Arrogance, I think

Fresh from the office of my supervisor who persists in gently giving me unsolicited advice, despite being neither older nor wiser, I’m struck by Rousseau’s tone (in his “Marriage”):  “Extreme in all things, they [women] devote themselves to their play with greater zeal than boys.  This is the second defect.  This zeal must be kept within bounds.  It is the cause of several vices peculiar to women, among others the capricious changing of their tastes from day to day.  Do not deprive them of mirth, laughter, noise and romping games, but prevent them tiring of one game and turning to another.  They must get used to being stopped in the middle of their play and put to other tasks without protest on their part.”  I have as much trouble imagining the absolute certainty, the arrogance, required to initiate, let alone sustain, such pontification as I do imagining myself putting an arm around the shoulder of the guy who works in Accounting, and telling him what he should be doing with his life.  Even if I were his supervisor.  I simply could not go on and on like that, not even to students, nor even to children.  Not even at forty.

At least not without the qualifier ‘I think…’, that recognition of subjectivity – the absence of which is the presumption of objectivity, of omniscience.   Can you spell ‘ego’?  I recall one of my philosophy professors stroking out every single ‘I think’ in my paper, calling it wordy, but no doubt judging me to be lacking in confidence or certainty to ‘hedge’ so much.  But his corrections left me with lies – with presentations of opinion as fact.

And I now recognize that omission as the quintessential male lie; it’s how we come to consider them as authorities, on everything.  Refusing to accept one’s ideas as personal means refusing to accept the possibility that they’re incorrect or insignificant.  (Particular shame on epistemologists for this.  I now understand that, compared to my philosophy professor, I was subscribing to the more mature epistemology – by not arrogantly equating or ignorantly assuming that my (subjective) thoughts and perceptions were the (objective) thoughts and perceptions.)

Or maybe the absence of the ‘I’ is simply the denial of, the failure to take, responsibility.  Compare “Your postal code is indecipherable” to “I can’t read your postal code”: the first, without the ‘I’, doesn’t even consider the possibility that the fault may rest with the reader.

Perhaps there’s yet another explanation.  Owen Flanagan notes that “Insofar as reflection requires that we be thinking about thought, then an ‘I think that’ thought accompanies all experience” – but he goes on to qualify that, saying, “There is no warrant for the claim that we are thinking about our complex narrative self.  We are not that self-conscious” (Consciousness Reconsidered 194).  Well.  He may not be.  But I am.  And I dare say men in general may not be that reflective, but women are.  (Actually, I suspect some men are that aware – and they omit the ‘I think’ quite intentionally because of the effect.)


[Hell Yeah, I’m a Feminist is a feminist blog, often radical feminist (radfem), always anti-gender and anti-sexism.]



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    • John E. on January 8, 2014 at 8:30 am

    If your supervisor were a woman and doing the same thing, would you have written this post?

    • ptittle on January 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Probably not, unless I saw it as a gender-wide thing. I have written critically about women who wear make-up, although some men do that as well, and I’ve written critically about women who expect to be ‘kept’ by a man, although that goes the other way as well sometimes too. It’s the generalized stuff we identify as -ist, not the individualized stuff.

    • JE on January 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Is it possible that you are taking the specific case of “this man did this jerky thing” and generalizing it to “men as a class do this jerky thing” ?

    I’m sympathetic to your reaction to this particular case – heck, I’ve got a new supervisor and he sounds similar to the fellow you wrote about – all ‘team building’ and getting into my goals and hopes and dreams when all I really want to do is my job and take home a paycheck.

    But since he’s the -only- boss I’ve had in more than twenty-five odd years of working for a living who has done anything like that, I’m much more inclined to chalk it up to his own personal annoying idiosyncrasy then I would be to assuming it has anything to do with being male.

    • JE on January 8, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Sorry for the name change – no idea why the auto-fill puts one user name in instead of another.

    • ptittle on January 8, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    I think that’s why analyses of sexism are so difficult – the kneejerk reaction is always ‘it’s personal’. The same could be said for racist analyses. How does one determine whether a phenomenon is due to gender or due to idiosyncracy? I mention that supervisor, Rousseau, and a thesis advisor. But absolutely, if anyone out there knows of a study that has been done…Tanner has done some excellent work on gender differences in language use, but I don’t recall anything about the use of ‘I think’.

    I could well ask why are you so resistant to the sexism explanation?

    • JE on January 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    “How does one determine whether a phenomenon is due to gender or due to idiosyncrasy?”

    Well, I suppose the simplest way would be to look at whether or not the behavior is common across members of that gender or is typically found in a small number of individuals.

    You’ve mentioned encountering two men who act that way – have you encountered many more? I would suggest that two examples indicate idiosyncrasy. It might also be worth considering whether or not you have encountered a similar number of women who act in the same way.

    On this:

    “And I now recognize that omission [the “I think” qualifier] as the quintessential male lie; it’s how we come to consider them as authorities, on everything.”

    are you familiar with the quote from the movie “The Big Lebowski”:

    “YEAH, WELL, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

    That’s how guys (and at least some women I know) respond to someone who omits the “I think” qualifier when it is clearly called for.

    • ptittle on January 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Have I encountered many more? Um, YEAH!! Otherwise I wouldn’t’ve generalized!

    That’s a good response, but the ‘damage’ is done, especially to people who aren’t as vigilant in distinguishing between fact and opinion. People shouldn’t present the former as if they’re the latter. And if they do, well, wonder why.

    I recall a really neat scene in The Good Wife – there was a judge who insisted the lawyers preface all of their opinions with ‘In my opinion…’ It drove them nuts. They were so used to strutting around and proclaiming with such indignation all their opinions as if they were facts… They didn’t distinguish between when they were citing fact, precedent, or whatever, and when they were stating their opinion. And I say ‘Good for the judge!’ It surely helped the jury and her in her judgement, helped them reach an unbiased decision, based SOLELY ON THE FACTS.

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