07 February 2008

Gender roles

If a community is a brick wall, men would be the bricks and women would be the cement.

Sun 10 Feb 05:21 Revision:
If a community is a brick wall, the bricks would be men and the cement would be women.


Janiece Murphy said...

The longer I looked at this, the better I liked it.


Michelle K said...

As much as I agree, I think that on an aesthetic level I'd rather be a brick.

But women doing the messy work of holdings is pretty much spot on.

Rebelcat said...

I don't think you can generalize it that way. I see many women around me that is the bricks and many men that are the cement.

That statement is yet another statement that place women in a role of the nursing and the men in the place of the ones that builds the community.

I don't see women and men as stereotypes. And I live in a country where I don't have to be a stereotype.

Frankly, I think my husband is more like cement in our family.

But I agree that some people can be cement in some situations and some might be the bricks in other. What gender they have doesn't matter. We are all humans.

MWT said...

Rebelcat: You seem to have way more issues about gender than I do. ;)

The origin of the thought started after that last chat incident. Nothing brings out the exact definition of all of a community's dynamics like a messy internal crisis - and you were very much cement during that (and Galen was very much a brick -.-). In the backdrop of those dynamics, I also observed the way the Whateverites formed up into UCF - and it was the same. We started with one strong brick (Jim Wright) and built outward from there.

I was originally going to write something a lot lengthier about the whole topic, but really, the brick wall analogy is what it all boils down to.

Janiece Murphy said...

I'm Jim Wright's cement?

I don't think I like this analogy anymore. Cause I'll never hear the end of it from the Warrant.

Rebelcat said...

Hmm..I don't have issues. I just hate to be given characteristics just because my gender. Because most of the time, the typically female characteristics doesn't really fit me or the females around me. First of all we are humans with both male and female sides. I just hate the stereotype picture of females as weak and emotional.

And as I see it, I wasn't cement at all. I have never been.

MWT said...

Janiece: good thing he's got internet problems and won't see this for a while. ;)

Rebelcat: Yeah, and you'd also vigorously deny that the chat revolves around you too. ;)

What you see in the analogy depends on what you bring with you. I never said anything about weak or emotional. You're putting that into the analogy yourself (and every other statement I've ever made on this blog that's been gender-related, for that matter.) Cement is strong stuff. It's both flexible and binding. If a wall is made up only of bricks, the slightest crisis would destroy it. If a wall is made entirely of cement, it'll stay up without bricks in it. You can have a community without bricks (albeit with less eye candy), but not one without cement. How is that a form of weakness on the part of the cement?

Nathan said...

Hey, I said something stupid last night and was informed that I'm thick as a brick.

Rebelcat said...

I just strongly object when people try to put females and males in different boxes. The reality is far too complex.

And no, the chat does not revolve around me. How could it? I'm just one of all the others and barely even there.

Anne C. said...

You're right about the equal value of bricks and cement, but I think rebelcat's objection (and mine) is that gender determines role (brick or cement). It's the generalization that causes the shaking of the head, rather than the value applied to each role. I'm particularly sensitive myself to gender stereotypes and I understood what you meant. In some ways you are right, men probably do tend more towards block-like behavior (just kidding!) and women towards team-building etc. However, on an individual basis, it becomes irksome to be summed up as one thing all the time simply because you were born with XX or XY chromosome sets. In my opinion, generalizing hurts more than it helps.

Thought provoking statement coming from someone who self-identifies as neither brick nor mortar. ;)

Anne C. said...

Dammit, missed a golden opportunity: Generally, generalizing hurts more than it helps.

There, all better. ;)

MWT said...

Nathan: See? The analogy works on so many levels. :D

Rebelcat (and Anne, who apparently snuck in while I was coming up with a reply): I guess I see it in the reverse direction. It's not so much that gender determines role, as if there's a box that you're required to be in. It's that if you actually watch how the dynamics play out, women tend to behave like cement and men tend to behave like bricks. All on their own. I'm not trying to say "this is how things should be." It's more "this appears to be the actual state of affairs."

Also, since I'm mainly observing these in terms of online behavior in online communities, I don't think it's something that occurs entirely due to external stereotyping by surrounding cultural expectations. Online communities are so new that there really aren't any, and/or norms are still in the process of forming. But it occurs that same way anyway.

Once I was in an online community with 99% guys. The whole thing eventually ended up revolving around one girl, and despite the bickering that occured amongst the guys, and the fact that the girl insisted she was just another guy ... she was what held stuff together. And when she wandered off to other pursuits, that was when the community faded away out of apathy. I wouldn't say she was the only reason preventing it from fading, as a ton of external factors also came into play, but if she'd been there we would probably still exist. Perhaps it would be accurate to say that the cement disappeared and then a stiff wind came.

It might be worth noting, also, that behind every stereotype there is a grain of truth. I'm trying to get at that grain.

I'm looking forward to Anne's post on the matter though. ;)

Anne C. said...

Ah, but what happens in single-sex communities (the military for most of recorded time, monastaries, nunneries)? The roles of mortar and bricks are filled by mortar type men or brick type women.

Observing trends based on personal experience is one thing, drawing conclusions (women are like this, men are like that) is another. If you're someone who doesn't match the generalization or if you know someone like that, it's easy to feel... well... freakish/wrong/an outsider. And, as you pointed out to rebelcat, your observation says more about you than it does about the actual situation. You credit females with cohesive properties. Does that mean you are less likely to notice the contributions of cohesive males?

Your observations are interesting, actually, though I find it unlikely that one single female's contribution determined the "success" or "failure" of a group (yes, you cited other factors, and perhaps you exaggerated the situation since you were trying to make a point).

Given that this is your blog, you may observe and draw conclusions as you like. The concept you put together is a decent one as typical stereotypes depict men as less of a "team builder" than women. In some ways, it is a flattering one, regardless of what role you have, since it applies equal value to both roles.

However, I tend to agree with rebelcat that it is an oversimplification and thus suspect.
(My own post is upcoming. ;)

Michelle K said...

Ah, but what happens in single-sex communities (the military for most of recorded time, monastaries, nunneries)? The roles of mortar and bricks are filled by mortar type men or brick type women.

Actually, I don't think those are good examples of what you're trying to prove. The military and religious orders were highly organized and regimented groups. In that case the rules and regulations would take the place of both the bricks and the mortar.
After all, it's not like most men had to choice to leave the military, and in both the military and religious orders you're held together by a common cause, either conquering the enemy or worship of god.

Or sometimes both together.

Regardless, such groups didn't need individuals to play specific parts, because everything was mandated from the outside.

Now that doesn't mean that different individuals within a group didn't play parts such as mwt describes. I'm just saying such parts were unnecessary.

Now that doesn't address mwt's point about gender roles in groups, and I'm not sure that plain old fashioned flirting doesn't play some part in it--even in online communities one gets an idea in ones head about someone, and as we've noted, gender plays a part in that.

After all, we're all good looking online, yes?

Umm... I think I've gone far afield here.

Sure no analogy is perfect, but I do think that there are truths to what mwt is saying.

Anne C. said...

Michelle, I was mainly pointing out single sex organizations because I wanted to see how it works in MWT's system, not to prove anything (except perhaps to state that some men have mortar-like qualities and some women brick-like qualities).
That being said, I disagree with your premise. Every community has rules that regulate it, including the one we are existing in right on this blog. (In fact, MWT, I would argue that on this blog, you are the mortar and we the bricks. :P ) I would say that regulation assigns roles. That happens in dual (or multi) sexed societies as well (take India, for example, where women are expected to get married) except in this case it's unwritten rules rather than written ones. The regulations do not remove the need for bricks and mortar (roles), just affect how they are implemented. Good military leaders for example, are mortar. They keep the unit together, working towars a purpose. (Actually, that brings up many sidebar issues about what makes good mortar.)
If you say roles ARE gender, however, they you are correct, regulation replaces that. There is no need for gender in the military or monastary. I just don't think my role is my gender.

I do however agree with you that flirting has a LOT to do with it. Astute observation there, fellow mortar. ;)

MWT said...

An assortment of stray thoughts since my original post:

1. The chat used to revolve around Rebelcat, but it doesn't anymore. Not since the splintering.

2. It's a generalization. Of course there are individual males that are cohesive and individual females that are bricks. So too are there individual little girls who never had strong willpower before they were taught to be cute and quiet (in reply to something Rebelcat said elsewhere).

3. I wasn't exaggerating just to make a point.

4. After that part, it looks like "brick" and "cement" started shifting definition...

5. Let me reiterate that I didn't make my observation while looking at modern western societies. If you're feeling pigeonholed, it's because of what you're bringing into the analogy, not because of anything I put there - and because of that, I think we're talking past each other.

My analogy came partly from observing online community interactions (as I mentioned), and partly from reading up on the dynamics of matriarchal societies. The Haudenosaunee in particular, as described in 1491 by Charles Mann (fascinating book, found it via a review by Theresa Nielsen Hayden, I highly recommend). There's a crappier description over at Wikipedia, where they talk about how the confederacy was set up for the men's part of governing - but they gloss over the fact that the men were all appointed by the women, and the women were the ones in charge. Also, there was this essay on matriarchies by Russell Means (a Lakota) (yes I know he's a bit ranty and probably wildly inaccurate on some of the details), and some other things that I can't seem to find again just now.

(cue John the Scientist's entrance to bury me in an avalanche of historical citations that I've not stumbled into yet. :p)

6. I've revised the analogy a bit. Does that make it better or worse?

MWT said...

7. Also, I'm not saying that every aspect of a community can be defined by one metaphor about a brick wall.

Nathan said...

Dense-boy here. ::waves hands frantically::

I look at your revision and its such a fine distinction that I don't see the distinction. Could you clarify?

Also, you've said you're not talking about modern societies but about online communities. How do you separate the two? Is one of them false? Which one?

Lastly, (and I'm talking about real life here); men battle for Alpha position openly and quickly, then move on with leaders established. Women smile at each other and make happy noises about being supportive, and leadership roles are chosen through backbiting and sniping. (Think Rotary Club vs. D.A.R.) (Yes, its a generalization, but a fairly valid one.)

Janiece Murphy said...

Ah, Nathan. You've hit on the reason why I've always worked and lived in predominantly male communities.

Megadeus said...

MWT, re: your revision. I liked the original better.

The second one seems... declawed.

MWT said...

Nathan: The second one says that all (most; it's a generalization!) cement are women, but doesn't also say that all women are cement. Same for men and bricks.

Actually I was expecting to come back this afternoon and have to make a third revision that says "If a community is a brick wall, there would be bricks and cement in it." :)

I guess the obvious answer to "which is false? modern or online?" would be "online of course, everyone knows online isn't real." ;)

However... now that you point it out, I think I am saying that modern is false. Online, communities develop according to how people actually interact with each other - leaders become leaders because people choose to follow them, which is in turn based on how smart/reasonable/leaderlike they are. In most of the offline world, there are a ton of external factors that interfere with all this; you follow your boss not because s/he's smart/reasonable/leaderlike, but because s/he outranked you at the time you were hired. You had no say in it at all.

I guess also, I'm not looking at "masculine" and "feminine" in quite the same ways either. The modern way is that "feminine" means "meek, demure, pretty, soft, quiet, caretaking, good housewife" while self-confident assertive women are called "bitchy." I reject those definitions. Self-confidence and assertiveness are forms of femininity too, while much of the meekness was taught by expected societal norms and is not inherent.

Rebelcat noted an observation that before little girls are taught to be cute, quiet, easy to manage, they are very strong-willed - much moreso than boys. Does that compare well with what other people see? If so ... would women really be backstabby and snippity if they were allowed to be women?

Rebelcat said...

I've always believed that men should embrace their "feminine" side and woman shouldn't repress their "masculine" traits. I find people that have both sides to be more content and balanced.

The observation I have made was my own daughter and some of her friends at the daycare. I've seen them almost daily since birth and I have also seen their older brothers. I had a chat with the dad to my daughter's best friend and he said that he always thought girls were calmer from birth than boys. Everyone says girls are calmer. But he had realized that it was a myth ;).

I have two kids, an 8 years old boy and a 5 years old daughter. The boy is a calm kid. He is easy to deal with. My daughter on the other hand can be a handful. She has integrity and a strong will.

She has a good opportunity to keep these traits and develope them into strengths.

Anne C. said...

MWT, your clarification about online communities is possibly the most important facet of your original analogy. You're right, online communities are structured differently and are an interesting manifestation of both a modern and predominantly western culture. I wonder if online communities that are predominantly Asian (for example) are structured the same.

Rebelcat, I love that you see your daughter's traits (that might be described as troublesome) can be strengths. Yay!

Thanks, MWT, for the opportunity to talk about this. I still find it unlikely that one single female's contribution determined the "success" or "failure" of a large group, but I'll take your word for it that it was so. I think your premise does make more sense when taken in the context in which you intended: online communities and matriarchal (ancient) societies. I don't know that I'd want the responsibility of keeping things together (especially if I were that lone female in the group). Needless to say, it's a complicated issue. Perfect fodder for a blog post... :)

Anne C. said...

Oh, meant to say that I agree the associations of "meek, demure, pretty, soft, quiet, caretaking, good housewife" with femininity are not necessarily valid. I understood from the beginning that you were not making an association between female and weakness. Turns out, you were actually saying the reverse. It may be a teeny bit romanticized, but for that, thank you.

Tom said...

I am made of brick, you are made from glue,
What ever you say, what ever you do,
It bounces off me, and it sticks to you.

Ooh, look! Pentameter, though not Iambic.

My first thought was if men are bricks (or bricks are men), I'm the missing brick that doesn't quite fit in. Is the wall weaker because of the missing brick?

Then I thought, no, I'm like epoxy, the glue that's as hard as a brick.

Which makes you wonder, there's all kinds of bricks, and all kinds of glue. Some glue is soft and flexible, and others are hard and brittle. Contact cement has an immediate firm grip, that loosens over time. Epoxy needs to be unmolested for a while, and can become stronger than the material it's holding together.

Is all this pushing the analogy, or is it an expression that there are more than two roles in a community, and there are places for all kinds of people.

That's what I think. But the generalization is what made me come to the realization.

And speaking of generalization, on a major point it should be done in private, or you could be subject to corporal punishment.

That's what I get for having computer problems all weekend, and coming in on the tail end of this one. Very interesting, to say the least.

And Rebelcat, something my eyes did funny to me: The l and t just kept falling out, and I saw Rebeca, which disoriented me no end.

Jim Wright said...

I don't think I like this analogy anymore. Cause I'll never hear the end of it from the Warrant.

Naw, that's not it at all, Janiece. I think the crux of the issue is that MWT called me a brick. Cement holds, it can be molded, it adds strength. Roman cement is still holding up ancient structures after 2000 years. See, that's you. Me, I'm a brick. All square corners, crumbling around the edges ;)

MWT, frankly, I surprised the women let you get away with this, I'd be careful, you're liable to get a brick through your front window :)

Rebelcat said...

Anne: She can be really troublesome to deal with from time to time. She can't get what she wants all the time. So we have conflicts with her. And since she has a temperament, it can be tough to calm her down.

But she has a good heart. So when we explain that she can hurt people if she does certain things, she usually understands why it was a bad behaviour.

What I'm saying is that having willpower isn't necessary the same as behaving bad. it helps her to say no when people try to push her around.

Tom: I'm not sure I get what you meant...

Tom said...

Rebelcat, I've seen just a few posts by you, not really enough to have much of a feel for who you are. But the name gives certain associations that I enjoy, and that is all mixed together in my learning who you might be.

Then, looking at your name in a certain way, the l and t kinda faded, maybe because all the other letters are very circular, and the name changed to rebeca, which has very different connotations for me.

It was hard to concentrate on your posts, and instead I started thinking about adding or subtracting a letter or 2 in names, and how that would change them. I don't know why the pattern-matching portions of my brain was doing that, but it was very disorienting.

Certainly nothing about you or your posts had anything to do with this, just my strange brain. But I did wonder why you chose that name (which may be none of my business), and I couldn't help commenting on the feeling. Pardon my digression.

Rebelcat said...

I see. (Sorry MWT to wander off topic here.)

Rebelcat is a nick I've had for more than 10 years now. I've always felt related to cats. And I never really been an ordinary girl so at the time the nick was created, I felt more like a rebel. It's also a tribute to a certain Bowie-song that appealed to me.

*End of off topic-post*

MWT said...

I don't mind off-topic wanders as conversation progresses. I'd mind if someone jumped in with something completely out of the blue and unrelated to anything (save that for Nathan's blog ;) ), but drift is fine.

Anne said: I still find it unlikely that one single female's contribution determined the "success" or "failure" of a large group, but I'll take your word for it that it was so. [...] I don't know that I'd want the responsibility of keeping things together (especially if I were that lone female in the group).

It isn't a burden if you're doing it because you want to, and not because you feel obligated, or because someone has placed it on you. In a lot of ways Katy's whole life (at that time) revolved around us, and the community revolved around her. We were her life, and she put everything she had into the games we played together and the forum we argued in together. Not everyone liked her, but everyone had strong opinions about her, and she certainly had a lot of influence on a lot of people's lives.

It's possible that at the end, all she did was slow down the inevitable - stretch out the lifespan of a community that was dying anyway. Blizzard did a lot of damage by segregating the Warcraft 3 players from the rest of Battlenet, then putting WoW on whole separate servers - where half the community joined a clan and got absorbed by them. Likewise gamers.com for glitching until it finally died, when all we still had in common was the forum. Katy made us a backup forum, and as long as she was there, people followed her to it. But when the main one finally disappeared, she wasn't there anymore; she'd quit gaming so she could focus on fixing her life. And nobody else who could wanted to keep things going, and nobody else who wanted to could.

And in the end, I don't think I can explain what Katy was to the people who cared about her. I still wonder how she's doing.