Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Failure of Marriage -- Writer's Poke #324

If you knew before you began that your statistical chance of failure was 40%, would you still dive in? Considering the fact that the divorce rate in the United States has been around 40% for years now, isn’t it surprising that the institution of marriage hasn’t gone extinct? And at least in the United States, couples continue to subscribe to the fantasy that marriage is about commitment and love. Ideally, maybe, but when the going gets tough, the weak get divorces. Maybe it would be more appropriate for commitment and love to come with expiration dates, because quite frankly, who can say with any sense of certainty that the person you commit to loving this week is the same person you can remain committed to and love for the next 65 years?

Marriage is the ultimate leap of faith in a society than no longer believes. So why do the majority of couples continue to tie the knot? Simple: knots can always be cut later. Well, except in Vatican City and the Philippines, two places in the world that still do not allow divorce.

The secret to a lasting marriage? Apparently it’s not love at all – it’s intelligence, marriage age, and political affiliation that matters. Folks with a college education, who marry at the age of 26 or older, and who live in liberal-leaning states all have lower rates of divorce than people who don’t finish college, marry young, or live in conservative-leaning states.

The number one cause of divorce? Infidelity, and men are guilty of it three times more than women are. So why aren’t men able to stay committed to one woman? And why do women believe that their guy is apparently the exception to the rule? It seems obvious that most couples aren’t thinking clearly when the marriage train leaves the station. And this is a train with a high chance of derailment, with the effects of divorce generally involving collative damage to innocent victims (e.g. offspring).

Would it be too simple to suggest that people haven’t failed the institution of marriage, but that the institution of marriage has failed people? Over the past decade or so, gays and lesbians have been winning the right to marry, but this is still a fairly heated and controversial topic in the United States. Personally, I support the rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choosing, but I think this isn’t the most important issue facing marriage in the modern age. Instead of debating whether or not gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, we should be debating whether or not marriage is the best way for couples to maintain a committed and loving relationship, because in the end, that’s what marriages “promises,” and for all too many people, it has failed to deliver on its promises.

What is the best way to develop and maintain a committed and loving relationship? Is there any way to “fix” the institution of marriage?

“A wife lasts for the length of the marriage, but an ex-wife is for the rest of your life.” – Woody Allen

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The World Before 1973 -- Writer's Poke #323

In 1973, Bobby Riggs challenged the top-rated women’s tennis player to a match, and he easily defeated her: 6-2, 6-1. To add insult to injury, the match occurred on Mother’s Day.

Today, who remembers that match or Riggs’ opponent, Margaret Court? But people still remember the match Riggs had the following September. If Riggs could so handily defeat the #1 female player in the world, surely he could defeat Billie Jean King.

Riggs was 55, and King was 29, but his defeat of Court, 30, proved that age was no obstacle to “male superiority.” King had won back-to-back Wimbledon titles, and while Riggs had won Wimbledon himself, his victory occurred in 1939.

Unlike Riggs’ match with Court, the Riggs-King match would follow standard tennis rules – three sets to win. And King was understandably worried. If she lost the match, she felt like “it would set us back 50 years.” In other words, King wasn’t just playing an exhibition match; she was playing as a representative of the entire female gender. She needed to win to prove to the world that women had a place in the sports world.

Don’t think this was an important match? An estimated 50 million people tuned in to watch “The Battle of the Sexes,” and in the end, King humbled Riggs: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

According to Martina Navratilova, King’s victory was psychologically significant for all female athletes: "She was a crusader fighting a battle for all of us. She was carrying the flag; it was all right to be a jock." Sure, if King had lost the match, Title IX still would have provided female athletes with equal opportunities, but it is King who deserves the credit for helping to further the perception of female equality to the chauvinist American mindset.

Explain the value of symbolism in events such as the Riggs-King “battle of the sexes.” How can something as simple as a tennis match "change the world"?

“Billie and I did wonders for women’s tennis. They own me a piece of their checks.” – Bobby Riggs

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Talk about It? -- Writer's Poke #322

So women don’t actually talk more than men. Chew on that idea for a minute. According to a generally-accepted stereotype, women do talk more than men, but according to Deborah Tannen, women actually engage more in “rapport talk,” whereas men prefer “report talk.” And in the end, women do not talk more than men.

Tannen observes that men are more apt to talk in public. I find this to be an intriguing notion, and it makes me wonder if that is why female public speakers appear more “masculine.” I always assumed, for example, that Hillary Rodham Clinton gets the “masculine” label because she is a strong woman, but perhaps she is a strong woman because she speaks in the public (e.g. male) sphere. Note, too, that a woman like Clinton is not engaging in the “rapport” style of communication, either, which may explain why critics view her as “cold” or “frigid,” terms not as often used to describe men, to be sure.

What are words for? Seems like such an easy question, but “to communicate” is not the full answer – not when the variable of gender is added to the equation. Have you ever noticed people that just like to talk? They don’t even necessarily care if anyone is listening, and they don’t even seem to be listening to themselves. These are the type of people that tell the same stories over and over again, and they don’t appear to recognize that they are repeating themselves. So what are their words for? They aren’t for communication. They don’t seem to be for anything more than filling the silence. And who, primarily, are this type of talker? Men.

Why and when do people talk less? In some contexts, I probably have a reputation for not talking very much. I would bet that people might conclude that I am “disinterested” or even “dumb.” Why do people make such observations about people that don’t talk very much? And from a perspective of gender, is talking in public taken for a sign of “intelligence”? Are men seen as smarter simply because they speak more in public, and are women who attempt to speak more in public than the unwritten rule viewed, not only as “masculine,” but as a threat?

How do you feel about speaking in public? In what ways might your feelings about public speaking be tied to your gender?

“What this country needs is less public speaking and more private thinking.” – Roscoe Drummond

Monday, September 26, 2011

All Boy -- Writer's Poke #321

If gender is socially constructed, then our definition of what it means to be “all boy” is obviously made up. You and I and everyone in society have developed an unspoken definition, and every boy learns what it means to be a boy. Or at least boys do their best to pretend that they know.

Why can’t a boy have a purse? I remember asking my mom for a purse when I was in grade school, and I was old enough to “know better.” My mom told me as much, but then she took me purse shopping. I certainly didn’t want a feminine purse. What I was looking for was something “masculine” in appearance. I figured carrying a purse was little different than lugging around a backpack, and I found a small all-black purse that had a number of compartments – useful for carrying around pens and candy and gum and army men and so on. As soon as mom bought it, however, I knew that I could never use it, and it ended up being forgotten in the back of mom’s closet.

Why can’t a boy’s bicycle have a basket? My cousin’s son recently asked his dad for a basket. My cousin informed him that “only sissies have baskets on their bicycles.” The boy didn’t argue; he simply nodded his head and rode off on his basket-less bike. He never mentioned his desire for a basket again. I’m sure my cousin meant well. He didn’t want his son to be picked on, but there’s nothing wrong with a boy having a basket on his bike. In fact, my dad told me that he and all the boys he knew when he was growing up in the 1940s had baskets on their bikes. What was “all boy” for one generation has now transformed into “only for sissies.” And it goes without saying that sissies aren’t “all boy.”

When I was a kid, we unfortunately used a slur for “sissy” – queer. In fact, one of our favorite games to play during recess was a form of school yard rugby called “Smear the Queer.” I’m not sure what the rules were, exactly. Basically, one boy had the football, and all of the other boys did their best to murder him. And when the boy with the ball was finally gang-tackled, he had to give up the ball by throwing it as far away as he could. Then the entire herd of boys would race to be the first one to the ball. Ironically, each boy wanted to be the next queer. Trust me: the irony was lost of all of us. None of us thought much about being the “queer” with the ball, but the game did prove one’s toughness. We’d play in the mud and in the rocks, and if your shirt got torn up, or if your pants got holes in the knees, those were badges of honor.

Even in high school, the two-tier system continued. “Real boys” played football, and “only girls” played soccer. I had friends on both the football team and the soccer team, but who knows where I fit in at this point, because I played on the chess team. The chess team was a kind of “no man’s land,” although that’s actually not an accurate description, as it would better be described as a “no girls’ land.” Some football players played on the chess team, which broke some of the stereotypes that chess was just for “nerds,” but chess was certainly an “all boy” game, regardless. And in all honesty, when I look back through my memories of grade school and high school, I have little knowledge about where the girls were and how they occupied their time. For the most part, I lived in an isolated all-boy world. That’s not always where I wanted to reside, but I never found the hidden door into the realm of what interested girls. And believe me, I looked. Perhaps I didn’t look hard enough, though. Perhaps I spent more time wondering why girls weren’t interested in the things that I was interested in – professional wrestling, heavy metal, chess, and politics. In my mind, all girls cared about was fashion, and how big they could make their hair. It’s not a fair impression, but it’s the only one I had.

What gender-based memories do you have growing up? Did you enjoy “being” your gender? Do you remember ever thinking about what life was like for the other gender? Did you ever wish that you could do something that “only” the other gender could do?

“Boys are beyond the range of anybody’s sure understanding, at least when they are between the ages of 18 months and 90 years.” – James Thurber