Saturday, September 26, 2009

Some Saturday Silliness

A book I'm reading tells me how we can re-use plastic bags, milk jugs and take-out containers to create art and furnishings for the home. I'm a sucker for these kinds of stories, even though I know that there's no way I could furnish Snakepit Inc. with used pizza cartons, and even if I could, I'd have to acquire a second lair to use them all up and even then they'd keep coming.

The same with plastic bags. But just imagine that you can iron plastic grocery bags (or carrier bags) together to create a stronger material! And then you can make lampshades out of it! Perhaps even raincoats and umbrellas? Condoms? Carports? The possibilities are endless.

I love thinking about all the creative ways of becoming greener (though not the way I actually did become greener when I had that mold attack in the kitchen). What about creating a dildo which doesn't use any batteries? You could buy up old rotary eggbeaters and attach some sort of a furry finger to the end. Just turn the handle and sing happily!

There are other ways of greening love. For instance, if you happen to have a boyfriend/spouse/lover with hairy legs you could shave him/her every spring, like some people do with their dogs, and then you could save the leg-hair until there's enough to be carded and turned into skeins. Then you could knit him/her Valentine socks! Out of their own leg-hair! So warm and so very right.

And naturally you could do the same with your own leg-hair or armpit hair or beard. There might be enough for a cute little hat or something, if you live a very long time, even if you are skimpily furred. Remember that Victorian hair jewelry for grieving? We could expand on that field, too...

There's something wrong with my sense of what is funny.
Picture is of a sock I knitted. I knitted the other one, too, but it's not shown here. They are twin socks, so there's no point showing both of them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Go And Read

Phila's Friday Hope Blogging. It's very important to look at the bright side of life, too, and his work is most excellent.

Surveying pop culture (by Suzie)

That’s what I call watching television. For those interested in the fall’s new shows, do you have any feminist impressions?

I only watch shows with female protagonists. But that doesn’t guarantee a show is watchable, of course. Wednesday, for example, I caught the tail end of “Cougar Town” on ABC by accident, and I couldn’t avert my eyes, even though I had been forewarned by reading TV Guide:
The title is a play on words, as it refers to both the mascot of the show's high school and the amped-up sexuality [that] 40-something divorcee Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox) struggles to contain. It's not Simone de Beauvoir, but Jules' struggles have a slightly feminist, "old ladies like doing it too" vibe …
In the entertainment business, a woman in her 40s is an old lady, who could only be paired with a man in his 60s. How radical that a former model, once considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, might interest men in their 20s.

Rebecca Traister takes down the cougar concept. Jessi Klein talks about how it reflects men's fears of older women. Julie Klausner's review is hilarious:
What is funnier than a middle-aged woman who wants and enjoys sex? Literally nothing. It's like a dog wearing a sombrero!

Next up was “Eastwick,” also on ABC. I had hope because of Abigail Tarttelin’s review on Women & Hollywood.
The show is a re-imagining of the book and film The Witches of Eastwick for a modern audience, so hopefully won’t go down the semi-misogynistic route the book took …
Not as hateful as the book, but still, a man seems to be guiding their power. I don’t find his egotism and sexual harassment attractive, and I’m surprised by reviewers who find him sexy and charming. To cleanse my palate, I’ll have to rewatch “Practical Magic,” even though critics dismissed it, and the only people I know who like it are me, my sister and a witch who manages our church’s office.

This week isn't a total loss. "Dollhouse" returns tonight. And on Tuesday on CBS, I enjoyed “The Good Wife,” starring Julianna Margulies. The New York Times review says
it begins where sex scandals usually end: an errant politician expressing regret at a news conference while his shell-shocked spouse stands frozen at his side. … “The Good Wife” takes its cue from real life, not just the headlines, and is all the better for it.
The first episode covered a lot of feminist territory, including body image; homemakers who return to work outside the home; women mentoring other women; and younger men disrespecting older, female competitors.

The excellent British movie "The Politician’s Wife" provides another take on this situation.

ETA: Res Ipsa Loquitor suggests Judith Warner's piece on "Cougar Town."

A woman and her dog (by Suzie)

This is Clifford with his owner. To me, the photo seems introspective, as both gaze into the distance. In reality, Clifford wants to run after someone or something, and his owner is keeping him close.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Consumer Warning Labels? Yeah!

This was Keira Knightley's 2004 movie promotion picture in the U.K.:

This is the same (sort of) picture used in the U.S.:

The latter is retouched, naturally. The breasts are an obvious change, but if you look at the faces etc. in the two pictures you spot other "improvements".

AA sent me a link to a proposal in France to provide warning labels in fashion magazines when pictures have been retouched to make the models in them look skinnier than they are:

Can fashion photos that have been retouched to make models look impossibly skinny pose a risk, say, to young, impressionable girls who see the photos and want to look like the models? Some French legislators think so.

About 50 members of France's Parliament have proposed a law that would require labels that say when fashion and advertising photos have been digitally retouched, the Telegraph reports.

I like that a lot. It doesn't stop the advertisers from retouching the bodies of models. It just tells the reader the pictures are not real.

Where else could we use such warning labels? They already exist on alcohol and tobacco products. By the way, I saw warning labels on tobacco products in Europe geared specifically to men, in the sense that some of them warned men that smoking might hurt their sperm count or the quality of the sperm. I don't recall such warnings here but then I haven't been looking for those. I do know that alcohol labels are either gender-neutral or aimed at women.

Of course you might argue that the health effects of alcohol and tobacco are more studied than those of unreal pictures. But if all you require from the labels to say that the pictures are retouched, that doesn't really matter. It's just information. And nobody could oppose giving consumers more information, right? Hmm.

Let's return to that warning label idea. Why not require it posted on Internet porn? Something like:

Professional Fuckers In Pretend Situations. Don't Try This At Home Before Consulting Sex Education Sites For Real Sex Information.

Or you could add health warnings when the acts shown may cause anal tearing or spread bacteria from the anus to the vagina or possibly spread STDs.

I don't see why anyone would oppose those, either. Hmm.

A Few Things Lumped Together Illogically

First, women in Baghdad can now visit their very own Internet cafe. Whether segregated spaces really are a general step forwards is a question which can be fiercely debated, but because having Internet access at home is both precarious and very expensive, that cafe is good news for the women.

Second, you have probably read about how private health insurance has been able (in some states, at least) to use prior Caesarian sections or a history of having been the victim of domestic violence as valid pre-existing conditions when deciding on whether to offer a woman a health insurance policy and at what price. These demonstrate, by the way, why "insurance" is not the best way of financing health care.

Now Michelle Obama has made a national call to action on these grounds.

Third, a proposed general Breastfeeding Promotion Act ((H.R. 2819, S. 1244) would do the following:

The Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 (H.R. 2819, S. 1244) includes five provisions:

* 1) Amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breastfeeding women from being fired or discriminated against in the workplace.
* 2) Provides tax incentives for businesses that establish private lactation areas in the workplace, or provide breastfeeding equipment or consultation services to their employees.
* 3) Provides for a performance standard to ensure breast pumps are safe and effective.
* 4) Allows breastfeeding equipment and consultation services to be tax deductible for families (amends Internal Revenue Code definition of "medical care").
* 5) Protects the privacy of breastfeeding mothers by ensuring they have break time and a private place to pump (applies to employers with 50 or more employees, see text of legislation for details).

You can ask Congress to support it here.
Pic from my family files. Kinda illogical.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Today's Funny

This is via maurs in Eschaton comments. From the Onion, a recent tweet:

BREAKING: Democrats Hoping To Take Control Of Congress From Republican Minority In 2010

So deep, so insightful, so --- right!

Who You Gonna Ask?

A new survey tells us that Americans are really quite pleased with their health insurance coverage (I guess only those were asked who have insurance?):

The findings underscore the challenges facing Obama and Congress as they try to reduce costs in the unwieldy health care system and provide coverage to millions of Americans without insurance.

Although there is widespread agreement that changes must be made in the USA, a strong majority say they are satisfied with what they have and don't want it upended.

• Eight in 10 say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of the medical care available to them and their families.

• Six in 10 say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the cost of the medical care for themselves and their families.

• More than half say rising health care costs such as insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses are either no problem or a minor problem for them.

• Nearly two-thirds say reductions in what their insurance plan covers is either no problem or a minor problem.

"All people have heard are negative stories about the health care industry," says Robert Zirkelback of America's Health Insurance Plans. But "the vast majority of Americans are very satisfied with their health care coverage."

Here's the problem with surveys like that: The answers depend very much on whether you have actually needed to use your coverage a lot or not. Those whose families have been healthy will only judge the coverage in terms of the premia they themselves pay and any out-of-pocket costs.

It's only when you really need to claim expenses that you find how good the system is. So, strictly speaking, the survey should have had a separate section for that group. It is their answers which are most meaningful.

To think of a comparison, suppose that you get a warranty for your new car. As long as nothing happens to the car, you are probably pleased with the warranty. It's only when the car breaks down that you find if the warranty covers what it said.

The findings also reflect two other things. First, it's commonly the case that surveyed individuals rate their own situation as not so bad, even while agreeing that some wider social or economic problem is worrisome. For instance, a recession might be seen as a problem but not the respondent's own economic situation. This could be partly because even large calamities only affect some individuals.

Second, those who oppose any real health insurance change have been very good at their job of increasing fear about the impact of any changes. Thus:

Only two in 10 Americans say their health insurance coverage and the quality of the health care they receive will improve if a bill passes Congress this year, despite President Obama's promises to improve the system for those with and without insurance.

I must admit that I'm not even following what's happening to the reform proposal. It's beginning to look like those monsters from horror movies: made up of little square patches and nobody knows if there's a skeleton somewhere inside. Reminds me of the very complicated reform proposal of the early Clinton era. Which actually had some very good aspects in it, by the way.

On Porn, Sex And Pincushions

It has been much on my mind because the recent let's-bash-women happiness study did not analyze the impact of the enormous increase on Internet porn on women's and men's happiness gap. And because of something Amanda (from whom I stole that pincushion part in the title) at Pandagon wrote recently:

With that in mind, I want to link this excellent post by Becky Sharper, who has a wonderful sense of irreverence in the face of people who are going to give you the least generous read imaginable when you suggest that perhaps porn isn't all roses and fountains of gold. I hesitate to open this can of worms, because when I pointed out that the facial exists in porn as a symbolic marker of female degradation, many, many, many people deliberately misread me, claiming that I said that coming on the outside was wrong, or that if any touched your face, it was wrong, or that you're a bad person if you like being degraded in bed. All I said was that it's funny to me that something that is overtly about employing the "this slut deserves to be humiliated" trope in porn gets to send its message to an audience that wants to hear negative things about sexual women, and the rest of us will pretend that they just didn't say that.

Even though, from my perspective, the implicit argument---that women who have a lot of sex, or with a lot of men are sluts who deserve humiliation---is anti-sex. In other words, for all the sex in porn, much of it adheres to the "family values" narrative, where a sexual woman is used up and deserves nothing but abuse. Being truly pro-sex, in my view, means believing that women who have sex, a lot of sex, or a lot of partners do not forfeit a single ounce of their dignity or humanity.

Becky notes that the heavy use of anal sex in porn has resulted in an uptick in anal sex in real life. And though I know a good half of the commenters will pretend I didn't say this: This isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing. Just like coming on the outside is a fine way to spice things up, anal sex also can be a lot of fun for straight couples in the right circumstances. But porn morphs rather mundane sex acts into tropes about hurting and humiliating women, and then those tropes are repeated in bedrooms for that purpose. The problem with this is that many of the women engaging in these deliberately humiliating behaviors don't get off on being submissives or being degraded. They're doing it just because they thing that's what sex is.

I repeat: like coming on the outside, there's a way to do anal sex that isn't about hurting, humiliating, and punishing a sexual woman. (If only I knew the secret number of times to repeat to avoid being misread!) There are entire excellent books about it, and whole lines of sex toys that exist solely to exploit the sensitivity of that area of the body. In fact, straight men can put things up their butt and like it, too! This is not being questioned. (I predict 5 comments before someone suggests I questioned this.)

But porn doesn't show anal sex in the pro-woman way that many practice it, where there's an attempt to warm you up, make you comfortable, go slow, and stop if there's any discomfort. Like Becky says:

Problem is, hetero mainstream porn isn't depicting the kind of careful, attentive interaction that makes anal sex pleasurable. In fact, in porn there's no attention paid to the woman's pleasure--or even her comfort--at all. The male actors just plunge in and start pounding.

Emphasis mine.

Isn't it awesome how anyone criticizing porn must now explain very carefully why that criticism is not being anti-sex? But Amanda is brave, so she does the necessary work anyway.

I have written about some of my concerns earlier, but they are worth repeating, especially as I'm a little bit clearer about what I don't like when it comes to the extremely wide-spread use of porn. Here's the list:

1. I worry that too many confuse porn images with real actual human sex, that especially young viewers of porn go away with the expectation that real sex will be like porn. Yet porn is called porn and not art, say, for the very reason that it cuts out everything but the purely instrumental use of another person (or persons) for the purpose of getting an orgasm. I'm sure many people can make that distinction, especially among older users of porn who have also had real-life sex. But what happens if porn images are, in essence, your education in sexuality? What if you grow up believing that women should enjoy sperm in their eyes, to be sexual beings?

2. Hence my concern over the male-centeredness of heterosexual porn. That market is geared towards men and the women in the porn are there to do things that will get men off. If some men like humiliating women in bed, then that's what the female porn actors pretend that they will like. No, you don't need to use lube before plunging into my anus (a vulnerable part of the body, by the way, in the medical sense). Yes, please, urinate all over me. And so on.

That you can find all kinds of porn, even feminist porn, doesn't negate this problem at all. Because if most men, including the very young men, watch male-centered porn (and not feminist porn, say) then that's what their idea of sex will become: Something in which women don't have to be asked what they want, and in which women who don't want anal plunging or sperm all over their faces are somehow anti-sex or frigid. Because the women in porn like it!

3. If I am correct about all this, the impact of porn might be to make both young men and women to equate sex with what goes on in male-centered porn. I don't know if I am correct, but I see something of this sort taking place in discussions about sex on the Internet (and in the insults on political comments threads: Swallow, bitch, swallow). To even suggest that what is being talked about is male-centered heterosexual porn and not sex in general labels you as an anti-sex prude.

To re-frame this in feminist terms: I worry what porn is doing to the way young heterosexual women learn about sexuality. Is it just a service you provide men? Suck a lot of cock, let them come on your face or in your ass? Even if this is not what your body actually likes to do?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Recipe Post

I decided that I deserve a break tonight so I'm going to write about omelets. Or rather, you are going to tell me how you make one of those instead of scrambled eggs, because I get the latter almost every time I aim for the former. Sometimes I get a crepe instead, which is not too bad. But an omelet is supposed to be all in one piece, right?, and fluffy and moist inside and so on. Not something like scrambled eggs or a very dark crepe.

You could also tell me what fillings make one of those into a full-and-balanced (NOT fair-and-balanced) meal. Or what you like to put in your omelets, if anything but air.

All this is very odd, because I actually make a mean souffle. It's not really worth making, given the time ratio of preparation to eating, and it still tastes like scrambled eggs. But I can make those. Not sure if I could actually end up with scrambled eggs should I ever try to make that recipe instead of those omelets.

An Odd Post

Odd how some posts are much harder to write than others, just as running a marathon is harder than walking to the corner store. I'm not talking about the research that goes into some posts, though of course that takes time and energy, but about the sheer difficulty of some topics. They are like slippery eels you try to catch with numb fingers from the water, and yet you can see them all the time, quite clearly. Except that they are no longer where you saw them last when you make yet another weary attempt to catch them.

Some are slippery because they are complicated and many-layered and sneaky with the millennia of experience at avoiding the writer's traps. Others are slippery because they have been carefully oiled and buttered in the popular culture and in the heads of powerful numbskulls so that to show you the eel herself is almost impossible. You will also see the butter and the oil. In terms of feminist writing, for instance, any writing in the popular media brings out the hordes who tell us that men used to hunt and be warriors and bring home the food while women kept house in the cave, and that's why feminism is doomed. And to explain that none of that is actually a scientific argument amounts to trying to remove the oil and butter with just your wet hands. It can be done, but it takes a book, and numbskulls don't read books in the first place.

Yet other topics are exhausting because they are packed with pain and suffering, and to know that at least some will take the results of any writing as an open invitation to participate in an intellectual game of debate (are women capable of equality?) makes even the thought of touching on those topics torture. And just try to write about feminism without getting into those areas. Where my right to be regarded a human being with equal rights and respect is something one debates! It boggles the mind, it does. Isn't it great that I'm a goddess so I don't have to face that situation, ever? Mmm.

I'm going to take a walk and then I will write on either the confusion between sexuality and porn and how that confusion really is bad for women's lives or what is wrong with women who either quit working to stay at home or who don't quit working even though they should. On second thoughts, I think I'm going to write about recipes.

Then Today's Science on Girlz

Feministe linked to this interesting article about how the brain can change because of how it is used, in ways which might end up leaving men and women, on average, with somewhat different-looking brains. Or perhaps not. The research all uses very small sample sizes so it's important not to make very strong conclusions, see?

That's never a problem the other way round, for some reason. When the first PET scan differences in women's and men's brains (in use) came out, a horde of essentialists wrote books about how girls should be kept in a large pink box until they turn 21 and how boys should be kept in a jungle until the same age. Then they should fuck. Read some of those lovely The Wonder of Boys/Girls books if you doubt me.

Anyway, I digress, as usual, and this is the point where loads of readers go elsewhere. Which is a pity, because that article indeed is fascinating. The author talks here about the straight gyrus, SG, an area of the brain which is believed to have something to do with social cognition and interpersonal judgment:

In other words, there does seem to be a relationship between SG size and social perception, but it is not a simple male-female difference. Rather, the SG appears to reflect a person's "femininity" better than one's biological sex: women who are relatively less feminine show a correspondingly smaller SG compared to women who are more feminine, and ditto for men.

This finding—that brain structure correlates as well or better with psychological "gender" than with simple biological "sex"—is crucial to keep in mind when considering any comparisons of male and female brains. Yes, men and women are psychologically different and yes, neuroscientists are uncovering many differences in brain anatomy and physiology which seem to explain our behavioral differences. But just because a difference is biological doesn't mean it is "hard-wired." Individuals' gender traits—their preference for masculine or feminine clothes, careers, hobbies and interpersonal styles—are inevitably shaped more by rearing and experience than is their biological sex. Likewise, their brains, which are ultimately producing all this masculine or feminine behavior, must be molded—at least to some degree—by the sum of their experiences as a boy or girl.

The point the author makes is a good one, however much she hedges her bets. Because you must hedge your bets when you write from this direction. When you write from the other direction you don't have to hedge.

At the same time, I find it fascinating how essentialist the labels themselves have become. So if it's not the female brain, then it's the female psychology patterns just happening to sit in a male brain. Or femininity. Of course it's circular to say that people who are better at social recognition and interpersonal judgment have larger SG areas than people who are not so good at social recognition and interpersonal judgment. But calling that "feminine" loads in something all feminists know has a value judgment (run for the hills, guys).

And that value judgment is exactly why I write about all this. The terms "female brain" and "male brain" are not two neutral and equal concepts. The former is what is used to argue that women really are better off when sequestered in their homes and when allowed to do only repetitive work (see the comments thread to that post and don't except great commenting) or in child-care. Men, on the other hand, are better at everything else. Surprisingly, social intelligence appears to have no place among the movers and shakers of this world. Presidents don't need it, psychiatrists don't need it and so on.

Until those underlying value judgments are made clear to all, research in this field will always be used to keep women subordinate. An important point, wouldn't you say?

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Little Game For You

I just can't stay away from that Huffington Post comments thread. What a train wreck it is! There's something extremely nasty about the ease with which the woman-bashing starts and about the nasty types of monsters whose disgusting heads suddenly surface about the bloody waters. And then there's just the plain stupidity.

But to allow all that to happen -- well -- Huffington Post is to blame. So I removed it from my blogroll. Heavens now tremble in consequence.

You don't really want to think of any of this, I know. But let's play a little game. Let's pretend that we don't know what the happiness survey tells us about the period from 2004 to 2006, and that we only know women came across as somewhat happier than men in the early 1970s. Then let's see what happens when the 2004-2006 results come out in different possible forms:

1. Suppose we find that the results are unchanged from the early 1970s: Women are still somewhat happier than men. How would you use that to attack feminism, hmh?

You could argue that feminism didn't do anything for women! They feel the same although their lives are supposedly so much better! Feminism was wasted, and it is time to focus on men's unhappiness.

2. Or suppose that the results from 2004-2006 show that women are even more happier than they were in 1970s. What does that mean? It means that we are ignoring the poor, poor men who are getting increasingly less happy while we focus on just women and girls. Time to change!

3. What if the more recent results show that men have caught up or even bypassed women on the happiness ratings? What would we write then? Well, feminism obviously failed to make women happier so let's scrap it.

4. Even absolutely equal happiness figures for men and women in 2004-2006 wouldn't do, because they would show a relative drop in female happiness. Thus, feminism failed again.

There you are.

Then For The Fuzzy-Wuzzy Post Of The Day

Happy stuff, yanno. First some box turtles which celebrate all things snake goddessy. Photo credits go to FeraLiberal and 1Watt, Hermit, tho I forgot to write down which pic is due to which photographer.

Then we have FeraLiberal's Pippin, taking her proper place among the divine icons.

Last, but not least, two canines. The first one is in fact named after happiness:

And the second one is happily snoozing away. Pic due to 1Watt, Hermit.

I Haz Teh Sadz

Because of that crappy post at Huffington Post and the whole idea that women are now terribly unhappy because feminism failed them. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this isn't what our Arianna is selling us. She's very unhappy herself, because she is running a website rather than washing floors back at home. But getting more clicks at the expense of feminists is well worth the tears she sheds.

And then innocent, happy goddesses like this one must put their waders on and squeeze a clothes-peg on their pretty noses and then wade through comments where assholes go on sidetracks about wanting to buy a slave-wife in Ukraine because American uppity women are impossible to cope with. Oh! And where a Progressive Guy (our brother, he is, you know) tells us that he is progressive but feminism has been a disaster because of that nature bidness. It determines what weak-and-feeble wommenz can do, though for some odd reason it puts no limits on what men might do. So yeah, he's all for equality but only among penises/penii. And of course we are told that wommenz are just basically silly critters and bitchy, too. Well, most of the comments weren't like that, but almost all of them assumed that the happiness of women is in a crisis! Crisis, I tell you!

OK. I lied to you. I don't have teh sadz. I have the Killing Rage. For the above reasons and also because of this:

1. People who don't get statistics should not interpret them. Even to sell books or to attack feminism. In particular, it is important to understand that funny little sign: %. When the number that precedes it is not 100, you shouldn't say ALL women or ALL men. You shouldn't even imagine it.

Just to put that into the proper perspective, Mark Liberman at the Language Log shows us some of the raw data on happiness that all this is about for selected years:

In the responses for 1972, 1973, and 1974, the overall proportions were:
GenderVery HappyPretty HappyNot Too Happy

In the responses for 2004, 2006, and 2008, the proportions were:
GenderVery HappyPretty HappyNot Too Happy

Isn't it interesting how something like that so quickly turns into: WOMMENZ ARE SAD! FEMINISM FAILED TO MAKE THEM HAPPY! LET'S CANCEL FEMINISM!

Mmmm. I want to thank Professor Liberman for also making available the actual study of this gender gap in happiness. You can read it, too, and you might write a little note for yourself about the fact that the study has no variables reflecting the introduction of pornography, for instance. Or any other cultural variables which might hit women differently from men. Stuff like the average weight of female and male fashion models. I'm sure you can think of other interesting variables which might relate to this question should you not wish to attack feminism with it.

The authors, Stevenson and Wolfers, analyze the time trend in responses of the above type while controlling for various economic, sociological and demographic factors. Their main conclusion is that they cannot really explain the so-called gender gap in happiness by any of the measures they test out, except that women appear too be less happy with their financial situations than men. Most importantly for the purposes of bashing feminism, stay-at-home wives are no happier than those who work. From page 6 of the pdf:

In section III we explore these trends by demographic group, finding that the relative decline in women's well-being is ubiquitous, and holds for both working and stay-at-home mothers, for those married and divorced, for the old and the young, and across education distribution.

Emphases are mine, and I added them for the following reason: If all those blame-feminism voices were correct then the happiest women would be those whose lives were most like the lives of women forty years ago. That would be stay-at-home mothers and women with less education. But that is NOT what the study found. Indeed, whatever it found appears to apply across almost all women.*

That finding is important more generally, because it deflates the anti-feminists' sails about women not wanting to succeed in the hurly-burly wars of high offices. It's not about the uppity women in the corner office we talk about here but a general (albeit very small, so small as to be almost invisible) trend across all women.

I probably should repeat here: NO! NOT ALL WOMMENZ HAVE TEH SADZ!

I might also remind Stevenson and Wolfers of their responsibility to correct faulty interpretations of their data. They may have no such legal responsibility but they certainly should have an ethical responsibility to do so. I'd also urge them to redo the analyses with some porn variables included. Oh, and to consider the possibility that what women are 'allowed' to state has changed over the time span of those surveys, what with television etcetera showing new behavior patterns to more and more women and men.

2. Here's the second reason for my Killing Rage: I went out this weekend and visited the fair state of New York. Do you know what I saw there? Women everywhere! Indeed, I started worrying that I somehow got this whole thing wrong! Surely people wouldn't write crap like that about the largest group of human beings? Surely not?

How the fuck did this happen? When did women become something like breakfast cereal? Something to be ranked in taste tests, improved upon, studied? And almost all of that as if women weren't real human beings.

I doubt I can convey that sudden feeling I had. It's such a contrast to think of crap like this topic and then to actually SEE people, to realize that women are not some monkeys kept in the basement lab somewhere (though we shouldn't do that to monkeys, either), to be studied and written up later on. Women. are. the. majority. And yet where's the power that should go with that?

Or to put it in reverse: Where are all the studies about poor men and what ails them? I get at least one thing a week about what ails poor women, too many to even cover on this here blog. I think we have been far too fucking nice for far too long, and that's why our lives can be dissected, our hides can be cut out and inspected with a magnifying glass. When others criticize our very being, our right to exist, if you like, we join in and politely argue back. Or even agree half-way, so as not to make anyone angry. Please, may I continue to exist if I stay in this corner vewy qwuietly?

3. The final reason for my rage is that this is your usual let's-make-a-mountain-out-of-a-molehill because everybody loves bashing feminism! We are going to get all the creepy crawlers leave their sewage pipes and come and comment on our posts! We are going to have so much misogynistic fun! Never mind fairness and justice and boring crap like that. If women are sad because they were let out of their cages let's just put them back in their cages and lose the key this time!

And note that as I said before the very same arguments would have been presented if the trend showed men becoming progressively less happy. It would be the fault of feminism, just as boys' troubles at school are the fault of feminism. Note that anything but absolutely equal happiness figures would give the feminism-bashers an edge. Well, some would argue that even those will work, because at first glance the 2004-8 figures ARE roughly the same.

It is always the tail that wags the dog when it comes to questions like this one.

*Across a fairly large number of industrialized countries. A few countries provided inconclusive evidence. The U.S. exception is African-American women who came across as less happy in the earlier surveys than African-American men and whose happiness responses have risen over time.

Thank you for AndiF for the links to the Language Log.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Doomsday Scenarios (by Phila)

A recent editorial in The Lancet argued that increasing access to contraception and family planning information in the developing world would be a sensible way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and making these populations less vulnerable to climate effects that are expected to pose a particular threat to the poor.

Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Roman aren't thrilled with this idea, and so they've come up with ten reasons why population control is not the solution to global warming. Their strongest point is the most obvious one: industrialized countries comprise 20% of the population and produce 80% of the emissions, and focusing on resource use in the developing world is a distraction from that fact. (To be precise, they say that it "lets wealthy countries, corporations, and consumers off the hook." I wouldn't go quite that far, personally, but I do agree that it draws attention away from the real culprits.)

They also argue that "demographically driven family planning programs erode reproductive rights," and cite the "long and sordid history" of population control measures as evidence.

Which is fair enough. But suppose your goal is simply to use the climate crisis as an additional argument in favor of expanding existing, non-coercive programs, and overturning laws that limit access to contraceptives and education? In other words, what if you want to pressure restrictive governments to increase freedom of choice, instead of pressuring individuals to limit their offspring?

As far as I can tell, that's not really acceptable either.
Most population and environment groups insist that they are against coercion, and maintain that linking family planning and climate change is a win-win solution for women and the planet. The reality is closer to lose-lose.
That confuses me, somewhat. As do some of their other arguments. For instance, they say that "the population-climate change connection bolsters anti-immigrant agendas." As an example, they point out that anti-immigrant activists could argue that "immigrants should remain in their home countries where they consume less energy." But that's not an argument about population growth per se; it could be made whether a given population is increasing or decreasing.

More to the point, if we have to refrain from making arguments that might be seized upon by anti-immigration activists, we may as well sew our lips shut. That subculture, like so many others on the far right, will twist virtually anything into an argument for their agenda (when they're not simply making stuff up).

The next few arguments are similar, in that they focus primarily on the risk of racial stigma and stereotyping. The concern is that family planning measures undertaken for the "wrong" reasons will demonize people living in the Global South, contribute to the militarization of immigration enforcement, and so forth. But like the example above, some of these problems aren't clearly linked to the environmental rationale for family planning. I completely agree that portraying "climate-displaced people as a dark and dangerous horde of violent migrants rather than human beings with human rights has profoundly negative consequences." But I'm not convinced that this is an inevitable outcome of all environmentally minded family-planning projects.

It's reason #8 that really puzzles me, though.
Historically, the U.S. environmental movement often has succumbed to apocalyptic thinking. Doomsday scenarios of population outstripping resources exemplify this philosophy.
First, this isn't a "doomsday scenario," but an elementary fact: natural resources aren't limitless, and people are using them faster than they're being replaced. Second, if you're going to object to doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic thinking, you may as well make the same complaint about climate change itself. Treating the concern that population will outstrip resources as "alarmist," while calling climate change "one of the most urgent problems of our time," isn't really coherent...especially since climate change is expected to affect the availability of resources. On this point, I'd have to side with The Lancet.

I think what bothers me most about all this -- besides the fact that there's no consideration of the possibility that some people in the Global South may actually understand the environmental issues better than "we" do, and welcome environmentally focused family planning programs for that very reason -- is that it falls into the classic left-wing trap of giving racists and reactionaries de facto veto power over your options. Just as Obama was destined to be called a communist no matter how mild and business-friendly his "reforms" turned out to be, people who work for reproductive freedom and gender equality and environmental justice in the developing world are inevitably going to be called babykillers and eugenicists and cultural imperialists by people who oppose those goals. And just as inevitably, racists are going to demonize climate-displaced people and immigrants, whether you give them an "excuse" to do so or not. These aren't possible outcomes to be avoided through careful framing of the issues, so much as the ancient dirt in which we're obliged to stand our ladders.

Which is why it seems to me that the ultimate measure of a specific tactic should be whether it will actually reduce suffering and save lives, not whether it gives a bunch of reactionary thugs an opportunity to say the hateful things that they're going to say no matter what. It's one thing to distrust how a specific government or NGO would go about making an environmental case for "population control"; I share that concern, absolutely. But unless I'm misreading them, Hartmann and Barajas-Roman are arguing that we must not make this connection, period, whether it's in support of coercive or non-coercive policies. And I can't help feeling that this is something of an advance capitulation to extremism, as well as a luxury that neither family planning nor climate activists can necessarily afford.

I'm very interested to hear what other people think.