Antiquated Ideas

December 16, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Who’s afraid of Virgina Woolf? The answer seems to be: men.

MessyNessyChic (here) has posted some anti-women’s-suffrage posters from the 1890s and early 1900s.* The common theme is fear – fear that allowing women to vote will destroy masculinity.

The anti-suffrage logic rests on the assumption that voting is masculine. Therefore women who want to vote are masculine, and men who would allow women to vote are feminine. If women get the vote, it’s the end of masculinity as we know it. Gender roles will not just be more similar, they will be reversed.

This masculinity must be very fragile. It cannot survive unless the game is rigged so that men start with all the high cards – economic, social, political, and legal. Anything resembling a fair deal, and masculinity shrivels. Of course today, nearly a century after the Nineteenth Amendment, men’s anxiety about equality is hard to find. Or is it? 

I live in a politically liberal district, Manhattan’s Upper Left Side, but the other day, I found this message chalked on the sidewalk outside an Irish bar.

If you really want to see the revival of the fears animating those anti-suffragette posters, wait till Hillary Clinton gets the nomination in 2016, and watch for the reaction on the right.  Republicans seem to infuse many political questions with masculinity-anxiety. In 2009, when Obama ordered the CIA to stop using torture, conservatives argued that he was “emasculating” the CIA. Yes, that’s the word they used. (See my post from September, 2009, here.) Some ideas and anxieties are just timeless.

* The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, more than a half-century after the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed all races the right to vote.

Preaching to the Working Class

December 16, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Can’t these conservatives agree on what’s wrong with liberals?

It was only a couple of years ago that Charles Murray was berating successful, upper-middle class liberals for not preaching to the White working class. They had gotten good educations, worked steadily at their jobs, and stayed married. But they didn’t try to inculcate these virtues in others. They didn’t even know those others or their culture.  The well-off liberals were keeping poorer Whites in the dark about how to be successful.

Now comes Ross Douthat saying that liberals are in fact preaching to the working class to follow their ways. The trouble, as Douthat sees it, is that those ways are not good.

In his Sunday column, Douthat considers “arguments about how policy might improve the fortunes of the unemployed and the working class.” He refers specifically to the idea of working class people imitating the lifestyles of the educated and prosperous.

Many optimistic liberals believe not only that such imitation is possible, but that what needs to be imitated most are the most socially progressive elements of the new upper class’s way of life: delayed marriage preceded by romantic experimentation, more-interchangeable roles for men and women in breadwinning and child rearing, a more emotionally open and egalitarian approach to marriage and parenting.

Have “many liberals” really made this argument? Back in July, I myself was Douthat’s designated “many liberals” (see Douthat’s blog here ), yet I have never said anything like this. Some liberals have argued that working class marriages would be less brittle if husbands and wives were less rigid about gender roles.* But as far as I know, liberals do not see this as the roadmap to prosperity. If you know of any (or many) liberals who make this claim, please let me know.

Douthat and fellow conservatives like Brad Wilcox, who Douthat cites favorably, do see a link between marriage patterns and income.  And these intellectuals have no problem preaching to the working class about how to get richer, and the sermon is fairly short: marriage and religion. “Oh my working class brethren, they say,  imitate us upper-middle class conservatives. Get married, stay married, and go to church. If you do that, prosperity is just around the corner.”  As Robert Rector, the Heritage Foundation’s chief poverty guy put it, “Being raised in a married family reduced child’s probability of living in poverty by about 82 percent.” (An earlier post about this deliberate scrambling of cause and effect is here.)

Basically, what these conservatives (Douthat, Wilcox, Regnerus,** et. al.) don’t like is sex, or rather sexuality. When Douthat refers to “romantic experimentation” in the quote above, you can almost see him biting his tongue, restraining the impulse to use some more vivid and morally loaded term. Since sexuality is bad, it must have all sorts of bad consequences. That’s the assumption underneath the preaching by the columnists and politicians; the same evil-causes-evil assumption motivates the research by conservative social scientists. Their sound-bite for the news or their abstract for the journal is this: Unless sexuality is tightly wrapped in marriage, it’s bad for society and bad for individuals.

Maybe, but I have serious doubts as to its connection with economic success. As I said (and graphed) in that earlier post, for the last 40 years, marriage rates have been falling and out-of-wedlock childbirth has been rising. But these changes in the family show little connection to changes in the rate of poverty.

So if it’s not the decline of marriage that’s eroding the incomes of the working class, what is it? As one of our more successful working-class-to-upper class exemplars put it (perhaps also an exemplar in “romantic experimentation”): it’s the economy, stupid.

* Stephanie Coontz, I think, makes this argument (HT: Philip Cohen, who knows the literature on marriage far better than I do.)

** Regnerus, you may recall, was the principal researcher in the study that purported to show that children of gay parents have far more problems than do the children of straight parents.

To Wit, I Was a Total Dick

December 11, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes, somebody gets the apology thing right (see this previous post on how not to apologize) even if they do use the phrase “to wit.”

Ben Edelman is the Harvard Business School professor whose e-mail exchanges about being overcharged $4 for Chinese food went viral. Technically, Edelman was in the right. Sichuan Garden charged him their current prices rather than the prices Edelman saw in their online menu when he ordered.

But Edelman acted like a total dick. To wit, like a lawyer instead of a person.  (He has a law degree from Harvard. In fact, he has several degrees from Harvard – further support for the multiple-intelligences idea. On a public relations IQ test, Edelman would score a couple of standard deviations below the mean.)

 The Sichuan Garden owner, Ran Duan, responding in grammatically challenged English, offers to refund $3.  Edelman cites Massachusetts statues verbatim and adds in pure lawyerese.

It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred. To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order. . . . You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date and that customers would see it and rely on it. ran the story with the e-mails.* It got picked up all over the Internet, and now two days later, Edelman has apologized. He doesn’t say it as bluntly as the title of this post. But to his credit, he doesn’t try to justify or explain.

Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline. Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well

Many of the comments at (here) are unforgiving. Haters gonna hate. But at least Edelman had the good sense not to given them more ammo by defending himself.

And now, I am imagining a table of lawyers lunching in Chinatown. “I’d like something spicy,” one says to the waiter, “to wit, the Kung Pao chicken.”

*The original story, with the e-mails, appeared at (here). Unfortunately, the last time I looked, the e-mails did not load. Too bad. The Edelman v. Duan difference in prose style makes for great reading.

Another Bungled Apology

December 1, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ever since Karen Cerulo’s talk at our AKD honors society event last spring, I’ve become more aware of apologies. The take-away from her research (with Janet Ruane) seems to be this: Don’t explain, don’t elaborate, and for God’s sake, don’t try to justify or get people to understand. Say that you made a mistake, you did something wrong, you’re sorry, and shut up.

It seems obvious, but today brings us Elizabeth Lauten’s fifteen minutes of unfortunate fame.

Lauten a staffer for a Republican congressman, posted something on Facebook criticizing the demeanor of the Obama daughters at the White House turkey pardoning. Soon, that post was tweeted and retweeted around social media sites, and within a few hours, Lauten posted an apology. It didn’t help. Today she resigned.

Here is Lauten’s Facebook post.

Telling the First Daughters to show a little class and then telling them that their parents don’t respect their positions or the US – you can see how this might not play well with the general public.  So Lauten apologized:

After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were. Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart.

This is wrong in so many ways. First, it’s not believable. Did it really take “hours of prayer” and the rest for her to figure out that what she had written was really nasty? Do we believe that she did not see that when she wrote the post?

Second, she’s saying that she didn’t mean those judgments that she put in the post. Her heart wasn’t in it. But if not, then why post it?

Third, she tries to call attention to her own virtue: Look at me – I pray, I turn to my parents (who by implication are better role models and more respectful of the US than are your parents, Sasha and Malia).

Fourth, the prayer-and-parents line wasn’t directed at the Obama girls at all. It was intended for the “family values” audience that Lauten sees as the constituency for her boss (Stephen Fincher, R-TN) and herself.  But that’s the problem in the first place. My guess is that Lauten has been living in a reddest-state world where everyone takes for granted that Obama is the anti-American tyrant, the destroyer of the Constitution, and probably Muslim, foreign-born, and gay.  So no slur is too outrageous.

Outside of that hard core, using the children as a vehicle for vilifying the parents seems too much like a divorced parent saying nasty things to the kids about her ex. Even within the hard-core right, and even when the target is Obama, there might not be much support for trying to poison a daughter’s relation with her father.