Thursday, November 03, 2011

Just say “No, thank you.”

Megan examines a Kenneth Anderson post on the origins of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, the summary of which is that it represents internecine conflict between the “upper tier New Class” (international financiers who have come through the recession relatively well) and the “lower tier New Class” (aspiring members of the “virtuocracy” whose members have been hard pressed by collapse in state and local revenue).

Both pieces should be read in their entirety.  But I was struck by something that Megan wrote as she contrasted her experience of red-blue class conflict with that she observed (or didn’t) on Wall Street:

[Y]ou sneer at the customs of the people you might be mistaken for.  For aside from a few very stuffy conservatives, no white people I know sneer at hip-hop music, telenovelas, Tyler Perry films, or any of the other things often consumed by people of modest incomes who don't look like them.  They save it for Thomas Kinkade paintings, "Cozy cottage" style home decoration, collectibles, child beauty pageants, large pickup trucks, and so forth. 

In part, obviously, this is a reaction to the politics of it, since uneducated white people of modest means vote (and attend church) very differently from the hyper-educated but modestly remunerated people in New York or DC.  A group of people who are quite empathetic, even tender, in writing about the financial difficulties of lower-middle class whites as workers, can also be quite vicious about them as voters and consumers. 

And they're worse when it comes to the tastes of people in successful-but-not-intellectual people like sales(wo)men. The vehemence makes it seem, at least in part, like a way to say "I may have their incomes, but I'm not like them.  I'm better."

Similarly, in the 1990s, when I worked with a lot of mostly blue-collar and first-generation college grads (with a fair sprinkling of Ivy Leaguers, to be sure), I didn't hear nearly so much about the rich and how greedy they were--even though in the late 1990s, income inequality was almost certainly worse than it is right now.

As IT consultants, we were mostly working around some of the richest people in the world--investment bankers, traders, and money managers.  And they did occasionally abuse their power. I received some rather astonishing invitations from men who were literally my father's age, on the basis of the fact that . . . I had entered their office to check up on something.  And one trader at a mutual fund liked to throw things at the IT staff when his screens didn't work--at least until the day he winged one of the techs with a stapler and had to apologize with a very expensive gift.

But in all that time, I'm not sure I heard any complaints about rich people, or even traders or bankers, as a class.  Since OWS started, I've occasionally wondered: does this explain why there seem to be so many more educated white kids than long-haul truckers or home health care aides occupying Wall Street? [Emphasis added.]

I love Megan, both for the warmth of her personality and the self-awareness and humanity she brings to discussing the red-state-blue-state divide.  But Megan is not a believing Christian, and nowhere has she denied being . . . a woman of her time and place.

Which brings me to the bolded sentence above.  Megan has elsewhere described the intrinsically boorish sexual behavior of some of the men to whom she provided IT services, yet I can’t help but doubt that it was her virtue, as such, that was mortified by the “astonishing offers” to which she alludes.  So what was it, then, that made what was surely intended to flatter her appearance and disposition so offensive?  What made appropriate any other reaction than a simple “no, thank you?”*

Reading about this reaction, in this context, I was struck by the possibility that a dynamic very similar to the blue-state sneer at red-state mores also drives Megan’s reaction to the romantic overtures of Wall Street execs and, more generally, the median female sneer at betas.  As elite coastal whites shudder at being mistaken for the denizens of flyover country, so Megan shudders at being mistaken for someone who would accept those kinds of proposals.

Think of it as a reaction to, not just the implausibility of a suggested pairing, but the gulf between its personal plausibility and its perceived social plausibility.  If the gulf is small, either because the offer is, in fact, personally attractive, or because the offer is socially outlandish – from a child, say, or Strom Thurmond in his later years – then no offense is taken.  This may explain my recollection that in my single years I received less social hostility from beautiful girls than from average girls; the truly beautiful faced no danger extending the appropriate condescension.

But when the gulf is wide – in other words, when a woman isn’t interested but thinks that other people might think she would be – then the reaction is harshly negative.  That’s how we wind up with a network of sexual harassment laws policies protecting women from the advances of their workplace peers.

Anyway, that’s my theory for today.  Thoughts?

* Actually, given what I think I know about Megan, I suspect this was exactly her outward response.


Professor Hale said...

I have always though that a polite refusal is better than a hostile or demeaning one. If an attractive woman throws herself at me, I am ready on a moment's notice to politely decline while letting her know that I wish I didn't have to.

If that comes up, I am ready.

Any time.

So I never understood why women think they have to be demeaning or ewven hostile about it. Maybe it is because; 1) They see an invitation by someone like you not just as laughable, but insulting, 2) They have met too many men who won't take a polite "no" for an answer.

Justin said...

Elaborate socio-economic theorizing around the basic fact that most girls are mean, selfish, bitches. Niceness is a minority trait spread evenly throughout the beauty spectrum. I've met ugly girls who were nice, average girls who were nice, and beautiful girls who were nice, and they were always the exceptions.

Your last statement, I'm not so sure about. Do we actually have "a network of sexual harassment laws"? Don't we rather have a network of corporate policies, loosely based on some court cases? I'm not totally sure on that one, but the distinction is important if we are theorizing causes.

Dr. Φ said...

Prof Hale: 2) of course, is what most women assert. 1) begs the question of why it's insulting.

Justin: Niceness may be evenly distributed genotypically about the female beauty spectrum. Niceness is most assuredly not evenly experienced phenotypically by, well, me.

A fair point about the distinction between laws and policies. I have corrected.