Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Big Misery On Campus

Experts say college students are more stressed out than ever, because of their worries about declining opportunity after graduation, their student loans, their parents' unemployment, and the pressure they've been putting themselves under since high school. It's worse for young women than men:
“One aspect of it is how women and men spent their leisure time,” [UCLA's Linda Sax] said. “Men tend to find more time for leisure and activities that relieve stress, like exercise and sports, while women tend to take on more responsibilities, like volunteer work and helping out with their family, that don’t relieve stress.”


MK said...

Hmmm, interesting. I wonder if there is a link between the findings and the differences in attitudes and actions you described in the nice Giffords piece about female friendship and the eyerolling “debate” to which I linked in my Kennedy, Reagan and Nixon blog post at HNN about Afghanistan. I mostly turn away from guys who yell on the Internet as projecting too much insecurity and lack of confidence in their arguments. But why do they do it?

Some linguists contend that men tend to view discourse as combat and are very sensitive to who is “up” and who is “down” in terms of stature. They tend to get drawn into King of the Hill struggles on message boards. Women tend not to focus so much on status, show less anxiety about it (except for people such as Sarah P., hah!), and are drawn to collaboration. Not everyone fits those stereotypes, of course.

However, one linguist has cited studies where little boys sit facing forward and talk without looking at each other. Little girls turn the chairs so they are facing the other little girls and talk. She believes that men are drawn to “report talk” and women to “rapport talk.” And that many men bond by doing things together (sports, etc.) while women bond by sharing information about themslves. Some mothers of teenage sons say they have the most success in talking about difficult topics with their sons while driving, while neither is looking at each other.

There are certainly some female table pounders in public discourse but I associate the most vitriol and putdowns with male demagogues. I wonder if anger and yelling provides them stress relief (although it is a poor tactic for winning over converts). And whether nurturing and trying to help each other (volunteering, helping family members), while soothing and uplifting, don’t provide the same sort of stress relief that yelling at the world does, because they involve being dutiful rather than self indulgent.

Again, I tend to be leery of stereotypes but have observed some of the same thing in *some* men and women that the linguistic experts describe.

Fr. John said...

Your comment and the reference to the posture of little boys and girls reminds me of a passage in Nicholas Nickleby, which I'm rereading:

"'These are only some pupils of mine,' said Wackford Squeers, pointing to the little boy on the trunk and the two little boys on the floor, who had been staring at each other without uttering a word, writhing their bodies into most remarkable contortions, according to the custom of little boys when they first become acquainted."

Whether Dickens' insight is about little boys figuring out how to be in relationship or who's going to be in charge, I'm not sure. Probably depends. My experience is that most men have a few friendships and a large network of useful associations and alliances that they call friendships but which actually are pretty much fungible and disposable. Whereas the feminist ethicists I read in seminary make pretty clear that that women are more inclined to give priority to relationships in and of themselves. To generalize (as these writers do, but often with considerable empirical backing), men will be more inclined to sacrifice a relationship for an abstract principle and women, vice versa. How people's insecurity interacts across this divide is above my pay level!