Tag Archives: Feminism

After 28 Years, What Should We Keep and What Should We NIX?

Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972. Title IX most famously applies to women’s sports, but in fact the law is much broader than that:

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The U.S. Department of Education gives grants of financial assistance to schools and colleges. The Title IX regulation describes the conduct that violates Title IX. Examples of the types of discrimination that are covered under Title IX include sexual harassment, the failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics, and discrimination based on pregnancy.

On its 28th anniversary today, Title IX continues to elicit controversial opinions with regard to its extension from sports to science. Though extenders’ laudably recommend supporting women in a male-dominated field, the problem with legislative “support” is that it leads to twisted legal realities.

In school sports, Title IX has developed a controversial reputation for its creation of a de facto “quota” system. Just as true supporters of civil rights disdain quotas as racial basis for education, it makes little sense to impose equality on high school students at the expense of their choice.

Title IX supporters promote the legislation as permitting women to enter athletic fields formerly reserved exclusively for men. Dissenters argue that we should not cancel men’s sports if there is no female equivalent — if women are more interested in the arts, for example, it makes more sense to encourage participation there, rather than require young women to match the interests of their Y-chromosomed counterparts in the interest of quota metrics.

Feminism is, after all, about choice. Stated the New York Times in a 2008 article:

The members of Congress and women’s groups who have pushed for science to be “Title Nined” say there is evidence that women face discrimination in certain sciences, but the quality of that evidence is disputed. Critics say there is far better research showing that on average, women’s interest in some fields isn’t the same as men’s.

In this debate, neither side doubts that women can excel in all fields of science. In fact, their growing presence in former male bastions of science is a chief argument against the need for federal intervention.

American law is premised on protecting negative rights. This means that we are “free from” interference with our right to live as we please. If there is some outside force restricting our choice, legally we are entitled to ask for that force’s removal.

Yet if, as the NYT reports, women’s interest is lagging in pursuing scientific careers, there is no infringement. Feminism is about choice, not about forcing women into certain careers simply because there are few women already represented in those fields.

The Times goes on to quote psychologist Susan Pinker:

Now, you might think those preferences would be different if society didn’t discourage girls and women from pursuits like computer science and physics. But if you read “The Sexual Paradox,” Susan Pinker’s book about gender differences, you’ll find just the opposite problem.

Ms. Pinker, a clinical psychologist and columnist for The Globe and Mail in Canada (and sister of Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist), argues that the campaign for gender parity infantilizes women by assuming they don’t know what they want.

Women know what we want. Feminism is about feeling empowered to achieve whatever it is that we want. Feminism is not about imposing some mandated quota across fields, be they professional or athletic.



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Girl Scouts and Entrepreneurship

Girl Scout cookies, arguably the most delicious American delight, represent an equally delightful history of feminism.

Just a few years after the Girl Scouts tradition launched, troops began selling cookies to finance their endeavor. In 1922 the official Scouts magazine, The American Girl, published a recipe. Girls baked their own wares, and sales followed the girls who baked the best cookies.

During the butter and sugar rationing that came with World War II, young women sold calendars instead of cookies to keep their troops alive. Thus began a tradition of entrepreneurship, rather than baking expertise. When the War ended, cookies returned. In 1948, 29 American bakeries provided cookies for Scouts to sell.

Every year Girl Scouts find new methods and venues for selling their cookies. In the 1950’s the rise of the suburbs meant that girls resorted to hawking cookies in malls rather than knocking on neighbors’ doors. Thus the evolution of Girl Scout traditions traces not only social evolution, but also changing cultural mores. Through learning subtle changes in social norms, Scouting prepares girls to become adults sensitive to what society expects and, indeed, what the neighbors will buy.

Similarly the 1970’s proved another decade full of lessons for young women. With the rise of government intervention came Scouts’ understanding of economic strategy. In the late 70’s the Scouts limited bakeries licensed to bake Girl Scout cookies to only four. The Scouts’ rationale for this business decision was to “ensure lower prices and uniform quality, packaging, and distribution.”

In the 1990’s the Girl Scouts again honed the business end of their enterprise, focusing even further on saleswomanship rather than niceties, by cutting the number of licensed distributors again, this time to only two. Cookie varieties swelled to eight, including new low-fat and sugar-free options to reflect the tastes of the times.

This year Girl Scouts responded to recession sensibilities by shrinking box sizes on three cookie varieties. In these tough economic times, the thinking goes, Americans hardly need the extra centimeter of cookie goodness Scouts permitted in a more expansive era.

Indeed, economics lessons are only part of the benefit to salesmanship through cookie lore: cookie sales also expose American Girls to marketing and a debate that would pass them by were it not for the Do-Si-Do culture. This year Girl Scouts discover the Internet Age and negotiation with the growing intervention of Big Scouts.

When Girl Scouts attempted to sell cookies via YouTube, Girl Scouts headquarters cracked the whip on internet sales, while permitting “marketing” online unrelated to individualized sales. On its website, Girl Scouts formally bans Internet sales because “[t]he safety of our girls is always our chief concern.” Also, “Girl Scout Cookie activities are designed to be face-to-face learning experiences for the girls.”

Headquarters preserves the notion that girls should have to approach and learn to get along with neighbors in order to sell cookies. Disparaging Internet interaction makes sense for a group responsible for the well-being of very young women, while protecting them from evolving mores can only last so long.

Girl Scout cookie sales have long traced social development and, indeed, provide a microcosmic illustration for evolving feminism itself. This year while enjoying your frozen Thin Mints — the undisputed Queen of cookies — thank the Girl Scouts for teaching young women about entrepreneurship and social grace. Most of all, thank goodness that the evolving sense of womanhood allows young ladies to learn both social skills and salesmanship, all while promoting an annual learning tradition American cookie monsters have grown to love.


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Liberation Means Choice, Not Interference

Mired in a deepening recession, it’s unclear whether or not Congress wants to help women in the job market. Conflicting policies emerged this week; both ostensibly crafted to help women in the workplace, but both falling short.

On Friday the Labor Department announced that it would “crack down” on unpaid internships. This policy ignores strong evidence that jobseekers and employers alike benefit from an enormous market of young people eager to get their foot in the door with or without salary:

The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” said Nancy J. Leppink, the acting director of the department’s wage and hour division.

But what about Jane Smith attending a state school, who needs an edge over an Ivy League graduate with connections?  Unpaid internships are a great way to enter the work force. Even when an employer cannot afford to pay eager employees, young adults have long sought unpaid positions for the experience, contacts, and prestige that makes the job worthwhile.

Indeed legislature-imposed wage floors inevitably destroy natural markets and make it that much harder for fringe folks to find jobs. Absent wage minimums, young people know that working in an unpaid position will soon pay off. When employers cannot hire at the lowest margin, young jobseekers find themselves out of luck, priced out of the market.

Pricing interns out of the market proves especially salient for women, who make up 76% of the internship pool nationwide, according to the American Psychological Association. When opportunities evaporate for would-be unpaid interns, women will be the hardest hit.

Woman-targeted price floors are not only a problem for the college crowd this week. In fact, Congress has decided that the jobs women statistically prefer are not good enough for us either.

HR 4830, the Women and Workforce Investment for Nontraditional Jobs (Women WIN Jobs) Act, targets women in positions they “traditionally” choose:

Today women represent half of our nation’s workforce, but two-thirds of working women are concentrated in only 5% of occupational categories, most of which are among the lowest paid occupations, except for teaching and nursing. Nontraditional jobs—those in which women comprise 25% or less of employees—pay 20-30% more than traditionally female jobs, but only 6.2% of women are employed in these occupations.

Once again this is a lovely sentiment, but lawmakers have not yet made clear how this bill will work. Unsurprisingly, funneling women from the jobs they choose to the jobs Congress wants them to have will include recruitment and a subsidy:

To address this gender inequity, the Women WIN Jobs Act will help recruit, prepare, place and retain women in high-demand, high-wage nontraditional jobs. Through a new federal grant program that will support innovative partnerships in each and every state, this bill will enable women to become self-sufficient and earn more while simultaneously boosting our nation’s economy. Despite the recession, employers in several industries are facing severe shortages of skilled workers to fill the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs of the future – from information technology and the building trades, to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

So “despite the recession” Congress intends to help women climb the corporate ladder. But the recession has taught us that whatever women are doing — taking those traditional jobs — was the right move.

In fact, throughout the recession women’s wages have risen nearly twice as much as men’s. Similarly, only 8.4% of women found themselves unemployed during the recession, while unemployment among men settled at 11%, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Young and established women alike have come to the workplace in the way we’ve wanted to come. We’ve chosen unpaid internships when they offer a strategic advantage, and we’ve taken “traditional” jobs. This has served us well across both the wage and unemployment spectrum.

For Congress to interfere with what’s worked for women — indeed, for Congress to impose mores that women have rejected in favor of methods that work better for us — undermines a formula that has served women well as the economy falters.

Congress means well, but women have proven we do not need paternalism to pave the way. We’ve paved it. Liberation and choice require constant tinkering. Yet the liberated choices women make have proven effective.

Trust in Congress but lock your sights, ladies. Decide what you want and go for it. It’s a career choice that works.

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Feminism and Inverse Evolution

To anyone who didn’t grow up in a comically-traditional household (did your Italian parents spank you w/ a wooden spoon?), word on the street is that men want a chase, while women need possession.  Also, ladies?  No one will buy the cow if you give away milk for free.

In some ways gender roles are set deeper than culture.  It’s not of habit that men hunt while women gather; men are physically more capable of throwing a spear and chasing game.  Women, with our vision more attuned to detail, with our ability to scatter focus, should spend our time collecting foods that don’t fight back or flee.

Feminism turns that instinct on its head.  As a community evolves we tend to lose our single-minded drive for efficiency, and begin delving into innovation.  It doesn’t matter that males traditionally hunt mastodons better; perhaps if some women join the hunt we’ll revolutionize the method.

Indeed, as a community evolves its members demand ever-higher needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.  Where 200 years ago it was enough to feel protected from the elements, now we want equal pay for equal work.

This par-raising instinct — like the drive to venture into art, to divide into social castes, etc. — represents a sort of cultural apex.  Here individuals have the best opportunity to experiment as individuals.  But abandoning efficiency as primary social drive arguably becomes a sort of harbinger for a community’s first move towards decline.

Three blog posts this week explored the sort of boundaries to this “inverse evolution” theory:

Remember that “go ahead and settle” article The Atlantic published last year?  Julia Baird rails back in Newsweek:

“I know this is an unpopular thing to say,” [Gottlieb, author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough“] writes, “but feminism has completely f–ked up my love life.” Um, I know why it’s unpopular: because it’s completely unfair. Feminism is a centuries-old social movement, not a self-help book—we can’t blame it for bad decisions we make about men. The problem, as Gottlieb sees it, is that women were told they could have it all, which meant not compromising in any aspect of life, including dating (which is odd because people who can’t compromise aren’t feminists, they are just generally unpleasant people). Then women got so fussy that they “empowered themselves out of a mate.”

Baird does not go so far as to argue that feminism has helped daters (not like Christine Whelan’s “Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women”).  But she defends feminism from accusations that deviating from traditional mores make traditional relationship models impossible.  Our parents’ generation taught us how to date, after all, and when we start rejecting some of their values it’s hard to know where to stop.

So feminism, while unnatural, doesn’t hurt potential partnerships.  From that defensive baseline, today’s blogosphere offers perspective on how beauty differentials affect an established relationship:

[I]n contrast to the importance of matched attractiveness to new relationships, similarity in attractiveness was unrelated to spouses’ satisfaction and behavior. Instead, the relative difference between partners’ levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behavior, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives.

Doesn’t this remind you of that advice from my Italian father, that men prefer the chase?  When wives are more attractive — more desirable to their spouse as well as to other people — everyone is happier.  On its face this suggests that men are in fact happier when there remains an element of competition in their established relationship.

On the flip side, perhaps women simply need more physical reassurance than men.  Three years in a sorority house taught me a lot about feminine insecurity.  More attractive women need perhaps more active reassurance re their sustained beauty than the average gal.

Remember that classic Craigslist ad comparing the declining and appreciating aspects of men and women’s respective assets?  Women know men are visual, competitive creatures.  The “traditional” — as opposed to feminist, or “inverse” — urge suggests that wanna-be-wives focus on the parts that mates appreciate, while abandoning what might evoke more competition than warmth.

Another “inverse evolution” parallel might suggest that even banal urges may not come from potential mates at all.  Future breeders have to look wayyyy down the line to where they will be ready to settle down.  Today’s competition has less to do with landing a mate right now and more to do with fitting in with a girlie clique, avoiding the mean girls, etc.

Finally, Newsweek also published a “nature v. nurture” approach to Elizabeth Edwards’s plight:

If Elizabeth Edwards were behaving as evolutionary psychology says she should, she would not be separating from her philandering husband, former senator John Edwards. He, after all, merely slept with the help; he never pulled a Mark Sanford, who called his mistress his “soulmate.” Women are supposed to find only emotional betrayal upsetting; they’re not supposed to care if their mate shtups anything in a skirt (Elin Woods is therefore conforming to the stereotype of women being forgiving of sexual but not emotional infidelity if she, as reported, stays with Tiger; the very fact that his mistresses numbered in double digits suggests there wasn’t exactly a deep emotional commitment there).
Of all the ways men are from Mars and women from Venus, this supposed sex difference in jealousy is one of the most amusing. But an intriguing new study suggests that the gender gap in jealousy may be the result of something that is not at all hard-wired: the different ways boys and girls are raised.

Genetically it makes sense that respective genders react the way we do:

[I]f a woman sleeps around, then her partner might (unknowingly) be deprived of her reproductive services for at least nine months, and could wind up raising another man’s child—both of which hurt his own chances of reproducing, which is the currency of evolutionary success.  A man should therefore become much more upset by his partner’s sexual infidelity than by her emotional infidelity (developing a crush, for instance, but not acting on it).

In contrast, if a man falls in love with another woman, he might abandon his wife and children, putting them at risk, but meaningless extramarital sex is unlikely to lead to such a drastic outcome. A woman should therefore care more about her partner’s emotional infidelity than his casual hookups.

So approaching this from the “nature” (genetic hardwiring) point of view — the traditional perspective — politicians’ wives are doing what’s best to protect their investments.  Jenny Sanford should be more angry than Hillary Clinton.  Does a deviation from nature to nurture change anything?

Well, there’s pride.  Helpless women of yore would have found better incentives to forgive and forget, bc the alternative would have been devastating.  Today women crowd tomorrow’s trophy husbands out of graduate school.  Our rejection of traditional roles provides indignant leverage to reject old caveats attached to outdated mores.

Which begs the question: Has marriage followed mores down this inverse path?

Perhaps it’s because gender roles have evolved in a more inverse — or merely quicker — way than community’s relationship formulation (i.e., marriage, domestic partnerships, but certainly formalized) that so many couples diverge again from tradition.  Or perhaps one rship-member’s helplessness was a critical element after all in the formulation traditionalists know and love.

Formalization helps everyone though.  Formalizing forever-ship protects against the perils of balding and late-onset unattractiveness.  It ensures childrearing help.  And, if nothing else in this modern world, it tamps the spread of disease.

As usual everything comes down to pragmatism.  If you would like to participate in traditional roles — including parenthood — then traditional models work.

They may well be “caveman” instincts.  But it’s pointless to deny the community benefits that accompany the traditional model.  Instead, postpone the social apex and accompanying inevitable decline.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re moving forward or backwards; why reject nature for nurture at the expense of comfort?

It may prove satisfying to intellectualize the whole enterprise, but when it comes down to it everyone benefits from the same perks that benefited our grandparents.


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Examples of Coercion

In my first year of law school as a writing exercise we had to analyze “coercion.”  At what point do the conditions presented become so slanted as to render one party helpless to make a choice?

It’s a little paternalistic to assume that conditions could deprive someone of choice.  We’re all subject to the same underlying facts, the same desires, etc.  If one party is more susceptible to pressure than another, whose problem should that be?

Lately for some reason I keep seeing examples of debatable public “coercion.”  A lot of it is my trawling the internets for femme topics, stuff that speaks more directly to women.  But even a lot of feminism, I’ve said before, is somewhat a solipsistic response to imaginedly-coercive conditions.

With disclaimers that I’ve no firm position on which of these are coercive and which not, here are some examples:

Kate Harding’s “fantasy of being thin” reminds me of our sort of paternalistic fear of fat.  Is the push for calorie labels really just a response to coercive market conditions?  Or is it a real health initiative?  Is the “thin culture” coercive?

These Dove ads speak for themselves: Beauty is subjective.  When I was much younger I remember reading that beauty has a lot to do with proportionality — eyes:cheeks ratio, etc.  How much (intellectual) control do we have over our conclusions w/ re to beauty?

And finally, Burqa Barbie.  Barbie has in some ways (on a small scale) represented in the US what the Burqa represents abroad. As long as women make choices — to wear a Burqa or heels or get plastic surgery — it’s not for other women to judge.

When the message “you are imperfect” becomes so pervasive as to undermine women’s ability to choose, then we should stop permitting — or, indeed, requiring — messages that continue to reinforce that coercive message that really hurts women.

I’m so ignorant about Hijab feminism, but the whole “coercion” question is really interesting–see a great video here (WordPress, why are you so coquettish about embedding?!).

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Sexist Newsweek Cover Inspires Frum’s Latest Opinion: “She Asked for It!”

And now, an entirely new argument for sexism: She asked for it! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Sarah Palin complains that her Newsweek cover is sexist. The magazine borrowed a photo from Palin’s Runner’s World interview last year, showing the fit governor in running shorts next to the question: How do you solve a problem like Sarah? Journalist David Frum scorns Palin’s complaints, claiming that “she brought it on herself.”


Where have we heard this one before?

For such a smart guy this is a remarkably tired argument. This smacks of all the flaccid-minded men who have long attempted to control women by demeaning them, justifying their actions because “she asked for it.”

This has nothing to do with Palin’s politics. This has everything to do with an old-fashioned Salem-style witch trial. Frum’s claim that Palin “brought it on herself” attempts to pigeonhole the governor into a prefabricated conception of women that comes from Frum – not Palin.

Frum told The News Hour with Jim Lehrer Nov. 18 that “[Palin] is a woman who has got into a position of leadership by sending very powerful sexual signals. And we see that in the way that men like her much more than women do.”

Or perhaps men like Palin much more than women do because she is a Republican. Men tend to lean right at the polls, while women lean left. Perhaps the gender disparity in Palin’s fan base comes from her politics, not her person.

Frum wants to inject Palin’s public persona with a Salem witch trial mentality. She must be a witch, your honor; she came to seduce me in my dreams! But the only “powerful sex signals” Palin sends come from the base fact that she’s a woman. Once, last year, she showed a little toe cleavage. But really, David, what would an attractive woman have to wear that could spare you from discomfort?

Society has long understood that insecure people impose those insecurities on the people around them. Folks eager to be perceived as the smartest person in the room treat every conversation like a competition, talking over their colleagues and only about themselves.


Similarly, insecure men have long objectified the women around them. You need only look to how Rodrigo and Iago, and finally Othello, objectify Desdemona in Othello to see how deep this particular vein runs. Perhaps a more modern man than Othello should be able to engage with an authoritative woman without determinedly reducing her in his mind to one of those laughably-outdated sexist paradigms long after women shed those old pigeonholed roles.

It does not take a feminist to be offended by such intellectual laziness. Frum’s claim that Palin has forced sexuality on us reflects his own uncreative “scholarship”. This cheap attack is the punditry equivalent of a schoolboy dipping a compatriette’s pigtail in ink. It’s unnecessary. It’s weak.

It wasn’t Palin who sent “sex signals,” in the form of fit thighs on the cover of Newsweek – it was the magazine. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino notes that Newsweek’s decision to run this revealing cover without Palin’s permission was “worse than sexist”:

I think it is demeaning and degrading and Newsweek knew exactly what it was doing. They made sexuality a part of her performance. And this is something that if it had happened to someone on the left, the feminist organizations would be screaming about.

This is not a question of sexism versus feminism. This is a small-minded ad hominem attack by a man made uncomfortable by Palin’s femininity.

Says Perino:

There is a special burden for women in politics. And we saw that even for Hillary Clinton. And especially if you’re an attractive woman and a conservative woman, then that burden is even greater. But the great thing for Sarah Palin is she’s having a wonderful book tour, she’s done some great interviews. She’s going to tour the country.

This has nothing to do with politics. Women should not have to wear ugly clothes because attractive suits make men like David Frum blush. Old-school misogyny stems from insecurity and will thrive in a community that does not rebuke Frum for comments like this.

Lashing out at Sarah Palin because she dared to leave the house with her face uncovered is outdated and inappropriate. Of course, if Frum would feel more comfortable around women to whom he is not attracted, that remains entirely his prerogative.

At The New Agenda.

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Nature and Nurture

This week it’s all about Nature Versus Nurture

First we saw this evidence that women on the Pill — a big dose of estrogen — find themselves attracted to men that would not be as attractive without that hormonal push. Not only does the Pill quell the natural ebb and flow of a woman’s monthly mentality; it actually inhibits women’s ability to interpret male pheromones.

This effect gets magnified by the fact that courtship is all about the combination of pheromones — “chemistry” — and behavioral cues. Women naturally experience an emotional and mental shift throughout the course of the month. When women quash that hormonal flux with a stabilizing hormone super-dose we lose the peaks and troughs.

Unlike their sisters in the animal kingdom, human females don’t openly advertise their ovulation. But even without a human version of the baboon’s bright pink behind, signs of fertility sneak out, according to several studies. Subconsciously, women dress more provocatively and men find them prettier when it’s prime time for conception. And a report from the University of New Mexico demonstrates that the cyclic signs have economic consequences.

Psychologist Geoffrey Miller and colleagues tapped the talent at local gentlemen’s clubs and counted tips made on lap dances. Dancers made about $70 an hour during their peak period of fertility, versus about $35 while menstruating and $50 in between.

Women on the pill averaged $37 (and had no performance peak) versus $53 for women off-pill. The contraceptive produces hormonal cues indicating early pregnancy, not an enticing target for a would-be suitor. Birth control could lead to many thousands of dollars lost every year.

Libby suggests we “consider the pill’s trade-offs: Sure, you can have sex pretty much whenever you want, but you’re seemingly less likely to be in the mood, less able to capture male attention, and when you do finally hook up, it’s with a guy you probably don’t even like!”

The second hormone news this week concerns testosterone. Booth b-school at UChicago provides hard evidence both that testosterone levels directly govern relationships to risk and that that governance comes as a function of thresholds. Self-selecting students who come to Booth’s monolithic investment bank-focused program end up leaving in two groups: most men go into investment banking, while just over a third of women enter the same field.

Someone with a testosterone level of 150 will not be more risk-seeking than someone w/ a level of 140, but both will be infinitely more likely to take a high-pay, high-risk position than someone w/ testosterone at under 100. This binary “threshold” function contributes hugely to the idea that men and women simply seek different exposures to risk.

If most women come under a threshold that most men exceed then obviously the risk-seeking behavior of the two groups will fall into statistically-significant differential groups. I don’t blame women for not chasing the hedge fund lifestyle, but I do wonder how many women sought a highly “competitive” program and then  became frustrated at themselves for deciding midway through that they are more risk averse than they thought.  This decision is not unique to women, but the statistics suggest that women decide against the risks more than twice as often as do men.

dali girl windowTaking artificial hormones masks people’s ability to get an objective grip on what we’re feeling. Important here to note that it’s not just women who go through monthly cycles, or who struggle against risk-averse instincts at work; studies suggest that actually men are more prone to cyclic mood shifts than are women, but because the shifts are not physical men are less inclined to notice or track these moods.  And ask any man in this economy whether he’d trade part of his salary for job security and it’s quickly obvious that we all find ourselves on some deck of this same boat.

Knowing that a given bandwagon carries certain hormonal implications, we should provide for these shifts. If we’re not on the Pill, we should realize that we’ll be quicker to temper that last day, and accordingly treat ourselves to deep breaths. If on the Pill, we should realize that we’ll likely find ourselves drawn differently to certain male traits, and experiment with dosages before committing to a man we may well find less attractive when we enter that baby-making window.

Similarly, if we’re in a drag race program where only the most risk-friendly survive, we should consider how much we really enjoy risk, and whether we’d be happier at, say, Harvard, an equally prestigious but more leadership-oriented, less bank-focused (and therefore less risk-dependent) program.

What bothers me about the way these studies are presented and advertised is the underlying familiar assumption that women are helpless to resist. Yes, the nature of hormones blinds us to their effects on our bodies. But women in this year 2009 are sophisticated actors with all of this knowledge under our belts. Perhaps I find my eyes welling up at Hallmark commercials (or, more appropriately, media re politics and the economy) during a given week, but I’m aware enough of the science behind it that I’m not overwhelmed. I don’t blame my body. It’s simply not about being one sex or another, but rather about the choices we make within those physical bounds.

I’m not sure that we do properly compensate for the effects we should be sophisticated enough to anticipate.  With regards to the estrogen studies, I suggested last week that perhaps this “estrogen effect” has contributed to our growing divorce rate. It makes sense that with rising Pill use, prevalent, temporary birth control that stops at marriage and influences attraction would lead to widespread divorce.

Add to that the statistical evidence that it’s women who initiate most splits, and it seems that the link between widespread Pill use at courtship age and rising divorce rates is not as tenuous as we’d like to think.  Even if we should by now be in a position to anticipate changes over time, we are not acting to create the appropriate cushions to ease those anticipated blows as they come.

This is mostly interesting from an academic perspective. But for women I’d draw the same conclusion I always draw: Pay attention to the factors. Be sophisticated about decisions. And enter every relationship — as much with hormones and significant others as with higher education — with an understanding of who you are and what you want.

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