Friday, August 16, 2013

Brawn vs. ?

More about the differences between the sexes.

From Blackfive, Deebow asks if you have to work at being as stupid as Col. Ellen Haring at the Army War College.   Why, yes, you do because you have to defy the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" repeatedly over a period of many years in order to firmly convince yourself that the sun really does rise in the west, that black really is white and that women certainly are just like men if you will only first strip men of the masculine traits which uniquely define them.  That is, once you re-define the world according to your own terms, you can be as far off base as Col. Haring.

In this article by Col. Haring, reported on here,  the colonel gets to the heart of her argument by calling into question what makes a good combat soldier.  Once she's pointed out that decorated hero Audie Murphy was physically unfit --by today's standards-- and that North Vietnamese soldiers are the size of women, she decides there's no reason to "rely on traditional notions of masculine brawn that celebrate strength over other qualities.”  Precisely.  Traditional notions are dangerous for feminists like Haring because tradition relies on the fact that physiological differences in the male body, like testosterone for starters,  account for greater male strength.  If she can define strength, brawn, out of the equation, women can play the game too.  To be sure, the colonel notes that  "Combat specialties, it turns out, are inherently endurance-based occupations. Evidence in hand, they [Canadian Forces] shifted from strength-based standards to endurance-based standards, and far more women began to qualify for combat specialties."  But as pointed out here, though women may qualify, they will likely not endure.   And as noted here  (8th paragraph), even if able to endure, they may not show. Now why in the world would a woman be more likely to have concerns about her family than a man?  Something about being a woman?

As argued elsewhere and in the comments to Haring's article, there is no reason to have women in combat roles other than to satisfy the politically correct, feminist entitlement argument that because they want it they should have it.  As Deebow writes, " . .  no matter how calm, creative, and quick thinking the fairer sex is, there are still less of them that can lift that 81 baseplate and walk it to the top of a mountain carrying a full combat load and their own gear than there are dudes who can do the same." 

But, even more to the point, brawn has a role to play, not just in being a soldier, but in being a man.   It's important not to define out of existence traits that make men manly and women womanly.  In fact, we can't.  Those "Laws of Nature of Nature's God" prevail. Society has a stake in the sexes knowing how they are different and in maintaining standards for traditional male roles vs. traditional female roles.  Will every man fit the stereotype?  Will every woman fit the stereotype?  Of course not, and those who don't will need to find their place but that doesn't mean the standard isn't useful. Along with re-defining soldiering, Colonel Haring might also wish to re-define the law of gravity, but if she chooses for some odd reason to jump from a 10-story building, she will likely find that she still goes down. With a splat.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Today is the feast day of The Saint of Auschwitz, the German priest who voluntarily took the place of a fellow prisoner who was to be put in a starvation cell to die.  Father Maximilian Kolbe was unknown to me until my mother mentioned his name in connection with a trip she'd made to Germany.  I paid little attention at the time, not being a Catholic and knowing little of saints or even priests, especially German ones.   However, one night, after reading to my kids from Bill Bennett's Book of Virtues, I flipped through the book absent-mindedly and happened upon the story of Father Kolbe.

The attempted escape of a prisoner at Auschwitz resulted in the punishment of the others.  Ten people in Father Kolbe's barracks were destined for the punishment, death by starvation, among them a man named Franciszek Gajowniczek who called out that, no, he couldn't be among those condemned, he had a wife and child who depended upon him.  That Gajowniczek, knowing himself to be a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, might have harbored the notion that his role as father and husband would have any bearing on his fate testifies to a certain irrationality of mind on Gajowniczek's part or maybe an incurable optimism of spirit.  Perhaps though it was the human being's unflagging will to live or some combination of all that.   At Gajowniczek's cry, Fr. Kolbe demonstrated another remarkable dimension of the human spirit and announced himself as a Catholic priest who would take Gajowniczek's place.  A sacrifice. Who would ever do such a thing I asked myself.  Answer, a saint.

The account as it's written in Bennett's book (a highly abbreviated version of which is here) mentions the names of the Nazis but identifies Gajowniczek only as the prisoner.  I tried to tell myself that maybe I was reading a fictionalized account of Fr. Kolbe's fate, but no such luck.  A few days later I found an entire website devoted to the man Fr. Kolbe died for.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the website again coming up instead with this .  There's also Wikipedia of course.   Gajowniczek, not a Jew by the way, did survive and was reunited with his wife.  He died in 1995.  

Fr. Kolbe was the last in the starvation cell to die, murdered by a Nazi who administered an injection of carbolic acid.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Captain Petronio On Differences Between The Sexes

Keeping with the theme of the previous post, I revisited this very well-written article on women in combat.  There's no substitute for the article itself, but in a nutshell, Captain Petronio acknowledges that there are women who are physically qualified to meet Marine combat standards, herself included, but she questions the female's endurance ability over long periods of time while also pointing out higher attrition rates for females even during training.  Regarding combat:  
It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. At the end of the 7-month deployment, and the construction of 18 PBs later, I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment. Regardless of my deteriorating physical stature, I was extremely successful during both of my combat tours, serving beside my infantry brethren and gaining the respect of every unit I supported. Regardless, I can say with 100 percent assurance that despite my accomplishments, there is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside as their combat load and constant deployment cycle would leave me facing medical separation long before the option of retirement.
Regarding training:
This said, we need only to review the statistics from our entry-level schools to realize that there is a significant difference in the physical longevity between male and female Marines. At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males.
If life were simple and human beings weren't complex creatures, it might actually be the case that  the only differences between men and women really were just superficial.   But scratch the surface, apply some thought and look a little more closely.  One can fit square pegs into round holes, but there's a cost.  Something gets destroyed in the process. 

Differences Between Boys and Girls - Not What They Seem

Yet,  there's still that list of stereotypical traits that's true.  Impressionistic and anecdotal evidence aside, there are studies that support the differences between the sexes.  Admittedly, I read the Cliff notes version, but what I read does cite what are most likely reputable studies.

This article  discusses boy/girl differences in terms of eight traits:  social skills, spatial skills, toy preference, physicality, aggression, walking, talking and toilet training.  Brushing aside the article's preamble that the differences really aren't that great and ignoring their post-amble advice as to how to neutralize the differences they said didn't exist,  the eight traits are nonetheless  a good starting point.  Oh, and quite similar to those on my list.

Concerning social skills, baby girls show a preference for gazing upon human faces over mobiles while baby boys prefer mobiles, a tendency magnified in adulthood.  A bit more here.

In spatial skills, boys show an early and consistent edge over girls in the ability to visualize how an object will appear when rotated in space. Read more here.   And here. This relates to the boys-are-better-at-math stereotype which is apparently not without foundation. (It may also explain male pre-schoolers' fascination with construction sites and heavy machinery.  I've yet to see a girl of that age who wants to make an outing of going to watch a backhoe.)

Toy choice shows some evidence of innate preferences, beginning age one. 

Physicality is not necessarily any more the province of boys than girls, but I like the paraphrase of the researchers' summation--if there's a child who's more active than others, that child is more likely to be a boy.

Aggression, yes, boys more than girls due to testosterone.  Read about testosterone in the womb. Girls, too, have their ways with aggression, relational aggression.  Read here.

Walking, early or late, is not gender related.  And why would it be.  Humans have to walk.

Talking, yes, girls talk earlier than boys, have a larger vocabulary than boys earlier on, but the inequality evens out with age.  Differences in the proficiency of different areas of the brain and the larger corpus callosum for girls may play a role here.

Toilet training is apparently the domain of girls who train earlier.  This was never my own experience and I find the explanation that girls can sit longer a bit lame.  Also, what does it matter.  All toddlers finally have to toilet train.  It's a fundamental part of socialization.

If you look again at the traits, it's not that males have trait X and women don't.  It's not as if boys are active and women can't run, boys don't talk, but girls do, boys are aggressive, but girls aren't.  In fact, it's pretty much the opposite.   According to this hasty study, there are really only one or two traits that stand out as more the province of one sex than the other and that's the male's greater proficiency in the area of spatial skills and their greater amount of testosterone.  The sexes have the same traits  but manifested differently.

Males and females, boys and girls, men and women, the same yet clearly different and yet not always in the ways that at first we seem to think so obvious. What to make of the conundrum. Cutting to the chase and an abrupt conclusion, this is just a way of directing our attention to John Paul II's Theology of the Body,  and the original unity of male and female, his Mulieris Dignitatem and all his other writings in which he explores the human person, male and female, as being of the same nature, complementary to one another, but distinct from others of God's creating.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Differences Between Boys and Girls - Not What They Seem

I joined an Endow group.  Yes, a Catholic New Feminist type group, but more about that later.  As our group explores what femininity means in Catholic terms, we touch on any number of topics.  Since the basis for our group study is Pope John Paul II's Letter To Women and since he is discussing the uniqueness or "genius" of women, we often end up mulling over those characteristics that distinguish the sexes, one from the other. 

Most recently, we asked the mothers in the group with children of both sexes, myself included,  to reflect on the differences they may have observed when their children were young.  I brainstormed a bit and came up with a few ideas but realized that my list had nothing to do with my own children. My boys are talkers, my daughter is not.  My boys did show a preternatural pull towards footballs, tennis balls and rubber balls, but my daughter showed no interest in either dolls or girly chit-chat. Anyway, I never noticed many sex-related differences when they were young, say before the age of 3.  ( Actually, there's something to that. Read first paragraph here.)

Funny thing is, you don't have to be a parent to know that there's a reason for stereotyping male and female behavior.  Parent or no, anyone who's walked into a roomful of kids, gone on a field trip with a second-grade class or attended a family party where there's a gang of 4-10 year olds will be struck by differences in behavior.  At the family party, the girls will most likely have their heads together jabbering about the color of their dress.  The boys will be jumping from high places.  On the field trip, the girls will hold hands quietly with their partner and listen to the museum guide.  The boys will need reminders to get back in line and look at the exhibits-that's-why-we're-here.  We're speaking now in generalities of course.  This isn't to say that if a good game of hide-and-seek is underway at the family party, the girls won't be just as engaged as the boys.  And there will be those boys on the field trip who are captivated by the museum exhibits.  What gives.

My own list of typically boy traits was the pretty standard one.  Males are physical, doers not talkers, action-oriented not observers. They tend to excel at gross motor, but not fine motor skills.  They are risk takers, adventure seekers and have a greater sense of freedom to do as they wish.  Boys are less given to exploring their feelings and emotions, but if they do so at all, it won't be through hours of talking.  They are bottom line, likely to problem solve and reach a conclusion rather than obsess and discuss.  Girls?  Why, they're the opposite of course.

The only problem is that this list doesn't get you very far. If males are so inept at verbal expression, shouldn't all comedians, politicians,  teachers and therapists be female?  Shouldn't all neuro-surgeons and violinists --fine motor skills--be women?  Yet, real world experience aside, my list of typical boy traits is accurate, and, if today's PC gender-neutral propaganda is taken off the table, my list is widely-held, widely-acknowledged and probably exactly the same as yours.

The list isn't wrong but its interpretation may be.  I'm reminded to consider my women's group New Feminist readings.   The observable differences between the sexes belie our connectedness, our very sameness, our complementarity. Men are really not from Mars nor are women from Venus.  We're cut from the same cloth, fallen from the same tree and, if it weren't for our human pride, we'd probably be able to peacefully co-exist without the persistent need to articulate the differences between us.

More to follow.