Arguments

Over the weekend, a group of my friends had a lengthy and acrimonious discussion about feminism. For the bulk of the conversation, there was no common ground. We disagreed about the merits of feminism. We disagreed about the goals of feminism. But especially, we disagreed about the proponents of feminism. Some of us thought they were touchpad sensitive harpies who would jump on any cautionary statement as “blaming the victim.” Others of us assigned the label more broadly, to average men and women who wanted everyone to be treated fairly. The former group was dismissive; the dismissive group was being called chauvinistic. It was getting ugly.

“The world has real problems – like sex trafficking and forced marriages – why don’t they focus on those?” the first group asked. “Sex trafficking and forced marriages are issues that feminists focus on,” the second group responded. Oh. And as it turned out, that’s what the disagreement was: we all had different images in mind when we talked about feminism and feminists. Once we clarified what we meant by our words, there was nothing left to argue. Such is the situation behind most altercations: people who agree, talking about different things or using different definitions. Read the rest of this entry »


Just Friends

A friend of mine, newly in a relationship, posed this question: how do you maintain friendships with members of the opposite sex when you’ve left the realm of singledom?

A lot of times, the short answer I hear is, “You can’t.” Romantic relationships are tough enough as it is; there’s no shortage of potential stumbling blocks even before you add in the cute gym partner. Toning down the friendships that your significant other might see as a threat seems only considerate.

But I disagree with the view that relationships should be ascetic. Having a boyfriend might mean no more food fights at the Delphic and no more sleepovers with the convenient grad student, but it doesn’t mean you have to sit at home and plead the fifth. Turning into a wallflower is the least constructive thing you can do because it makes both of you less interesting. Read the rest of this entry »


Drinks Conversation

Last night, a friend and I were discussing the oft-hilarious results of non-science people talking about science: in particular, a newspaper article referring to the different sizes of infinity. “There are an infinite number of multiples of 3, and an infinite number of multiples of 9,” the article goes on to say, “but there are more multiples of 3.” My friend found this highly amusing.

At the time, I laughed along. We were at a party; it was drinks conversation. But the more I thought about it, the less shocking it seemed. The idea of countable and uncountable infinities is not exactly intuitive. The idea that there exists a one-to-one correspondence between the multiples of 3 and the multiples of 9, and somehow that means they’re the same size, is also not intuitive. There’s no reason to expect that someone without a math background would be able to get it right, just like there’s no reason to expect someone who’s never had sex to make love like a porn star (although there is reason to expect a newspaper to hire a competent fact-checker). Read the rest of this entry »


Lessons from Empathy

The preponderance of etiquette handbooks and checklists give the impression that social grace is about memorizing rules. But this method is destined to fail. You’ll find yourself on a date and forget the “don’t interrupt others” rule because you’re too focused on the “chew with your mouth closed” rule. It’s much more productive to look at a situation from the bottom up. The “rules” of social interaction are complicated, but a serious effort to put yourself in the place of others will go a long way toward demystifying many of these seemingly unmotivated tenets. They even came up with a word for it; it’s called empathy.

But what exactly does it mean to empathize with someone?

It’s a tricky term. I’ve heard empathy defined as knowing other people’s fears and desires as our own (also as “when you feel other people’s pain in your body” courtesy of Yahoo Answers). But since this isn’t always possible, it’s best to start with ourselves. We know things about others because they are true about us. Read the rest of this entry »