No, not me. Sophie Germain. I took a study break last night and was reading about her.
Unfortunately, I got absorbed in my reading and the next thing I knew, it was 2:30am. I’ve been sleepy all day. I know that I’m too young to be “too old for this,” but today I sure felt like it.
Sophie Germain (1776-1831) was a French mathematician who overcame sexual discrimination to achieve great things. She first got interested in mathematics by reading the books in her father’s library. But her parents disapproved of her interest because it wasn’t considered suitable for a young woman. So she started sneaking the books up to her bedroom at night and reading by candlelight.
When her parents found out — well, I guess it was a different era. And maybe her parents were a little crazy. They took away her clothes and kept her bedroom ice cold, but even being naked and freezing couldn’t stop her from studying mathematics. So they gave up trying to stop her.
French society hadn’t given up, of course. The university wouldn’t admit her as a student because she was a woman. To get her education, she eavesdropped at the doors of lecture halls and borrowed lecture notes from male students.
She started writing mathematical articles, using the pen name of Antoine LeBlanc to hide the fact that she was a woman. Eventually, she wrote to the greatest mathematician of the age, Carl Friedrich Gauss. When Gauss discovered her true identity, he became her dedicated supporter. He wrote that she had “the most noble courage, extraordinary talent, and superior genius.”
Urged by Gauss, in 1831 the University of Gottingen decided to award Germain a doctorate for her work in mathematics. That was an almost unheard-of honor for a woman in a sexist society. Sadly, Germain died before she could receive the award. But her example of courage and determination can still inspire us today. Even when we’re so tired that we feel like we’re “too old for this.” 🙂
(Blog post #195!)
Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.
And you were what?!
Silvio Berlusconi is the Prime Minister of Italy.
I was only kidding about the love toy part.
Lately, Berlusconi has been denounced because he seems to jump into bed with anything that’s female, even if it’s a minor. But in spite of his piggish and possibly illegal behavior, more than half of the Italian population still supports him. What’s going on?
What’s going on is that a lot of people still haven’t caught up with the 21st century. That doesn’t make them bad people, but it does mean that they might support bad things.
Besides being prime minister, Berlusconi owns about half of the television stations and news media in Italy. According to Chiara Volpato, a professor of social psychology at the University of Milan in Italy, that enables him to reinforce sexist viewpoints:
In Berlusconi’s media, women and minors are denigrated to a “decorative” role. This representation cements women’s subordinate position in Italian society.
As a result, the World Economic Forum’s 2010 report ranked Italy 74th in equality of women.
There’s a reason that I’ll never be anyone’s “decoration.” It’s not just that I have self-respect: that’s an effect, not the cause. The cause is that my society gives me freedom, rights, opportunities, and a status (mostly) equal to men. Women haven’t always had those things.
Let’s review human history. Up until fairly recently, societies were organized mainly by violence. People who were physically strongest, most aggressive, and most driven to dominate others were the ones who ended up running things. Unsurprisingly, they were mostly men. Not all men are like that, but more men are than women.
Violence still plays a role, let’s not have any illusions about that. But as civilization has developed, violence has gradually become less important than thinking, negotiation, and cooperation.
Men can throw a spear farther than we can. They can outrun us and overpower us physically. But when cooperation replaces violence, women become just as powerful as men, though in different ways. In general, we’re better at cooperation. We don’t care as much about “dominating” others. We just want to make sure that everyone is included and taken care of.
When civilization advances to that point, the old stereotypes and social roles begin to break down. Women are no longer forced into the roles of servant and plaything for men.
Berlusconi and other defenders of the old order are fighting to stop that evolution. But in the long run, they can’t succeed. Nobody wants to go back to living in caves: for one thing, you can’t get cell phone reception there.
Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.
It’s only funny because it’s (mostly) not true anymore.
On the TV show “Modern Family” this week, the smart daughter Alex envies the popularity of her sister Haley:
Alex: So dumb guys go for dumb girls. And smart guys go for dumb girls. What do smart girls get?
Father: Cats, mostly.
For the record, we have only one cat. She belongs to the whole family.
And I’ve got a smart guy. So there. 🙂
Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.
Please permit me to perambulate a path of profound and possibly perverse priapic prose, perhaps puckering playfully before man’s pride.
Oh, I do like guys. I like how they smell. I like how they look. I like how they feel. I like how they act.
I like it that they’re simple and direct. I like it that they’re crazy and obsessed. I like it that they’re often totally clueless. I like it that their motivations are usually pretty transparent.
But not everyone likes guys. Some people think that they’re obsolete.
In the current issue of The Atlantic magazine, Hanna Rosin heralds “The End of Men:”
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. … What if modern, post-industrial society is simply better suited to women?
I don’t want to over-simplify Hanna’s thesis, but her essential argument seems to be:
- “Male” qualities such as physical strength, decisiveness, and craving for adventure were most useful in pre-industrial societies. They are much less significant in post-industrial societies.
- “Female” qualities such as social intelligence, patience, conscientiousness, and nurturing have now become more significant than male qualities.
- As a result, women are displacing men as the dominant sex.
I put “male” and “female” in quotes because both sexes have all of those qualities. On average, men are physically stronger than we are and they have less social intelligence. On average, we are more patient and systematic than men. But there is so much variation between individuals that generalizations can deceive us.
Because men and women are different (on average), each tends to do some things better than the other. And I really don’t like that word, “dominant” — at least, outside of certain recreational contexts. 🙂
The world needs dreamers and adventurers. They’re the ones who risk their lives on crazy theories that, 999 times out of 1,000, aren’t true. But it’s that 1 time out of 1,000 when they’re right that moves us forward. And men are more prone to take those crazy risks than we are, though we can do it, too.
The world also needs patient, careful, systematic thinkers who can work together in teams and support each other. Without them, the discoveries of dreamers and adventurers would never get put to work for everyone’s benefit. We are more prone to do it than men are, though men can do it, too.
As for whether women or men are better adapted to life in post-industrial society, Hanna has a point. But it depends a lot on the job and the situation. And when women have been disadvantaged by unfair circumstances, we’ve pushed for change to correct those circumstances.
We should do no less for men if they’re now in the same situation.
Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.
I hate to disappoint you, but this blog article isn’t about my sex life.
But am I a virgin? It’s not about that, either.
It’s about rejecting the question, and with it, rejecting the whole concept of “virginity.”
Virgins vs. Sluts
In my high school, we had the virgins and the “sluts.” Both we and the guys were quick to apply the “slut” label. The virgins were considered better than the sluts, though there wasn’t really anything wrong with most of the girls we labeled as sluts.* And a lot of us virgins actually weren’t.
So “virgin = good” and “slut = bad.” But notice what those two labels have in common: they both define women by their sexuality, as if it’s the only important thing about them. As Jessica Valenti points out in her book The Purity Myth, the virgin and slut labels are just different sides of the same dehumanizing stereotype.
In researching her book, Jessica found that the idea of virginity is confused. I agree with her that it’s confused, but I think it’s mainly just stupid. The idea of virginity is that a woman shouldn’t have sexual intercourse. She can do anything else, but not that one thing. It’s so that on her wedding night, she will be “pure” for her husband.
Some girls even go to “purity balls,” escorted by their fathers. (Am I the only person who thinks that there’s an incestuous subtext going on there?) The fathers vow to protect their daughters’ “purity” while the girls promise to stay virgins until marriage.
Excuse me, but what century is this again? It sure doesn’t sound like the 21st century. Maybe the 10th century.
“Pure”? Never mind if a woman is intelligent, loving, kind, honest, and faithful. What we want to know is if she’s done the deed. If she hasn’t done it, then she can be as sneaky, spiteful, and dishonest as she wants. She’s a virgin, so her sexual value is intact. And after all, what other kind of value could a woman have?
The Idea of Virginity is Obsolete
The idea of virginity made a kind of misogynistic sense in a patriarchal society where women were considered property and had no legal rights. It doesn’t make sense anymore.
In a patriarchal society, if a man acquires a wife (just like he might buy a horse), he wants to be sure that any children are his own. So a woman’s “value” increases if she hasn’t had sexual intercourse.
In a more enlightened society, where women are recognized as people and have rights, that concept makes no sense at all.
It seems strange that sex abstinence programs, pornography, and virginity are just different expressions of the same oppressive idea, but they are. They all define women solely as sex objects, dehumanizing us and ignoring the fact that we are people.
So am I a virgin?
Here’s my answer: I am a kind, loving, smart, educated woman. Deal with it.
*In her book The Female Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine explains that spreading vicious gossip about rivals is one way that teen girls compete. Chapter 2 of her book, “The Teen Girl Brain,” made me laugh because it described my high school years so accurately.
Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.