Friday, January 1, 2010

Does Coeducation Affect Divorce?

With all of the talk about what caused divorce rates to rise so much during the second half of the 20th Century, I've never heard anyone examine the role of coeducation. The latter is, of course, the environment where most people in the developed world have most of their social interactions before the age of 18.

"Most social interactions," you may reply, "but not the most important social interactions." Perhaps not. Clearly a child's relationship to father or sister, or aunt or grampa, is more important than to classmate or gym teacher. However, it's hard to deny that 13 years, 180 days a year, for up to half the child's waking hours, is a whole lot of time. The interactions add up, and if they happen in the same pattern (say, the child is rewarded repeatedly for certain attitudes or behaviors) they amount to nothing less than an intensive conditioning regimen, albeit one that goes on for far longer than a simple university-type behavioral study.

I regard modern institutional coeducation as a terrible education in being a spouse, or perhaps an excellent education in being a terrible spouse. Consider that, whatever their stated policy on bullying, schools are invariably going to take a firmer line against physical violence than against psychological abuse. It is natural and logical that schools and communities seriously punish boy-on-girl violence, rare as it is. The reverse, girl-on-boy violence, is also rare.  

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words can never hurt me

The old adage about "sticks and stones" is interesting for what it does and doesn't say. It makes it clear that mental discipline can prevent you from being harmed by verbal sparring (while the same is not true of, say, a punch in the face). It does not promise that such mental discipline is easy to achieve, particularly for young people in a society that does not honor (or even much talk about) discipline.

Even in an environment which nominally has "zero tolerance" for violence, and unwritten rule among boys is that some quips and insults deserve a physical reply. Fighting is often the only way boys feel they can recover some of the status that insults can strip from them; the punishments meted out by school officials often pale by comparison to a loss of face. Yet boys still can't fight girls; while throwing a punch at a male earns status, hitting a girl usually entails a loss of status. Physical fights, at least, are expected to be fair.

But what of verbal sparring? Between a boy and a girl, is this a fair fight? Hardly. Females are more fluent than males at any age we are considering. Further, the risks of "losing" a verbal bout are quite unequal for the two groups. If a girl displays hurt feelings her friends will rally around her; if a boy does the same thing he may find he has no friends at all.

This arguably leaves boys as the weaker sex. Needless to say, not all girls develop a sense of chivalry towards boys. A girl who takes the opportunity to harass boys - developmentally one or two years younger than her - suffers few penalties as a result.

But the boys do respond. Not with violence, generally, although it's not unknown. Nor by developing a mental discipline to avoid "dignifying" bullying by noticing it. The classic way boys respond to bullying by girls is by learning to tune out everything females say. A boy proves his mettle, not by understanding females, but failing to notice anything they say or do. (Which is not to say - what females look like. Outside the workplace and certain colleges, males are still allowed to notice that.)

Apathy is indeed the highest "manly virtue," in institutions utterly divorced from what it means to be a man. Yet when a husband gets hit with the divorce papers, his reaction is hardly apathetic. It is more likely to include suicide, drug abuse, depression, or violence. Married men don't want to be divorced yet they can't seem to figure out how to prevent it, despite the simple one-word advice all the experts give:

Communicate.

The experts aren't wrong, but if they are addressing adults they are far too late. By age 18, a male has spend two-thirds of his life in institutions where there was considerable risk, and no advantage, in listening to girls. His abilities as a husband are crippled by his abilities as a verbal combatant - in the schoolyard, apathy is armor. As difficult as it may be to shed the armor, the task is rarely even described. The problem is not recognized, because someone with 12 years of operant conditioning telling him to ignore people will not readily note that he is ignoring them.

3 comments:

B Lode said...

Looking back, I could just as easily have blamed high tolerance of psychological violence instead of coeducation. I chose to blame coeducation because single-sex education is a widely-recognized alternative ... schools which complete stomp out verbal bullying exist only in our imaginations.

globalman100 said...

"The classic way boys respond to bullying by girls is by learning to tune out everything females say."
Well, I am 46 and I listened to women for 32+ years to find out what they want so I could better manage relationships with them. I was with one woman 23 years and married 18. After all that what conclusion did I come to?
Women have nothing important to say. I now tune out pretty much 100% of everything western women say.

B Lode said...

globalman100, I can't speak about your experiences. I will say, however, that I find it much easier to find women who write interesting things than to find the ones who actually say interesting things. Diana West, Ilana Mercer, and Rose Wilder Lane are a few clicks away. The only woman who doesn't regularly bore me to death talking about weight loss, how drunk her one friend got, or how men are losers is my wife.

But then I live out in the boondocks and don't know many women.