In a Biographies of Hegemony, Karen Ho discusses how institutions such as universities and law firms instill values that are unquestionably distorted in their students and stock market workers. In Leslie Bell’s Hard to Get: 20-Something women and the paradox of Sexual Freedom moreover, the issue of the system’s propensity in creating self-serving values recurs. The text shows how institutions and other systems in the society have the capacity to instill certain values in people. However, in young people in the path to self-discovery, some of these values can be detrimental since they are solely geared to serve these systems. However, not all of these values are as dangerous. This paper will thereby, through a comparison of the two texts, seek to show that these systems’ self-serving values can be of benefit to society.
Every human being espouses certain values that guide them throughout their lives. Values are the qualities that individuals or groups regard as important and aspire towards. These values are forged throughout people’s lives and are sourced from family, friends, religion and society at large. According to Karen Ho, Ivy League colleges and the Wall Street culture can rightly be accused of having taken an intrinsic human quality and quantified it into a value; the ability to make money in a competitive environment. By aspiring to achieve that value, students and young workers in this system have only served to perpetuate the same system by ensuring that more youth in the future would strive to achieve their predecessors’ success. The same accusation can justifiably be extrapolated to how society has embraced the presently promulgated notion of female sexual liberation. This is since for society expects that for women, the 20s age bracket, “describes this time in their lives as one in which they were relatively free from social restrictions and proscriptions on sexuality and relationships” (Bell 29). Society warrants this accusation since it has invariably tried to quantify inherent traits in women and presented the achievement of both as a dissonance. For instance, society took two intrinsic human characteristics; compassion and sexuality and used them as a tool for gauging the quality of femininity. Women aspiring towards been seen as compassionate are now valued as ‘good girls’ while those that seek to liberate themselves sexually are valued as ‘independent women’. Such quantification is not in itself wrong; trouble ensues when the same society hints at the incompatibility of both values in the same woman. This is since it results into a clash of values where women seeking the achievement of one directive must incur a trade-off of the other. Leslie demonstrates this by saying, “Particularly for women with a fragile sense of self, the bad-girl strategy seemed to provide a strong identity. But rather than feeling, strong and protected, some bad girls were left feeling alone and vulnerable” (Bell 31). The author refers to this phenomenon as splitting, whereby a young woman devotes her identity to either directive’s archetype. The aforementioned clash of values is amplified by the fact that each directive is rife with both positive and negative connotations. Leslie Bell asserts that contemporary women are forced to choose strength, independence and control versus vulnerability, desire and relatedness (Bell 62). Consequently, as young women aspire towards one directive due to its implied positive affect, they inevitably fall victim to the other’s negative affect.
Creation of values is paramount in every society since it directs individuals on how to act and adds worth to the institution of life. Values are largely created from norms and traditions that have worked best throughout the history of mankind. However, since human progress is only possible through the social intercourse of dissenting disciplines, different institutions have professed the need of certain values over others. In Karen Ho’s example, the rarity of certain human qualities was responsible for creating the Ivy League and Wall Street values. In these institutions, the rarity of the mindset bestowed with raw intelligence, competitiveness, propensity to risk, eloquence and confidence informed the creation of the ‘smartness’ value. As a result, young people naturally with some of the above traits would strive to make up for what they lacked in schools so as to eventually join the pool of other ‘smart’ individuals. As stated by the author, “through the process of recruitment, investment banks define the notion of both what it takes to be successful in an age of global capital” (Ho 41). The financial nature of this system moreover attached a monetary reward to the value so as to motivate others into following the same path. In so doing, this system can be said to be behind the creation of the ‘smartness’ value. It is additionally correct to assert that the system benefits from the proliferation of this value. This is since it capitalizes young people’s need for self-identification. Through the provision of a sense of identity to the young and a promise of financial reward, the system ensures its own propagation since their youth product invariably becomes role models to others who are gifted and in search of self-discovery. This is since youth see themselves as “being at the pinnacle of power into the identity formation of bankers-to-be” (Ho 55). Alternatively worded, “through the continual praxis of recruitment, the Street enacts the very foundations of its legitimacy” (Ho 41). In Leslie Bell’s scenario, society’s struggle with embracing the best of modernity while at the same time preserving tradition is the creative force behind the values she discusses. This struggle bears a dissonance between the currently salient knowledge that all genders are equal and the deeply entrenched patriarchal fear of emasculation that traditional worldviews cling to. In this regard, two dissenting institutions can be isolated; feminism, which advocates for sexual liberation of women and religion which continually tries to snuff women’s sexuality. In propagating the values, both institutions serve themselves since feminists on one hand benefit by a growing number of supporters while religions get to preserve the patriarchal traditions that most faiths were founded on. For example the church expects women to behave like the “ideal child…the Virgin Mary” (Bell 33).
Generally, the importance of values in society cannot be refuted. Moreover, it can be asserted that values have worth to people who espouse them and to the institutions that create and propagate them alike. However, when objectively discussing whether values such as “smartness”, “virtuousness” and “independence” acquire their presupposed worth intrinsically or extrinsically, one has to first pay credence to all points of views. From the perspective of progress as a species, it can be asserted that even with the implied falsity of such values, positive effects can be garnered by both the individuals ascribing to these value systems and the institutions propagating them. By quantifying human predispositions such as femininity and intelligence, institutions that support society such as business enterprises and familial relationships are allowed to grow. Moreover, individuals ascribing to the value systems are subsequently empowered by the institutions and the entire society benefits. Thereby, in this light, the values are valuable because they benefit their champions. However, from a perspective of intrinsic value, these values have an inherent worth in them. This is because they provide a way to describe and reward certain characteristics that human beings possess. In this light, such values become inherently valuable since they affirm life. Moreover, rewarding select characteristics only becomes wrong if it translates into the admonishment of other humans who do not possess the characteristics. While focusing solely on the three aforementioned values, the problem of splitting as discussed by Leslie Bell might make some to question whether such values are worthy. However, when focusing on the entirety of all human values created through different institutions and systems, the totality of humanity is ultimately represented. This results into a scenario where accepting the inherent value of an institution’s set of value will translate into affirmation of all institutions’ sets of values as inherently valuable. This would thereby mean that whereas systems in society create values that seem paradoxically dissonant, their effect to the entire society should not be downplayed for not including each individual. This is since all individuals are inherently different and will thus be included in some other value system that will exclude others.
Biographies of Hegemony and Hard to Get: 20-Something women and the paradox of Sexual Freedom present two cases in which institutions in society have created values for those who ascribe to them as a result of their natural predispositions. Both authors present the fallibility of the value systems employed in the process. Through quantification of natural predispositions, Karen Ho has shown how the ‘smartness’ value is misplaced while Leslie Bell has shown how the pursuit of sexual freedom presents conflicting directives to women. This paper has provided evidence on how institutions create values so as to ensure their own continued propagation. Values created via these institutions are however valuable to the individuals ascribing to them since they afford them advantages. Be that as it may, it is also safe to assert that the values are also inherently valuable when viewed from another perspective. In conclusion, it can therefore be professed that regardless their mode of creation; values will be valuable as long as they increase the worth of the entire society.