Fresh from the office of my supervisor who persists in gently giving me unsolicited advice, despite being neither older nor wiser, I’m struck by Rousseau’s tone (in his “Marriage”): “Extreme in all things, they [women] devote themselves to their play with greater zeal than boys. This is the second defect. This zeal must be kept within bounds. It is the cause of several vices peculiar to women, among others the capricious changing of their tastes from day to day. Do not deprive them of mirth, laughter, noise and romping games, but prevent them tiring of one game and turning to another. They must get used to being stopped in the middle of their play and put to other tasks without protest on their part.” I have as much trouble imagining the absolute certainty, the arrogance, required to initiate, let alone sustain, such pontification as I do imagining myself putting an arm around the shoulder of the guy who works in Accounting, and telling him what he should be doing with his life. Even if I were his supervisor. I simply could not go on and on like that, not even to students, nor even to children. Not even at forty.
At least not without the qualifier ‘I think…’, that recognition of subjectivity – the absence of which is the presumption of objectivity, of omniscience. Can you spell ‘ego’? I recall one of my philosophy professors stroking out every single ‘I think’ in my paper, calling it wordy, but no doubt judging me to be lacking in confidence or certainty to ‘hedge’ so. But his corrections left me with lies – with presentations of opinion as fact.
And I now recognize that omission as the quintessential male lie; it’s how we come to consider them as authorities, on everything. Refusing to accept one’s ideas as personal means refusing to accept the possibility that they’re incorrect or insignificant. (Particular shame on epistemologists for this. I now understand that, compared to my philosophy professor, I was subscribing to the more mature epistemology – by not arrogantly equating or ignorantly assuming that my (subjective) thoughts and perceptions were the (objective) thoughts and perceptions.)
Or maybe the absence of the ‘I’ is simply the denial of, the failure to take, responsibility. Compare “Your postal code is indecipherable” to “I can’t read your postal code”: the first, without the ‘I’, doesn’t even consider the possibility that the fault may rest with the reader.
Perhaps there’s yet another explanation. Owen Flanagan notes that “Insofar as reflection requires that we be thinking about thought, then an ‘I think that’ thought accompanies all experience” – but he goes on to qualify that, saying, “There is no warrant for the claim that we are thinking about our complex narrative self. We are not that self-conscious” (Consciousness Reconsidered 194). Well. He may not be. But I am. And I dare say men in general may not be that reflective, but women are. (Actually, I suspect some men are that aware – and they omit the ‘I think’ quite intentionally because of the effect.)