Glory and Destiny

The University of Georgia has a long and storied history, being one of the claimants to the title of oldest public college in the United States.  So it is no surprise to see another extraordinary story from that institution, featuring a young lady of wisdom and character.  Also, fairly impressive biceps.
A deeply religious junior exercise and sports science major, Watson was on the brink of a $75,000 fitness-modeling contract that could have set her up for a lifetime career in modeling -- but she turned it down.... A modeling agent wanted her to use Anavar, a legal anabolic steroid to help her gain up to 50 pounds of muscle. Worried about the effects on her body when she decides to have kids, Watson passed.
There stands some discerning judgment, for one so young.  That's glory.

This is destiny:
She can bench press 155 pounds, squat 255 pounds and dead lift 230 pounds. 
I could do more than that the first day I walked into the gym.  That's nothing in praise of me or against her.  Her muscles show a better 'cut' and appearance.  I'm in fairly good shape, but nobody is going to offer me a fitness-modeling contract.  She has clearly developed virtues of moderation, temperance and wisdom.  It's just a fact.

She's spent a lifetime training to develop muscle and strength, and is probably among the strongest women in America.  Nevertheless, there it is.  This is the sort of thing we increasingly tend to ignore when making determinations about military policy, but it's real enough.  As we cut military budgets, especially in ground forces, we'll be less able to compensate for weaker soldiers in other ways.  It's not just about the weight you can lift and carry; there's the injury problem, too.  By the way, Ms. Watson is out of service due to damage to her Achilles tendon right now.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for women and their contribution to society and the military.  I have often written about how much I appreciate the contribution of American servicewomen in Iraq, where I had the honor to serve with some outstanding ones.  In no way do I wish to detract from the glory of a woman who strives to do her best.  We just have to be clear-eyed about this business, because things are going to get harder for our warriors as the money dries up.


Texan99 said...

It would be hard to deny that the average man is naturally stronger than the average woman. It's a natural advantage of men. The problem arises when a group of people with one set of natural advantages assumes that those advantages are exactly the right ones to assure excellence in every important endeavor, because they have assured excellence in some. Or, to put it a different way, that endeavors are important in the exact proportion to the extent that men's natural advantages are the ones that will ensure excellence in them.

Women are smaller. They tend to excel in extremely long-term endurance contests such as super-Marathons or extended famines. They typically find it easier to maintain a broad view rather than a narrow focus. There are habits of competition that don't distract them in the same way they can blind men. Not by accident, the most popular contests among men don't stress these areas of competition. But we should be cautious about assuming that the competitions that are the most interesting to men are the only endeavors with meaning and value in all human life, including the female half (we live here, too, you know!).

If some guy's breaking into my house swinging a sword, I definitely want a burly, aggressive man to fight him back. If the fate of a community depends on a tense hostage negotiation or the ability to survive an extended siege, I might prefer a woman in charge.

There are lots of things that the average man doesn't do well in comparison to women. Women know this, but tend to be able to take it into account without denigrating what men are good at. I'm not sure why men find the complementary frame of mind more difficult; maybe just because they find it harder to look at the world from a different (and less powerful) perspective without feeling a blow to self-worth. Women's self-worth seems to have a different source.

Grim said...

All that is perfectly fair. I was thinking of the issue restricted to the one area mentioned: military ground forces. We're looking at a plan to cut those substantially, which is going to reduce the support units and technologies that we've been using in part as mitigation for our social preferences.

In other words, instead of infantry carrying packs, we provide mechanized transport; and if that transport is vulnerable to roadside bombs, instead of moving back to infantry, we increase the size and armor of the transportation. A small unit can operate comfortably in a remote area because they can depend on ready access to artillery and close air support, so that their own organic capacity need not be all they rely upon. Medical evacuation, and ready replacements, mean that 'sports injury' type stresses are not as big a deal (although they still pose substantial challenges to the unit, more replacements are available from a bigger army, and fewer from a smaller). Etc.

We've been moving more and more toward eliminating the last restrictions; but I think that our ability to do that depends much more than we've realized on the funding and technology we're substituting for physical strength and resistance to injury. I'm not advocating for the elimination of women from the military, or anything like that; just as you say, there are some things that women are better at (and some things, especially in Islamic countries, that only they can effectively do). Still, we may want to reconsider the momentum toward eliminating the last restrictions, where ground-combat units are concerned.

Russ said...

Texan99, I believe that you read a whole lot into what Grim wrote, that was never written. Grim was writing about a narrow subset of roles that women fill that are problematic. The roles that you brought up had nothing to do with Grim's statement.

If I am discussing the pros and cons of a Honda car, bringing up a Honda lawnmower adds nothing to the discussion.

Would it not be proper to actually argue your side if you disagree with him, instead of changing the subject.

Texan99 said...

I was talking about something we often talk about, which Grim's post reminded me of. It's a common topic here, how unsuited women are for some role or another, often one that was developed on the assumption that most or all of its practitioners would enjoy great individual muscular strength (soldiers, firemen, football players, etc.). It's my belief that the topic could be discussed more usefully if it included a consideration of how our culture develops and defines many of its roles, and how sometimes the role's definition has more to do with the people who traditionally pursued it than with the perfect candidate for pursuing whatever end the role theoretically is aimed at.

In a perfectly rational world, aimed only at average efficiency and not what individuals would like to take a shot at doing, all astronaut and jockey positions would have been awarded to women. Over the years, men would gradually have been allowed to compete for them, despite their obvious physical disqualification (i.e., strong tendency to be too big). There would be gnashing of teeth over whether men were being unfairly allowed to compete at a higher weight, and the deleterious impact on racing, space travel, etc. But roles aren't defined that rationally. I think it's interesting to consider the fallacies and unconscious drives that may have been built into their definition.

As for strictly sticking to the subject, well, you know, women just aren't very linear thinkers. We're more inclined to break up paradigms and try out a different perspective. (It's in our genes.)

Grim said...

I don't mind digression myself. I'm not sure it's true that it's a common topic that women are unsuited for things; both here and at BLACKFIVE, I've long been one of the defenders of the proposition that women provide a unique contribution to the military that cannot be replaced by men.

What prompted this piece was just reading this article -- which came to my attention because of the UGA link -- and coming across those numbers buried in the article. I would have assumed she was fantastically strong from her appearance and the obvious diligence of her efforts. I was shocked to realize her numbers were what they were, but with some checking into stats of female Olympic weightlifters, she does seem to be in the right range.

There are lots of things I could never do with any amount of effort -- indeed, I have been barred from most of the things I ever wanted to try, for one reason or another. My position is one of great sympathy. Lots of times we ought to let people with heart try to do what they want, even if they can't be the very best; but sometimes, in situations when the life and death of an entire team depend on each member, we have to be more honest with ourselves than we sometimes have been.

Present company excluded, of course; we are all honest men and women. That's why we fight so much. :)

Grim said...

By the way, T99, I did find this suggestion interesting:

... or the ability to survive an extended siege, I might prefer a woman in charge.

This is an area I've been reading about a fair amount over the last year or so. What seems to have been necessary to survive extended sieges is a ruthlessness in distributing resources. The successful defender seizes the food and other provisions of the innocent, and then expels them to the mercy of the attacker. Sometimes attackers would have mercy, and let the expelled pass out of the lines; but sometimes they would force them to starve between the army and the walls, in the hope that some human pity would cause the defenders to re-admit them (and thus to expend their stores more rapidly).

This kind of activity requires a compartmentalization of current necessity from morality: one is generally taking from the innocent and the weak, in order to sustain the violent and strong. There may be reasons that compel this, but it is a terrible thing to decide to do. If the attacker refuses mercy to the expelled, it requires a sustained capacity to refuse to admit the horror of what you are doing into your heart. No one can deny that horror forever, but it must be denied admittance all the while the people turn to skeletons and die before your eyes.

That kind of compartmentalization is a capacity that men generally seem to possess in a far greater degree than women. It is no praise of men to say so. Nevertheless, it does seem to be the case.

Texan99 said...

I meant physically able to survive the starvation longer.

douglas said...

"There are lots of things that the average man doesn't do well in comparison to women. Women know this, but tend to be able to take it into account without denigrating what men are good at."

That's funny, I hear men being made the butt of jokes all the time- in casual conversation, on TV and in movies, it's become the standard caricature in much of popular culture- the dumb brute of a man, who thinks he can take care of things gets saved by the girl who's tougher than she looks (and smarter than the guy). It's not that it can't be the case, it's just that the reversal of the pro-male stereotype looks even more preposterous, because it's even further from the truth. It's why we worry about a generation of males who aren't being given the message that being male is desirable or good, and thus are as a group becoming feminized, and failing to be competent at upholding the male role in society when called upon. Women, in turn, are becoming burned out, trying to be women and men at the same time.

I have to point out also that astronauts and jockeys generally should be male, as even at smaller sizes for males (more readily available than large and strong females) they are stronger than equally sized women, on average.

There is little doubt though, that in contests of extreme endurance, where speed plays a significantly lesser role, women can and do excel.

Texan99 said...

Does being an astronaut or a jockey really require more strength than the average healthy young woman has got? I'd have said the more important skills resided in the neo-cortex; after that, you just want someone small and dextrous, with good reflexes and balance. The weight limitations on high-end professional jockeys are so cruel they almost rival the modeling world.

I agree with you that we're experiencing a strong backlash in the popular culture, showing women as emotionally superior for rhetorical (and comical) purposes. I'd never argue that that's fair, only that it's another example of how much irrationality is built into all these attitudes, and how little attention to what really needs to get done and what qualities are necessary for the task. Much of it has more to do with a frantic impulse to burnish self-esteem, of either the male or female variety.

If we were calmly concerned with competence, we'd figure out what's really needed and set the job requirements there, instead of swinging between "no women allowed" and "women get graded on the curve." It's the same pattern we see with all kinds of discrimination followed by affirmative action.

douglas said...

Yep, that's about it.

A side note- Ignaz Schwinn, the bicycle mogul, and noted sexist- did think that women made better brazers of his bike frames. Brazing being a very precise technique where it needs to be 'just right', he felt they had better disposition for it.