02: History cont’d

with 14 comments

In the previous paragraphs I’ve been working on the assumption that those (perhaps unwitting) advocates of the Masculinity Conspiracy have been identifying something that has indeed been going on for time immemorial; I’ve then shown that this is not necessarily a good model on which to base masculinity. However, it gets worse. Not only are those time-immemorial patterns an unsatisfactory model, sometimes they might not even be there in the first place.

For example, both Mansfield and Wilber discuss the issue of the public–private domain. Here it is suggested that men are better suited to the public domain than women: they go out into the world and do things like hold down jobs and govern society. Given that the public domain is more highly rewarded by society than the private domain, it is not surprising that men are more highly rewarded than women. That has a neat logic about it, right? Wrong.

The thing is, the public–private split (and with it the allocation of men and women to their respective domains and roles—whether they like it or not—and the consequent inequities of their respective rewards) is not anywhere near as natural as it might seem. For example, as far back as 1974 one could read Michelle Rosaldo’s Woman, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview which argues against the naturalized allocation of women to the private and men to the public sphere as a result of “women’s activities” such as childbirth. In 1988 Henrietta Moore made a similar argument in her book Feminism and Anthropology. Plenty of others have spoken to this issue since. And there is literally a whole generation (or two!) of writers who claim that patriarchy was not a joint decision by men and women but a power system constructed by men, and that women are rewarded less even when they venture into the public domain in the same paid jobs as men. Again, just because something sounds plausible, it doesn’t mean that there are not equally plausible counter-arguments.

The above example of the private–public split of course relies on differing opinions about and interpretations of historical and cultural evidence. I’m not suggesting that when Plausible Position A is refuted by Plausible Position B, the former immediately becomes untenable. I’m simply suggesting plausible arguments ‘aint always as they appear. However, sometimes it’s not just about differing opinions and interpretations of evidence. Sometimes a particular spin is put on evidence which results in our sensible-looking and prestigious-sounding writers being somewhat flexible with the truth when using the arguments of others to support their own.

For example, Wilber uses Carol Gilligan’s book In a Different Voice to support his presentation of masculine and feminine types throughout history, which results in men focusing on agency and ranking, and women focusing on communion and linking. However, in the introduction to her book (in other words, one of the first things she says), Gilligan specifically warns against using her work as evidence to suggest that men and women are essentially different. The “different voice” Gilligan refers to is ultimately that of women and girls, which is “lost” in a patriarchal world, not a feminine voice that is essentially “different” to the masculine. To clear this matter up, and to ensure I wasn’t projecting my own agenda onto this issue (and being equally flexible with the truth) I sent Gilligan an email outlining Wilber’s use of her work, to which she replied, “I would not label agency ‘masculine’ or communion ‘feminine.’” So what’s going on?



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 5, 2010 at 11:30 am

14 Responses

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  1. Hi Joseph,
    I am lazy enough to have bypassed Ken Wilbers SES and instead read A Theory of Everything some 10 years ago. I remember listening to a talk of his, probably online still, where he goes through the stages like this, though as I remember there was a discussion of property and territory with the beginnings of agriculture etc, that began patriarchy. But i do remember having the funny feeling that something was being glossed over. Thanks for being a bit better at critical thinking than I. 🙂
    Reading Carol Gilligans’ book last year gave me more a sense of the contrasting moral choice between rights and social responsibility (or care), something like Independence vs. interdependence. This is where I saw many problems in society stem from, and consequently wonder why her work is not noticed for its obviousness. I am saddened that she still has to convince people of its basic premise. I am also happy to be wrong in my wobbly conclusions, or should I say open-conclusions…
    I continue….


    March 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

  2. “Again, just because something sounds plausible, it doesn’t mean that there are not equally plausible counter-arguments.”

    True, but you’ve already stated: “Not only does plausibility have only the thinnest connection with the truth, it is likely to be lazily accepted as true by those who are either too busy or too disinterested to know any better.”

    Whom am I to believe, dear friend…?


    June 15, 2010 at 7:28 am

    • One counters the conspiracy more by demonstrating it is not the only option on the table rather than “winning” the argument with a “superior” option. Believe who you want to believe: but be informed, and know you have choices.


      June 15, 2010 at 9:04 am

      • “One counters the conspiracy more by demonstrating it is not the only option on the table rather than “winning” the argument with a “superior” option.”

        Fair enough.

        But if it’s all essentially striking a pose and voicing an opinion, it should surely be considered manadatory to admit *all* those diverse standpoints, however unpalatable some of them may be to you, save for those examples you go onto mention founded on wilful misapprehension or incompetence.

        Which is to say, “Let the boneheads be boneheads…”


        June 15, 2010 at 9:50 am

        • Partly, yes, but it’s not simply striking a pose: as I commented on the other page, the difference is about the regulation of choice. I leave room for the choices of those stuck in the conspiracy (albeit believing them to be wrong), but the conspiracy tends to regulate the choices of those who resit it.

          When the conspiracy admits that its position is simply one among many (an admission which undermines the very nature of the conspiracy), then we are on a level playing field.


          June 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

          • Sometimes it’s convenient or useful to talk in generalities, however, and I’d aver that this is simply what the masculine status quo does (again, clearly successfully and appealingly to the majority), rather than any active policing or denial of alternative masculinities.

            It’s the tendency of minorities to imagine oppression, IMO. After all, it’s frequently just that very (illusory) shared sense that confers upon them a shared sense of identity.

            The rest of us are quite happy getting on with our normative (and conspiratorial…) lives.


            June 15, 2010 at 10:52 am

            • LOL! Did the slaves or the Jews imagine their oppression? Careful, Ricos, depending on the laws of your land your answer could put you in custody (which, BTW, is a policing of thought I don’t agree with, however unsavory the opinion). The stakes are even bigger in the conspiracy.

              Glad you’re happy in The Matrix: it must be treating you well.


              June 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

              • “Did the slaves or the Jews imagine their oppression?”

                Certainly not, but the gentleman who enjoys feather-dusting his bijouterie may well be imagining the massed oppression of the chest-thumping male.


                June 15, 2010 at 11:16 am

                • I had to look up “bijouterie,” but now I see you throw an element of homophobia into the mix, which suggests the oppression is very real.


                  June 15, 2010 at 11:21 am

                  • I merely use such clownish archetypes to illustrate my point.


                    June 15, 2010 at 11:25 am

                    • I see. No doubt some of your best friends are gay 😉


                      June 15, 2010 at 11:32 am

                    • Lol,

                      good response, J! PS. am liking the entire exchange.


                      June 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  3. Well done emailing Gilligan! Many have suspected Wilber’s reading of Gilligan goes contrary to her thesis, but you are the first I’ve heard that has actually verified this hypothesis.


    June 9, 2010 at 6:44 am

    • An audit of the accuracy of Wilber’s representations of other writers within his own voluminous writings would be an interesting exercise in itself. Might be a good candidate for one of the computer-aided data-mining projects in the humanities that are all the buzz at the moment.


      June 9, 2010 at 7:00 am

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