Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I don't consider it a triumph that more women graduate from high school and college than men. Nor do I find it comforting that more men than women were laid off during 2008 and 2009. I'm certainly a feminist by any stretch of the imagination but to the end of equality and not domination of one group over another. I'm probably sensitive to the issue of gender because it affects me. In researching this post I realized that black and Hispanic men and women are underrepresented in the workforce and as graduates of high school and college. I'm sure that as I leave my twenties, I'll become more sensitive to the concept of ageism as well.

The examples I've cited have fundamentally different roots. As of 2008, 61.5% of women and 59.8% of men obtain a high school diploma and 21.3% of women and 17.8% of men graduate from college. Matriculation rates for women have been dramatically influenced by improved sex education, ease of access to birth control and the empowerment of women who are not financially dependent on others. While I'm glad that the rates of men and women completing twelfth grade and going on to attain a bachelor's degree are approximately equal, there is a trend toward womens' completing these rites of passage at an increasing frequency relative to men. I have to ask myself why it is that men aren't working as hard as women. Is it that men don't have anything to prove anymore since society places the white patriarchal stereotype on a pedestal?

When it comes to race, the disparities are amplified. I couldn't find the statistics for women of color versus men but just shy of 51% of blacks and 54% of Hispanics complete high school. More disturbing, only 13.5% of black students finish college and 9.5% of Hispanics. This extends to these groups in the labor force as well.

Ironically, men were let go more often than their female counterparts during the market crashes of late. This is largely attributed to the disparity in pay for men and women. For every dollar earned by a man a woman will earn only 80 cents. Adjusting this for women leaving the labor force for maternity leave adds only three cents. Again, race compounds the differences. If you're a black woman it's only 68 cents. Latinas only earn 60 cents per dollar earned by a white man. If you're an Asian woman you'll earn 92 cents for every dollar. The slight improvements seen between 2000 and 2009 are attributed to the availability of funds remaining after laying off men who were doing the same job.

For unemployment rates during this recession, joblessness for blacks versus whites is nearly double across the board. That is to say that regardless of level of education, for every jobless white person, there are two black people out of work. Hispanics fell in between: for every white person out of work, 1.5 Hispanics are unemployed.

Equality is still a long way off. The flat rates of unemployment and graduation disguise the gap in genders and races. If you haven't considered these details to be a problem, you're probably white or male: in other words, it hasn't affected you. This should bother you regardless of your race, gender or employment status. I suspect that these ranges of earning and matriculation based on gender and race are cultural, political, educational, and historical in origin and that the prevalence of stereotypes persist to reinforce and maintain these inequalities.

Equality is about educating everyone and giving everyone a shot at contributing to our society as a whole. I won't pretend that people aren't different from one another. It's something we should celebrate and not something that we should use to oppress one another. What makes humans great is our ability to cooperate and build great things that benefit everyone. In order to do that we have to be able to look past petty differences.


I tried to keep this post short to make it accessible to everyone and included links to try and encourage you to do your own research. Please don't take my word for it. Be interested, get involved; educate someone else, write a letter, volunteer.

Monday, July 26, 2010


One of the major sources of conflict between men and women lies in how they use language and conflict. Typically men value status and women esteem closeness but this isn't where the conflict arises. Indeed these two value systems are entirely compatible. The difficulty arises in how we use the same language without understanding what the other party is really saying and what they really want.

Men use language to negotiate status. Women use language to negotiate closeness. Conflict is a natural part of communication. Men use conflict to assert dominance and gain status. Women avoid conflict to maintain closeness. These differences can escalate and perpetuate conflict in ways that might seem inappropriate to each party especially when compared to how they communicate with people who use their respective communication style. This is because both parties end up inadvertently arguing right past one another. I'll address three common ways that this might happen.

1. Responsibility - Often a girl will be much angrier about a perceived injustice than she might otherwise be because the man tries to secure a status of blamelessness. He's offering any reason he can think of to prove to her that he didn't do anything wrong. Men tend to do this because they're conditioned that they'll lose status if they admit fault. This inadvertently escalates the conflict by invalidating her initial, legitimate upset. Now she's angry about the dude's excuses instead of whatever it was that started the argument. The solution to this problem lies in two parts: Men, you've got to realize that accepting responsibility for whatever it was, no matter how small, will win and maintain status with HER (the title "boyfriend" "husband" or "friend" is a symbol of interpersonal status - that's what you really want, isn't it?) Ladies, you have to remember that he's fighting to get out of blame because he thinks you'll lower his status for being fallible. Ask him for what you really want: an apology (an apology is a symbol of closeness and understanding - that's what you really want, right?).

2. Silence - Another reason a woman might seem to overreact is that she's been irritated by a behavior all along but hadn't said anything about it until now. She's keeping quiet because she wants to avoid conflict and maintain closeness. The pent up resentment has evolved into rage and she explodes at something he may have done before without penalty. It's like being kicked in the leg repeatedly: it doesn't hurt much the first time so they don't say anything (to avoid conflict and maintain closeness) but as the jabbing continues a bruise begins to form and eventually it hurts enough for them to cry out in pain and kick their tormentor in the genitals. The kicker is confused because they've been doing it for days/weeks/months/years and the kickee never indicated it was painful. The solution to this problem lies in two parts: Girls, you've got to speak up. He's not a psychic. Guys, she doesn't want to fight with you and that's why she didn't say anything until now.

3. Burials - Another scenario where one party might be perceived as overreacting is when the source of upset involves unresolved issues from other relationships. It's similar to the latter but might take some patience and empathy to sort through the details. An example might include a girl who gets upset one night when her significant other gets home late from work without calling. He might dismiss her behavior as irrational or be hurt that she doesn't trust him. What our heroine is really responding to the emotions brought up by the memory of her father getting home late from work because he was fooling around with his secretary, leaving her alone with her drunk abusive mother. The fear of abandonment surrounding the issue are based on the current situation only in part and the bulk of her feelings come from a real place that our hero may know nothing about. A healthy relationship might resolve the conflict by the girl telling her lover that he didn't do anything wrong and that she knows he didn't mean to upset her. He might reassure her that her feelings are valid and accept that he'll need to call in order to keep her from worrying. She might not be able to voice right away the reasons for her frustration and both parties will have to be patient until she can identify the mechanism for the trigger.

As a general rule I can say that about 20% of the emotional content surrounding any conflict between two people is about the current situation and the rest is based on past experience, misinterpretation or mistreatment of the situation. The responsibility lies with both parties in being aware of these differences and exercising empathy and patience.

I realize I'm generalizing about communication styles with respect to gender and while these generalizations are based on observation there are always exceptions to the rule. This blog is really about appreciating that we all have different communication styles and value systems and that just because a message seems clear to you, it doesn't mean that it's clear to whomever you're trying to communicate regardless of their gender.

Good luck and happy conflict resolution day!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

True or False: Part I - Energy Drinks give you Wings!

Almost anyone will agree with me that beliefs are important. I'll suggest that our beliefs are important because they inform our actions. Therefore it is important to have as many true beliefs and as few false beliefs as possible. This practice will keep you from doing stupid things and possibly ending your existence prematurely.

Even so, just about all rational persons have a couple of ridiculous beliefs that they cling to for emotional reasons. There is no cure for willful ignorance but I'm an optimist.

Were I to hold a stupid belief, for example that drinking energy drinks would cause me to sprout giant bird wings, I hope that someone would disabuse me of that fallacy. People might argue that I have nothing to lose and wings to gain for my belief. This falsely assumes that believing has no cost.

Believing things that are not true has a cost: in this case, incessant sugar buzz, a financial burden, the risk of tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and a battery of other health risks. It might also lead to ridiculous arguments about things I couldn't prove like the claim that I simply hadn't consumed enough energy drinks to nourish the growth of my promised wings. People might think I was an idiot. In this case I would actually be an idiot. I don't want to be an idiot or to be perceived as one. This is part of the reason why I happen to care whether or not my beliefs are true even if the false ones promise appealing things.

The truth is that energy drinks are delicious with vodka and that copious consumption will not allow you to grow wings unless you're the sort who believes that you'll get a pair when you die.