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Can Women Be Explorers?

Of course they can, despite this misreading of my exploration piece on Monday. History is replete with them, though there are far fewer of them than men (more now, with more opportunities for them). For instance, the "mountain men" who explored much of the west were, pretty much to, men.

I recently received an email from someone who made an analogy between what I wrote and saying that a "white" boy could be an explorer as long as the school system didn't "blacken" him. I find the analogy completely spurious. Briefly, race is not gender.

This was my point, and one that will no doubt set off a crowd of angry blank slaters who think that gender is purely a social construct charging up the hill to my mansion with pitchforks and torches.

There are such things as masculine and feminine traits. All people have some of both--they are androgynous to one degree or another. We define the two by noting that most men are (by definition) more masculine, and most women are more feminine, and viva la difference. So things that most men do, and few women do, are called masculine, and vice versa for feminine (and of course there is a wide range of things that are neither). When men cook, garden, sew, etc., (as I do, though I don't sew much) they are indulging in their feminine side, and when women explore, go shooting, chainsaw trees, drive Indy cars (among other things) they are being sort of manly. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with either doing either. There's plenty of femininity to Danica Patrick, from what I can see.

There are a number of evolutionary psychological reasons to think that an urge for exploration is more of a male trait, and the Economist piece gives one more. If such an urge is an attention-deficit issue, it's indisputable that (at least as it's currently diagnosed) the preponderance of occurrence of it is in boys. At least, it is they who are being medicated the most for it in the schools. There may be some girls who are being similarly abused who would also be good explorers, but girls can be good explorers even when they act like girls in the classroom, because it's a lot easier for them to act like girls in the classroom (even if they have some male characteristics) because they are, well...girls. They still learn, but aren't having their exploratory urges browbeaten out of them. So to the degree that we are inhibiting budding explorers with a misguided educational system which defines good behavior as feminized behavior, the boys are taking the brunt of it. I could have, when referring to the future Neil Armstrong, said "her," instead of "him," but it would have seemed a little strained in political correctness, not because Neil was a man, but because not that many girls are being diagnosed ADHD and getting Ritalin.


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Carl Pham wrote:

The educational system has always defined "good" as "feminine" behaviour, going back centuries. However, across much of that time there was also a certain healthy contempt for "book learnin'" and concomitant respect for real-life experience that kept veneration of formal education at a modest and reasonable level.

I think one of the notable symptoms of the modern feminization of American culture is the excessive veneration of formal education, most especially formal education that focusses more or less on the feminine skills of being a wonderful dinner-party guest, id est being witty, urbane, informed, sophisticated, a good story-teller and a considerate and polite listener.

Indeed, one often hears education in this sense misconstrued with "intelligence." I read an unpleasant blog post the other day (by Derbyshire, who apparently inherited a double dose of intellectual aristocratiphily from his English forebears and Confucian in-laws) in which some Ivy League PhD fool wondered at the fact that he was unable to have a "real" conversation with his plumber, even though he could converse in several languages with visiting European academics on many "deep" and "sophisticated" topics (e.g. how exciting it is that Barack Obama is running for President, ha ha).

Entirely overlooked, of course, is the fact that the plumber (1) almost certainly makes way more money than the academic, which gives you a crude but serviceable measure of which knows more that is of use to other people, (2) certainly knows much more in the way of practical stuff about mechanisms and forces and microeconomics (how to make a small company thrive), and (3) would actually probably survive if transported suddenly to a desert island. By the ancient definition of "intelligence" -- being able to make the most from the resources surrounding you -- the academic comes out on top only in a narrow setting, roughly speaking the aforementioned dinner party and its functional equivalents (faculty seminar, Senate debate).

I suppose it's true that the aristocracy have always mistook being able to polysyllabically pontificate on Proust, even if entirely unoriginally, for being smart, but at one point there was a substantial plain-born middle class that laughed at these airs, and gave substantial credit to those who could build a wall straight, grow a good crop of tomatoes, invent the cotton gin or rifle, and, yes, explore hostile environments without getting themselves and their party snuffed.

Dave H. wrote:

I'm going to concentrate my "rant" on the larger problem; mainly, that of forcing children to take mind-altering drugs. In that respect, I'll quote Steelers Hall Of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert:

"Drug dealers should be hung until the wind blows through their bones."

I don't smoke, drink in moderation, and have NEVER done drugs! I have no use for those who do.

Masculine and feminine can be summed up thusly: females bear young.

Traditional roles placed the female in the role of nurturer and homemaker, while males went out and hunted things like sabre-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths (see "Ice Age" for details...).

For all its "progress", society still looks down its collective nose at the inversion of these roles; the male who "leeches" off his higher-earning wife and stays home with the children is generally treated as a pariah.

ken anthony wrote:

I see cowards. When you hear someone say, 'I don't know anyone who voted for him.' You're listening to someone so afraid of the world that they have to stay in a tight little circle that only agrees with themselves. Rock the boat, by not sharing their views and values, and be ridiculed and ostracized.

Some people think space exploration is a waste. I don't want them forced to spend money on it. But I want the freedom to spend my small resources on it if I desire. Made smaller by the fact that I am forced to pay for what they want by taxes spent without my consent on things I don't care for or actively resent. That's tyranny on a small scale (even though it involves billions of tax dollars.)

I'm not sure how gender fit's in, but you can't deny the existence of masculine and feminine. Those that do are asshats as that wonderful blogger once described them.

I look forward to the day a woman stands on the surface of another world, even if so far only 12 men have done it. Other worlds are going to need women if exploration is going to mean anything.

Physically women should be better fighter pilots, but men overwhelmingly are. Probably due to traits the coffee-clatch crowd wouldn't understand (although they would know how to spell coffee-clatch???)

Arnaud wrote:

Hi All,

Well, from the above I trust MR Simberg, that you genuinely sees the complexity of masculine/feminine traits versus male/female genders, so the criticism of your post on the Space Review was unfair. For info Jung (one the intellectuals despised by many commentators it would seem) actually described this in detail, he called it the anima and animus. So, nothing new here.

My own point is elsewhere, is in this apparent belief that people in the space business must be "explorers". This is true in a sense, but I disagree with the implicit subtext in those discussions that seem to portray explorers as those in the US Wild West, John Wayne style, and it would seem to follow that to be space cadets and astronauts you need to have nebulous, somewhat butch and rough personalities.

I wonder how many of those commenting along those lines actually have worked in the space business. My own experience of > 10 years is that it is precisely those characteristics despised as the "society intellectual" by those posters which guarantee progress.

As a striking example, ESA, in its current astronaut selection process, made it very clear that they didn't want military-style heroes. They emphasised the need for professionals with high problem-solving intelligence (this is, after all, rocket science), ability to communicate easily, work in a team, etc... Not to mention the need for being a good ambassador, i.e. a good dinner table guest.

Also, as a professional, the purely "exploratory" side of my work takes perhaps 20% of my time, the rest relying really on using my intelligence and grasp of formal concepts, my ability to manage projects, and most of all ability to communicate, and, above all, be patient and open, given the timescales and programmatic twists involved in space programs.

So in conclusion, today's explorers must be able to be more like Tom Hanks than Bruce Willis. Both played astronauts on screen, incidently, but only one was actually realistic...


Andy Freeman wrote:

> Not to mention the need for being a good ambassador, i.e. a good dinner table guest.

Why does an astronaut need to be a good dinner table guest? They're not going where there will be dinner tables.

Marzo wrote:

>So in conclusion, today's explorers must be able to be more like Tom Hanks than Bruce Willis. Both played astronauts on screen, incidently, but only one was actually realistic...

And fully coincidentally, I am sure, that was the one portraying a real-life military male man.

Silvergirl wrote:

I am just reminded incidentally of the FBI agent who was caught selling secrets to the Chinese. That's not really a point. However, one interesting part of this man's story was that this man was an intellectual at the FBI who was repeatedly passed over for promotions because the FBI promoted based upon how well an agent could fire a gun and perform on physical fitness exams. How frustrating for a man or a woman!

ken anthony wrote:

Like Clint said, "a man's got to know his limitations." All people have limitations and should recognize that and realize that limitations do not define the person.

How do you like it when some complain they lack opportunity because a physical requirement is set to too high a standard? Then because of political correctness we get firemen that can't save lives.

Sometimes a requirement is actually irrelevant or not predictive of the ability to do a job. You can't be color blind and be an air traffic controller even though the color terminals IBM contracted for a new generation of controllers never came on line. That may have changed since I was an ATCS 20 years ago, but examples can be found everywhere.

Women shouldn't be excluded from jobs just because a boys club doesn't want it. Or perhaps you can't get a job because you're not pretty enough? Good looking people have more opportunities regardless of gender. Is that fair?

Should the ugly form a PAC?

Arnaud wrote:

To Andy Freeman: Indeed you are right. As a French bon viveur I always thought that was a design oversight :-) They could have a table up there and use the same crookery as seen in 2001!

I was referring to the fact that astronauts spend 99% of their working lives on the ground. And of this, a good proportion is spent going to schools, companies, government and the like, and talking about their jobs (basically doing outreach). This is in fact a requirement of the latest ESA recruits.

Do I not remember correctly also that NASA astronauts receive (or used to receive) special training in manners and etiquette etc...?

For instance, in a way, I've always thought that it's a good thing Apollo 11 had both Neil Amstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Amstrong obviously was a great pilot and saved the mission, but he's a lousy ambassador of space. Buzz though has more the type of solar personality needed to talk to politicians and TV hosts.

That's what I meant.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on July 23, 2008 9:49 AM.

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