Sunday, March 04, 2007


Passive-Aggressive Behavior and the Awesome Power of the Clenis

Hearing the dating woes of a friend of mine and noting how much they resembled my own dating woes in my single days, I was thinking about the residues of sexism in our society and how sexist patterns of socialization really mess up both men and women. In particular, even as much as, all other things being equal, most of us men would prefer a non-passive/aggressive woman (most of us prefer assertive women, a few jerks prefer passive ones), most of us are willing to put up with a high degree passive-aggressiveness from women (and some men dig it -- these are the men who like to play games, so when their girlfriends are complaining that their boyfriends are always playing computer games, it takes a lot of willpower to resist snarking: "if he didn't like playing games, he wouldn't even be your boyfriend"). On the other hand, passive-aggressiveness in a man is something away from which almost all women I know run: and who can blame them?

Still, there is a double standard here. And it hurts women, perhaps even more than men. A passive-aggressive guy might not get as many dates because he's a real "Nice Guy" (TM) and "I like him, but not in that way", but us passive-aggressive guys are socialized, as much as humanly possible, out of our passive-aggressive tendencies, mainly via athletics which are thrust on boys in a way that even the most athletically talented and experienced girls of my generation simply did not experience. Indeed, I wonder how much of the "when a man is assertive, he's at worst labeled 'pushy' but when a woman is assertive, she's called a 'bitch'" double standard simply arises from the fact that, from a very young age, boys socialized out of any passive-aggressive tendencies we have (and whatever remain by adulthood, we have to eliminate real fast if we want to have any sort of romantic relationship), whereas from early child-hood to the dating world, females get molly-coddled and sometimes even encouraged to be passive-aggressive. And when a passive-aggressive tries to be assertive, the inevitable result, without training and socialization is, indeed bitchiness.

The interesting thing is that you don't see the kids today having the same double standards of behavior that kids did in my day or even that the kids who were my students when I was a TA in grad school had. The difference indeed largely seems to be due to the greater ubiquity of women's sports (in the, hopefully very near, future, when the glass ceiling finally shatters, it will be due, more than anything to Title IX athletics and the culture it has bred, which might explain the reaction against it), but something else seems to be in play.

Which reminds me of something I've long thought about: as much as we liberals might accurately criticize Clinton as being not at all a liberal, the Clinton era really did bring forth great (if alas maybe temporary) changes in our society. I first noted this at the time -- during the O.J. Simpson case. If the case were to have happened 5 years earlier, there would have been a lot of quiet chatter about Marcia Clark and Robert Shapiro both being Jewish with a strongly implied note that the whole thing was just a bunch of trouble, which might lead to another "Rodney King riot" being stirred up by us Jews. But you really didn't hear that: you heard about the Jewish origins of the attorneys involved and even some fear mongering about another riot, but nobody seemed to be talking in particularly conspiratorial tones about "the Jews". Similarly, during the Clinton sex-scandals, Lewinsky's (partial) religious heritage did not lead, outside of the far right, to talk of Jewish conspiracies, even in subtle tones, in the media (which was happy to talk of any conspiracy which would make Clinton look bad), but rather to jokes about the Clinton scandal leading to a reduction in intermarriage as Jewish boys realize that they didn't have to marry a shiksa in order to get oral sex.

In general, during the Clinton administration, I felt we Jews went from being outsiders to being real Americans. As some would describe it, we Jews (even those of us of non-European ancestry?) became "white". Perhaps I felt a change was happening, because these years corresponded with a change in my own life: leaving a high school overran with fundamentalist Christians and going off to college. But I think what happened wasn't just a change in scenery for me (after all, I went to school in a rather socially conservative, working class state school, still within Orange County, which, alas, is nothing like the T.V. show), but a general change in social attitudes. Some would attribute this change in attitudes toward the Jews to the right-wing's discovery of Zionism, but I think the change was even more general than that.

At the beginning of the Clinton era, the culture wars were coming to a head: even nominal liberals were worried about "political correctness run amuck" and the "debasing of culture". By the end of the Clinton era even religious conservatives were digging South Park. In the Clinton era, while the excesses of liberalism had waned under the influence of a more moderate liberal body politic (to the extent that those excesses actually existed and were not strawmen of the right, not to mention, given the PC-enforcement of the Horowitz crowd, examples of projection), the liberals won the culture wars.

This victory explains something: many liberals are puzzled by the conservative animosity toward Clinton given how moderate Clinton actually was. Many of us have attributed this animosity toward jealousy: Clinton took away the Republican's fire by being a better Republican president than any of the Republicans could have been. But perhaps the conservatives are really mad at Clinton, because during the Clinton years, they lost! Perhaps if we liberals would stop worrying about loosing the social conservatives (who, if they are voting in good faith, will largely vote for us so long as we become bona-fide economic liberals, instead of appearing as promoting a liberalism, of over-priced lattes and expensive organic food*, that the working class cannot afford -- and if they won't vote for us if we make a good faith effort to be for the rights of Joe and Jane Sixpack as well as for "the rights of icky people to do icky things", then we don't want their votes anyway!) and realize that we won, maybe we could win again?

* another thing we liberals need to realize, e.g. in the Al Gore flap, is that the conservatives are not attack Al Gore for being a bad liberal, but for not being a conservative's strawman of a liberal. If Al Gore is seen as having done too much wrong by us liberals for not being quite a paragon of virtue (and for all of their antipathy toward politicians, the right seems to think that politicians should and can be paragons of virture -- paging Dr. Freud!) which few people can afford to be anyway, then that really is taking up the right-wing framing of environmentalism as a luxury item movement, nu?

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