Friday, January 24, 2020

The Pottery Barn Solution To Rape: You Break It, You Bought It.

Or put in politer language, an age-old solution to rape in many cultures has been to make the rapist marry his victim.  That way the cracks the rape caused in the local cultural networks are healed and both involved families can go on with their lives.  The psychological costs of this are, of course, for the rape victim to bear.  But the solution is a win-win for everybody else.

The reason for my harsh language is that Turkey, again (this was tried in 2016, too), considers the introduction of a marry-your-rapist law* which would allow men who are accused of having sex with a minor to avoid further prosecution by marrying that minor.  Its purpose, in this specific case,  may not be only the furthering of the rights of rapists but also the furthering of child marriage:

United Nations agencies warned the bill would generate a landscape of impunity for child abuse and leave victims vulnerable to experiencing additional mistreatment and distress from their assailants.
Marry-your-rapist” bills have been seen across the world and are pushed in the name of protecting and safeguarding family “honour”.

While the legal age of consent is 18 in Turkey, a 2018 government report on child marriage estimates a total of 482,908 girls were married in the last decade.
Bolds are mine and point to the Pottery Barn analogue.


*   Specifically, the proposed law would:

...give men suspended sentences for child sex offences if the two parties get married and the age difference between them is less than 10 years.

There's a Wikipedia page about all the countries which currently have such laws or have had them in the past.  Many Middle East and Latin American countries have such laws, and certain US states have legal loopholes which allow the same outcome.  For a case study of one woman who was married to  her rapist in this country, see here.

The general worldwide trend has been toward the repeal of marry-your-rapist laws, not toward introducing them.  Turkey's Erdogan has chosen the latter path. Turkey's old marry-your-rapist law was abolished in 2005, only to resurface as a proposal in 2016 and again now.  The proposal was defeated in 2016.  Let's hope it can be defeated in 2020,  too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

On Sexism In How The Media Used To Covered Social Science Research

 I have been clearing out old archives and stuff, and came across my Book Project: How The Media Popularizes Sexism In Its Coverage Of Social Science Research
I set the project aside in a first-draft stage in 2015. That particular sexism problem in the media seemed to me to be waning by that time (so there was less need for the book), and for all sorts of reasons (some weird Echidne-type ones, some justifiable ones)  completing the manuscript no longer seemed worth the cost and effort. 

But now I think it would be a pity not to let anyone else see the work I have completed, so I here offer you (below the fold) the first chapter of the planned book. 

It's the only chapter which is fairly complete.  I think it can stand alone as a good summary of the basic issues in how the media has tended toward sexism in popularizing research.  If there is interest I can post the other draft chapters, too (there's four or five or six of them), but they don't have the footnotes inserted and have never been rewritten.  So that's the stage in which they would be published here. 

Note that the links in the footnotes may well have died of old age.  Sorry about that.  But I enjoyed the examples I use in that chapter, and I hope you might, too.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

What Is Domestic Violence? The One Year Anniversary of the New Trump DOJ Definition

Yesterday I came across the one-year-old news that Trump's Department of Justice (DOJ) had changed its definition of domestic violence on the DOJ website.  Here are the old and new definitions:

Old definition:

A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. 

New definition:

The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.

The explanations for this change appear to be the need to use legal language in that definition.  Perhaps.

But as others have pointed out the change removed any language from that definition which referred to non-physical manipulation, coercion and the general kind of mind-fucking which creates a long-term basis for repeated domestic abuse.

To see what I mean by that, consider what one UK government website gives as legal guidance about understanding the nature and features of controlling and coercive behavior:

Domestic violence and abuse is defined as:
"Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional." [Domestic abuse guidelines for prosecutors]
The Government definition also outlines the following:
    •    Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim
    •    Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour
That last quote is not meant to be viewed as the legal equivalent of the DOJ definitions.  What it does, however, is demonstrate how coercion and control are both a form of domestic violence in themselves and how they create the overall framework within which long-term domestic violence can thrive.

The few cases of domestic violence I have witnessed or learned about in the real world all had that coercive and controlling aspect first*.

So why would Trump's DOJ website choose to remove any reference to it?  This could be just inadvertent, but it could also be because fundamentalist patriarchal families might not survive if the male leadership in them could be questioned as control or coercion by outsiders.  Many in Trump's base are members of various fundamentalist churches, and many of those churches preach male leadership and female submission in families.


*  Controlling the victim's daily time-table to a minute, checking the victim's computer and cell phone daily, and gradually isolating the victim from all friends and family:  All these seem to start before (or at the same time as) physical violence. 

I believe that control and coercion is what is always present in the worst type of long-term domestic violence, the kind where the victim is not just physically  but also mentally assaulted and therefore finds it very hard to flee the abuser.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Short Posts On Defining Womanhood And Women's Proper Places

1.  There's going to be a real mansplaining conference

This conference is aimed at us ladies.  The audience is expected to be full of vagina-bearers!   But worry not, the speakers are all men from the misogynistic manosphere sites, and the speeches will tell women how to be great women again!  An important first step is to get rid of feminism, of course.  Then there will be speeches about how not to get fat (1), how to be an obedient wife, and so on.

In short, its a conference about the kinds of docile and well-trained wives alt right misogynists want to have (given that they don't see women as full human beings).   It's a bit as if someone created a conference for domestic dogs where humans explained to dogs why dogs shouldn't be free and why they should obey their masters and eat crappy dog food only and so on, all couched in terms of the "innate biological nature" of dogs.  And of women.

Sigh.  This shit happened when I began blogging, sixteen years ago, and it is still happening.  But fear not, things are in some ways even worse today, as the next piece explains (2).

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Idle Thoughts, 1/11/20. On Humpty Dumpty And Reality Twisting In American Politics.

1.  This is the time to remember  Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
A perfect reminder of what is happening in much of American politics at the current time.  Debate has become something quite similar to Humpty Dumpty's opinions, and the bit about who the master might be at the end is crucial.

It also connects to the Power Of Naming.  Who is allowed to name and define me and my body?  Who is allowed to define democracy?  Freedom?  Markets?  Impeachable offenses?

That last sentence links to this:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is backing a resolution to change the Senate’s rules to allow for lawmakers to dismiss articles of impeachment against President Trump before the House sends them over.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced on Thursday that McConnell has signed on as a co-sponsor to the resolution, which he introduced earlier this week.
What do the Senate Rules about  impeachment mean, after all?  What matters is which is to be master, of course.

2.  Linked to the above, I found this news (not news?) most interesting:

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.
What matters is who is to be master,  not the likelihood of tangible results from an inquiry.

3.  Finally:
The surveillance video taken from outside Jeffrey Epstein's jail cell on the day of his first apparent suicide attempt has been permanently deleted, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Epstein, the disgraced financier who was facing federal sex-trafficking charges, was found semiconscious in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, in New York around 1:27 a.m. on July 23.
But that video is now gone because MCC officials mistakenly saved video from a different floor of the federal detention facility, prosecutors said in a court filing.
 Just a clerical error!  Anyone could have accidentally deleted an important video (or election results)!  Because what matters is which is to be master, or to remain one.

But be of cheerful heart, my sweet and erudite reader!  Humpty Dumpty did fall off the wall at the end and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Some Advice For Political Readers In 2020. Or How To Be Informed.

This may be more of a rant than an advice column, because it is based on my recent deep immersion in all sorts of online worlds (1), almost all political, and because that immersion made me despair about the human race (and so very glad that I have now decided to apply for citizenship in the Elf World).  Still, there might be a few crumbs in the rant that are useful for others.

Here it goes:

1.  When you read about the weird conclusions of some study or about the outrageous sentencing in some court case which makes you believe people have utterly lost their minds, check the original sources before you retweet or join the approval cavalcade.  Do this even if the weird conclusions or findings support your worldview.

This is extremely useful, because the intermediaries who carry you their conclusions have already interpreted the data for you, and by accepting their conclusions you accept their interpretations as valid.  There are times, of course, when you trust the interpreter and save time by just accepting the condensed messages.  But more generally you should always double-check.

I have seen one evolutionary psychology study widely interpreted as being about something it was not, and this was done by People Who Should Have Known Better.  It also could have been easily avoided by just reading the study, or at least the conclusions of the study which do not mention the popularized applications at all. (2)

And once I saw a widely liked and retweeted Twitter post about a study on sexual violence discuss a PAGE NUMBER in the original pdf as meaning something.  It was a page number, for goddess' sake.

That extreme example should serve as a helpful reminder that we don't really know if those who pretend to be experts (or goddesses) online actually have any expertise.  Self-preservation requires a skeptical approach.

2.  Because of the powerful information bubbles we now inhabit online, it has become dangerous to believe that something you see widely cited as factual actually is widely accepted as factual.  If you are a lefty, say, your information bubble probably filters away all studies which don't support lefty views, and it's also likely to keep re-advertising those studies which do support lefty views.  The reverse applies on the right.

Under these circumstances "everybody accepts" or "everybody knows" or "scientists agree" don't mean what they used to mean (though of course tilting the findings and biasing the discussion always happened).

It's not pleasant to go and read stuff in the "other" bubble(s), but it's important to do so.  A bit like seeing the dentists. And by those visits you can learn that your arguments indeed don't have any holes or you get your cavities filled and strengthen your bite.

3.  Number-blindness is one of the worst information epidemics I come across online, from all sorts of people and supporting all sorts of political issues.  Too many people get qualitative arguments but fail in understanding the importance of quantitative arguments: 

It makes a huge difference if, for instance, a group consists of half men and half women or if a group consists of 96% men and 4% women (3)!  The two are not the same kind of "gender neutral" groups.

The meaning of a hundred percent increase in the incidence of an infectious disease should have different interpretations if the country-wide cases of that disease went up from 100 per year to 200 per year than if they went from 100,000 per year to 200,000 per year.  In other words, to properly understand the importance of percentage changes we need to know what the base figures are (4).

It matters if a particular political project would improve the lives of the numerical majority, or the lives of one percent of all people, and it also matters greatly where that one percent is initially located along some relevant measure (say wealth or health).   It matters, in electoral politics, how to get the majority (more than fifty percent of the electorate) to vote for your candidate, and to figure out how to get that overall majority you may need to appeal to many different minorities (5) at the same time, not just one group.  If you want to win the election, that is, rather than remain ideologically squeaky clean.

I'm going to start a file on all the terrible mistakes I see online when it comes to understanding statistical data and also on how very common quantitative ignorance is.


(1)  Reddit.  There is a site called nofap, with hundreds of thousands of members, mostly men.  It's about stopping the use of online pron for masturbation.  Or really about stopping the use of pron as a better substitute for real-world sex, especially for men (given that most pron is created for heterosexual men's viewing desires).  That site made me read a lot on erectile dysfunction among young men, and the question whether increases in it might correlate with the consumption of certain kinds of pron.  The scientific jury seems still be out on that, but then the saturation of the online pron market is fairly recent and future studies will tell us more.

That wasn't the only sex- or gender-related finding I brought home from my travels.  I also realized, after various excursions to not only Reddit sites but to other places, too, that I have lived in an Echidne-bubble where women can actually have short hair and wear work boots and so on, while in quite a few of those places we are very firmly back in the 1950s gender values.  Even some of the Woke World sites tend to be pretty accepting of sexist stereotypes.  Or at least of gender stereotypes.

More generally, I found that many political sites tend to develop their own lists of Approved Study Findings and that debates about those findings are not encouraged but must be accepted without questions.

(2)  I have been too exhausted, after all that travel, to dig up the actual reference I talk about here (it was some years ago).  It had something to do with daughters, sons and divorce, I think.  If there are many demands for more information on this, I might look it up, provided I get donations first!

Just kidding on the donations.

(3)  That example was caused by one UK government authority arguing that penetrative offenses in sex crimes are gender-neutral, apparently because boys and men are among the victims.  This argument was then extended to the perpetrators being treated with gender-neutral terminology, too.

But the actual figures of men and women in the sexual crime perpetrator statistics are like the latter ones, not the former ones.  To me "gender neutral" means something much closer to that fifty-fifty case.

(4)  This is especially clear when a study finds, for instance, that the increase in one's chances of getting some kind of a rare cancer is fifty percent if one has certain risk factors.  That increase does not mean that the new cancer risk someone with those risk factors faces is fifty percent.  It's an increase of fifty percent in the initial (and very tiny risk, given that we are talking about a rare cancer) likelihood.

(5)  By "minorities" here I don't mean just racial or ethnic or religious minorities and so on, but any group with certain shared interests who tend to vote in a similar manner but are not large enough to be a numerical majority of voters on their own.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Anal Analyst. On Teen Vogue.

The anal analyst would be me, because I will dedicate this post to the study and dissection of one particular piece published in Teen Vogue quite a few months ago (" Anal Sex: Safety, How tos, Tips, and More"), then re-published last November, and then re-advertised by someone working at Teen Vogue in social media on Christmas day.

Why is that particular piece one the editors at that magazine are so very excited about that it deserves reprinting (with a few tiny edits) and lots of advertising?  They must be very proud of a job well done.

In fact, the piece is utterly hilarious.  It would be completely and totally out-of-this-universe-hilarious if it wasn't aimed at very young readers (teens and pre-teens) who might just accept  the article as one having to do with general sexuality and sexual health, when it appears to have additional and rather disquieting and even sexist undertones.

The hilarity begins with the way human beings are classified for the purposes of this article: Into prostate-owners and non-prostate-owners.  Later in the piece the latter group is also (grudgingly?) allowed to have the ownership of only slightly used vaginas (1), but it's the initial juxtaposition of those who own something (prostates) and those who own nothing (non-prostates) but are still called "owners" which gave my brain that sudden little hurricane feeling (2).  I get that every time someone demands that I accept a totally idiotic thing Or Else.

But it's not only an idiotic thing.  It's also a sexist thing, because the two groups are defined by the presence or absence of a prostate.  Had the article used the terms "male" and "female" in its anatomical descriptions it would immediately have become clear that the choice of the term "prostate" to divide humans into two categories was a sexist one.  But because the terms "male" and "female" are now contested, problematized and interrogated (under harsh lights and with electric cattle prods), digging up the obvious sexism of that choice required some shovel-work.

The greatest hilarity in that piece is, however, yet to come.  It's about the helpful anatomical drawings which are used to show a view of the insides of the pelvic areas of prostate-owners and non-prostate-owners.  I reproduce one of these pictures from the November re-printing of the article here:

The left drawing is about a non-prostate-owner's pelvic anatomy.  Have a careful look at all the labels attached to it, and then ask which organ has been erased from the picture altogether.

The clitoris.  That's the only organ which appears to exist in non-prostate-owners' anatomy for the sole purpose of giving them sexual pleasure.  But it doesn't exist in the drawings attached to the Teen Vogue article.  It has been excised (3).

This, my friends, is extremely troubling.  The piece begins with this statement:

When it comes to your body, it’s important that you have the facts. Being in the dark is not doing your sexual health or self-understanding any favors. 

It then simply erases the most important female sexual organ from the drawings!  Given that the intended readership is very young and quite possibly uninformed (4), it's not too strong to call this omission misogyny.


(1)  Sorry, I got carried away with all that "ownership" language which for some reason I keep connecting to buying a used car.

But why not call the two groups vagina-owners and penis-owners, you might wonder, if terms such as male and female are now unacceptable in certain circles?  Perhaps because penis-owners can enjoy anal sex in two ways, either penetrating or receiving,  while vagina-owners can only receive, so that penis-owners have twice the incentives to want anal sex?  Or because the penis is involved in anal sex but the vagina is not?

(2) And yes, I get the real meaning, but this is how I first read it.  To write about something as medically important as the safest way to do anal and then to use such fuzzy language is really bad.

(3)  The November reprinting of the article does include an added paragraph discussing the clitoris and suggesting that anal sex is enjoyable to non-prostate-owners because it can stimulate the back of the clitoris.

But the accompanying drawings were not corrected and, clearly, the writer and editors of the initial article saw nothing wrong in the original erasure of the clitoris.  The added paragraph in the November version was probably a response to criticisms such as my vicious ones here.

(4)  The piece is also deficient in some of the possible health consequences of anal sex.  For instance, it doesn't mention that the condom should be changed if one moves from anal sex to vaginal sex or vice versa, and it doesn't mention the possible correlation of anal sex practice with later anal cancer.