The Atlantic, November 2008

Cross-posted at What We Said

If you’ve been around this blog, you know how much I love books, but you may not know that my love extends to magazines and literary reviews as well, because I usually don’t blog about them. A US-based relative of mine offered me a subscription to the Atlantic Monthly, and I’m often impressed by the quality of their articles (I don’t find so much challenging articles in the French press, at least in the magazines I read). The only thing is that reading them is exhausting because they’re long and dense and their layout isn’t quite “user-friendly” (but it’s slowly improving).

This month, I read several intriguing, thought-provoking, controversial articles on gender issues, on which I just want to call your attention, because I’m often at a loss to make my own mind on these issues:

Should Women Rule? by Sandra Tsing Loh… A roundup on books on women and/or power, starting with women’s apparent neurobiological inclination not to engage in competition (but these books notably failed to mention such counter-examples as Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Anna Wintour and other “dragon-ladies” (sic)). Her reviews are first rather gloomy: “if we want women to compete as rulers, I began to think, shouldn’t we be able to do everything men do, succeeding if need be as competitive, manipulative, backstabbing, foulmouthed egomaniacs?”. Then she veers off into another, rather utopian direction:

“All right, so what if wo-men are power-wielding-impaired? Is ruling the world the only way to change the world?” […] “Given the apparent female neuro­endocrinic aversion to competitive, winner-take-all activities like elections, unless testosterone shots become a new female norm, even democracy (thanks, Founding Fathers!), with its boastful, chest-beating campaigning, is clearly stacked against female candidates. (Now a monarchy, on the other hand, we could do. Instead of England’s Elizabeths, let’s throw in our own version of royalty like, who, some Kennedy women? Surely Oprah will know whom to choose. And while we’re making wish lists, for the betterment of our planet and our communities I suggest, à la Waring, that we move immediately, on a global level, to a moneyless, relationship-based barter system.)”

I’m not so sure about this crowding thing. It seems quite a post-modern way of influencing (democratic) governments, but what if the (testosterone-fuelled, male-dominated) government doesn’t let itself be crowded (“Just go home, you crowd of women!”)?

The other article that stuck in my mind is A Boy’s Life, by Hannah Rosin, on the surge of transgender children in America. Rosin takes the case of little Brandon, now 8 in a tiny Southern town, who from a very young age claims that he was born a boy only by mistake, that he ought to be a girl. Where another generation of parents would have just shrugged (or spanked him), his parents are confronted to a whole new range of choices: some claim that he shouldn’t be listened to and should go in therapy (that is supposed to have “good” results – but Rosin wonders about what “good” really means in terms of long-term happiness), some claim that thanks to the early use of puberty-blocking hormones, transgender children can slowly move towards the other gender (and to sex change operation) without the trauma of rejection. Some contest that those claims made at such an early age are any proof of their real / future sexual orientation, that children in these cases may grow up to be heterosexual, homosexual, just as probably as transgender. Some even say that people accept transgender children better than acknowledging their gay or lesbian orientation. It all goes down to clarifying whether gender is determined by brain, rather than by biological organs or a pure social construction. If we agree to that, then therapy is useless for children like Brandon, you just need to accept whatever they claim to be. Transgender is no longer a transgression but a hormonal imbalance or a medical condition. Or is it, like the author hints in the subtitle of the article, that “limits of child indulgence have stretched too far.”? Once again, I find myself conflicted by this article, but in a pragmatic way, I feel that engaging so young children towards a fixed identity (hetero, homosexual or transgender) is way too early. Who knows what they might find out about their identity during the difficult years of adolescence?

I know these issues tend to antagonize people, but what do you think about it?

On a complete different subject, I recommend the article Why I Blog, by Andrew Sullivan. It’s not about lit-blogs at all, but Sullivan describes how blog readers become friends (vs. newspaper readers keep a respectful and silent distance), and I feel the same way about it here. It’s good when journalists from traditional media acknowledge the positive and complementary influence of blogs and don’t just denigrate them like they too often do. Sullivan also underlines the positive role of links, and I’ve adopted it as my next good resolution: be more interactive in this blog, put more links!

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2 thoughts on “The Atlantic, November 2008

  1. i really liked Sullivan’s article as well, and have been meaning to blog about it for some time. I think I still will but I’m glad to hear someone else found it as valuable as I did. Or rather, at least parts of it were valuable to me.

  2. I used to have a subscription to the Atlantic and to Harper’s and had to let them both lapse because the articles are so good and so long I don’t have enough time to devote to them while I am in school.

    I think saying women aren’t competitive is baloney really. Women are just as competitive as men but because of cultural expectations they tend to not be competitive at the things that get priased in public.

    As for gender, I don’t think I would have a child to take hormones to make a sex change operation easier later. Brain and body are still developing and there is no telling what kinds of long-term effects hormone treatment on a young child could have. But if I had a son and he said he was really a girl and wanted to wear dresses, I’d be fine shopping with him/her in the girl’s department.

    My two cents 🙂

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