Monday, October 03, 2011

Where the Line Is

Sofia writes:

Male-female friendships can work, but I don’t think they can be sustained with the kind of regular interaction you see with best friends. And, they usually don’t center around emotional substance. If I have to randomly assign a gender to someone with whom I would rather have an intellectual or abstract conversation, I would probably choose a man 9 times out of 10. Adversely, if I want someone with whom I could discuss something emotionally based, I would probably opt for a woman 90% of the time. I will go ahead and state that male-female friendships with that kind of heavy emotional content is boundary-crossing. If you have that kind of connection with the opposite sex — the kind usually sought out for romantic relationships — what is really prohibiting you from eventually f’ing this person?!

This put me in mind of a conversation I had with Trumwill a while back about Pensacola Christian College, a school that has achieved some notoriety for its heavily regulated social life.  Let me begin by saying that I am not an uncritical defender of PCC, whose enforcement mechanisms strike me as Orwellian, and Trumwill basically persuaded me that their lack of accreditation is less a bold statement of independence than yet another instrument of control.

Yet the people most inclined to point-and-sputter at PCC are not especially motivated by its lack of due process, to which they have evinced no particular attachment.  Rather, they are driven to hysterics by the rules themselves, and on that subject I stand by my comment at HitCoffee:

The actual student conduct standards are on pp 31 - 33 of the student guide. My reading is that they are on the right side of the bell curve when it comes to evangelical Christian colleges, but they’re still on that curve. And now that I think about it, I’m not sure they would have made much difference to me personally. Restrictions on music? I already listen to classical and Christian contemporary. No movies? I didn’t see many anyway (I couldn’t afford them either in time or money.) Don’t dress like a slob (or a slut)? This is just the grown-up dress code we all follow now without being told, so I might as well have got started in college.

No touching? A nerd’s paradise! Seriously, nothing sux to a guy without a girlfriend like watching that guy flaunt his higher status.

I would elaborate that while it’s easy to make sport of PCC’s nitpicky rules once we see them written down in black and white, any socially mature adult carries around a vastly more complex mental schema governing his social interactions, especially interactions with the opposite sex.  I would further assert as generalities that this is more true of women than of men, and even more true of those whose lifestyles resemble that of a Sofia or, once, a Sheila Tone, than of those whose lifestyles resemble that of Dr. Φ.  I bet either of them could explain exactly the socio-sexual distinction between, for example, speaking with a fellow student while walking to class and stopping to speak with him.

Indeed, my own lack of intuition in this regard was brought home to me recently in a conversation I had with Mrs. Φ.  For reasons I cannot recall, we were comparing the relative attractiveness of the young woman I mentioned at the end of this post and her older sister.  I expressed my preference for the older sister, my wife expressed hers for the younger.  But the conversation wound up like this:

Mrs. Φ:  “Anyway, older sister is just weird.  She’s got bizarre ideas about vaccinations [she’s against them] and diet.  And she lacks social grace.  She’s loud and uncouth.  All the women at church thought so.”

Φ [hotly]:  “That is so not right!  Even were I to concede the merely physical component of the comparison – and I don’t – older sister has vastly more social self-possession than younger sister.  Older sister always greeted me warmly whenever we saw each other while we lived there and especially when we’ve visited since.  Younger sister pretty much ignored me the whole 2 1/2 years.

Mrs. Φ:  “Maybe that’s true, but the circumstances were different.  Older sister is married, you are friends with her husband, we got together in groups at Bible study.  Younger sister is single, and single women DO NOT FRATERNIZE with married men.  It just isn’t done.”

Φ:  “Well . . . first of all, that rule sux.  And second of all, in this particular comparison, the difference went beyond context.  Older sister would stop and talk to me even when we were just milling around in the sanctuary, and what’s more, she seemed genuinely happy to do so.  Younger sister, in contrast, never said word one to me even when the context would seem to allow it.  I remember one specific instance when she was minding the nursery and I came  to collect Γ.  You’d think that I would at least get a ‘good morning,’ but no.  Not.  Word.  One.  The effect was not a positive one.

Mrs. Φ:  “Don’t you think that you might be a trifle oversensitive to this kind of thing given your, um, social background?”

Φ:  “Maybe.  But I know the difference between nice and not-nice.  I pick nice.”

On the other hand, it occurs to me that there are two specific advantages of a heavily-regulated place like PCC for someone like me:  I wouldn’t have to guess about what the social rules are, and I would have less opportunity to take things personally.

Less charitably, I speculate that the motivation behind a lot of the animosity that socially adept kinds of people show towards PCC is precisely that they lose a lot of their social status and power when the rules get written down for everybody to learn equally.

7 comments:

trumwill said...

Thanks for bringing this subject back up again. I've been meaning to revisit the topic.

FWIW, I am quite disturbed by the higher ed approach to sexual harassment/assault and had a Linkluster entry about it (even Sheila Tone expressed outrage). I agree that it's not getting near the attention it deserves, though.

samsonsjawbone said...

My reading is that they are on the right side of the bell curve when it comes to evangelical Christian colleges, but they’re still on that curve.

I don't know... they're awfully far right – no playing cards? No mustaches or beards? What is this absurdity?

Don’t dress like a slob (or a slut)? This is just the grown-up dress code we all follow now without being told

Maybe, although I suggest this is another point in favour of finding some line of work that allows one to be self-employed. The fact that me are not allowed by social convention to look masculine is one of the worst parts about modernity.

samsonsjawbone said...

*men

Dr. Φ said...

Mmm . . . modernism, in the context of facial hair, goes back quite a way, at least since WWII and probably before then. And I'd bet that, say, Cary Grant would be surprised to learn that he didn't look masculine.

samsonsjawbone said...

Mmm . . . modernism, in the context of facial hair, goes back quite a way, at least since WWII and probably before then

lol... I don't consider WWII to be "quite a way"! And certainly in the First World War it was considered manly and distinguished to sport a fine mustache.

And I'd bet that, say, Cary Grant would be surprised to learn that he didn't look masculine.

*shrug* Doesn't do much for me. In contrast:

http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&biw=1440&bih=807&q=mesopotamian%20kings&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=1534l7350l0l7483l13l10l0l0l0l0l303l2081l0.4.5.1l10l0&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi

http://www.google.ca/search?um=1&hl=en&safe=off&biw=1440&bih=807&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=viking+-football+-minnesota&oq=viking+-football+-minnesota&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=685l2461l0l2613l11l11l0l9l0l0l265l446l0.1.1l2l0

http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&biw=1440&bih=807&q=civil%20war%20generals&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=26130l26130l0l26425l1l1l0l0l0l0l182l182l0.1l1l0&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi

Professor Hale said...

I am forced to avoid male-female relationships. Even as mutual respect and trust build, I know that eventually I am going to try to feel her up.

Dr. Φ said...

Hale: Good one. Most socially aware people either consciously or unconsciously erect barriers for themselves that deter potentially adulterous relationships. This correlates with both religion and class. What PCC does is say to young people: you want to live faithfully once you are married? Then start living that way now.

This reasoning is largely lost on non-religious people, who regard their single lives as "consenting adults, yadda yadda . . ." Which I get, by the way, in the sense that I recognize the trade-offs. But I think it goes a long way towards understanding the howls of outrage when they find a place like PCC. That, coupled with an emotional investment in the moral decisions of their own youth.