of being able to conceptualize a social convention, how do we teach it? Explicit? Implicit? When they err? Pro-actively? I think the answers vary widely based on population of children you are working with.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

                The advantage of teaching college: when I teach my students about type I and type II errors–terms that are completely non-intuitive–I can just bluntly say that they’re social conventions and there’s no need to try to parse them out beyond that.

                I keep thinking, though, that as the father of three daughters who are now all well beyond the stage you’re discussing, I ought to have something helpful to say. But I don’t. Sorry about that.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:


                I’d venture to guess (and correct me if I’m being inaccurately presumptuous) that your daughters were well-situated for adopting most social norms. They have two, well-educated, thoughtful, American-born parents who successfully navigated American society and served as models.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

                Oh, stuff came up at time, as it will for every parent. The thing is, little ones always catch you by surprise. Their development moves so fast that as a parent you’re always a bit behind, and never quite prepared for that new thing they’re doing at present.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m still trying to get Zazzy to keep the lil’un inside for a few extra months…Report

        • Fnord in reply to kenB says:

          Which is to say, without a language norm, there’d be no language. Having no language would be bad because language makes communication much easier.

          And likewise, without a modesty norm, there’d be no modesty. So far, so good. But the next part of the analogy fails. Having no modesty would be bad because…? It’s only bad if we’ve already decided it’s bad.

          When a kid’s trying to “express the concept of a four-legged mammal that people like to have as pets, play fetch with, and take on walks”, they’re trying to communicate, so if they say “dug” instead of “dog” and nobody understands them, that’s a problem for that child. When a girl’s got her dress over her head, she’s not trying to communicate anything; it only becomes a problem because other people make it her problem.Report

          • Roger in reply to Fnord says:

            I think it goes deeper than this on two dimensions.

            My understanding of norms from an evolutionary psychology standpoint is that they serve the following roles:
            1. They allow coordinated action by establishing expectations of how people can and should act and react. Driving on left or right.
            2. They can serve functional purposes to influence behavior. This could be for the benefit of the agent, society as a whole, or others in society. Not all be norms are functional though.
            3. They display membership and loyalty within a social group. Conformance is a display of being a trustworthy member.
            4. They display social acumen. Those that fail to adopt conventional norms can be a sign of low fitness. This is kind of a peacock tail type of effect.

            I suggest a little girl growing up to be a young lady that shows off her underwear is going to run in to all four of the above. Indeed, I suspect that being demure for a female once served the interests of the lady, and possibly still does.Report

            • Fnord in reply to Roger says:

              Sharing a road (like using a language) requires coordination to work. Using roads is a functional goal with clear advantages, and without the coordination, it doesn’t work for anybody, at least not well. Hence the need for a norm where people drive on the right. What functional goal with clear advantages is served by modesty norms?

              The second point is equally inapplicable. This isn’t the case of a kid refusing to wear a coat when it’s cold out. In no way, shape, or form, is this about functional goals.

              Neither of your first two point apply unless you consider modesty beneficial in and of itself. Which is begging the question; of course if you consider modesty inherently beneficial, then modesty norms are beneficial, but not everyone agrees that modesty is inherently beneficial.

              I’ll give you three and four, though. It’s an arbitrary norm of society, and you have to conform lest you appear to be outcast from insufficient loyalty and/or ignorance.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        “Personally, I’d *NEVER* do the first one. Who cares if people don’t want to see it? It is your body. They don’t control you.”

        Yes and no. I generally agree but I think part of being out in society is following certain rules of public decorum and respect for others. I’m a liberal but no hippie and no anarchist. I think being civil and observing decorum is relatively important.

        There are many municipalities that take it too far. I don’t think towns and cities should pass rules that ban baggy clothing, “gang related” clothing. And whatever those equivalent would be for women.

        In San Francisco, we have an issue with public nudity. In the Castro, it used to (and still is) fairly common to see middle-aged men going about wearing nothing more than boots/shoes and cock rings. Believe it or not, many of us in liberal San Francisco do not want to see this public nudity and not just because most of the practioners are middle-aged men. This includes many residents of the Castro and is not meant to be homophobic. Scott Weiner is the openly gay supervisor of the Castro who finally pushed forward the nudity ban.

        Being out in public is not a selfish act of absolute autonomy. It involves being respectful to fellow citizens who are also out and about and a vast and overwhelming majority of people of all ideological beliefs think that part of going out means being dressed in more than boots and a cock ring. This is not a statement of radical conservatism.

        The same goes for music. Most people in public try to listen to their music at respectful volumes and with earphones. We also try to keep our conversations at proper levels if out in public. Every now and then I run into teenagers on the bus having very loud conversations and/or blasting music without headphones. Why do I need to listen to their music or hear their conversations?Report

        • Fnord in reply to NewDealer says:

          Other people playing loud music drowns out other things you might want to hear, like a conversation. That’s an objective fact, and it’s true regardless of whether there’s some sort of norm about loud music. Naked people don’t “drown out” other things you might like to see. You might get distracted, of course, but what distracts you is the break from the norm.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    I turned the whole proposition of prudishness on its head when all that reared its ugly head in due course with my children. I said we don’t show certain parts of our body because they are too beautiful to show to just anyone. If we all walked around naked, there would be nothing wrong with that, some people do in some parts of the world.

    As for girl’s underwear and such, I pointed out athletes wear swimsuits and track outfits and cheerleading outfits and they’re not ashamed. When girls dance in skirts and twirl around, you can see what they’re wearing underneath and they’re not ashamed. I said, generally speaking, it’s not polite to show people our underwear but there’s no shame in it. Don’t be ashamed of your body. If you want to wear a short skirt, get some of those shorts-thingies, like cheerleaders, that way you won’t have to worry about it. And they did.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

      The uniforms that our students wear starting in Kindergarten include a “skort” option for K-3 girls. Interestingly, this seems to cure the symptom (no exposed underwear!) but, if anything, encourages the problem (sitting on the ground with their legs splayed out). Curious, to say the least…

      I also understand that most of the older girls (uniforms vary across the three division) wear shorts or spandex under their skirts. And all girls have the option of wearing pants.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

        I told my girls, whatever it takes for you to not feel ashamed, go for it. Ain’t nothing wrong with your bodies. Boys are going to look and girls are gonna want the attention, don’t get all blushful and ignorant and eaten up with shame about it. Youth is wasted on the young anyway, you’ll have plenty of time to be old, might as well enjoy it while you can.

        Three things I wouldn’t tolerate in my kids’ clothes: dirty clothes, things that didn’t fit and worn-out clothes. Dad would get busy and hem frayed jeans. I would buy my daughters gift cards to Victoria’s Secret, their stuff is well-made and makes women feel pretty.

        Both my daughters took to buying one really good thing rather than two or three stupid things from the mall. My oldest developed a superb sense of style. She’d take me shopping and pick things out for me, so good was her eye for that sort of thing.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    For some reason I flashed back to Talmudic discussion of belly buttons in first grade.

    Who has an innie? What does that signify? Who has an outie? What does *THAT* signify? Were innies better than outies? Vice-versa?

    These things are important.Report

  6. zic says:

    The not so obvious problem here is that we now discriminate against little boys. They only get to wear pants. So the problem of ‘don’t show your underwear’ while wearing a skirt seems gendered to girls, part of the old ‘control the girls so that men can control themselves,’ trope, because girls have the freedom to dress how they feel appropriate — massive pink-slime marketing aside.

    Little girls can dress like tomboys. Little boys don’t have that freedom. Really, it’s a crying shame we continue to discriminate against men like this, continue to limit their freedom to be feminine. Because some days, that’s how you feel, and you ought to be able to dress the part.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

      This is a really interesting perspective. I’d welcome a boy with a skirt in my classroom, though I doubt I’d see that in my current environment. I did have a “princess boy” in the school I worked at in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and we worked with his parents on how to accept him and support him through whatever opposition he might face. But the school was wholly welcoming.

      I challenge gender norms quite a bit. Not only am I a male in early ed (which the children don’t necessarily see as odd), but I have long hair (just above the shoulder) which always leads to interesting conversations about “boy hair” and “girl hair”. I also have a beard, further confusing the children (in a good way).

      There are some other prohibitions on clothing I was going to address here but which I decided to reserve for a later post. They impact boys and girls, albeit in different ways.Report

  7. Roger says:

    This was an awesome post, Kazzy. Interesting and intriguing.

    My only add is that I find your reaction to what “little ladies” do and don’t do, fascinating. I think your conservative colleague is really getting to the core answer.

    Social norms involve establishing role models or targets for kids. In this case it involves what a lady or gentleman is expected to do. These overlap in most ways, but are also gender cognizant for the very reason that there are differences between genders. By using the term lady or gentleman she is establishing the social targets for acceptance and status within our society. This is essential for human development.

    Yes of course mores and norms differ a bit around a fairly consistent core. But acculturation involves teaching kids to become valuable members of the society they belong in, not some intellectual abstraction.

    I expect my grandson’s school to reinforce the teaching we have provided in his becoming a little gentleman.

    Again, fascinating discussion.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

      But this is where I struggle (and I’ve had it out on these very pages with some folks)…

      Is a gentlemen or lady defined by what they wear and how they wear it? Or how they carry themselves? If we are saying, “Ladies don’t show their private parts,” than it seems to matter not how one accords themselves; show too much skin and you cease to be a lady. THAT is what bothers me. I’d rather my students have their skirts over their heads or rips in their pants but grow up to be good, decent, respectful and respectable people than the inverse. I realize that is a bit of a false dichotomy, but given that I don’t hear her use that language in other contexts, the message communicated is to be lady like is to be demure, a message i find deeply troubling.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Kazzy says:

        Especially since there’s no equivalent message for boys.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Dan Miller says:

          Oh, there certainly is.

          Boys don’t cry.
          Or, perhaps less controversially, a gentlemen holds open a door for a lady. And, yes, you will hear teachers and other adults send that message to children. All sorts of troublesome gender norming going on there, no?Report

          • Dan Miller in reply to Kazzy says:

            I meant specifically that not being demure is seen as unladylike, but it’s not seen as ungentlemanly.Report

          • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

            No. Absolutely no. You raise your little girls to be slutty and your boys to be crybabies at your own risk. Just because it seems logical doesn’t mean it is best for the success of the boys or girls in the real world which they are expected to survive and thrive in.

            This reminds me of the debate between conservatives and atheists. Atheists may hav logic on their side, but conservatives often have the laboratory of cultural evolution on theirs. Even if wrong intellectually, culturally, we may need religion.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Roger says:

              Roger, may I gently suggest that crybaby girls and slutty boys bring their own risks too.Report

            • Murali in reply to Roger says:

              And Roger, may I also gently suggest that using the word slut may be un-necessarily provocative. There is no need to tweak liberals’ noses just because you can.Report

              • Roger in reply to Murali says:

                I fail to see how the term is offensive to liberals. I was not aware they were pro or anti slut.Report

              • Kim in reply to Roger says:

                you should read more about feminism then. There is a strong strand of it that tends to get really riled up about “slut-shaming” — that a woman should… be able to wear a little red dress and not have to worry about being raped (Tori Amos Reference). And not need to worry about other people thinking less of her because of how non-normative her fashion sense is.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kim says:

                Good point. I suggest that there is a healthy cultural dynamic going on now between conservatives preserving “little ladies” and feminists fighting against shame. In the end, parents and young adults will make their choices and live with the consequences. Of course it is a complex system, and part of what determines which course wins out depends upon how many go along, and the side effects, people’s values, etc, etc.Report

      • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        The cultural roots of our society link back to an age where little ladies were sexually modest in appearance. I believe an intellectual conservative would explain that there is potentially an adaptive value to this pattern of behavior within the larger context of our culture. In game theory speak, there is a reasonable assumption that being demure in relation to one’s sexuality is a productive long term move for the acculturation of little girls. In a past era of incurable sexual disease, no state welfare and limited birth control, my guess is that this assumption would have played out pretty well.

        Does it still play out well? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I think the value that conservatives bring to cultural evolution though is that they preserve these past solution sets as those of us that are less conservative experiment with new mores. I believe society needs both forces, the conservative and the liberal.

        For what it is worth, I bet Madonna and Lady Gaga try to bring their girls up to be little ladies.Report

        • Dan Miller in reply to Roger says:

          Accepting arguendo your ev-psych argument, I’d merely point out that we’re a long way from an era of incurable sexual disease (which affect both men and women, and therefore doesn’t argue for shaming women specifically), no state welfare, and limited birth control. In light of all of this, we should probably reconsider a norm that explicitly discriminates based on sex and leads to serious unnecessary unhappiness. The idea that women should be judged for not being demure, while men should not, should set off a lot more alarm bells for you than it seems to, especially for someone who claims to care about human freedom.Report

          • Dan Miller in reply to Dan Miller says:

            Or to put it another way, it seems like freely-given consensual sex is the ultimate positive-sum interaction, which I’d think you’d be all in favor of.Report

            • Roger in reply to Dan Miller says:

              I am all for consensual sex. It is indeed the poster child for positive sum activity. Of course, to evaluate whether an action is positive or negative you must consider the long term and secondary/tertiary effects. These unfortunately can be very negative (or very positive) in some cases. Conservatives will argue how these can destroy the fabric of marriage and family, lead to changing relationship patterns between men and women, and these effects can change everything else in society.

              I am not a conservative and don’t agree with many of their arguments. But their arguments are valuable and should be ignored at great peril.Report

          • Roger in reply to Dan Miller says:

            I think you are making my point even better than I did. We ARE in the process of reconsidering said norms because conditions ARE different and changing. We are experimenting culturally, and the cultural outcomes are far reaching. They will effect dating patterns, family norms, whether kids are born in or out of wedlock, welfare dependency, employment statistics, political affiliation, etc. If immodest girls leads to a better long range outcome for all of us, then I am all for it. If it leads to worse results, it is probably a big mistake by definition, no?

            The problem of course is that decentralized learning systems are smarter than we are. They are computational algorithms that feed out cumulative results regardless of our theories. Cultural evolution is smarter than us, and I say this without endorsing the naturalist fallacy.

            On the demure issue and freedom, I think you misunderstand the libertarian (at least my) take on shame, guilt or social, approval and disapproval. I would suggest that these are useful tools if used wisely. Societies that shame unproductive behavior are going to lead to better results than ones which fail to shame or which encourage said behavior. I may warn against intolerance, but only when backed by coercion.

            Does the attitude toward SHAME differ by political leanings? Just asking…

            Finally, I will repeat my earlier claim that differing mores by gender may be appropriate as it is possible to get very different outcomes based upon whether certain actions are done by males or females. Really, really big differences in some cases.Report

        • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

          Statistically women still get paid less than men for the same jobs. They’re less likely to ask for raises or get them, and acting “unladylike” tends to get them hated by the work community they’re in, whereas a man can say the same thing and it’s just accepted. Hillary Clinton had to put on makeup, get her hair done every single day as Secretary of State and still get all of her work done in a day lest she be criticized for her appearance in public. And she was vulnerable to accusations of being a “bitch” or other slanderous words relating to being female. Men simply don’t have to put up with a large chunk of what women do in their jobs.

          Now, also consider that women historically were once pigeonholed into nursing, teaching, secretarial work or being housewives as being the only culturally acceptable jobs for women. How much of this relates to be taught certain cultural norms of what is acceptable for a woman at a young age?

          Also, to what extent does Kazzy have a right to impose his own norms on the child in school, particularly if the parents have different wishes at home? I think he has a justifiable fear of teaching a girl the wrong things if it could affect her much later in life. Someone mentioned teaching boys that they shouldn’t cry. Could this be doing some of them long term harm, especially telling a gay child that he/she shouldn’t have their feelings?
          I’d feel that this would be constraining a child’s creativity, their unique thoughts and also their career options for the future if you teach them norms that have side effects on what they believe is possible.Report

          • Roger in reply to Bob2 says:

            The equal pay argument is liable to take us way off topic, but all the data I have seen is convincing that it is explained by different career choices and commitment levels.  Women are more balanced than men between life, family and job. 

            The complaint that things are different by gender doesn’t seem very fruitful to pursue.  Yes men come under too much pressure to make a paycheck, women to look pretty or place their family first.  I guess it would be great if we could all pee while standing, or all have babies, or all avoid menopause, but the reality is that women are different than men in some ways, and we need to be careful about sweeping this all under the rug. It’s easy to think we would prefer to live in a world where men don’t overemphasize earning or women don’t balance family and job. But it may be that with the raw ingredients we actually have, that the world would be worse in more ways than better.Report

            • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

              “all the data I have seen is convincing that it is explained by different career choices and commitment levels.”
              The question to be asked is why they made different career choices, and this comes down to the whole thing about Kazzy fearing enforcement of “ladylike” behavior. My argument is that women pick different career options because of the enforcement of cultural norms. That in the past, they were forced into teaching and nursing by culture may be the same reason they don’t pick careers in finance or engineering now; because of something we may be teaching them from the time they’re young, perhaps that girls are bad at math.

              The cultural norm here is that women are forced to make a choice between career and family because of how time off and career advancement is structured. Picking “acceptable” careers and avoiding STEM majors. Forcing them to choose between a career and family happens because the support system still isn’t there compared to say….Sweden.
              Sweden has a very different system that encourages both the mother and father to take some time off, and workplaces and government support women so they don’t have to make a choice between career and family.

              If they’re encouraged to avoid STEM majors, it’s a net detriment to society. In society after society in the western world, civilization has bloomed when women (or half of a society’s intellectual assets) were allowed to become part of the workforce. For all of Mao’s misdoings in China, women have far more opportunity because of him.

              Now there may be an argument like Lawrence Summers did that men and women’s brains do function differently, but this may be empirically difficult to prove, even with studies on spatial reasoning. It’s too hard to separate the noise of culture at the moment.Report

              • Just Me in reply to Bob2 says:

                Here’s my two cents. A large reason that girls don’t usually pick the math and science fields is because in school boys don’t like smart girls. Girls learn from boys that they should be just a little dumber than the boy if they want a boyfriend.Report

              • trumwill mobile in reply to Bob2 says:

                I’m not saying there isn’t something truth to what you’resaying , Bob2, because there is, but the government structure (Sweden) argument would be stronger if women weren’t becoming doctors and lawyers in the numbers they are. I think the stronger argument is basic cultural expectations. A math-smart boy being encouraged to become an engineer and a math-smart girl and accountant or math teacher.Report

              • trumwill mobile in reply to trumwill mobile says:

                For my part, I am all in favor of encouraging girls in scene and technology, at least right up until we start talking about the guys putting away the Star Trek poster because it’s uninviting to women.Report

              • Kim in reply to trumwill mobile says:

                No. More posters good. Buffy Posters, Trek Posters, Star Wars posters.

                Blatantly ogling the posters bad. even if there are hawt guys on it.Report

              • trumwill mobile in reply to Kim says:

                Agreed about ogling posters.Report

              • Jim Heffman in reply to Kim says:

                If the poster isn’t for ogling, then what is it for?Report

              • zic in reply to trumwill mobile says:

                I am all in favor of encouraging girls in scene

                I truly hope that was an honest misspelling and not a freudian slip, Will.

                I respect you far too much to let you walk about with your slip showing.Report

              • trumwill mobile in reply to zic says:

                Autocorrect chose the wrong word and I missed it.Report

              • zic in reply to zic says:

                (You didn’t get the joke? Slip showing? That’s one of those ‘girls, don’t let your undies show things from back in the day.)Report

              • Bob2 in reply to trumwill mobile says:

                The government structure in Sweden doesn’t force women to pick between family and career since their jobs are guaranteed to still be there if they take time off to have a baby. They get lots of paid leave, and so do their husbands. Men get to take several months of baby leave also, which is practically unheard of here. Men there have larger roles in raising children, and it’s more acceptable for a man to leave his job if his wife makes more money and wants to focus on her career. Having a baby does not affect career advancement in the same way as a result.
                I can’t say it’s the same here.
                Women here might become doctors and lawyers, but the cultural norm that they raise children means they’re the ones to sacrifice advancement to law partner, certain doctor specialty fields, and in choosing a place to live (city vs. suburbs) to have more time for the kids. There’s a lot more cultural expectation for women to be the ones to sacrifice their careers in the US.
                And no, I don’t think it’s possible here in the same way simply because Sweden has had such low rates of ethnic diversity and as such, their lawmaking is a lot less filled with strife based on religion or race.Report

              • Roger in reply to Bob2 says:

                “The government structure in Sweden doesn’t force women to pick between family and career since their jobs are guaranteed to still be there if they take time off to have a baby. ”

                Odd wording.  In a free society people are allowed to choose between family and work.  The government involvement that I assume you are endorsing is that government should use force to require firms to pay parents that choose to stay home with families.  I understand why people would value this, though I would of course warn about unintended affects, etc etc. No need to digress there.

                I do think you are assuming the the world would be a better place if child care was shared even steven between men and women, and if we balanced the work family tradeoffs so that they played out the same between genders.  I think this is would only be true of women and men were exactly equal in ability, desires, capabilities and goals.  At the absolute minimum, I think this is a fallacy based upon assuming equal utility functions between diverse people.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Heh. You might need to digress a bit. Enough people valued this to Voluntarily Vote politicians into office who imposed these dreadful statist schemes on them. If there are any unintended consequences (details conveniently omitted) those people could just vote in other politicians who would free them from these onerous schemes.

                Enough with the calling everything you don’t like Fallacious.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

                Roger, I am saying that once the Swedes voted more women into office, public policies changed to give opportunities more fairly to women. And I think this freed the men too, not just the women. I know men who would have loved to spend more time with the kids, but didn’t because of how child benefits worked, or because their wives could not make the same money he did. In a freer society, everyone would have more choice and opportunity, and that’s what I see more of in Sweden.

                I did not say anything should be even steven, just that women factually are denied career opportunities here if they want to have kids, and not by choice. Ask some women. This is not very controversial.

                When you look at how few women are involved in U.S. government, you can see what policies favor men. When you didn’t have female justices on the Court, they did lack perspective on how a law would impact over half the citizens of the country.

                And in reality, women have been better in government here. They get more done for their constituencies in studies of the effects of congresswomen. And they seem better at social navigation, which is a big part of congress.Report

  8. NewDealer says:

    “There are many cultures where adults and children alike regularly expose breasts, buttocks, vaginas, and penises. These are cultures that most of us will probably never interact with directly, but they do exist. And the people in these cultures, to my understanding, seem to get along just fine, at least with regards to their handling of clothing and body covering.”

    True but this is not the culture of the United States and many other places in the world.

    Part of being respectful is generally following the cultural norms of where you are. No one wants to be the boorish and ugly American who can’t be respectful to local culture. I think American norms deserve the same respect while here.

    When I lived in Japan, I learned that it was perfectly acceptable for drunk business men and small children to urinate in alleys. You would always see a business man stop by an alley to take a piss while stumbling home drunk. However just because that is kosher in Japan does not mean that it should be kosher in the United States.

    I am not quite I understand your hang up here. It almost seems like a cartoon of liberalism that would be found on Fox News. Yes there are cultures where public nudity is acceptable but there are also cultures where it is not. As long as the cultural standard is not cruel or immoral, I have no problem with a bit of “When in Rome…”Report

    • zic in reply to NewDealer says:

      Perhaps what’s missing here is the changing mores. Not too long ago, all little girls had to wear dresses. When I was in grammar school, that was required. By the time I got to middle school, girls got to wear pants on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And by the time I got to high school, the requirement for girls to wear dresses had gone by the wayside, as so much of the requirement of how ‘little girls’ should act rightfully has.

      The tension here isn’t, I think, one of flaunting underwear, so much as ladyism response to the natural way children play; a problem of reinforcing those outdated gender rules that required me to always wear a skirt to school.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to zic says:

        I’m against school uniforms in general and if I have kids I would not want to send them to a school with uniforms or dress codes.

        Interestingly my anti-uniform stance puts me at odds with many of liberal friends. I always went to public school and never had uniforms* but many of my friends who did seem to love the practice for a variety of reasons.**

        *I can only think of two prohibitions from my pre-college days. My elementary schooled banned Simpsons shirts because they were rude (this was when the Simpsons just started and “eat my shorts” was relatively recent). And my middle school banned girls from shirts that showed their mid-riff.

        **This range from “not wanting to think about what to wear” and some bizarre arguments about how uniforms are an economical equalizer between the rich and poor. “Not wanting to think” arguments tend to drive me up a wall. The economic equalizer arguments tend to come from people who attended very posh private schools where most of the students were very rich but there were a handful of scholarship students who were the poorest of the poor. I tend to think that the kids would know the haves from the have-nots anyway. Or they would find a way around the rules unless the rules are draconian and strictly enforced.Report

        • zic in reply to NewDealer says:

          Did I say anything about school uniforms? We had no such requirements. Just the rule that girls must wear dresses; which lasted in my public school until about 1974.

          And when it comes to uniforms, I’d be aghast if that required always a skirt for girls and a tie for boys. But the option; either a skirt or pants and tie, for both genders would rock the world in a very, very good way.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to NewDealer says:

      “When I lived in Japan, I learned that it was perfectly acceptable for drunk business men and small children to urinate in alleys.”

      The problem is that there are good reasons why people shouldn’t void waste in locations not served by a sewer system. It’s not a matter of vague prudery or societal custom.Report

  9. Shazbot5 says:


    How about spending lots of time with the kids talking about shame as something that makes people feel bad, in general. Maybe there can be a song about it: “Sometimes people laugh at you, sometimes tease…” and some coloring books. Then you can ask the kids about how it is mean to make someone feel shame. You can give them examples of shaming where the shamer is bad.

    Then you can slowly make them aware of the truth (which you can’t make less true, sadly) that people/older kids get shamed and teased for being naked or showing their underwear. You can then imply (very sublty) that the person who is the shamer is bad in those cases, but if we want to aboid being attacked by the bad shamers, maybe we should hide our undies or not talk about our poop, and stuff like that.

    You can view yourself as showing them that they will feel shame, but the fault is the shamer, not them, while also informing them that people try to shame in general about poop, nudity, etc., thereby signaling to them that it is a wise strategy to avoid shame to behave in a certain way, even though shame is always the fault of the shamer.

    Does that make sense?Report

    • Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      But Shazbot, if a certain norm is the right norm, then shame for violating it is appropriate and the person who makes that person feel shame is in fact doing the right thing. Shame is a moral emotion and is appropriate when you don’t live up to what you should be.Report

      • Roger in reply to Murali says:

        I second Murali here. Shame is an essential part of our cultural and moral tool chests. Right?Report

        • Kim in reply to Roger says:

          Yes. However, I don’t think any public displays of immodesty, short of exposing oneself in an aroused state — in such a manner as calculated to induce such a state in others, possibly unwillingly…
          ought to be shameful.

          This includes people pissing in the local fishpond (if done as privately as reasonably necessary — aka doing it in public view just because you can is … worthy of some amoutn of moderate shunning.).Report

          • Roger in reply to Kim says:


            Shaming others and being ashamed are extremely useful emotional tools. They are also easily manipulated for harm. Like all tools, they can be used to our advantage or not.

            I agree with evolutionary philosopher Richard Joyce that feelings of guilt and shame are both innate and adaptive.Report

        • Shazbot5 in reply to Roger says:

          Would you say “Being disgusted with yourself thoroughly and entirely is a good emotion and a valuable tool”?

          I think “shame” is an unfortunately vague word. Some of the feelings that go under the name “shame” are never good or productive, especially an overwhelming sense that “I as a person am disgusting.” Such feelings are particularly likely to produce the worst sorts of problems in children.

          On the other hand, maybe something like a sense that action X is disgusting if I do it or if I did it or if it was done to me, so I should feel remorse and seek to undo the action X if I do it or did it.

          I think part of Kazzy’s worry (correct me if I’m wrong Kazzy) is that very small children sometimes feel that they are disgusting when you are trying (even when you are trying carefully) to tell them that some people find their action (especially bodily actions like pooping in public, being nude, whatever) to be disgusting or disturbing. And once you make a child feel that first kind of toxic shame that “I am personally, bodily disgusting” you are risking tremendous psychological damage.

          By analogy, think of how young people, especially girls, feel disgusting as persons, partly because someone told them that the action of eating too much or the property of being too fat is disgusting. Anorexia is deadly, but it is only one example of a sort of consequence of what can happen when a person feels that first sort of shame at themselves.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot5 says:

            “I think part of Kazzy’s worry (correct me if I’m wrong Kazzy) is that very small children sometimes feel that they are disgusting when you are trying (even when you are trying carefully) to tell them that some people find their action (especially bodily actions like pooping in public, being nude, whatever) to be disgusting or disturbing.”

            There is a philosophy of education that says: “Respond to the action, not the individual.”

            Children aren’t mean, bad, rude, inappropriate, etc. But they might engage in actions that are mean, bad, rude, inappropriate. I feel it is very important to make this distinction as clear as possible because children do have a tendency to equate their inherent worth with their actions. Now, in reality, I think it true that we can eventually begin to judge the character of an individual by evaluating a comprehensive sampling of their actions. If you continually and almost exclusively do “bad” things, you might be a “bad person”. But no singular action defines you. And not even a very large set of actions defines a child. But their thinking tends towards this. So, yes, it is a worry.Report

            • Jim Heffman in reply to Kazzy says:

              The question is whether the person could have been expected to know better. Children, in general, aren’t expected to know better until they’re told.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jim Heffman says:

                This is an underlying theme of this series, which I’ll explore in more detail later. The problem, as I see it often play out, is two-fold: A) Many people don’t care if it can reasonably be expected that someone “know better”; they simply judge the final action (I think you often see this with recent immigrants who have not yet learned all our norms and customs) and B) Many people expect children to know things they can’t really reasonably be expected to.

                In a nutshell, I think it is really difficult to categorize young children as “rude” or “disrespectful” if we believe that there must be an element of intent for actions to qualify as such, which I personally believe their ought to be. A crying baby might be irritating, annoying, or obnoxious, but it certainly isn’t rude or disrespectful.Report

      • zic in reply to Murali says:

        Yes it is. And it’s potent. So it’s also important to make sure that when we use shame, we use it appropriately.

        When it comes to gender and shame, there’s way too much heaped on the female side and not nearly enough heaped on the male side, particularly in light of the fact that men are mostly (not always, I know, but mostly) on the giving side of gendered violence, women on the receiving. But women get shamed when they’re raped, they ‘dressed wrong,’ or ‘were in the wrong place,’ and boys? The mostly seem to get high-fives when they score.Report

        • Roger in reply to zic says:

          Good points, Zic.

          As I commented above, a useful emotion can be manipulated for bad results.

          One small counter though. Women of course should not be shamed when raped. But boys should be shamed against raping. I suggest it will be very effective, and is a very important part of how every society tries to minimize this crime.

          The other question though is whether single girls should be shamed vs single boys for consensual sex, especially before a certain age. It is possible that the optimal answer differs for boys and girls. Possible… Worth strongly reflecting upon.Report

      • Kim in reply to Murali says:

        Shame is a common emotion used by sexual predators to ensure that they don’t get reported.
        It’s the victim’s fault for responding to purely physical sensations, you see…

        Often the predator doesn’t need to say a word, because the shamer is the victim herself.Report

      • Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

        Good question, Murali.

        I have two responses.

        1. When we say “always” or “never”, especially in teaching small children, we sometimes teach them later that there are exceptions in adult life. So we teach kids to “never” lie or “always” tell the truth. But when they get older, maybe we ask them about or get them to think about a situation (like the problem that Kant raises) about whether you should lie to save a life. We say “always” brush your teeth, but there are times when medically you shouldn’t. So we can say “shaming others is always bad,” even when there are rare exceptions for shaming murderers, white collar criminals, etc.

        2. I actually think “shame” is not an effective tool to create an incentive for moral behavior. I love P.F. Strawson’swork on the reactive attitudes. In the simplest terms, Strawson thinks I should “resent” immoral behavior in others and we should try to get others to resent the possibility of their own immoral behavior. So getting peopleto feel a certain negative, resentment towards immoral action is necessary, good, and human.

        However, I don’t think that the negative emotion we should feel that Strawson calls “resentment” is the same thing as the sort of shame that, say, a child feels when teased and bullied. Shame is a sort of flash of self-hatred. IMO, if a criminal or prospective criminal feels shame or the possibility of shame, he will avoid that emotion, suppress it, and commit the immoral act anyway. And afterwards, that poisonus subconscious shame will lead to more nihilism and more immorality.

        No, I think what Strawson calls “resentment” is better conceived of as righteous anger. We should feel rightly angry at ourselves and others when immorality is commited. That anger is productive and not shameful.

        Maybe this is splitting hairs, but shame is a self-destructive thing, and it won’t improve or make criminals less likely to commit immoral acts.

        (There is a Nietzschean point about shame, pity, and anger in here somewhere.)Report

        • Roger in reply to Shazbot5 says:

          “Shame is a sort of flash of self-hatred. IMO, if a criminal or prospective criminal feels shame or the possibility of shame, he will avoid that emotion, suppress it, and commit the immoral act anyway. And afterwards, that poisonus subconscious shame will lead to more nihilism and more immorality.”

          I haven’t read Strawson, but I am skeptical. Before we start the movement to replace shame by righteous anger, I would like to see how the theory fares in smaller scale social laboratories. In other words, I suggest you guys start with your families and we can work out from there. You may be right.Report

          • Shazbot5 in reply to Roger says:

            Just to be clear, Strawson argues that what he calls resentment is rational (even in a deterministic universe where the resented action was determined to occur) and necessary and good. As near as I know, he doesn’t endorse or deny that resentment is the same thing as what Kazzy has called shame. I suspect we can resent immoral action and persuade others into resenting immoral action in a way that isn’t quite as awful as causing people to feel shame, an emotion that leads to more self-destruction, nihilism, and immorality, IMO. But yes, it is an empirical question as to whether shame is a good tool for creating incentives against moral action. I suspect you are overestimating the incentives that shame creates, and I believe that the incentives to immoral action that we do have in our minds have fairly little to do with shame. But again that is an empirical claim that we would have to dispute back and forth.

            But certainly we can reserve shame (if you want to use it at all as an incentive) for the worst cases of bad behavior like killing, rape, overt acts of racism, large acts of theft, etc., and never use it to enforce things like gender norms, politeness norms, fashion norms, etc. Surely you agree that even if shame is effective, it is a double edged sword that harms unnecessarily all too often, and harms children all too often.Report

            • Roger in reply to Shazbot5 says:

              Are you sure we should only use shame for the worst cases? That we should not make young men ashamed of not working to support their families, or that we shouldn’t shame women from having children they can’t support?

              I certainly see the downside in shame. It hurts people. It is meant to hurt them though so that they don’t do the behavior which might harm them or others even more. Again I am not making a case FOR shaming young men that refuse to look for a job, or FOR shaming young women that have multiple kids with no means of support. But I am not sure which would lead to a better overall outcome, nor even which would lead to a better outcome for those we aim to influence (young men and women).

              Indeed, I am pretty sure nobody knows the answer to this question. This doesn’t mean it cannot be answered though.Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Roger says:

                I’m no expert. Far from it. But I’ve known psychotherapists who work with prison populations who say that what gets in the way of many rapists, murderers, etc. seeing their actions as bad and regretful (before, during, and after they were acting immorally) is a kind of deep seated shame that they can’t confront. They can’t see their actions as something they need to work on stopping because they believe they are bad and gross essentially. That feeling of overwhelming shame prevents them from finding incentives to avoid immoral action,

                So, I do think we should encourage people to feel anger at immoral behavior done to them, fear at the possibility of behaving immorally, and regret (with the desire for forgiveness and atonement) after acting immorally, but we should not encourage shame, which (I believe, though we’d have to ask psychiatrists and psyhologists) gets in the way of feeling anger at other’s immorality, and desiring atonement and forgiveness for our own acts of immorality.

                In fact a person who feels shame (of the first kind that I referenced earlier, where you see yourself as disgusting) might be more likely to treat others badly and not avoid bad outcomes for themselves (like prison, the loss of friends, etc.) because shame can lead you to believe that it is right and fitting that you be punished and hurt, because you are essentially bad, and it is right and fitting that you hurt and are poisonous to others, because you are essentially bad and gross.

                Indeed, I’d go so far as to say shame is almost antithetical to virtue.

                But I will shut up now, because this is really a sort of subject that I have no expertise on, and a lot of the questions about the psyche that we are discussing are controversial, maybe even for experts.Report

              • Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                This is the problem with working with a moral theory that takes moral psychology seriously: The moral psychology needs to do a lot of heavy lifting and the research has to be done without sneaking in value judgments. This (as I understand it) is really hard to do in psychology. And because moral psychology is doing a lot of heavy lifting, where we have not read the literature on the research that has been done, we often tend to speculate in ways that re-inforce our own biases.

                Full disclosure: my own biases tend towards being indignant about what standing psychologists have to say that my own low evaluation of myself is inaccurate. Or even worse, I find the prospect of getting moral advice from someone who sees self esteem and shame etc purely in terms of their utility in motivating good behaviour and not in terms of actual evaluations of ourselves which could possibly be true to be horrifying. (As in the prospect of getting advice from such a person is horrifying)Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

                I do think some people should be deeply regrettful of what they have done. But I don’t if the claim “I am, as a person, essentially, a horrifying thing” is ever true in anyone who could actually think it to be true. Anyone who felt the horror would have enough humanity such that they should view themselves as redeemable if they spend their life looking for redemption.

                And if you honestly, truly believed that you were horrifying, or disgusting, what reason would you have for wanting to be better. If the claim “I am horrifying” is in someone’s case -as you say- accurate, what reason does that “person” (they might not be a “person”, in the moral sense, if the claim is accurate) have to think they should regret their horrifying, immoral actions?

                Listen to me, I sound like a Christian.Report

              • Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                Listen to me, I sound like a Christian

                Precisely. That is part of what makes me suspicious. It’s an attitude that seems peculiar to a particular cultural tradition. TVD, if he were reading this would probably get on my case for this. The line TVD and for that matter Richard Rorty will push is that a lot of western secular norms have been appropriated from christianity. TVD will probably also say something to the effect that such unmooring from its foundations will expose the norm to erosion.

                One worry is that if we teach people to not feel shame or that people should always evaluate themselves highly, they become the kind of moral monsters who think highly of themselves even after they have done something terribly bad.Report

              • Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:

                Anyone who felt the horror would have enough humanity such that they should view themselves as redeemable if they spend their life looking for redemption

                I didn’t state it clearly enough previously. The idea that I am groping towards is that people who don’t feel the horror probably, though not necessarily, lack the humanity and are themselves not redeemable. I wonder what kind of monsters we create if we teach people to not feel the horror.Report

              • Roger in reply to Shazbot5 says:


                I think you make lots of great points. I just want to add is that the point of guilt and shame isn’t punishment, it is prevention and establishing shared norms and expectations that people view as “inviolable”. Things that are beyond consideration.

                The role of shame is to keep people from experiencing it because they desire to avoid it and thus they don’t ever cross the line. Focusing on how the perpetrator feels after that point, kind of misses the point.Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Shazbot5 says:


                It is hard to imagine a person never taught to fel shame. And even if they were so taught, occasional feelings of shame may be unavoidable.

                But euch people whould still have conpassion and regret and fear and pain, and the desire to be respected and loved. They would be free to feel positive and negative emotions. They would be better than us.

                Behold, I teach you the Overman!

                “Whom do you call bad?—Those who always want to put to shame.

                What do you consider most humane?—To spare someone shame.

                What is the seal of liberation?—No longer being ashamed in front of oneself.”

                -Nietzsche, The Gay ScienceReport

  10. NewDealer says:

    One of my summer jobs was working at a wading pool. The pool was in a public park in my hometown. There were also animals/sprinklers that kids could play around.

    The park had an official rule of swimsuits for kids in the pool and clothing/swimsuits for other areas of the park.

    Yet there were always some parents of really young children (usually boys) who would think nothing of letting their three or four year old run around in the buff. Of course this resulted in other parents complaining to a bunch of 19-year olds. The parents who wanted their kids to run around nude grew quite indignant at the rule or being told that their kid needed to put on a swimsuit even though these rules were very clearly stated.

    I don’t understand this anger. This was a public park, not a nudist colony or private club. Access to the park hinges on decorum.Report

    • Glyph in reply to NewDealer says:

      Not just decorum, but also health; not sure how much a swimsuit helps, but it certainly can’t hurt, to try to limit the amount of fecal bacteria on play surfaces and in the pool.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Glyph says:

        The issue here seems to be social norms and when and which social norms need to be challenged and changed and which do not.

        What seems to get me constantly in trouble with my liberal/libertarian friends is that I don’t think all social norms are bad and I also don’t think that all change is good.

        This might be because I have a very broad definition of a social norm. To me social security, medicaid, and medicare are social norms. A small minority of radical Republicans wants to get rid of these programs. This would be a bad change of a social norm.

        However, I think getting people to drive less and use public transportation more would be a good change of a social norm.

        I’ve been called “arbitrary” and a “pearl clutcher” for supporting social norms against public nudity or blasting music. This pisses me off.

        A majority can support a lot of bad social norms but it can also support a lot of good social norms. The same is true for a minority.

        I don’t see why this viewpoint is so hard for people to see that both majorities and minorities can support good and bad social norms.

        What are the ground rules for establishing when a social norm is good or bad?

        I believe that there are many times when a majority does need to be defended from a tyranny of the majority but public nudity is really low on the totem pole here.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


          Throughout, I’ve played a bit of a Devil’s Advocate, so let me clarify and say that I think social norms in favor of covering reproductive organs are wholly acceptable, perhaps even a good thing, so long as they are not used to inspire shame about one’s body, about sex in general, or as a means of social control over women. I don’t tell my kids to burn their days-of-the-week underwear in the name of freedom. If a child were to start stripping down in the classroom, I would gently remind him/her to change in the bathroom.

          I just REALLY object to appeals to some archaic notion of being a “lady”. And I object to any attempts to shame children for doing what is natural for them and violating a social norm that they can’t really conceptualize in any meaningful way. A polite, gentle reminder to wear one’s skirt properly is acceptable; a harsh, “Cover up those naughty bits, young lady!” is not.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

            I agree absolutely on the second paragraphReport

          • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

            I would also argue that playing Devil’s Advocate derailed the conversation a bit.

            We did not focus on the main point which seems to be “I need to teach X. My teaching assistant teaches X in a way that makes me cringe. How can I find a better way to teach this?”Report

            • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

              Entirely fair.

              I think there were two questions I was exploring. One had to do with what norm we ought to be teaching. The other is how we ought to teach it. The latter is more pressing and should have taken precedent. I let my combative side take hold a bit too much.

              Thanks for the honest criticism.Report

        • Roger in reply to NewDealer says:


          Your comments have been especially valuable throughout this thread. Great contributions to the discussion.Report

        • “What seems to get me constantly in trouble with my liberal/libertarian friends is that I don’t think all social norms are bad and I also don’t think that all change is good. ”

          For me, the question isn’t about whether “all [or some] social norms are bad/good” but how much we ought to be willing to empower the state to enforce them. I’m probably more on the prude side of the prude vs. non-prude spectrum. But I hesitate before endorsing laws to impose social norms. Being a liberal and not a libertarian, I do recognize that sometimes that social-norm enforcing laws must be (ought to be? could be productively?) enacted. But I think we ought to tread carefully before endorsing such measures.

          You’re not being necessarily “arbitrary,” but it’s important, I think, to realize that the potential arbitrariness of imposing social norms by law is something to be wary of.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

            I suppose my issue is that I think all law enforces some kind of moral and social norm. This includes social norms and morals I approve of and disapprove of.

            By saying we should be wary of imposing social norms by law, to me or are saying we should be wary of law in general. Social norms imposed by law are better than social norms imposed by group action. The latter often involves stocks and pillory and shamming.Report

            • I agree with your first paragraph, and I think it applies to what we decide not to use laws for as well. I.e., by not passing a law to outlaw public nudity, maybe in some sense we are saying that public nudity is acceptable (or at least not so beyond the pale that it need be outlawed). And nudity itself doesn’t seem to be the problem as much as it is the guy walking down the streets in only boots and a cock-ring. I don’t like that visual any more than you do. Still…..I’m not sure I’d want him….arrested?….fined?

              But again, I think you’re right that laws inherently encode social norms, and I can’t get out of that simply by saying, “well, I hesitate before endorsing laws to impose social norms.”

              With the second paragraph, however, I think I have some differences. I do think the “stocks and pillory and shaming” used to be legal rules and not group action.* Regardless, I think with a law (usually passed by a majority, or by “group action,” if you will), you still get the shaming as a second-order effect anyway, and without a law, it’s hard to compel people to submit to the stocks and pillories in the first place (monopoly on violence and all that being reserved to the state).

              *I could be wrong on this score, and 1600s Massachusetts Bay Colony probably did not necessarily observe the distinctions that finely. I will say, however, that Winthrop’s Arbella Sermon posited at least a nominal distinction between “civil” and “ecclesiastical” governance.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                By the second paragraph, I did mean that social groups can be more cruel when enforcing social norms that are free of the law. Look at how the Internet acts whenever there is a perceived injustice (something that happens at least once a week). They act hyperbolically to punish the offender. And sometimes the offender does the Internet equivalent of public nudity. My statement was more to be that law is the discourager of mob justice.

                And I do want the guy fined. It should be treated like a civil infraction, like a speeding ticket. Violators get a summons and are told to show up. Possibly a photo will need to be taken for evidentiary purposes.Report

  11. Kolohe says:

    The pic for this post is inspired.Report

  12. Just Me says:

    Great post Kazzy, interesting topic.

    What you are talking about I consider teaching social niceties or social norms. These norms can be different than the norms a family practices at home or with others of their own communities. I don’t think not showing ones underwear should be discussed in the same vein as “it’s shameful”. It is no different than telling a child it is impolite to talk really loud in public. There are things we don’t do because we don’t want to hurt others, but there are things we also don’t do in public because we are trying to be polite and considerate to others. There is no reason to make it about a little girls private parts or even that it is shameful in anyway.

    I know you are dealing with very young children, but learning about dress codes and that sometimes we need to dress and act the way others expect us to is reality. If you came to work dressed in jeans with holes in the crotch or butt you would be breaking a social norm for your profession. If you were at home lounging or running to pick up the milk and nothing “jailable” was to be seen you would just be a not put together guy running errands. If you came to work and flashed your belly or chest every so often, people would be a little concerned and rightly so. Now if you do that at home it could be entirely appropriate to do.

    You don’t like “lady” so instead insert “polite members of society” and call it good.

    In the end isn’t that what you are trying to do, teach the next generation the skills to remain the individual they are while being a member of society?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Just Me says:

      This is some really great stuff here, JM.

      Ultimately, I do think it is important for kids to learn the social norms, even if they are not my favorite. Certain social norms (such as homophobia, as discussed in part 1) should be actively resisted against and I will reflect that in my teaching. I don’t think the covering of private parts is such, except when it gets to the point of shaming or social control. I’m just not sure that 4 or 5 is the ideal place for such lessons to take place and especially not in the manner in which my AT seeks to impart them. I would feel more comfortable having such conversations if the conservative environment I find myself in didn’t also bristle at the idea of young children learning the anatomically correct terms for their genitals. If people are going to say it is inappropriate for me to say “penis” or “vagina” with my students, then I think it fair for me to refuse to have the “private parts” conversation absent these words.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

        Hey Kazzy, sorry if I missed it, but what does “AT” mean? I googled “AT acronym education” but didn’t come up with anything that looked likely.Report

      • Just Me in reply to Kazzy says:

        The sillyfication of sexuality. I never understood making penis and vagina “dirty”. I wouldn’t have a private parts conversation either without being able to use correct terminology. If we can say teeth and elbows we can say vagina and penis.

        I’m trying to remember when I went to school. All I remember was that we were told it was good manners to sit with our legs together when we wore skirts. If I remember right someone else a little older told a few of us that it was because little boys shouldn’t see little girls panties. Which we found absolutely hilarious. So I think the next day we all wore dresses or skirts and went on the swings and monkey bars and flashed all the little boys. That was fun for a minute. Then we couldn’t figure out why little boys would want to see our panties and it wasn’t fun anymore. I don’t remember thinking about it again until I got old enough to know why boys might want to see my panties.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Just Me says:

          We avoid using penis and vagina when they’re young, opting for peepee and basically ignoring the vagina. Then we wonder why they giggle during middle school health class.Report

    • Just Me in reply to Just Me says:

      Ummmm…..yeah I see you put in your title Teaching social norms…..so you can ignore that sentence.Report

  13. Bob2 says:

    In a modern pluralistic society, I’m not sure enforcing “ladylike” has benefits anymore and more negatives.

    George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion quite some time ago, and My Fair Lady was the movie social commentary on what it meant to be a lady. It’s been a marker of class, and not worth.

    Personally, the unladylike thing makes me cringe also, but for a different reason. Some middle-aged women at work once bullied a younger woman at work by calling her “unladylike.” They also tried to get her fired shortly after.Report

    • Roger in reply to Bob2 says:

      Again, I see another example of hammers can be used to hurt people so hammers are bad. Me thinks we give too much attention to the obvious memorable harms we see and not enough consideration of the often unseen or unmemorable effects below the surface.

      Norms and mores are not things which are best changed due to arm chair theorizing. Said another way — there is a very real possibility of adverse unintended consequences, even when we start with good intentions. We may not have any conservatives left at this site, but if we did we should consider their contribution valuable to the cultural evolutionary process.

      It might be best for our sons and our society as a whole to not have cry baby boys, and uncouth girls. It might not….Report

      • Glyph in reply to Roger says:

        Roger, I tried to make this point already, but my point is not that there should be no informal social standards at all; but simply that applying them differently to boys and girls makes little sense.

        I don’t want my girl to be a “crybaby” either. Nobody should be a “crybaby”. Buck up and try to fix things. Fight back, or move on. This doesn’t mean “never cry”, it just means “don’t let your emotions/sadness/pain too long incapacitate you for meaningful change or action.”

        I don’t want my boy to be carelessly sexually indiscriminate (“slutty”). Everybody should have some self-respect, and some respect for the people they are sexually intimate with.Report

        • Roger in reply to Glyph says:

          I of course agree that extremes at either end are probably harmful. But I suspect that due to biological differences underlying cultural differences that there could be useful, functional reasons to stress being more concerned with controlling feelings for a male and being demure for a female.

          The optimal social strategies for a growing boy probably are not the exact same as for a growing girl.Report

          • Kim in reply to Roger says:

            I quite frankly find this sexist. Not to say that Roger as a person is sexist, as I doubt that he’d willingly promulgate things that folks would consider sexist.Report

            • Roger in reply to Kim says:

              So you believe that the existence of functional differences and practices between girls and boys is sexist even if it benefits the person? Why?Report

          • Glyph in reply to Roger says:

            Hmmm. I think I see what you are driving at . If this topic comes up again, you may want to delve more deeply into that, but it will undoubtedly be difficult going.

            Something like “if boys are de facto more aggressive on average due to testosterone; then maintaining or preserving a boy’s social status (and indeed physical safety) may depend on teaching him to avoid the outward appearance of “weakness” (in quotes, since “to cry” is not inherently “weak)” so as to prevent other boys taking advantage of that perceived weakness (and this is not to imply that the other boys mightn’t be bullies for doing so); simply noting that reproductive success sometimes depends on APPEARANCE of fitness – plumage, say, or elaborate dances, or perceived wealth/status/strength – rather than ACTUAL fitness (physical combat).”

            IOW, it’s not always about “right” or “wrong”; it’s about “fitness”.

            If I am understanding your point, I can see some fertile discussion there; but these discussions too often get muddled-up between “is” and “ought”, and people get upset.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

              And taking that further: people talking about how the world “is”, “ought” to be checking their preconceived notions, and thinking of ways to make the world better than it “is”; and people talking about how the world “ought” to be, would do well to think deeply about the way it “is”, and why that’s so.

              We do our kids a disservice if we don’t teach them both “is” and “ought”, and we do each other and ourselves a disservice when we only talk about one or the other, and pretend either one is the sole correct “answer”.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                Lisa Delpit, in discussing the ebonics/AAVE debate, argues that black kids should be taught the proper forms of standardized American English while also being taught that their native dialect is no less legitimate. But the realities of the world dictate a preference toward the latter. So rather than fully conform or stand on the outside shouting, she advocates that students be given the tools to get inside (the “is”) and the knowledge and empowerment to seek change from within (the “ought”). She doesn’t frame it in terms of is/ought, but I think it fits nicely.Report

              • Roger in reply to Glyph says:

                Well said, Glyph.

                I will add that I think people are making massive logical leaps that girls are exactly the same as boys in their desires, needs, emotions, physical needs, instincts, and so on, or that they should be. Not only is the “is” wrong, but the “ought” is just assumed.

                By the way, what is the significance of the speaker Gravitar?Report

              • Glyph in reply to Roger says:

                The speaker is from this
                (in/non-)famous video. As a bonus, I have noticed if I comment a lot it makes “Gifts of Gab” look like an amp stack on the right side of the blog.

                I replied to you below, the short version is: while I think there may be something to what you are saying, there are multiple minefields and pitfalls that need to be navigated with nuance and care; and it’s all going far afield from the OP in any case; so I am going to drop it here.Report

            • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

              The boys more aggressive is funny. really funny.

              I know a guy who will never play the game “chicken”. Because if he played with someone like himself, they’d both die.

              He’s… not aggressive, i promise!Report

            • Roger in reply to Glyph says:

              Yeah, I am suggesting that there often is a functional reason we raise kids the way we do, and some of these are related to biological differences between boys and girls, some are arbitrary ( or archaic) social conventions, and most are probably a mix of the four (social and biological, functional and arbitrary).

              I am certainly not prepared to argue that raising girls to be more demure than boys is a better fitness strategy than the inverse, or than treating them exactly the same. I am only arguing that we should respect that traditional mores and cultural norms may reflect the wisdom of cultural fitness. Changing social conventions leads to wispdespead effects and should not be done lightly without careful deliberation and experimentation.

              If raising boys to be crybabies led to more happy and successful men and a better world for all I would be all for it. But again, I am skeptical…..Report

              • Glyph in reply to Roger says:

                Roger, again I think there is probably some wisdom and truth to be found in there.

                But we blow any chance of reasonably sorting it all out, all to heck when we start using loaded phrases like “raising boys to be crybabies”.

                I also think that “respecting traditional mores just because it may indicate fitness” risks opening the door to culturally relativistic-acceptance of clearly-misogynist or barbaric practices such have been seen in certain cultures. I am reminded of this:

                “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

                Leaving aside the question of British colonialism in India, this story would be a lot less powerful had Napier simply said, “your custom of burning widows must reflect a cultural fitness which I alter only at our peril, so have at it, old chaps.”

                I’ll just leave it here I think. Thanks for the discussion.Report

              • Roger in reply to Glyph says:

                I don’t think we are really disagreeing.

                Cultural norms often serve functional purposes. But whose? It may be that teaching boys to be tough is better for boys. It may be better for girls. It may be better for those sending them to war. It may be better for everyone. Or it may be an archaic holdover that no longer serves any purpose or that just gets in the way.

                I am not a social conservative or a cultural relativist. However, I see the value of conservatives, of progressives and of those that recognize that cultures are complex solution sets that work together in an interdependent way.Report

          • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

            While I understand what you’re getting at, the evidence is very unclear on this point.
            The strongest case I’ve heard is perhaps the one Lawrence Summers mangled at Harvard. That boys have more variance in math skills than girls even if the average girl might be smarter.
            This is an argument that comes up in chess circles about boys being better at spatial reasoning overall, but I don’t know if this if this a chicken or the egg sort of argument for sure.
            And even if it’s true, it’d be a massive shame if a girl who fell on the high end of the variance scale was socially pressured to avoid science and math.

            There’s a lot of reading and studies on how women are treated differently in math and science. Perhaps you’d want to read this one from MIT. It’s fascinating read, though I’m not in agreement sometimes with how NYT tends to frame things, but nonetheless, it’s got references to historical cases of bias.

            • Bob2 in reply to Bob2 says:

              The second one because I didn’t want to end up in moderation:

              I hope this isn’t too much of a derail, but it’s a natural extrapolation and application of Kazzy’s original post to worry about what we teach children about bias.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Bob2 says:


                I didn’t click through the links, but I’ve seen ample research that suggests there are indeed genetic differences between girls and boys in early ages that sets in motion a lot of things going forward.

                For instance, the developing eye of young boys and girls are different. I don’t remember the specific terms, but they have different structures to them. Girls eyes develop to see close-up, stationary items with more details. Boys eyes develop to track movement. This stems back to hunter-gatherer days, where women needed a discerning eye to pick the safe berry from the poisonous one and men needed to be able to track the animals they hunted. You can see this play out with young children as they draw. The adage is that girls draw nouns and boys draw verbs. A girl takes a crayon and draws a flower with leaves and a stem and individual pedals, all identifiable. A boy takes a crayon and races it around the paper and states that he is drawing a car. The girl draws the flower itself. The boy draws the movement of the car. Noun, verb. You coupled that with differences in motor develop, girls typically gaining fine motor skills earlier than boys and boys developing gross motor skills earlier than girls.

                Then you get chicken-and-eggy. Boys and their eyes and gross motor skills tend toward blocks and these skills get stronger, along with spatial reasoning. Girls and their eyes and fine motor skills tend toward art and these skills get strong, along with linguistic abilities. A feedback loop is created.

                Fortunately, this feedback loop can be interrupted and the genetic differences can be largely mitigated IF there is a thoughtful approach. For a long time, I struggled to get girls into the block area. Within moments of starting activity time, a cadre of boys would have large, elaborate structures dominating the space making an already intimidating space all the more so for girls. So I put taped down squares on the floor. Each child or group of children got their own square. Suddenly, the girls were not only in the block area but were dominating it at times. Their buildings grew more sophisticated and soon rivaled the boys.

                On the flip side, it was hard to get boys to the painting easel. The solution? Bigger paper. This allowed them to paint their verbs. It also allowed the girls who worked their to develop important gross motor skills, especially in the shoulder giant and with regards to “crossing the midline”.

                Unfortunately, much of our education system is geared towards reinforcing these feedback loops. So it is both a nature AND nurture problem. But if we correct for the nurture, we can go a long way towards accounting for nature.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                Kazzy, this is fascinating stuff and somewhat ties into the “is”/”ought” distinctions I was trying to make above , showing that even some of what “is” can, with knowledge, be “channeled” or worked with, rather than just “accepted”.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                You never want to set kids up for failure. Which is what Delpit (who is black, BTW) argued teaching AAVE and only AAVE to kids of color was. “Who is ever going to hire them?” she’d ask.

                Empowering kids to be agents of change is important. One of the most powerful experiences I had as a teacher was when we were doing our calendar work. Each day, we cross off a day on the calendar to mark it as passed. Because I always had the iconic image of red X’s filling calendars, I always offered the red marker. One day, a child said, “Why do we always use red?” “I… don’t… know,” I responded, because I really didn’t have a good reason outside of, “That is how it’s always been done,” which isn’t a particularly good reason. “Can we use other colors?” “I don’t see why not.” And with that, the routine changed, and has remained changed since that day, with the Calendar Helper having free reign over the color of the X’s. Pretty cool stuff, especially given that it came from Calvin, the child mentioned in Part 1.

                I always say that teaching is a balance between empowering kids to create the world they believe ought to be AND preparing them for the world the way it is. That latter part can be really hard and frustrating, but it is important.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Sorry if I keep going off on semi-tangents. I could talk shop all day.Report

            • Kim in reply to Bob2 says:

              Chess players don’t get to talk, if they think that chess is about spatial reasoning.
              Chess is a game of memorization, and a bit of tactics, not terribly big on strategy at all.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Kim says:

                This is kind of glib Kim.
                There’s been a lot of study on visual spatial reasoning in regards to chess players.
                Also, if you’ve never played chess at a higher level, calling it memorization and tactics if rather faulty. It’s mostly a strategy game if you want to break the 1800+ barrier. Below that level, it’s often tactical and opening memorization though.Report

            • Roger in reply to Bob2 says:


              Fascinating discussion and thanks for the links.  

              I agree with Kazzy’s response.  My take on the literature is that men and women do have differences in distribution on such areas as desires, needs, emotions, life goals, intellectual strengths and such. This also matches everything I’ve experienced in life.  As such, the fact that women are statistically more attracted to a balance between work and family or more statistically repulsed by dangerous jobs, or attracted to jobs where they can find value helping others makes sense.

              Going to your issue of social norms and expectations snowballing this, my guess is that this is probably true. Let me ask a few questions though.

              Assuming women and men are different, would you view this as a bad thing? Why?

              Assuming they are different, would you assume they would go into the same professions and make the same life choices? If different would you expect them to make the same average income? Why?

              Do you think women are less happy or personally rewarded than men in current society? Why? 

              Do you think if we redesigned society to get equal distribution in every field of endeavor would the world be a better place or worse?  Why?Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

                First question: I actually believe men and women fundamentally are different and I think that was a bit of a loaded question you asked, but I’ll answer. I’d rather err on the side of more freedom of choice for children than reinforce existing social norms if I can’t adequately explain why they
                The physical differences like who can give birth, hormones, diseases and brain scans exist, but beyond that, I don’t think we’ve ever definitely proved all that much in terms of causation. It goes back to nature versus nurture, and I think we’ll find that there’s a lot more nurture involved than people believe. We have far more knowledge and the power to rewire our brains and bodies than we have at any time in history, and just because things are the way they are now, doesn’t mean that they will be soon.

                I will make a bad or good judgement here. If what Kazzy says above is true and we can potentially get more talented women into scientific fields by learning how to manipulate early education for better balance, that would be a net good for humanity in terms of technological progress. Yes, it’s a bit of social engineering. Yes there may be unintended consequences, but on the whole, I don’t see much downside in terms of freedom and knowledge. There are a lot of “ifs” involved though.

                Second question is a bit leading. Simply put, I don’t know if the differences will matter as we can create infrastructure to encourage whatever we want over time.
                On the current path, women are going to end up being dominant over men just because of overall college education trends. I actually feel we’re starting to neglect the education and needs of younger male children in the US.

                Question 3: I don’t know. I’d have to ask women. I do think they’ve been a historically under-served market and now that their disposable income has increased, we’ll see some massive changes in consumer products. That’s a very difficult question to answer because of how difficult it would be to quantify happiness and being personally rewarded. I do think they have more economic freedom than they’ve ever had though, and that more women graduate from college than men now.
                Btw, in the current business climate, I would hire more women simply because I can get them for less money, like how the most talented women in the past were funneled into teaching for far less than they were worth.

                Question 4: No idea. I don’t think we could adequately predict what would happen and that it would probably be a terrible idea to do equal distributions as policy. No one would stand for it.

                I’d prefer real equality of opportunity, which we simply don’t have now. Fixing how women are perceived to be inferior in sciences even with the same resume would be a good start (from link 2 above). I do know that employers tend to not hire people with “black” names in resumes also.
                I don’t even know how we would fix opportunity in terms of college admissions based on race, gender, and legacy admissions as the rich kids simply don’t have to work in college, and have better connections.

                I do value diversity and a better distribution in the field and in colleges simply because you will get valuable cultural knowledge, input and solutions that you would miss otherwise, and I think recognition of studies that show this is true would be a powerful force for companies.

                Fewer blind spots are better for business and politics.
                This is generally the criticism of the GOP when they talk about race, in that they seem utterly clueless about how real minorities live, and don’t even ask.
                Also, when a group of only men decide the policy for women’s reproductive rights, I’m obviously going to question whether the policy makes any sense given the lack of experience in childbirth.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Bob2 says:

                “If what Kazzy says above is true and we can potentially get more talented women into scientific fields by learning how to manipulate early education for better balance…”

                A bit of clarification…

                Changes would need to be made beyond just early ed. However, my hunch is that the earlier you start the “balancing”, the fewer changes you’d need to make down the road. I should also add that you do not want to make the environment inclusive to women to the point of being exclusive to men. Ideally, you’d offer a variety of learning opportunities and teaching styles that would be accessible to folks of all stripes. There would remain factors you couldn’t account for, but disparities in access to education could be largely reduced, if not eliminated. There is a lot of research being done in this area. The trouble is that any change is going to be slow-going. One key factor to changing the way we teach STEM subjects is to get more women teaching them. To get more women teaching them, we need more woman coming up in those fields. To get more women coming up in those fields, we need to start changing how we teach them. There isn’t a magic bullet or an overnight fix. Much like any true education reform, it is going to take a generation or more before results are seen (if there are results to be seen… there is no guarantee of efficacy… which combined with the time horizons makes such reforms political dead ends).Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                Maybe we should start actively discouraging girls from going into education, or nursing or psychiatry or pediatrics. I tease of course.

                Slippery slope from voluntary affirmative action to foster diversity and master planning to get equal distribution. I support the former and reject the latter, as I guess Kazzy would as well.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                You’re joking about Master Planning, too. I hope. What is it with some people, when someone points out computer science and engineering have problems getting women to enter these fields — that someone shrieks and hollers about some Master Plan to correct the problem.

                There’s already a slippery slope in place. Lots of women are taking computer science courses and few of them decide to continue their studies. That’s a voluntary decision they made. What’s your reason for those decisions? Some women do continue their studies, some of them have the grit and determination to get up that slippery slope. I know one such student right now. Every one of her CS professors is male.

                Distribution is studied through probability and statistics. We know there’s a problem. Unless there’s something unique about the combination of computer science and women’s mindsets, an assertion I reject, more women should be coming through the CS programs but they aren’t. Any guesses why, Roger? I’m always amused when any corrective action is automatically rejected on the basis of being imposed on the problem.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                So does your plan only apply to “important” fields like engineering, or does it also creep into the proper distribution of nurses? Child care professionals? Carpenters?

                Exactly what percent of distributional bias is due to differing desires and preferences based on gender? Different abilities? Peer pressure? Lack of role models?

                I am hunky dory with a colleges and businesses taking whatever actions they deem prudent to reverse these statistical anomalies. The assumption that the distribution of gender by role would be fifty fifty in a perfect world is absolutely arbitrary though. It is a naive assumption.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                No Roger, we’re talking about your opposition to any plan which might act on the question “Why is this distribution so skewed to one gender?” What I think about it is irrelevant. We’ve already got your Voluntary Scheme in place and it’s producing a skewed distribution.

                As I understand it, with rare exceptions, every college curriculum includes some computer science courses. Now you get to tell me why so few women end up in my profession.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                One reason it is skewed is that women and men prefer different things. I could link to countless studies on this, but won’t.

                Another is that they have different aptitudes. I think this is less significant, but still important, with mountains of empirical support to back it up.

                Fifty fifty distribution of pre school teachers and engineers and roofers in Phoenix and so forth is a naive assumption that ignores what we know about people.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                So you’re saying women consciously avoid the software profession because of some innate factor.

                Upstream, we have a woman, Just Me, saying A large reason that girls don’t usually pick the math and science fields is because in school boys don’t like smart girls. Girls learn from boys that they should be just a little dumber than the boy if they want a boyfriend.

                Now quit while you’re ahead, Roger. That’s one data point you’re not going to ignore.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                No, I am suggesting that career and education distribution is affected by four factors. 1) Innate desires, preferences and goals, 2) innate strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes, 3) socializing, and 4) discrimination. I believe the four reinforce each other. I agree that fourth is socially destructive, the first two are probably are not and am ambivalent or undecided on the third.

                To the extent that there is ANY statistical differences in the first two, (and again their are mountains of data on differences with primates, infants, toddlers, across cultures, etc,) then the expectation of an exact fifty fifty distribution of fire fighters, pre school teachers, psychologists, computer programmers and stay home parents should be neither expected nor arguably desirable. It is simply a politically correct assumption.

                Here is some reading to get started with.



                You may also want to read Chusmir & Parker’s research.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


                The trouble as I see it is figuring out where 1/2 end and 3 begins. As i mentioned, there are tremendous, naturally occuring feedback loops that amplify nature but are not themselves natural.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                I agree, K.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

                Roger: no one here has suggested that a 50/50 distribution is optimal at all, just that the evidence shows that the distribution in science majors is not just the result of any innate behavior, but also the result of bias against women as inferior despite the same qualifications as the same man. It’s the result of a thousand slights. Smaller labs, being looked over for a less qualified man, being told they’re not pretty, being told that boys don’t like smart girls, etc.
                To have policies in place that correct for the bias only seems to be fair.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Catherine Hakim is ridiculous. Nobody subscribes to her preference theory crap. It can’t be duplicated.


                In this article we tested whether Catherine Hakim’s much-discussed theory of a typology of women (home-centred women, work-centred women, and adaptive women) based on lifestyle preferences relating to labour-market participation and the perception of the roles of men and women in the family also applies in the Czech Republic. According to Hakim, the typology should be a good predictor of women’s fertility behaviour and family policy preferences.

                Based on a representative survey of Czech women aged 20–40 we found that Hakim’s typology does not work well in the Czech Republic. The distribution of the three types corresponds to Hakim’s findings in other European countries, but, contrary to Hakim’s assumptions, it is not a good predictor of expected or completed fertility. It does, however, apply as expected in the case of women’s family policy preferences. Work-centred women favour measures that help them combine work and family, while home-centred women favour measures that make it easier for them to remain at home and care for their children themselves.

                Hakim vehemently promotes her typology and claims that it is a simple tool with which to predict women’s fertility behaviour. Following our analyses, we are not altogether convinced this is true. The findings relating to its ability to predict fertility were particularly disappointing. Hakim’s writings and conference papers had inspired the hope that by determining preferences and formulating lifestyle types we would be able to predict completed fertility. If her typology did work and we were able with some probability to expect that differences between women’s lifestyle preferences would be reflected in differences between their completed fertility, we would then be able to design the appropriate family policy based on this information. However, in the Czech context these hopes fell through.

                One likely reason why women do not always follow the preference patterns expected under Hakim’s typology is that the preferences the indicators are intended to capture do not relate to the perceived value of children, which is a very important factor in explaining differences in fertility intensity, and, as first demonstrated by Hoffman and Hoffman (1973) and then by Nauck (2006), has played a significant role in international comparisons. Another likely reason is that the responses to the set of questions the typology is based on are contextually dependent. Consequently, they are not deeply embedded and unchanging aspects of a woman’s personality that determine all the decisions women make between the ages of 20 and 40 about the number of children to have.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                For centuries, we were told Black people were this, Asian people were that. Now it’s women are this and men are that. And it’s all complete horseshit. Far too much of 1, 2 and 3 are actually 4.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                And it’s all been true. The genetic factors that caused Asians to shift from shifty, treacherous sociopaths to brilliant but asexual nerds are currently being studied by research organizations that aren’t too PC to deny their existence.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Negroes, too, have been promoted from shiftless, violent song-n-dance men to — well — shiftless, violent rappers. Time does move on!Report

              • Roger in reply to Bob2 says:

                Great responses Bob.

                “I’d rather err on the side of more freedom of choice for children than reinforce existing social norms if I can’t adequately explain why they exist.”

                I kind of agree, but would lean toward cautious, decentralized experimentation, if that makes sense.  

                “I think we’ll find that there’s a lot more nurture involved than people believe.” 

                Actually I think conventional wisdom in the past few decades has shifted toward nurture, while the research reveals distinct statistical differences (that are then socially amplified).

                On the issue of social engineering to “nudge” women to go into science that otherwise wouldn’t, I see your point on potential benefits.  I personally wouldn’t be comfortable with giving anyone the power to make that decision, other than parents of individual children, which obviously would never sum up to an equal distribution.  Once we make the argument that 50/50 is the correct number, we’ve basically empowered someone to social engineer from then on.  I recommend freedom and equal opportunity, but believe this will lead to vastly different field choices even of there was no social pressure and conditioning.  Your point on diversity of affirmative action steps is one I do agree with though. If I had a team with strong bias toward one gender I would consider trying to balance it.

                My guess is that societal pressures and pro and con biases are pretty evened out (in regards to whether it is better to be male or female). This is certainly a subjective call though. There is as you mention lots of data on boys have increaing trouble with grades, attaining degrees, getting and keeping jobs and so forth.

                I agreed with many of your parting thoughts too.Report

      • Bob2 in reply to Roger says:

        No, it’s not about hammers. I don’t think you’re getting at the point I’m trying to make, so I’ll expound.

        It’s about living in a pluralistic society with people who have other cultural norms. I grew up with Asians, Indians, Christians, Jews, Atheists, African-Americans, Catholics, Puerto Ricans, Muslims and immigrants and descendants of immigrants from every imaginable country in my lifetime.
        It’s about respecting that other people believe different things if there’s no harm in what they do, and not making fun of Muslim women in Target who believe in wearing the hijab.

        My Fair Lady is not a new movie, and was a social commentary on how accent determined class in Britain.
        To quote Eliza Doolittle:
        “I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else.”Report

  14. Kazzy says:

    I want to again thank everyone for the feedback here. As I mentioned in a few spots, I’ve been a bit deliberately provocative in how much of a Devil’s Advocate I’m playing. As is my tendency, I think it is worthwhile to challenge the assumed.

    Ultimately, I do not view social norms around the clothing of genitalia as an objectively negative thing. I do struggle with such norms being used to shame people about their body or sex and really struggle when they are used as attempts to control women. But I also think we should have better ways to educate children about these norms and should be mindful of what we can reasonably expect kids to do given their development. Most 4- and 5-year-olds don’t really have a conceptual understanding of their genitalia and why it might differ from the rest of their body. As such, their tendency to treat it no different than an elbow is entirely developmentally appropriate and they should not be shamed or otherwise chastised for this.Report

    • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


      You’re the expert here, but I assume that that much of what kids need to learn about socially appropriate displays of their body they learn at ages older than 4 or 5. Or maybe not? I personally don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for toddlers not to know the difference, although I certainly might be wrong (I’m not a parent and have never even babysitted kids, not even my own nieces and nephews).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:


        That is my belief. But many folks attempt to begin teaching this earlier. Which isn’ the worst thing ever. But holding kids accountable for failing to do that which they are likely incapable of doing OR which they do not know to do/not do IS pretty bad. And I see entirely too much of that. That is what this series is attempting to explore.Report

        • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

          I do think I operate under certain assumptions about “what people ought to learn” but I don’t have much of a basis for saying when (at what age) or how they ought to learn it. I do suspect that 4-5 years is probably too young to have to face harsh consequences, but I just don’t know.Report