How Did I Know From Her Prose that Deirdre McCloskey Used to Be a Man?

 

Well, this is weird. National Review is running an interview with economist Deirdre McCloskey, who has just released volume two of a six-volume account of the birth and flourishing of the bourgeoisie and its transformation of the modern world. The interview is worth reading for its own sake, but there’s something particularly strange about it.

I hadn’t heard of her before. I probably should have, but I simply had no idea who she was. Now, those of you who do know who she is will think I’m making this up, but I swear I’m not–I went into that completely unaware. But as I was reading, I was thinking, “This woman does not think like a woman. Who is she?” 

I Googled her and discovered that in fact, she used to be Donald McCloskey.

I had absolutely no way of knowing that, and yet–I swear to you–it was my first, unprompted reaction, not on seeing her photo, but on reading about six paragraphs of her writing. 

I don’t know what tipped me off. Is it that only men, in their superb creativity and vanity–God bless them!–would ever conceive of writing a six-volume magnum opus explaining the birth and flourishing of the bourgeoisie and its subsequent transformation of the modern world? Or is it something else? Can you figure out from that interview how I knew that? 

Anyway, once you’re over the weirdness of that, here’s a lovely essay she wrote about Milton Friedman. And there’s lots of other interesting stuff on her website. 

There are 102 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DouglasPologe

    A moment of discovery for Claire – how exhilarating!

    Men think more mechanically (in general), while women tend more towards flowing emotion (in general). The rest is all details.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    Did you read it? I wouldn’t characterize her thought in that interview as “machinelike” rather than “flowing and emotional.” It’s something else. But definitely something.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MichaelTee

    I think you mean his website.

    All the surgery and supplements in the world doesn’t change the biology or the biochemistry, as you have just pointed out.

    In the immortal words of Austin Powers, “That’s a man, baby!”

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DouglasPologe

    I don’t have the time to read these pieces like many others here seem to, Claire – I’m just generalizing from experience.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    Actually, Michael, hormonal supplementation very much changes the biology. That’s beyond doubt.

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @KennedySmith

    My favorite Ricochet topic! A lot of people get images in their heads when reading something. I hear voices. Maybe should see a doctor for that.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    I see what you mean, Clare.

    Lines like this strike me as typically masculine thinking: “But, in fact, rhetoric and dignity are rather easily measured.”

    I tend toward Michael Tee’s view. Gender is deeper than biology.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MelFoil

    It’s maybe the curtness and matter-of-factness of the writing–revealing the expectation that authority is something easily gained.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    @outstripp

    This is just a guess based upon a short perusal, but you may have been tipped off by the paucity of hedging moves. (Notice how many hedges I slipped into that sentence! Please don’t out me.)

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    @PeterHintz

    Her humor is a man’s humor.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @LadyKurobara
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I wouldn’t characterize her thought in that interview as “machinelike” rather than “flowing and emotional.” It’s something else. But definitely something.

    The style is definitely not “machinelike.” I would describe it more as “punchy” and no-nonsense. McCloskey sounds like an erudite, intelligent, hardboiled detective explaining economics. The slightest hint of a hardboiled writing style will lend a distinctly “masculine” quality to any piece of prose.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR

    Fwiw, I became more deeply engaged when I hit this part of the exchange:

    “It’s like measuring the acceleration of a falling stone in a non-vacuum. We know the acceleration in a vacuum. So anything slower than that is probably caused by air resistance. It may be hard to measure air resistance directly. But….etc.”

    Her analogy works well, but “It’s like [insert hyper-logical analogy here, even if it doesn’t quite fit]…” is exactly the sort of thing that causes my wife to tune me out (as she should in most cases).

    Could this be it? Katievs is hitting on the same point, I think, in #7.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Inactive
    @LadyKurobara

    Fiction writers can easily disguise their gender simply by adopting the writing style appropriate to a given genre. Using pseudonyms, men successfully write romances and women successfully write westerns and mysteries. My own style is extremely feminine, but, in a pinch, I can shift into “hardboiled” and completely erase the feminine quality.

    Writing non-fiction is a different kettle of fish, though. There is no “genre mask” to hide behind. So a writer’s gender is far more likely to assert itself in the prose.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Inactive
    @PeterHintz

    “If your personal checks circulated as currency, and the grocer was willing to give you tons of groceries in exchange for eventually depreciated Matt-dollars, wouldn’t you go for it? I would, and drink champagne.”

    It’s not her rationality. It’s her punchy-funny style that is more common to males. Hitchens has written about this.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    Maybe it’s directional. Men tend to measure, quantify, break-down, re-strunure, render useful and manipulable, etc. Women tend to intuit, humanize, spiritualize…

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    The other day my husband and I were driving along DC area highways. Lots of road construction going on, including bridges for roads over roads. I was looking not just at unfinished projects, but the machinery involved: the cranes built to lift huge segments of concrete onto piles, so that later massive numbers of cars can drive over them safely and smoothly.

    I said to husband: “Men’s minds are amazing.”

    That’s how it struck me. Not that they are smarter than women, but that their intelligence is so different from ours.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Member
    @Franco

    This is a fascinating subject to me. I am more and more understanding that Gender is deeper than biology, as katievs said.

    What ultimately convinced me was the John/Joan case where a young boy, born with ambiguous genitalia was turned into a girl as an infant. The results were horrendous.

    I also read this very interesting book about a woman who spent a year posing as a man. It was quite informative on every aspect of this. Ultimately she started becoming psychologically disturbed as a result.

    I can usually tell when a commenter is male or female.

    However there are several female writers who it seems to me write in a male voice, if you will, and they are some of my favorite writers, Orianna Fallaci, Camile Paglia, and to prove it isn’t an Italian thing, Ayn Rand, and little known Celia Green.

    I’m male by the way in case any of you were wondering…

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire
    Lady Kurobara: Fiction writers can easily disguise their gender simply by adopting the writing style appropriate to a given genre. Using pseudonyms, men successfully write romances and women successfully write westerns and mysteries. My own style is extremely feminine, but, in a pinch, I can shift into “hardboiled” and completely erase the feminine quality.

    Writing non-fiction is a different kettle of fish, though. There is no “genre mask” to hide behind. So a writer’s gender is far more likely to assert itself in the prose. · Dec 15 at 6:22am

    Game for you, Lady K. Want to change your user name and profile to something masculine and see how long it takes for us to figure out you’re actually a chick? If ever?

    Actually, that’s probably a bad idea. I suspect new members who are really men would take poorly to having everyone guess that they’re Lady K. in disguise.

    Never mind.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Inactive
    @KennedySmith

    I had no idea that the mystery genre was a male preserve, milady. Seems like women defined it. Requires intricate planning and plotting, but that’s a sweeping generalization too far.

    Perhaps you mean the action/thriller, um, stuff. [edited to not anger authors of action/thriller, um, stuff]

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Member
    @Franco

    In Camille Paglia’s awesome work, Sexual Personae, in the first 100 pages she lays out the whole thing for us. Women she posits are complete as they are. They need not seek out. The world effectively revolves around them. I won’t try to boil this down in 200 words, but it opened my eyes, big time.

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    Maybe all that intricate planning and plotting over murder was a harmless outlet for frustrated feminine intelligence.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire
    Franco:

    However there are several female writers who it seems to me write in a male voice, if you will, and they are some of my favorite writers, Orianna Fallaci, Camile Paglia, and to prove it isn’t an Italian thing, Ayn Rand, and little known Celia Green.

    Orianna Fallaci? Camille Paglia? Male voices? Are you kidding?

    “My favorite Ginger Rogers performance is in “Stage Door,” where she and Katharine Hepburn are like prickly lionesses sparring over territory. Some weird energy was happening between those two alpha gals!”

    I wouldn’t have had a moment’s doubt whether it was a woman who wrote those words.

    Or these:

    “Yesterday I was hysterical.”

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    By the way, don’t miss the essay on Milton Friedman, particularly her response to the persistent charges that Friedman advised the Pinochet government. That’s actually probably more interesting.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    You see? Women personalize, spiritualize. We love mystery and metaphor and the telling detail. We look for truth more in individuality than in generality.

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Inactive
    @KennedySmith

    Interestingly (to me, so listen up), male mystery writers go more with the gut, and women with the mind. Sherlock Holmes, parlor tricks aside, often lucks into the solution, and Nero Wolfe gets so curmudgeonly frustrated that he’ll try anything to shake things up and see what happens, as long as it doesn’t interrupt his meal schedule. The women rely more on cool logic and hidden clues that seem blindingly obvious looking back, but you totally forgot about. In that sense, both Wodehouse and Rowling would make excellent mystery writers, while King would not.

    Women and men are different things, but not clean different things. I fence and Claire kickboxes, so what does that say?

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs

    I agree that there is something notably masculine in Ayn Rand’s thought. But I also think it doesn’t suit her. I mean, in her, the masculine comes across as inhumanly hard and cold. It’s as if she meant to reject the feminine in herself.

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire
    katievs: We look for truth more in individuality than in generality. · Dec 15 at 6:57am

    That statement’s self-refuting, don’t you think? Unless, of course, you’re actually a man. But based on your prose, I highly doubt it.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottR
    Kennedy Smith: Interestingly (to me, so listen up)…..

    Hilarious.

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member
    @katievs
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    katievs: We look for truth more in individuality than in generality. · Dec 15 at 6:57am

    That statement’s self-refuting, don’t you think? Unless, of course, you’re actually a man. But based on your prose, I highly doubt it. · Dec 15 at 7:03am

    I don’t say there’s no such thing as general truths. THAT would be self-refuting.

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member
    @Franco
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Franco:

    However there are several female writers who it seems to me write in a male voice, if you will, and they are some of my favorite writers, Orianna Fallaci, Camile Paglia, and to prove it isn’t an Italian thing, Ayn Rand, and little known Celia Green.

    Orianna Fallaci? Camille Paglia? Male voices? Are you kidding?

    “My favorite Ginger Rogers performance is in “Stage Door,” where she and Katharine Hepburn are like prickly lionesses sparring over territory. Some weird energy was happening between those two alpha gals!”

    I wouldn’t have had a moment’s doubt whether it was a woman who wrote those words.

    Or these:

    “Yesterday I was hysterical.”

    Dec 15 at 6:49am

    OK, maybe a gay guy…No, but they aren’t trying to hide their femininity and Lady K makes good points about the distinction between fiction and non fiction. I take your point though, perhaps it is their anger, passion and their cajones, in rare levels for females that has me. BTW English is a second (or third?) language for Fallaci but that is a small point I know…

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.