Tuesday 19 January 2010

ANFSD: Newman and Redford, Not Streisand and Farrow

The leads in the classic 1973 movie, "The Sting", of course. Both leads were male, playing roles that were prototypically male in our social order. Why is that?

Clay Shirkey has some ideas about that, which he wrote up as "A Rant About Women". Not "A Rant Against Women", mind you. Some did not see that as a difference that makes a difference, notably Zo at this post on her (misnamed) humorlessbitch.com blog. This post, beyond this explanatory header, is my comment to her blog-post-as-comment, the 190th comment in 30 hours. I have slightly reformatted it, as the original was only able to use CAPS for emphasis.

A tip of the hat to Venessa Miemis (@venessamiemis on Twitter) for tweeting about this.

Maybe this is because I have the ability to look at this as a Shirkeyesque male who “only told lies I could live up to, and I knew when to stop.” The sorry fact that he’s pointing out – too obliquely – is that many/most arenas of professional and creative endeavour have been created, led and/or taken over by men who fit the portrait that Shirkey is painting. Risk-taking, self-promotion and so on are seen as predominantly “male” character aspects/flaws, in large part because society has been and is fundamentally sexist – and is likely to remain so unless and until women can function within the existing framework successfully enough to alter it.

That’s what I get from reading Shirkey’s piece; not a snarky bit of braggadocio that “men are on top because we know how to game the system,” so much as “until increasing numbers of women in a variety of fields – professional, academic, artistic, and so on – can work within this aspect of the system, it won’t be changed.” Not because change wouldn’t benefit men as well as women. It would. But rather, because those “gatekeepers” who control the system, having got to where they are now by gaming the system, lack the will if not the means to change it.

We are at a turning point in human history, of a kind that hasn’t been seen in well over a thousand years. Institutions and conventions are changing all around us, and, not knowing how to change and survive, they change and die. Others watch the process attentively, determined against reality to avoid the same fate. But if we do NOT come up with a way to fundamentally change our society, to make it more equitable, transparent and open, we risk a new Dark Ages that will compare to the European mediaeval one as a broken fingernail compares to a petrol bomb.

I believe that is what Shirkey fears, as do I.

Comments, please.


Anonymous said...

One point that I find interesting and not many considered the relation but the most successful people I encountered were at times pompous, arrogant to the point of being annoying but they were also Intelligent, hardworking, bold and aggressive they did not need to fabricate lies the body language express those traits like the features on their faces and the what they utilized the most was their instinct and the courage to fail.

Unknown said...

Agreed. Our problem in a nutshell is that too many these days have kept the pomp and arrogance, oftentimes even the hard work -- but have completely lost the courage to fail. With that gone, the instincts that might have served them wither and are easily overcome by the fear of ridicule, of ostracism, of being made to look different from others in the crowd even as they seek to attain wealth and status above those others.

People are always willing to succeed; too few are willing to be seen as (even momentary) failures, and far, far fewer are willing to be seen as trying to do something beyond the limits of what has gone before - i.e., to innovate.

Part of that I think is due (in the US anyway) to leaders who've grown up in the '50s, '60s and '70s, when conformity was seen as the only way to success in "polite society". A large part of the cause, too, has to be the degree to which other, more rigidly hierarchical cultures have gained a toehold in an increasingly global society.

But mostly, I think, it's a knock-on effect of the modern culture of fear. If everything in our environment shouts at us "Be vigilant!" and "Report anybody who's different!" then courage will start to be seen as a character flaw, and (internally or otherwise) shouted down.

And that is what makes it such an existential threat to our society, if not our species.