Thursday, May 14, 2009

Philosophical Meandering: a conversation remembered

In honor of the fact that Philosophical Meanderings placed second last behind Monthly Mixes in my constituency poll, here's a philosophical meandering for you.

A while back, I was talking to a lesbian friend of mine (actually, she is my favorite lesbian including celebrity lesbians if you care to know), and we had a conversation that went sort-of like this:

Her: I exclude you from this question I'm about to ask, Dave, no offense meant to you personally.

Me: Oh?

Her: So, as far as I know, every girl I know has physically been taken advantage of by men in some way. For example, I would have no concern at all for a girl that passed out drunk in the company of other women, but I would be gravely concerned for a girl who passed out drunk in the company of men. Can you tell me why I should have anything at all to do with men with this being the case?

Me: Well, even if what you say is true that doesn't mean every man is a potential assaulter, right?

Her: Are you trying to say that it is only the actions of a very few men that account for these sorts of things being played out on every single girl I know?

Me: Well, here's my counterexample. Every adult man here [gesturing around at the crowded venue we were in] probably has either been propositioned by a prostitute, or else has been to a strip club, or has in some other way been exposed to female lasciviousness, right?

Her: Yes, probably. Right.

Me: Would it therefore be acceptable for a man to assume that all women he meets are therefore prostitutes or strippers? Because a man who assumed that based on the fact that at least one woman had revealed herself to be in that category would be following the same logical path that you're following now. Granted his following that logical path leads him to the kind of abhorrent behavior you're describing, whereas your following your logical path leads to no such thing, but I don't like the fact that either of you is applying the specific case back onto the general.

Her: I hadn't thought of it that way before, but I am not entirely convinced.


So. I think about this conversation from time to time, and think about whether my example is sound, and whether it made sense to her or even whether attempting to dissuade her from her logic is even something I would want to do. I did feel like she was asking me to defend my gender, and I'm not sure I did what I was supposed to there. Anyway, I thought this might spur some thought or comments from you, even though studies show 75% of you are not particularly interested in philosophical meanderings.

10 comments:

Jeff Wills said...

I think you did the best thing, considering your options (and I probably know to whom you're referring, at that). Very Aristotelian. The point isn't whether or not you defended male humanity, but whether or not you allowed your counterpart to experience a different perspective regarding the problem she is mulling over. Job well done.

Rob said...

A few observations, although more sociological than philosophical:

1) I don't think even prostitutes or strippers would like to be assaulted upon passing out at a party, so I think your counterexample is weak. I think your argument would only hold if every man in the place had been asked by a girl to take advantage of her in a non-consensual way.

2) In fact, I think you can extend her argument out even further. I believe men in general are more likely to take advantage of people, whether there is a sexual component or not. If you had to guess the gender of a randomly selected con-*man*, you'd probably be better off picking male. Taken as a whole, men are on average more aggressive and predatory than women, plain and simple. Now, that being said that doesn't mean that every man is a con-man, and not every man is a rapist. I think her social circle is probably not representative of the norm.

3) I think a better counterexample would be that probably every girl she knows has had too much to drink at some point and gotten sick, so why should they have anything to do with alcohol at all? Or, to be a little silly, if every human she knows has contracted a communicable illness from another human, why is she sitting in a venue filled with filthy germ-spewing humans? I think the answer is because it's impossible to shield yourself from all risk. A room full of drunk men is undeniably riskier than a room full of drunk women, but that doesn't mean you should live in a bubble.

dave said...

@Rob: Your #3 is hilarious. It did occur to me to point out that maybe they should stop passing out in roomfuls of drunken men, but that seemed in poor taste to bring up; like the Italian judge telling the rape victim she was asking for it by wearing tight jeans. Your way of putting it is much more diplomatic.

re #1, I didn't mean that (let's use the blanket term) sex workers like or want to be taken advantage of; only that a man who decided to view all women as sex workers might further objectify them to the point that he ceased to see them as anything but sexual objects, without feelings or consent one way or the other. Does that make more sense? Is it just as weak?

Lykaon said...

There is a flaw in her argument.

She asserts that every woman she knows has been taken advantage of by a man.

From that she draws the conclusion that not a single man is to be trusted.

There's a huge leap there. She assumes that all of the women she knows represents a viable cross-section of the population, and then assumes that said women have also consorted with men that would comprise a viable cross-section of the population.

Although it could be true, it could be just as true that she has particularly thrill-seeking friends which may say more about every woman she knows than any man she knows.

Rob said...

@Dave

I get what you're saying, and that crossed my mind as well. However you have to take that extra step in that counterexample to get from men being exposed to sex workers to that causing them to objectify women, which is an arguable point.

I think your counterexample could be better used to explain why men may feel like they are owed something after taking a girl out to dinner or buying her a drink at a bar... But the whole objectification thing still holds some merit...

By the way, I think "rooms full of drunken men" (rfodm) should become a new unit for measuring risk. For instance, skydiving = 3 rfodm. Probably safe, but with the potential to get really out of hand.

Kate Cummings said...

I think your example is on the right track.

From my perspective her base question relates to the predatory nature of gender. She has assumptions as women as victims, men as predators. Your example refutes the assumed victimhood by illustrating the potential of feminine predatory behavior. So while physical assault is less likely, women are just as capable and I would postulate, therefore likely to try to take advantage of those they interact with. The sex worker scenario is an extreme so good for argument's sake, but seems to relate more to a woman-man interaction, which in her regards could come off as tangential. (Though I laud you example's illustration of parallel physical power in both sexes)

As for woman-woman- while a woman may not take physical advantage of a passed out drunken companion, I know plenty that would use the event to psychologically manipulate the individual in the future in a woman on woman predator relationship - a la "Mean Girls" A woman being with other woman is not safe.

If you disprove the inevitability of interaction based on gender, then action is more reliant on individual character. So I believe...

Maren said...

In response to her question: "Why should I have anything at all to do with men?" Why does she have anything at all to do with you? Why did she preface her question with an exclusion if she was then going to make a gross generalization?

A woman's fear of being taken advantage of in a physical way is a very strong fear. It was one of my core fears for a very long time. It never came true (and the reasons are speculation), but it was (is) always a possibility. There are lots of such fears (as Rob points out in #3) but it isn't always reasonable to try to avoid them at all costs.

I also concur with Rob that the first thing one can take away from her example is that excessive drinking can put you in vulnerable positions no matter who your company is. Maybe drunkenness should be avoided.

Men are great. They really are- women are great, too, but in a different way. Men (not exclusively) are strong, humorous, loyal, creative, clever, respectful, exciting, and generous. Sometimes they are macho, sometimes they are child-like. Men can be amazingly fantastic, and why shouldn't she have things to do with men with this being the case?

richintheory said...

To Lykaon's point, it's every girl she knows, and somewhat egocentric to believe she knows a large enough sampling of the populus to draw any real conclusions.

An equally valid quesion, then, might be: why IS every woman she knows taken advantage of? What attracts her to them? According to Wikipedia (the font of all truths on the internets) quoting the CDC at least, it's estimated 10% of the population has been abused (including the 66% that don't report it, and including physical, sexual, emotional, and economic types).

Argh... I did it. I turned philosophical meanderings into statistics and charts, which ranked higher on the poll. Dang me!

Disco Mom said...

Jet-lagged here. I like everyone's responses. I most strongly agree with Lyakon, who put my own thoughts more eloquently than I would have. Sounds like she needs to meet some new men, and women, if she will make such generalizations and then have her banter posted on your blog for all to consider.

Geary said...

I tend to agree most with Maren and Disco Mom. I think the subject needs to get out more and meet different people. Clearly she is running with a crowd that reinforces her own fears rather than allowing her to broaden her experiences with thinking, caring -- and non-drunken -- men of wit: such as you yourself represent.