Sunday, October 11, 2015


Of which I'm sure I've called a post before. Homosocial refers broadly to societies/cultures where social activities are carried out in gender groups, or to inversely define it - men and women don't socialise together.

Homosocial cultures bring about all kinds of problems, but it was only while doing a recent run of Inktember (Inktober brought forward a month) that I had the epiphany that these problems aren't distributed equally.

Specifically, I was waxing speculative on the 'mysterious loner' appeal, that is portrayed in pop culture and literature (Bronte sisters etc.) where women become fascinated with a loner, and ultimately attracted to him.

Because I didn't know if this was a real life phenomena, or a bi-product of giving male protagonists a love interest (ie, a protagonist serves a function, particularly in fiction of giving us a relatively normal character to identify with in that world, that is a proxy tourist often meeting and interacting with characters far more interesting than them, like Luke Skywalker, Mad Max etc. this means they are often like the audience themselves out of their depth and in foreign territory, so they don't accept or act in accordance with the norms - giving these characters a love interest helps fulful audience fantasies vicariously - so maybe loner appeal is reverse engineered from this, and is no more real in reality than becoming a Jedi Knight is.)

Anyways, point is, I don't know. It could be a real thing or not, but instead I wrote at length about my experience with being ostracised from a female social circle, where likewise, I didn't actually know what I was supposed to do because I've never been a teenage girl. What was weird was that when I asked my female friends for advice, though almost all had experienced it - nobody told me, or seemed to know, what you are supposed to do.

This article established that it was a real thing though:

And they seem to link to actual research, which I never checked out.

Generalsing of course, observing female social dynamics in highschool exile/ostracism is a form of violence employed by women - social violence if you will. Whereas in male social dynamics physical violence can resolve and relieve social tension (by clearing up ambiguity in a vertical hierarchy) or if the ambiguity remains - exile/ostracism is a form of avoiding violence - two boys agree to disagree and stop associating with each other.

Here an asymmetry arrises. If you are angry at one of your girlfriends, and you have the social clout, kicking her out of your group can feel like a death sentence to her and she can come and beg and scrape and claw her way back in, resulting basically in conformity behavior. Try it on your boyfriend and you may overhear him saying 'I don't know what her problem is.'

This is but one asymmetry though, what got me thinking though, was that a woman who climbs the top of a female hierarchy dominating those in her social circle, could prove almost completely ineffective once engaging a male hierarchy. Which is a problem if you are seeking real power, rather than obtaining it via proxy by becoming the mate of a dominant male who possesses real power.

Here's where it's tricky, I recently heard a female colleague site the old 'boys do better in coed schools where girls do better at all-girls schools' dilemma. You can't enact a top-down educational system that ensures the best performance for everyone. I don't know how widely known this sentence is, but evidently parents still send their kids to coed schools, and parents still send boys to all-boy schools. So there's a persistent difference of opinion.

The trouble is that I've never had it defined for me as exactly what 'do better' means. If we are talking academically, then this finding isn't worth the energy burnt to illuminate the pixels on your screen. If it is more holistic, taking into account in particular mental health/life satisfaction outcomes and actual non-academic career outcomes then it is worth paying attention to.

I'm not a parent but I speculate that regardless of the genders of my children, I'd send them both to coed schools in any circumstance. I see it as an extension of my preference for dealing with what is.

But I'm not consistent on this principle. In economics I'm all for segregating an economy so you can actually operate things like decent labor practices without having to worry about what the most populous nations of Earth are doing with theirs. I could rationalize that acknowledging that an economy like Australia is not going to have much sway over Chinese labor practices and subsequently throwing up some barriers to trade (particularly in the labor market) is a way of strategically dealing with this ''what is' but then I'd have to say, removing men from salience in the minds of female students would be dealing with 'what is' in the exact same way.

And furthermore, I'd be the first to agree that not just women, but any in-group needs safe and exclusive forums within which they can discuss and understand the world in which they live. In the same way that the House of Commons needs parliamentary privilege so they have a safe place to criticise their head of state.

The trouble is when you become homosocial, which needn't apply only to genders, it arises quite commonly and naturally in one form or another - when you socialise exclusively with people who think like you do.

And the big problem is the asymmetry, if rich people of influence only associate with rich people of influence, that's a much bigger problem for the poor and under-represented in society than it is for the privileged elite. Likewise, if feminists just operate in their safe spaces for women, engaging by and large exclusively with other feminists and industry continues to be dominated by a patriarchy, that plays right into the patriarchy's hands, and is a problem for feminists.

One of the wanky things I've heard said about artists was 'artists move freely through society' but it is one I would concede to be true. I socialise with bankers down to drug addicts, and for some reason dress codes and even enclothed cognition don't seem to apply to me. Last year I had a Friday evening Christmas party with fellow deadbeat artists, the next night I was at Christmas drinks with Cardiologists. I like it, and I actually don't feel much ingroup-outgroup dynamics.

Artists can certainly get cliquey, and this generally results in those artists being shit. It's a long time since the impressionists formed their own Salon, and people popped their monocles in reaction to any art. But I know in my prior life as a Sales Support worker for a power equipment importer, that in the three years I worked in that department, I saw the world through a prism that greatly overvalued the importance of things like rainfall, exchange rates and demographic shifts power tool usage.

Or as Malcolm Gladwell loves to quote 'To a worm in horseradish the world is horseradish.'

There's a delicate and dangerous balance between creating a safe place for like minded people to gather and discuss ideas, and forming a homosocial clique. Fortunately, I am a white straight male born into middle to upper class Australia. If I screw up and live in a homosocial culture, my advantage is most likely going to compound. If you don't belong automatically to an absolutely priveleged outgroup, ie a disadvantaged outgroup, you can stuff up, and stuff up badly.

Strangely, disability advocacy groups seem to understand this, even as they naturally employ many people with disadvantages internally - their mission is almost always about raising awareness and fostering opportunities for inclusion. But disadvantages along the lines of gender or race feel to me, far more prone to playing into an us-them dynamic, ostensibly wanting inclusion but focusing on their own and the outgroups relative otherness.

I could be wrong, but I look to Japan where homosocial culture is actually a big problem. Women only train carriages being a testimony to how unsafe a place is for women rather than a triumphant safe place for women. Then there's the national crisis of plummeting birth rates (preceded by plummeting marriage rates), and the ageing population. Japan appears to be the first nation where women and men are losing interest in each other. For some reason I expect it will be rougher on the women than the men though.

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