Learned Helplessness

Learned Helplessness April 10, 2019

Lori Alexander recently wrote a post titled “Are Submissive Wives Second Class Citizens?” I wasn’t particularly interested, because I knew what she was going to say—she argues that being expected to submit to an another authority does not make one a second class citizen, and uses citizens being expected to obey the government as an example. This is a terrible example.

But I did notice something else:

Women, do you know that God’s chain of authority is for our good? Yes, women are more gullible than men. Recently, my husband and I were out front with a few couples from the neighborhood chatting in the street together. Ken brought up that I had been deceived into thinking my brand new iPhone was “free” by the salesman. Then my daughter saw that we were being charged $25 more a month until the $650 phone was paid off! One of the wives said that she would have easily been deceived in this way, too, but said her husband never would have. My husband would not be either, but he was out of town and my phone broke so I needed a  new phone and they guy assured me that my monthly costs wouldn’t go up. I am wondering if the Apple sign of the bite into apple is a sign to remind their salesmen that women are more easily deceived…

What in the blazes??

I manage our family’s cell phone plan. And it’s not just for our family. Half a dozen of our extended family members are on my plan too. It makes sense—family plans let people more effectively share data and keep the costs down. Did you notice the place where I said I manage this cell phone plan? My husband doesn’t touch it. In fact, when his phone needs replacing, I explain to him how our plan works, and tell him exactly what he needs to ask for at the store.

I am not more gullible than my husband, full stop.

Lori Alexander says a lot that is absolute balderdash and manifestly harmful, but this? This made me see red. There’s an element of learned helplessness in play here. Lori believes she is more gullible and more easily taken advantage of than her husband. As a result, she is almost certainly less likely to put in the effort to actually learn what something like a cell phone plan involves. Because what’s the point?

Look, I get it. Cell phone plans are confusing. They constantly change the rules for how plans work. It’s awful. So I take the time to learn how they work. It’s not that complicated.

In general, when you get a new phone, the cost of the phone is divided by 24 and then added to your monthly cell phone bill. Once you’ve had your new phone for two years, that part of your bill goes away, because your phone is paid off. Lori says her old phone broke. It was probably already paid off—i.e., she’d probably had it for over twenty-four months, so her bill no longer had a payment fee on it.

The cell phone sales people at the store tend to assume everyone has a payment fee, or at least that everyone is ok with having one. They see that as just part of the bill. A person who has passed that 24 month line and has a phone that is paid off is a person in the market for a new phone, in their eyes. Maybe the sales person straight-up lied to Lori. Or maybe they told her her fee wouldn’t go up they may have assumed that she was expecting to have a payment fee, because that’s part of how plans work.

But here’s the kicker—it wouldn’t have mattered if Lori’s husband had gone to the cell phone store in her place. If you get a new phone, you are going to have a monthly payment plan. Cell phones are not free. Yes, there are sometimes special deals, but good luck trying to find a free iPhone—especially if you have a time constraint, because your old phone broke and you need a new one now.

Lori could have asked questions and done research and figured this out. The signage in front of each phone lists a monthly payment price. Did she ask about this?

I’m not indicting Lori for not doing her research. Lots of people make this mistake, and companies have an incentive to hide costs and get people to sign up for more than they realized. No question there! It’s her gendering of this process that I take an issue with. This isn’t about gender. This is about whether or not you take time to ask questions, do research, and get a handle on the fees. I put a lot of time and effort into doing all of this, and Lori sweeps all of that away by boiling it down to gender.

There is nothing about being a man that makes one inherently better at stopping, asking questions, and doing research.

But don’t tell Lori that:

Men are for our protection, women, in more than one way. God created them to be our protectors and not as easily deceived as we are. Women were created to be soft, trusting, and nurturing in order to be home and raise children. Women coming out from under the authority of men has caused chaos!

If a woman believes she is soft, trusting, and nurturing—and gullible—guess what? She probably will be gullible! At the very least, she’ll never take the time to learn whether or not she is gullible, because she’ll ceded all relevant decisions to her male-protector-person. Researchers know this: If you believe you can’t do something, you are less likely to try. This is something that keeps educators up at night: if a kid has already decided they can’t master a subject, they give up. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.

Oh, and also? Why did Ken bring this up to the neighbors? It’s rather bad form to be in the middle of a chat with the neighbors and randomly bring up your wife being “deceived” by the cell phone salesman.

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