Some of the terms I just don’t know, I haven’t grown up knowing. The type of missiles that are out there: patriots and scuds and cruise missiles and tomahawk missiles. And I think that men just by osmosis understand all of these things, and they’re things that I really have to work at — to know the difference between a carrier and a destroyer, and what it means when one of those is being launched to a certain area.
These words understandably grate on the ears of Ann at Feministing:
...the vast majority of Americans -- yes, men too -- "haven’t grown up knowing" about complex defense issues. And Spencer notes that there are many prominent, whip-smart women working in defense. But thanks for furthering stereotypes anyway, Dana!
But I think Ann is too hard on Ms. Perino, a point I'd like to make in a roundabout way.
Consider that I don't particularly like hockey, baseball or football, three sports I've never played in any organized way; but I nevertheless know, for example, Wayne Gretzky's number, what icing is, the intricacies of the infield fly rule, the penalties for pass interference in college and professional football respectively, and all sorts of other arcane knowledge that makes Sports & Leisure my go to category in Trivial Pursuit, a game in which I'm not half-bad at the other categories.
Asked how I know all this, I might well say that guys in my elementary school just sort of absorbed this stuff by osmosis, understanding full well that I'd be using a metaphor, for if I really think about it I know this stuff partly because my dad is a sports fan, and partly because the boys in my grade school collected baseball cards, and partly because I just seemed to be able to retain information about this topic more than other topics... and why is that? Nature? Nurture? I don't know, nor do I particularly care, though I suspect its more of the latter.
Were my sister suddenly hired as a sports journalist, a job I'm sure she could quickly get good at, she might well say how it was harder for her at first because, "guys like my brother and my male friends just seemed to grow up absorbing this stuff as kids," and I'd agree. Note that there's no implication that men are inherently more able to grasp some topic or other -- only that the way kids in our society are socialized, it's much easier for men to "absorb" stuff about the military or sports.
Now I am quite sympathetic to Ann's concern that someone might hear Ms. Perino's remarks and imagine that women are unsuited for defense work, a field where women already face skepticism about their qualifications. Everyone is owed evaluation on their own merit, not based upon the perception (or even the reality) of the general aptitudes of some group to which they belong.
I fear, however, that when Ann seems to dispute the rather obvious fact that American boys are more exposed to military culture than American girls, she is immediately dismissed by everyone who isn't already sympathetic to what I take to be her real point: that gender stereotypes are dangerous insofar as they lead us to wrongly evaluate the many individuals for whom they are untrue.
Photo by Flickr user Nugunslinger under a Creative Commons license.