No Insight

I know I keep writing about these differences in male / female students but they are so glaring to somebody from Ukraine because our reality is the exact opposite. I went to two colleges back in Ukraine and never heard male voices at all. The guys sat in the back and were extremely mousy. But in Ukraine I know exactly what produced this – fatherlessness, divorced or never-married domineering mothers, male shortages after WWII that resulted in a coddling of men, men being hit harder by totalitarianism. All of this created a deeply abnormal situation.

And by the way, these female US students, if we had zero men in class, they’d be magically transformed. They’d ask, participate and burst with insight. I know this for a fact because it happened. I’d ask the female students, “what’s up? Why are you so different today?” “It’s because there are no boys here,” they say.

Given how hungrily “boys” react to my very non-mousy personality, I’m guessing this belief that boys like mousy girls isn’t coming from the boys. But it’s not coming from TV or music or anything else. What, then?

I’ve got no useful insight here.

26 thoughts on “No Insight

  1. This has not been my experience, at all, particularly now that I run career services for humanities majors. Many more women come to us for help and make use of our programs, and they tend to have a lot more work and leadership experience on their resumes.


    1. How about in the classroom? Do you see active participation and generation of ideas?

      I’d be very happy to think that ours is a regional aberration, although I had an identical experience at both my Ivies.


      1. And it’s a bit of a different thing I’m discussing. Ticking things off boxes and collecting resume points is one thing. But exploring and creating ideas just because is different. If I assigned extra credit for coming to my talk on Friday, 90% of female students would be there.


        1. I can tell you why I go to fewer talks than some of my male colleagues. I just don’t have the bandwidth for it all. I have so much going on that something has got to give. I have more obligations to my family, spend more time with my advisees, and spend more time on teaching and service than many of my male counterparts. There just isn’t time and mental bandwidth for everything, and something has got to give. Often, the talks are at 4 PM and I don’t want to interrupt deep work b/c I know at 5 I have to go get kids and start dinner. Most of my male colleagues will come home to the dinner made for them, which also means they can stay an hour or so later at work.

          In my experience, women, even young ones, have a lot of obligations to others, and they are socialized that those always need to be fulfilled, and that doing things for themselves first, without a good external reason, is plain inconsiderate and selfish.

          Thinking about all this makes me grumpy.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not sure what the regional variations may be but there are definitely class variations. Not that working class women can’t be shy and quiet, but this particular kind of demure mousiness I very much associate with the middle class (think people whose entire family went to college.)

        Much of my family has moved into this class economically and to some degree culturally but this mode of womanhood is still entirely foreign to us. I noticed this mousiness from some female high school classmates and I just found it baffling. I actually don’t understand it any better than you do.


        1. “this particular kind of demure mousiness I very much associate with the middle class”

          working theory: It’s signalling fitness for being chosen by a rich, high status man. The US (and some other cultures) have a long history of men signalling status (among other ways) by supporting women who serve no earthy purpose beyond being aesthetically pleasing breeding stock. They have conventional good taste and ‘run’ a household where the work is done by others and no one would blink if they disappeared but they make suitable birth mothers for the man’s official children…

          The mousy personality is a way of saying “I don’t mean it” (in reference to higher education [and Mrs. Degree] and the idea of working and career) “take me on” the message goes ” I won’t embarrass you and I’ll put up with a lot as long as me and my kids are supported”.

          Just a theory and don’t shoot the messenger…

          Liked by 1 person

  2. “Given how hungrily “boys” react to my very non-mousy personality, I’m guessing this belief that boys like mousy girls isn’t coming from the boys. But it’s not coming from TV or music or anything else. What, then?”

    What makes you think that mousiness, preference for it, or your own non-mousiness has anything to do with the behaviour of your students?


    1. What causes this, though? I offer free help to early-career academics who are on the job market. We are a heavily female field but 80% of those who use this service (provided by our professional organization) are men. The few women I get spend most of the time explaining the ways in which they aren’t good enough for a job. Any job. It’s very tiresome.

      I always had this dream that when I become known in my field, I’ll offer mentorship to one or two female academics in early stages. Maybe graduate students. But now I’m seeing that this dream is futile. I don’t want to offer the services of a substitute mommy. And that’s what’s in demand.


      1. “What causes this, though?”

        A long time ago, I knew some people who were in the nightclub business. They paid specialists to come and tell them what colour to paint the walls, tint the lights, and how to arrange the room even including advice about how tall to make chairs and tables in different spaces, in an effort to change how people behaved in that space.

        What I learned was that even small changes to the room like turning the music up by a fraction would completely change what people did, and how the crowd behaved (the reason for that is because beyond a certain loudness, people lean into one another, which totally changes how they interact).

        Since I know how complicated and subtle everything is, it would be arrogant for me to answer.

        All I can suggest is that the professor can probably change how it all works by prompting the quiet group and entraining her class to behave in a certain way, which will change them forever and make the question moot anyway.


          1. Yes it’s very interesting. Other examples include that blood red light increases aggression & fighting by several times, and also increases how fast people drink (both amount and speed of consumption).

            So, venues with red lights tend to have cheaper drinks that people consume more quickly. Blue light does the opposite, which means that venues with blue lights tend to be safer, and full of slow drinkers who consume more expensive drinks.

            Other things include making air in the room hazy. Higher haze gives people a feeling of privacy but reduces their field of view, which prompts them to move through the club to see what else is going on, while no haze at all allows people to see so well that instead of moving around, they pick a good spot and swivel their heads instead.

            Really good operators will even adjust the distance between tables to help people flirt, by making the distance wide enough for two people moving in opposite directions, but close enough that people passing each other can deliberately touch each other while avoiding responsibility.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It is both terrifying and awe-inspiring that someone knows how to manipulate large groups of people this way. Is it weird that I kind of want this job now? (stars-in-eyes face emoji)


              1. ” terrifying and awe-inspiring that someone knows how to manipulate large groups of people this way”

                Shopping malls and very large stores are completely manipulated that way… there’s a nice description of some of the techniques in Douglas Rushkoff’s book “Coercion” which also has a bunch of stuff about sales techniques and other interesting topics.

                Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes. It did not take me long to wise up and decline invitations to such venues. I do not enjoy alcohol, meeting new people, or loud music, and gimmicky lighting reliably gives me migraines. If you set out to design a hell tailored just for me, you could not do better than a modern nightclub.


              1. @methylethyl: That is really interesting. I perceived you as being one of those people who tend towards extroversion as they explore in their youth, who become more sedate with experience and family life.


  3. I teach classes with very few women, 10-15% tops. The women all perform in the top 30-40% of the class. Some of them do speak up in class, but not at the same rate as men, even though the women’s average class performance is higher than the men’s average class performance.

    In my experience, the society at large here in the US does not take kindly to uppity women. True, there are definitely men here who like and admire loud, opinionated women (some male colleagues come to tell me they admire me for speaking up in meetings; some male students hang onto my every word and treat me like I hung the Moon), however, almost every time I go to an NSF panel, I make one or more enemies because I hate bullies and bloviators so I end up at odds with someone egomaniacal and vindictive even though I never plan to. Many men here in the US have the idea that, as a woman, I am lesser and will interrupt, condescend, and bully me until they feel like they came out on top, and, actually, the highly educated ones are far worse than those who are not. This includes plenty of my colleagues, who btw would claw your eyes out if you suggested that a sexist thought ever crossed their mind. It is all fucking exhausting. The women who are much less forceful and more subtle in their approach manage to fare better (as evidenced by the panel I was at two days ago) as they skate below the radar, performing subservience, thereby avoiding to trigger the easily offended male ego.


  4. Okay after looking at your previous post: I don’t have as much experience with college-aged students, but I spend a lot of time living and working with teens. The pressure for girls to be this perfect thing is very powerful. Looks, dress, image on social media, persona, it’s crazy. So the obsessive box-checking but failure to engage in a way that puts themselves out there is very consistent with what I see in 13-17 y.o.’s. Boys, in contrast, are more risk-taking through those years in other ways that boys just tend to be — physical risks, primarily — which mitigates the effect; there’s definitely still a generic conformity that’s expected among the boys, but it’s a much easier mark to hit. Not nearly the perfect-perfect-girl expectation that girls are dealing with.

    And on top of that, of course, these kids are growing up in a very intensely ideologically-fueled society. Even though the kids I work most closely with are more conservative politically and socially (compared to their peers elsewhere), the general social atmosphere of right belief being a measure of your value as a human being is still in the air they breathe. It’ll make someone still figuring out life, and still very insecure in their own identity, very sensitive to making a faux pas. Which for women (on average more attuned to social cues, social groups, emotional interactions) is a more powerful force, I think.

    [But, interesting: Among the girls I know, those who are most conservative politically — thus most out-of-sync with the wider culture — are the most outspoken and willing to engage, on those issues. Still obsessively insecure about appearance, behavior, tastes, etc. But the habit of being the pariah in wider polite society sets them up for a little more willingness to engage on big questions. In their same social circle, girls who are more more in sync with the wider culture politically are less likely to engage in deeper conversations — they have something to lose!]


    1. “The pressure for girls to be this perfect thing is very powerful”

      I don’t think Clarissa, who grew up in a culture that put far more pressure on girls than the US ever has is going to be impressed…


  5. “this belief that boys like mousy girls isn’t coming from the boys”

    People tend to be attracted (constructively) to people who complement their own personalities. Hard charging, take no prisoner personalities tend to be attracted to…. significantly less hard charging, take no prisoner personalities. Two hard chargers (or two mousy types) under one roof is usually not a recipe for success.
    Men, on average, are a bit more likely to maintain that type of personality into adulthood (and will have a higher profile and so their likes become more known).
    Guys who are very interested in things like languages and literature are more likely to find tough flinty women interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Two hard chargers (or two mousy types) under one roof is usually not a recipe for success.”

      This is probably true in a marriage or other long-term situations, but that doesn’t mean there’s no like-like attraction.

      For example, I am pretty hard-charging myself and have been attracted to and dated hard-charging men. The problem is they always ended up competing with me, and did not take it well if they didn’t come out on top, at which point they could turn vicious and hurtful in an attempt to bring me down a peg and/or humiliate me. A wounded male ego can be a terrifying thing.

      My husband is what one could consider mellow (not mousy, just chill). He was a rare guy who was comfortable enough in his skin that he didn’t feel the need to compete with me or beat me at anything. He’s always been proud of me and supportive of my endeavors.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “they always ended up competing with me”

        Exactly the key term is being attracted in a way that is not destructive. Two people who feel compelled to compete with each other is not generally going to be a happy relationship (unless both are addicted to misery… which some people are).

        ” mellow (not mousy, just chill)”

        Yeah I should have written something like mellow rather than ‘mousy’….

        Also, it should be noted that strength of character is very independent of how competitive or abrasive a person is. Some very mellow people are absolute rocks in a crisis that everyone ends up clinging to (while some hard chargers fall to pieces and head for the hills when the going gets dangerous….)

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Haha! This is why my husband and I do not play Scrabble with each other. I always win. I was shocked and dismayed to find out how much ego he has tied up in that. So for the sake of our marriage… no Scrabble.

        Liked by 1 person

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