Nine Hypotheses on Women, Status, and Education

There is an inner tension in the reactionary mind between traditionalism and primitivism. All reactionaries hate the modern educational system; but what traditionalists resent above all else is its low standards, whereas primitivists are suspicious of the project of “education” itself. Traditionalists cherish Western civilization and have contempt for liberals who squander its treasures, primitivists take the liberals for its malformed fruit; traditionalists assume reactionary thought will be vindicated by its accuracy and erudition, primitivists are inclined to abandon the models of dialogue and inquiry entirely.

(Which is not to say, by the way, that every reactionary born alive is “either a little bit traditionalist, or a little bit primitivist”; we can be both traditionalist and primitivist at the same time about different issues, or even combine useful insights from both perspectives in our answer to a single question, oblivious to the need to reconcile them.)

One place where this tension emerges is in the question of female status, and in particular in the question of female education. Wearing his primitivist hat, any good reactionary can explain to you the dangers of over-educated women. Wearing his traditionalist hat, any good reactionary can tell you the importance of a genuine ruling class, one that is actually more competent than the loyal subjects it protects. But you don’t get brilliant colts from idiot dams.

A year ago I suggested that, in assembling the raw material for a new ruling class, over-educated wives would be a burden but probably inevitable if we wanted to (a) meet our phenotype-targets while (b) working from within the progressive world as it actually exists in TCY, including current-dominant status-conventions (conventions which would doom any intelligent woman who opted out of the college scam to permanently-reduced social status). This way of framing the problem implies it would be even better if we could find our budding overlords equally-intelligent brides without all that book-larning: better-suited to their role as wives, for one thing, and possibly better-suited to serve as the better half of a eucivic ruling class, as well.

I don’t remember exactly how much of that insinuation was tongue-in-cheek, how much was logical rigor (remember, strong premises make weak arguments, so always see if you can make the case under unfavorable assumptions first), and how much was motivated by the historical evidence that female education and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race (see here and here, for example). Either way, I have been revisiting the underlying premise about female status; not that I have reversed my  earlier position, but I have finally found some interesting evidence against the strongest version of it.

There have been ruling-class networks, networks whose high levels of female education was actually a distinguishing characteristic, which handled the female-status problem well. One specific network that I’ve had a chance to study was thriving for at least a century after the fashion for educating daughters arose (a century during which it weathered many of the worst dangers old-regime societies face astonishingly well); and the first disaster they suffered that could conceivably be counted against their fitness to rule had no easily-discerned link to female education, which had at any rate been unexceptional for approximately two generations by that time.

I’m not going to say which network this is (although some of you are so whip-smart you’ve already guessed); and I’m not inclined to gather evidence in favor of the thesis that female education is mostly harmless. Instead I’m going to ask: how did they do it? If there really were some ruling classes that solved the female-status problem, what might explain their ability to navigate the potential dangers of female education?

1. The educated women were kept busy educating their children. Where ruling-class children are educated at home by tutors, and ruling-class men only have on average 3-6 more years of education than their sisters, what the mother knows is exactly sufficient to help her sons excel at the grammar-school curriculum before they leave home for advanced study. (Note also that this gives mothers in the lower rungs of the ruling class, with less money to pay tutors, proportionally more responsibility.)

2. They were also used to translate their husbands’ friends work into different languages (from Latin to English, from English to French, etc.). Note that if the translator’s name is suppressed, the wife can take an active interest in the success of her translation (heightened, perhaps, by the reader’s impression that the translation is in the voice of the original author) without being exposed to direct criticism or sucked into the ongoing substantive debates. (If the translation sparked an acrimonious new debate, her sons were of course likely to take a special interest in defending it.) One can imagine similar sorts of “translation” between the formal notation of technical fields and a colloquial, popular presentation.

3. So long as major positions of cultural status were nodes in private social networks rather than roles in public institutions, corporations, and so on, being friends with literati was a suitable substitute for personal glory. Even more importantly: so long as the cultural-status hierarchy is at the same time a private social hierarchy, educated women cannot bid for status by reaching out to “patronize” impoverished literati independently. To offer friendship to someone whose friendship was not coveted (by other nodes in the  network) would defeat the purpose.

4. Continuing the same point: for a woman to seek status by independently patronizing intellectuals implies she is either substantially independent of her husband or she is disproportionately influential in some social clique. How do you avoid a surplus of independent women? Marry them off young, make sure they have lots of children, and keep the clan tight-knit enough that she has no standing independent of her brothers and brothers-in-law in the unhappy event she becomes a widow while her sons are still minors.

5. Three additional thoughts on early marriage. No woman wants to be unloved. In societies where desirable women attract high-status suitors, high-status women are never unmarried for long. No woman can raise her status by extending her childhood or widowhood (and thus her capacity for over-educated mischief) unless she can have it believed that she is actually more desirable than other women who (re-)marry quickly.

6. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that this network was unusually harsh on fornication. Reactionaries who are soft on male promiscuity and infidelity generally appeal to realism or asymmetry. But on a societal level, the logic of these arguments only adds up if you assume that the cad is only sowing wild oats among the peasantry — a form of restraint unknown in recorded history. If powerful men routinely take lovers, within a generation they will routinely take high-status lovers… and the status of unmarried women will start to rise (because lack of a husband no longer indicates lack of romantic success).

7. Most reactionaries, I think, would agree there is nothing wrong with arranged marriages. But there is one respect in which letting young adults make imprudent choices is more eucivic than forcing them to defer to their parents. Part of the reason why parents can arrange better matches (better, that is, for the child and for the clan as a whole) is because they have the maturity and emotional distance to be patient negotiators. But a patient negotiator gets the best deal for himself — better than what the terms of his offer really merit — by stretching out the negotiations. If one family is patient and all the others are impatient, the patient family can snag disproportionately good matches for all its children. But if all families are patient, then you just get late marriage, small families, and lots of pretty 20-somethings with idle hands. Perhaps we should take it as a sign of a healthy ruling class when young men still enter into impetuous marriages to their friends’ sisters, the daughters of their fathers’  allies, and so on. Individual parents, of course, should protect their children’s interests; but if the norms of the ruling class as a whole allow opportunities for young adults (of comparable social status) to flirt and become obsessed with each other, it may well defuse a serious collective action problem.

8. Returning to the finish the thought in Hypothesis #4: what prevents women from having disproportionate power over any (culturally-influential) social circle? One possibility is that a wide disparity in the intelligence and education of ruling class women is what creates the danger that we see in e.g. the Borgia and Medici women, or in the salons of the Enlightenment philothottes. If the wives of N men are all equally prepared to participate in their husbands’ discussions, they will all have equal roles on occasions when they are included in the discussion, and all N of them will exercise very little influence over the group. But if exactly one of the wives can participate, the fact that she is the only female actor will engender dynamics that give her outsized influence (in the extreme case, transforming the circle into “her” salon and giving her an independent capacity for patronage). If this is correct, it is not female education per se that creates thot-leaders, but weak competition.

9. A final hypothesis. Female misbehavior and improper influence tends to be sexual in nature; chaste women are much more harsh in their judgment of improper female influence than chaste men; so, paradoxically, while a society is still in a stable moral equilibrium, a small number of women in positions of unusual political power drastically diminishes the informal cultural power of women (because these women are so much more severe than the men in punishing sluts and other deviants).

8 thoughts on “Nine Hypotheses on Women, Status, and Education

  1. “philothottes.”

    Chuckle.

    “(remember, strong premises make weak arguments, so always see if you can make the case under unfavorable assumptions first),”

    What does this mean?

    Are you saying that self-evident premises and a conclusion that deductively follows from such premises is, while not weak, uninformative and also not very useful (in the sense of informing and persuading others)? In addition, does “unfavorable assumptions” mean “under the most charitable assumptions”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. a strong set of premises claims more, a weaker set claims less. {A, B, C} is strictly stronger than {A, B} because it entails all of the conclusions of {A, B} plus anything else that you can deduce by adding C as well. More broadly, yes, we could say {A, B, C} is stronger than {A, D, E} in the case where those are bolder assumptions; the extreme case of this would be in a proof that C, where {A, B, C} yields “Theorem: C. C, by premise 3. qed”, which is a weak argument. (You can think of it as a question of which is doing more work, the premises or the arguments.)

      I wouldn’t try to frame this as about “self-evidence” (though I see what you’re trying to get at…) because the value of the concept is that it brackets the question of whether the premises are true or false, likely or unlikely, controversial or cliché; you can use it to analyze arguments even in purely abstract form.

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  2. “But you don’t get brilliant colts from idiot dams.”

    True, but, you wouldn’t try to teach a female horse to add up numbers in the hope that it had smarter offspring, would you, given the genetic nature of intelligence? Why, then, would you risk educating women?

    Liked by 1 person

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