Book Corner 2022.11

by Eugenia Chang

Mathematician Eugenia Chang suggests ways to remedy gender-related disparities in representation, pay, etc. by changing the characteristics that we reward and value, irrespective of gender. So for example, theory: men are more confident, they speak up more, they get noticed more, they get valued more, they get paid more. Common wisdom redress: teach girls to be more confident. Get women to speak up more. Get men to quiet down and listen to women. Chang’s suggestion: Why are we paying people just for confidence and speaking up? The people not speaking up so much – often but not always women – are often bringing just as much value to the table; why aren’t we nurturing and rewarding them for the value they bring, instead of trying to make them more like men?

I think I got the gist of it there. To remove gender from the picture, Chang suggests two new adjectives to take the place of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ I’ll quote her definitions here:

Ingressive: focusing on oneself over society and community, imposing on people more than taking others into account, emphasizing independence and individualism, more competitive and adversarial than collaborative, tending toward selective or single-track thought processes

Congressive: focusing on society and community over self, taking others into account more than imposing on them, emphasizing interdependence and interconnectedness, more collaborative and cooperative than competitive, tending toward circumspect thought processes

Chang suggests that we picture a society where congressiveness is valued more than ingressiveness. Not ‘as much as,’ but ‘more than.’ Here I feel Chang and I part company, and that her argument could have been stronger if, in a congressive mindset (!), she could have acknowledged that maybe we need the strengths of both personality types to make a good world. But she makes no bones about where she stands: congressive is better.

I like to think that I do not impose on people and am not particularly adversarial. Those are negative personality traits you could argue we could all do with less of, or do without. But what’s wrong with valuing one’s independence? With single-track thought processes? There is definitely a time and place for laser focus. If Chang had merely said, let’s make space for your more collaborative and wholistic-thinker types to flourish, I would have been much more receptive. I certainly love leaving gender out of it. That takes away space for men to get defensive, more ‘ingressively’ inclined females such as myself from getting similarly defensive (not that I ever would), and for anyone to decry ‘reverse sexism.’ Just focus on the individuals being marginalized, and why, and how to fix.

4 thoughts on “Book Corner 2022.11

  1. Disagree. If I understand her (without having read her) the dichotomy isn’t between pick-up-stick jumbles of traits, it’s between personality types embodying combinations of traits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with individualism or independence, but those are constituents of stifling when amalgamated with adversarial or domineering tendencies, or perhaps they should be called tactics. Single-track is only bad when it’s also single-minded, meaning both concentrated and indifferent to criticism. If you meld the listed traits a bit so they stick together and reinforce each other, which is what generally happens in people, I agree with her completely that they’re largely sexually dimorphic and one is better than the other. Vastly better. I’d venture to say they’re primarily hormonally mediated and the advantage of having both in society diminished dramatically with the demise of woolly mammoths and sabre-tooth cats.

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      1. Too true! And a scourge that is, too.
        On one hand rape, war, violence and dominance in general, on the other interminable inconclusive committee meetings… such a quandary!
        If they neutralized each other, an argument for some of both—imposition *and* collaboration, selfishness *and* generosity—might hold water, but by their very natures Ares never has much trouble ravaging Hestia, nor much motivation to refrain. Any balance or synergy is inherently ephemeral.

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  2. I’m not comparing it to war, but too much bureaucracy does prevent stuff from getting done. Stuff that could help feed, clothe, and shelter people who could use the help. It’s not just about being stuck in a boring meeting.

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